Monday, October 16, 2017

Off My Bookshelf: "The Magnolia Story" by Chip and Johanna Gaines


My daughters and I made a quick girl's trip to Arlington, Virginia over the weekend for a cousin's wedding. The outdoor wedding was magical. Lights were strung from tree to tree lighting the darkening yard. Red and yellow leaves clung to the trees, providing all the decorations needed. The bride glowed. There was a lot of laughter and joy. It was a beautiful celebration.
The drive took us ten hours there and ten back, providing plenty of time to listen to the audio book "The Magnolia Story" by Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino. I've watched a few seasons of Chip and Joanna's show, Fixer Upper. (I was late to the game and just discovered it recently.) I, like everyone I talk to, love Joanna's design style and Chip's antics. I especially appreciate the way Chip and Joanna interact and work together. When I found out they narrated teh book I knew I wanted to listen to it instead of reading it. I wasn't disappointed, and laughed my way back to Indiana. Their story is one of love thriving through hard work, difficult times and building a business together. Their differences have made each other stronger, brought out the best in each other. I admire their courage, energy and commitment.
....And now I want to redecorate.


Monday, October 9, 2017

Off My Bookshelf: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

This week I finished the memoir "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance, a book about growing up the descendant of Appalachian grandparents who relocated to southern Ohio only to find poverty and dysfunction followed them. Living in the Midwest, I live around many people like J.D.'s family. Drugs, poverty, child neglect, lack of higher education, lack of well paying job opportunities and hopelessness are all issues my own city and county deal with regularly. I was glad to be able to view these problems from an insider's perspective. It gave me more empathy toward my neighbors and their children. Like Mr. Vance, I don't see simple answers for these problems, but that doesn't mean we can't work to find some solutions. I encourage you to read "Hillbilly Elegy" to try to understand the problems lower to middle-class midwest citizens face in our country.

Here are two quotes from the book that I highlighted,

"As a teacher at my old high school told me recently, 'They want us to be shepherds to these kids. But no one wants to talk about the fact that many of them are raised by wolves.'" -page 138

"I don't believe in transformative moments, as transformation is harder than a moment."  -page 189 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Where Is My Focus?

When I took this picture I was just snapping away. It wasn't until later that I realized my phone decided to focus on the leaves and rain drops in the background. But I actually like it better because I find the greens to be brilliant and the rain drops striking.

Sometimes what's hiding in the background deserves our attention the most.

I'm learning that I've spent too much time focusing on the wrong things. I should have been asking,

"Who is hurting?"
"What needs do they have?"
"How can I help?"

 Instead I focused on myself. I looked out at the world and asked,

 "Do you like me?"
"Do you want to be my friend?"
"Am I good enough?" 

And then I judged myself as insufficient- not beautiful enough, strong enough, smart enough, well-spoken enough- and the list goes on and on. But honestly over the years I come to realize that the people I meet don't care what I look like. They just want to know if I see them, really see them.

Over the past few years, because of circumstances in my life, I haven't been serving at my church the way I always had before. And I've felt guilty even though I knew I was exactly where God wanted me to be, even though the time I freed up from church service was used to minister in different ways, and even though I've grown closer to God than ever before. I was focusing on what I imagined others expected of me, and not on how God wanted to use me.  What I've found is that God is opening my eyes to people and situations I never had the time to pay attention to before. It's liberating to see that I can be used by God in new and exciting ways.

So what's in the background that you need to be focusing on? 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Off my Bookshelf

Just Mercy
by Bryan Stevenson

This book will be one of my favorites, or better said, mind-changing books this year. It should be required reading for everyone, politicians, lawyers, policemen, judges, psychologists, college students, parents, black, and white. If more people read it, this county's citizens might become more empathetic; and, I hope, more would be done to make laws fair and just.

My favorite verse is:
"And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." -Micah 6:8 
How can I act justly if I am ignorant of the judicial system I live under? How can I show mercy without having empathy toward those in need of mercy? The older I get, the more I see that nothing in life is simply defined or simply solved. But solutions to our criminal system do need to be found.

Here are some convicting quotes from "Just Mercy":
"Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done." page 26
"The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, the condemned." -page 26-27 
"The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It's when mercy is least expected that it's most potent - strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. it has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression an violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration." page 384
"...mercy is just when it it rooted in hopefulness and freely given. Mercy is most empowering, liberating and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven't earned it, who haven't even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion." page 420
If you haven't heard of "Just Mercy," take my advice and buy it, check it out from the library or borrow it from a friend. You won't shut the book feeling warm and fuzzy, but you will definitely be challenged and more informed and possibly convicted to try to help find a solution.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Off My Bookshelf: January 2015 Books

Looking back over my book choices for January leaves me scratching my head. The three books have no connection: one fiction, one memoir and one self help. In regard to subject matter, they have nothing in common. So see if you can figure my brain out by what I read.

