Quotable

“Bloom where you are planted” is a popular phrase that Isabella Alden took to heart. Many of her books—such as The King’s Daughter and Interrupted—feature characters who use small acts of kindness as a way to witness for Christ under trying circumstances.

A New Graft on the Family Tree is another example. In the book Louise Morgan and her new husband move in with his difficult parents, who do not hide their disappointment in their new daughter-in-law.

If you’ve read the book, you know how Louise responds. No matter how much her mother-in-law complains or gives her menial tasks to do, Louise does everything asked of her with a cheerful spirit, because she believes that in serving her mother-in-law, she is also serving the Lord.

Illustration of an open book and blue vase with pink flowers on a table near an open window. Below are the words: "I bless Him that I may constantly serve, whether I am wiping the dust from my table, or whether I am on my knees." -From A New Graft on the Family Tree, by Isabella Alden.

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What do you think of Louise’s method for dealing with her in-laws?

Have you ever had to deal with a difficult person? What method did you use?

Advice to Readers on Church v. Nature

Isabella wrote a popular advice column for a Christian magazine. Some topics she addressed may sound very familiar to today’s readers, like this one from 1897:

“What can be said to someone who says he can get as much good from reading sermons at home, or communing with nature, as in going to church to hear, perhaps, a poor sermon?”

Here is Isabella’s answer:

I infer from your letter that the person who takes this position is a professing Christian. To that person should come, first, a reminder of this direct command: The church we believe to be a divine institution, and careful study of the Bible shows that the Lord has promised to be in a special sense “in the midst” with those who gather in His name. To argue, then, that as much good can be secured in other ways is to set one’s self in opposition to the Lord’s wisdom, and to thwart His plans of grace for us.

Photo of man sitting on a large rock as he looks out over a pastoral scene.

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Moreover, the first object in attending church is not to hear a sermon—good or poor—but to worship God in united prayer and song. He has planned that we shall gather in companies to do this, in order to be helpful to one another, as well as to ourselves. There is always that question of influence over others to be remembered. The habit of church-going is an unquestioned safeguard to thousands of people who have no deep-seated Christian principle in regard to it; and whatever I can do to confirm and increase this habit I am bound—by the rules that govern good society—to do. So that (leaving myself out of consideration altogether) for the sake of others I should be regular at church; but God has planned so wisely for us that in helping others we are, as it were, compelled to help ourselves.

Illustration of a man and his dog sitting at the base of a tree, looking out over a open field with a grove of trees in the background.

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These are some of the reasons for habitual church-going that appear on the surface. But the best remedy for one not inclined to regularity in this matter is to ask the Master who “went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day,” “as his custom was,” what He thinks.

Have you ever heard someone say they believe reading their bible or communing with nature is just as good as attending church?

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

A Hard Text about Burdens

Isabella’s brother-in-law Reverend Charles M. Livingston wrote several articles for The Pansy magazine in which he explained Bible verses that might seem confusing at first. Here’s one he wrote in 1888:


Bear ye one another’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2)
Every one shall bear his own burden. (Galatians 6:5)
Cast thy burden upon the Lord. (Psalms 4:22)
Old illustration of a hand holding up a Bible surrounded by rays of light.

How do we reconcile these verses that conflict one with another? Think in this way:

One day Martha went over the way to the pump with a four-quart pail for some water, and soon returned to her mother with it.

An hour later she went with an eight-quart pail and, filling it, tried to carry it back, but could not. Her neighbor, Mark, happened to be there with his three-quart pail. He offered to carry hers and let her carry his, and so they did and got on nicely.

Some time after they were both at the pump again, each with an extra pail. They were soon filled, but when they tried to lift them all and go forward they could not. Just then their good friend Moses came along and, seeing their trouble and their pleading looks, came to them, and with his two strong arms took up the extra heavy pails of water and easily and cheerfully carried them to their homes, while they followed with their other pails.

