Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Shadows of the Workhouse" by Jennifer Worth

There are some books we read for pleasure; there are some books we read to grow our understanding of humanity. The trilogy of memoirs by Jennifer Worth is most decidedly in the second category.  I reviewed the first book several months ago, but I just finished the second book, Shadows of the Workhouse, this week.  It is even darker and more difficult to read than Worth's first book, Call the Midwife. I actually began reading it several months ago while I was pregnant with my second child, but I had to put it away. The first chapters about a little girl named Jane who was born, raised, and tortured in an English workhouse sent me into a panic attack, and I couldn't go on for a great while.

Warning: this book contains content unsuitable for a young audience.

Does this book have worth? Yes, I believe it does, but you need to approach it in the right frame of mind.  Many of us (especially those of us with the ability to read this on the internet) live lives of luxury. Frankly, we are rich and spoiled, and it would do us good to stop what we are doing and serve someone else.

This book shows that some suffering is brought on by hunger and poverty, but there is an even greater suffering brought on by being lonely and unloved. We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus and love others. We need to get over our sensitivities to smell, bugs, or whatever else stops us and spend time with those who need someone to care.

Worth's story about how she did this for one old veteran who lost half his family in World War I and the other half in World War II illustrated this kind of service. As a nurse, Jenny spent her days with the infirm as well as with new mothers and babies. Some might think the work Jenny did while on the clock was enough; she was doing her part. But no, she spent her evenings off to visit with someone who received no other visitors -- a virtual outcast in the city he had called his home since boyhood.

...And she didn't stop going. No, it wasn't easy. No, she didn't do it flawlessly. No, she couldn't make the old soldier's life perfect.  Yet, she made it clear that she cared, and that one thing made his life better.

I wonder, who are the outcasts I can reach out to? We all must be on the lookout for those in need of a comforting word, a smile, a listening ear, and the practical care involved in meeting the physical and emotional needs of others. We are the hands and feet of Christ, and we serve others in His name.

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