Thursday, July 2, 2015

Book Review: Everyday Grace by Jessica Thompson

BEAUTIFUL cover!
Everyday Grace: Infusing All Your Relationships With the Love of Jesus by Jessica Thompson is obviously not a novel. This book is about realizing who God is and what He has done for you and then letting that affect your relationships. It is about looking at the beauty of the Lord and letting His glory change your perspective. To that end, Jessica spends the beginning of most chapters talking about certain aspects of God--not always new aspects but definitely insightful--before briefly discussing application. The book has chapters on friendships, parent-child and husband-wife relationships, relationships within your community church, and workplace, and interacting with difficult people.

What I especially enjoyed was not necessarily her application as much as her huge sections just glorifying the Lord and focusing on what He has done and Who He is. The section on Jesus as a carpenter was really a completely new concept for me. "He understood what it was like to have customers who weren't pleased with the work. . . . You can rest assured that anything you have to deal with as one in the workforce, Jesus had to deal with also" (p. 165).

So my opinion of this book? It was a bit of a hit and miss with me, maybe because it took me months to actually read through it. Many parts I waded through (not in the mood?) and some parts were really refreshing and edifying and made my soul respond in awe of God! I would recommend this book because I think God could use it to really bless you.

I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

fiction (ii): the life and loves of a homeschooled girl

It was time for the ceremony to begin. Canon in D started playing, the wedding planner opened the doors, and the first bridesmaid started her descent down the aisle. So much excitement, so much pleasure, as each bridesmaid in front of me took her turn past the gauntlet of onlookers and up to where the rest of the bridal party waited. I glanced behind me. My sister grasped our dad's arm, her whole being radiating happiness.

"You ready?" I smiled.

She bit her lip and nodded with raised eyebrows and a nervous grin.

I stepped forward, waiting for my cue to go. Whoever came up with the idea of processionals apparently had no problem with being stared at by a hundred or so people.

With a nod from the wedding planner, I stepped past the double doors and into the sanctuary. This was it. This was happening. Who would've thought this is how it would all turn out?

Slowly I walked down the aisle, holding the bouquet at my waist, making sure not to step on the hem of my floor length red gown, and pasting that awkward smile on my face that is supposed to fool people into thinking that walking down an aisle in a formal dress while looking nowhere in particular feels completely natural.

Then I caught the groom’s eyes. His smile was that of a boy on Christmas about to receive the biggest present ever. Despite everything, my fake smiled widened into a genuine one. He wasn’t looking at me though. He was looking through me, waiting for his bride to walk down the aisle. He was such a little boy, completely in love.

Oblivious, clueless guy. Artsy, funny, fly on the wind fellow of mine. Terribly handsome, terribly aggravating.

But not mine. I had hoped and dreamed and imagined what it would be like for those light brown eyes to soften their gaze upon me. Who would have thought that a crazy fun guy like you would truly fall in love, head over heels, and end up at the marriage altar, just not with me. Or that I would willingly be the maid of honor at your wedding! How could I have prepared for this moment?

I turned to the left and climbed to the top step, just as rehearsed.

~*~

When I was 9, the informal homeschool get togethers became P.E. in the Park. Moms and dads pulled their resources and took turns teaching us soccer, softball, volleyball, archery, flag football, and even historical dance.

“47, 48, 49, 49 and a half, 49 and three-quarters, 49 and five-eighths, 49 and seven-eighths . . . .”

Luanne and I giggled from our hiding place behind one of the many redwood trees at Legion Park. The parents were busy setting up a softball diamond, and so we younger kids were taking advantage of the extra play time. I peeked around the tree. Michael’s eyes were smashed shut, he was hopping on one foot, and his mouth opened into an impish grin as he drug out the last number of our hide and go seek count.

“Forty-nine and a nano-second.” He paused dramatically. “Ready or not, here I come!”

I whipped back behind the tree and held as still as I could, holding Lucy’s hand. We tried to stop breathing so we wouldn’t be heard. Michael’s heavy footsteps crushed through the redwood needles. From several trees away came a scream and the sound of running feet until Michael finally yelled, “gotcha!”

I gasped for air, comforted by the thought that I wouldn’t be heard. My back hard against the tree, I swiveled my head to the right. Joey was hopping back and forth behind the tree next to ours.

“Shhh!” I whispered loudly.

Suddenly he popped from behind the tree, crouched down, and began side-stepping like a crab over to ours.