Maybe this will aid you to see that those three texts are not so hard, after all; that they do not go against each other, but go rather hand in hand.

What do you think of Rev. Livingston’s explanation?

Advice to Readers about Selfishness

Isabella wrote a popular advice column for a Christian magazine. In 1897 she mentioned in her column that she had received “at least a dozen letters lately about selfishness.”

Here is Isabella’s Advice:

It is a curious illustration of human nature that in nearly every instance the writers are sufferers because of this trait in others, and are not themselves guilty of the sin. Of all sins to which the human being is heir, that of selfishness seems to me sometimes the most insidious.

Let me tell you about two lovely young friends of mine, sisters, beautiful girls, who have been carefully trained in a choice Christian home. It was summer, and in their hospitable home were gathered several guests. The mother, who had been an invalid during the winter, and like most mothers was tempted to overtax her strength, was being watched over tenderly, not only by her husband, but by grown-up sons and daughters. The morning which I am especially recalling was that one trying to the nerves of housekeepers generally—wash-day.

Illustration of two women. An elderly woman sits in a chair. Before her stands a woman dressed in the apron and mob cap of a maid.

It was a country home, and the cook, Jane, was also the maid of all work. There was a second girl, Norah, who served during the influx of company; but on this particular morning, when she was most needed, her aunt’s brother’s cousin had arrived from Ireland, and she must needs go home to welcome her. I came down to the piazza in time to hear and see a bit of family life, after this fashion:

“I’ve kidnapped her,” said Marian, the eldest daughter, gleefully, as she held with gentle force the little mother in the large rocker where she had placed her. “Now, dear mamma, do be persuaded not to go upstairs again. Don’t you know that it is warmer this morning than it has been for several days? And don’t you remember what the doctor said about exerting yourself on warm days?”

Illustration of elderly woman sitting in a chair. A younger woman sits upon the arm of the chair, with one of her arms wrapped around the elderly woman's shoulders.

“But, my dear,” protested the mother, trying to withdraw her arms from the loving clasp, “I was not doing anything to injure myself; and Norah is away, you know.”

“I cannot help it if she is. Your strength is more important than the work of fifty Norahs. Come and help me, Norm. She ought not to bustle around in the heat, ought she?”

“Certainly not,” said the tall brother. He strolled toward them, and drew a chair beside his mother.

Illustration of a young man and young woman speaking to an elderly woman.

As the morning waned, she made ineffectual appeals to both son and daughter to let her “step out for a few minutes” and see how things were going.

“No, indeed!” said Marian with emphasis. “As if we should let you into that hot kitchen for a minute! We might better go without luncheon than to have it at any such price. Don’t worry, mamma dear; things will come out all right; they always do.”

Yet the mother undoubtedly worried, although the guests were as polite as possible, and protested that it was too warm to think of anybody’s doing anything. People did not need to eat in warm weather. Yet they knew, and the hostess knew, that people do eat in warm weather, and that, moreover, the average man and woman like cool, dainty edibles that do not make themselves.

 After a time the two self-constituted policemen became absorbed, the one in a new embroidery stitch which a guest was teaching her, the other in a volume of Browning. As the other guests were by this time engaged in writing or reading, the hostess slipped away. My thoughts followed her regretfully. If I were only well enough acquainted to beg to be allowed to help, how gladly would I have done so! Later, two or three of us took a stroll about the grounds, and discussed the several members of the family.

“What a lovely girl Marian is!” said one. “So unselfish, and so thoughtful of her mother! It was really charming this morning to see her solicitude. And the eldest son seems very much like her.”

“They are so different from Kate,” chimed in another voice. “One never sees her hovering around her mother, anxious lest she should overtax her strength. I wonder where she is, by the way. I have not seen her since breakfast.”

“Kate is sufficient to herself, I fancy,” said a third. “She seems to have her own pursuits, regardless of family life. But I do not wonder, I am sure, that Marian and her brother are anxious about the mother; she looks miserable this summer. I think they will not have her with them long.”

