Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Steve and Amy: A Love Story (Part 4)

[continued from part three // start here]

Once Steve was single, it wasn't all that long before feelings for him started to grow in my heart, out of nowhere. I refused to directly acknowledge it in my journal for a while; I didn't want to "nurse a crush," and I knew the timing was bad. I was supposed to be single, remember?! I wished over and over that the confusing feelings would just go away!

Steve's life wasn't exactly uncomplicated at the time, either. As you can imagine, ending an 18-month relationship was difficult and messy. His girlfriend didn't understand his sudden decision, and they even got back together again at one point before breaking up for good. The whole thing was especially awkward for me because when their relationship had started, I was *her* friend, not Steve's--but at the end, she was off at college and I was closer to Steve.

The thing is, though, even as I wrestled with feelings for Steve while I watched him wrestle with lingering feelings for his ex-girlfriend, I can honestly say that I did not work to break them up and was not even wild with jealousy. I remember feeling upset, not for myself, but for the heartache Steve was enduring. The entire situation reinforced my beliefs about the foolishness of high school dating relationships. In fact, it was strange, very different from other "crushes" I'd had in the past: I really had this sense that I wanted to be with Steve in the future, not right then.

By the second semester of our senior year, Steve and his girlfriend had broken up for good, and she had started dating someone else. And then it was time for the spring musical. It didn't help anything that Steve and I were cast as Frank Butler and Annie Oakley in our high school's production of Annie Get Your Gun.


As if we weren't already spending tons of time together, now we were playing romantic leads onstage. Let's just say that this role required very little actual acting on my part...

The thing was, though, even though I was crazy in love with Steve by this point, I didn't dare breathe a word of my feelings to anyone (except my friend Julie, who was like the other half of my brain--there was no keeping anything from her). I had never been the girl who tells everyone about her "secret" crush, but in this case especially, I felt that I couldn't possibly let anyone know what was going on in my heart with regard to Steve.

I was always overanalyzing everything, at times wondering or daring to hope that maybe, just maybe, he might be able to care for me. But I was so afraid that his finding out how I felt could ruin everything. Our friendship was so fun, so deep. Over and over that year I wrote in my journal that Kaleb and Steve were the best friends a girl could ask for and I didn't know what in the world I would ever do without them.

So as Steve and I played this couple who falls in love, I was not only awkward and nervous for myself, but also anxious about how Steve felt. Was he disgusted by the idea of falling in love with me? Would he be grossed out if he found out I liked him? I so did not want to mess anything up by letting him find out how far beyond friendship my feelings actually went.

[to be continued]

Monday, January 28, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 272

Thanking God this week for...

4621.warm coats, scarves, hats and mittens for the cold walk to preschool
4622. twice as much money on a Starbucks gift card as I remembered
4623. lessons learned (again) about seeking first to understand, jumping to conclusions, being slow to anger, etc.
4624. immediate, cheerful obedience
4625. big brother kindnesses

4626. boys gobbling up spiced cranberry-apple baked oatmeal like it was cake
4627. time to talk with Steve
4628. fleece-lined khaki pants
4629. Jude putting his own shoes on
4630. ingredients on hand to throw together dinner

4631. plans with friends working out better than anticipated
4632. trees covered in ice
4633. an evening of conversation with our pastor and his sweet family
4634. their son's kindness to our boys
4635. Steve doing our taxes

4636. the fact that while my pinkeye is super annoying, it's not actually painful
4637. so many books for the boys that I can be picky about what we want to keep
4638. their shelves purged and organized
4639. an afternoon walk with my guys
4640. our church's practices of selecting leaders and disciplining members

4641. seeing church members encouraging and praying for each other
4642. Steve being considerate, texting me to let me know he'll be late
4643. a health care plan that does not hide the true costs of medications

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Steve and Amy: A Love Story (Part 3)

[continued from part two // start here]

Late in our sophomore year of high school, I started dating another friend of Steve's, and the two of us actually helped to set Steve up with a close friend of mine who really liked him. Apparently the exceptional beauty of my friend overcame Steve's reservations about the pointlessness of teenage relationships, because they started what would become a fairly serious long-term relationship. In the early months, I spent many phone calls and sleepovers lending a sympathetic ear to my friend when Steve was a thoughtless and insensitive boyfriend. He really wasn't trying to be a jerk; he just didn't have a clue :)

My sophomore relationship was short-lived, and soon after it ended, I read a new book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It was a lightbulb moment for me. I saw how misguided that relationship had been and gained a vision for something much better. Of course, the guys weren't exactly beating down my door, so it's not like dating was really a viable option for me to be able to kiss goodbye...but that's beside the point. Meanwhile, Steve was still dating my friend (they stayed together for about a year and a half).

Fast forward to senior year. Ever since I'd been a freshman, my best girlfriends had been older than me--which meant they kept graduating and leaving me behind. Once I was a senior, there were no older girls left, and I felt a little lost! But that year I became "one of the guys."

Steve, Kaleb, Aaron and I were all in show choir together, and Kaleb, Steve and I had taken over leadership of a before-school Bible study. The three of us met weekly at my house to plan the lesson, and that laid the foundation for what became the closest friendships of my senior year. Our time together on Wednesday nights was so, so precious to me!

