It’s Book Club Day! And we’re discussing The Sweet By and By, co-written by Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck. This book tells the story of Jade Freedom Fitzgerald, who runs a shop where she takes in vintage items and gives them new life. She loves an antique piece with an intriguing history. However, Jade is determined to keep her own history a secret from everyone in Whisper Hollow, Tennessee, including her long-suffering fiancé Max. Unfortunately for Jade, unwanted folks from her past keep popping up. Soon her new life—a life built on lies—begins crumbling around her. What’s left for Jade after her façade is stripped away? If you haven’t yet read this story, buy the book here and find out!
One of the big issues in this book is a recurring theme in literature because it is more and more frequent in real life: unresolved conflicts and unfulfilled expectations from childhood that follow a person into his/her adult years. Jade’s story reminded me that a parent’s influence on a child is far-reaching. When a parent emotionally or physically abandons a child, he or she damages that adult child’s emotional and spiritual development.
I believe God is the answer for an adult left searching for security, acceptance, and unconditional love. Consider Psalm 27:10, Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close. And Psalm 68:6 seems tailor-made for Jade’s story, God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But He makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
In her youth, Jade’s grandma tried to share God’s healing Word with her. But Jade’s refusal to listen to God’s still, quiet voice leaves her isolated and empty. The closer she gets to her wedding day, the more peace eludes her. When she visits Max’s pastor for pre-marital counseling, every question the Reverend asks seems to highlight a lie she’s told. His attempts to show her from Psalm 139 how much God loves her fall on deaf ears. The following paragraph describes Jade’s panic attack in the church:
“But the room was hot. The books and heavy furniture sucked up all the light and air. Digging her fingernails into the wood tip of the leather arm, Jade’s heart rate spiked. Why did the walls choose now to close in on her? Maybe she shouldn’t be here, chatting with God’s representative and marrying marvelous Max. She didn’t deserve him. At all. Breathing deep, Jade glanced at the exit. Could she make a run for it? But the door was closed. Her pulse drummed in her ears. Trapped. If she made a run for it, she just might never come back.“
However, even after that experience, Jade continues to lie. I found Jade a bit disappointing as a heroine in that she seemed to never come clean until she was directly caught in an untruth. Until the very end of the book. And I had a problem with Max’s character, too. He wasn’t portrayed as having a strong faith himself. In fact, he told the pastor he didn’t need to know if Jade had had a conversion experience because she was a “good” person. So when he handled every lie with equanimity, he came across as somewhat shallow.
Spoilers (kind of): But I liked that eventually Jade takes responsibility for her choices. And after things come to a head, she turns to the Lord. For the first time since she was eight years old, her character experiences true peace and untainted happiness. This time when she seeks out Max’s pastor at his church, she feels at home as she listens to choir practice in the sanctuary:
“When the first chords from the piano and guitar filled the sanctuary, Jade’s heart swelled. Granny loved this song. In the sweet by and by . . . Jade hummed, eyes closed, swaying from side to side . . . we will meet on that beautiful shore . . . The peace Jade encountered the night in Beechgrove at Miss Linda’s deepened. She’d even started reading Granny’s old Bible instead of clinging to it like a stuffed toy.”
And the pastor’s words to Jade are true for all of us: “[God] loves relationships. We make it about religion, rules, and regulation. But God, He loves to be in relationship with people . . . Jesus comes to take away our guilt and shame, Jade. Why not yours? . . . Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We all mess up, make mistakes, but if there’s a yes in your heart to Him, you’re on the right path.”
As a reader, I wished to see more development in Max and Jade, especially after her conversion experience. Maybe we’ll see that in book two: Softly and Tenderly, which is available for pre-order at this link.
Here’s the blurb that describes Jade’s continuing journey:
Happily married, and owner of two successful boutiques, Jade longs to begin a family with her husband, Max. But when she discovers a secret Max has been keeping, Jade’s life is turned upside down. She flees to her childhood home, a rambling Iowa farmhouse, with enough room to breathe. There, while her mother’s health grows fragile, and the tug of her first love grows stronger, Jade begins to question everything she thought she knew about family, love, and motherhood.
In the wide-open landscape, Jade begins to see a future that doesn’t rest on the power of her past, but in the goodness of God’s tender mercies.
This month’s book club is being hosted by Juju, at Tales of Whimsy. I’ll be linking my review to her page and adding to the discussion there. I encourage you to visit her blog through this link and add to her discussion also!
- In the opening scene, Jade struggles with sending a wedding invitation to her mother. A deep wound has distanced them: Have you or anyone you’ve been close to struggled with inviting a parent to a personal and family-oriented event?How did you resolve your struggle?
- In the pastor’s office, Jade has a full-blown panic attack because of her guilt and self-doubt: Have you ever had something similar happen? How long did it last? How did you respond?
- At first, Jade and Max decide to let their pasts stay in the past: How can letting the past stay out of the present benefit your heart and relationships? How might it hinder? When is it right to talk about the past? When is it best to let issues of the past go?
- When Jade was eight, her father left the family. This event shadowed her through life: What is the significance of a father’s presence on a son’s or daughter’s life? How has your life been impacted by the presence or absence of a parent?
- Ultimately, there was one wedge issue that separated mother and daughter in the story: Do you and someone you care about have an unresolved issue? Do you want to resolve it?
- It is important to remember the good years as Jade tries to do. Consider setting up a monument in your heart (on a wall in your home) to note the blessings you’ve received: If you’d like to, tell us about the kind of year you’re having.
Now how about a giveaway? I have a $10 Borders gift certificate for one fortunate winner.
Steps to enter the drawing: 1. Must be an email subscriber. Enter your email address in the space provided on the sidebar. (But you’re not done yet! Later look for an email from Doorkeeper or Feedburner in your personal email account. Follow the link provided to verify your subscription.)
2. Enter the discussion. In the comments section of this post, give your thoughts on the book and/or answer some of the discussion questions. If you haven’t read the book, you can still answer some of the discussion questions. You won’t win this drawing simply by stating, “Please enter me.”
Bonus entries: 1. Additional comments. You can return to this post to comment again or add to what others have said. The discussion will last from Monday, November 29th until Wednesday, December 1st.
***NOTE: If I post other items during those days, you can always link to this discussion through the Christian Fiction Book Club button at the top of my sidebar.
2. Like Doorkeeper on Facebook. (I’m trying out a Facebook page for the blog!)
NOTE: All that wish to be entered in the drawing, must include an email address in their initial comment. (But write your email like this jenniebee [at] gmail [dot] com and NOT like this firstname.lastname@example.org. This discourages spammers from bothering us.)
Reminder: December’s book club choice is Grace: A Christmas Sisters of the Heart Novel by Shelley Shepard Gray. It’s a fast, heart-warming read available at Walmart, Amazon.com, and Christianbook.com.
Thanks everyone and have a great day! Blessings!