Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Way of Hope - A Book Review

The way of hope claims to be about "sexual identity, same-sex marriage, and the church" (subtitle). And it is. But it also isn't. It's more. It's about surviving abuse. It's about letting go of perfectionism and performing and embracing grace (though the author seems to focus more on us giving ourselves grace than God's grace). It's about facing your monsters - sins and addictions - and experiencing God defeating them.

We might not all be struggling with sexual identity, but we are all struggling with our own personal monsters and, for that reason, I would recommend this book to everyone who desires help through that struggle.

The Way of Hope opened my eyes to how the words I say and things I do can so deeply affect my daughters! It opened my eyes to how I treat others both in the church and in the world around me! It made me acknowledge the existence of personal monsters I'd rather pretend didn't exist and face monsters I already know too well!

Melissa Fisher takes us on a journey through her life - childhood through to now, through experiences of intense pain to embracing the same-sex lifestyle to encountering God and freedom from that lifestyle. It truly is a story of hope!

I would have liked to see more dealing with how the church needs to/can address this issue of sexual identity and same-sex marriage. It was very clear that we can't condemn the person, nor can we condone the lifestyle. She clearly acknowledges that it is sin. But it wasn't clear how we can do this as a church - how we can love but not condone (and make it clear we're not condoning sin). More can be written on this.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it, I recommend with caution. THere is much good in here, much about God's love, much about hope and salvation from sin (through Christ). BUT the last few chapters reveal a works righteousness type of theology that concerns me. There is a LOT written about the work we need to put in to find this freedom, hope, etc. but nothing about God's grace. This is where I believe the book can begin to be discouraging for people on a similar journey.

That being said, Ms. Fisher does an excellent job of guiding her readers to The Way of Hope! This book will be on my list of books to re-read and books to lend out!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Monday, 31 July 2017

The Road to Paradise - A Review

~"You walked up that mountain a strong man and returned a Christian!"~ (p. 254)

This novel tells a story of two people in search for peace. It is set in Mt. Ranier National Park in the mid-1920s. We encounter two main characters, Margie (Margaret) and Ford, who struggle to find peace and faith, each in their own way, while fighting to protect God's great creation in this national park. As their lives intertwine, we meet a sinister Philip, a motherly Mrs. Brown, and a few other supporting characters, all of whom help them, knowingly or not, on their journey.

From the start, I knew this was primarily a Christian romance - definitely not my favourite genre. And yet, I found myself captivated, drawn to the story. Karen skillfully weaved in a story of struggling against people with dark purposes, struggling to reclaim a faith that was lost, struggling to find one's true identity, into a story of a realistic romance! Often, when I was away from the book, I found myself wondering what Ford and Margie were up to!

I have never been to Mt. Ranier but the author's descriptions painted such a perfect picture, I felt I was right there with the characters, like I could smell the mountain, feel the cool breezes, see and touch the same plants, walk the same trails! I also loved how little details of the characters' pasts weaved themselves so naturally into the story!

I thought I wouldn't enjoy the romance aspect of the novel but it really worked! It wasn't over-the-top and the romance was just a natural part of life, like any other struggle in the lives of the characters! This raises Ms. Barnett far above all other Christian romance authors I have read!

Yes, this is one of those Christian romances BUT the historical details, information about nature, and the sense of humour the author brings, mixed with alluring hints of hurt, danger, and darkness, make it a thoroughly enjoyable read!

I received this book, in ebook format, from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Find more information about the other and her books:

Friday, 16 June 2017

Five Minute Friday: Maybe Tomorrow {Worth}

I'm back at it with Five Minute Friday. Today's word is worth and, amazingly, I'm writing on Friday! Yay me! Today's writing is a piece of fiction. The beginnings of a story ... or a novel ... I don't know yet. :) It's called Maybe Tomorrow.