As seniors, Steve and I were also paired together as show choir partners. I was absolutely thrilled--not because I had any feelings for him whatsoever (I didn't yet; besides, he was still dating my friend), but simply because it meant I no longer had to be partners with my ex-boyfriend (it's not very much fun to dance with someone who acts like he hates you).


That fall, I hit a little speed bump in my whole "proud to be single" mindset (my best friend Julie affectionately refers to this period of my life as "the Dating Nazi years" :) Right before school started,  Julie had introduced me to a friend of hers. There was definitely mutual interest, and all my ideas about kissing dating goodbye flew right out the window as I got to know him. But the more real the prospect of a serious relationship became, the more I freaked out, and I revisited I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

I know a lot of people mock Joshua Harris's book, but I have to say I absolutely believe it was used by God in my life. I can clearly remember how He led me to it, and it really was the message I needed at the time. I solidified my convictions about remaining single during this season, and had a great talk with this guy about needing to stay focused and not even having time for a relationship in the midst of a chaotic senior year (deciding where to attend college, for example, was DRAMA, to say the very least).

As I processed through all that with my two close friends, Kaleb and Steve, I talked about I Kissed Dating Goodbye. To my surprise, Steve asked to borrow the book...and then the next thing we knew, he broke up with his girlfriend. He didn't even want to or plan to, but felt that he needed to.

[to be continued...]

Monday, January 21, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 271

Thanking God this week for...

4593. a bobby pin to pick the lock of Elijah's room when Jude locked himself in
4594. news that some college acquaintances' five-year-old is cancer-free!
4595. Steve praying with Elijah at bedtime; Elijah taking his words to heart
4596. Joni Eareckson Tada's convicting example of joy, trust and obedience
4597. Jude trying to twirl his spaghetti

4598. junk cleared out of the basement
4599. two little helpers making bread with me
4600. people volunteering to babysit so a military mom can come on our women's retreat
4601. a pizza date with Jude
4602. a friend's sweet new baby

4603. more than two hours over coffee with a dear friend
4604. her words of encouragement, pointing me to Jesus
4605. bathroom scrubbed
4606. new memorization work begun
4607. Steve letting the boys "help" him downstairs

4608. a bridal shower for a sweet friend
4609. the hostess's hospitality
4610. laughter
4611. a new season of Downton Abbey
4612. finally getting us back to church all together for the first time in TOO long

4613. women's retreat details coming together
4614. Steve fixing my glasses that I thought were beyond repair
4615. friends here for dinner
4616. Steve's logical, clear thinking, his ability to cut through hype and rhetoric and analyze rationally
4617. time spent reading to the boys

4618. finally feeling human again after a brutal couple of weeks
4619. the awareness that it really could have been SO much worse
4620. rescuing me from sin even at times when I didn't want to be rescued

Thursday, January 17, 2013

General Nonfiction Reads of 2012

To close out my 2012 book reviews, here's the rest of the nonfiction I read last year. I love memoirs and history and narrative nonfiction, so I read a lot of nonfiction for pleasure, besides the nonfiction I read about parenting, education, food, etc. But this was a year for duds. I am usually generous with my ratings, so it's saying something that it took six general nonfiction books before I awarded five stars--and that was to a book I'd read before!

Rick Bragg (a favorite author of mine) was the big winner this year; his books are two of the only three five-star picks. And this list doesn't even include the handful of books I abandoned for their mediocrity. Here's to better selections in 2013...

My rating system:
***** Loved it, would read again
**** Liked it, would recommend
*** It was OK
** Didn't really like it
* Hated it

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier – Ishmael Beah***
I think it’s important to hear and think about stories like this—the author was a child soldier in Sierra Leone—but the telling of the story didn’t do much for me. The ending left me dissatisfied, with a lot of unanswered questions. He didn't fully explain *how* the rehabilitation worked for him, and I would have liked to hear more about how he got out of Sierra Leone and settled into life in America.

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa – Adam Hochschild***
My interest in nonfiction about the Congo was piqued after reading The Poisonwood Bible last year. This information is important—Westerners need to hear and grieve the dark history of our ancestors’ sins in Africa—but the book wasn’t particularly great. It was a bit dry to plow through; just felt like a pile-on of data rather than a story with a plot and a climax.

Road Map to Holland: How I Found My Way Through My Son’s First Two Years with Down Syndrome – Jennifer Graf Groneberg***
Groneberg’s story of adjusting to life as the mother of a child with Down syndrome was thoughtful and honest, at times beautiful, but overall not spectacular.

Terrify No More – Gary Haugen & Gregg Hunter****
I’m glad I took the time to read about modern-day sex slavery (an issue I’ve heard of over the last few years, but knew nothing about). I came away amazed by the work of International Justice Mission in liberating and caring for oppressed, enslaved young girls in Asia. The book also touches on IJM’s other work around the world—very inspiring.

Your Four Year Old – Ames & Ilg**
I found this almost totally worthless. The series is widely recommended by friends of mine, and I’ve found other years helpful for understanding and gaining perspective on developmental phases. But this one was all stereotypes and generalizations—so even though they kept saying “not all four-year-olds do this, they all develop at different paces and have different strengths, normal for your child may not look like this, etc.”—I felt like, what is the point? A lot of it didn’t seem to apply to Elijah at all, and if you have to make a million disclaimers, is it really all that helpful or even true? Ugh.

