Are you tired of Cinderella stories? You know, the ones with their saintly fair maidens and angelic buxom brunettes. The characters are flawless from the start in every way, from their moral fortitude to their physical attributes. The Preacher’s Bride, by Judy Hedlund, is a refreshing exception. Perhaps that is what makes the book so cogent—the invitation to identify with the heroine, finding grace in her imperfections and confidence in her strengths. Surely this comes from the fact that the story is only partly fiction.
From the first pages of The Preacher’s Bride, the protagonist, Elizabeth Whitbread, treads common ground with us lowly, average, homely, self-conscious, dutiful women. Through the course of the book, Hedlund expertly uses Elizabeth to empathize with each varied and mystifying roll a woman may play in her life: from a young, single woman to a new bride, an unloved wife to an independent woman, and finally to a wise, seasoned, valued and respected mother and wife.
Hedlund is skilled at sharing the perspectives of each the primary characters, but Elizabeth drives the story. This is particularly fascinating, as The Preacher’s Bride is ultimately based on the story of John Bunyan, the tinker turned preacher in England during the 1600’s.
The book is well-researched, and accurately portrays the cultural and political climate of the times; the tension between the Puritans and the Royalists. Then, adding a good dose of creative license, Hedlund explores the emotions, trials and victories of Bunyan’s second wife, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s defining characteristic is her strength. In spite of persecution, poverty, overwhelming responsibility, loneliness and pain, she emerges victorious. I liken Elizabeth’s story to a item submitted to a tinker such as John Bunyan.
Tinkering, according to Wikipedia, is essentially “the process of adapting, meddling or adjusting something in the course of making repairs or improvements,”. It must be painful. There is twisting and bending, heating and filing. But the end result is always finer than at the start.
The Preacher’s Bride shows how God uses many challenges to “tinker” with each of us. But like Elizabeth, there is a reward when we remain faithful. I found myself with Elizabeth, experiencing each of her trials, and somehow, I believe, emerging with her refined, purified and improved.