Sunday, May 1, 2016

Book Review: Like Never Before

Melissa Tagg's writing-style is a mix between black and white movie charm and Hallmark feels.

This story is about (A) a news editor who has successfully immersed her broken self in small town life to find belonging, (B) a widowed single dad who just wants to do what is best for his daughter but can't seem to find his way, (C) a long-distance crush that is magically and romantically reciprocated, and (D) the Walker family whose dad you'll wish you could know in real life.

Did I mention the story is Hallmark-esque? It's a feel good, tickle your fancy, warm your heart story. A good way to welcome in summer.

Last time I reviewed one of Melissa Tagg's books I complained that there was not enough difference in how her characters talked. They all seemed to be able to quote old movies, including the football player who talked about Bing Crosby. Thankfully, only the main characters do that this time, and the guy only can do that because those were the kinds of movies his mom used to watch. The author has an amazing ability to write like we actually speak, but I still felt like there wasn't enough differentiation between how different characters spoke. Ah well.

One of my favorite parts is when the main characters are at a fancy dinner with friends and the heroine orders fish, even though she doesn't like fish, because when it came time to order, getting a hamburger suddenly didn't feel dignified enough. Mid-dinner, as she's poking her food, her guy quietly takes a handful of his fries and puts it on her plate, whispering, "You've been eyeing them for twenty minutes." To which she thinks, "God bless him."

I'm sad the story is over, but I follow the author on FB and she's already talking about her next book focusing on brother Beckett.

Because last time I rated Melissa Tagg's book based on a 5 star rating, I'll do so again. I'd give Like Never Before 4.75 stars (because I'm a teacher and I can do that).

Memorable Quotes:
"Again with the questions."

"Just call me Barbara Walters."

He wrinkled his nose. "I just kissed you, [name removed]. And I'm pretty sure at some point tonight--possibly multiple points--I'd like to again. I'd rather not have the picture of you as an eighty-year-old in a pantsuit in my head when I do."


"I was so fascinated by this book."

"Not going to lie, I'm a little fascinated at how fascinated you are."

She looked up, met his eyes. "You interlibrary-loaned a book for me, [name removed]."

He shrugged. "Some guys buy flowers, some guys track down picture books."

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 18, 2016

168: the struggle

I'm struggling with not being a mommy today.

With not having a cute little face of my own to call my mom "Granny."

With not being able to ask one of the many moms my age at church if they want to get together for a play date.

I love my school kids. I get so many ridiculous benefits from being a teacher. I get to buy them books and give them time to read. I get to call them mine, and I get to give them "the look" (you know the one your mom used to give you when you were misbehaving?). I get to laugh with them and help them learn multiplication. I get to teach them geography and about other cultures. We even grew carrots and beans and corn together (tho the corn had to go--where would it fit in my classroom??).

So many benefits.

But those students aren't mine. They are simply on loan to me during school hours. And I know that parenting is grueling hard and will stretch you to your limits. And I know I couldn't sleep in on Saturdays or experience a host of other luxuries I enjoy now as a single (and I do enjoy them).

It is okay to at times wish for what one doesn't have. It is okay to have a moment of pain. It is okay to feel the heat of an unexpected rivulet of tears.

It is okay to pause in your life, lift sad eyes up to the Lord, and feel the hurt, before moving on to the next day of abiding in Him and enjoying His blessings.

Today I struggled with not being a mommy.

Psalm 56:13 For You delivered me from death, even my feet from stumbling, to walk before God in the light of life. (HCSB)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

167: time passed; could be my fault; yet God worked

Singleness. It bites ya every once in awhile.

In your less than strong moments, do you ever wonder if it's your fault that you're single? Do you wonder if you messed it up when you were younger? If you were too PICKY (that word :/)? If you didn't put yourself out there enough? Considering my own possible guilt in the matter usually brings anger and hot tears. As if everyone else stumbled on the magic formula while I sabotaged myself.

Even if I did sabotage myself, it wasn't from willfulness. If I "missed out" on a crush some decade or so ago, it was because I didn't know how to bring attraction to myself (still don't!). If I "missed out" on some potentially amazing guy in my 20s, it's because I didn't know that I could give a guy a chance (ie. not snub) unless he was 90-100% marriage material.