All Over But the Shoutin’ – Rick Bragg*****
With so many books in the world, I don't reread often, but this memoir was just as wonderful the second time through—Bragg’s journey from dirt-poor rural Alabama to a Pulitzer Prize at the New York Times is masterfully told, heartfelt and honest.

Your One Year Old – Ames & Ilg***
This one is a lot more helpful than the four-year-old edition. Part “what to expect,” part “your kid is totally normal,” it’s a quick read on developmental stages that helps put your toddler’s behavior in perspective. Generally speaking, I think Christian parents are a little too quick to label everything a one-year-old does as “defiance” and “rebelliousness” and “disobedient sin.” While I do believe children are afflicted with the same sinful nature that plagues us all, I think it would do us, and them, a lot of good to extend a lot more grace by giving a lot more consideration to child development and the reality of their limited abilities and understanding. This book helps me do that.

Adoption Nation – Adam Pertman***
Pertman really burst my bubble in terms of the romanticized, idealistic view of adoption I’ve had. Which was probably a good thing, but his forceful emphasis on open adoption challenged my thinking and left me, sadly, feeling less eager to adopt. I’d really like to spend some time processing this with other adoptive parents for a balanced perspective.

A Night to Remember – Walter Lord****
I've been fascinated by the Titanic ever since my grandmother took me to a Titanic museum when I was young. Given that 2012 was the 100th anniversary of the sinking, I was drawn to read about it, and this classic 1950s account was chilling. The senselessness of this epic, avoidable tragedy strangely captivates me. Hard to follow with all the names, and left me wanting more, but I enjoyed it.

The Night Lives On – Walter Lord***
I was on a Titanic kick after finishing A Night to Remember. This follow-up from the same author explored various myths, questions and details that have arisen since the sinking of Titanic—not spectacular, but intriguing.

Ava’s Man – Rick Bragg*****
Some people can tell a good story—the kind that makes you crazy to find out what happens, and then brokenhearted when it’s over. Some people can string words and sentences together in a way that makes the English language sing, and makes you marvel at the craft of writing. Rick Bragg is both, brilliantly. This follow-up memoir to All Over But the Shoutin’ is every bit as poignant and stirring.

My Father, Maker of the Trees: How I Survived the Rwandan Genocide – Eric Irivuzumugabe***
The author’s testimony is powerful, and he points to the God of reconciliation so beautifully, but for whatever reason I just didn’t find the book overall as compelling as other books I’ve read about Rwanda (and I’ve read several).

Designated Daughter: The Bonus Years with Mom – D.G. Fulford and Phyllis Greene***
I can’t really decide what I thought of this. It was an interesting look at the deep and beautiful bond as a daughter becomes caretaker to her aging mother, but the daughter isn’t a particularly lovable character. I did like hearing the mother’s voice at the end of each chapter. In the end, though, the book’s lack of spiritual truth left me feeling a bit empty—watching people approach death (the authors are very candid about its inevitability, the “elephant” following them) without Christ is disconcerting at the very least, and difficult to read.

Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected. – Kelle Hampton***
After sitting at my computer in tears reading Kelle Hampton’s account of her daughter’s birth a couple of years ago, I was thrilled to find out that she had published a book. Nella Cordelia was born in January 2010, and she unexpectedly had Down syndrome. Bloom is Kelle’s memoir of the first year of Nella’s life, as she adjusted to a very different mothering experience than she anticipated and learned to delight in her new daughter and her new normal. The book features full-color photos throughout, and there was much beauty in the photos and the words, much to find inspiring. Yet ultimately I was disappointed for what I didn’t find in this book: God (or at least the God of the Bible). Instead Kelle refers in passing a few times to a God created in her image, an impotent God who doesn’t do anything Kelle doesn’t like or understand. The book is peppered with profanity and bad theology, and the real heroes of the story are beer and her incredibly enormous posse of girlfriends. I think this quote from page 163 captures the spirit of the book and my disappointment with it:
 “I could question it, fight it, and surrender to the flag of It’s not fair, or I could learn from it. And I wanted to learn from it. I realized I was the only one who had the power to move on and turn our curveball into a home run, so I did my best to choose my perspective…I wanted to change. I wanted to be better. I wanted to begin a journey of gratitude and growth, and this was the perfect opportunity.” 
–So far, so good. I can learn from this! I want to be more like this! But then she continues: “And so I pictured myself, on a hill, fist raised to thundering skies shouting to it all—to God, to the Universe, to Coincidence, to Science—‘I see your challenge. I accept. I accept. I’ll show you how I can do it. You have no idea just how I’m gonna rock this out.’” 
Ouch. To Kelle, God is not the source of strength and hope, an “ever-present help in time of trouble,” but instead an impersonal force, akin to the generic “Universe,” to whom you shake your fist and prove how great you are.

Turn Right at the Next Corner – Pat Vivo**
I vaguely remember loving Pat Vivo when she came to speak at Buckeye Girls’ State in 1999—apparently, enough to buy her book. I found it on my shelf when reorganizing and decided to reread it to figure out if it was really a keeper (bookshelf space is at a premium at our house). Answer: No. She may have been a great speaker, but her book is nothing spectacular. It reads like a random grandmother’s life story, a collection of memories without a cohesive purpose—perhaps interesting if you know and love the woman; otherwise, not particularly compelling.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America ¬– Erik Larson*****
A chilling and fascinating contribution to the “narrative nonfiction history” genre I’ve grown to love. This thriller is about two men and the Chicago World's Fair of 1893—H.H. Holmes, the serial killer who committed unimaginable horrors, but also (more than I realized) Daniel Burnham, the architect who pulled off unimaginable wonders. Besides captivating my attention, the book also fed my growing fascination with the Gilded Age and Beaux-Arts architecture.