She steps away from the mirror. Shouts, more than images, seem to reflect back. She closes her eyes, covers her ears, trying to block the sounds. “You’re worthless! Absolutely worthless! She’s prettier than you! She’s smarter than you! She’s more outgoing than you!” They’re right. Her sisters are all those things. Oh, they’ve never actually said those things to her. But she knows they think them. Her parents. She was the last. They wanted a boy. They got another girl. Worthless. What good is another girl? But at least the first three amounted to something! One has her beauty – that got her far. Modelling, acting, famous. The next got the smarts. Billions of things you can do with that! She chose law. Most successful lawyer in the province! Maybe even in all of Western Canada! She’s made a name for herself. And then there’s the third – super outgoing. That’s her greatest quality. She’s on TV – a journalist. Yeah, they all got a decent amount of brains, looks, character. She’s nothing. Never got good grades, yet somehow, miraculously, made it to college. What for? She’ll never amount to anything.

 “Follow your dreams,” the teachers said back in high school. What are her dreams? She doesn’t even no anymore. Are worthless people allowed to have dreams? Away from the mirror, away from that awful sight of her pale face and stringy brown hair, her mind strays to her grade school days. There was a day she thought she’d like to be something. Before she turned so ugly, before everyone realized how worthless she was. She wanted to be an author. You don’t need to talk to people to write. Your characters can be your friends! There’s plenty of recluse authors right? Adds to the mystery or something. Maybe… Maybe tomorrow … Maybe tomorrow she’ll talk to someone about changing up her classes. Maybe tomorrow she’ll switch to some English, Literature and Creative Writing classes. Maybe tomorrow she’ll start to have some worth.

I need to stop writing sad stories ... it gets me down! Or, I just need to pursue this one further and find a happy ending for this girl ... whatever her name is. She hasn't told me yet. ;)

Image by Me

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Expectations for the Future

I want to write. Not primarily so people will read it (though that would be totally awesome) but, mostly, because it feels good to write.  I’ve let my writing slip to the wayside and that really sucks. I feel silenced. I feel like I don’t know how to find my voice back. And it’s my fault. Hmm. Well, I got an email that said Five Minute Friday moved. I LOVE FMF! So, naturally, I went to the new site and signed up. I joined the Facebook page and was eager to get going again! Because, really, there can’t be any “I don’t have time” excuse when it’s just a five-minute writing assignment! I saw the first word since my joining the new page: future. I delayed writing. The Monday after that word came out, my second oldest (4.5-year-old) got really sick. I was too exhausted to think, let alone write. She was puking, not drinking, not eating. Fever kept spiking – it’s highest was 41 Celsius (about 106 Fahrenheit).  It was frightening and we ended up at the Children’s Hospital. Got her sorted out, got her on some meds and she started improving – Praise God! The next Friday came. We were supposed to have a field trip with a homeschool group and considered not going since she was only just on the mend. She really wanted to go so we went. It was an exhausting day for her! But she was improving. The word that morning was expect. I told myself, “I’ll get to it on the weekend.” But my bad habit of not writing took control and I didn’t get to it right away. Then Saturday evening came and my 6-month-old baby had a febrile seizure. It came out of nowhere. He whole body was shaking hugely and her skin turned purple almost immediately. She was breathing funny, she was crying funny. We called 911. The seizure lasted at least 10 minutes (my husband thinks closer to 15). We were back in emergency at Children’s! I have never been so terrified in my life! Thankfully the doctor’s were able to determine why she had a fever (UTI) and gave us meds for her. It was still intense and stressful – she didn’t want her meds, often puked afterwards, still not drinking 100%, still fevering. But slowly she’s been improving. Today starts the 3rd day of no fever. And tomorrow brings a new FMF word. Today I want to write.