The fact is I was not ready earlier. I don't mean God waits until you're "ready," but I can't deny that God has done His work in the years of my singleness, as I know He is still doing, and will continue to do in my singleness. What lessons have I learned as a single, sparing me the pain or disillusionment of learning it while married? Maybe if I had learned about the fallen nature of human beings through my husband instead of through my single relationships I would have become disillusioned about the beauty of marriage. Sometimes I feel this hunger for a guy that is often really hunger for God--I wonder if I had married before realizing that was spiritual hunger if I would have drained my husband dry with possessiveness before realizing I just needed God time. What if I had encountered my own impatience in parenting instead of in teaching? I probably would have been disillusioned again, and my life dreams would have spiraled, instead of accepting that I'm a sinner in need of sanctification.

I accept the blessing of learning some things while a single, not because it is a superior, or inferior, blessing, but because it is my blessing. My lot. My gift.

I'm going to keep messing up in this whole pursuing, being pursued, and being involved in relationships thing. I take comfort in knowing I will have run the race well if I let God do His work in me, circumstances be what they may.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Book Review: Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife

You know what I like about marriage books? I like that they keep the dream alive for me. They let me peek at what it could be like to be married.

I'm not sure why I like the idea of the work that being married entails, that being a good wife entails. I'm sure I've just idealized it in my head. As if the interpersonal relationship in a marriage would be any different than the interpersonal relationships I have with other people where I say things I regret or get rubbed the wrong way.

Or is it different? I like to think the rewards of being a husband or wife are different than the rewards of being a son/daughter, coworker, or friend. Being married is a special kind of relationship. I like to think it can't be duplicated in other relationships. There is a reason why God reveals Himself in the Father/child relationship, the friend relationship, the Almighty God relationship, but also in the marriage relationship. It must show something unique.

Ok, but enough of my waxing whatever this is. I did just watch a Hallmark. Two in fact (The Wish List and Soldier Love Story--yay, Pixl Channel on YouTube :)). And yes, I cried. Happy tears.

I asked to review this book because I respect Dennis and Barbara Rainey. I have listened to countless episodes of Dennis Rainey's FamilyLife Today radio broadcast and can attest that he loves his wife and loves marriage. He also has a heart to help men step up and become loving leaders in their homes. I admire that.

Getting this book in the mail was not like getting any ol' other book. It's a beautiful book with water colored pages and quotes in gold lettering. It even comes with its own built-in bookmark!

Mrs. Rainey won me over in the preface. She knows she is a mom of adult daughters, and she knows how to be the Titus 2 older woman without trying to be one of the gang.

Mrs. Rainey comes across nurturing and motherly (maybe even grandmotherly), but she speaks truth. Every chapter focuses on some kind of art. "Marriage is Like Grand Architecture" or "Marriage is Like Masterful Photography." Weird, right? And yet, it works! It really does. The correlations she draws are spot-on. This book is not fluff. It is a compilation of wisdom.

What else can I say? Mrs. Rainey upholds the beauty of marriage at every point, holds forth God's design and purpose, and confronts head-on the problems couples face, sharing how she and Dennis walk through the same issues.

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

"How does He describe you? He sees you as the apple of His eye, adopted, as His child, holy and blameless in Christ, a royal heir, and forgiven; always and forever, He sees you and me as forgiven. In the midst of some of our darkest days when I felt very little love for my man, these lenses of faith kept the glimmer of hope alive. I never stopped believing in a God who can do the impossible, which meant my husband was not impossible, I was not impossible, nor was our situation impossible to God.

. . . So when we have conversations about our failures and disappointments, it is always in the context of belief in each other, in the truth of the gospel that we are and can be overcomers. . . .

. . . And if in the moment you can't see a single trait worthy of praising, then cling to the truth of how God sees him and you." --Barbara Rainey, Letters to My Daughters, pp. 175-177

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Book Review: Pitchin' a Fit!...and my own take-away

When I saw that Israel Wayne and his wife Brook had just finished a book on "Overcoming Angry and Stressed-Out Parenting," as the subtitle puts it, I knew I wanted to read it. Even though I'm not a parent, I am a teacher that interacts daily with little ones that are still, well, children. They are still learning how to behave. So as a teacher, I deal with frustrating situations often. Students talking out of turn? Asking for help and then not listening when I give it? Making loud, onomatopoeia noises in the middle of my lesson?

My reactions aren't always stellar.

I feel like this book has been one of God's probing instruments over the last couple weeks while I've been marathon reading it. Pitchin' a Fit (great title, right?) hasn't changed me, because only God's sanctifying power and my cooperation with that power can change my bad character. That's a process that I am still very much at the beginning of. But the book has been an excellent tool to jumpstart that process.

So can I share some of what I've learned?

But first, the book review segment of this post.

