Book Review: Beloved Hope by Tracie Peterson

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I received a copy of Beloved Hope, the second book in the Heart of the Frontier series, by Tracie Peterson in exchange for a review.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, which made sense to me despite not having read the first in the series. Though the setting may seem old, simple and isolated from civilization, it presents complex human issues through the lives of the three sisters in the Flanagan family in Oregon City. The story revolves around Hope; she, along with her older sister Grace, survived a massacre by the Cayuse. The effects of that trauma lingers even more than two years later when the trial occurs for the Cayuse. Hope still keeps her heart hidden and fears the man who abused and impregnated her while she was held hostage. Yet as the story unfolds, we see multiple perspectives and timelines of forgiveness as well as hope for romance and intimacy after healing.

The story depicts a realistic development of pain, healing and forgiveness. Hope goes from fear to hope as she finally learns to trust the Lord. Ultimately, she sees that she need not hide from the prospect of marriage as she can enjoy an intimacy with God as well as with someone he has in mind for her. The story shows the understanding and patience of a godly man as Army lieutenant Lance Kenner gets closer to Hope, always respecting her need for space and understanding. Hope’s sisters also go through different phases of trust, love and forgiveness as they embark on new stages of their relationships and healing from the massacre trauma.

I enjoyed the story, particularly its realistic and hopeful portrayal of healing and forgiveness. The setting may have been different from my experience, but I could relate to the universal experience of learning to trust. It also presented new information regarding history that informed while providing a premise for a timeless hope lesson.

I already have another Tracie Peterson book on my shelf to review. I look forward to reading and reviewing Out of the Ashes as well as continuing the Heart of the Frontier series.

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Wonder Book Review: Kinder Than Necessary

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I recently have read and fallen into awe over R.J. Palacio’s Wonder for the KIRB Appeal Book Club at Warren County Public Library. This story follows an inspiring young boy named Auggie Pullman who suffers from a myriad of health issues resulting in severe facial deformities as he ventures into public school the first time as he enters fifth grade. Though much younger than me, Auggie reminds readers of all ages of the importance of being kinder than necessary. He faces his obstacles, much like anyone faces personal issues, as he hides them, thus blocking his connection to others and his way to see how to overcome his struggles, understands his differences and how he may have to take care of himself differently than other people do, learns not to let mean people ruin his otherwise good days, and adjusts his perspective on people’s reactions to his visible struggles and differences all the while demonstrating the power of kindness.

Toward the beginning of the story, Auggie shares how he lets his hair fall into his face because “it helps me block out the things I don’t want to see” (21). He even shares that he had the forethought to grow it out so he could do that; he wanted to hide his face and his struggle with his health issues. This makes sense; no one likes to have people stare at them. I too know what it feels like; I simply wear gloves at work and catch people glancing at them in contemplation of why I would wear them. Most of them end up asking questions about them, rarely seeming to understand I do it to protect my skin and health (not wearing them results in numerous bleeding cracks, which sometimes lead to bubbly staph infections…all of which hurt). It feels easier to hide the problem and try to ignore it. Yet, it can’t really go away. Auggie hiding his face may have kept people from quickly noticing his difference, but it also kept him from engaging in the world around him. With the hair over his eyes, he not only couldn’t see people’s silly stares, he couldn’t see his own world or goals. As he discovers, people stare either way. I have received as many questions about my cracked hands before I wore gloves as I have while wearing the gloves; I have decided I’d rather get asked about the gloves and not have the infections. This allows me to get through my days more successfully. Auggie does the same thing by putting his best face forward and going to his school every day rather than going back to homeschooling and not having a school community or group of friends.

By showing up to school and taking care of himself, Auggie demonstrates his understanding that he is a little different than most people. His cleft palate and other issues make it harder for him to eat. Therefore, he must chew his food with his front teeth rather than in the back of his mouth like most people. Some people may react to this since it normally might get perceived as rude or might get crumbs on the table. However, not eating this way could result in him choking. Auggie understands that he must take care of his choking risk with greater care than the average person. Again, I sympathize with my skin issues. I must protect mine more than the average person. I might get some silly stares and questions for my unusual use of gloves, but not wearing them increases my risk of illness and infection. So I must understand that I might have to care for myself a little differently or with more effort.

In his higher level of understanding from being different from the other kids, Auggie achieves a level of perspective and peace I have yet to perfect. He realizes most people don’t mean to be rude or mean when they point at him because of the difference they see in him. He notes that they don’t laugh when they point and reflects that if a Wookie went to his school he may do the same thing out of curiosity (62). This bit of wisdom seems to keep him from letting those people bother him. He takes his difference in stride. He may look odd and may have to care for himself in ways others don’t expect or find odd, but he knows what he has to do and rolls with it.

