Simply My Window by P.K. Hodel. Xulon Press. 396 pages. 2016
Rarely have I been moved by a book as I was with this one by P.K. Hodel. This eloquently written poetic autobiography is open and at times almost painfully honest as she tells her story. It is written in such a manner that you really feel you know this incredible woman when you get to the end as she shares the amazing life that she and her husband and three children have lived to date. Although she shares some very difficult times in her life, the book is ultimately hopeful.
Hodel effectively uses the metaphor of a window to describe each season of her life story. She tells us that the book is simply her interpretation of what she has seen from the windows of her life. I enjoyed her use of “Beauty” for God and “Ugly” for Satan. In addition, the names of her husband, children and some others in the book are changed for a variety of reasons. She offers poetic “Lessons Learned” at the end of each chapter.
Each chapter of the book takes the reader to a different place and time in the author’s story, beginning with Wapello, Iowa where she grew up. She tells us that joy in sorrow and alone in happiness would be a primary window of her life, a life that would be marked by early losses where she would find herself in the front bench of the church. She writes “The reality is, we take turns here on the front bench of funeral services. We have a few turns here on the front bench, several to many in the succeeding benches, and then one in the casket. It’s just how it works.”
Her seven year-old brother Teddy died of leukemia and her mother, who never got over the loss of Teddy, died of cancer at only forty-nine, both in the same Burlington, Iowa hospital. Her mother lived for a year after being diagnosed with cancer, a year in which the author writes that her mother taught her to “live one day at a time, living each day to the fullest, simply because we have it to live”. P.K.’s father would live to marry two more times, women that P.K. loved.
She writes of the church environment in which she was raised, one with Anabaptist roots and a separatist, self-contained Christian culture. She writes that visiting other churches, for example “was questioned, even frowned upon by our church culture. I remember hearing it referred to as ‘spiritual adultery.’”
She writes of beginning her career as a nurse in the Intensive Care unit. Throughout her life she has also done much teaching in many different locations.
We are introduced to Harrison (not his real name, but there is a reason for choosing it), who would become her husband. In their tradition, the proposal and response was communicated through their elders, not directly to from Harrison to P.K. Harrison, who has had a variety of jobs throughout his still young life, farmed with his four older brothers and their father. He and P.K.’s brother Jacob went together on trips to Haiti and Ecuador. Even at this early stage, in God’s providence, P.K. and Harrison were being called to missions. Their first missions’ assignment was in Dodoma, Tanzania, an aviation base for Mission Aviation Fellowship U.K.
P.K. tells us about their children, two girls (Cherith and Elizabeth or Lizzie), and a boy (Tobin). She also writes of a boy (John) from Tanzania that they love as another son.
P.K. and Harrison have been well-equipped for their work. They attended the Word of Life Bible Institute in New York (she writes that going to Bible college simply was not done in their church culture), and Harrison would later attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Years later, P.K. would attend Illinois State University at the same time Lizzie was attending cross-town Illinois Wesleyan University, and later get her Master’s Degree from Wheaton College near Chicago.
P.K. writes of a painful meeting with the elder of their church at a coffee shop, where they were told that for the sake of unity and keeping the body pure, he would have to remove them from the church. They were being excommunicated.
She tells us that like myself, she found that she had a lot in common with the unforgiving brother of the prodigal son. She also tells us of kneeling in the bathroom prayer closets at many other windows of the world, something that would become her custom.
In all, the Hodels spent fifteen years in Africa before returning to America. She writes “But we were not the same people at all – we had all been changed in the process. Hopefully, for glory and for beauty.”
She writes of their children, their education and jobs, and the different places they would live. At one time, the five family members were each in a different country. Later in her story, she writes of the three “struggling, separately and together, to make a go of it in this foreign country of our homeland.”
In several places in the book P.K. writes of Pastor Bob, who has been her pastor through many windows of her life. She writes that his “message of grace was a balm of healing to our work worn hearts and Harrison especially, rarely, maybe never, listened to these messages of grace without his eyes filling with tears of thankfulness.”
P.K. and Harrison would move on to Teach for Asia (TFA) and later to Laos to teach English at their National University in Dongdok. She writes that as she stood in front of those Lao students telling them the Good News of Jesus Christ she knew instinctively knew that it was for this that she was born.
She writes of perhaps the most painful window of their lives when they were told via a Skype call that their time in Tibet was finished and that P.K. was being accused of spiritual abuse. During the upcoming dark times, P.K. writes that Beauty never left or forsook them as they began the months-long healing process in California at Link Care, which she describes as a Beauty-ordained setting to restore those wounded in the battle. She writes of the pain from the fact that she could do nothing to remedy the damage she had caused in the lives of those most precious to her, which brought her more sorrow than any she had experienced in life.