On the semi-negative side, not all of this book has to do with angry parenting. The first several chapters threw me off because they addressed anger in general and I wanted to get to the parenting part! The book also awkwardly switches back and forth between Israel and Brook's point of view.

On the positive side, Pitchin' a Fit is very straight forward. I appreciated the lack of flowery language. No rehashing or cliché fillers. I appreciated the directness and moving on. Some of it will apply, some of it won't. But you won't have to sit through thick, belabored points or irrelevant stories before you get to what does apply. The book also quotes Scripture frequently; it is not a self-help book.

What drew me in immediately was the story in the introduction. Israel shares a personal blow-up scenario involving one of his children and 25 chickens. The story made him feel relatable, and I wanted to read more (granted, my flesh wanted to hear more relatable stories of failures than the book actually provided). For those who have never heard of the authors (I hadn't until I went to the 2014 Homeschool Alumni Reunion where he was a speaker), Israel and Brook Wayne are the homeschooling parents of 9 children. They speak from both experience and the study of God's word.

Ok, what have I learned?

What sticks out to me the most is the content of chapter 7, "But I'm Not Patient!" To summarize (because you'll have to read the book yourself if you want all the supporting details ;)), patience is a fruit of the Spirit. And fruits of the Spirit don't come about because of human effort. "It is our abiding in Jesus that will bear the fruit of patience (see John 15)" (p.102). "It is not an attitude of 'I will, I will, I WILL have patience!'" (p. 103). Oh and don't I know it! Patience is something I have to seek from God, something He needs to work in me.

On a practical level, the authors also talk about triggers and ways to make space so you are less likely to blow up. For my own memory's sake, I want to note some of what God has shown me that seems to be helpful in my classroom.

-be consistent with the rules
-discipline on the first infraction instead of waiting until you can't take it any more
-send the erring child outside when you feel the frustration creep up--by the time I go outside, the frustration is cooled and I am able to talk with (vs. rebuke) the child, and do so without shaming the child in front of the class (ie. a win-win-win!)
Israel and Brook Wayne are clear that there is no excuse for anger. They cite Biblical and logical reasons why there is no excuse. They are also clear that anger does happen. But I like how they address the process of change. They treat it like a habit. You work towards it through instant-by-instant choices. I LOVE this quote on p. 104: "When you fail (sadly, it will happen), instead of falling into a muddle over it . . repent. [...] Invite fellowship with the Lord again and get going, back in the midst of life."
There's tons more content--my book is all underlined--so if you feel this is an area where you need some sanctification, I strongly suggest you get this book and open it with a heart ready to let God work. Pitchin' a Fit may not be the first book written on anger, but it is easy-to-read and Scripture-based, and that's a pretty good recommendation in itself.
One last quote.
"We often get so hyper-focused on the fact that our children need to grow up that we forget that God has a vested interest in this whole parenting journey you are on, and He wants to see you grow!" (p. 105)
I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.
P.S. If you want to listen to an interview with the authors, here's a link.
P.S.S. I just read this teacher blog post that is really helpful too!

Monday, March 7, 2016

166: intentionality and information dump

"To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven" (Ecc 3:1)

I'm really feeling this in my life right now.

Last year I taught with a friend whose word for the year was "intentionality." She wanted to teach with intentionality. That was great for her. I was just enjoying my first year feeling like I might know what I'm doing.

But my Lord seems to have led me into a season the last few months of living intentionally. Who do I want to be? Not in the future, but now? How do I want to live? Not when I have a husband, but now? What are my ideals? And can I work to attain them?

Here's how that's been fleshing out for me.

I'm exercising three days a week. That's...unheard of. I'm doing Jazzercise, sometimes with a friend, sometimes on my own. And I'm paying top dollar for membership. Money is a great motivator.... So is the thought of being able to offer an active, healthy person to my future husband, if God so brings that about. And also, this is how I want to live. And instead of being conquered by my laziness, I'm finally feeling the satisfaction of living how I want to live, even as the muscles ache and the sweat drips down my neck.

I'm trying to keep my room neater. It's embarassing how much a single girl will let the one room of the house that she has sole jurisdiction over fall apart around her. I'm not sure why keeping a neat room has never been a priority. My parents are both very tidy people. Perhaps it's been a way to do my own thing. Perhaps it's been because I'd rather do other things instead. Perhaps I thought it impossible to take charge of this area of my life and so gave in to how I didn't mind living (aka messy). Now, don't get me wrong, as I type, my bed isn't even made, and it's 8:20pm. But I have been trying more, not for my mom's sake like I used to (sometimes walking by my room would start to drive her crazy), but because I want to start living neater now, as a single. It's an intentional choice. And I enjoy the satisfaction of actually accomplishing the pick-up that isn't always easy to do in my little over-stuffed room.

