Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: Delightful, Interesting Historical Fiction Read

     In exchange for an honest review Bethany House Publishers sent a complimentary copy of Siri Mitchell's The Messenger. Beginning on the first page the reader will meet the young, Quaker lady, Hannah Sunderland as the book is narrated in firt person. Hannah must decide whether to engage the enemy as a spy or patronize her father's wishes and adhere to their strict Quaker stance of peace at all times. In the midst of the Revolutionary War Hannah is beginning to form her own opinions of morality and decides to follow her heart's unrest and quest for justice.
      Jeremiah seizes upon Hannah's discontent and enlists her as his partner in crime. Mr. Jones runs a pub that many of the Redcoats frequent, though his loyalties are purely for the Colonial people and land he calls home. Hannah's twin brother was captured as a rebel and is being starved along with rest of the captives. In order to assist an escape between the captives in Walnut Street Jail and General George Washington's men, Hannah puts her very own life on the line to become a messenger. The heartbreaking injustice is what moves the story from beginning to end and the hope of freedom the Colonials pray will come. In the beginning Hannah only knows what she has been taught by her family and Quaker Meeting elders. There she has learned to listen for the still, small voice of God which she finds later on prompting her to act far from her charted course. Jeremiah, though often irritated with this young lady, helps Hannah to see she is more than just her beliefs. She learns along the way, that questioning one's beliefs can lead to growth and finds herself as she ministers to those behind jail walls.
    Of the little fiction I do read, The Messenger is by far my favorite. Mitchell wisely focuses on a handful of characters, though she mentions many.  Often, there are so many characters to follow it takes half the book to keep them straight. Here the characters are complex and so well written one feels they know them personally. Hannah and Jeremiah alternate chapters narrating which says a lot for  Siri Mitchell's personal writing skills. Their personalities are very different and shine through each page.
     The historical nuances can be felt throughout demonstrating Mitchell's research and incorporating such into her writing. I have to say though, a glossary of some of the uncommon words would have been helpful. It was only through the context I was able to discern any clue as to what she was speaking of. I would also recommend reading the author's note in the back first. It would have been a better preface. I was delighted though when I read it to learn of how much of this book was based on historical fact. It made the book all that more wonderful and meaningful.
     If any reader is a fan of historical fiction, particularly of Colonial times, The Messenger is one to grab hold of. Do not let the 360 pages deter you from this one. The pages fly by, sometimes to my disappointment. I was a bit disappointed at the ending, not because it wasn't well-written, but because I wanted more. I want to know what became of Hannah Sunderland and Jeremiah Jones. I do hope for a sequel.

Purchase here from Amazon.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Review: A Book to Hold

     In exchange for a review, BookSneeze on behalf of Thomas Nelson Publishing sent a complimentary copy of Catherine Hickem's latest Heaven in Her Arms: Why God Chose Mary to Raise His Son and What It Means for You. There have been many books written about Mary and motherhood. However, Hickem has a knack many authors don't for this subject. Verse by verse, she leads the reader not only into the journey of motherhood, but into its heart. The reader will learn how to apply Mary's virtues and insightful reflection to her very own mothering journey.
     In 17 chapters, Catherine Hickem peers into Mary's heart and unleashes a bigger picture than what one normally may gather from reading one verse in the Bible. I don't believe she reads too much into the Nativity Story, but that often we read in haste and are not equipped to delve into the emotions the characters of the Bible portray. Hickem who is a licensed family therapist, validates a mother's questions and also assures us that we will not always have the answers. Just as Mary did not know exactly what her role as Jesus' mother would entail, we must place our faith in God and rely on His sovereign purposes. Guiding from Gabriel's visit to the beginning of Acts, Hickem is a treasure trove of godly wisdom and guidance for every mother no matter what season of life she finds herself in. Most of all, she points women to seize the relationship they have with God. We were never meant to parent alone.
     As I read Heaven in Her Arms I found myself convicted, yet assured I am headed down the right path. The way in which Hickem writes is calming, yet clear. Even if it is a convicting thought, she pens it in such a way that is unobtrusive. It is never hostile. The greatest thing about her writing in general is her heart. One can sense her passion for encouraging and leading other mothers down the uncertain path of motherhood. She addresses the harder questions and validates some of the ambiguous feelings mothers do have.
     For some women the ideas presented may not be novel or new. However, we all need gentle reminders sometimes, so even the seasoned mother can gain a lot from this volume. If every younger mother could be handed  a copy of Heaven in Her Arms I would surmise it would save them many heart-wrenching, soul-questioning days. This book would be great for any woman who is either a mother or has influence on a younger person.  May you enjoy the journey of motherhood and reap all of its blessings!

