Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review 2013... #3 The Applause of Heaven by Max Lucado

How this book came to me:  It was on sale at Ollies for $3.99 so I thought "Why not?  I've never read a Max Lucado book.  Let's see what all the fuss is about."  I'd heard a lot of comments about Max Lucado's books, both negative and positive, over the years so I suppose it is time to decide for myself.

Nutshell Synopsis:  The Applause of Heaven is a narrative study of the Beatitudes in the account of Matthew 5:1-10.  Mr. Lucado paints gentle but pointed modern-day word pictures that help illustrate how the words of Jesus are applicable in the lives of His followers today.

Quotes from the book:  I'll be honest. I didn't underline anything that I can now go back to in order to write this section because I forgot to.  I got too caught up in the stories.  Mr. Lucado relies heavily on story-telling in this book.  That's not a bad thing, it just doesn't leave me with much to quote!  I'll just include the verses on which the book is based:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

More Information:  In the back of the book there is a Study Guide that covers the book in 10 sessions.  I think this book is written gently for the purpose of introducing people to the tender side of God (If God has sides) or re-introducing believers to their first Love.  If you are looking for an in-depth study, look elsewhere.

Reading Level:  Easy.  I probably could've read this book in one day since it was so warm and inviting.  No prior understanding of the Bible is necessary or assumed in The Applause of Heaven.  
Re-readability:  I do want to read this book again and perhaps even follow the Study Guide in the back with a group. 

Lasting Impressions:   Lately I have been drawn to books, articles, and songs that stir my longing for Heaven, which this book did.  "John [the apostle] says that someday God will wipe away your tears.  The same hands that stretched the heavens will touch your cheeks.  The same hands that formed the mountains will caress your face.  The same hands that curled in agony as the Roman spike cut through will some day cup your face and brush away your tears.  Forever."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review 2013...#2 Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

How this book came to me:  I had heard of this book for years but never read it, then a few months ago a friend recommended it (she reads it through a couple times a year).  Since Christmas was coming, I asked for it for Christmas, and my husband gave it to me.

Nutshell Synopsis:  Mere Christianity is actually a collection of 4 shorter books that were based on radio spots done by Mr. Lewis when Britain was at war with Nazi Germany (the beginning of World War 2).  Previous to converting to Christianity, Mr. Lewis considered himself an atheist so he starts from the beginning to "prove" God and Moral Law, then walks the reader step-by-step through Christian living and doctrine. 

Quotes from the book:  I found many of the things that Mr. Lewis said to be interesting and, in some cases, inspiring.  There are a few "famous" quotes sprinkled throughout but decided to present some of his lesser-known (to me) bits of wisdom.

"We all want progress... There is nothing progressive about being pig headed and refusing to admit a mistake."

"This is one of the reasons I believe Christianity.  It is a religion that you could not have guessed."

"The better stuff the creature is made of-- the cleverer and stronger and freer it is-- then the better it will be if it goes right but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong."

"But even the best Christian that ever lived is not acting on his own steam-- his is only nourishing or protecting a life he could never have acquired by his own efforts."

"The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see."
"When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him.  When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less."

"If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next." 

"We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means..."
More Info: I don't always read Forwards and Prefaces of books but I'm glad I did on this one.  This particular edition had a Forward written by his stepson, Douglas Gresham, who explained much of the background of how Mere Christianity came to be. It also contains some letters between Mr. Lewis and several other people.  I did not read those.  Maybe next time. 

Reading Level:  This book is not terribly difficult to read but it did take some time to adjust myself to its obvious rhythm.  Mr. Lewis uses many turns of phrases that are particular to the time and place so unless the reader is slightly familiar with it there may be some confusion.   I knew my fondness for BBC America and Masterpiece Theater-type programming would come in handy one day!  Mere Christianity seems to me to be a type of apologetic and evangelistic tool but is thoughtful enough to engage long-time believers.