“No, Joey!” Luanne hissed.

But Joey was focusing on Michael. He danced a little toward our tree, then scurried back to his. Then he peeked behind his tree and began side-skipping over to ours.

“Joey, don’t! He’ll see us!” I groaned.

Suddenly Joey shrieked and started running. Michael chased him around a nearby tree but didn’t see us. We heard running feet and squeals of laughter as Michael chased Joey farther away.

I trembled from excitement and the exertion of staying still. I tried to slow my breathing.

As I relaxed I could hear the parents’ mumbled voices. Soon it would be time for P.E. I could hear birds chirping from the tops of the trees and squirrels chattering as they crossed a telephone line. I took a deep breath and exhaled. Luanne relaxed her grip on my hand.

“GOTCHA!”

The words pummeled my ear drum. My pony tail yanked down.

“Ow!”

Then an arm reached around and pulled Luanne’s braid.

“Ouch!” she yelped.

I whipped around and caught a glimpse of Michael’s toothy smile before he darted back across the yard. I suddenly felt the urge to chase him.

“Boys!” Luanne grunted next to me, leaning against the tree. Her tone was disapproving and, again, she sounded like a mother. I wrinkled by forehead, frowned, and shook my head.

“Boys!” I repeated. “So immature!”
~*~
Somewhere along the way, I came to the very firm conviction that it was wrong to like boys. I’m not sure how I came to that conclusion, but I knew that if a girl said a boy was cute or that she liked him, then she was worldly.

When I was 10, I went to a church friend’s birthday party. Three of the girls had gathered around a small window facing the front yard. I joined them and tried to peek above their heads. Near the sidewalk stood a tall, sandy-haired boy with baggy jeans and a black t-shirt. I recognized him as my friend’s cousin.

“He’s soooo cute!” cooed one of the girls.

“He goes to Millsbridge Middle, you know,” another said, then whispered, “He’s 13!”

The other girls tittered and pressed closer to the glass, blocking my view.

I moved away, not sure whether to be sad that they were so caught up in liking boys or whether to feel disgusted that they were acting so wrong.

“Lord,” I prayed, “please help me not become like that.”


Needless to say, I would have cut out my tongue before daring to talk about boys with Jen or Luanne.

Fictional stories can be inspired
from real life stuff
On my twelfth birthday, my mom gave me a 4” x 3” pink journal with a golden lock and key. I quickly lost the key, but the little hardback book with “My Diary” engraved in blue cursive on the front became a treasured possession. In it I wrote my God thoughts.

 “Purity is beautiful!” I wrote one Sunday night after watching an older teenage boy at church chase a girl around the sanctuary. “Lord Jesus, I need Your help staying pure.”

Did I even know what “staying pure” meant? Sweet, innocent, homeschool girl that I was, I defined “purity” as not liking a boy.

And lust? That was imagining a boy noticing you, talking to you. Lust was fantasizing about group prayer where the object of your affection held your hand and then paused just a second before letting go.

Unfortunately around this time I hit pre-adolescence. So I couldn’t really help liking boys, although I wouldn’t admit it. The evidence was there though. My stomach contracted a case of butterflies whenever I was around Michael, or whatever boy had last smiled at me. When he said anything remotely funny, a giggle burst from me unbidden, and I had to try to choke it back.

Proverbs 4:24 was the popular motto of my time. “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.”

How to actually guard my heart effectively remained a mystery though.

In the mornings Mom would send us off to have personal quiet times before school started. Jen and I would find our own places for Bible reading and prayer. Jen liked to go read outside on the tire swing, so I would go into our room and shut the door.

After reading a chapter, I’d kneel next to my bed and close my eyes.

“Lord,” I’d pray, and begin making my requests.

But before long, a muscular figure would dart across my imagination, kicking a soccer ball towards the goal. My heart would leap into my throat, and I’d continue the fantasy with my own imagined additions.

He runs back to join his team. By sheer, blessed luck, I am on his team.

He smiles at me.

“Good job,” I manage to squeak.

“Aw, it was nothing,” he says, smiling at me. He looks right into my eyes and stays there, words superfluous as soul to soul speaks.

I’d groan. “Lord, help me pray! Forgive me! I shouldn’t have been thinking about Michael. Forgive me! Help me!”

The war of flesh with spirit. I could feel the tug of war. And more often than not, that 30 minutes on my knees produced only a few minutes of prayer that I felt I could even count as prayer.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

fiction (i): the life and loves of a homeschooled girl

I was truly happy for them both. Really. My sister Jen was getting him, and he was getting my sister, and I wished them the best. Truly.

