Thankful

Tonight was a good night. We recently moved 12 hours north of all my family and most of our friends. I hadn’t realized the toll it had taken on me until tonight.

We went to our friends’ house for dinner. But it wasn’t just for dinner, it was for friendship. For laughter. For playfulness. For God to remind me how much he loves me.

I’ve always thought I was an introvert. Still think I am. But tonight I was reminded that I also need to have (and crave) time with people. People other than my wonderful in-laws and grandparents-in-law. Even people other than my husband. As much as I’ve loved this past five weeks with just the six of us (plus one crazy dog), my soul was craving time with friends.

I’m thankful, for friends, for delicious dinner, for not so delicious dessert, for love, for an opportunity to be reminded of the importance of community.

Sometimes I find myself in a funk. In a cyclical, weird, lonely state of mind that causes me to further isolate myself from people. I hate that about myself, but it’s such a hard habit to break. When I do break it though, when I allow myself to be freed from the insecurities and fears that bind me to home, I see opportunities to grow and change and love. I find new friendships. I am amazed by how God uses other people to show me love.

How do you find yourself hiding from others? When you break free, what do you find? Am I just crazy?

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Sweet, simple story (Sweet Sanctuary – Sheila Walsh & Cindy Martinusen Coloma)

I recently finished reading Sweet Sanctuary by Sheila Walsh and Cindy Martinusen-Coloma.  Wren is a single mom raising a sweet 10 year old son, Charlie.  She is happy in her small town and glad to be in a safe place to hide from her past.  But when her grandmother shows up unexpectedly and asks her to plan a party (that includes her siblings with whom she has tenuous relationships), Wren’s world is thrown for a loop.  She finds herself growing and changing as she finally accepts truth within her relationships…with her siblings, her son, and her new man friend.

I was expecting the book to be slightly cheesy (it is a Women of Faith novel, after all), and it was, but I appreciated that it wasn’t overly cheesy.  Wren’s faith journey and her growth were believable, and her freedom from guilt really resonated with me.  I appreciated that this novel had a well-rounded feel to it.  It wasn’t simply a Christian romance fiction story, it had an air of mystery (family drama) and some action (just wait until the end), and because of that, the story had more depth.  And really, who doesn’t want to be a small town librarian?!

Thank you, Thomas Nelson, for the review copy of Sweet Sanctuary.  My opinions are my own, honest ramblings.

A new favorite (Softly & Tenderly – Sara Evans & Rachel Hauck)

There are few books that keep me up reading until after midnight, and even fewer that keep me up until 2am thinking about the characters!  I loved Softly & Tenderly, the latest novel by Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck.  I hadn’t read the first in the series, The Sweet By & By, that shared the first part of Jade’s story, but it didn’t matter.  I was able to quickly get into the story and figure out who everyone was as I began the novel.

Jade is overwhelmed and feels as if her life is just falling apart as some really hard stuff happens.  I felt the pain as Jade’s heart broke and her world shattered.  How does one recover from the pain of an affair?  Especially when that affair has produced a tangible being, and that tangible being is what you’ve been dreaming of and waiting for since you married?

I appreciated the supporting cast of characters and felt connected to Beryl and June as they both hurt and grieved and loved and felt.  I felt righteous anger at Max and Reb and was disappointed as I continued to invest in their lives.  I was torn as Jade was torn between her first love and her commitment.  And mostly, I was affirmed in the importance of our maintaining our integrity in our commitments.

The characters were so real and so, at 2am, when I was finally drifting off, my last thoughts were of Jade, Max, Asa, Beryl, and June.  Thank you, Thomas Nelson, for providing this e-book to review.  I truly enjoyed the story and look forward to (hopefully) another collaboration between Sara Evans and the talented Rachel Hauck!

Quick, funny Christian chick lit (Restless in Carolina – Tamara Leigh)

Bridget Pickwick Buchanan is on a mission and not much is going to stand in her way!  I loved reading Tamara Leigh’s Restless in Carolina.  I have read the two other books in the Southern Discomfort series, but if you haven’t, it wouldn’t matter.  All three books are good stand alone books.  I really liked the first two, and this one definitely did not disappoint!