Re-readability:  I will probably re-read this book in the future, possibly a few years down the road.  As I said in the beginning, the friend who recommended it reads it over and over.  I was not as drawn into it as she, obviously, but it is a good book that I would  recommend although I'd say check it out from the library rather than buying an expensive copy.

Lasting Impressions:  There were several admonishing concepts that I take away from this book which include #1 Give people better raw material so that it is easier for them to make more moral acts of choice.  #2  Appetites grow by indulgence, take care of what I feed on. #3  This is a quote from the book that I hope people will understand of me and what I say/write:  "I can only ask instructed Christians to watch very carefully, and tell me when I go wrong; and others to take what I say with a grain of salt-- as something offered, because it may be a help, not because I am certain that I am right."

Monday, January 28, 2013

Visiting Washinton, D.C. January 2013

Sometimes, when your nest is not-so-empty, the best thing you can do is take a short "flight".  My husband and I try to take day or weekend trips here and there just to give everyone a bit of breathing room.  We've found it to be helpful, almost vital, for maintaining an appropriate level of separateness.  So when my husband had an unexpected 3-day weekend on the same weekend as our son, we decided that a trip to Washington D.C. was in order.  Unfortunately I didn't take many pictures.  I seriously forgot for much of the day that I even had my camera!

One of Stewart's former co-workers now lives in the D.C. area and has been asking us to visit for well over a year, offering to take us on a tour of the Pentagon where he works.  It has been a few years since we've visited Washington, D.C., which I don't understand because it isn't very far from home and can be done on a reasonable budget, unless you buy a can of soda at the Smithsonian cafe.  Barq's root beer is good, but not $3.50 good!

We started the day with our tour guide, Pat, picking us up at our hotel.  Curbside service can't be beat!  After briefly discussing the plan for the day, we headed out to face the D.C. traffic.  He is used to it, of course, but it is rather daunting for those of us not used to it.  He assured us that today's traffic was light.  Really?!  We live such a sheltered life in Small Town Delaware!

Our first stop was the Marine Corp War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial.  I was completely taken aback by its size!  I'd seen pictures of the statue but in my mind it wasn't much bigger than life size.  It was HUGE!  I really was quite remarkable.  The weather was bitterly cold so we didn't stay for very long. 

Marine Corp War Memorial

Next, we caught the Metro train at Pentagon station and headed to the Smithsonian Museum.  We decided to only visit the American History Museum since that was the only one that we all wanted to see and it, alone, would take hours to tour.  I think you would have to go every day for a week to see everything in just that one building.  We spent about 3 hours.  I'm not a great history-of-war buff but my husband and Pat both are so I kinda breezed through those parts while they lingered.  My favorite exhibits were about every-day living and how day-to-day life has changed so much.  I've been known to complain about housework but when I stop to consider that it took women all day just to wash the family's underwear and socks I remember that my washing machine and clothes dryer were something those women would've loved, especially when you consider that their underwear went from neck to knees! 

After leaving the building, we walked back across the Mall to the Metro station.  Workers were still in the process of taking down some temporary structures used during the Inauguration that had taken place earlier in the week.  It is interesting to me how freely we can walk through a spot that was so heavily guarded just a few days previous.

We arrived back at the Pentagon station where I gave up my camera to Pat since photography is absolutely forbidden there.  (Not that I'd been taking any!) I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting what was there.  The Pentagon is practically its own city.  They have restaurants, all kinds of stores, a laundry service, a dentist's office and even their own Post Office!  I guess that all makes sense since it employs about 23,000 people.  It is also a quite extensive museum of all things pertaining to the Department of Defense. 

