Be not deceived by this small-looking book. To quote Shakespeare, "though she be but little, she is fierce."
Written in 1869 by American author Elizabeth Prentiss who is probably best known for penning the words to the sweet hymn "More Love to Thee, O Christ", this book was given to me by a precious woman in my life a few months before I turned 14 years old. I know that I read this book (or at least the majority of this book) when it was given to me, and I know that I enjoyed it, but I really didn't remember too much about it which is why I was eager to stick it on a book list right away. I didn't get to it last year, but I'm glad I put it back on this year's list to read. It was....I don't even have a word for what it was! Beautiful. Inspiring. Relatable. Emotional. Companionable. All these words are true of this book, but they somehow miss the mark. Is there a word that encompasses all these and touches on something a little deeper? I don't know, but let me do my best to try to unpack this one.
To start with, I'm actually going to share what's printed on the back of my copy. As a general rule, I never read the backs of books (and thanks to this rule, I didn't even realize this book comes highly recommended by one of my favorite ladies!), but I think it's a good place to start for our recap:
"How dreadfully old I am getting! Sixteen!" writes Katherine in her brand-new journal on January 15, 1831. Her heartfelt words mark the start of your own unforgettable journey following Katherine as her life unfolds from sweet sixteen to her grown-up later years. As she learns that true happiness is found in giving oneself to others, you, too, will be immeasurably encouraged to step heavenward--to live with greater godliness, humility, tranquillity, and hope.
"This book is a treasure of both godly and womanly wisdom told with disarming candor and humility, yet revealing a deep heart's desire to know God. We need such intimate accounts, need them desperately when the word commitment is so little understood and so seldom practiced. I do not hesitate to recommend it to men, who need to better understand the wives they live with, and to any woman who wants to walk with God."Who wrote that glowing recommendation, you ask? None other than Elisabeth Elliot herself. And I didn't even realize it till I was probably more than halfway through this little treasure!
Stepping Heavenward is a fictional young lady's journal, and the whole book is written as such with a few excerpts from letters here and there to fill in some of the blanks. Like a true journal, there are sections where Katherine writes nearly every day, but there are also long stretches where she goes for months or even years without writing.
What I truly loved about this book was how every word rang true. I found myself wondering if some of these pages weren't taken from my own heart's journal which was especially encouraging as I read about Katherine's constant struggle to consistently grow her faith in and love for God. It made me realize that perhaps I'm not the only one who constantly feels like I'm taking one step forward only to fall three steps back on this journey to Heaven.
Not only did I relate to Katherine on a spiritual level, I totally got her on a personal level as well. The revelations and lessons she learned from sweet 16 through marriage to a man and the emotions that go along with every single one were so on point. I cringed, laughed, fumed, rolled my eyes, and cried right along with her to the very last page. It's nice knowing we're not completely alone in this world and that our little struggles aren't really so uncommon.
I echo Elisabeth Elliot's recommendation almost unreservedly. I do have one exception to make for women my heart is especially tender toward. If you are a woman who is longing for children and as yet God hasn't fulfilled that desire, this may not be the book for you right now. I know I personally had to put this book down at times and take my bruised heart to my loving Savior. When you're doing your best to "step heavenward" and you come across a line like, "And do people call it living who never had any children?"...it hurts a little.
But the message this book ultimately conveys is that God uniquely gifts people with their own tailor-made trials and tribulations to refine each one and bring them closer to Himself. That includes the childless, the barren. So if you can handle it, I definitely think you should read it. But if this happens to be an area where you're struggling to keep your head above water, where you're doing your absolute best to not get discouraged or become bitter--hold off on this book for a while.
For the rest of you: dive in. It's a good one.