“Ouch!” I jerked.

“I’m sorry!”

The girl behind me moved the curling iron a bit away from the side of my face as I held up the hand mirror to see the progress. My stylist, a friend of the maid of honor, had an abnormally dark tan, a pretty spattering of freckles, and full lashes thick with mascara. Highlighted chestnut ringlets, hourglass silhouette, pencil skirt, and 2-inch heels combined with a carefree Georgia peach accent, musical laugh, and genuine interest towards those around her.

I felt like a second-rate peon next to such perfection.

I put down the mirror and glanced to my right. Jen was bending over the full length mirror putting on some last minute lipstick before the bridal photo shoot. She looked . . . she looked like a bride. Breathtaking. My stomach flip-flopped once. He would be smitten. He already was. But he would be smitten all over again. I could almost see his grin stretch from ear to ear. Or maybe he’d cry. Either way would be so him.

I held back a sigh and looked forward. Reality. Reality was this church nursery. The slight smell of baby powder and Clorox wipes not quite abolished by hairspray and perfume. Reality was the rocking chair I was sitting in, needing a professional to do my hair because I had no idea how to make it wedding-worthy on my own.

Reality was that this room represented my humdrum life, and I was happy with it. I was. It was Jen’s day to shine.

“Who’d ya get a text from?” one of the bridesmaids asked Jen. My sister had grabbed her phone from her purse and flipped it open.

“Who d’ya think?” replied another bridesmaid, raising her eyebrows. They giggled.

Jen’s face, still bent over her phone, glowed. “Aww, look at what he said!”

The bridesmaids gathered around the phone and read the text out loud: “Hey, I’ve got an idea! Let’s get married today!”

“Isn’t that sweet?”

“He’s so cute!”

“What’re you going to say back?”

“You two were just made for each other!”

I held up the hand mirror again and looked at the warm ringlets piling high on top of my head. Was I to be a poodle or a moose?

~*~

Jennifer and I grew up as the Stern girls. Sometimes we begged Mom and Dad for a little brother or sister, but neither wish was granted, and we remained a small middle class family of two parents, two children. I was the oldest. Jen was a year younger.

The summer I was to enter first grade, our parents pulled us from Northridge Christian School on the outskirts of our California hometown.

“One day,” according to Mom’s telling of the story, “I realized that I wanted to see my little girls more! So I went to your dad, and he said, ‘Well, if you want to homeschool, let’s pray about it.’”

“And God said ‘yes’!” we liked to chime in.

Mom would smile, “Yes, He did. And I haven’t regretted one minute I’ve gotten to spend with my two lovely girls.”

Thus began our life as homeschoolers, a culture of its own with common experiences, shared camaraderie and unique trends and fads.

Mom got us involved right away with the Joyful Noise homeschool group. Once a week we met with other families for a day at the park, plus there were tons of field trips and co-op classes.

It was at one such field trip that I first began to take notice of those unnamed, unspoken, unintelligible creatures that change every woman’s life eventually, if one is so lucky.

In other words, I noticed my first boy!

Jen and I were dressed in bonnets and calico cotton dresses, ready for our historical adventure into the 1800s. As Mom parked the car, I spotted my very best friend Luanne. She was 7 like me and wore a high collar white blouse tucked into a full, blue paisley skirt with white eilette on the bottom. Mom had met Mrs. Sparks, Luanne’s mom, at Jazzercise, and they had been delighted to find a fellow kindred spirit in each other.

Next to Luanne, pulling on Mrs. Sparks’ hand, was Joey. At 4 years old he was the kind of child that adults describe as “all boy.” In other words, he was wiggly, stinky, and lacked any sense of decorum. Wherever Luanne went, Joey went.

“It’s the buddy system,” Mrs. Sparks would say with a smile as Joey pulled Luanne off to the short red slide or the baby swings or to the green caterpillar crawling along the sidewalk just waiting to be picked up. Joey could never stay still for two seconds together, and sometimes I wished the buddy system would go away so Luanne and I could have grown-up conversations by ourselves.

We jumped out of the car and joined the other homeschoolers on the curb. The Andersons were there. They didn’t have any girls my age, but they had a boy a year older than me. His name was Michael.

