Gaining Independence and Staying In Dependence on God

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Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day. Since my situation encountered another change recently, I found myself contemplating my own independence. Specifically, I considered how much independence fits a healthy lifestyle. I saw a blurb from a Christian resource pointing readers to remain in dependence on God. That reminder got me thinking about leaning on God, my family, friends and community.

I tend to isolate myself. That stems from a way I’ve coped with difficulties that started in childhood, and I’ve had to work on rerouting that habit. While good results arise from me wanting to take care of myself and my physical needs, I can take care of my spiritual and mental needs only to a point. Well, even my physical needs require me to seek help. I just have a hard time asking for help. Yet it’s there. I do not need to isolate myself; that only tends to worsen the situation. Somehow I forget I truly do have a team of people who care about me and whose relationships have proven fruitful for me (and them). God created us to depend on Him as well as live in community.

As I contemplate my next step for my career and my focus on my physical, mental and spiritual health, I seek to regain more of my independence again in terms of taking care of myself. Yet I also want to remind myself that part of that responsibility involves asking for help and seeking resources. Wherever I end up, I can lean on God and my community near and far.

Under a Summer Sky Makes a Warm, Tender Summer Read

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I received a copy of Under a Summer Sky by Melody Carlson from Revell Books in exchange for an honest review.

Once again I got a third in a series, but this one also didn’t require knowledge of the previous books for me to enjoy this novel. This time I had the added pleasure of reading a sweet summer love story during the summer months. Overall, I enjoyed the story and the characters, especially the protagonist Nicole.

Nicole, a high school art teacher, moved from Seattle, Washington to Savannah, Georgia to run a family friend’s art gallery for the summer. She agreed to the arrangement with the hope of not feeling stuck in her job and relationship status. While there, she encountered new career experience, difficult co-workers, friendships, and a budding romance. She even took one of her friend’s children under her wing.

I appreciated Nicole’s character since her experiences and time of life resembled my own. She showed strength in trying a new angle to develop her career and skills, moving to gain perspective and allowing a nice gentleman to pursue her for a relationship. I too made a faraway move to gain perspective and job experience and could relate to the uncertainty. It felt hopeful to read about someone else doing it and overcoming the obstacles.

My only knocks on the book were that some of the dialogue seemed contrived. The content still made sense; they just didn’t flow as naturally as real dialogue usually would. However, the situations and characters still maintained their authenticity and relatability. In a way the story had a certain simplicity, but I enjoyed it and appreciated the positive outlook.

Wings of the Wind book review

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I received a copy of Wings of the Wind by Connilyn Cossette from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

This book indicated it was the third in the Out From Egypt series, but it was the first one I read and still made sense without the context of the other books as it seemed those revolved around other characters. Generally, the story gave a greater insight into the biblical time period when the Hebrews fled Egypt as they traveled to the Promised Land. This brought it to life in a greater depth in my mind. Hearing the characters discuss the manna falling from the sky and their various thoughts on it made it more real. It also gave a greater context to the interaction and culture of the Hebrews and Canaanites.

As Alanah and Tobiah got to know each other in the marriage they arranged for Alanah’s safety, despite her being an enemy discovered by Tobiah, I learned how the cultures honored their beliefs. I saw how they respected God and the Torah as well as each other. The background of war showed how tough the times must have been for all involved. Both Alanah and Tobiah lose people close to them and must grapple with the loss as they move on in their significant relationship to each other as strangers.

I enjoyed the book overall. The war descriptions didn’t excite me as I don’t particularly care for war scenes, but the war itself does give a context for the struggles in the story. It also gives the characters opportunities to show their mental and spiritual strengths in addition to their physical strengths. These characters showed a lot of all as they faced several difficulties on their hopeful road to the Promised Land.

The Ebb Tide Book Review

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I received a copy of The Ebb Tide by Beverly Lewis from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

This book introduced me to Beverly Lewis as well as Amish fiction, and I’ve enjoyed my first encounter with both. Twenty year old Sallie made a good protagonist to demonstrate a healthy curiosity for the wonders of the world around her. Her situations in the story served as good examples for people exchanging culture and living peacefully together.

Sally’s background differed from mine a lot, ranging from her having ten kids in her family while mine had two to her family living the Plain lifestyle while mine lived a pretty Christian and mainstream one. However, I could relate to her wanting to experience more than what she knew. I too spent my young adult years reading books to learn more about cultures and places. We both also got to reach our dream locations, hers being the beach and mine being London. Then it seemed like those trips led to beginnings of a greater enlightenment of the world and other cultures.