The mother returned, sooner than I had expected, and her face was serene. Something had happened to lift the burden of care.

“Your children are very solicitous for you,” I said in an aside to her a few minutes afterwards. “It is pleasant to see them.”

“Yes,” she said with a motherly smile, “I am blessed in my children. Marian’s anxiety is sometimes almost burdensome; but the dear girl means it well. This morning, for instance, I felt as if it would have been a real comfort to be able to slip away and attend to a few things. But I need not have worried; I might have known that my dear Kate would manage.”

“That is your second daughter, is it not?”

“Yes, the dear child! You do not know her very well; she gives herself little time for our friends, she is so busy assuming the cares of others. I wanted to arrange the lunch today, for Jane does not like to be interrupted; but I found Kate had planned everything, and executed it, for that matter. She had even been to my room, and made the bed, and put everything in exquisite order. I don’t know how she found time to accomplish so much. It is not any of it her regular work, you understand—just extras that she is doing to save me.”

Illustration of a young woman arranging flowers on a dining table.

I moralized, afterwards, over this bit of revelation. Did any of us think that the daughter Marian was selfish? Did she herself for a moment imagine such a thing? And yet . . .  

Oh, it is the little bits of things that catch us. Why, bless your heart! I know a boy who most cheerfully gave up a cherished plan to make a three days’ visit to a friend, because there were reasons why his mother did not wish him to be absent at the time. There were reasons why it was more than an ordinary sacrifice for the young man, and I admired him for making it. But that very fellow came to breakfast, dinner, and supper a few minutes late every time but one during the five days that I was his mother’s guest, although he knew perfectly well that both his mother and his father were annoyed by it. He did not do it intentionally, mind; but his ease-loving nature found it to his convenience to dawdle just at those moments. I think he would have been surprised and pained had one accused him of selfishness. Yet what was the name of the difficulty?

I am glad I used that word “cheerfully” in speaking of him. It hints at another way of giving up. I have a friend who sacrificed her quarter’s salary to relieve her father of a temporary embarrassment; yet she did it so ungraciously, and he heard about it so continually for the next six months, that I doubt whether he would accept such an offering again no matter how great the stress. That girl considers herself a monument of unselfishness.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Poor, Wretched Peter!

Isabella was deeply involved in the Christian Endeavor movement. Each month the Society of Christian Endeavor published meeting guides and lesson plans for local chapters to use in their meetings. When the May 1894 meeting guide focused on Peter’s actions in the book of Luke, Isabella wrote a special “open letter” to the youngest C.E. members to help them understand the context of the lesson. Here’s what she wrote:


Dear Young People:

Some of you are studying this month about Peter. You are dreadfully shocked over him as you read his story in the twenty-second chapter of Luke. I do not wonder. How terrible it must have been to Jesus to have heard Peter say, “I know him not!”

And in another place it tells how Peter even swore that he did not know him! Poor, wretched Peter!

If we had not heard anything more about him, we should have despised him all our lives. And as it is, we are quite sure that we would never have done such a thing as that, if we had been on earth when Jesus was. I heard a boy say so, once.

“No, ma’am!” he said, his cheeks growing red at the thought. “I tell you, I am very sure I never should have denied him. The idea!”

Yet only the next day that boy was playing croquet with some other boys, and two began to swear.

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“Hush!” said one of them, after a minute. “We mustn’t swear before Tommy; he’s a goody-goody boy and has promised never to use any naughty words. Run away, Tommy, before we hurt you.”

What did Tommy say? Remember, he was the boy who knew he would not have denied Jesus. He laughed, and blushed, and said:

“I’m not afraid of your words; say what you like.”

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Why did he say that? Why, because he was ashamed to own before those boys that he belonged to Jesus Christ, and had promised to try to please him. Don’t you think he denied him quite as much as Peter did?