Auggie’s ability to roll with the punches doesn’t come without its rough days though. He almost quits school after learning about some kids making fun of him behind his back. He also suffers physical harm at the hands of bullies from another school, almost taking away his great joy from the rest of that weekend’s activities with his friends. Auggie’s sweet, supportive mom reminds him, “No, sweetie, don’t let them do that to you. You were there for more than forty-eight hours, and that awful part lasted one hour. Don’t let them take that away from you, okay?” (277). The comments and stares I get come as part of the beauty of working retail. I admit I have let some of the ignorant and mean comments stew in my mind longer than they should. I have worked to hold a perspective closer to that of Auggie’s. Usually for each time someone says something ignorant, I can find someone who authentically thanks me for my help or kindness. I also remind myself that most these people are fortunate enough to not be able to relate to my health issues and therefore don’t understand the depth or complexity of them.

The reality exists that we all face some sort of difficulty on some sort of regular basis. Some of these struggles others can see, while others people can’t. As Wonder shows, everyone gets bullied to some extent, whether by intentional meanness or the ignorant variety, at some point. That demonstrates the importance of this story’s lesson: to show a little more kindness than is necessary. Auggie’s teacher Mr. Tushman quotes the James Barrie story The Little White Bird to emphasize this idea’s origin. Then he shares an example of Joseph in the movie Under the Eye of the Clock where someone does a small act of kindness for Joseph and how that one small gesture tremendously impacts Joseph. Mr. Tushman quotes, “‘It was at moments such as these that Joseph recognized the face of God in human form. It glimmered in their kindness to him, it glowed in their keenness, it hinted in their caring, indeed it caressed in their gaze'” (300). Auggie’s perspective on others’ treatment of him and his reactions to others demonstrate the difference kindness can make on people.

We all face difficulties, and we all have aspects of ourselves and our experiences that make us different from others. Like Auggie, we can grow our perspectives on them so we don’t let those differences hinder our ability to engage with our lives and to take care of ourselves. Books like this help us remember that we all face challenges and we can all show kindness to each other. Ignorant or mean remarks don’t have to ruin our otherwise good days, and a little extra kindness truly can make someone’s day or life a little brighter. Let’s all be a little kinder than necessary.

 

***Each year, members of KIRB Appeal collect spare change in jars to donate to a charity at the end of the year. Since we have read this book first this year, we are donating to a charity that helps kids with cleft palates.

Book Review: The Essential Guide to Prayer

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I received a copy of The Essential Guide to Prayer: How to Pray with Power & Effectiveness by Dutch Sheets from Bethany House in exchange for a review.

While a lot of books already exist regarding prayer and a praying life, Sheets manages to deliver new material. Most of this comes from examples he has uncovered and analyzed. He notes the importance of lifting up requests and how they get answered accordingly.

Especially pertinent for today’s world involves the note to play the role of a watchman. This means not only praying for protection when in danger but always praying for safety and deliverance. These requests save people when they may not even realize it. Sheets shares an example of a man saved from harm after praying for protection when he didn’t even know of the imminent danger around him. Sheets reflects on this deliverance writing, “We shouldn’t assume that we need to pray only when warned. Jesus told us to pray daily for deliverance from the evil one,” as a way to maintain a “proactive watchman prayer” (130). This reminded me to pray daily for my health and safety, perhaps starting with a regular recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Another practical reminder Sheets gives his readers relates to pray using Scripture. He reminds us to find the appropriate verses for our situations and to use them to confess, declare and make requests to God. This gives a foundation and power to intercession. Sheets also uses 1 John 5:14-15 to note the confidence we can have that God will answer prayers as they align with His will.

Overall, this book provides good reminders as well as evidence through stories and Scripture to back them up. It gave me some notes to reflect upon to improve my own prayer life as I move to intercede.

Book Review: Praying With Eyes Wide Open

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I received a copy of Praying with Eyes Wide Open: A Life-Changing Way to Talk with God by Sherry Harney with Kevin G. Harney from Baker Books in exchange for a review.

The Harneys visit a common theme of prayer but provide good insight into its necessity and effectiveness in everyday life. They emphasize the concept to pray continually from 1 Thessalonians 5: 17. This includes prayers of lament, joy and intercession. When we pray, God will respond.

The book urges us to pray openly and honestly with God as we go through our days. My favorite takeaway from the authors is that “Honest prayer can actually crystallize our thinking and teach us to trust God at deeper levels.” As we keep the line of communication open, we can learn more about God and thus see Him acting on our behalf.