Sally lived with a family for the summer who did not live the Plain lifestyle, and she got to see more modern tools like iPhones, Google and a washing machine. She noticed how the family who hired her didn’t look at her or treat her differently because of her attire but also noticed how they had more material goods at their disposal. Later, she met a nice young man who shared a similar family background but differed. Sallie’s life really flourished in many ways through her experiences as a nanny in a beach area summer home.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I liked learning more about Amish culture, and I appreciated how it showed a positive way to learn about other cultures through genuine interactions with others. Sallie also demonstrated a healthy yearning to learn and experience those cultures and learn about the world and its people.

The Garden of Small Beginnings book review

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I received an advance reader copy of The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman through a Goodreads giveaway.
Overall, I enjoyed this mostly light hearted and sweet story. Waxman took a heavy topic of a widow’s loss and showed her progress through grief. We see Lilian learn how to raise her young children on her own as well as glean some insight into her discovery that her loss also affected everyone else in her family, ranging from her sister to her overly critical mother. This realization seemed like a turning point for her embracing community rather than isolation in her loss as she got closer to her sister and the friends she made in her gardening class.
Having pointed out these insights, I still thought they could have had more depth. This story gave a cursory glance and kept the story at a fun, girly angle. It may seem nit picky, but I also found some of the phrases and descriptions forcefully crass. That detracted from the sweetness as well as the depth of the story.
The book kept my attention and provided a cute story with likeable characters and enough depth to gain some insight into widows and grief.

To The Farthest Shores Book Review

I received a copy of To the Farthest Shores from Bethany Publishing House in exchange for an honest review.

This is the first Elizabeth Camden book I’ve read, and I’ve really enjoyed it. She blended history and romance into a neat story. While the idea of romance is timeless, this had the unique perspective of happening during a time of war. That allowed the love story to have a different angle on angst. It even gave some new rawness on dealing with loss and love when Jenny had to deal with Ryan’s return and learn that he moved on with his life with another woman after he left her.
In these experiences Jenny had, I also enjoyed seeing a strong female character. She had a rough childhood, but she came out stronger as a young adult. With the help of her adoptive dad, she became a nurse who takes care of herself. She exuded independence and morally upstanding character. Her patients appreciated her empathy, and she could also stand her ground in an upsetting situation.
I enjoyed watching Jenny’s life and love unfold and look forward to checking out another Elizabeth Camden novel.

One Season

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spring is coming

but summer never left

heat makes constant presence

a blanket of too heavy heft

 

magnolias bloom white

blossoms big and wide

no new color, no new life

no lush green on this side

 

April waves roll on the beach

I let the water wash me

praying my season to change

salt of the earth to be

 

Something Real, An Authentic Book

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Yesterday I finished read Heather Demetrios’s Something Real, a real gem of a book. Despite my cousin and me making jokes about me going on The Bachelor to find myself a husband (and shock our extended family), reality TV probably would not find its way into my life whether the camera followed me or I followed the show. However, I could relate to Chloe’s angst over coming to grips with a childhood that caused her angst and anxiety beyond her control.

As a reality star since birthday, Chloe/Bonnie Baker grew up in the public’s eye on Baker’s Dozen with her parents and twelve siblings. The show ended up getting cancelled in her early teen years after her parents got divorced and Bonnie, who later changes her name to Chloe to get distance from her trademarked self, overdoses on medication. She started public school with her brother as a senior, when she chose to start fresh with her identity. However, her mother decided to restart the show in an effort to financially provide for Chloe and her twelve other siblings.

Again, I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to have cameras watching my every move, broadcasting not only my positive moments but all my mistakes. I also couldn’t imagine having that many siblings around, though the thought terrified me. Yet I could relate to a constant angst in my own childhood, the feeling that my parents couldn’t see the pain caused by choices not my own even if made with the best intentions. My parents divorced as well, and by the time I reached Chloe’s age I had experienced that more than once. I also experienced (and still do) anxiety and depression. Those and some of my other health issues heightened some disconnect since they did not always make themselves evident. Unfortunately that disengagement only increased the severity of the problem. Chloe repeatedly expressed her concerns before she made the drastic decision to raid the medicine cabinet. When the show restarted, she again repeatedly voiced her concern, especially as her panic attacks returned. Ultimately, she sought legal counsel to separate herself from a main root of her anxiety.

That break in root was tough. Again, I could relate. She didn’t want to hurt her family, and I never wanted to break mine. As deep as family was, the root of pain went just as far. I admired her bravery and strength to make that cut. The book showed how the pain lingered and how she still wanted her family’s support and connection. They didn’t attend her high school graduation, and that stung Chloe. Yet she knew she had to move forward away from the cameras and therefore the Baker’s Dozen.

This story provided an authentic look into anxiety and other issues related to dysfunctional families. I appreciated how it showed the depth of the roots and how events or specific issues can ripple into other areas of life. It reminded me how important it was to invest in healthy relationships, like the close sibling bond Chloe has with her brother Benny and her group of friends, and in the counsel of experts like Chloe’s counselor and lawyer.

