I've heard through the grapevine that my books are being read by many book clubs. I've come up with some questions to facilitate your group's discussions. If you lead a book discussion group and plan to discuss one of my novels in the coming months, I'd love to know about it. I'll be glad to answer any questions your group might have about one of my books, or about the process of writing that particular book. Write me (on the 'contact' link) and let me know the date of your meeting and which book you've selected.
Hope these questions help and happy reading!
Questions for Readers of The Swan House
1) At the beginning of chapter one, Mary Swan explains that the year of 1962 was “most importantly, the year that I discovered the truth, and truth always sets us free.” Do you agree with this statement? What truth is Mary Swan ultimately referring to?
2) Why are we afraid to speak the truth? Think of a time when you were confronted with the truth (ex. maybe someone dared to tell you what they really thought about something you said, did, etc). After the initial shock and pain, were you thankful? Was hearing the truth helpful? Why or why not?
3) At the end of chapter 3, Mary Swan says, “Trixie and Ella Mae and Daddy performed an intricate if unseen act of grace to keep my mother balanced and functioning. And I never once saw it. That was their gift to me as I grew up. Secrecy and love.” What do you think of family secrets? How have they affected you and yours?
4) What is the relationship between Ella Mae and Mary Swan? Ella Mae and Sheila? Ella Mae and John Jason?
5) Which character in the book elicits the deepest emotions and strongest reactions from you? Why?
6) What are the pros and cons of the private education which Mary Swan, Rachel and Robbie are receiving? Is it a good thing to ‘shelter’ our kids and provide a private education? Why or why not?
7) Who is truer in her belief, Rachel or the Protestant girls who attend church as part of tradition?
8) Where are your prejudices? Do you acknowledge them or do you often begin sentences with "I'm not prejudiced, but..." Is there anything you should do about these attitudes?
9) What are you doing with whatever wealth you've been blessed with? Which attitude best describes you?
Keeping up with the Jones'
Smug about my contributions to benevolent causes
My money is not my own but a gift to be shared
10) What does the verse in the Bible "To whom much is given,
much will be expected" mean to you?
11) Do you think that Miss Abigail's character realistically
portrays a life of sacrifice and love? Does her life attract or
repel you? Why?
12) Look at the conversation between Miss Abigail and Mary Swan at the
End of chapter 7 (bottom of page 107-top of 109) dealing with the
differences between the poor blacks in inner city and the rich whites in
Buckhead. By the end of the book, how does Mary Swan come to view her
privileged life in Buckhead? What has she learned about making sweeping generalizations about race and class?
13) What does this statement mean to you: “The ground is all even at the foot of the cross”? What is true faith?
14) At one point, Mary Swan says, “Ever since I’d been coming down to Grant Park, I’d been trying to figure out the way things worked in poor, inner-city Atlanta.” (p. 181) How does Mary Swan eventually gain a better understanding of the inner city? What role does Carl play in this?
15) Have you ever tried to "get into the skin" of a person of a different race, religion, socio-economic background? If so, how has this changed your worldview? If not, spend some time reflecting on and discussing what different issues would need to be considered in order to better understand people of a different background (race/religion/socio-economic) than your own.
16) Artistic expression (music, art, dance, writing, etc) acts as therapy for many people. How have you found creativity to be helpful in your life?
17) What is the significance of the Swan House throughout the book? What does it symbolize for Mary Swan? For the people of Buckhead?
Questions for Readers of The Dwelling Place
1) At the beginning of the novel, Ellie says that ‘sometimes the breaking of things is cruel and sometimes it is necessary and sometimes it is just an accident.’
Think of the different ‘broken things’ in the story and put each into one of these three categories—‘cruel’, ‘necessary’, ‘accident’:
- Ellie’s escape into drugs
- Robbie’s wounds from Vietnam
- The relationship between Ellie and Mary Swan
- The relationship between Rachel and Ben
- The relationship between the Bartholomews and the Matthews
Is there a similar solution for each of these broken things? If so, what is it? If not, what different solutions are possible?
2) Think of different events in your own life which could be described as ‘cruel’, ‘necessary’, or an ‘accident’. What has been your response to these events? Have you found healing and if so, how?
3) Authors use symbols to reinforce the different themes in the story. Which symbols reinforce the theme of brokenness, of healing?
