Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review: Beneath a Southern Sky and Secrets

This month Waterbrook Multnomah sent me two books to review from a selection of "Spring Break Specials" they are offering....

The first book I read was Beneath a Southern Sky, by Deborah Raney. This book was easy to get into and breeze through to the end. The language is simple, the characters are well-defined, and the plot, although a little bit choppy, is easy to follow. You find yourself wondering what you would do in the difficult situations these characters have gotten themselves into. Although the story held my attention and came to a satisfying resolve, I struggled with really disliking these characters. It seems as though only Nate had a faith that put God before himself. All of the other main characters were so emotional and selfish! They all touted a faith in God, but only sought to follow Him as far as their own comfort and firm grasp on their futures allowed. I was not impressed with the level of respect Daria had for either of her husbands, or for the love and support they showed her. I felt like, save for a few brief exceptions, everyone was falling short in their roles, which made the story less believable and meaningful to me. I appreciate that Daria came to realize her wrongs and hone her listening-to-God skills; when she started to put God first it was the first time I had hope for her marriage, even though that was the most tumultuous time for the couple. But the lack of love and respect between husbands and wives during the hard times of marriage left me wanting more spiritual depth and resolution, and I wondered if they had only been attracted to each other because of their outward appearances.

The second book was Secrets, by Robin Jones Gunn. I thought the story flowed well from one day to the next and was entertaining throughout. Robin Jones Gunn has a smart, witty sense of humor that I enjoy. The main character is fleeing her past, changing her name, and gets in a car accident on the way. In the middle of all this crisis, she falls in love with the first guy she sees, even attempting to flirt a little despite her bloody condition. I found this hard to believe; are people looking for love in a crisis? I would think the survival instinct would be greater. There also seems to be a lot of name-dropping in this style of literature (in both novels), such as Wal-Mart and Diet Coke and Eddie Bauer clothing. Does the author get paid for product placement? I think this might unfortunately date a story that could otherwise be timeless, and possibly sour the taste for the readers depending on their opinion of the brand. There are a few sappy moments near the end of Secrets that are difficult for me to relate to, but overall the characters have an authentic depth. I love the personal touch in the end, where Robin talks about her daughter Rachel and shares some recipes from the book. Especially after visiting her website, you really get the feeling that Robin, who is full of joy, wants to connect with her readers on a personal level. I appreciate that.

Here is a press release on the event:

Colorado Springs, CO— Fiction lovers don’t need to budget to travel this spring break with Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group’s six full-length novels by beloved Christian authors (WaterBrook, February 16, 2010). At the low cost of only $5.99, these well-read “get-aways” provide quality entertainment at a price that any reader can afford.

Full-length novels offered include:

Secrets by Robin Jones Gunn - Jessica has moved to a new town to start a new life. But a friendly fire-fighter and a suspicious boss both want to know what she’s hiding.

Beneath a Southern Sky by Deborah Raney – Daria Camfield is expecting her first child when her husband Nate is reported dead on the mission field. Devastated, she returns to the States and soon marries again. But two years later Nate is found alive in the jungle. How can Daria possibly choose between he two men who love her?

The Golden Cross by Angela Elwell Hunt – Aidan O’Connor may be a poor barmaid but she’s also a gifted artists. When a famous cartographer takes her on as a student, Aidan is swept into an adventure that will bring her back to her heavenly Father, and into marriage with the love of her life.

Deep Harbor by Lisa Tawn Bergren – Tora, Elsa, Kaatje, and Karl face trouble, tragedy, and treachery across the Wast, Hawaii, Japan, and the high seas. These four immigrants from Bergen, Norway, each grow closer to God and learn afresh the value of faith, family, and coming alongside each other in times of need.

Faithful Heart by Al and Joanna Lacy – The adventures of certified medical nurse and dedicated Christian Breanna Baylor continue as she travels by wagon train to visit her sister, Dottie, in California. Little does she know that her most dangerous encounter might be with Jerrod, her brother-in-law, who’s suffering from dementia caused by combat fatigue.

Yesterday’s Promise by Linda Lee Chaikin – Rogan Chantry faces danger from tribesmen, ruthless politicians, and his own family as he searches for gold in South Africa. In England, his beloved Evy is injured by a mysterious assailant. The greed and intrigue surrounding the diamond mines could very well drive them irrevocably apart.

