I'm giving this book mixed reviews. First, the author's writing style was highly annoying. The only thing to recommend the author is that her name is Miriam. Aside from that--nothing. I take it all back--I will give her kudos for including a longer segment of Lilias's writing at the end of the book.
The problems I had with Rockness were more a communication issue than anything else. I expected an academic biography, complete with superfluous endnoting and all opinions backed up by said endnotes. Instead, the book read in part like an amateur biography, in part like a thriller (what will happen next), and in part like a high school editorial about the homecoming queen--replete with annoying !! usage. Where was this woman's editor? Exclamation points don't belong in serious writing.
A few examples of poor writing include the aggravating way Rockness switched between two spellings of Michel/Michael Olives. Another example is on page 165: "For Lilias, at last, after the darkest and longest siege, faith would begin to be rewarded with sight. Heavenly suprises were just around the bend." That was only two sentances but there was a whole paragraph just like it. And similar paragraphs beginning and ending each chapter and sometimes each segment. You don't need to foreshadow in a biography. You definitely don't need to do so repeatedly. As a biographer you don't need to "sell" your subject. Either the person was worthy of a biography or not. The glowing and opinionated descriptions of Lilias's parents were overkill.
The most irritating habit of Rockness was her disparaging of the native Algerians. For example pg. 173 where Rockness describes Lilias meeting with some native desert dwellers: "Their joy in making contact with the child-like people . . .." People who can eke out an existence in the Sahara deserve a better description than "child-like." The poor writing and awful !! were almost enough to make me quit reading.
However, I continued reading to the end because of the quotes from Lilias herself. She was a phenomenal woman with incredible faith and an inspiring way of taking simple things and finding gospel lessons in them. Had I known more about her, I would have skipped the biography and tried to get one of her books instead. I found I could not read the book quickly because I had to slow down and really ponder Lilias's words. Right now, when I have such high-falutin' goals for my family it is no wonder that much of what Lilias wrote about resonated with me on a motherhood level. The rest of this post is about those little insights of Lilias.
Pg 139: "You can never tell to what untold glories any little humble path may lead, if you follow far enough." All of us are on humble roads. None of us are rich/famous/important in the worldly sense. And yet, our humble roads of wifehood, motherhood, sisterhood, sainthood (in the sense of being Latter-Day Saints), is the surest way to glory if we try our hardest and stay on the path to its end.
Pg 144: "Oh so endlessly beautiful the days are & they go so quickly. God has many things to say and one can sit by the hour on the heather with one's Bible and listen." Lilias always talked about hearing the voice of God in the scriptures. She had a very real belief that when she was reading the scriptures God was talking to her, and each new insight was from Him. Her understanding of the scriptures by the end of her life was incredible.
Pg 152: "Despising not the day of small things." This is one of her most important lessons. Much of her 40 years in Algeria was spent in small things that created no discernible progress. However, she still felt great joy in being able to serve God. I need to cultivate that attitude in myself towards motherhood. Every day is a day of small things, but that doesn't mean I am excused for ill temper, impatience, or exhaustion. In small things are great things brought to pass. The humble road is often the one that leads to glory. Besides that, I've already taken on the responsibility of small children--I might as well learn to love the path that I am on and the small things that could make my life joyful if I fully embraced them.
Pg 152: "Obedience is the atmosphere of God's revealing."
Pg 154: "When God delays in fulfilling our little thoughts, it is to have Himself room to work out His great ones."
Pg 157: "It is never long before God begins to speak when one gets away in His unspoilt world." I have never been much of a nature lover, but I am impressed by Lilias's ability to learn such incredibly important and simple lessons about God from her study and love of the natural world.
Pg 166: "A bee comforted me very much this morning concerning the desultoriness that troubles me in our work. He was hovering among some blackberry sprays, just touching the flowers here and there in a very tentative way, yet all unconsciously, life-life-life was left behind at every touch, as the miracle-working pollengrains were transferred to the place where they could set the unseen spring working." I think mothers are like bees. We hover and teach and touch our children here and there, but the full effect of our ministry to them isn't known for years and years.