Being in a place like the Pentagon, it is easy to see how so many people in positions of authority and influence can become carried away with their own sense of power, control and significance.  It would take a heart dedicated to humility to not get swept up in the illusion it provides.  And control really is just an illusion.  The photo display of the capture of Saddam Hussein and the several areas of rememberance for those who died in the 9/11 attacks prove just that.  Or at least they did to me.  A man who had vast wealth and power ended up in a dirty little hidey-hole pleading for his life and hundreds of people just going about their average day being taken away from their loved ones in one horrifying instant.  I don't know if all this would have been so thought-provoking had I not recently read The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn.  It is all about 9/11 and its possible relation to certain biblical events and prophecy for America's future.

I didn't intend to make this a heavy post so I'll move along to something lighter!  Wegman's.  Where has Wegman's been all my life?  Living in a small town where grocery shopping options are limited (I know!  I know!  Food Lion would be a huge deal to many people throughout the world but this is all relative to MY experience so indulge me!)  Wegman's is now my ideal grocery store.  Pretty much every aisle is International! So many choices!  The next time we stay in Fairfax, my husband can just drop me off there in the morning, go do his war memorial tour, then pick me up at night.  The only thing that would make Wegman's more perfect is if they had a spot for me to take a quick nap in the middle of the afternoon.  Seriously, I think I could make a day of it!

Stewart and Pat find "contraband" at Wegman's.   They were quite the dynamic duo on the search team where they used to work together.

The next morning we slowly woke up, got ready for the day and went to breakfast (Just Stewart and me, of course.  Pat dropped us off at the hotel the night before.) and headed the opposite direction of home.  We were off to spend a couple hours with one of my cousins and his family.  What an entertaining morning!  Harvey the dog was an enthusiastic greeter, Cousin and Wife-of-Cousin were inviting hosts, Children-of-Cousin warmed up to us at their own pace and all was pleasant!  I am proud to say that I was invited to star in their impromptu production of "Little Pig, Little Pig" and received applause for each of my attempts at getting it just right even though I had to be fed my lines and things got a little muddled for me at the twirling and falling down bits at the end. 

After that, we headed home and back to reality, content to take on the duties of the week to come. 

The view from our room.  We plan to be back!


Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Husband, Awesome Grandpa

I really enjoy being a Grandma, doing all the typical Grandma things... cuddling, kissing, singing, dancing, feeding, diapering, bathing, rocking, playing. I am blessed to be able to do these things almost daily since my son and his family currently live with us. It is an honor that, despite the hiccups, my husband and I would choose again in a heartbeat. It often strikes me as odd that I didn't find all these things quite so blessed when my own children were babies. Especially the toxic waste-filled diapers! But this post isn't about me. This post is about my husband.

When our children were young, Stewart would do anything that I asked him to do to help with their care. The frustrating part about that was that I always had to ask. Or insist, depending on your POV. I thought that he should just KNOW when they needed care. He didn't. What I didn't realize is that, as I've come to discover, he was a Grandpa-in-the-making.

Grandpa's first time holding Levi (l.) and Liam (r.) in the NICU.

He is so in love with Levi and Liam, our twin grandsons. He does all the things that I do, sometimes pointing out to me what needs to be done -- "Levi is stinky. I'm gonna change his diaper." "Liam is fussy. Yep, it is about time for his bottle." He has become an expert at rocking the boys to sleep even when they put up their fiercest battles to stay awake.

Grandpa and his boys at 2 months old.
One thing that Grandpa does that Grandma doesn't typically do is roughhouse with the boys. He's done that since before they could even drag-and-drop their little baby selves in his direction. He'd scoop them up, roll from side to side, and growl while they squealed and I hovered close by. Hey! I remember that this is the same man who accidentally knocked out 2 of our son's teeth!

On the floor with Grandpa.

Grandpa, always helping.

Since our first floor is concrete and the twins are quite adventurous (and FAST) we decided to get a play yard and put extra padding and carpet underneath so that they can fall without becoming concussed.  And fall they do.  And push each other over.  Head bonks happen frequently.

The first evening the play yard was in place, Levi and Liam were playing contentedly, crawling, sitting, pulling up, cruising and, yes, falling over. There was a little fussing here and there but nothing out of the ordinary.

