Which is Your Favorite?

I’m a big fan of a strong first sentence. Most people (or at least most English majors) can quote the opening of Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” From college, I still recall Dr. Gilman’s comparison of one of Henry James’ ponderous opening sentences with that of Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, which reads simply: “Selden paused in surprise.” In this century, we have the incomparable Ann Patchett, whose Commonwealth begins: “The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.” Draws you right in, doesn’t it?

In my books, I try to start each chapter with something short and punchy. (With a word-count target of 600, I don’t have time to ease into the topic!) So, with one week to go until Finding God Abiding comes into the world, I thought we’d have a little fun. Here are the twenty-eight opening lines. Which is your favorite? What piques your interest? If you were to read a chapter on the basis of the first sentence alone, which would it be?

I’d love to hear your responses! Leave a reply below. (And, you know, get yourself a copy so you can see how it ends.)

May Love Abide,

  1. Reading was not Christopher’s thing.
  2. I’ve been a dogged journal-keeper for most of my adult life.
  3. “How can I feel so miserably poor and embarrassingly rich at the same time?”
  4. “There’s no reason for them to blow that siren anymore,” my neighbor insisted.
  5. I recall almost nothing about the conference.
  6. “It’s Teeny-Weeny String Beanie!”
  7. The summer I turned five, I went on my first extended-family vacation to Wildwood.
  8. “Oh, rats! I think I’m supposed to be a nun.”
  9. Despite wondering about a religious vocation at the end of eighth grade, nothing about my teenage years suggested a career in ministry.
  10. A graduate student with a wedding ring was hit by a car on the sidewalk, rushed to the emergency room, and whisked into surgery.
  11. The tantalizing aroma arrested our steps in front of a Greek restaurant on South Street.
  12. When I finally landed the job of my dreams in campus ministry, my joy was quickly tempered.
  13. When I was thirty, after several years of increasing strife between us, my husband took a job on the other side of the globe.
  14. The biggest problem with having unauthorized cats is that you can’t call the landlord.
  15. The dress caught my eye as it waved in the breeze of a summer garage sale.
  16. It was peach season at the Jersey shore.
  17. I had never cut class before.
  18. Liz had no idea how she was going to pay for college.
  19. I was in the car with my brother Stephen’s new boyfriend, John.
  20. The dog I love most in the world just turned seven.
  21. When I was little, my grandmother taught me how to eat a strawberry.
  22. Hannah could not stop crying.
  23. Mary Ellen had raised six children on her own.
  24. The present that had thrilled my little brother the day before was making him miserable already.
  25. After nearly ten years in my first campus ministry position, I reached a heart-wrenching insight during my summer retreat.
  26. I stood at the water’s edge with my back to the beach, tears streaming down my face.
  27. I flipped on the bathroom light in dismay.
  28. The text from our cousin caught my brother and me completely by surprise.

Steady Your Hearts

The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. (James 5:7-8)

Spring takes its time here in Maine.  Back home in Philly, the temperature is headed over 90 for the second day in a row, but in Boothbay Harbor we still are sweatered-up, basking in a 57-degree Sunday afternoon on our deck, enjoying this weekend’s first peek of sunshine and the foggy breeze off the water.

Since Porter inherited his mother’s summer cottage a few years ago, we’ve been trying to establish perennial garden beds, filling them with hearty, low-maintenance items that can survive both the assault of winter storms and the neglect of summer renters.  When we return each spring, we race to inspect the beds, assessing what survived and what needs replacing.  But we are not yet accustomed to the pace of a Maine spring.

In late April, I was sorry to see no sign of the liatris (“blazing star”) I’d planted out front, but consoled myself with the purchase of a bleeding heart instead—another favorite, and a proven winner.  As I knelt to dig the hole, however, I discovered the barest green shoots emerging where the blazing star used to be; two weeks later, my beloved plant is indeed blazing back to life!  The other thing we were watching was a tuft of brown stuff, formerly a decorative grass intended to camouflage an unattractive foundation wall.  Taking a lesson from the liatris, we waited a couple weeks before buying something to replace it.  Sure enough, just as I went to pull the dried clump from the ground, Porter spotted a hint of green; apparently, the grass is on its way as well.

Scripture would have us look to nature for a lesson in patience, an abundance of which is called for these days. How we struggle to be patient with ourselves, our neighbors, and our loved ones; with our church, school, and civic communities; with our government, our electorate, and our world.  We know that forces for good are at work—sometimes through our efforts, but usually from beyond our imagining. We would do well to “steady our hearts,” as a musical rendition of James 5:8 encourages.

I do know this.  But what spring in Maine is reminding me is that my sense of how long is reasonable to wait may be flawed, shaped as it is by my limited experience of nature.  In human nature, the “precious crop” arrives on its own schedule, watered by the early and late rains of our tears and our prayers.

What are you waiting for?  Whatever it is, may you have the perseverance to wait, and the attentiveness to spot the presence of hope, even in its tiniest and most vulnerable forms.

Podcast: Finding Favorites

It’s podcast season! I’ve been interviewed for several, and will post them as they drop. Each one is different; click the image below to listen to Leah Jones’ “Finding Favorites” podcast, in which we learn why fire sirens are among my favorite things.

You’ll also get to hear two women of faith–one Catholic, one Jewish–discuss worship in pandemic, the importance of blessing the heck out of everything, and learning to speak Ignatian.

Bonus: an audio chapter from Finding God Abiding.


Click the image to listen to my interview on Finding Favorites with Leah Jones.