The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White  – Daniel Sharfstein (audiobook)***
I'd recommend this book--but I would emphatically NOT recommend the audio version. First, the narrator is awful. I'm pretty sure his voice is one used for automated recordings--the way he reads is so disjointed (and over-enunciated) that all I could think about is that automated voice, like every word had been recorded separately. I got used to it by the end (or maybe he improved), but it was incredibly distracting. Second, I don't think the subject matter lends itself well to an audiobook. I wanted to see photos of the main characters, which I think are included in the print version, and there are so many generations of the three families that it's hard to remember who's who--it would have been helpful to be able to flip back and forth and even reference family trees (I don't know if those are included in the print version, but they should be).

That said, it was still a fascinating book. The history of race in America is sickening, maddening, unbelievable. Hearing it laid out in the personal history of families who "crossed the color line," better understanding the abuses black families suffered, was eye-opening. The irony is at times overwhelming--I so wished the racist Louisiana senator who had black ancestors would get his comeuppance at the end, but sadly, he did not seem to realize before he died how insane his views were in light of his own bloodlines. I found myself absolutely appalled as I listened, again and again--but I think the author did a great job of not sensationalizing, just bringing the characters to life. His comprehensive research and engaging storytelling illuminated the complex issues, blind and illogical thinking, and societal/cultural norms that contributed to the poisonous racial atmosphere in the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States.

American Metropolis: A History of New York City – George Lankevich**
This is primarily a political history of NYC--which is not the type of NYC history book I wanted to read. It was dense, slow and somewhat boring. There were a few interesting tidbits, but mostly it was a lengthy, detailed review of every mayor of the city, how he got elected, what he accomplished, how he failed, etc. I guess you could say the book whetted my appetite to read more about the fascinating city of New York, and it did fill in some helpful background history as well as give me a detailed framework on which to hang other knowledge about NYC, but overall I wouldn't recommend it unless you're really into politics and city government.

Downtown: My Manhattan  – Pete Hamill****
Part memoir, part NYC history, this was an engaging portrait of my favorite city. Very readable and made me want to go back to the city, even though I just visited less than a month before reading it.

Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near-Death of an American City – Jed Horne*
I have no idea why I bothered to finish this--I guess I was in denial about how long and awful it was. Horne tried the narrative nonfiction style I so loved, and failed miserably. The entire book was a pile of cumbersome, meandering sentences with so many dependent clauses that by the time I got to the end, I forgot what the subject of the sentence was and had to go back and reread it, sometimes more than once. He went out of his way to use obscure vocabulary that I actually had to look up, only to find in the dictionary a notation that the word was "archaic" or "rare" or "poetic/literary." Really? Come on. The chronology was disordered and confusing, and it was SLOW. I've never been so relieved to finish a book.

The beginning of the book was promising; it at least helped me to better understand the perspectives of the people who did not evacuate ahead of Hurricane Katrina. But it was crisscrossed with too many characters; it lacked a cohesive narrative thread; and worst of all, it failed to convince me that NOLA is indeed a "Great American City." In fact I spent a good part of the second half especially just wanting to throw my Kindle against the wall in disgust over the corruption and waste and stupidity, both at the federal and local levels of government. I think the book was written too soon; it certainly didn't need to be any longer, but it would have benefited from more distance and follow-up (it was published less than a year after the hurricane). And in the end, I was not persuaded that New Orleans should be rebuilt as it was; rather, I was left frustrated and overwhelmed by the complex rat's nest of problems, incompetence and systemic failures that led to the tragedy in the first place and hindered the city's recovery.

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared – Alice Ozma***
I can't really decide what I thought of this. It kept me interested--a light, quick read--but it seemed overly...precious at times. I mean, I was a precocious child, but this *felt* like it had been written by a precocious child, at times almost obnoxiously so. The father was quite a character--I can't decide what I thought of him either. In the end the book is much more a mushy, sentimental tribute to the author's father than a book about reading or the books they shared (and I am totally baffled as to how/why the father will not read this book--is that even true?!). Except for one or two brief chapters, it doesn't go into much about the books themselves at all (each chapter begins with an epigraph from a book they read, but most of the time they seem random and only loosely related). Also, the sample "reading promise" at the end is cheesy and weird. So, I'm kind of ambivalent. Wouldn't give it a rave recommendation, didn't hate it.

And that concludes my book list for 2012. What nonfiction did you love last year?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Christian Nonfiction Reads of 2012

I hate to use the noun "Christian" as an adjective to describe inanimate objects...but in this case I think it is helpful for separating my nonfiction into two posts. I'm using it here to mean "nonfiction books written from a Christian perspective in order to help the reader grow in her love for/knowledge of/obedience to Christ." Without further ado...

