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.

Friday, April 17, 2015

157: give me a fish

In Matthew 7 Jesus says, "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!"

This year I wanted a certain kind of "fish" (please bear with my metaphor). I wanted it really bad. But the fish weren't bitin'. So I asked the Lord to take away my hankerin'. And you know what He did? He gave me a hankerin' for a different kind of fish, and I was able to move my fishing pole to a different stream. All was fine.

But then I started looking over at my shoulder at that stream over yonder where that old fishkind (rainbow trout? catfish? salmon?) was still swimming back and forth, whipping its tail. I didn't know if I could be satisfied with my new fishing hole, the one God provided, because, goodness, the sunlight sure glistened nicely off those ol' shiny scales.

One morning, I woke up to find a "For Sale" sign posted right next to that old stream. I didn't know what to think. I had my own fishing hole now. And that ol' fishing spot hadn't brought me any fish before. But why, oh, why did it have to available for more trying now?

So I prayed. I was going fishing again that very day, and I prayed, "Lord, You are a good Father. And You say you will not give me a snake or a stone when I want a fish. That's not in Your heart. I pray for a fish. I believe that You give good things to Your children."

I took my bait and tackle, and I trekked down to my own little fishing hole. And you know what?

I came back with a string full of fish!

Ok, it's a metaphor, a parable. It's a fish tale. But this happened to me lately (minus the fish), and God proved to me His Word when it says "how much more will your Father . . . give." His heart is to bless us, not to give us cursings. If He withholds, fine, He knows best. But He's not asking me personally to settle for something I don't care about. He never has. Instead, I need to ask for His super blessings, believing He can do what I might not think is possible. I need to remember that, instead of a stone, His heart, my own Father's heart, is to give me a fish.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

156: hands open

So recently I embarked on a relationship. No, not with my dog. With a real, human man. Because I have had less than successful experiences previously, and because those experiences included not listening to the Lord and not always enjoying my relationships, I have been praying a word picture the last couple weeks.

Lord, my hands are open to You. I am willing for You to take this away if that's Your will. But I also pray that my hands would be open to receive from You the blessings of this relationship.

Well, this weekend while I was heading to a singles retreat in Oregon (I know, I know, not "exactly" single, but I signed up for this before I knew things would change!), I struggled with worry. Thankfully the girls I was going to carpool with had got a late start from Portland, so I sat in my car in Corvallis, eating an amazing spinach florentine bagel with chive and onion schmear and spending much needed time with the Lord.

This is what I learned.

When I begin to worry, my hands close into fists. I try to cling to the relationship, fearful that the Lord will take it away (which in the past has always been my greatest fear). Simultaneously though, I am worried that it might not work, so my hands close and keep me from receiving fully from the Lord the pleasure from being in relationship with another person. I walk the line--half in, half out.

In other words, when I worry, I don't get any benefit at all! I lose out on blessings, and I am less surrendered. It's a lose-lose situation.

Lord, keep my hands open to You!
Devil's Churn, Ore.
"I am well pleased with thy will, whatever it is, or should be in all respects,
And if thou bidst me decide for myself in any affair,
I would choose to refer all to thee,
for thou art infinitely wise and cannot do amiss,
as I am in danger of doing.
I rejoice to think that all things are at thy disposal,
and it delights me to leave them there."
--"God the All," Valley of Vision

Monday, March 30, 2015

155: a letter from someone who is there

Several weeks ago I messaged one of my college teachers for input about how to do the long-term singleness thing well--what she had learned and what God had taught her. What she wrote back blessed me so much. She gave me permission to share it with you all!

One encouraging thing I can say is that singleness doesn't feel as "heavy" and hard at every stage of life--at least, for me it hasn't. (In case you're wondering, I'm about to turn 45 tomorrow.) I feel like right now the Lord is pouring His grace into my life, and I feel stable and happy with where He has me. But I haven't always felt that way, and I know that when I was your age, I tended to think about it a lot more because it suddenly "hit" me that the timetable of my life wasn't moving exactly how I'd thought it would. It has also been especially hard at times when a relationship I had hopes for didn't work out. So, I don't know if it will encourage you to know that you're in a particularly hard season in which to be single. Perhaps your singleness won't last like mine has, but if it should do so, I can honestly say that you won't always struggle with it to the same degree! That doesn't mean I no longer have a desire for marriage (I do), but just that singleness doesn't seem as painful and burdensome to me as it used to.