Monday, June 11, 2012

What Three Ladies Taught Me in a Few Minutes

     The other day as I sat with my family eating lunch I had the pleasure of watching three elderly women enjoying one another's company. It was beautiful to see them. I left wondering what made these three women full of youth at such an elderly age.
      Imagine three women chatting with one another. That isn't so hard I am sure. However, what made these women different in my eyes were two things: 1) their age and 2) their comfort with each other. These three were beautiful and lovely in their curly gray-white hair smiling and just being. They weren't chatting and laughing their entire lunch. I noticed one made a joke to the server and the other two laughed on queue. It was a laughter of knowing each other. I am not talking of pure acquaintance, but of that intimate knowledge of one another that only years could bring them. They weren't there to impress eah other either.
     I whispered to my husband during lunch that I wanted to be like them someday. He asked quizzically, "What, old?" No, that is inevitable, of course. I want that type of friendship with other women where we can sit in the silence and savor each other's company nonetheless.    
     Something in me wanted to get up and talk to these endearing ladies. I wanted to know their stories. If I could have, I think I may have been comfortable occupying that empty fourth chair. As I contemplated making conversation before we left, I realized I might come off as a little bizarre, maybe peculiar. People will comment once in a while on our kids. Why couldn't I tell these women that I saw something between them I admired? To my delight, they were there celebrating a birthday. Perfect. Now, I had a better way to strike up a conversation. As you can see, I think things through with purpose and intention.
     My family exited and I walked over to wish this lady a very happy birthday. Well, the surprise was on me! One of the other two announced that Mary was celebrating her 90th birthday. "What," I asked incredulously. There was no way these vibrant women were that, dare I say it, old. In fact, as I learned, they were all that wise in age: 90, 92 and 97. They called Mary the "baby" of the three.
      Let me pause here to clarify. I absolutely love older people. I have always been drawn to their wisdom and their stories. When I say old, I use it not in a derogatory way, but as an honest observation. Quite frankly, often the elderly are much more interesting to me than people my own age. I can only hope I gain wisdom from them now and am able to depart wisdom to others in the future.
     Here these three lovely ladies were there sitting together, sharp and gregarious, supporting and encouraging one another. I doubt their husbands were alive. My guess is that is why they fit together so well; they needed each other. Maybe they grew even closer during grief and loss. They mentioned they had known each other many years. 10? 20? 50? Who knows? But, however long it was, they possessed love for each other. That was loud and clear.
     As my family was no doubt in the car by this time, I had to pull myself away from our brief encounter. I wished them all well and made my exit. I jumped into the truck understanding a little better how far friendship can go. I also had more questions than answers. I still want to know how they met. How often to they see each other? What keeps all of them so young at heart? I am certain friendship is key.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Woman is Never Invisible

      I have a confession. Lately, I have felt completely, utterly invisible. I know I am not, yet that is what is being whispered into my ear. It isn't just one area of my life, just a general all-over sense. A mother can have polite kids, but not always feel things are appreciated. A wife can have an attentive husband and not feel loved. I wonder, can a daughter of the Almighty feel worthless?
      Every relationship has its lows. Sometimes, your husband may have his head wrapped up in his work. Or your child is going through a phase yet again. But, one thing that can never change is God's unfailing love. Psalm 26:3, "for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness." That is the one constant in the world we can count on. So, if I find myself having a low in my relationship with God I can only put the blame upon myself. I alone can turn my heart towards Him and seek Him out where I abide in His love.
      I understand God may not be actively working in my life where I can see it. He is working however, simply in a behind-the-scenes-kind-of way. There is certainly no reason I should feel He is pulling away, simply working for my good. Romans 8:28," And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
     I realize then that God cares deeply for me even when He is quiet. Just as I get some of my best ideas in the still of my head, maybe that is where God is working right now, in the still. Psalm 46:10 reminds us, "He says, 'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'" God is so good, mighty and sovereign. Yet, He loves us. Even after numerous failings and short-comings every day my Lord, our Lord is there loving.
     As a woman, as a human being, I know I am loved more than I can fathom whether I am feeling it or not. Love never fails. God never fails. So tomorrow when I arise to His new mercies I will meditate upon Colossians 3:23. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters..." When I don't think my kid meant that thank you in my own self-indulgent pity I can remember I served that cup of milk for the Lord God Almighty. If I question my husband's intonation I will recall that every effort to be the Titus 2 woman is for Him alone and will obediently hold my tongue.
     How could I feel worthless when God keeps loving me? I have a choice to make. I can listen to the father of lies or I can listen to my Heavenly Father who can tell no lies. He loves me. And He is crazy about you too!