These books were provided for review by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ash Wednesday and The Purge Report

This last week held Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. I found the following commentary on Ash Wednesday at the very informative Catholic Online website:
"Ashes are an ancient symbol of repentance (sackcloth and ashes). They also remind us of our mortality ("remember that you are dust") and thus of the day when we will stand before God and be judged. This can be linked easily to the death and resurrection motif of Baptism. To prepare well for the day we die, we must die now to sin and rise to new life in Christ. Being marked with ashes at the beginning of Lent indicates our recognition of the need for deeper conversion of our lives during this season of renewal."
Who doesn't need a deeper conversion, right? Even when I'm at the top of my game I'm fully aware of how flawed and broken I am. Ironically though, this last Wednesday I was far from the top of my game, swimming around in ashy reminders of my mortality. One bad choice after another, double-booking myself, forgetting to feed my kids (psh--like I could really get away with that one)... I can't think of what else. There was an overall dizziness to this last week that really threw me for a loop. I have to partly blame it on (how do I say this, I don't usually talk about these things on the lady issues? "that time of the month?")... well, let's just say that after birthing five kids, it hits me like a Tsunami; hardly a warning sign, only seconds to prepare, complete devastation and disorientation, casualties. (Sorry, but when I go through something traumatic, the whole world is going to know about it; it's how I cope.) It's usually too late that I realize a few iron supplements and some extra water would've saved me from a slew of mistakes made.

This Ash Wednesday was a particular low point and I thought a lot about Lent. What a perfect way to start off, sackcloth and ashes! I thought a lot about the purging I plan to do, and why. I didn't let it overwhelm me; I don't have to make a plan, it doesn't have to be some Extreme Home Makeover. I have a lot of regular chores that keep me busy (I know, "duh" right?), as much as I'd like to dive full into purging the junk from my house. But to make "purging goals" and fret about meeting deadlines would be to miss the point. The point, I am reminding myself, is to see God more clearly without distractions, to make room for God's plan, and to allow for His providence. What's that verse... Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21 I'm trying to focus less on making plans, but rather on looking harder, listening more intently so that I might clue into the Lord's purpose, and be present with what He's put on my heart during Lent.

And to take an iron supplement when the tsunami hits and my head gets all spinny and stupid.

The Purge Report:
  • I sold some books at Powells, and gained a gift card! This is awesome because I love to give people presents, but we can't really put that in the budget right now.
  • I took some stuff to the thrift store. A lot of stuff. Stuff I won't miss.
  • The recycling was taken away. Good riddance!
  • Korah and I returned some earrings that had been a re-gift from my mom (I know she will love this) and with the money, bought a great gift for Korah's best friend's birthday, some sunglasses for me, and a pretty candle that matches our house perfectly. We traded in a burden that had been sitting on the counter for a year for things that are totally making us happy! I love it!
  • And this after we labored over how best to spend her gift card at Claire's. I had to throw that in there; I love opportunities to teach my kids about money, delayed gratification and making good choices. She was really proud of her purchase in the end!
  • I tackled the 5-drawer monster filing cabinet, weeding out Kid Art and homework from the last 5 years (saving the best in a special art box), two drawers of obsolete computer games and manuals and such, framed awards and plaques from long ago employers, 3 years of consumer reports magazines, 4 binders (two of which were How to Have a Baby manuals from the hospital--whatever!), and many other useless pieces of paper.
  • I put a semi-working vacuum on the corner and someone took it (sorry, someone! I hope you can fix/use it!)
  • Korah and I tackled her desk...woo-wee! Lotsa stuff in there! She even had a Box o' Junk (that's what she called it) she's collected. Little treasures that would give you tetanus. You know. (Thank goodness she's over that collecting phase!) When we were done we had a whole bag of recycling, a whole bag of trash, and a few things to add to her special art box (see above). She has a special place to store her homework when she's not working on it, and best of all, "her own space" has been reclaimed! There's a desk to work at, an empty drawer to store her purse in... it's wonderful. She feels lighter and happier, and so do I.

Unfortunately I don't have pictures of all this. I still don't have a working camera, and most of this stuff was squirreled away, and it's going to be a while before a big visual difference is seen. But for me, finally being proactive is priceless.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Purging, Lent, and Donald Miller on Farming

I had a miraculous thing happen to me the other day. But first I need to introduce you to my friend, Joy:

Joy is a breath of fresh air, a voice of truth and beauty, that kind of friend who speaks life into yours. I can only hope I give some of that back to her, but I'm afraid I mostly just stand there with my mouth agape, randomly assenting with a nice, "yeahh!" Joy is an amazing mother of five kiddos and we have had the privilege of trading babysitting favors with their family on a few occasions. So I know she is not intimidated or frightened by our family. She keeps it real, she's direct, and doesn't waste time with insecurities... and that is something important when you are trying to have a friendship around 10 kids. I have really been loving getting to know Joy better this year and I will miss her much after their forthcoming move to Whidbey Island to run Island Framery.