I went upstairs to the kitchen to get the boys' dinner ready and left Grandpa in charge. When I came back downstairs he was laying in the middle of the play yard, head propped up on a stuffed animal (a bison, if I remember correctly) with a boy on either side of him completely absorbed in their own little baby games. Stewart was just looking at the ceiling. I sat down on the couch and said "Hon, why are you in there?" Without skipping a beat my husband said in his matter-of-fact, quiet way... 

..."Just in case they want to wrestle."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Review 2013... #1 So Long, Insecurity by Beth Moore

So Long, Insecurity... you've been a bad friend to us.

by Beth Moore

How this book came to me: A friend of mine handed this book to me somewhat off-handedly. She said she thought I might find it interesting. Yeah, right! Based on the conversation our group was having, she knew I needed to pry open my eyes to get some new light shining on an old problem I'm still having. She's known me for 25 years so she has more than a bit of insight into my life. Thanks, A.J.! Perfect timing!

Nutshell Synopsis: The way I understand Beth Moore's writing goes a little something like this -- "Girlfriend, you are a wreck. You wanna know how I know? Because I'm a wreck, too! But God and I have come a very long way together and I'm just gonna put my arm around you while we get you out of this mess you've made." She's just one of those authors who can jerk a knot on your head and you thank her for it. I hope she is like that in real life, too!

Quotes from the book: I underlined, circled and starred so many portions of this book that I'd pretty much provide you with the whole book if I were to write them all here. I'm pretty sure that while Beth (I call her Beth) would appreciate my zeal, I'm equally sure that her publisher wouldn't appreciate me pushing past the limits of copyright law's grace so I'll just choose a few that I think might most generally resonate.

"Be careful not to give too much credence to the old adage that time heals. Mark my word. It's God that heals. Time only tells. The passage of days, weeks, and years can as easily amplify an old voice as weaken it."

"...big egos insist on our being a "the". Not just an "a". We're that desperate for significance. We live our lives screaming, "Somebody notice me!" And do you want to know something interesting? That's exactly how God made us.
That very need is built into our human hard drive to send us on a search for our Creator, who can assign us more significance than we can handle. He not only notices us, He never takes His eyes off us. Every now and then a moment of clarity hits us and we feel known by something-- Someone-- of inestimable greatness."

"Pride is dignity's counterfeit."

"I can promise you that God wills for us to walk out the depth and breadth of our lives with dignity and security. Neither God nor you have anything to gain by your persistent insecurity."

"I used to think that the essence of trusting God was trusting that He wouldn't allow my fears to become realities. Without realizing it, I mostly trusted God to do what I told Him."

More Info: If you don't think you are insecure, you might just change your mind after reading this book. Not that she wants to make us feel insecure, but she wants to expose our "issues" for what they are so that we can eradicate them. After all, it is easier to rid our lives of named enemies than unrecognized ones. In this book, Beth identifies common roots of insecurity, the food that feeds insecurity's nearly insatiable appetite, triggers that commonly cause us to act out (examples are plentiful), how our dignity can be restored, and how to promote dignity in the people around us.

Beth expresses a passion to minister to women and this book does not stray from that for long, but because she loves men, too, she includes some words from them and for them as well. Let me just say one thing she said that I think our increasingly matriarchal society needs to know about how important it is for fathers to affirm their sons' manhood... "If every person on the planet acknowledges that a man is a man but his own father does not, the fight to earn his stripes is twice as bloody."

Reading Level: The reading level of So Long, Insecurity isn't difficult but if you suffer much from feeling insecure you won't want to rush through it. I took time to read and re-read many portions just so that I could gain as much insight into my psyche as I could.

Re-readability: I probably will re-read this book because I'll probably need to at some point. It really is full of insight!