My rating system:
***** Loved it, would definitely read again
**** Liked it, would recommend
*** It was OK
** Didn't really like it
* Hated it

Evidence Not Seen – Darlene Deibler Rose****
This memoir of a South Pacific missionary turned World War II POW was powerful. To see her passionate faith in God grow and thrive despite the unimaginable horrors she endured…incredible.

Journal of Biblical Counseling, vol. 26:1 – ed. David Powlison*****
SOOOO excited that this has been re-launched! Powlison's opening editorial alone was worth the $3.99 Kindle download. Loved it. This issue in particular was a wonderful introduction to biblical counseling and a great vision-casting exhortation to the church. Subsequent issues weren't quite as exciting to me, but the first was excellent. FYI, each issue can be read for FREE online until the next one comes out (it's published three times annually).

Treasured: Knowing God by the Things He Keeps – Leigh McLeroy****
Danielle loved this one a while back, and I bought it for my mother-in-law last Christmas. She loved it so much, she gave me a copy (with a lovely inscription, yay!) for my birthday. The author’s knowledge of God, both experiential love and intellectual understanding through Scripture, are obvious. It’s a simple but lovely collection of meditations on familiar Bible stories, laid against the author’s own life stories and teaching about what these stories reveal of God’s character. I really want to use it as a writing prompt, but haven't gotten that far yet.

Reliving the Passion – Walter Wangerin****
After I downloaded a sample of this Lent devotional and found myself repeatedly underlining from the introduction, I bought the full book on the spot. The rest wasn’t quite as spectacular as that poignant intro, but I still found it a moving and helpful book for focusing my heart in the weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday. Wangerin made a powerful argument for the importance of really slowing down and fixing our eyes on the cross, for without first entering into the depth of Jesus’ suffering and the disciples’ despair, we can’t fully appreciate the joy and wonder of His resurrection.

Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education – Doug Wilson***
It quickly became clear that the subtitle here should be “THE Approach to Distinctively Christian Education.” I found it extremely useful for helping me understand classical education, and it certainly challenged me to think carefully about education as a disciple of Christ. But Wilson’s tone is graceless; he takes a very dogmatic, “if you don’t agree with me, you’re WRONG and quite possibly SINNING” approach. I had to keep reminding myself that this book was the opinions of a fallible man, not inspired Scripture—it felt like he was setting his arguments right alongside the Word of God, with no room for dissent among serious Christians. Four stars for the information; two stars for the tone.

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms – David VanDrunen****/*****
A provocative and helpful balance to the Wilson book (and much more gracious and winsome!). I’m not sure I agree 100%, but VanDrunen certainly magnified Christ and left me with a very different perspective to consider. Well worthwhile, though after discussing it with some thoughtful friends, I have some more reservations--I really need to go through it again and make extensive notes. I still think it's a great catalyst for careful thought and discussion among Christians.

Just a Minute – Wess Stafford**
I absolutely loved Dr. Stafford’s first book, Too Small to Ignore. My time would have been better spent rereading that than reading this second book by the president of Compassion International. It was a little too “chicken soup for the soul” for my taste—a bit cheesy, a bit forced, trying too hard to move and inspire and change your life on every single page. Skip this and read Too Small to Ignore instead.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction – Eugene Peterson*****
I lost count of how many quotes I copied from this. Peterson has a gift for distilling biblical truth about the Christian life into poignant paragraphs that illuminate and stir hope. His meditations on the Psalms of Ascent are challenging, encouraging and wise.

Made to Crave – Lysa TerKeurst*****
Ooh, did Lysa TerKeurst have my number. Not gonna lie, at one point I wanted to punch her. I didn’t want to read this, but knew I needed to (yes, skinny girls have food issues, too) and am glad I did, even though it wasn’t fun. I think probably Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Love to Eat, Hate to Eat is theologically stronger and more saturated with the gospel, but TerKeurst is more personal and relatable—your funny friend who has experienced victory and is coming alongside you to encourage you that you can, too. Need to revisit this in 2013.

This Momentary Marriage – John Piper****
Piper can be incredibly redundant. It felt like he spent a lot of this book telling me what he was going to tell me, and then telling me over and over. Still, he made some arguments here that I’d never heard before, and his emphasis on the fleeting nature of marriage (in light of the glorious, eternal reality it depicts) provides a helpful and necessary counterpoint to the majority of books on marriage which seem to gloss over this truth.

The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made – Mark Dever*****
It took me more than two years to finish this epic (950-page) volume, but it was absolutely worthwhile. Dever preached one sermon on every book of the Bible, and they got compiled into a book. So it provides this really helpful bird's-eye-view of Scripture, outlining and explaining the main themes of each book, showing how each one points to Christ and how it applies to us. Very readable intro-level commentary of sorts. I read through the OT by reading a chapter of this book, answering the application questions, then reading the OT book. The NT volume (The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept), which I read first, is excellent, too.

From Beer to Eternity: A Little Story of Addiction and Beyond – Gary Morland***
The first half of this short book is Morland’s personal history/testimony, which is quite amazing, but not particularly helpful or encouraging to the addict—it’s one of those “after being an alcoholic for 14 years, I got saved and never again had a desire to touch the stuff” stories of instant healing and recovery. Great for him, but not so great for the Christian who struggles with various forms of addictive behavior and has not experienced such miraculous transformation. Still, the last half of the book had lots of poignant and inspiring insights about fighting against sin. You can tell this was self-published, but I still thought it was worthwhile, especially given my own struggles with sin.