So she's standing around in my kitchen with nothing to do while I try to whip up some wanna-be Asian food for our big "Chinese New Year/Valentines" party with the kids (I'm not good at letting people help in the kitchen), and she starts going through the junk on top of my microwave. She's like "what's this? do you still need this?" And I'm like, "no, yes, no, and no..." And that was it. It just snowballed from there. And I'm talking the kind of snowballs you roll in Portland when they call a Snow Day: all picking up leaves and mud and dog poop because it was barely enough snow to turn the ground white (and shut down the school system). We had a lot of conversations that sounded like this:

"What's this for? Do you use this?"
"I don't remember. I don't know where that came from." (Toss.)

"Why do you have this (and this, and this)?"

"I hate that thing! I never use that!" (Toss.)

"What about this?"

"Ok, that's just gross. Throw it away."

It was embarrassing to have someone else pulling off all the rubble I was buried underneath, but I knew it was saving my life, so I had to let it happen. We ended up with five bags of stuff, two appliances, and a huge stack of books to get rid of, not to mention the stuff that went directly into the trash. I also filled up the glass recycling with stupid stuff I don't even want to talk about, but my husband has never been so happy to take the bins to the curb.

I'm having a total Oprah moment. I've been recounting to David all the axiomatic things Joy said, like "if you hate it, don't keep it!" and "you spend most of your time in this kitchen, this is YOUR space". I feel like proselytizing about the joys of getting rid of junk! I'm liberated! I'm free! I'm validated! Thank you, Joy!

Fast-forward a couple of days to Lent. Lent is the forty days before Easter, intended for preparation and anticipation of the Resurrection. What it means to prepare for the Resurrection is different for everyone inclined. I've just been figuring it out over the past few years, and my best understanding is that it is a letting go of what's holding you back from worshiping God and following Jesus. So at dinner I'm explaining Lent to the kids, and I tell them, "see, you guys probably can't even see the little marble I put on the table because of all the stuff (plates, glasses, dishes of food, napkins, a candle)." I motion to the center of the table and they all start looking for this marble. I let them look for a minute, to realize how hard it is. Then I tell them there's really no marble (sorry kids, I didn't plan this speech)...but imagine! What if there was a marble? If we cleared everything off the table, well, you'd see that marble plain as day! And by the time Easter rolls around, we don't want to be taking it all for granted. We want to be all cleaned off and ready to see God. And not just for Easter, but for every day!

So: our family plan for Lent, inspired by the Miracle of Joy and My Kitchen's Redemption, is to get rid of all our junk. Or as much of it as we can in 40 days, although I doubt it will stop there. You've gotta understand how much junk we have. I mean, there are 7 of us, and we've been living here for almost 7 years, we have an open attic and garage/shop area and it's all just been piling up! Somewhere deep inside me is an artist who swears she will "do a project with that someday", and our house needs so much work we are definitely going to "someday need all that wood on the side of the house and in the garage." But the thing is, that's not where God has us right now. He's got us pretty busy with other projects, except it's super hard to hear His directions in the middle of all this "noise".

We want to see God more clearly, without distractions. Unburden our minds and hearts with all the projects and chores we've created for ourselves. Free up our schedules, so to speak.

We want to make room for
God's plan. By getting rid of all our projects-in-waiting, we are giving up our plans and are ready for His. I think God will be stoked by this act of submission.

We want to allow for His providence.
We want to show God that we trust Him to provide the resources we need if He calls us to build another fence or remodel a room or whatever. He always does.

This same day, Donald Miller posted something on his blog that just drove this whole thing home for us. I highly recommend reading it. He asks,

"So my question to you is, what’s your field, and are you plowing it? Are you plowing too little? Are you plowing too much? What’s your sweet spot, and in ten years, will you have a small orchard that can feed your family and some of your friends? What’s your land to toil?"

We are already going through some major weeding and soil amending in our personal lives. But we've got so much baggage and clutter complicating our home that we haven't even been able to get close to our sweet spot.

Roll up the dumpster. I'm ready to get purging.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book Review: Love & War

Love & War.

Let me tell you about love and war.
In a few weeks it will be our thirteenth anniversary.
Luck 13. Yessiree.
We are amused by the irony that the ominous "13" teases us with. After all we've been through in the last thirteen years, a bit of ill luck would be nuthin'.

I look at our wedding photos and chuckle (smirk?) at what campy goofballs we were. We lived in a world of church youth groups, the endless summer that is Santa Barbara, and living at our parents' houses; a couple of camp counselors is what we were. In fact, we had almost 300 people at our wedding and I'm guessing at least half of them were under 18. It was a lot of fun. But we, the bride and groom, we were kids! We had no idea what we'd signed up for.

