By the time I finished this book, I felt emotionally drained...drained and in a haze.
''The Preacher's Bride'' ended up breaking me in every way possible. I dived into it not expecting a fairy-tale but definitely not expecting to resurface with way more than I had bargained for. It is an absolutely beautiful book. Its depth is mind-blowing and gut-wrenchingly sublime. Its wisdom washed over me and by the time I turned its last page, my soul was kneeling before the Almighty in awe.
Be warned, though, you need at least a whole box of tissue to go through this journey.
About three years ago, I discovered Jody's writing when I read '' The Doctor's Lady''. To give you an idea of how much I loved it -- and still do! -- I literally couldn't stop flipping pages for twelve hours straight. It isn't a light story, the characters go through rough patches but it isn't extremely, bawl-your-eyes-out emotional. Neither are the other books by Hedlund that I read afterward : ''Unending Devotion'', ''A Noble Groom''. The more I was endeared to this author's writing, the more I was curious about her debut. Great things were being said about it, after all, so when chance came for me to read it, I quickly grabbed a copy.
Let me be honest ; at first, I really wasn't sure I would end up liking it. The pace was a bit slow and I was not as engaged as I had hoped to be in it. Moreover, there were edgy elements that truly took me by surprise -- they were raw and gore. (Please note that this one is for mature readers only. Hedlund is not afraid to expose the sheer cruelty and injustice her characters face. There are frequent mentions of bloodshed and violence and the atmosphere is, in general, ominous.) Though I was, in the beginning, skeptical about the book, the story piqued my curiosity, leaving me with the need to find out the characters' outcomes. As it turns out, despite the trials endured, both John and Elizabeth remain steadfast in their dedication to their calling. Everything about them oozes love, commitment and hope. The depth of these flawed but courageous characters tugged at my heart -- though, at times, I wanted to shake some sense into them. How could they be so stubborn when danger constantly threatened? Why couldn't John just leave his ministry for his family's sake? I was frustrated but the more the story unfolded the clearer the message became.
What would you do if everything around you shattered?
What you would do if your enemies were so great you didn't know if tomorrow or today would be your last day on earth?
Would you truly love and believe God? Would you refuse to believe anyone or anything above Him? Would you crawl toward him if you didn't have the strength to stand or run?
I was wide-eyed and stunned by the time I read the conclusion to this story and immediately after turning the last page, I was sobbing uncontrollably. (Even as I reminisce this story, tears are threatening to spill.)
I cried for Elizabeth_ what a beautiful, beautiful woman. What a God she serves. She believes Him. Though He slays her, she clings to Him with whatever strength she has left. Her faith is flawed but oh-so willing. As the snares and shadows of death menace to swallow her, she holds on and fights for her man, her children. She is the kind of woman I want to be. A warrior, a tender soul, a believer. Elizabeth discovers an amazing and rare spirit in John Costin who is as stubborn as a mule but dedicated and confident in his calling. His heart for his family and God is anything but untrue. I was a blubbering mess when it came to their relationship. My God. These individuals face so many losses and missed opportunities, so many fears and insecurities. Elizabeth's hopes are utterly destroyed after she marries John and yet the hardship only serves in deepening their love. I like what she says to him at some point : ''It is better to love and be loved, even for just a day, than to have not loved at all.'' Forget about happy-ever-afters, the best heroes and heroines are the ones who, after undergoing the refining fire of persecution and tribulation, come out as pure gold.
Many of us believers have most likely vowed we'd willingly do anything for this Savior we serve. With ''The Preacher's Bride'', Hedlund reminds us that the road toward Home is not smooth. There will be moments of sheer helplessness. We will feel confused and abandoned. In despair we will wonder : '' Is He as good as He claims to be?'' Will we chose to believe Him throughout it all?
'' The Preacher's Bride'' transcended every of my expectations. In it, the author does a terrific job of bringing alive John and Elizabeth Bunyan's story through the Costins, crowning their journey with a breathtaking scene.
The setting of this book is Bedford, England in the year 1659. This was a time in history when Oliver Cromwell was in power in England and his puritanical beliefs were fostered and encouraged. There were many Puritans living in Bedford, including the main female character, Elizabeth Whitbread.
Elizabeth is the second oldest of seven daughters. Her family owns and operates a bakery. She works there during the day and on the Sabbath takes bread to the poor. She has promised to marry Samuel Muddle at summer's end and quit working as housekeeper for Brother Costin and his family. She began working for Brother Costin at the elders request after his wife died two weeks after giving birth to her fourth child. Elizabeth wants to serve the Lord by helping those in need. However, as the summer progresses, Elizabeth falls more and more in love with her four young charges and their father. During this summer she also is attacked on two separate occasions by a Royalist Anglican man. He wants her to spy on John Costin and sneak away some of his rebellious papers that could be grounds for a charge of sedition. He beats Elizabeth, but she keeps John's children safe. There are other attempts on her life by this man, and John is determined to keep her safe. How can he do this?
