Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: The Air We Breathe by Christa Parris

I received The Air We Breathe for free from Bethany House for the purposes of this review.

The premise of the book--a teenage girl who will  never venture outside--was intriguing.  What made her this way?  What happened in her life that she must stay within the confines of her home?

These questions were answered throughout the book, as the story weaves back and forth between the years 2002 and 2009, and between being told through chapters about the characters Molly, Hanna, and Claire.  The book does a good job in showing the difficulty of having good relationships after traumatic events, the difficulty in healing from those events, and the slow process it takes to get there.

While the book kept me interested to the end, although there were some weak points:

  • Molly and her mother are caretakers for a wax museum; this is too obvious of a symbol.  
  • When Molly and Claire run into each other in the museum and Claire stays to spend more time with Molly, the relationship feels much more forced than when Claire befriended the child Hanna.  I also was expecting Molly to tell Claire everything before she explained her life to Tobias.  
  • Claire's insecurities in her marriage detract from the rest of the story.  While they are entirely plausible, they just don't fit. 
  • Molly's mother was not a character one could really end up caring much about; it would have been good to have chapters from her perspective as well.
  • It's not obvious what exactly happened to Hanna during the two weeks. While references to the possibility of rape are made, it just isn't clear if that happened or not (this is probably due to Christian readers wanting nice, neat stories without violence).
Overall, I enjoyed reading The Air We Breathe by Christa Parrish.  I read so many non-fiction books for review that it was--pardon the pun--a breath of fresh air to read a novel for a change.  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review: Everything by Mary DeMuth

I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson as a part of their BookSneeze program.  Also, I attempted to write this review while trying to watch my children at the local public library, so if you find it lacking and full of errors, you know why.

I'd been seeing a lot about Everything by Mary DeMuth around the time of its release, and so was glad to be able to select it to review.  First, ignore the cover.  The cutesy font used for the title in a heart gives the impression that it is kind of a "girly" book without much depth.  Had I known nothing about the book and only seen the cover, I would have been less than impressed.  However, the content goes so much deeper and is worthwhile to those who are looking for guidance in deepening their faith.

I was especially impressed by DeMuth's scholarship with certain Biblical texts, explaining how they are often ripped out of context and giving the context for them (i.e. Jeremiah 29:11).  She also explains how we tend to follow a popular version of a Christianity that tells us God won't give us more than we can handle or that requires little commitment, or that it is all about our comfort and happiness when that is actually not representative of what Jesus asks of us.  

Some of the great lessons DeMuth teaches in Everything:

  • Let God convict people, not you
  • Be yourself
  • Give up control
  • Allow the Spirit to work in us
Everything is a book that you will want to read slowly and think about, as well as spend time doing the discussion questions included at the end of each chapter.  It's not a book to rush through, but one to savor.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tragic and Senseless

Source: via Kelly on Pinterest

I am sure that I am one of many who has shed tears over the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT this morning.  It is hard to fathom tragic situations like this, especially when young children are involved.  As I cried, I could only think of my own elementary school, just an hour or so north of this one, and good memories flooded my mind.  I can picture my own Kindergarten classroom, with the Letter People, a play house, a big bin of blocks.  I can picture the Principal's office, where I was sent only one time (and not until 8th grade!), for chewing gum in class.  I can picture the gym with its stage on one end, the music room, the art room, the library, the hallways, my friends, my classmates, my teachers.

It is a place I always felt safe, and I can't begin to imagine the feelings that these children will have throughout the rest of their lives after experiencing something so tragic and senseless.

It is difficult to understand the brokenness and despair that is rampant right now, the anger and hatred flooding the lives of all involved.

There will be many reactions.

Some people will fight for tougher gun laws.
Some people will fight for tougher drug laws, if drugs were involved, or for better mental health resources if it is determined that should have been necessary for this person.  Schools across the country will review and implement their own emergency plans.

People will cry.
People will mourn.
People will despair.

Everyone will have an opinion.  Everyone will want to explain why, and yet, we may never have the answers we seek.  And what is one supposed to say?  Platitudes are useless--and perhaps even this post of mine falls into that category.  There are very few words that will help right now, when hearts are broken and minds are confused.  People everywhere have questions and wonder where to turn.

We can only pray and hope that God will bring healing to lives, and change to hearts of people who would follow in the same path of this shooter.

It is a very real reminder that evil exists and has touched the shooter and the victims--both those that are dead and those that will have this memory imprinted on their minds and hearts for years to come.  Parents have lost children, others may have lost siblings.  Lives and families have been torn apart.  We are reminded we live in the "now and not yet".

The now, when we echo the words of David from Psalm 6:

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror. My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O LORD -- how long? (verses 2-3).  I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.  My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes. (verses 6-7).

The now, when through the darkness and despair, God is still there:

Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. (verse 8)

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)

The now, when we cling to each other:
weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15)

The now and the not yet, as we remember Jesus' special love for children:
But Jesus called for them and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. (Luke 18:16)

The not yet, as we pray:
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10).

The not yet, as we cling to hope:
For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-25)

The not yet, as we wait in anticipation:
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.  And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?"  I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.   For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.  They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;  for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."  (Revelation 7:13 - 8:1)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."  And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." (Revelation 21:1-5)

It is my prayer today that God's love and peace will touch all who are affected, directly and peripherally, that His glorious presence will be felt, that the Body will offer comfort, companionship, and love today and in the days to come to the families of those killed today.  Let us all be able to "not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21).

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review: Unstoppable by Nick Vujicic

I received Unstoppable by Nick Vujicic for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. 

While I was somewhat familiar with Nick Vujicic, I had not read his first book, and so was glad to have a chance to read his second book.  

In Unstoppable, Vujicic blends stories from his life with the lives of others and with stories about people from the Bible.  The common theme is that anyone, even someone disabled, has meaning and purpose in life.  

Vujicic is transparent about his own times of insecurity and failure, yet also maintains strong faith in God throughout these times.  He comes across as normal, not a superhero, but someone who truly wants to be and do all that he can and encourage others to do the same in that process.  

I thought that one of the most powerful chapters was towards the end of the book, chapter 7, "Fighting Injustice".  In this chapter, Vujicic uses his platform to speak about bullying, a pervasive problem in both children and adults today.  Vujicic tells his own story of being bullied as well as discusses tragic bullying cases that bring people to hurt and kill others or themselves.  He goes on to write about "Abuse in the Extreme", giving examples of human rights abuses around the world.  "Anytime someone deprives another person of security, freedom, and peace of mind is essentially a human rights violation," he says (p. 166).  

One of the tragic and shocking examples that he tells about human rights abuse in that chapter is of female genital mutilation in Eqypt, that was done even within the Christian community.  He tells the story of a brave woman named Jackie who was able to stand up to this and convince the men of this community that it was wrong.  

Though I found the first part of the book to be somewhat slow, reading chapter 7 made it worth it to stick with reading the book.  

Overall, the book is encouraging and inspirational, as it is meant to be.  I think many people would be blessed by reading it.