Pg 167: ". . . every room has been hallowed by prayer and praise and love . . .." Lilias was referring to a new home that the mission had purchased, but I think it is a lovely concept for our own homes. At our house we talk a lot about having a "temple house." Prayer and praise and love would not be a poor definition of that ideal.
Pg 173: "Though it was something she neither sought nor resisted, the mantle of leadership inevitably fell upon Lilias's shoulders, she having both the vision for the ministry and the ability to inspire and mobilize others in the work" (Rockness). Isn't that what mothers have to do to be effective? Inspire and mobilize.
Pg 178: "Is the aim of our ministry to them measured by the pattern laid down in St. Paul's Epistles--in caring; in sacrifice; in intercession?" Again, motherhood came immediately to mind.
Pg 180: Lilias described the martens (birds) that lived all around her. They have no spring in their legs so they can't take flight unless they can fall a ways. "So we need not wonder if we are not allowed to stay long in level sheltered places--our faith wings are like the martens' and mostly need the gulf of some emergency to give them their start on a new flight. We will not fear when we feel empty air under them."
Pg 182: "Inwardly it is all aglow, as I never knew a place to be in all my life--on fire with a spirit of sacrifice that does not even know itself to be sacrifice, it is so the natural expression of love." If only I could reach that point in serving/sacrificing for my children.
Pg 202: "And yet let us evermore write over all our miseries, big, and for the most part very little, these transforming words 'With Jesus.' And then the very breath of Heaven will breathe upon our whole being and we shall be glad." When we forget that motherhood is a partnering with the Savior to bring souls to Him, it becomes so overwhelming. I don't think we call on the Savior often enough or fervently enough to gain the heavenly help He is willing and able to give us. I think we try to do too much on our own.
Pg 217: ". . . and each generation must find out its own best ways of doing things unhampered by trying to keep to the conditions of the generation that went before." Often our parents (and friends) are helpful in the process of raising our children. Other times . . . not so much.
Pg 246: ". . . fifty years or more in the past, it was a joy to think that God needed me: Now it is a far deeper joy to feel & see that He does not need me--that He has it all in hand!" I thought about this concept for quite some time as I have always been so buoyed up by the knowledge that I am a partner with Christ is building His kingdom. I think Lilias is right though--it is much better to know that everything is perfectly under Heavenly Father's control. However, that doesn't diminish the joy I feel in knowing that I can help and that I can become an effective instrument in His hands. Our will, after all, is free to give or withhold as we choose.
Most important to me was Lilias's favorite concept--that of the impossible never being truly impossible with God. One of her favorite quotes was stated by a man named William Booth: "God loves with a great love the man whose heart is bursting with a passion for the impossible." This resonated with me because the goals that I have for my family sometimes seem impossible--due to my own laziness and/or the wickedness of the world.
Lilias's words are fabulous reminders that it really doesn't matter if something is impossible: "But oh! He [Satan] overreaches himself when he gets to the word [impossible]. He means it to sound like a knell, and instead of that it breaks into a ringing chime of hope: for The things that are impossible with men are possible with God. Yes: face it out to the end: cast away every shadow of hope on the human side as a positive hindrance to the Divine; heap the difficulties together recklessly, and pile on as many more as you can find: you cannot get beyond that blessed climax of impossibility. Let faith swing out on Him. He is the God of the impossible."
Since my goals have already reached the impossible it doesn't really matter what others I add to them. You either walk and talk with God and reach impossible goals, or you try it on your own and you fail. I'd rather join with Lilias and trust the God of the impossible.
In all, this book wasn't the best read around. However, that was in no way due to the subject matter. I'm glad I found Lilias Trotter and learned about her. She was an amazing woman. I'll remember "the unquenchable, mystical, fighting love of Miss Trotter of North Africa" (Basil Matthews, pg 246).