Overall, the book serves as a reminder for prayer life, some ideas new and some repeated. They use scripture, anecdotes from all over the world and analysis to illustrate their points with authority. It can serve as a good book for anyone needing a little encouragement in their prayer life.

Book Review: One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church

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I received a copy of One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church by Gina Dalfonzo.

Gina Dalfonzo approaches a highly important topic in today’s culture in her new book One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church. As a single adult, Dalfonzo has spent numerous years observing and experiencing the church’s approach to its single members. As a young adult single, I could relate to most of what she said. Dalfonzo tackles her topic from numerous angles, ranging from sharing singles’ feelings of being left out of a generally family oriented culture to suggesting how the church might incorporate singles into ministry.

At first I disliked the way she shared so many paragraphs of examples taken from her surveys of singles. I didn’t want to read a bunch of seemingly unconnected, brief notes from numerous people. It also didn’t seem like they were incorporated in the expected manner (an introduction to the person and the quote), but after a while I grew to appreciate the thoughts of so many singles. I found they didn’t necessitate high credentials to represent the plight of everyday people found in every church. It kept it on a realistic level, allowing me to continue to find myself amongst those singles.

Overall, the points made stayed spot on. Dalfonzo captured the negative feelings a lot of singles have felt as an unintentional effect of how some people approach them (even with good intentions) and how the church steers their belonging in groups and ministry. It brought to light a lot of disappointment and how people can unintentionally compound the pain of searching for a mate. Hopefully it helps people see how to better approach how they “help” singles in their quest for a mate and how they understand their unique set of difficulties. For example, Dalfonzo points out how many married folks may quickly think to themselves that a single doesn’t know the true meaning of busyness since they don’t have kids, etc; however, as Dalfonzo points out, married people might forget that a single person still has a household with an equal amount of chores that they must do alone since they don’t have a mate to assist with the work. Most importantly, she shares that people tend to forget that finding a mate isn’t as simple as believing in God and creating an online dating profile.

Dalfonzo highlights the plight of the often overlooked singles in the church, but she also points out positive ways the church has viewed singles. She goes further to suggest ways to deepen their involvement in the church, thus keeping them strong in their faith as they wait for a mate and as they serve in the church. As she points out, a single person can balance out perspectives and have a lot to offer the church in ministry.

I enjoyed this book, and it gave me hope as a single person seeking deeper involvement and community in church. I could see this benefitting anyone in the church as it shares an understanding of the experience of the single person and how the singles and married folks can contribute to a community incorporating singles.

Book Review: Real Love In An Angry World

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I received a copy of Real Love In An Angry World: How To Stick To Your Convictions Without Alienating People by Rick Bezet in exchange for a review.

This book seems fitting for today’s society where so many opinions get tossed around on a daily basis. Without fail, these topics enter into our everyday discussions, potentially leaving us wondering how to share appropriately differing viewpoints. Overall, Bezet focuses on staying rooted in the Word and faith. From there we can ensure what we say flows from a godly perspective rather than from our personal feelings.

As an example of these roots, Bezet illustrates the story of Moses and the Israelites fleeing Egypt. He reminds us how daily they had to collect their bread in the form of manna. We too have to collect our physical bread and Word bread from Jesus, again on a daily basis. This shapes our minds and hearts and allows us to share love as we reflect and grow.

Bezet maintains a casual style, which I mostly enjoy. He comes across as someone having a conversation with you, a fitting approach for the topic. However, a couple of the jokes distract me from the professional tone a book still should uphold. The book overall makes the information accessible and easily applicable.

I have enjoyed this book and may revisit points again in the future. The point to stay rooted in daily scripture serves as an important reminder. I also want to reflect how I talk to people and ensure that I maintain approachability, compassion and understanding in my encounters and discussions with people.