4) What was your initial feeling toward Ellie? Did this perception change through the course of the novel and if so, how and why?
5) In what ways does Ellie’s character represent ‘every man’ (or ‘every woman)? Which of her characteristics could you relate to and why?
6) At the end of Chapter 6, Ellie says, “I kept staring at the piles, thinking that this was my friend Megan lying in pieces at my feet, fragile and destroyed. I never wanted to be beautiful after that.” What is your reaction to this scene in the book?
Do you agree with Ellie’s perception of how society treats the physically beautiful? Discuss the challenges facing the physically handicapped and the physically beautiful.
7) Is Ellie’s anger toward her mother justified? Have you ever felt a similar anger and later discovered it was based on misconceptions? How did you handle this?
8) What lessons does Ellie learn by looking back at her mother’s life and paintings?
9) Have you ever been an outsider, listening to 'Bartholomew Babble'? How did it make you feel and how did you handle it? Is that sort of "babble" ever justifiable? Have you ever been guilty of ‘Bartholomew Babble’? Why does it seem that Christians have a different way to communicate and should Christians communicate differently? Do you know anyone personally who feels ill at ease because of this kind of talk? Is it possible to remove Christian lingo/jargon without diluting the message? If so, how could you change the way you communicate?
10) Look at the last four paragraphs on page 304. Ellie concludes the chapter with ‘Ben was showing me Jesus.’ Have you ever known someone like Ben? What was your response to this type of person?
11) Do you think it is easier to confide in someone outside of the family in matters relating to faith and spirituality? Why or why not?
12) At the end of Chapter 20 (p. 341), Ellie is thinking: “As I curled up on my bed, I thought how one day could truly make a difference.” Why does she say this? Have you ever experienced something similar because you chose to forgive?
13) In your opinion, who is the strongest character in the novel? What weaknesses does this character display?
14) Who is your favorite character in the story and why?
15) Discuss the different meanings of The Dwelling Place in the novel. Which can you most identify with and why?
16) Project into the future: What happens between Ellie and Ben? Rachel and Ben? Mary Swan and Ellie? Do they ever travel to the Dwelling Place? Do they need to? What is Ellie’s relationship with Robbie, Abbie and Nan?
Questions for readers of Searching for Eternity
1) What is Emile really searching for in this novel?
2) What do the ‘treasures’ symbolize to Emile? Discuss in particular the significance of The Black Island for him both at the beginning of the novel and also at the end. Describe a gift that you received which eventually came to symbolize something entirely different.
3) Discuss Emile’s reactions as he is forced to adapt to a completely new and foreign culture without warning. Have you ever experienced culture shock in any form? If so, how did this experience help you view foreigners trying to adapt to our culture? Which character’s response to Emile’s culture shock can you most identify with: Emile himself, Janie, Grandma Bridgeman, Ace, Eternity, Griffin, Mamie Madeleine? Why?
4) Discuss the image of a ‘safe room’. (see p. 167) Do you have a ‘safe room’? Describe your ideal ‘safe room’.
5) As a young adolescent, Emile longs for a father figure—someone to teach him how to be a man. Does he find one? What scenes in the novel best portray his struggle toward maturity? Does he ultimately succeed?
6) At the beginning of the novel, Eternity’s goal is to protect her family. Discuss the problems surrounding children who are forced to take on the role of adults. What does Eternity ultimately learn about control?
7) Discuss the process of maturing to which Emile is subject throughout the novel. Which specific events are particularly important with respect to his growth, and how do they affect him in the long run?
8) Emile struggles to forgive his father throughout the novel, at times succeeding while at other times failing, with feelings of betrayal and hate resurfacing. What ultimately helps him? Is his life ruined because of his father’s disappearance? Discuss the experience of forgiving someone yet still dealing with intense feelings years later.
9) Think about Eternity Jones, how she got her name, and what she eventually becomes. In light of these thoughts, consider this rendering of Genesis 50: 20 "What my father meant for bad, God meant for good..." How does her father’s flippant choice of a name become a blessing?
10) In your opinion, who is the strongest character in the novel and why? Who is a stabilizing force in the novel?
11) Is Jean-Baptiste de Bonnery ultimately a coward, a hero, a man possessed by revenge or someone else?