The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking – Mary Frances Bowley***
This book is less about the realities of sex trafficking and the personal experiences of victims, and more focused on one particular ministry (Wellspring Living). Many of the stories weren't even about sex trafficking at all, but rather about women suffering from other forms of abuse and self-destructive behaviors. It was somewhat inspiring and hopeful, but not what I expected--not really the book to pick up if you are looking to better understand human trafficking.

The Explicit Gospel – Matt Chandler/Jared Wilson***
I like Matt Chandler’s preaching a lot better than his writing. His style doesn’t translate into the written word so well. One way I evaluate a book like this is by how many times I mark or copy quotes from it; there weren't many here. I can actually imagine many audiences for which this would be an excellent, necessary book--but for someone who has been saturated in the gospel-centeredness mindset for quite some time, I don't know that it adds anything earth-shattering or enlightening to the conversation. Then again, I have to admit that I was in a fairly spiritually apathetic place when I read it, so maybe in a different season/frame of mind, I would have found it more helpful and worthwhile.

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers – Arthur Bennett (ed.)*****
I can’t recommend this prayer book highly enough. The language is a bit old-fashioned, but not cumbersome or unreadable. And the theology is so rich. Beautiful, gospel-saturated prayers that stir my heart to love and trust and obey my Savior. I've had it for years, but after using Joe Thorn's daily schedule (which I also recommend), I finally have read every single prayer. This is one to revisit often.

Knowing God – J.I. Packer****
To be perfectly honest, a lot of Packer’s classic treatise on the character of God did not seem remarkable to me after having read Tozer’s similar book The Knowledge of the Holy. He was covering familiar ground, and a lot of it wasn't particularly fresh or striking. Still, though, Packer does have many of his own valuable insights and says them well; the wrap-up from Romans 8 was especially powerful. It’s hard for me to comment well on this one since I stretched it over the space of a year—and I’m afraid any lack of enthusiasm about this book says more about my own spiritual state than about deficiencies in the book. In the end, I think it deserves its reputation as a Christian classic; it is certainly a rich and thorough exploration of who God has revealed Himself to be and what our common clich├ęs (God is holy, God is love) actually mean.

Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ (An Advent Narrative) – Russ Ramsey****
I appreciate any book that gives you a sweeping view of Scripture as one big story with Jesus at the center—which is what this Advent devotional does. Inspired by Andrew Peterson’s absolutely brilliant work of the same name (please, get the album if you don’t already have it!), Ramsey takes the reader through the Old Testament stories that point to the coming Savior, then brings humanity and poignant detail to the familiar Christmas story.

Your turn in the comments: What books helped you grow in your faith this past year?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fiction Reads of 2012

This past year was definitely a year for young-adult fiction. In between finishing the Harry Potter series and tearing through the Hunger Games trilogy, I squeezed in a couple of classics and a few other selections. I'm hoping to read more old novels this year; it's easy to get swept up in the contemporary books everyone is talking about and fall victim to (as C.S. Lewis calls it) "chronological snobbery." But unlike my nonfiction selections this past year, I really enjoyed the majority of the novels I read in 2012. 

My rating system:
***** Loved it, would definitely read again
**** Liked it, would recommend
*** It was OK
** Didn't really like it
* Hated it

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens*****
I fell in love with the title character from the first few pages. Dickens has such a gift for creating delightful, memorable characters. This novel was massively long, but I was never bored.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (#4) – J.K. Rowling (audiobook)****
Though by this point I was sold on the series, I felt impatient as the first half of volume four really seemed to drag.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (#5) – J.K. Rowling (audiobook)****
Again, still hooked on this series, but in general I found this extremely long fifth volume a bit less delightful, myself a bit more easily distracted while listening and a bit less desperate to find time to pop my earbuds in. Still, by the time I finished, I was definitely very much anticipating the next book in spite of my lack of enthusiasm about this one.

The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien***
A reading of The Hobbit in junior high made me despise Tolkien, so I certainly had no desire to ever pick up the famed LOTR trilogy. But after discovering a few fantasy series that I LOVED, plus just knowing so many others who adore his work, I decided to give Tolkien another try. I still feel kind of “meh” about it. I was interested enough to continue the rest of the series, but not delighted or dying to start the next book (and in fact, I picked up The Two Towers later in the year only to abandon it for lack of interest). I’m not sure why this didn’t grab me as much as other fantasy series (Harry Potter, the Wingfeather saga, Narnia, Lewis’ space trilogy)—perhaps in part because *everything* was different; there were almost no familiar elements of Middle-earth on which to hang my hat. Or maybe I only like juvenile fantasy? I definitely got bogged down in all the lo-o-o-ng descriptions, the songs and poems, etc.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (#6) – J.K. Rowling (audiobook)*****
After books four and five were a bit slower, six had me hooked again. The plot twists, the characters you love and the ones you love to hate…Rowling has a gift.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (#7) – J.K. Rowling (audiobook)*****
I couldn’t wait for opportunities to listen to this final audiobook: one unexpected plot twist after another, right up to the beautifully satisfying ending. The epilogue was perfect. Happy, contented sigh. Yet I felt sad to finish the final lines—it was like the end of an era. How can there be no more new stories about Harry, Hermione and Ron? I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong about books…after pointedly ignoring these for more than a decade, they now go on my all-time favorites list. I’m confident I will enjoy them even more the inevitable second time around, catching all the foreshadowing.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith*****
It took me a long time to get around to this classic—but like many others, I’m so glad I finally did. I loved Francie Nolan, the narrator who comes of age in the tenements of Brooklyn at the turn of the century.