Simple Joys on a Simple Fall Sunday

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I’ve been going through She’s Still There by Chrystal Evans Hurst as part of an online bible study. Each time I sit down with that book, I realize I like her and her  insight even more (today I also listened to her talk about cultivating, curating and creating content for writing). As part of my devotion time today, I reflected on some questions at the end of chapter 12. The first question got the thoughts stirring about simple joys. Sunday feels like a great day to contemplate the little details that my senses can enjoy on this day of rest as well as every other day.
First I made a list of things that I can engage with my senses that make me smile. Considering just today, I came up with:
crisp, cool air: I missed fall last year since I was in Houston (yes, Houstonians, it truly does exist outside the magazines and movies), and I daydreamed about sweaters by late spring, which probably didn’t help me feel any cooler in that hellish Houston heat. This year, I bask in the cool air again and feel especially thankful for it. Especially this weekend as the cold has finally set in, it feels good to be cold again.
colorful leaves on the trees: This falls into the category I started above. Again, I didn’t witness fall last year, and that included the beauty of the trees changing colors. They truly do hold a beauty all their own, and the cool air only adds to the wonder of fall.
the yellow mums sitting on my desk on a plate with sea shells I gathered with my best friend Katrina in Galveston during her visit: Yellow is a joyful color, and flowers always add beauty to a room. The shells add another positive aspect with their memory association; they even come from a memory of a sunny day (probably the only time I enjoyed being outside in Texas…the ocean air made a tremendous difference).
music on my iPod: “Believe” by Hanson was playing as I made my list. My iPod contains a lot of music, and they reflect a lot of memories and emotions. It helps to hear expressions of feelings to which I can relate. Oftentimes, music gives words to what’s on my mind, and it keeps me from going too deeply into my head. It also reminds me that I’m not alone in my experiences.
candy corn pumpkins: My severe allergies have made it difficult for me to find my favorite Halloween candy for years. Persistence pays off though because after checking labels for years knowing each time I would most likely find the bags were possibly contaminated from my allergens in the factories, I finally found some safe candy corn pumpkins! Let’s just say I bought a few bags. Tonight I can enjoy them during my Sunday Ritual. After I paint my nails I can do Halloween weekend my style and watch Stranger Things while I eat pumpkins.
aromatherapy pillow mist on my pillow: I rested my eyes earlier and enjoyed the mist on my pillow. I thought aromatherapy from essential oils sounded hoaky when I first heard about it, but I reconsidered after I saw that Mayo Clinic agreed it could possibly help (any small improvement in mood is worthwhile). Last year I received a diffuser and essential oils and started using it. I enjoyed the different scents and how they seem to relax or lift my mind a little. This afternoon I rested as I inhaled the scent of eucalyptus and tea.
I agree with Chrystal Evans Hurst that simple joys matter. I’m glad that I took the time to fill in my blessings journal throughout the day today and that I took the time to do her reflection questions. It continued to serve as a starting point on staying positive and being open to God’s involvement and guidance in my life.

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17

This Is Us: “Deja Vu” Invites Pain to Experience Healing

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The third episode on this season’s This Is Us invites viewers to experience “Deja Vu” of their own past pain. Each one of the Big Three experiences a new layer of the loss of their dad as they embark on new parts of the personal journeys. Though the tragedy happened while they were teens, they still feel the pain. As Sylvester Stallone (playing himself) wisely points out, “There is no such thing as a long time ago. There’s only memories that mean something and those that don’t.” While Randall and Beth’s new foster child clearly shows signs of pain in her not so distant past, a lot of pain lurks below the surface where others can’t see easily. In all cases, we see a need to face the grief (or pain) and that it requires talking about it.

Jack continues to fight his alcohol related problems, which in the previous episode we see him literally fight at a boxing club, and he points out how going through AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and talking about his issues prove difficult for him. He knows his wife Rebecca stands by him and wants to partake in his recovery, yet he finds it hard to share his pain with her. Grown Kate and Kevin have an argument over neither one having talked about their dad’s death since they were teenagers. Kate, Kevin and Jack all take the first step of facing their grief and reaching the relief on the other side by recognizing they need to discuss their pain. Kate tells Kevin that she saw a counselor at her weight camp, and there she learned that she couldn’t talk about her father’s death. She now sees that not doing so is “like taking in a breath and holding it for the rest of your life.” By the end of the episode, she and Kevin make up, knowing they need to talk through their grief. Jack shares a similar conversation with Rebecca. We see him struggle to tell her what he experiences going through the AA program, but he finds the words to say that he struggles with it and that he wants to keep telling her and will over time. All the Pearsons exemplify how the healing and recovery processes are a journey and take time.

Meanwhile, Randall’s household grows both in number of occupants as well as in experienced pain as his family welcomes a teen foster child. During her first night, she has an argument with Beth, and we witness her flinch when Randall appears in the doorway to check on them. We don’t know her past yet that might have caused such a reaction, but it becomes clear that her history involves pain (and highly likely abuse). In her case it seems obvious due to the severity of her reaction to Randall, but those roots of pain don’t show themselves so obviously in everyone. Again, we see issues taking root from childhood. Like the Pearsons, she took on some pain and coping mechanisms at a young age. She too will have to undergo a healing process, hopefully with the Pearson family by her side.