12) Discuss the theme of sacrifice in the novel. Who gives up the most?
13) Even though Klaus Barbie never admitted his guilt or showed any remorse, were the French resistants and the Jews avenged with his condemnation? What did his trial allow for France?
14) The theme of renewal and rebirth is prominent in the novel. Discuss Jesus’ statement “...unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12: 24) Have you experienced this type of renewal in any form in your life? If so, how? (see p. 133)
15) Reflect upon the themes of ‘eternity’ and ‘time’ in the novel. What do Emile and Eternity ultimately learn about the concept of time? Discuss the symbolism in the title.
Discussion Questions for Readers of Words Unspoken
1) The ‘words unspoken’ in the novel are the voices of the subconscious. Think of the seven main characters in the book and the voices each hears. Which one can you relate to the most and why?
Ev—he listens to the Almighty
Lissa—never good enough, failure, your fault
Katy Lynn—keep up appearances, no one will know
Silvano—you have to succeed, your family’s future depends on it
Janelle—go home !
Ted—go, go, go and don’t look back !
Stella—I’m getting too old to keep up this charade
2) On a drive back to Lookout Mountain after a meal at the MacAllister’s, Ev tells Lissa the trick is to figure out which voice to listen to and which to ignore. Discuss. Have you done this?
3) At one point in the novel, Ev tells Lissa she needs to make a ‘battle plan’ to help her ‘get past the now.’ (p. 156). He adds, “I’ve learned that getting things out into the open, saying the truth about what is inside, usually speeds up the process of moving forward. Admitting it, facing it, and then planning a way to keep moving in the right direction.”
Do you agree or disagree? Do you have examples from your life to support your answer?
4) What is Ev’s ‘battle plan’? Discuss the concept of developing a battle plan. Have you ever used a technique like this in your life? Was it helpful?
5) Have you ever faced paralyzing fear? How did you overcome it?
6) Learning to drive again for Lissa becomes a metaphor for learning to live again. Discuss the symbolism.
7) The theme of grieving is woven throughout the novel. Near the end, Ev and Janelle have a conversation:“…you’ve got to give yourself permission to keep grieving for as long as it takes.”
“You never really get over it, do you?”
“No, sweetie, not exactly. But then, do we want to ‘get over it’? The memory of Tate, the memory of Josh, is proof of their importance in our lives. I think we just hope to let the Almighty redeem the terrible scars…”
Discuss the different ways Ev, Janelle, Lissa and her father deal with grief. What are your thoughts on grieving?
8) What does Lookout Mountain symbolize to Ev? To Lissa?
9) In your opinion, who is the strongest character in the book and why?
10) Ted Draper is motivated by greed, which ends up getting him in big trouble. At one point, he rationalizes, Was it greedy to want to make the Million Dollar Club? Was it greedy to want a nice house and things for his kids . . . or to want to save his marriage? Was it greedy to want to stay out of jail? (p. 214) and then a few pages later he thinks: Greed. Many brokers were tempted by greed. But his temptation was something much more basic. Survival. How had he plummeted from golden success to simple survival in one week? He did not know, but he prayed to the God of Mammon that his plan would work.
Have you ever been tempted to rationalize obvious wrong choices? What was the outcome?
11) Think of Silvano's character and the deep responsibility he feels toward his family back in Italy. Discuss his motivations. How do you respond to pressure from loved ones?
12) Near the end of the novel, Ev explains to his daughters and granddaughter that: “Fame had ruined me once—it terrified me, the possibility of repeating the past…Please believe me . . . it wasn’t to keep the truth from you—it was to protect you.” (p. 338) Were Ev and Annie McAllister ‘right’ to have kept their secret for so many years? Why or why not?
13) Discuss the change and growth in Katy Lynn and Janelle's relationship. What is the catalyst for this growth?
14) Throughout much of the novel, Lissa and her father are at an impasse because of the way each one chooses to deal with grieving. Do they ever get past this impasse? If so, how?
15) Why and how does Lissa eventually come to hear different voices in her head?