All this week, those two words have been running through my head: future, expect. I’m not limiting myself to 5 minutes this time. J The two words, I find, a very related. What do we expect for our future? For our children’s future? I will admit, I think more of our children’s future than my own. Especially considering the current government of my country. But when they are sick, my thoughts about their future and my expectations change. I’ve always expected that they will live long lives, that they will live God glorifying lives, that they will be happy and successful. But none of these is guaranteed! Not even that they will love God (though we pray they will and we guide them in the faith)! What is the only guarantee of the future? That God is faithful! The thing is, we don’t always know what that looks like. So do my expectations for my children change? I expect them to live long lives but the fact is, God could have taken two of my children to Himself this past week. So I have changed my expectations for today and tomorrow and all the tomorrows to come. I expect (and trust) that God will care for us, that He will guide us and will keep us close to Him – however that looks.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Absent in the Spring

I just finished reading Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (pseudonym of Agatha Christie) and it leaves me pensive, hopeful, frightened (but not in the sense of being afraid of something scary). It is not a mystery. Wikipedia labels it a tragedy and I can see that as an accurate description.

Note: The following contains spoilers to an extent. I'm sure the book would still be enjoyable to read but if you don't want to know the ending (and some other details), don't read further. :) 

Agatha Christie had a great gift of truly knowing and understanding human nature. In this book, the main character, Joan, is stranded in the desert with no one but herself to talk to. So there she is alone with her thoughts. And that's what is so frightening! At first, she fights the thoughts, makes excuses - not direct quotes but ideas like: "oh it's a fear of open spaces that makes me feel this way" or "oh, it's the heat that makes my mind play tricks on me" or "it must be a fever, that's it, I'm likely just ill"! Desperate for an excuse for what she is discovering about herself ... that she is not a likeable woman, that her children and her husband do not love her (though she does very much love them, she just has never acted like she has). She realizes how horrible and selfish and fake she has been all these years. That she's a picture of someone she'd admire but she's not really admirable. And then she has a conversion experience, something that a lady she met on the train home to England shows to her. Yet this lady looks at her doubtfully when she says that Joan has had a conversion experience, much like St. Paul and other apostles and great people of faith. And you wonder why this stranger is doubt-filled. What does she see that we, the reader, cannot see? Then Joan arrives home and she's faced with a choice: let her family see the change, start life fresh and seek forgiveness; or pretend nothing at all happened, pretend life is as it always was because that is what is comfortable and uncomplicated. And, as the reader, you're hopeful and you think, "She's going to do it! She's going to carry out what she wanted when she experienced this conversion! She'll seek forgiveness and they will start fresh! And they will live happily ever after!" But it doesn't happen that way. She chooses wrong and her miserable life continues and she chooses to live in the delusion that it is a good life.

And this is where my mix of emotions/feelings comes. I suppose this is why I both crave rest and fear rest. To truly rest, I feel that I would need to put away all distractions, including books I love to read, and just be! But then what do I have still with me? My thoughts and learning who I am. And what if I don't like who I am? And what if I realize that others don't actually like who I am either? What if I learn what all my failings are and how I need to change? This could be good but isn't it frightening to think of that as well? Something that will take you out of the comfortable and force you to change?! That is frightening and difficult! But it is also a hope-filled idea - imagine the joy and peace that comes from such a changed life ... well, a changed life if you have the courage to embrace it!

Do I dare? Do you dare? Take that rest, rest from all distractions (computer, books, art, anything that takes your mind from assessing you ... in light, of course, of who God calls you to be) and search for who you are. Are you the God-glorifying individual you think you are? Are you loved or even liked? What changes do you need to be making in your life in order to be the person you are created to be? Frightening, exciting, hope-filled exercise!

Do I dare?

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Five Minute Friday: Limit

A late post but I was drawing a blank ... until today. Here it is - 5 minutes of free writing on the word limit.