John Costin has been a Puritan a scant five years, but in that time, he has become one of their leading preachers even though he has had no formal education or training. This lack of training and education is one of the focal points of his enemies. He is a mere commoner preaching the Gospel. Only those sent by the Church and properly ordained should be qualified to do this according to Royalists. Royalists also support the king, not Cromwell. John spends his time writing, preaching and tinkering. His tinkering pays the bills, but his passion is preaching God's word. When he realizes his enemies are becoming more desperate to silence him, he opts to marry Elizabeth. She will be a mother to his children and free him up to spend more time preaching. Elizabeth has other ideas about how a marriage should be and must face heartbreak and grief when her husband rejects her love.
This is a story of two people and their dedication to serve God no matter the cost to themselves. These two main characters are based in historical people, and some of the events in the story actually happened in real life. I find that fascinating to read "what might have happened" in this fictional story. Once readers turn the first page, it will be easy to keep reading until the end of the story. I'm looking forward to more interesting stories from Jody!
Just when I thought I knew about Puritans_here's a novel about one of the most famous ones in history. And a great one too!
Jody Hedlund paints a vivid and accurate picture of the Puritan culture and era centuries ago in The Preacher's Bride. While the Puritans lived out their faith much different from the way I live mine, there is plenty to learn from. I found it historically intriguing as well, from the conflict (and often persecution) that happened depending on which English king or queen took the throne (Henry VIII, then his daughters Mary and Elizabeth).
And now I know why the Puritans high tailed it to the U S of A.
I really enjoyed the story and her characters. I liked that the main character Elizabeth was a strong woman with a feisty spirit, who stood up for what was right and could give a much needed tongue lashing to some well deserving people. I really enjoyed the story of her and John and what they went up against. Times were different, but love never really changes does it?
Looking at the culture of England and specifically the Puritan culture in the 1600s, I can't help but chuckle at the differences. Example A) Elizabeth freaking out over seeing a man without a shirt on. Oh how different today is! One look at a Victoria Secrets commercial and they would have died. But it shaped much of history and it's a fascinating time period to study. Probably why I enjoyed it so much.
I didn't realize until after I finished that this story was based upon real life preacher, John Bunyan and his second wife Elizabeth. So sad to think there really were insane people who thrived off of harming others with violence and intimidation. Even worse that there are still people like that today.
History sidenote: Bunyan wrote one of the classics of Christian literature, Pilgrim's Progress (you can get it free for the kindle), and is a key figure in Christianity history (he was in prison for twelve years for preaching scripture). His book inspired C.S. Lewis' Pilgrim's Regress (another creative read that documents Lewis' conversion).
In the beginning, I enjoyed reading about the characters and life in Puritan England. When I got to the part about John's daughter Mary and reading that she was blind, I thought, "Wait, John Bunyan had a blind daughter named Mary." Then, when I read that John Costin was a tinker (just like John Bunyan) I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped. (If you don't know who John Bunyan is, he's the author of Pilgrim's Progress.) After I read the book, I read the author's note stating that she based this book on the life of Elizabeth Bunyan, John Bunyan's wife.
I just don't understand why the author would take real people, change their names a bit, tweak some of the events, and call it a work of fiction. I mean, you're talking about REAL people and REAL history here. I feel that shouldn't be touched. (It's a reason why I stay away from biblical fiction.) I don't understand why the author didn't just do a biography on the life of Elizabeth Bunyan. I would've found that enjoyable to read.
So, if you don't mind all this, go ahead and read it anyway because the author does do a really good job with the story and the characters. But if you're like me, then I suggest you don't pick up this book.
The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund is Jody's debut release from 2010, which I somehow missed. The story was inspired by the life of John Bunyan (Pilgrim's Progress, anyone?), but Jody chose to focus primarily on his second wife, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is a fairly "plain" Puritan woman whose greatest desire is to serve the Lord. When John Costin's wife dies shortly after childbirth, Elizabeth volunteers to step into the role of housekeeper and take care of his four children, including his oldest daughter Mary who is blind. The children quickly come to love Elizabeth, but it takes John quite a bit longer to realize the depth of his feelings for her.
As far as debut novels go, this is one of the best I've read. The story is gripping from the very start and Jody does a fantastic job introducing characters (there are quite a few), explaining the political and religious affairs of the day, and describing the town of Bedford in such a way that you feel like you're walking through the community with a personal tour guide. The dialog was incredibly well-done as well . . . with a few "methinks" and "mayhaps" and "perchances" thrown so you don't forget that you're in England in the mid-1600s.
The relationship between John and Elizabeth certainly didn't come easily. As I read their story I was both frustrated with John and hoping that he would come around (and quickly!). At the same time, I wanted Elizabeth to find something in herself that was worthy of love and for others to see that in her as well. The romantic relationship between John and Elizabeth was unlike anything I've ever read before. While completely innocent and chaste (as was proper for Puritan men and women), it was simultaneously steamy. I'm not sure how she pulled it off but it was perfect!
The story itself is incredibly inspiring. To get a glimpse of what it might have been like to be the wife of one of the heroes of the faith at a time when Christians were regularly persecuted. It made me think more about what it was like to be a Christian in England during that time and also what it's like to be a Christian in many parts of the world . . . even today.
I can't wait to read more from Jody Hedlund. The Doctor's Lady (2011) is definitely on my TBR list! I can't wait to see what she publishes this year.
This book was loaned to me by a friend. All thoughts and opinions are my own.