Sunday, December 24, 2006

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


The lights dim. Darkness envelops us as we wait in silent expectation. A match is struck. My father guides the small flame and lights a candle. Two more candles brighten the room. It is the week before Christmas – the best of days. We begin to sing:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you for Jesus. He is the Emmanuel, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Catherine Marshall Wrote...

"One who writes to honor Christ should, I think, try to do the very best job possible."

"The dynamic of my life lies in knowing that I have a living Lord who is a very vital personality interested in all the details of my life and who has promised to guide me day by day."

"I am living proof that God fulfilled that dream [writing a novel]; living proof of the awesome power of a right dream in the heart of an individual who says yes to God’s plan."

Catherine Marshall

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Neil MacNeill

“What about the Doctor? Stubborn, a bit of a show-off… Opinionated, contemptuous of Christian faith… It was no wonder we clashed so. Yet he was all man. He cared about the mountain people. He had compassion.”
Christy Huddleston in Christy

Neil MacNeill is the Doctor of Cutter Gap. He was born there, his parents and grandparents were born there, and it was his ancestor – the first Neil MacNeill – who led the Scottish highlanders to the mountains of Tennessee more than a hundred years before.

Unlike the other mountain men, Dr. MacNeill is educated, and he has seen life outside of the mountains. He is not a simple country doctor; Neil has spent years studying medicine at college, and he would have had a promising career in the city had he not chosen to return home and serve “his people.” He feels an almost ancestral responsibility for the people of Cutter Gap. He understands them in a way outsiders never could, and he has devoted his life to caring for their medical needs.

Favorite Character?
Dr. MacNeill is perhaps my favorite character in the book Christy by Catherine Marshall. Why? It isn’t his Scottish brogue (he doesn’t actually have one, and he has never been to Scotland). The Doctor has immense strength of character. He is kind and sincere. He lets us know exactly what he believes without any apology, and you always know that his decisions are made thoughtfully and straightforwardly. Neil doesn’t try to hide behind incomplete ideas by saying, “Don’t think about it.” He encourages thought and is painfully honest while remaining compassionate and sympathetic. He also has a great sense of humor. Christy is the story of his spiritual transformation from complete rebellion against the Creator to… well, I will get to that later.

Death and Dying
In a revealing conversation with Christy Huddleston about his beliefs, Neil says:

“I believe in God, in the sense that I’m willing to admit some starter-force for the universe. And I believe that love is the most creative force in the world. Trouble is, I’ve seen so many diseased bodies, so much suffering, pain, hatred, death and dying. Alice Henderson is always talking about a loving God who’s concerned about people as individuals. I can’t quite go along with that, else He wouldn’t let our world be so awash in trouble and suffering. I suppose the truth must lie somewhere in between believing in nothing and the elaborate case that the Christians have built up.”

Neil MacNeill has seen a lot of suffering. The mountains are plagued by diseases of epidemic proportions and blood feuds. Neil is the one who cares for the sick and the dying. It is his job to extract bullets from the backs of his childhood friends and lay to rest the children that he has cared for and loved since their infancy.

Although he believes in some kind of creator, he doesn’t believe in a personal God that cares for His creation. Neil is full of pride at his own personal accomplishments, and he hates God for taking away his wife and infant son.

Once upon a time Neil was married to Miss Alice’s daughter Margaret. They were both in rebellion against God, and their marriage wasn’t a happy one. Margaret suffered from feelings of inadequacy, and she only married Neil because she considered him – a backwoods mountain man – as unworthy as herself. Neil loved Margaret regardless of this, however, and he was crushed when she and their premature baby died in a typhoid epidemic three years before Christy’s arrival at Cutter Gap.

Neil MacNeill is a “real” fictitious character. His emotions are shared by thousands of people who feel wounded by life and blame God for their sorrow. If not for the grace of God, MacNeill would be considered a hopeless business. His heart seems to be solid rock. God has a plan for Neil MacNeill, nevertheless, and He is working on this man’s heart. Neil is searching for answers, and this is evident through his questions to Christy about why Christianity is important to her.