Discussion Questions for Readers of The Sweetest Thing
1) At one point in the novel, Ginnie Dillard says to her daughter Dobbs: “When you love, it will hurt. You have to choose to forgive, again and again. But it’s worth it. That’s the crux of human relationships, Dobbs. The sweetest thing. Loving deeply. And forgiving…”
Do you agree with her? What is “the sweetest thing” to you?
2) In chapter 5, Perri says about Dobbs: "I had never before felt the tightening in my soul that I felt for Dobbs. Most of my friends I’d known forever, but my bond with Dobbs came swiftly, desperately, born from all the things breaking inside me. She had a kind of intuition that read my mind and peered deep in my soul. I found that I needed to be near her."
Have you ever experienced this in a friendship—a sudden bond made through difficult circumstances? Did this friendship last?
3) At another point in the story, Perri says: "Mary Dobbs Dillard rescued me from the worst of myself; she came to me as a gift, and we spent that time in a bubble. I asked myself why the bubble burst—or more precisely, if it had to. Was I destined to retreat back into the pain of my world instead of pressing forward with Dobbs and the one thing that she offered me—an uncharted life of guaranteed adventure that would take me far, far outside of myself?"
Have you ever had to choose between beginning a friendship that is hard—but challenging and ultimately beneficial to you—and staying with the status quo? If so, which did you choose? What do you now think about that choice?
4) What does the little book Patches from the Sky represent in the novel? Have you found consolation—a path through grief—through Bible passages and literature? How and why has this helped?
5) The Sweetest Thing is about friendships and the influence they can have on us. Near the end of the novel, both Perri and Dobbs find themselves doing things that resemble the other person’s actions or thoughts. Have you ever found yourself adopting the habits, expressions, even beliefs, of a friend, although at first you were diametrically opposed to them? Ultimately was this positive or negative?
6) Discuss the themes of survival and provision throughout the novel. What do you believe about Dobbs’s insisting that “God will provide.” Have you ever needed God to provide for you in a very practical way? What did you learn from this experience about faith and trust?
7) Dobbs has a crisis of faith. Does it come out of nowhere? Have you ever experienced a “crisis of faith?” If so, how did you resolve this crisis?
Is it wrong to doubt one’s faith? Is it possible never to have doubts? Dobbs said that Jackie Brown was the fault line in her theology. Are there any circumstances in your life that cause you to doubt what you have previously believed?
8) Discuss if and how the secondary
characters in the story evolve:
The Phi Pis
9) Discuss the evolution in the relationship between Dobbs and her father. What caused it to evolve?
10) Look at the conversation between Dobbs and her mother (chapter 25)
“I keep asking God over and over again, Why? Why?”
Mother’s voice was a bare whisper. “That’s not the right question, Mary Dobbs. You’ll drive yourself crazy asking that question.”
“So what are you supposed to ask?” I said bitterly.
Mother shrugged. “Honey, I’ve learned to ask not why but what? ‘Now that I’m in this impossible place, Lord, what do I do next?’ ”
Do you agree with Ginnie Dillard’s advice to her daughter? Do you tend to ask “Why” when bad things happen? If so, is this okay? What other questions do you ask?
11) The position of servants in 1930s South was difficult and unjust. Discuss the way the Singletons and the Chandlers treated their servants. Was Aunt Josie’s way of protecting her servants justified?
12) Perri was tempted to sacrifice many things for the sake of providing for her family. What do you think about her motivations? Have you ever had a “Spalding” (not necessarily in the form of a person) come into your life and tempt you? How did you respond?
13) Near the end of the novel, Aunt Josie says that “In the times we are living in, people are desperate, Mary Dobbs. People have had plenty and now they are on the verge of losing it all.” Discuss the way the financial crisis of 2008-2009 has affected people in the US. Do you see any similarities to the way it affected the people portrayed in the story?
14) Early in the novel, Dobbs tells Perri, “I’m praying that one day God will provide something for you, you alone, Perri Singleton, in a way that you won’t be able to doubt it is from Him.”
Discuss Perri’s conversion experience. Have you ever had a spiritual encounter like Perri? Have you ever had a friend pray for you in a certain way and later see the realization of her prayer?
15) At the end of the story, both Dobbs and Perri seem to be following their calling. How does faith play into this for each girl?
Discussion Questions for Readers of Two Crosses
1) Homesickness is one of the themes in Two Crosses. Have you ever been in a situation where you were far from home and tempted to make unwise decisions because you did not have trusted family and friends around with whom you could talk?