I'm trying to do better at controlling my sugar and media intake. I'm failing in the latter. And I'm only just beginning to have some success in the sugar department. Little steps. Dark chocolate doesn't count. Don't judge.

I'm trying to become the person I want to be, against the desires of the flesh.

In some areas, areas I know I will fall without help, I've sought accountability. And it has helped!

Insert clarification: I am not doing nothing with my life. I am an elementary teacher with a combination grades class. It's more than a job, it's my life. It's not like I'm bumming it at home, eating brownies on the floor of a cluttered room while watching back-to-back Hallmark movies.

At least not during the school day.

In the last week I've applied for a graduate program through Liberty University. I filled out the application 3 years ago, and it went inactive from lack of follow-thru (and funds). But now I've reapplied, registered, and am about to do "financial check-in." It's finally the season to start clumping down the cash to move myself forward career-wise. I don't know, maybe the man of my dreams will propose and I'll be married before two classes are even out of the way. But I'm not being held back by my hopes for marriage anymore. Unless God directs me to wait, to not spend the money and take the class, I will be taking my first class for a Master of Arts in Teaching starting the 21st of this month. Craziness.

I'll admit, part of the motivation is so when people ask what's going on in my life, I can actually sound like I'm moving forward in some area. But I also need this degree to have better job-opportunities in the future. I'm excited to learn the content, and I've been planning on going back for a Masters since I graduated in 2009. So this is really an intentional step in fulfilling my dream.

The one area that I am not being intentional in is finding a guy. I am not doing online dating. And there's absolutely no logical reason! (Well, except that I'm not sure that's the best venue for me.) I am completely in favor of online dating. But I have no peace from the Lord that I should do so now in this season. I have no peace even to Facebook message a guy I'm interested in getting to know. Do I think that would be wrong? Not at all. But to everything there is a season. And I know today is not that season.

So that's what's been going on with me. Got to put it all out on the Internet, right? *wry grin*

Well, maybe not everything.

Incoming Selfie Alert....
There we go.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Review: Risen

In two days the latest Christian movie Risen comes out. Well, I just finished reading the novelization by Angela Hunt! According to her, she based the novel on the Bible, history, and the film/screenplay. At the bottom I have a long summary of the first 11 chapters (at first I was going to do a chapter-by-chapter summary of all 42 chapters, since that's what I'm having my students do for their books this month, but seriously? 42 chapters plus a prologue and epilogue? Wasn't going to happen!). But first, here's my take on the book:

1) What I most appreciate about Angela Hunt is how she researches the historical times, stays true to the Biblical account, and delivers insights you either hadn't thought of or wouldn't expect to find so seamlessly integrated in a novel. She does all of this so well in Risen. I really enjoyed the contrast she made between Roman thought and Jewish thought, and then how each of those ways of thinking interacted with the reality of Yeshua--Jesus. I personally value this book because I felt like it brought the post-resurrection part of the Gospels uniquely to life for me. In fact, I'd almost like to re-read that section of the book to imagine and absorb more of the real-life reality we read about in the Bible. That's the great thing about novels--you start seeing historical events through the characters' eyes, which in this case not only included the main fictional characters, but also the disciples.

2) Unfortunately, this is the last Angela Hunt book I'll be requesting to review. The sensual/sexual content, while understandable in novels based on Esther and Bathsheba, was uncalled for here. Backing up, the story alternates perspectives between Clavius, a Roman tribune, and Rachel, a Jewish widow, who are secretly sleeping together. Granted, their conversational interaction adds to our understanding of Jewish vs. Roman thought, but why does there have to be fornication in a book on the resurrection? When I was reading, I assumed this subplot was part of the film and that that was why it was included in the novelization. But the author's note at the end says that Rachel appears in the screenplay, but did not make it into the movie (which gives me a better opinion of how the movie might be than I would have thought otherwise!).

So Risen is a mixed bag for me. Part of it is so good--the insight, connection, and feeling what it would have been like to see Jesus while He was on earth! And yet, you've got a compelling and sinful affair, which although is not particularly condoned, the characters never get the opportunity to actively repent of at the end. In conclusion, I probably would recommend this book to select people, with caveats.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Here's my super-long summary of the first quarter of the book:

Prologue: Clavius trudges towards an inn. Inside he meets the owner, who recognizes Clavius as a Roman tribune (tribune is confusingly close to tribute) despite looking every mile of his 40 days of wandering across Judea, of his process of transformation. Bored innkeepers like to hear tales--perhaps it's time to share his.