Christy doesn’t do the best job answering his questions, but she does say one thing that I have to imagine he mulled over for months.

Christy: “You don’t consider yourself a Christian, Dr. MacNeill?”

Neil: “No-o come to think of it, I don’t suppose I do. It never seemed important one way or the other.”

Christy: But what if it turns out to be the most important thing there is?”

Christy’s first impression of Dr. MacNeill is not good. She blames him for not being able to do more for the mountain people – until she realizes how much he has given up for them. Neil holds nothing back but gives all his time, resources, and energies to the highlanders. Christy’s dislike gradually turns into an odd mixture of respect and frustration. This feeling gives way to compassion, and she begins to have feelings of care toward him.

When Christy first arrives in Cutter Gap, Neil probably thinks that she won’t be able to endure and stay teaching in the mountains for long. He is mistaken. Dr. MacNeill learns to respect Christy for her successes with the school children, her stubborn perseverance, and her growing love for the mountain people. Neil can’t help admiring her.

Dr. MacNeill knows he doesn’t have a chance with Christy. He is still fighting against God and is bitter about the death of his wife. Unlike David, Neil doesn’t try to drag Christy into his problems, and if not for a miracle of God, a close relationship between Neil and Christy would be both impossible and unwanted.

Amazing Love
Everyone’s character is tested when another epidemic of typhoid sweeps through the community. Christy tirelessly cares for the sick alongside Dr. MacNeill before falling ill to the deadly disease herself. God will use anything to wake up a proud and arrogant soul, and God uses this experience to humble Neil. The climax is when Christy is at the point of death, and no human aid can save her. Neil becomes aware of not only his love for Christy but also his own stubbornness, pride, and need of the Savior.

Christy is near death when she feels someone calling her. She can hear Neil MacNeill crying at her bedside. He declares his love for her. He can’t have her die without knowing that he loves her. Recognizing that there is nothing he can do to save Christy, Neil is humiliated before God.

“God, I have fought against You because I have not understood. Not only fought, God, but cursed You. I did not understand why You let Margaret die – and our son. I did not understand anything about You. I still don’t understand anything – except that somehow I know You are love... “

“Lord God Almighty, Lord God of heaven and earth, I have been stiff-necked and proud, arrogant and stupid. I am not worthy of – of anything, least of all to ask favors of You. […] Lord God, You are the Creator, I am the created. I am helpless, as helpless as all other men. As a doctor, I thought I knew something. Now there is nothing more that I can do for Christy. Nothing at all. So I offer back to you this love that you gave. It’s all I have to give you, God. Here are our lives – hers and mine – I hold them out to you. Do – with us – as – You please.”

God alone can heal, and we are filled with joy as Christy feels His healing power enter her body and cure her from head to toe. She knows without a shadow of doubt that God has a plan for her life, and that plan includes Neil.

"So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 10:32

We may presume that Neil went on to make a bold confession of faith in Christ. As I have written before, Catherine Marshall rarely writes the wrong thing; she just doesn’t go as far as I think she could. That said, however, I do not doubt the real conversion of Neil MacNeill’s heart, and this scene (in its entirety) is one of the most touching in all literature. I think I actually cried the first time I read it, and that is very rare!

Have I picked this apart too much? Is there anything you would like to add?

Note: Excerpts are taken from Christy by Catherine Marshall.

For Further Reading:

Saturday, December 02, 2006

My Sister's Blog

This week has been an action packed time full of activities -- they just weren't Study.Quiet related. Neill MacNeill is still in the works and will be coming sometime next week.

In the mean time, my sister Susanna has updated My Father's Daughter, and I highly recommend that you take a look at her new post. I love reading her thoughts!

This is a fun photo that I have been meaning to post for a while now. It looks like the City Hall is exploding! In reality, we enjoyed a fireworks show.