Harrison would then go to Liberia, West Africa, while P.K. completed her Master’s Degree at Wheaton and spent time with her brother Adam in Indiana, whose wife had shocked him by filing for divorce. P.K. would then join Harrison in Liberia and later face the Ebola crisis before returning to America.
I’m so thankful for the author sharing her experiences, her windows, in this book. Beauty has been a constant companion of hers from early losses through excommunication and charges of spiritual abuse. Yet she can say with confidence that the best is yet to come.
- Christianaudio’s Free Book of the Month. The April free audiobook of the month is an excellent one – Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word.
- Gene Veith’s New Book on Vocation. Gene Veith, author of the excellent God at Work, has a new book just out. It is titled Working for Our Neighbor: A Lutheran Primer on Vocation, Economics and Ordinary Life. Can’t wait to read it. Look for a review soon.
- Book Briefs. Kevin DeYoung briefly looks at a few new books, including my book of the year thus far – The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair Ferguson.
- A Peculiar Glory. Tim Challies reviews John Piper’s new book A Peculiar Glory. He writes that the book is “a logical addition to John Piper’s literary canon and a valuable contribution to Christian publishing. It receives my highest recommendation.”
Dispatches From the Front: Episode 9: Every Tribe
The 9th and latest episode of the acclaimed Dispatches from the Front series was released April 8. It is set in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, where a patchwork of tribes live – people groups long crushed by brutal dictators and enslaved to the worship of demons. But the Gospel is setting prisoners free.
From the killing fields of Cambodia to the remote corners of Laos, this is an “every tribe, every tongue” story of first-generation believers, who are now singing for joy over their deliverance, loving the Word, and crossing borders to share the Good News that “never has been kept within bounds.” Follow Tim Kesee, Executive Director of Frontline Missions International, and his friend and guide J.D. as they tour these countries and visit believers in this at times heart breaking, and at other times encouraging video.
Pioneer missionary Samuel Zwemer wrote, “The kingdoms and governments of this world have frontiers that must not be crossed.” Then he added, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ knows no frontier. It never has been kept within bounds.” This border-crossing, boundless Gospel is the theme of Every Tribe.
From their website: “Frontline Missions works to advance the Gospel by forming vibrant, Word-centered, disciple-making churches, especially in those regions of the world that have the least Light. We are driven by the same desire as the apostle Paul, who said it was always his ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known (Romans 15:20). We pursue this goal by equipping Christians on the frontlines to reach their own people for Christ, by forming strategic partnerships with them, and by developing creative platforms in countries closed to traditional missions.”
This is the second of the nine videos that I have watched after seeing Kesee’s message “Therefore, Go” at the recent 2016 Ligonier National Conference. I look forward to watching the others soon. See my review of Tim’s book Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places here.
BOOK CLUBS – Won’t you read along with us?
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller
Christians are taught in their churches and schools that prayer is the most powerful way to experience God. But few receive instruction or guidance in how to make prayer genuinely meaningful. In Prayer, renowned pastor Timothy Keller delves into the many facets of this everyday act. Won’t you read along with Tammy and me? This week we look at
Chapter 13 – Intimacy: Finding His Grace
- God is forgiving yet also is so holy that he cannot let injustice and wickedness go unpunished.
- Throughout the pages of the Hebrew Bible we face this question: Is our covenant relationship with God conditional, based on our obedience to him, or is it unconditional, based on his love for us? In the end, will his holiness and justice be more fundamental than his love and mercy, or will it be the other way around? Will he punish us or forgive us?
- Jesus fulfilled the conditions of the covenant so we can enjoy the unconditional love of God. Because of the Cross, God can be both just toward sin and yet mercifully justifying to sinners.
- Only against the background of the Old Testament, and the great mystery of how God could fulfill his covenant with us, can we see the freeness of forgiveness and its astounding cost.
- It means that no sin can now bring us into condemnation, because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. It also means that sin is so serious and grievous to God that Jesus had to die. We must recognize both of these aspects of God’s grace or we will lapse into one or the other of two fatal errors. Either we will think forgiveness is easy for God to give, or we will doubt the reality and thoroughness of our pardon. Both mistakes are spiritually deadly.
- When we forget the freeness of grace, the purpose of our repentance becomes the appeasement of God.
- It will lead only to a forced compliance of the will, not a change of view, motivation, and heart. Luther denounced this kind of legalistic repentance as self-righteous because it is essentially an attempt to atone for our own sin.
- We do not have to make ourselves suffer to merit God’s forgiveness. We simply receive the forgiveness earned by Christ.
- Legalistic repentance is destructive. Paul talks about gospel repentance “that leads to salvation and leaves no regret,” which is contrasted with “worldly sorrow [that] brings death” (2 Cor 7:10). In moralistic religion our only hope is to live a life good enough to require God to bless us.
- We will focus on the behavior itself and be blind to the attitudes and self-centeredness behind it.
- If we know we are loved and accepted in spite of our sins that makes it far easier to admit our flaws and faults.