Inside the gate, a lady gathered us all together and talked to us about John Sutter and the gold rush. Then she led us over to a long wooden box with water running through and showed us how the miners would pan for gold. She said that often miners would think they had found gold when really it was fool’s gold.

Michael piped up. “The Bible says that people who say there is no God are fools.”

Michael was so smart. Probably the smartest boy in the whole homeschool group.

After panning for gold, we walked around the fort. Luanne, Jen, and I dipped candles into hot wax, ran a carding comb over a wooly sheep, and watched a blacksmith pound iron that had been heated in a fire. At noon, we sat down to each lunch in front of the general store. I scooted next to Luanne.

“Want my sandwich?” Joey asked from Luanne’s other side. He stuck his peanut butter and jelly sandwich in front of my face. Purple goo dripped from the side and landed in the dust.

I tried to be polite, I really did. But it came out as an emphatic “no!”

“Are you sure?” He pushed the sandwich close to my nose.

“Ugh!” I pulled back and almost lost my balance.

Luanne pushed her brother’s hand away. “Joey, stop playing and eat your sandwich.”

She sounded so mature. I wondered if I would sound so grown-up if I had a younger sibling. Jen didn’t count.

Joey made a face and scooted a couple inches away, taking a bite and looking down the sidewalk. A show was just beginning.

It was Michael. Mom called him a ham, but I thought he was fun. Smart and fun. He was strutting across the boardwalk with a piece of straw sticking out of his mouth.

“Hey there, folks,” he said, smiling to the other kids and tipping his straw hat as he walked by. The girls giggled, and the boys laughed and pointed. He passed Joey, who tried to trip him with an outstretched hand, but Michael quickly sidestepped him, passed Luanne, and then stopped right in front of me.

Off came his hat over his heart, and he bowed deeply. I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks and I let out an impulsive giggle. As he rose he wiggled his eyebrows and with a cowboy accent said, “Howdy-do, pretty little lady.”

“Michael, come eat your lunch!” His mother’s shrill voice interrupted the flirtation.

He sauntered back down the sidewalk, his thumbs hooked in his pockets.

Michael Anderson had just called me a pretty lady.

Right before he joined his mother, he looked back at his delighted audience, winked in my direction, took a confident step backward, tripped over the horse trough, and landed seat first in the mud.

My friends roared. Parents admonished us to be kind. My cheeks reddened and my breath caught. His mother scolded Michael good, and he ate his lunch in conspicuous silence. The rest of the day I avoided looking at him, too embarrassed for him because of the tongue-lashing and dirtied backside. Still, when I could, I stole peeks at him. He was the cleverest, most agreeable boy in the whole world.


I, Trisha Mae Stern, was smitten.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Review: Now & Forever by Mary Connealy

Wow.

I actually didn't care for the cover,
which might have been part of the reason
I put off reading it.
Now and Forever by Mary Connealy (which happens to be the second book of a series, but she did a good job of giving the necessary background) started quickly and didn't stop! It began with two people stuck together in life-threatening circumstances. They work to figure their way out while falling for each other. But that's not the whole book. I was worried when that story line ended that the interesting part of the book was over. (What? I still have over half of the book yet? WHY???) Instead, the romantic tension managed to continue full-speed ahead, and the end of the book involved a dangerous mystery that reminded me of the fear I felt when I first watched "Wait Until Dark." So basically, this book is adventure, romance, mystery, danger, and suspense from start to finish! Which isn't something one can say about most novels.

My only caution would be that the romance in this book, unlike Mary Connealy's other book I reviewed, is a bit heavy. The tension centers around a wife wanting to wait to consummate the marriage until she knows her husband better.

I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

"And he was pretty sure this woman was meant for him. That's just the way the situation struck him.

Of course, he'd never run up against such a situation before, so he might not know what he was doing. He just knew he wanted her like he'd never wanted a woman before. He made an honest attempt to escape and instead was stuck with her in a black hole somewhere.

As if God himself had cast the deciding vote.

It'd be a sin to try to escape again."

--from Mary Connealy's Now and Forever

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Review: A Love Like Ours by Becky Wade

After reading and thoroughly enjoying the first two of Becky Wade's Porter Family series, I knew I wanted a chance to read her story about the third Porter brother, Jake.

I was not disappointed. This book kept me reading under my covers when I should have been sleeping. Becky Wade knows how to weave description and thought and dialogue and plot all together so that you don't WANT to skip any paragraphs. She also knows how to write romance. I found humor, tension, passion, difficulty, and a satisfying conclusion.