Lasting Impression: #1 "Now that you know, what will you do?" #2 "But... I... have... this...Treasure." This last quote had HUGE impact at the end of a story.  Read it for yourself and see if it doesn't turn on the lightbulb over your head!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Review 2013... The List

I like to read but don't do as much of it as I'd like to. I am not a fast reader and am easily distracted by my own thoughts so I tend to forget what I've read at the first by the time I get to the last. With that in mind, coupled with the fact that I do much better with external accountability, I thought it might keep me on track to write reviews of the books I am reading.

So now I have a line of books on my shelf that I'd like to read this year. Some I've never read, some I've read and want to read again, and some I've read but NEED to read again. Very few are light. They are mostly soul-searching faith-based books. That is the season of my life... The time where I've looked within and recognized how utterly wasteful I've been with what I've been given. I sorrow over that. Deeply. But if sorrow doesn't lead to growth then it isn't doing its job, so soul-growing books it is!

I've seen a lot of bloggers make a disclaimer when it comes to product and book reviews so this should be an appropriate spot to make my own. Unless otherwise stated, I am not paid in any way shape or form for reviewing these books. They have either been purchased by me at sticker price or been given to me as gifts from friends or family who have purchased them at sticker price. And by sticker price I mean "whatever the sticker says", be that full price retail all the way down to yard sale yellow dot!

There is no set time that I've given myself to read and review the books as they are of varying length and substance. The posts will be hit-or-miss. Following is a list of the books that I intend to read this year in no particular order (I will rearrange them as I go along). If you've read any of these please leave your always-welcome comments about them until I've reviewed them so that the discussion about a particular book is all in one spot. I like things orderly, you know. If you have a word of doctrinal caution for me about a particular book on this list BY ALL MEANS contact me privately. I will appreciate your loving attention to wisdom and truth!

So Long Insecurity by Beth Moore

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The Applause of Heaven by Max Lucado

When God Is Silent by Charles R. Swindoll

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

Thoughts and Feelings by McKay, Davis, and Fanning

No Permanent City by Harry Loewen

Prayer by Philip Yancy

Mourning Song by Joyce Landorf

How to Love Someone You Can't Stand by Milton Jones

The Secret Things of God by Dr. Henry Cloud

Why? by Anne Graham Lotz

How Now Shall We Live by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey

He Speaks to Me by Priscilla Shirer

Completely Blessed by Shannon Ethridge

Essentials for Life for Women by Marcia Ford

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver

Earthen Vessels by J. Oswald Sanders

A Godward Life by John Piper

Radical by David Platt

The Shelter of God's Promises (DVD study series) by Sheila Walsh

Whew! I'd better get crackin'! That's a lot of books for me. Yikes! Pray for me that I will stay on task, absorb what is good and reject what is not-so-good, please.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Letting Go (to College)

My daughter, Amelia, attends a private Christian college in Arkansas. We live in Delaware. At the time of this writing she is beginning the second semester of her Junior year and you'd think by now that I would be used to "letting go". I am not.

The first time we left her at college my husband was not quite prepared for the outpouring of, well, just the outpouring. We had a plan, you see, for the separation. Yes, there was a plan. The plan was supposed to afford me the opportunity to cut the umbilical cord apron strings less painfully than if we left her quickly. But even my best laid plans failed to predict all the variables.

We have some dear friends who live in the same town where Amelia attends college who generously allowed us to stay with them for a week while we got her all settled into her dorm. We had even sent some of her things ahead of time to their house so that we did not have to rent a U-Haul. Why do kids need so much more stuff these days to start college? I don't recall having half that amount when my parents dropped me at the curb. But I digress... and sound old... so I'll move along with the story.

After we unloaded all of the belongings that we brought with us and had sent ahead of time, we left her to unpack and put things to rights. We then went back to our friends' house and enjoyed visiting with them and waiting for her to let us know if she needed anything. Over the next couple days we made approximately 10 trips to Wal-mart, 5 visits to her room "just to see how it was coming along" and 2 trips to Frozen D's. There was a dinner with roommate's family thrown in the mix as well.