1. Us by David Nicholls  

I heard about "Us" from a podcast, "The Readers," and found it irresistible. So I bought it....last year. This year my goal is to read off my bookcase instead of buying books on a whim...which is what I've always done. So I picked this as my first book off my bookshelf this year. It was a interesting read, but not one many of my friends would enjoy. There was alcohol use, drugs, premarital sex, family discord, just to name a few reasons for a mature audience. It's the story of a man's quest to save his family from breaking apart. And he's totally inadequate to the job. His wife tells him she's leaving him after their final family vacation. His son can't stand the sight of him. How can one win a family back in such circumstances? Vacations tend to place stress on family dynamics, at least that's been my experience. I can't say I would have handled the situation in the same way, but then I have different values. Values that involve being Christlike as much as possible in my flawed human body.

Jackie is a missionary to Hong Kong, inside the Walled City. She has done amazing work with the drug addicts. Actually, it was and is God doing the work. Jackie is the vessel. What an amazing story...God is still at work! I'd recommend this book to everyone with one caveat. It is written by Jackie; and that being said, it's not the best writing. Or the easiest to follow. Sometimes it's as if she wrote whatever came to mind without regard to structure or transition. You just have to follow her the best you can. But it's worth it. The biggest lesson I learned from Jackie is the value of commitment. She spent years loving and serving the unlovable and because of that commitment she was love back, protected and trusted. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

""...'What is sin?'...'That's simple. Sin is walking your own road.'"

"The disadvantage of short-term missions is a wrong perspective based on this generation's need for instant results."

"What is important is that we have loved in a real way - not preached in an impassioned way."

"Stay for the party. The fleeting volunteer sometimes catches a course - sweet and sour - but no one savers the whole menu like me."

"And so much of the rest of the Church was engaged in discovering their gifting a rather than giving."

My Suggested Wardrobe Colors
So, then to some light reading....and I kind of skimmed it. But I found nuggets of advice here and there. One is that you should have a basic wardrobe, and many of the items I already own. Check. Also, everything you wear should be a "10". It should fit perfectly and make you feel great while wearing it. Check. Finally, Brescia listed colors that should be in your wardrobe based on hair color. And surprise...I'm wearing the right colors without even knowing it! Check. So I'm basically set, except that now I'm off to buy a trench coat for my basic wardrobe...and some hoop earring. Just kidding about the earrings. They're not my thing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Off My Bookshelf: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Who is beautiful? Who is ugly? Is beauty found on the face or in the heart? What about ugliness? Isn't ugliness of the heart much worse than any physical deformity?

Wonder takes us through the fifth grade year of a severely deformed boy, August. It is his first year not being home-schooled, and the adjustment is torturous for him and those who love him. He encounters those who fear him and those who hate him simply because of how he looks. Yet August finds strength from within himself and from the friendships of others.

How do we relate to the unlovely? Reading Wonder caused me to take a hard, deep look into my own heart. What have been my reactions to those with special needs or those who are not "normal"? I have to say I have not been proud of what has been revealed to me about my heart and my behavior.

A few of my favorite quotes from Wonder:

"Jack, sometimes you don't have to mean to hurt someone to hurt someone." pg.137

"You don't need your eyes to love, right? You just feel it inside you. That's how it is in heaven. It's just love, and no one forgets who they love." pg.227

"And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God." pg.301

"'Greatness,' wrote Beecher, (Henry Ward Beecher), 'lies not in being strong, but in the right using of strength... He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts...'" pg.304

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Off My Bookshelf: Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

First, let me say this is one of the most important books I have ever read. I worried at the start because the foreword was written the well-known atheist by Christopher Hitchens. I wondered what I, a Christ loving woman, would think of Ayaan's story. I thought, because of the foreword, that it was to be a story of movement from the Muslim faith to atheism. It is that story, but so much more. I have read "Half the Sky" by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, and know about the atrocities toward women around the world. And frankly, I'm still trying to figure out my role, my reaction, toward female genital mutilation, arranged marriages, rape, human trafficking, etc., after having read that book. Now I have read the story of a real life woman having lived though some of those horrific practices. It has become personal to me. While in the line to pick up my independent, strong-willed daughter, I see girls exciting the high school covered in their hidjab. I pass women in the grocery store and see only their eyes. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? What is their life like? Is it the same as Ayaan's? I have a completely different thought process now. I don't know what I as one woman in the Midwest can do to help woman in bondage, but it is time to give serious thought and action to the matter.

If you are looking for a book you just can't stop reading despite the horrific subject matter and the fact that the Kindle version is 851 pages, I recommend "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But be warned, it will do more than bruise your heart. It will scrap the innocent cataracts from your eyes.

In Ayaan Hirsi Ali's words,

"The message of this book, if it must have a message, is that we in the West would be wrong to prolong the pain of that transition unnecessarily, by elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life." Pg.823

"When people say that the values of Islam are compassion, tolerance, and freedom, I look at reality, at real cultures and governments, and I see that it simply isn't so. People in the West swallow this sort of thing because they have learned not to examine the religions or cultures of minorities too critically, for fear of being called racist. It fascinates them that I am not afraid to do so." pg. 825