Two weeks of sickness in two littles. But it’s ok. We keep going, my husband and I. I can handle the days because I know he’s there to support in the evenings. But then the weekend hits, those girls start looking worse. It’s been 2.5 weeks now and they are just not getting better. Monday holiday comes and baby’s fever spikes and, worse of all, hubby get sick too. I’m a man down and have to do it all. I feel like I’ve reached my limit. Exhausted, running back and forth to the clinic and pharmacy – ear infection (baby), sinus infections (both girls). It’s a long day. I want to cry. Meds kick in, things look better. Nice evening supper. Then it hits, the virus that kicks all other viruses butts. This one’s a doozy, this one’s violent beyond all others we’ve seen. This mama is exhausted. I want to cry I want to give up. But it’s hubby and the middle who need me. Hold my girl while the heaving rolls across her body. She cries because it hurts, because she’s just tired of it all, she just wants it to stop. Oh, I hear you baby girl! My limit has been extended – my family needs me. Groceries. Need groceries. The baby needs her milk, can’t do without that. Want to sleep. Is this my limit? Have I reached it yet? Can I cry and sleep and cry some more? Last night I fell asleep with Chris Rice’s lyrics:

Can you spare an angel tonight
send a little help from your side?
‘Cause somebody’s lost down here.
Let him wing his way through the dark,
carry some of your love into her heart.
Can you spare an angel, spare and angle, spare an angel?

My limit has grown. He spared an angel. We made it through.

Photo credit to Chris Rice's website: http://chrisrice.com/art-shop/spare-an-angel

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Journey to Relational Prayer: The PAPA Prayer - Relational Prayer is About God and Me

I have finished reading chapter 6 of The PAPA Prayer by Dr. Larry Crabb, and finished writing my notes. I think this chapter might have been one of the most eye opening. There seems to be a continually increasing amount of words I hear and books or articles I read that coincide with what I read in this book and that is good! It means I think about it more and ponder the importance of it so much more!

So I open first with a  quote:

"I'm afraid we'll merely play with the PAPA prayer for a day or two and not really pray it as a lifestyle, unless we get rid of the notion that the center of prayer is asking for things. The true center of prayer, it's real point, is relating to God" (p. 37).

Isn't that the truth?!! The whole beginning of this book, even though, yes, I want a deep relationship with God, still at the forefront is the thought, "OK, I'll do this, I'll get prayer right, and then God will give me what I want!" Sounds an awful lot like Pastor Brian's sermon a couple of weeks ago (January 24) on 'life under God'!!

The thing is, I do want a deep relationship with God, but I'm holding back! What's holding me back?! Darran (my amazing husband), says it's because I don't trust that God is good and I'm afraid He'll ask something of me that I don't want to do. Hmm, makes sense! In my head I know God is good!! But in my heart, do I trust Him with my life? Always we want to cling to control! And afraid of what He'll ask of me? Yeah, I'm terrified! For some reason, I think I like the way I am and my life as it is. Dare I say that, sometimes perhaps, it seems as though God is there but not entirely necessary? Wow! That sounds a lot like Pastor Brian's sermon this past Sunday (January 31) - 'life over God'! I think I'm really going to need to listen carefully to the rest of that series!

So do you really want to be in relationship with God? Let's do this! Give up the idea that prayer is about getting things and embrace the fact that prayer is first and foremost about relating to God - being in relationship with Him!

So I wonder, the person who has lived half her life with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and has a deep relationship with God, does she pray for healing? I don't think so! Do the people around her pray for healing for her? I think they do, at least most of them. I think they pray for her healing because they (we) assume that's what we're supposed to pray for. But, instead of praying for healing, should we not pray that God is glorified through that disease? Instead of praying for an end to suffering, should we not pray that God is glorified in that suffering? Instead of praying for an end to poverty, should we not pray that God is glorified in that poverty? Why does God allow hardships? That we might glorify Him through them. Why did God not remove the "thorn in the flesh" from Paul? That God might be glorified through it! What is the chief end of man? To glorify Him and enjoy Him forever! That means to be in relationship with Him!! Why did God create us? For His own glory! EVERYTHING is about glorifying God! How can we glorify God in all things? By being in deep relationship with Him!