Crossing Six – Robert Wilson
When I found out that one of my all-time favorite teachers (11th and 12th grade English) had written a novel (a self-published e-book), of course I had to read it. But I don’t think I can give it a fair review or rating…the subject was high school students in a small Ohio town, so I couldn’t lose myself in the story enough to forget that Mr. Wilson was writing from experience (a lot of things were disguised barely or not at all!). Quite unnerving to see yourself and your friends from a teacher's perspective...

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins*****
It didn’t take me nearly as long to get hooked on this as it took me to pick it up in the first place. I enjoyed it more than I thought I might; as one of the endorsements said, the plot and the pacing are brilliant. Though I still think the name “Katniss” is one of the dumbest names I’ve ever heard. I made myself only read this while running on the elliptical, which served the dual purpose of helping me be self-controlled (rather than “couldn’t put it down, stayed up until three a.m. and/or neglected my children all day”) and motivating me to exercise :)

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins*****
The second volume of the Hunger Games trilogy featured several major plot twists that I never saw coming, and the characters continued to captivate me.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows *****
This charming, quirky book, set in the years immediately after World War II, takes the unusual form of a collection of letters and telegrams between a dozen or more characters. For that reason, I wasn’t so sure about it when I first started, but I quickly fell in love with the main character, Juliet (who stumbles across the delightful people of Guernsey, a Channel Island which was occupied by the Germans during WWII), and the old and new friends she writes to and about. I did find the ending somewhat dissatisfying, but on the whole it was a delightful read.

My Hands Came Away Red - Lisa McKay****
I enjoyed this novel about a group of teens who travels to Indonesia on a mission trip, then ends up on the run in the jungle after the village they help is attacked by Muslims. The main character, Cori, is raw, honest, likeable, and believable; the plot is heart-wrenching and suspenseful.

100 Cupboards – N.D. Wilson**/***
As much as I’ve loved Wilson’s other work, I expected to find this YA novel (the first in a series) delightful and save it for a future read-aloud. Not so much. The story was a little too out-there, a little too hard to follow. I couldn’t really get into it. Won’t be bothering with the subsequent volumes; this went back on PaperBackSwap

Washington Square  – Henry James**
This was the strangest book--maybe the most anticlimactic I've ever read. I picked it up because I hadn't read any old novels in quite a while, and I was on the lookout for New York books. Unlike some classics, this one was easy to read and I was able to get into it right away--the characters drew me in and I found it compelling; I didn't have to force myself to persevere. But...nothing happened. I kept reading, waiting for a plot climax...the end drew nearer and nearer, and still nothing really happened...then the big finale, and it was like, "Really? That's it?" In the end it felt like a pointless book--the kind where you wish you could have back all those reading minutes for a more worthwhile and rewarding book.

Mockingjay  – Suzanne Collins****
I had a harder time getting into this one, maybe because I had a big gap between #2 and #3. But in the end, I was as hooked as everyone else. Collins definitely knows how to pace a book and keep the plot twisting and turning. More than once my mouth fell open and I actually said, "WHAT?!" as something unexpected happened. Having read both hugely popular young-adult fiction series in the same year, I can't help comparing The Hunger Games to Harry Potter. Both had twisting plots that drew you in and made you want to keep reading and reading, but I think the characterization in HP was far superior. After three books I still wasn't quite sure what to think of Katniss (and I still totally hate that dumb name). Rowling just made you LOVE or HATE the characters in a way that I don't think Collins achieved. Her characters were interesting, but I didn't feel as attached to them. Still great books--just not as deeply satisfying and "I-can't-wait-to-reread-these" as HP.

The Associate – John Grisham**/***
Meh. I still think Grisham has lost his touch. The beginning featured a nice twist, but in hindsight it was not overly believable. The rest definitely kept me reading; however, the ending was anticlimactic and disappointing. I was hoping to be proven wrong in my theory that Grisham stopped writing to tell great stories and started writing purely for profit after his first four bestsellers. In the end, I stand by that theory, and won’t be picking up another Grisham novel anytime soon except perhaps to reread one of those early greats.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – E.L. Konigsburg*****
I remember reading and loving this in fifth grade English--one of the best English classes I ever, ever took. It was the first time I had a teacher who departed from the traditional textbooks and used the "whole language" method--introducing us to a slew of excellent juvenile novels. I haven't reread it since then, I don't think, but I loved it even more as an adult. The author manages the triple play: tell an interesting story, develop delightful characters, and go beyond characters and plot to explore more profound and timeless truths. Look forward to reading this aloud to my kids someday.

 The Great Divorce  – C.S. Lewis*****
I had a hard time getting into this right at first, but once I got my bearings and understood what Lewis was doing, I loved it. Classic Lewis—he has such a way of using story and characters to smack you in the face with brilliant theology, to awaken you to the reality of what you thought you already knew but did not really SEE about God and about yourself.