I did find it so odd how two people can be pursuing a relationship and have these passionate kisses and yet one character is telling herself it'll be okay as long as she doesn't fall in love. What??? That doesn't make Christian sense to me. What is the purpose of physical affection if it is not hand-in-hand with some level of commitment, preferably a trajectory of life-long commitment?

But that's a whole other post!

I received a free copy of  A Love Like Ours from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 4, 2015

158: expectations...seriously

That moment when you've been planning to begin your post with a link to an article, and then you check the article again and find the website celebrates the opposite of what you believe about marriage. Ok, so I'm not going to link to the article. Plan B.

Let's look at the quintessential chick flick! I mean the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, of course!

We never really get to see Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy's courting relationship because they never really have one. They go from slightly cordial acquaintances to marriage. But because they are truly in love, the expectation is that Elizabeth will never again be bothered by Mr. Darcy's social aloofness and lack of tact, and Mr. Darcy will always find Lizzy's lively wit to be charming. Right? Does this relationship between two very different people take any work at all?

I like this anecdote from the beginning of their actual relationship (post-do-I-like-him drama and pre-riding-off-in-a-carriage marriage): "Elizabeth longed to observe [to Darcy, sarcastically] that Mr. Bingley had been a most delightful friend; so easily guided that his worth was invaluable; but she checked herself. She remembered that he [Darcy] had yet to learn to be laughed at, and it was rather too early to begin." (Chapter 58, Pride and Prejudice)

Me thinks even in this quintessential romance of incandescent happiness, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy will both need to put some work into it.

All that to say, even though I'm not Lizzy, I am in a relationship that is taking work. And cultural expectations poke at me every day saying, "It shouldn't take this much work. It should be easy. It should be all romance and smiles." And some days, when I'm feeling very logical, I reply, "No. I am building a relationship. Relationships take time and work and learning about another person." And other days I accept the cultural expectations, fall into Eeyore-esque feelings, and wonder, "Am I wrong? Is this wrong?"

I didn't realize how strongly outside expectations would affect how I view my relationship. When I get annoyed with my boyfriend, I worry. When we are on different communication channels, I worry. When he says something innocuous and my mood flips and I emotionally shut down, I worry. When I get home, think back on the day, and remember that he is different from me, I worry.

Because no one asks a girl, "How is your relationship going?" expecting to then receive the reply, "It's moving forward, but it's work!"

People worry if you say your relationship is taking work.

Brrrrhh! Wrong answer.

They can't tease you. And we all like to tease people.

In case you didn't know, you're expected to say your relationship is "Great! Wonderful! Amazing!" and burst into gleeful giggling and blush a becoming hue of pink.

Is it okay if a relationship takes work?



Every day I mentally interact with unstated expectations of ease and effortlessness.

Every day--as God leads and my umph holds--I refuse  to let that expectation kill what could end up being a beautiful, fun, enduring relationship, built on a sturdy foundation because we are currently working on it.

P.S. I do think that if a dating relationship is more work than enjoyment, it's probably not healthy.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Book Review: From the Start by Melissa Tagg

I requested to read and review this book because I remembered enjoying the last book I had read by Melissa Tagg (Made to Last). From the Start though was hard for me to get into. I ended up skimming the whole thing. On the negative side, I felt like there were too many descriptions, like when the former football player looked around the kitchen and mentally took in the white cupboards and bold blue walls and peninsula counter jutting from one wall and the beige furniture facing a corner fireplace. The description didn't personally add anything to my understanding of the forthcoming scene. I also felt like there were too many classic movie references, and I love my b/w movies! I understand the main character, a female romance writer, always making 1940s references, but the high school football coach calling a seventy-yard pass "smoother than a Bing Crosby ballad"? It didn't seem realistic for a whole town to talk that way. And then I also felt like the heroine and the hero had the same speech patterns--I couldn't "hear" them differently.

All that said, about halfway through I did get drawn in to the plot. The romance unfolded at a natural speed. It was sweet, enjoyable, worth reading. The subplots enhanced the storyline without making it less of a romance. By the end, I was really enjoying From the Start.

Out of 5 stars, I would give From the Start by Melissa Tagg 3.5 stars out of 5.

Favorite Quotes:
"And he was just standing there now, a thesaurus full of synonyms that added up to ridiculous amounts of handsome."

"It's okay to admit what you want. When you do, you might finally get brave enough to go after it."

I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.