2016 Reads

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As we finish the first week of the new year, I would like to reflect on my last year’s reading. I read more than I have in years, and I noticed it helped me feel better than I have. Some highly regarded intellectuals like John Maxwell, as well as other sources, note the importance of regular reading and how a routine of even fifteen minutes a day can lead to finishing numerous books in a year. Last year I learned a lot as I kept my mind cycling through books rather than my ruminative thoughts. Here is a list the list of 61 works I read last year:

A * denotes a book read for a book club or list.

*Noah’s Compass – Anne Tyler

The Longest Ride – Nicholas Sparks

The Girls of Mischief Bay – Susan Mallery

*The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

*The Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh

*The Dressmaker – Kate Alcott

*Defending Jacob – William Landy

Captivating – John and Stasi Eldredge

Princess – Jean Sasson

*Lock and Key – Sarah Dessen

*Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand

Supergirl – Michael Green

*The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George

Supergirl Vol. 1: The Girl of Steel – Jeph Loeb

The Wasted Vigil – Nadeem Aslam

I Kissed Dating Goodbye – Joshua Harris

What the Dog Saw – Malcolm Gladwell

The Depression Cure – Stephen S. Ilardi

This Is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper

*American Born Chinese – Gene Luen Yang

*Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon

*Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

*I Am Princess X – Cherrie Priest

Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbit

*Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

A Mad, Wicked Folly – Sharon Biggs Waller

The Leaving of Things – Jay Antani

Batman: The Killing Joke – Alan Moore

Waiting for You – Susane Colasanti

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids – Sarah Ockler

Gifts Differing – Isbel Briggs Myers

*Dead Until Dark – Charlaine Harris

*Carry On – Rainbow Rowell

Emmy & Oliver – Robin Benway

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

*The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

*Dept. of Speculation – Jenny Offill

Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

*Club Dead – Charlaine Harris

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

See Me – Nicholas Sparks

The Mistletoe Promise – Richard Paul Evans

Starry Night – Debbie Macomber

*Scoop – Evelyn Waugh

The Christmas Box – Richard Paul Evans

Timepiece – Richard Paul Evans

The Death of Superman – Dan Jurgens

 

Books I reread:

If I Stay – Gayle Forman

Much Ado About Nothing – William Shakespeare

The Choice – Nicholas Sparks

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne

The House at Pooh Corner – A.A. Milne

 

I choose Eleanor & Park as my top read last year. It completely pulled me into the story and relationship between the characters as I found myself thinking about them between readings. I found myself exclaiming I wanted to cry when I finished; the reality and emotion in that book felt so tragically authentic. This book may become a routine read for Valentine’s Day or some occasion so I can enjoy it on some regular basis. I highly recommend it. Sadly, I saw it several times before deciding to give it a try. I picked it off the bookshelf at stores so many times thinking it caught my interest but not feeling completely compelled. Now I’m gifting it to friends who feel the same way because I want them to experience its greatness as well.

Last year I also read my first few comic books. I still hold no expertise when it comes to the comic world, but I have learned that not all comics hold equal appeal. The same character has stories by numerous authors. While the storyline may follow similarly in all of them, some simply aren’t as good. I suggest using some sort of research, whether Goodreads or other readers, to avoid reading the ho-hum comics.

Since Christmas and my birthday have just passed, I’ve got a nice stack of books ready to get me through the first part of the year. I’m excited to keep up the heavy reading (to keep my heavy spirits up)!

 

See Me Sparks a Last Place Spot

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I recently finished reading Nicholas Sparks’ second newest novel See Me. Though I consider myself a big Sparks fan, I did not enjoy this story nearly as much as his other books. Seeing him write a story with a greater thriller aspect showed a range in his talents, but the story didn’t get as deep as usual.

The characters were in their mid twenties like me, and I wouldn’t have guessed that. Colin attending college classes gives him a younger aspect, but Maria didn’t seem to hold many similarities to me or any of my friends my age. Unlike most of us, she got right into a good career track and in law, a tough field. To top off the two dimensional characters, the suspense had hit and miss elements. The mystery itself for the stalker had its strength and would have fit into the thriller genre as far as I can tell since I don’t read many books in that genre. However, it took multiple paragraphs to get to an assailant sneaking up to Maria. Even I knew the forthcoming action and didn’t feel added suspense waiting those extra descriptive paragraphs just for the actual event.

I still enjoyed the book and still love Sparks. This book just might rank last in all the ones I’ve read. I suppose one has to land there. It shows Sparks can flex his writing muscles in genres outside love stories, and it demonstrated the power of a close knit family (Maria’s) and how people and look out for and comfort each other.