And then, when the honeymoon was over (literally speaking...of course?) we moved up to the Great Northwest for college and got busy with jobs and and babies and moving and other jobs and buying a house and more babies...this whole time dragging our pre-wedding baggage around with us. This baggage weighing heavy on our lives, changing us, infecting our relationship until we became people that the youth group kids might not even recognize anymore. And that was only about three years into it! For a while, things only got worse as selfishness and idolatry tightened the noose around our marriage.

Boy, could I tell you stories of what not to do in a marriage! And you might shake your head and think it all sounds obvious. But wait until I tell you what I've learned (by nothing short of a miracle) about what to do in a marriage, and you'll think I'm off my rocker! It will all sound subversive. Counter-culture. Ka-razy! But I'm getting used to that. Everything in the Kingdom of God is upside-down to the world, His intention for marriage very different from the world's impression.

So here in the middle of the story, we are battling our baggage and counteracting the cancer it has spread through our relationship over the years. We are battling a culture that says to give up because "this sucks, and my happiness is what it's all about!" It is a BATTLE. Sometimes, it feels like full-out WAR.
And you know what?
It is worth it.

That is my experience, and that is why I am so drawn to this book Love & War by John and Stasi Eldredge. They have learned what I am learning: You go to war to stay in marriage and make it thrive. And the worth it.

Here is a summary from the publisher about the book:

With refreshing openness that will grab readers from the first page, the Eldredges candidly discuss their own marriage and the insights they've gained from the challenges they faced. Each talks independently to the reader about what they've learned, giving their guidance personal immediacy and a balance between the male and female perspectives that has been absent from all previous books on this topic. They begin Love & War with an obvious but necessary acknowledgment: Marriage is Fabulously Hard. They advise that the sooner we get the shame and confusion off our backs the sooner we'll find our way through. Love & War shows couples how to fight for their love and happiness, calling men and women to step into the great adventure God has waiting for them together. Walking alongside John and Stasi Eldredge, every couple can discover how their individual journeys are growing into a story of meaning much greater than anything they could do or be on their own.

This book was provided for review by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing.
You can pick up a copy here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Blogging for Books

A while ago, I noticed that my friend Emily, who is a wellspring of good ideas, had began blogging reviews for WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers. Wanting to someday be writing for bacon, or at the very least for an audience I consider larger than just my mom, I thought this might be a good idea for me, too.

Well, I got the first book to read and review: a devotional. I'm not sure I should even write about it; the review was supposed to be posted back in December and I'm so embarrassed that I flaked out on my first gig! But I did not like this book. I might go so far as to say it was torture to try and get through it. Not only did I have a huge stack of more pressing and inviting books and novels on my nightstand, but I am not a big fan of devotionals. My impression of devotionals is that they are some person's brief summation of an idea or passage from the Bible...and I am highly suspicious of people interpreting the Bible for me. In fact, God does that for me just fine, thanks to the Holy Spirit, the breath of the Almighty. (Haha! Is that irony that I should link to a verse there, or is that just the Truth?)

So I chickened out. I couldn't let my first review be "I hated it. It was torture." Even now, I keep deleting sentences because my judgment is so harsh. I guess I could go on and on about christian puns and why I don't think the stories were told well, but this isn't a review.

Now that I've finally got that crazy green button in the sidebar, and I've got a book to review that I enjoy and can relate to, I think I'm good to go. It's supposed to be posted this week, but since I only turn into a blogger at the stroke of midnight and I'm spent from all that [deleted] ranting, I'll have to come back later.

If you are interested in reviewing books for Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group (you get a free book and a little air-time out of it, sa-weet!), click here.

PS: If you love devotionals, I now have two to give away. Email me if you're interested!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cup O' Kids, and Other Thoughts...

Ode to the Coffee Maven of the NoPoMoCo, who generously keeps the brew flowin' week after week, opening up her home so we can compare sleep-deprivation stories over the din of our sweet little linoleum lizards. Thanks, Lisa!

Sometimes I try to paint for fun (or, let's keep it real here, for money) and I suddenly draw a blank; nothing I can force into my noggin can be communicated to my hand. I think this might be because my actual gifting is appreciation and encouragement, with any artistic talent being merely fortuitous. Or perhaps, because I am too cheap to buy cards in the store, and too busy to search for just the right one... necessity will reign as the mother of invention.

Unfortunately, money has never been a huge motivator for me. Hmm. Unless I'm drawing money. Maybe I'll do that. Would you buy a card with a money illustration on it?

And I'll have to work on visualizing general situations worthy of appreciation and encouragement. It's so easy when a specific person and my experiences with that person are inspiring me.

What about you? What do you want a card to convey that you have never seen in a store? What memory is tucked away in your hippocampus that you'd like to remind your best friend about? What do you love most about your kid/teacher/boss/mom?