The final goodbye took place on the afternoon before the morning we were to head home. Daddy was stoic. Mama was shedding an appropriate number of tears. Amelia was perfectly fine. Extra tight hugs all around. I love yous and I'll miss yous were said. It was a normal scene that played out a couple thousand times on that very same campus on that very same weekend. Stewart and I buckled up and as we drove away I looked in the mirror, back at my baby girl, and saw her walking in the opposite direction.  In my imagination I witnessed her sprout wings.

Again, we went back to our friends' house after driving around for a few extra minutes to compose ourselves. In their wisdom, whether consciously planned or not, I did not ask, they provided an evening of easy fellowship and lighthearted competition that distracted us from our separation anxiety. Things went very, very well. All according to plan, right? Only so far.

I went to bed that night thinking "Not bad. Not bad at all." I woke up in the morning thinking "I'm leaving my baby!!!!!!" and it went downhill from there. I readied myself with as much courage as I could. I didn't want our friends to think I was ungrateful for their hospitality but I'm pretty sure they sensed my tension. The suitcases were loaded up and we said our goodbyes to our hosts. As the last words of "safe travels" and such were spoken, I could not hold myself together for one more second. My hand went to my throat as tears sprang from my eyes with a force that I was unaware was possible. What occurred next is hazy but there I was, buckled up again and we were headed out the driveway.

I cried and sobbed and groaned my way out of Arkansas and much of the way across Tennessee. Falling asleep was my only relief but then we'd stop somewhere and the tears would start afresh as I would step into the car and see that the back seat was empty. It. Was. Awful. And it was as it should have been. Yes. Separation from loved ones is designed to hurt.

Designed? Yep. Designed. Whether through death or by choice, separation is designed to hurt. I think of it as a revelation of Mercy, actually. How can the pain of separation be merciful? Because that pain is of greater value and has greater purpose than for the here and now. It minutely foreshadows the pain that we will feel if we are eternally separated from God. Think about it. If you are a Bible believer, which I am, you know that God created us to be in relationship with Him. He longs to be in relation with us so deeply that He anticipated and implemented a plan to span eternity that could ensure an everlasting relationship with Him.

No relationship ever in the history of ever has not required sacrifice. The healthiest of relationships are sacrificial on both sides. So God sacrificed. He sacrificed first and He sacrificed big. Now I don't pretend to understand the entirety of the Triune God... Father, Son, and Holy Spirit... but I do know that it was with great sorrow that the Father sacrificed the Son even though They would only be parted for a short while. And now it is up to me to search out the sacrifice required on my part. I think it can be summed up in one word... Self.

So despite whatever separation comes here and now, whatever level of pain that causes it or is caused by it, I look to the Sacrifice that redeems it-- redeems what is separated and broken.

This week it fell to me to take Amelia to the airport at the end of her Christmas break. I've never done that. Her Daddy always does that. It is just easier for me that way. What a coward I am!! Since I could not escape the task, I dealt with it the best way I knew how... humor and brevity. We'll get to the humor momentarily. Brevity was my closest ally at the airport. Once she was checked in we sat for about 5 minutes and then I knew it was time for me to go. I spoke a blessing to her, kissed her quickly and headed out the door.

Now for the humor...

Here is my baby girl all packed and ready to go. Doesn't she look sickeningly pleased to be headed out the door?

Let's take a closer look at my point of view... 
at the kitchen door.

getting into the car.

getting out of the car at the airport.

No, letting go does not get any easier but I deal with it differently than I did at first. I miss her terribly, especially the laughing we do. Unfortunately for the rest of the family, we have a similar silly humor that runs amok when we are together. I can't think of a single thing that I would willingly choose that would cause me to miss our reunion at the end of the semester. But the real question is... Will I willfully choose the one thing that will cause me to miss THE reunion with my Creator?