2) Symbols are very important in Two Crosses. Discuss how the symbol of the Huguenot cross is used throughout the novel on different levels. What other symbols are used in the story?
3) Think about the different main characters in the novel and discuss how each one is drawn to the Huguenot cross:
4) Early in the novel, Gabriella says to David, “I cannot prove that prayers are answered or that God is above if you do not want to believe it. But that isn’t my business.… I dare you to ask Him to prove Himself to you.” (p. 47) Have you ever prayed this way for yourself or for a friend? What was the result?
5) In Chapter 10, p. 105, Mother Griolet says, “It was just another thread in the tapestry of God’s work…Another instance of God weaving our lives in and out to bring about His good will.” What do you think about this philosophy? How does the tapestry theme play out in the novel?
6) On p. 101 and p. 152-153, David expresses anger and frustration over the plight of the pied-noirs, the harkis, and other minorities. What are your feelings about minorities? Do you agree with David? Have you ever been in a situation where you were part of a minority? How did you feel?
7) Look at the first scene in Chapter 12 (p. 120-123). Have you ever tried to rationalize a decision you knew was wrong. Or asked a trusted friend to agree with something your conscious told you was wrong? If so, what was the outcome?
8) Ali Boudani is a man obsessed with a desire for revenge. David also seeks revenge. What effect does this obsession have on the rest of their lives and the lives of others? Have you ever been consumed with revenge? If so, what was the outcome?
9) In Chapter 18, p. 210-212, Gabriella and Mother Griolet have a discussion about forgiveness. Mother Griolet says, “Forgiveness is not just for the offender. You’re a victim, and until you forgive, you will always be a victim, locked in your hurt and bitterness. Forgiveness frees.” Do you agree with Mother Griolet? Why or why not? Can you give an example from your life?
10) In this same scene (p. 211-212), Gabriella reflects on Mother Griolet’s claim that God can bring triumph out of tragedy. What is your opinion about this claim—do you agree and have you seen this become true in your life?
11) Discuss the use of art and literature in the novel. At one point David says, “Funny how sometimes it is through pictures and poems that we express what we can’t say.” Do you agree? Have you ever experienced this?
12) Two of my favorite scenes to write were in Ch. 18, when Ophelie learns how to read and in Ch. 30 as Gabriella is taking her exam. Do you have one or two favorite scenes from this novel? Which are they and why?
13) What do you think of Mother Griolet’s response to Gabriella’s praise of the nun: “Ooh là, Gabriella. Watch out now! You may see me as a role model if you wish, but don’t put your hope and glory in simple humans. I’m sure to disappoint you. Glory is a dangerous thing, linked with that enemy, pride. No, sweet child, give the glory to God. He’s the only one who deserves it.” (p. 280) Why do we tend to put others on a pedestal? Is that wrong?
14) Look at Mother Griolet’s question to Gabriella on p. 358: “Do you think God is more interested in our circumstances or in what we learn from them?” and the following paragraphs and discuss whether you agree or disagree with Mother Griolet’s reasoning.
15) Read David’s conversion scene (p. 359-362) and discuss forgiveness and repentance.
16) At the end of the novel, David recalls something that Gabriella’s mother told her and she in turn shared with David. “Our God does not make mistakes.” (p. 433) Do you agree or disagree. Why?
Discussion Questions for Readers of Two Testaments
1) Ophélie is a child who seems wise beyond her years. Have you known children like this? Should adults pay attention to a child’s ‘intuition’?
2) The townspeople of Castelnau are none too happy about the influx of pied-noir and harki orphans. Are some of their fears justified? How do you handle situations involving prejudice:
Go along with the crowed
Disagree but keep quiet
Take a stand and speak your heart
3) In Chapter 5, on the ferry to France, Anne-Marie’s thoughts are: This pitiful lost flock of humanity drifting on the sea was being flung out like the stars to fill another spot of earth. But no one was guiding, no one pointed the way. Their destiny was as random as the galaxies.
What does Anne-Marie ultimately come to believe about guidance? Why does she come to these conclusions?