- The more we know we are forgiven, the more we repent; the faster we grow and change, the deeper our humility and our joy.
- If you forget the costliness of sin, your prayers of confession and repentance will be shallow and trivial.
- It is possible to merely assent that something is a sin without getting the new perspective on it and experiencing the new inward aversion to it that gives you the power and freedom to change.
- Stott therefore argues that real repentance should have these two components—admitting and rejecting. We begin by admitting the sin for what it is, but then “secondly, we forsake it, rejecting and repudiating it.
- Real repentance first admits sin as sin and takes full responsibility. True confession and repentance begins when blame shifting ends.
- Just as real repentance begins only where blame shifting ends, so it also begins where self-pity ends, and we start to turn from our sin out of love for God rather than mere self-interest.
- Mortification is an old word for killing something. It is to weaken sin at the motivational level by meditating on God’s holiness and love in Christ, and other biblical doctrines, and then seeing our specific sin in their light. That process makes the sin itself look unattractive to us. We come to see its folly and evil in this true light and find ourselves more able to resist it in the future.
- Owen’s model soliloquies never say, “I must stop this or I’m going to be punished,” which nourishes the self-centeredness of sin even as you think you are repenting. Rather, they say things like “How can I treat Jesus like this—who died so I would never be punished? Is this how I treat the one who has brought me into this unconditionally loved state? Is this how I treat him after all he’s done? Will I fail to forgive when he died to forgive me? Will I be anxious over the loss of money when he gave himself to be my security and true wealth? Will I nurse my pride when he emptied himself of his own glory to save me?”
- Our prayer life is the place where we should examine our lives and find the sins that otherwise we would be too insensitive or busy to acknowledge. We should have regular times of self-examination, using guidelines that come from biblical descriptions of what a Christian should be.
- George Whitefield once wrote, “God give me a deep humility, a well-guided zeal, a burning love and a single eye, and then let men or devils do their worst!”331 Those four features make a good summary of a vital Christian life.
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London. This week we look at
Chapter 27 – The Cloak and the Second Mile
- The first principle is this whole question which we generally-refer to as `turning the other cheek’. It means that we must rid ourselves of the spirit of retaliation, of the desire to defend ourselves and to revenge ourselves for any injury or wrong that is done to us.
- We should not be concerned about personal injuries and insults, whether of a physical kind or any other.
- Our Lord desires to produce in us a spirit that does not take offence easily at such things.
- Seek immediate means of retaliation. He wants us to reach a state in which we are indifferent to self and self-esteem.
- Our Lord’s teaching here does not mean that we should be unconcerned about the defense of law and order. To turn the other cheek does not mean that it does not matter at all what happens in national affairs, whether there is order or chaos. Not at all.
- What our Lord says is that I am not to be concerned about myself, my own personal honor and so on.
- The second illustration our Lord uses is this matter of the cloak and the coat.
- Our Lord is concerned here with the tendency to insist upon our rights, our legal rights.
- He says we must not insist upon our legal rights even though we may at times suffer injustice as the result.
- The Christian is not to be concerned about personal insults. But when it is a matter of honor and justice, righteousness and truth, he must be concerned and thus he makes his protest.
- When the law is not honored, when it is flagrantly broken, not in any personal interest, not in any way to protect himself, he acts as a believer in God, as one who believes that all law ultimately derives from God.
- The next principle involves the question of going the second mile. The principle is that, not only are we to do what is demanded of us, we are to go beyond it in the spirit of our Lord’s teaching here.
- Our Lord says that not only must we not resent these things, we must do them willingly; and we must even be prepared to go beyond what is demanded of us. Any resentment that we may feel against the legitimate, authoritative government of our land is something which our Lord condemns. The government that is in power has a right to do these things, and it is our business to carry out the law.
- If we become excited about these matters, or lose our temper about them, if we are always talking about them and if they interfere with our loyalty to Christ or our devotion to Him, if these things are monopolizing the center of our lives, we are living the Christian life, to put it mildly, at the very lowest level.
- This injunction does not say that we are not entitled to a change of government. But this must always be done by lawful means. It does not say that we must take no interest in politics and in the reform of law.
- Let us be certain however that our interest in the change is never personal and selfish, but that it is always done in the interest of government and justice and truth and righteousness.
- The last point, which we can only touch upon, is the whole question of giving and lending. It is this denial of self once more.
- He is rebuking the wrong spirit of those who are always considering themselves, whether they are being struck on the face, or whether their coat is being taken, or whether they are compelled to carry the baggage or to give of their own goods and wealth to help someone in need.
- We must always be ready to listen and to give a man the benefit of the doubt.
- The love of God is a love that gives of itself in order to help and strengthen those who are in need.
- We should see clearly that it takes a new man to live this kind of life. This is no theory for the world or for the non-Christian. No man can hope to live like this unless he is born again, unless he has received the Holy Spirit.