Before Green Gables – Budge Wilson****
The happiest sort of surprise: going to your local library and discovering that one more new book exists about your very favorite literary character! This prequel to Anne of Green Gables (authorized by L.M. Montgomery's heirs) was somewhat dark--it's one thing to know the barest facts about Anne's miserable early life; it's another to experience the deaths of her sweet parents or see her enslaved and unloved. But even with all the heaviness of what Anne had to endure as a small child, it was delightful to see fleshed-out versions of characters and events that get only the slightest passing mention in later books, or to meet characters that Wilson uses to explain various aspects of Anne's character and personality.

I will say that at various times, events or descriptions didn't *quite* ring true to what I remembered. I also found the quotations and conversations attributed to five-year-old Anne to be somewhat unbelievable...but to Wilson's credit, she managed to bring to life a child who is exceedingly precocious without making her the least bit obnoxious--which is rare, I think. This prequel made me fall in love with Anne all over again--in fact, as soon as I finished, I had to go back and restart the old series. Now that I'm reading those, I'm finding more and more inconsistencies in Wilson's prequel! I guess ultimately I *wanted* to like this a lot, so I got swept up in the delight of reading more about beloved Anne and overlooked the book's flaws. But without a fair amount of distance between the originals and this new addition, the style differences and the failures to stay true to the originals may well drive you crazy. I *liked* the story Wilson wove...but in hindsight, I can't say it's realistic.

I'm afraid to ask, because my to-read shelf on Goodreads is already out of control...but what novels did you love in 2012?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Favorite Christmas Moment

One of my favorite things this Christmas was seeing Elijah give his first real gift. Jude really needed a stool to be able to wash his hands in the downstairs bathroom. We have a stool upstairs that Steve built for Elijah, but Elijah still needs that to brush his teeth at the pedestal sink, so a second stool was in order.

The weekend before Christmas, Steve said he thought he'd have Elijah help build the stool, and let him give it to Jude. So Elijah and Daddy spent a couple of hours in the basement. Elijah helped with everything but the planning and cutting--he sanded, he used the nail gun, and then he wrote names on the bottom:

He was so excited to give it to Jude, he must have told Jude about it at least four times before Christmas morning. Finally it was time to bring out the stool.

Jude loved it. We actually ended up switching so that his new stool is upstairs and Elijah's old one is downstairs. Every night when we go upstairs to brush Jude's teeth, he says proudly as he climbs up, "Jude's new stool Lijah made!" So sweet. These two have such a love-hate relationship right now...but I am hopeful that in the long run they will be the best of friends.


Ultimate Getaway Giveaway

I have long admired and appreciated Sally Clarkson--now I see that she has a new book out with Sarah Mae and that they're doing an awesome giveaway to promote it. Time at Sally's house soaking up her wisdom and some spa the gorgeous state of Colorado...AND you get to take a friend?! Yes please!

You can enter the giveaway here...if you'll promise to take me with you if you win :)

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Thankful in All Things, Including the Flu (271)

2013 is not off to a good start here in the Kannel household. We began with Steve getting sick on his birthday last Wednesday--fun times, right? That developed into the full-blown flu, and at our house, *I'm* the one who gets man-colds, so when Steve acted as miserable as he did, I knew it had to be bad.  I was sick, too, but didn't have the achiness/fever/chills/etc...until Sunday evening, when it was my turn to spike a fever and head to bed at 7PM.

So both of us have been running fevers as high as 102, but thankfully not at the same time, so one of us can take care of food and children while the other shivers/sweats in bed. Meanwhile the boys started coughing again (they have had bad coughs off and on since early November...they hardly ever got sick until we started preschool and the church nursery, ugh!) but seemed to feel fine and had so far avoided the fever and aches.

Then they both developed pinkeye. And then I got it too, because sharing is fun! If you're keeping score at home, that's Flu = 2, Pinkeye = 3, Kannels = 0.

Yeah. So in the midst of all this, I need a gratitude perspective. Every time I get sick, I'm reminded how much I take my health for granted. I fear that my kids will get the flu and wonder how parents of kids with cancer even begin to cope. I whine about how awful I feel and wonder how those with chronic illness and pain make it through each day. And I realize that even in the midst of this small trial, I have plenty of reasons to give thanks.

Today, in between blowing my nose and putting drops in my eyes, I'm thanking God for...

4593. Steve's salaried job, where missing a few days due to illness is not a crisis and does not cause a reduction in income...cannot overstate this blessing!!
4594. Steve being home with us since December 21--certainly not how we'd like to spend his time off, but have to admit it *is* nice to have him here 24/7 :)
4595. ibuprofen and tylenol
4596. heavy blankets for when I can't get warmed up
4597. clean clothes to change into when the fever breaks and I wake up sweating

4598. soft kleenex
4599. honey lemon cough drops
4600. getting the giggles with Steve at 3:00AM after he was talking in his sleep (usually I am the one who does this)
4601. the hilarious "man cold" video that never fails to make us laugh
4602. the body's ability to fight off infection

4603. this tangible reminder of the consequences of sin (not that my specific sin caused this specific sickness, but rather just realizing that in general, the flu would not exist if sin had not come into the world...this should make me *hate* my sin!)
4604. vitamins to boost our immune systems
4605. the knowledge that this trouble really is so light and momentary in view of the eternal glory that awaits us
4606. the Great Physician who heals not only our bodies but also our sin-sick souls