4) Read the conversation between Gabriella and Anne-Marie in Chapter 8, P. 121-124 and then read the scene on p. 460-461, starting with “When she shook herself back to the present…” Discuss the image of a tapestry and the concept that God brings one person or event in a life to help a person heal from past wounds. Have you seen this acted out in your life?
5) In Chapter 9, both Mother Griolet and Gabriella suggest that Anne-Marie read the same Scripture in the Gospel of John. Have you ever felt that God was speaking to you through the ‘coincidence’ of having the same Scripture mentioned by different people in a short span of time? How have you responded to this?
6) One of the themes in Two Testaments is that of trust. In Chapter 14, after Mother Griolet asks Gabriella to consider becoming her apprentice, they have this conversation (p. 184-185):
“…All I ask is that you consider it. Before you answer, I simply ask that you talk to the Lord about it.”
Gabriella frowned. “Mother Griolet, I’m not afraid to ask, but how can I be sure that what I hear will be from Him?”
How do you handle situations where you feel God asking you to do something that you don’t want to do or when you aren’t sure if you are truly hearing God speaking to you? How does the issue of trust come into play in your decision?
7) Chapter 14, p. 193: (Gabriella) thought of her mother. She had left comfort and a promising future to follow her father to the lost country of Senegal when she was barely on the brink of womanhood. Her mother’s life had been hard, painful, isolated. But she knew what Rebecca Madison would say to all that. “Phooey! When you’re doing what God has called you to do, there is something that goes way beyond all the trappings of the world. It’s the beauty of sacrifice. I can’t explain it, Gabriella. You’ll have to discover it yourself.”
Do you agree with Rebecca Madison? Why or why not? Have you ever given up something that was extremely important to you for a ‘higher cause’ and later found the sacrifice was more than worth it?
8) Consider Mother Griolet’s reflections in Chapter 16, p. 208. The old nun smiled as she read. How like her God. He had inspired a woman in Senegal to write this letter weeks ago, so that on this day when she needed it so desperately, Mother Griolet would receive a word of encouragement. It was not coincidence. It was tapestry. Thunder grumbled outside, but the dark cloud had completely disappeared from Mother Griolet’s heart.
Have you ever had a similar experience of God ‘showing up’ in an unexpected way when you needed it most? If so, share about it.
9) Read the following conversation between Anne-Marie and Gabriella in Chapter 18, p. 238-239:
“I still have a question,” Anne-Marie remarked. “Do you mean that your God is not strong enough to convince you that His way is best?”
“God doesn’t work that way. How can I explain it? He gives us a choice, never forces us. And His Spirit guides us. If we listen.”
“But you have tried to listen, and you are not sure. Now what do you do?”
Gabriella turned to her friend, admiring both her dark, natural beauty and her honest questions. “You wait. That is the hardest part. You just wait.”
Discuss the place that waiting plays in life. Is the aspect of waiting different for a Christian than for someone who does not believe in Christ?
10) Eliane tells Anne-Marie, p. 241, "If you want God to be your God, He’s there, waiting. Membership is not reserved for some elite group. It’s open to everyone who truly believes." Do you agree or disagree?
11) Read the scene starting at the bottom of p.283-285 as David expresses his doubts and anger and fear to the Lord. What is your reaction to this scene? Have you ever felt these types of emotions? How did you respond? What happened?
12) Read the scene on pp. 308-309 after Anne-Marie has found out about Moustafa. Have you ever felt a ‘strange peacefulness’ as if ‘invisible arms were cradling’ you in the midst of something terribly difficult? Discuss this.
13) Think about the relationship between David and Roger Hoffmann and what caused it to be strained for so many years. How and why did that relationship change? Have you ever had a strained relationship; what allowed you to break through and truly communicate?
14) Discuss the way that Mother Griolet’s funeral brought together so many people from different backgrounds. Have you ever experienced a gathering like this? What were the circumstances?
15) Within the novel there are several impossible love stories. Discuss the specific difficulties that are inherent to a marriage between people from different cultures, religions, socio-economic backgrounds. In your opinion, is there a time when these differences cannot be compromised or overcome? What made these love stories possible in the novel?
16) Throughout the novel, Moustafa is looking for an oasis for his soul. What does he find? Do you have an oasis for your soul? Who, what or where is it?
17) Discuss the different possible meanings of the title Two Testaments. In your opinion, what are the two testaments the author refers to in the title?