"But we don't naturally think of prayer as an opportunity to relate with God. Most of us find our prayer lives dominated by asking God for things. For most of us, that's what prayer is. ... But if we hold to it, if we keep on believing that prayer is more about getting things than getting God, not only will we eventually get thoroughly confused when prayer doesn't 'work', but talking to God will at some point feel boring as well. If we're honest" (p. 37).

Dr. Crabb gives a personal example of praying a relational prayer. Much too lengthy to include in my notes but it was in regards to friends of him and his wife and the basic frame he gives, which they followed in their prayer, is:
     present yourself to God (tell how you feel, where you're coming from) (e.g. a rebellious child return's home)
     attend to how you picture God in the situation (e.g. The Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son who runs to meet his returning son)
     purging by confessing your weaknesses/sin (e.g. "Lord I feel really cynical of this person's apparent change of heart")
     approach God in relationship
Then they could bring their petitions to God. "Relational prayer released petitionary prayer" (p. 39).

"Petitioning without relationship - that's what our praying so often amounts to, even though it's well disguised" (p. 41) Rather a sad thought, really!

"Our prayers of communion and worship sometimes have more to do with staying on God's good side in order to get more blessings than with building our relationship with Him. The idea of knowing God and being known by Him just doesn't seem that important" (p. 41). (Or, perhaps, just downright terrifying??)

Dr. Crabb gives a couple of illustrations: children in the summer looking for the ice-cream man, not because they care about him but because they want ice-cream; children sit on Santa's knee, don't care to get to know him or see how he's doing, just give their list of things they want and hop right off. "We Christians call it prayer", he says (p. 41). Ouch!!

Prayer, we're told (and, for those who've grown up in Reformed churches, memorized) is the most important part of our thankfulness. God wants us to know Him and how do we respond? "Gimme! Gimme!" If someone does something incredibly kind for you, how do you respond? With "oh that was nice, now I also want you to do this, this and give me this"?? No! That would be ungrateful! We respond by wanting to get to know that person, wanting to understand what motivated him, spend time just being with him, develop friendship with him! Why, then, is our "relationship" with God mor of a list of demands than a determined effort to really know Him?! If prayer is the most important part of our thankfulness, why do we show our so-called thankfulness by simply giving a list of demands?! "Oh, and I love You, Lord!!" we tack on awkwardly, like a child who thinks that simply saying "I love you" will get her what she wants. (I've seen it in my own children.) We try to manipulate GOD!

Dr. Crabb shows this when he says, "Petitionary prayers that are offered with no real thought of getting to know God through relational prayer eventually become the rantings of a spoiled brat. ... The devil stacks the shelves with tasty items, and, in our flesh, we pray, 'Give me this. I want that. In Jesus name and for His glory, amen' " (p. 41).

"So many of our requests are good and legitimate. Some are truly other-centered. But we're still asking for things without really knowing who it is we're talking to, so we can't really hear His voice" (p. 42). There-in lies the problem, What we ask for might be good things, but if we don't bother to know the One we're asking, how can we discern if what we ask is His will??

"We hear only ourselves and hope He's listening. ... Let the Giver stop giving, and we throw a tantrum. We think of it as fervent prayer" (p. 42).

So this we must first understand if we are to enjoy the PAPA prayer, if it is to flow naturally from us, that "the chief purpose of prayer is not to get things from God. Neither is it to praise or thank Him from a distance. The chief purpose of prayer is to get to know God, to deepen our relationship with Him, to nourish the life of God He's already placed within us, and to do it all to satisfy His desire for relationship with us" (p. 42).

And Jesus taught us to pray relationally, with a model prayer "to guide us in our conversations with Papa" (p. 43). This is, of course, The Lord's Prayer, and it looks like we get to learn more about that in the next chapter.

My series on this book on relational prayer can be found here.