Book Review: Go, Buy and then "Go and Do"

    I am honored to have received a complementary copy of Jay Milbrandt's Go and Do: Daring to Change the World One Story at a Time from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for a review. I really am honored to have read of Mr. Milbrandt's journey that led him from his desert to a life-giving oasis. Sometimes God brings us to a desert to challenge us, to question ourselves, whether we are living out the purpose He created us for. It can be in the fear of uncertainty we find ourselves in that can propel us to leap into action, finding life and the face of God.
     Milbrandt gives a tour of his journey from his base camp of Pepperdine University to the streets of Thailand to the Mae La Refugee Camp. It was as a law student he found himself wondering what his purpose in life was. What great contribution was he going to make? He dared himself to go on a mission trip stepping outside of his comfort zone in Malibu to the unknown, Thailand in this case. The dire circumstances of humanity, the voiceless faces of the young shook him to his core changing his life course forever.
     The one thing that this book proved is that one man's story can inspire others to align their story with the Creator's. According to Milbrandt, anyone and everyone ought to "go and do."   As I read I began wondering if Mr. Milbrandt's idea was feasible for all. I certainly do not have the money to book a flight to Uganda as he has or fly down to Peru. Going does not need to lead us to the other side of the world, although it very well could. We can go into our neighborhoods or inner-cities. Going can be the hardest part not knowing what it is that you are going to do.
     Doing can take an array of forms from advocating for the voiceless to being present in the moment with a child. Every person in this world has a name they want to be called by and a heart to love.  Love does not have a monetary value for it is priceless. I can love as Jesus commanded, though that may cost me more greatly than I can now fathom. Where will I go? What will I do? Will it cost me my pride and dignity? All questions that I can either allow to hinder me or challenge me. I do hope it is the latter.
     Go and Do is not a book to pick up for a weekend read. It is more than a book. It can become a dare, a challenge, a lifestyle. There are 202 fascinating pages of heartbreaking and imagination-gripping stories that will transform your way of thinking and possibly your way of doing. If there has ever been a book, besides the Bible, that I want to influence my life for the greater good of our global community, this is it. May this be the beginning of new explorations.

Jay Milbrandt, author of Go and Do

Friday, June 1, 2012

Banishing the Summer Boredom Blues

     “Mooooommm, I’m bored.”

     “There’s nothing to do.”

     I am sure you get the idea. We all at one time or another have been serenaded by the ear-piercing sopranos of complaint or the nothing’-to-do summer blues. Maybe, your family has just finished their school year. The novelty of a break will wear off before you know it and Mom may end up finding herself at a loss for ideas after the regular suggestions. And yet, summer is almost here!

      Of course, there is the option of schooling year-round. We are that family, but I still find there are days I am scratching my head without having that a-ha moment. There are times when the creativity flows. However, more often than not, I have to search for ideas. So, here are a few suggestions I have found helpful to cure the children’s boredom.

     First and foremost, when I feel closer to our Creator, ideas seem to come out of nowhere. It is all about being in tune with God and understanding how He does work through you. I begin to see things from a different perspective and think outside the box. Coinciding with that idea is to realize if you are in a creative rut, do not dwell on it. Be prepared for those ruts with the following possibilities.

      Keep an idea journal. Whether it is a hard-bound notebook or a folder in your computer, jot down ideas from activities to crafts. That way if creativity is being elusive you have an idea book to assist you in that department. There are plenty of ideas in magazines and the internet. You can tweak them to your child’s age and ability level to make the activity fitting.

      Create a boredom-busting box of potential craft items: oatmeal containers, cereal boxes, construction paper, empty milk jugs, toilet paper rolls, buttons, etc. When your child comes to you wanting to do something, anything at all, hand them the box and let their creativity flow. Plus, at the end of the day you can go to bed knowing you fostered your child’s creativity. Don’t forget the scissors, glue, tape and newspaper to layout to make for easy clean up. This is an instant here-is-something-to-do-for-the-moment in a box.

      In the coolness of the morning send them outside. Get out there with them and go on a nature treasure hunt. Observe God’s goodness up close. David reminds us, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands,” in Psalm 19:1. Grab some art supplies before you head out the door and journal bits of Creation. Through out the summer the kids can observe changes in plants and flowers and changes in animal patterns as the weather fluctuates.

      One of my favorite ideas is to have a jar of activities the kids can do alone or together. If I hear, “I’m bored,” I reply, “Grab the jar.” The boredom-buster jar that is. They grab one folded piece of paper out and open to see what activity they can go do. This is a great one to begin as a family. Everyone can contribute a few ideas and write them down- reading, volunteering, help a neighbor, draw, play a board game, walk the dog. Decorate the jar or canister to allow the kids to bring a sense of ownership to the project. Add the ideas and you will have another weapon in your boredom-fighting arsenal.

      Although, these can help combat those moments, there is an issue much deeper that needs to be addressed. In every circumstance one can find a lesson to be learned. When we are not on guard we call allow our feelings to dictate our perspective of the circumstances that are surrounding us. This is a good time to explain why we cannot let our feelings run our lives. God has given us each day as a gift to be opened with anticipation and surprise. We never know what the day will behold. If we allow emotions to get in the way, we have made an obstacle and block what God has planned for us.

     When there is nothing to do, as older, wiser people, we realize there is no truth to that thought. There is always something to do. We must remember to take the time to love our children with grace and patience pointing out to them the error of their fallacious statement and more importantly, guiding them to the Truth.

      Proverbs 15:19-20, “The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway. A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother.”