Chapter 1: Prefect Pilate is on his way to Jerusalem. Passover is approaching. Clavius reports to his commander and finds a robber of the high priest and some members of the Sanhedrin has upped the ante and taken control of a tower. From there Yeshua Barabbas and a band of mocking zealots have been successfully pummeling back a Roman centurion and his legion (because a mean rock throw can  apparently do much damage in this pre-firearm age). Clavius shows up and, with a little tactical maneuvering, mops up the zealots and hobbles Barabbas, ready to take him back for Pilate as proof of Pax Romana. His commander is among the fallen.

Chapter 2: Skip across Jerusalem and we meet Rachel, bread baker, dealing with an unhappy Roman wife because Rachel has no challah to sell--it is Passover, a sabbath, and tomorrow begins the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Rachel feels like a hypocrite as she seeks to uphold God's laws. Why? Because she has rejected the levirite marriage and thus has been rejected (presumably?) by her husband's family. After her husband died, she refused to marry his teenage brother in order to give him an heir. She wished to stay alone, in Jerusalem, baking bread, and not wed to a young man who held firm to his mother's apron strings. And so she spent Passover alone, an unthinkable thing, because she did not want others to know her secret shame. (There is a hint of feminism here when the mother-in-law asks, "How could Adonai be pleased with a young woman living alone and unmarried?" "A woman's purpose is to bring new life into the world. How can you be happy just baking bread?" The context makes it feel patriarchichal in a negative sense, but maybe I'm wrong. As if it's a comment we are supposed to roll our eyes at and hurrah the independent Rachel).  <--this theme is not continued in the rest of the novel

Chapter 3: Clavius learns his commander has died, due to recklessness in battle but earning glory for the family name nevertheless. Clavius' servant brings in a letter (a rolled scroll!) from Clavius' twin sister. She is with child. Clavius' other sister is a Vestal virgin and glad to not be under her father's control (continued theme from chapter 2 <--which is not continued in the rest of the novel). Pilate summons Clavius.

Chapter 4: Rachel sees a procession of criminals. One man in particular draws her notice. He wears a crown of thorns and the flesh of his back has been stripped by whips. Patches of baldness show where his beard has been cruelly ripped off. He falls, and before he rises, he says something about blessed are the childless. What does that mean? And how can the woman near her think to call this man the hope of the world?

Chapter 5: Clavius reports to Pilate who assigns him a "beneficiarii," an intern, who is more academic than soldier, not even familiar with horse riding. Pilate also gives Clavius the assignment of hurrying up the execution at Golgotha. On the way to the scene, Clavius explains to Lucius, his new companion, that battalions are rotated during the gruesome crucifixion detail lest they "[forget] they are men." When they arrive, Clavius observes that the third criminal, a "king," according to the sign, has surrendered to death quickly. Before the legionnaires throw the bodies over the side of the mount, Joseph of Arimathea and a man named Nicodemus come and claim the body of Jesus. Clavius follows them to see that this job is finished.

Chapter 6: Rachel probes a neighbor for information about the Nazarene. She had followed him to the place of the skull and then had helped lead the mother, Mary, away. The neighbor can offer no answers, except that all think he was crazy, and what does anyone ever do to Rome to deserve death?

Chapter 7: Clavius admits he wants power and prestige . . . so he can have a home in the country and enjoy peaceful days without death.

Chapter 8: Rachel's husband, a quiet, dutiful, but unaffectionate man, had been killed by a Roman stallion, his death announced by a Roman officer. Rachel the widow had then filled her nights and life with baking. Then the Roman officer began buying bread from her stand. And then he found his way to her home. She had no illusions he would ever marry her, but in Clavius' arms, she at last felt loved. *gag me now*

Chapter 9: Clavius steps out on the rampart while the sun sets and the Sabbath begins. Rachel has asked him to join her in the Sabbath prayer, but he hasn't. Yet he feels the yearning, not to honor the demanding Yahweh, but the pull of Rachel's goodness. He goes inside and writes his sister a letter, telling her he looks forward to leaving his uncivilized Judean post, but also sharing about the woman he's met, a woman that reminds him of his sister.

Chapter 10: Pilate assigns Clavius the tiresome task of sealing the Nazarene's tomb to appease the flock of black crows (the members of the Sanhedrin).

Chapter 11: Rachel prepares her matzah, remembers Passover as a child, and begins to wonder at the connections between Passover and the Nazarene's!

...the story continues when Pilate tasks Clavius with finding the missing body of the Nazarene!