What fun to read a good book written by someone you know! While in the mountains, I've been reading Tell Someone Your Story, by Jean Belz. Jean and her husband started a Christian school in rural Iowa, which grew into a fine international boarding school. I had the unexpected privilege of being her neighbor, colleague and friend for six years. She died last year, after 91 years of service to her Lord in this life. Her granddaughter, a dear friend, sent me a copy of the book of Jean's essays, published by her family after her death. What a treasure! It's like talking with her again.
But enough about Jean. What about her book? I highly recommend this lovely paperback. It's available at Amazon. Jean wrote a quarterly article for the school's bulletin for decades. Her writing style is crisp, direct, and supple. What I love most is her unusual perspective on many things. Whether describing her own kitchen, how to love messy dorm boys, or her observations of total strangers, Jean's imaginative expression is often surprising, and cuts to the truth. I think now her mind must have always been working, churning, imagining, when she looked at everything.
She must have had a massive, accurate memory, from the loving tidbits of life she recounts of family, dining hall, strawberry patches and childhood friends. Her writing is full of questions; she is always wondering, querying. I remember this passage, from reading it in the bulletin fifteen years ago: "A day or two ago we passed a little bungalow that we have passed hundreds of times. I used to know a little girl who lived there. Suddenly I noticed how old-fashioned and pretty the house was with late summer flowers growing around the tidy front steps. I wondered: Do they set the table at night? Do they use a fresh cloth or place mats? Is it a hot meal or a snack? Who is there? My mind begins to stretch over thousands and millions of homes." (p. 97)
What kind of woman drives past a house in the dusk and wonders about the life of those inside, right down to what's on their table? A woman who is always looking for, and discovering, stories; a woman always examining, always learning. Her granddaughter told me recently that Jean was never surprised by sin. She had lived a very long life, and had seen most things. I felt I had to write this post tonight, even though I haven't finished the book, because I came across these words: "I am not exempt from ... suffering. I know a desolation that comes from bad news -- sickness in the family, someone giving in to an addiction, failure of some kind in business, or disappointment in someone I love. But there is really no bad news. My weakness is God's opportunity to show me his power, his kindness, his love." (p. 168)
Did you hear her say that? "There is really no bad news." That is wisdom, coming from a woman who knew a life filled with decades of hard work, and all the sorrow that comes from losing her husband early, raising eight children, and giving tirelessly, year after year.
The essays in the book are very short, usually only a page or two. It's a quick, enjoyable read. I can tell you with certainty that Jean Belz is a woman you will want to know. Let her tell you her story.