18) Consider Gabriella’s thoughts near the end of Chapter 31, p. 426:
She picked up the other piece of the santon, walked out into the courtyard, and stared down at the statue. She recalled something Mother Griolet had said to her once … We must be broken before we are useful to the Lord. Broken of our selfishness, broken of ourselves. In that brokenness, we have so much more to offer him. Gabriella hugged the statue to herself and cried.
Discuss the idea that ‘we must be broken before we are useful to the Lord’? Do you agree? Have you seen this to be true in your life?
Discussion Questions for Readers of Two Destinies
1) In chapter 1, Ophélie admits that she feels awkward when a homeless person greets her at a traffic light. How do you respond to people begging for money or food?
Later in the novel (chapter 14), Ophélie wonders who she is coming to help at the Red Cross, the homeless or herself. Have you ever done some type of charity work to feel better about yourself, to ease guilty feelings? What was the result?
Then, at the end of chapter 30, Ophélie makes a decision about what she can do for the homeless who approach her on a daily basis. What do think about her idea? Would you be willing to try it?
2) Think back on the several scenes that describe the prejudice felt by the French toward the Arabs (Mme Ploussard’s gossip about Rislène in chapters 4, 6, and 8; and Mme Dufour’s disapproval of inviting Arabs to church in chapter 10). Have you ever felt this way about a different minority, or have you ever been the one who was described in derogatory terms? Share your experiences.
3) How much do you know about the persecuted church throughout the world? Have you ever tried to put yourself in the place of Christians who are persecuted for their faith? Have you had any personal contact with persecuted Christians? Does the thought of being persecuted for your faith frighten you? Why or why not?
4) At the beginning of chapter 12, Ceb thinks about his adolescence. Can you relate to an experience of having tasted faith and then turned your back on it, or has someone you care about deeply been through this experience? What happened next? Is it wrong to pursue a high-level career, to be on the fast track? Discuss.
5) At the end of chapter 12, Ceb thinks about Ophélie as his friend. Have you ever been in a place where you needed a friend to help you back from despair, or have you ever helped a friend in this way? What was the outcome?
6) Look at the scene at the beginning of chapter 14 where Rislène feels that her circumstances are too hard and that she has not been prepared for what she is enduring. Why does she change her mind? How has she been prepared? Have you ever been in a situation that seemed too hard for you only to see as you moved forward that God had prepared you to face this battle through lessons learned in the past? Share your experience.
7) Discuss the theme of lost children in the novel. (Consider Ceb’s mother, who practically closes off her emotions when her son disappeared. Think also of the plight of Rislène’s mother when she had to leave her daughter in Algeria. And Madira Charfi who wonders if she will ever see El Amin again.) Can you relate to these women’s grief? Share your experiences and what or who you found to help you through a difficult time.
8) Think about Ophélie’s different interactions with Ceb that ended in heated exchanges: in chapter 16 when he reluctantly accepted her invitation to shower and have lunch at her home, and in chapter 23 when they conversed about faith and grief. Have you ever tried to help a needy person, perhaps someone close to you, and gone about it all wrong? What happened? Were you able to make things right eventually? What would you do differently today if faced with the same situation?
9) Look at this conversation between Ophélie and Gabriella in chapter 18:
“Oui. I understand that God must teach us humility and total dependence on Him. But even for me it’s hard. And how in the world can I help Samuel understand that God can use such deep hurt for good?”
“You can’t, Ophélie. Trying to give spiritual answers for another person’s tragedy falls on deaf ears. Or enrages. I have found that all I can do is to trust God as I live out the pain in my life and pray that God will reveal Himself to another in his own trials. It is wonderfully freeing, you know. Giving it back to God. He’s big enough.”
Do you agree or disagree with Gabriella’s thoughts? Discuss.
10) Throughout the novel, Algerian women are portrayed as strong behind their veils. What do you think of Altaf Namani and her actions during the novel? What about Grandmother Namani? Nazira, Rislène’s younger sister? Jala, El Amin’s wife? Dounia, Hussein’s wife?
11) Consider this passage from chapter 25:
Ceb had thought that Algeria would be nonstop action. War, risk, adventure, violence. Not memories. Not more thoughts to torment his soul. He had thought it would be a new beginning, not a long, painful step back into his past.