Bridget is a widow and is slowly shedding the pain that has plagued her since her husband died and left her in alone in her hometown.  Her family has been through great upheaval as family secrets have come to the surface and Bridget’s wonderful Uncle Obe has worked to make amends.  And he needs money to make the amends he is set on…which means his estate needs to be sold.  And not just to anyone, at least not while Bridget has some say in it!  Enter JC Dirk, the man with money and green intentions, and an interest in the Pickwick property.  But there are secrets that are hidden and other people with different intentions.

I laughed aloud as I read this novel over the course of a few hours.  Even though it was a quick read, there was a depth that I find and appreciate in all of Tamara Leigh’s novels.  Bridget’s fears and her confusion and her steps toward faith were all understandable and seemingly realistic.  I love when I can find myself overcoming my own real life fears as I walk with a character through their fears.

 

Thank you, Waterbrook Multnomah, for the review copy of Restless in Carolina.  My opinions are my own, honest ramblings.

Not “pau” yet

This morning I really struggled at church. The message was on Psalm 73. The pastor spoke dissected it, nearly line by line, as he gave examples of what that would be like nowadays. The “arrogant” are people with fancy cars and jobs and they have big houses and they’re never sick and nothing bad ever happens to them. He spoke of how we can question God, asking why we should follow him if life is so hard for us and we’re good. Why not just live how we want to and disregard God if, apparently, we’ll be blessed that way?

But, it all gets better because those suckers, those arrogant folks, well, “surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.”(Psalm 73:18 NIV)

And while that’s something that I know does happen and I know is just, the pastor’s next words shocked me. He said, multiple times with every example he gave, “well,we know their end now, don’t we?!”

And I was disgusted. I felt sick that he would rejoice over a death or a downfall, even if it was for the wicked or unjust. Don’t they, whoever they are, as God’s people, deserve grace? Don’t they deserve at least the kindness of prayer for their heart?

I had thought all this while listening to him speak of vague examples. Then he said, “well now, how about Tiger Woods? We know his end now, don’t we?”

And I wanted to stand up and shout that it’s not his end! He’s not dead. He still lives and breathes and feels and hurts. Shouldn’t our action be to pray and encourage and love? We should not be rejoicing in his fall and in his brokenness. If we do, where does that leave us?

In a book I read as a teenager I remember the two main characters talking about their friend who had made some bad choices. One character said it was sad that the friend’s life was over now that she was pregnant as a teenager. The other friend corrected her, saying that she was not finished, she was not “pau” (finished in Hawaiian) yet. Her life was far from over. Until she was dead, there was time to love and pray and encourage.

What should our reaction be to an arrogant person’s downfall? Are we arrogant by calling other people arrogant? 🙂

Heartbreaking but amazing novel (The First Gardener – Denise Hildreth Jones)

How do you deal with incredible loss?  Denise Hildreth Jones’ latest novel, The First Gardener, is the story of Mack and Gray London, governor of Tennessee.  They question God, life, love, everything as they grieve and live their lives.  They are helped along by their friends and family (a hilarious cast of characters…mainly Eugenia’s buddies) including the gardener for the governor’s mansion, Jeremiah.  Jeremiah’s heart is expressed through flowers and their meanings, something not always well received by Mack.

As I read this novel, I was amazed by the depth of the characters and their pain.  I cried as I was blown away by the hurt and the emotions.  Jones is a beautiful writer, and her portrayal of Mack and Gray as they struggled through the pain that filled their lives.  While reading, I had to stop and just take in the pain and, before I knew it, I found myself praying for Mack.  Then I realized that she was a fictional character.  Oops.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this novel, just like all of Denise Hildreth’s books (especially The Will of Wisteria) and would recommend this novel to anyone looking for a good (but hard) story of redemption and love and life.

Thank you, Tyndale, for the complimentary review copy in exchange for my honest opinion!