One key aspect all these characters have in common in their childhood homes with Pearson parents is their known safety. Also, despite the circumstances, they clearly know their parental figures love them. Even those enduring healing and recovery find love, security and hope through their connections to each other. Jack finds the courage to stand by Rebecca and finish their date night with added intimacy after he shares his struggle with her, Kevin calls Kate to make up (she easily agrees) after their “twin fight” and admits he needs to talk about their dad, and Deja illustrates her high need to recognize her pain and need to heal when she slams down Randall’s family photo as she storms out of the living room.  The family members stand by each other.

As AA (or Celebrate Recovery) would point out, the first step to recovery is admission of the need for healing. These characters show how that helps them move forward. They also show that a long time ago does not guarantee healing. Not all may flinch like Deja does, but they show a need to face their grief and pain. Jack perfectly captures that struggle as he shares his difficulty in talking about his struggle. People commonly have a hard time confessing their pan to others. The Pearsons show the importance of holding onto their support system and persistently pursuing the next step on the healing and recovery journey.

The Breaker Anointing: Book Review

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I received a copy of The Breaker Anointing: How God Breaks Open the Way to Victory by Barbara J. Yoder in exchange for an honest review.

Yoder’s book highlights an important message: God will break through to deliver us. God breaks through to do this on numerous levels. These range from bringing us healing to getting us to a point where we can fulfill the purpose for which He created us. As Yoder points out, we can see examples of this throughout history. He did it for Moses, and He does it for us. However, I would have enjoyed a little more descriptive depth to connect to these illustrations on a more personal level. Yoder describes truth but doesn’t paint an emotional picture like most Christian living books tend to do. She does know her message though, and she makes her point with scripture and experience to back it up.

This Is Us: Family Ties Are “A Manny-Splendored Thing”

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This weekend I’m catching up on NBC’s hit tearjerker This Is Us, and the second episode doesn’t disappoint. Filled with touching moments, especially between characters who haven’t been as close previously, it captures the difficulty and depth of developing a family. Randall and Beth further contemplate fostering a child. Through Randall’s doubt and Beth’s persistence in their discussions, they demonstrate the uncertainty in family connections and the communication necessary to develop those connections. They show triumph over uncertainty and difficulty to connect leads to the development of strong family ties.

Randall knows firsthand what it feels like to struggle through childhood. As the adopted child of the Big Three triplets and only one of a different race, he knows how easy it can be to feel separated. He also has witnessed the effects of parents’ problems on children; his adoptive father Jack struggled with a drinking problem passed down from Jack’s father, a problem that stirs conflict within Jack and Rebecca’s marriage and family, and, his biological father struggled with drug problems and ultimately died from cancer. Randall understandably fears not feeling equipped to deal with a foster child who may have been abused in some way (Beth at first guesses he feels nervous about answering the question about his family history of alcoholism and drugs). As Beth points out, they didn’t know what they would get when they had their two daughters.

Their discussion and their potential to know beforehand whether a child would have the difficulties of healing from abuse or difficult medical histories intrigued me. As Bev points out, people generally don’t know what problems may arise related to their children or their preparedness to parent. Life, and families in particular, face a lot of uncertainty. Yet Randall’s life proves that the uncertainty and challenges can be overcome. Perhaps some of Randall’s perfectionism and hard work ethic stem from a desire to prove himself worthy. It also fuels him to work to stay connected with his family despite the difficulties. Ultimately, in this episode, we see how Beth’s insistence to continue their discussion until completion of the foster care questionnaire demonstrates how communication can further deepen and develop family connections. She does not let Randall give up, and together they progress their goal to broaden their family.

Beth’s story arc in this episode also shows how connections can develop even where they don’t have much depth already. She informs Randall that she does not find his brother Kevin funny and that she does not care to watch the recording of Kevin’s show The Manny. Kevin knows their relationship does not go deep, but he still seizes his chance to be there for her and his brother. Beth finds herself in Kevin’s room backstage and shares her frustration with Randall. Rather than remove himself to give Beth space, Kevin chooses to stay and communicate. As she divulges their plans to adopt, Kevin sees Beth’s need for understanding and connects with her through a humorous background story Beth didn’t previously realize connected them. It serves as a point for them to start deepening their friendship as well as encouragement for Beth to not get discouraged in her journey with Randall to become foster parents.

As usual, this episode makes me tear up at the touching depth to these characters and their situations. They remind me that with effort and communication we can all develop deeper connections with family. Their strength does not come without difficulty. Opportunities always exist to connect as well, whether they be with family members who have been around for years or with ones who may not have joined yet. Like Randall and Beth, we should not let fear of uncertainty steer us away from developing those ties.