Have you ever experienced the need to go back in the past in order to be able to move forward in the present? Did it end up being necessary? Why or why not?
12) In chapter 24, Ophélie compares Dominique’s work with that of Christ’s:
“It’s like you—Dominique the street mediator. Your job is to take the government’s high and lofty ideas and translate them into everyday talk, to meet the homeless and represent the government in a way they can understand, so they’ll accept the help that is available. Isn’t that what you do?”
He smiled. “More or less. If you simplify it, that’s my goal.”
“Well, Jesus did the same thing—lived among humanity to show us what God was like so that we could accept His help and love. He was a mediator.”
What do you think about this metaphor?
13) Discuss the pros and cons of marrying someone who does not share your beliefs. Can it work? Is it okay to date a person from a different religion? Think about Ophélie’s struggle in this matter with Dominique and the possibility of Rislène being forced to marry a Muslim man.
14) Read this scene from chapter 26:
It happened often, this battle within herself, this seeking to be free of something and freed to something. It was the dark side of Ophélie’s personality that few people saw, the ever-spiraling tyranny of guilt and fear, and the terrible, terrible solitude. Today again she found herself literally crying, begging the Lord to stop the vicious circle of self-condemning thoughts. After a while, sitting on the couch in her den, she felt the late-afternoon sun that came through the French doors from the balcony touch her face, as if God were reaching out a tender finger through the rays of the sun and personally wiping away each tear.
She picked herself off the couch, relishing the warmth of the sun through the glass. “Let this be a new beginning,” she prayed hesitantly. “Whatever it takes. I give You Ceb and Dominique, as I’ve given You every other man in my life. As I gave You Bachir. You know the pain.”
Have you ever wrestled with these types of thoughts? Have you cried out to God? What was the outcome?
15) Throughout the novel, Ceb is portrayed as a man who needs action and control. When does he ultimately relinquish control of his life and why? How does he come to accept forgiveness and to forgive himself?
16) Look at Gabriella’s conversation with Ophélie in chapter 26:
“I hear you’re taking care of his puppies?”
“Yes. Eric helped me get them from the squat. It was the least I could do.”
“Listen, Ophélie. You’ve done a lot. Get yourself a cup of tea and take a break for a little while. It’s okay to just be sad, you know. Will you do that for me, please?”
Do you have a friend who will give you this type of advice? If not, think about some people in your life who might serve in this role.
17) Discuss the symbolism in the novel: To whom does the title Two Destinies apply and why? What does the perfume bottle L’Essentiel represent in the novel? What other symbols or metaphors stuck out to you?
18) Discuss the themes of surrender, abiding, second chances, and new beginnings that occur throughout the novel. Think of how these themes apply to Rislène, Eric, Ceb, Ophélie, El Amin, and Hussein.
19) If you have read Two Crosses and Two Testaments, discuss how the characters from the first two novels changed and matured over the years.
Discussion Questions for Readers of Love Beyond Limits
1.)Discuss your group’s knowledge of the Reconstruction Period (1865-1877) in the South and in Georgia in particular. Were any of the details from the novella a surprise for you? 2.)What were your impressions of the Ku Klux Klan before reading the novella? After? 3).Could you sympathize with Emily’s attraction to Leroy? Discuss the relational ‘taboos’ in 21st century America. 4).Have you ever taken a stand against something that was ‘politically correct’ but ‘morally wrong’? Why? What was the result? 5).How does Emily change in the course of the novella? What precipitates that change? 6.) Consider Emily’s thoughts at the end of the novella:
There in the sanctuary of that home for that afternoon, they tasted true equality. And brotherly love. Love beyond the limits of what society imposed.
As Emily, Thomas, and the girls turned from the fields and made their way up to the Big House where they would share dinner with Father, Mother, and Anna, Emily prayed for the day when that kind of love and equality would be spread throughout the land.
Has that day arrived in America? Why or why not?
7.)Have you ever had someone like a ‘Miss Lillian’ in your life who spoke truth to you? How did you respond? 8.)Have you ever experienced the type of peace that Miss Lillian describes and that Emily ultimately experiences? If so, describe it. If not, is this something you desire to experience? Why or why not?