Oh, there are many ways of doing it. I am reminded of a girl I used to know, whose mother did not approve of little girls taking walks on Sunday.

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On the way home from Sunday-school, her classmates said to her:

“Come on, let’s go down to the river for a walk;” and she answered:

“Oh, I can’t today; I have a little headache.”

She said this, not because of her headache, which was not enough to keep her from going anywhere she pleased, but because she did not like to own that she had been taught it was not the right way to spend Sabbath time, and she was trying to do right. Do you think there was a little bit of denial of Jesus in her heart just then?

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What do you think of Isabella’s letter?

A Little Word Lost

In The Pansy magazine Isabella used stories, illustrations, and poems to teach young people what it meant to follow Jesus. The following poem was published in an 1893 issue of the magazine, and although it was written for children, it has meaning for adults, too!

I lost a very little word
    Only the other day;
A very naughty little word
    I had not meant to say.
If only it were really lost,
    I should not mind a bit;
I think I should deserve a prize
    For really losing it.
For if no one could ever find
    Again that little word,
So that no more from any lips
    Could it be ever heard,
I'm sure we all of us would say
    That it was something fine
With such completeness to have lost
    That naughty word of mine.
But then it wasn't really lost
    When from my lips it flew;
My little brother picked it up,
    And now he says it, too.
Mamma said that the worst would be
    I could not get it back;
But the worst of it now seems to me,
    I'm always on its track.
If it were only really lost!
    Oh, then I should be glad!
I let it fall so carelessly
    The day that I got mad.
Lose other things, you never seem
    To come upon their track;
But lose a naughty little word,
    It's always coming back.

While no author name was given when the poem was published, Isabella’s husband Ross and son Raymond were both talented poets, as was Isabella.

When she wrote stories about children losing their tempers, she wrote from experience. Isabella shared stories from her own life about how often her anger got her into trouble when she was young.

You can read about some of those instances in these previous posts:

Joy Go with You

BFFs at Oneida Seminary

Locust Shade … and a New Free Read

Quotable

Isabella was a wise woman who had a talent for stating Christian truths in simple, meaningful ways. Here’s one example:

"Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of extraordinary sins, but sometimes trial of extraordinary graces."

You can find more of Isabella’s words of wisdom to read, print, and share. Just enter “quotables” in the search box on the right to see more.

A Hard Text about Swearing

Isabella’s brother-in-law Reverend Charles M. Livingston wrote several articles for The Pansy magazine in which he explained Bible verses that might seem confusing at first. Here’s one he wrote in 1889:


Matthew 5: 33-37:

33. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said of them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:

35. Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

37. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Image of open Bible

With these words in mind, how, then, do good men swear on the witness stand in the court-room?

That is intended to be a solemn, religious thing, for the sake of truth and law and justice. It sets the fear of God before the witness to deter him from falsehood, and the love of God to lead him to tell the truth.

The spirit of prayer is in it.

Our Hard Text refers to profane, wicked, idle swearing. It is taking the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain. It is very common in ordinary conversation among many people. They curse and swear “by” this and “by” that, just for fun, or to make folks believe them, usually when they are telling a lie. At last it becomes a vile, dreadful habit, and in almost every sentence they swear. Many little children do this. It is an awful sin. It leads to destruction.

Shun the first step in that direction. Have a character for truth. Consecrate your tongue to Christ as He died on the cross to redeem your entire body and soul from all sin.

Have you ever wondered if swearing a solemn oath was the same as swearing in ordinary conversation?

What do you think of Rev. Livingston’s explanation?


Click on the links below to read more of Reverend Livingston’s “Hard Text” articles:

A Hard Text

A Hard Text in Matthew

A Hard Text: Matthew, Mark and Luke

Advice to Readers about Marriage Proposals

For many years Isabella edited a Christian magazine for which she wrote a very popular advice column. In 1896 she responded to a letter from an unmarried woman who had just received a proposal of marriage.