Slow start, but an okay novel (Delivery – Diana Prusik)

I struggled to get into Diana Prusik’s debut novel, Delivery. Livi, the main character struggles to vanquish her demons as she works at her family’s small town florist shop. She and her sister, Gretta, don’t always see eye to eye, especially after the latest tragedy that throws Livi for a loop. Her pain is nearly tangible. The characters in this story took me awhile to get into (especially with the confusing timeline of the story…so many flashbacks!), but once I got it all figured out, I mostly enjoyed the story. It was funny, heartbreaking, and entertaining, but it had its verrrry slow moments as well.

There were many loose ends at the novel’s close, and I wished Prusik would have provided some sort of resolution for Livi’s issues with her family. Instead of a clear resolution, I was left with questions about Livi and her husband and Livi’s relationships with others.

All in all, I moderately enjoyed Prusik’s debut novel. Thank you, Tyndale, for providing an electronic copy of this book for me to read in exchange for my honest opinion.

Engaging, well-written, funny novel (Reinventing Leona – Lynne Gentry)

I’ve read quite a few novels featuring a pastor’s wife as the main character. But what about a novel telling the story of a pastor’s wife…with no pastor?  Enter Reinventing Leona by Lynne Gentry.

Leona is on her own. Her beloved husband has kicked the bucket and she’s a wife, no longer a pastor’s wife. What will become of her as the world continues turning? Her mother and her kids are in conflicts–with her or with God or with others. The evil elder Howard is up to no good as he seeks a new pastor.

Though I felt some of the conflicts were slightly contrived and silly, I really enjoyed Gentry’s debut novel. I was captivated while reading it (went to bed one night way too late because of it), and I really enjoyed the writing style.  I felt like I was a part of Leona overcoming her fears and finding herself as she stood up to her mom, dealt with hard issues, and got herself a job…all the while remaining polite and charming.   Engaging, funny, real; Gentry hit this novel out of the ballpark!

Thank you, Tyndale, for providing an electronic copy of this book for me to read in exchange for my honest opinion.

Women of Faith Conference 2011: Seattle

When I first heard that I could get FREE books in exchange for writing an honest review, I could hardly believe it…but it was true, and I’ve definitely taken advantage of that.  I love getting to choose the books I want to review, anticipating their arrival in the mail, reading them, and then posting a review.  Some of my favorite books come from Thomas Nelson and I’ve been so thankful that I just keep getting them again and again.

So, when I received an email from Thomas Nelson’s program, BookSneeze, asking if I wanted to be a blogger at a Women of Faith event in my area.  Sure!  I have to admit that I have always been hesitant of the big Christian conferences.  I don’t know what about it was off-putting, but I am going to conquer my fear of cheesiness and of crying ladies and all that I have pictured that goes on at these Women of Faith conferences.  More than simply “conquering my fear”, I am actually getting excited about going!

The theme of the conference is “Over the Top” and I’m excited to hear the speakers (Patsy Clairmont especially; I hear she’s hilarious) and to hear Mandisa too (I have a secret love for her fueled by my secret love for K-LOVE).  Mostly, I’m excited to journey there with a buddy (I’m planning to ask my sister in law or my best buddy) and to be encouraged and challenged.

I know the conference isn’t until the end of October, but thanks, Thomas Nelson/BookSneeze and Women of Faith for offering this opportunity!  I’m thankful to get to blog about my time there too! 🙂

How I love summer!

I am currently enjoying summer. As I slave away all year grading poorly written essays by 12 year olds, I feel entitled to relaxing all I want and doing whatever I want (I do what I want!). So, what do I like to do most during the summer?

READ!

And the best part about this is that I get a lot of free books. It’s a great perk of being a book reviewer. Way to go, publishing companies. I am oh so thankful. With that said, I’ve read a lot recently. I’m getting into the whole e-book thing and have not hated reading a few ARCs on our iPad. Not a bad gig.

Anyway, with all of that said, I have lots of reviews to write. Which means I need to actually do that instead of just writing aimlessly since I can’t sleep.

Maybe tomorrow?