But to at least scratch the surface of the answer to your question, I think there are a couple really important lessons the Lord has taught me through those harder times. A big one for me has been gratitude. Having a thankful heart does wonders, not only for my relationship with the Lord, but also for my own emotional well-being. It's for our own good that He tells us "in everything give thanks." I find that when I make a conscious effort to notice and thank God for all the good things He is and does and gives me--even the little, everyday things like hearing a bird singing, or a beautiful sunset, or an unexpected free coffee, or help with a problem I was having--it sweetens my whole outlook on everything. It brings me true joy in having a heavenly Father who loves me and cares about my smallest needs. It makes me really LOVE Him. A couple of books that have helped me with this are "Choosing Gratitude" by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp. I'd recommend them if you have some spare reading time.

Another big thing is prayer--not just praying in general but the way I pray about singleness. I have done my share of "begging" God for marriage, and there really isn't anything wrong with that, because He does tell us to ask whatever we wish as long as we can honestly ask in Jesus' name (John 15). But I think there also needs to be a recognition when I pray that the will of God for my life might be different from my will. I need to pray with submission to whatever, and however, He answers. Jesus prayed this way in the garden--He asked God that the cup might pass from Him, and then He said, "Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done." When we pray with this spirit of submission, it enables us to rest in God's sovereignty. We're not insisting on our way or desperately maneuvering circumstances to try to get what we want. Everything is left in His hands. And those hands are utterly trustworthy, even when they wound us.

On the more practical side, I think it's good to develop close friendships with other women, both single and married, that you can talk to and pray with and fellowship with. Being friends with married women does lend a little perspective. From the single side of things, our vision can get a little skewed and we can think that marriage is our ticket to happiness and satisfaction in life. There certainly are happy marriages, and God intended marriage to be fulfilling and satisfying in many ways, but nothing can ultimately make us truly happy except God Himself. There is so much peace in submitting to that truth. On the other hand, I think solid friendships with other single women are important too, because it's good to be able to mutually encourage others who are in the same boat.
I reached a certain point where I realized I didn't (and maybe never would) have a family of my own to pour my life into, and it was kind of huge and devastating at the time. It was a genuine grief and a loss of what I'd always imagined my life to be like. But gradually God has helped me realize that there are other ways to glorify Him than having a family, and there are other things and people He might want me to pour my life into. Some wives and moms are so busy with their families that they might not have time to reach out to the needy woman down the street, or go on a mission trip, or minister to children in a Bible club. It has helped me to look for those opportunities. I Corinthians 7 has not always seemed like a helpful passage to me (especially when I was feeling sad about my single status), but the older I get, the more thankful I am for it. As one of my single friends put it, "It justifies our existence." If God has singleness for you for a little bit longer, or even a lot longer, He will enable you to use your singleness to serve Him in unique ways that a married person couldn't.
And one other thing is that He promises in our trials that He won't give us more than we can bear. (I Cor. 10:13) He will provide a "way of escape." For you, that might mean marriage pretty soon. Or it might mean extra grace--just what you need for each day--so that you'll be able to endure, grow stronger, and bring Him glory by the way you live as a single woman.

. . . All I have to give you is God's Word, but nothing else has ever helped and strengthened me like that has. . . . Keep looking to Jesus, and keep trusting!


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

154: ping! ping!

Sometimes I get this mental picture of me standing tense on a narrow ledge. I am braced. I walk slowly. Inching. God, hold my hand. If I can keep myself controlled, and use all the will-power within me, maybe, maybe I will not topple forward. I am walking along God's narrow path.

Lately I've started to think maybe going along God's path for me is more like a pinball in a pinball machine. Here's His path, similar to one in a Pilgrim's Progress movie, sufficiently wide, but with a definite border on each side, the road bumpy with dirt clods and rocks. And here I am pinging against the sides as God closes this door, PING! and I ricochet off a closed window on the other side, PING! and I roll forward, God correcting me as I head off in one direction, or the other, always faithful to keep me on the path.

That seems a lot more practical than the precise tightrope of God's will vs. falling off into the flames of ruination. I only have a certain level of self-control--and control in this universe--to move myself along a self-determined trail of safe and perfect bliss. Then emotions sweep in--WOOOO!--and I start ping-ponging.

But, does God's Word tell me to brace myself for disaster? Is His path portrayed as treacherous and deadly if I hit a bump or dirt clod?

No. Instead He says that His rod and His staff will guide me. Oh! There goes a sheep! Bring ya back in, darlin'. Oh! You're stuck on your back. Let me pick you back up. Oh! You're going around and around in circles eating the same patch of grass and don't realize that you're eatin' nubbins now? Let me lead you beside still waters and make you lie down in green pastures. Let me restore your soul.

Ping! Ping! May God direct your path as you bump along the road of life.

Because there's grace in God's hand.