Many turn to God in times of trouble. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Women hits its stride when it tackles more serious subject matter. Editors Susan M. Heim and Karen Talcott contribute heavily to this volume, but the "My Prayer" sections following each story highlight the significance of their input. A foreword from 9/11 widow Jennifer Sands sets a genuine, heartfelt tone. It delivers an emotional punch that few stories in the collection can match.
Any time the subject of spirituality is addressed, there is a fine line between preaching and inspiring. Selections that ring true do not tell the reader what to do. They do not end with a happily wrapped-up conclusion. Instead they depict a continuing struggle against life's challenges. Faith is the sustaining factor. These pages contain many personal affirmations that are worth celebrating.
In "Losing a Child," Nancy Purcell reflects on the unexpected death of her 16-year-old daughter. She beautifully compares the fulfilled expectation of spring with the promise of eternal life.
Twenty-five years later, I still think on her truth, her love of Christ, and her joyfulness as I dig in the earth and plant seeds, expecting a garden of beauties to rise come spring. And they do, just as Christ did that Easter morning. Because of Him, I never think of her as lost; I know where she is.
For anyone who has witnessed a loved one dying, the details in Janice Flood Nichols' "Hands Stretched Out" are spot on. The slow wasting away of an elderly parent or grandparent is difficult to watch. Small moments of hope help to ease the feeling of utter helplessness.
As I watched my mother transition from this life to the next, I came to believe that God, in His infinite love and mercy, had granted our family a glimpse into life's most poignant and final journey - a journey that may well be guided by those who have already crossed over. We were privy to a peaceful, glorious transformation.
The editors delve through the Bible introducing each story with a perfectly matched verse. For the topic of relationships, an obscure passage - I Peter 3:3-4 - touchingly illustrates the long-lasting impression of inner beauty: "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."
The lives of many women are plagued by anxiety - worries about children, financial concerns, job instability, etc. The words of Scripture offer a comforting alternative. The editors wisely include Matthew 6:25-27: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink ... Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"
Other highlights include Talcott's "Learning to Love Again" about the integral part a pet has in a household. Heim's "Baby's Breath" is an illuminating reminder to cherish a child's precious moments in times of frustration. Darlene M. Gilbert, an elderly widow, appreciates the selflessness of her neighbor who always makes sure her grass is cut in "More Than a Cup of Sugar." Carrie Ellis goes out of her way to give an elderly woman a ride in the bad part of town in "Waiting for Jesus."
Others fall short in their attempt. Some themes are borrowed from country music songs. Certain endings border on the unbelievable. A few are so simplistic in composition they barely form a complete narrative lacking a beginning, middle and end.
Overall, the book is worth it for the Scripture verses alone.