Despite his profession of love to her, the woman confessed she did not feel the same way about him. Yet she was tempted to accept his offer because she thought he’d make a fine husband; but her biggest concern was that because she was getting older, she was afraid his proposal may be her last chance for marriage.  

In closing, she asked Isabella: How could she tell if the Lord meant for her to marry such a man?

Image of man and woman about 1910 in an embrace, holding hands.

Here is Isabella’s advice:

My Dear Friend, I can understand the state of bewilderment into which you are thrown, but at my age the light is plainer. As I read your letter, I find myself wishing that all questions were as easily answered as yours.

In the first place, let me beg you never to allow any chain of circumstances or specious reasoning to persuade you that it is right to marry one that you are not sure beyond the shadow of a doubt is the man above all others that you believe your heart would have chosen under any conceivable circumstances. Any other marriage than this I believe to be a mockery in the sight of God. I can conceive of one loving another in this way, and yet not marrying from motives of duty; but I cannot conceive of any duty that would make it right for one not so loving to marry. Do you not see how simple a matter such conviction of right and wrong as this makes your query?

Image of bride and groom holding hands as they kneel in church about 1905. Behind them are three bridesmaids dressed in pink gowns and holding bouquets of pink flowers.

Be sure, dear friend, that what “the Lord means” for you is that you should do right, even if in doing so you are compelled to grieve someone that has given you the best his heart has to offer. It would be but a sorry return to give back to such a man mere dregs of feeling.  

I know it is the fashion in certain circles to talk a great deal about “Platonic affection.” I have often been tempted to think that many people use the term without having a clear idea of what it means; but the fact remains that with honest, earnest, well-trained young men and women exclusive and long-continued companionship means, other things being equal, companionship for life; and when two persons arrange to set aside this rule of nature, it generally means sorrow for one of them.

Image of bride and groom about 1910 in tender embrace.

Let me still further say that it seems to me you are perhaps making the very common mistake of thinking of marriage almost as a necessity to a woman’s life. Does it not occur to you that possibly God may not mean you to marry at all?

In saying this I do not want to be understood to speak lightly of marriage; on the contrary, I believe a true marriage to be the crown of a woman’s life. But there are many honorable exceptions; there is blessed work in the world being done by women with warm affections and motherly hearts, who have no home ties, and so are able to do that which—but for them—would be left undone. Who can estimate how many homeless and motherless ones rise up to call such women blessed? Possibly your work lies in this direction. Whether it does or not, let me repeat the admonition with which I began:

Never mistake friendship for love; never stand before the marriage altar with one of whom you could not say, “My heart chose him alone from all the world.”

Image of a bride and groom outside a church about 1918. Bride is dressed in white gown and veil and carrying a bouquet of white flowers. Groom is dressed in formal black tux with white shirt, tie and waistcoat.

My dear girl, I want to emphasize this as much as possible because I believe in it so thoroughly. The world is full of wrecked homes and ruined hearts that need not have been so if friendship had not been so often mistaken for love, and marriage relations entered into so carelessly.

I wonder whether I have fully answered your thought. I have no doubt that you consider your circumstances peculiar—we all do—but the letters that I have received lead me to believe that a large number of your sisters are thinking along much the same lines.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Do you agree with her that marriage is not always “a necessity to a woman’s life”?

You can read more of Isabella’s advice columns by clicking on the links below:

Advice to Anxious Mothers of Daughters

Advice to Readers on Learning to Cook

Advice to Readers about Keeping Confidences

Isabella’s Advice about Christmas Possibilities

Advice about Righting the Wrong Marriage Proposal

Advice to Readers about Shortcomings

Advice to Readers on Managing the World

Advice to Readers on Memorizing Bible Verses

Advice to Readers on Praying Aloud in Public

Advice to Readers Living Humdrum Lives

Advice to Readers on Bashfulness

Advice to Readers about Boys and Books

Advice to Readers about Forgiveness

Advice to Readers about Ornaments