Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book Review: I Can Only Imagine

Despite repeated recommendations by friends on Facebook, I failed to see the inspirational movie I Can Only Imagine while it was still in theaters. I'm guessing it is one I will end up watching on a date night with my husband (ah, rare occurrence) as it is sure to be a clean film (something we crave but so seldom find anymore). When I happened upon the audio book promising the true story behind the movie, I scooped it up. I always prefer to read a book before seeing the movie adaptation.

Bart Millard is the lead singer for the Christian group MercyMe. They may be best known for the hit song the book is named after, but I tend to associate them with one of their more recent hits, "Greater." Still, "I Can Only Imagine" managed to hit the charts on secular radio stations as well as Christian ones and that is quite a feat. As the book proclaims, the song took only ten minutes to write but a lifetime to develop.

Bart's father suffered an injury and became an angry, abusive parent. The book tugs at your heart strings when you hear of various episodes of abuse Bart endured. But, it restores your faith as you listen to the story of how God got hold of Bart's father and transformed him into "a man after God's own heart." A terminal illness requiring Bart's constant care drew the father and son together in a way that one would never expect. Bart's story is full of inspiration and wonder.

The group chose its unique name from a phrase Bart's grandmother often uttered and the inspiration for this song came from four words she echoed after Bart's father's funeral. She articulated the wonder the song expresses so well. But, for me, the biggest take-away from this book was the idea that God is busily orchestrating all the pieces of my story for a purpose. He's in the bad, the good, the ugly and He has the power to not only transform our wounds into beautiful battle scars, but to use those very wounds to touch the lives around us. It is my humble prayer that God would use my story, just as He has used Bart Millard's.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pushing One Off Into the World

Last Sunday was Mother's Day, a perfect day for celebrating the gift of offspring. I spent the day focusing on the accomplishments of the one who first made me a mother - my oldest son, Bryce. We are so very proud of his achievements. He graduated from Purdue University with a degree in chemical engineering. Thankfully, we were all able to attend the commencement ceremony (his paternal grandmother, a Purdue graduate herself, would have loved to have attended with us if we could have secured an additional ticket - when we sung the Hail, Purdue song, I'm sure she would have misted up):


His additional trim (white and red ropes) indicates his involvement in the OXE chapter (he did a fine job as their president).

I had to chuckle at Trevor's antics. While we waited for the ceremony to begin, they displayed tweets and photos celebrating some of the graduates. Trevor attempted to jokingly get in on the fun. He leaned over to show his dad the tweet he had sent - a photo of our dog with the appropriate hashtag and the line "So proud of my brother, Toby." Of course, they must have had someone wisely screening what displayed on the screens - ha!

Bryce managed to take a photo with his girlfriend, Elizabeth, prior to her departure for home (she's a Purdue chemical engineering student, as well, but doesn't graduate until January because she participated in a co-op program, working in a job this past semester):


Now, he is living at home for a few weeks (probably the last time he'll reside with us) before he heads off to his new job, working as a chemical engineer for Solvay (an international chemical group) at their Marietta, Ohio plant.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Book Review: The Genius Factory

The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank by David Plotz was right up the alley of the YA novel I wrote in November of 2015. I hadn't been aware of the existence of a Nobel Prize sperm bank and was fascinated by the plunge into topics of eugenics and donor insemination. Man's quest for genetic engineering is far from over, despite the demise of this "most radical human-breeding experiment in American history." Even the Purdue president, in his commencement address at my son's graduation, alluded to the new challenges that will face the students who are graduating today, when society grows more and more determined to align DNA in such a way to wipe out illness and hone the best of our genes.

Operating under the name The Repository for Germinal Choice, this elitist sperm bank sought to provide women (of Mensa standing) with the option of manufacturing super babies - babies with the intelligence and drive of Nobel Prize winners. Surely if you pair intelligent, eager mothers with the building block genes of great scientists, mathematicians, business tycoons, and star athletes, you would expect the product to be stellar. Instead, after two decades of operation, the Repository closed (shortly after the death of the founder) and no real evidence suggests that the children bred through the Repository stand out more than others. Indeed, not a single one turned out to be from Nobel Laureate seed and many of the other donors were poorly screened, meaning they weren't all that special, after all (some lied about their IQ scores, embellished their achievements, and used their charisma to sell their sperm).

Still, the book left me with a ton to contemplate. Is nature or nurture more important? For those who knew they were the product of such a conception, were the expectations of greatness a positive or a negative influence on their lives? Is it wise to play God and try to manufacture superior genes? Or do we, as a society (as my novel concludes) benefit from the presence of the weak just as much as from the presence of the strong? In our goal to increase food quality, we've genetically modified plants, possibly to our harm. Now, we are on the cusp of genetically modified humanity. What a scary prospect! Just because something can be done, doesn't always mean it should be done. The Genius Factory was an intriguing book (although tough to listen to, again, because my husband would stumble into the exercise room where I was listening and remark on the salacious topic) and worth overlooking the discomfort presented by such terminology and ideas.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Book Review: The Forever Letter

Perhaps I have too much going on in my life or too much to think about these days, but for whatever reason, I cannot seem to focus on reading lately. Of course, this would be no problem at all if I didn't write a book review blog. But, alas, I feel a pressure to keep consistent in my posting and that makes me even less eager to spend time reading, for some reason. The reading slump that took hold shortly after spring break continues to plague me. This book, The Forever Letter, is the only physical book I've completed since spring break. I think I felt personally driven to read this particular book because my oldest son will be graduating from Purdue University this Sunday, with a degree in chemical engineering, and will move to Ohio and begin his first official job in June. I have been toying with the idea of writing a letter to him at this important juncture and so this book appeared on my horizon at just the right time.

Rabbi Elana Zaiman provides the reader with an in-depth look at what is essentially the Jewish practice of writing ethical wills. The "forever letter," or ethical will, is a letter you write to your offspring sharing your values, passions, and desires for them. Some parents write these letters when they know they will be facing death shortly, after a cancer diagnosis perhaps, but others choose to pour forth their thoughts to their children even when there is no urgency or when their children are too young to fully appreciate the gesture.

I think I was most grateful for the lists of questions and subjects to contemplate prior to composing your forever letter. The book is a sounding board for honing in on what you truly desire to share with your children. I used quite a few of these writing prompts in my daily journaling, but have yet to compose my forever letter to my oldest son. Then comes the question, will I write letters to the two younger boys? What if something unexpected were to happen and only Bryce had received a personal letter from me? Would I feel like I had shortchanged the two younger boys? So, perhaps I will be focusing on writing three letters, instead of just one.

If you are at all interested in jotting down a letter to present to your children, you couldn't go wrong skimming through this brainstorming book. It will help you clarify your values and thoughts. It will give you a jumping off place for beginning the difficult process of passing along the things you think are most important to express. Even if you never take the plunge and write a letter, just thinking about this process is beneficial. I've already come to see several areas in my own life where I am failing to live out my values. If this book motivates me to pursue those values more purposefully, then it will have profited me far more than I expected when I picked it up. I cherish every personal letter I have received from others over the years, and I hope that I will complete a forever letter for my children that they can cherish, as well. Writing letters might seem like a thing of the past, but this book encourages readers to pursue the practice to leave a legacy of words for future generations.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Book Review: Rules

In my quest for another clean read to listen to during my treadmill time, I selected Cynthia Lord's Rules. It was a sweet, tender story about life as a sibling of a special needs child. It would make an excellent read-aloud for 3rd to 5th grade classrooms. The author manages to create authentic characters who grow toward maturity.

Twelve-year-old Catherine feels invisible in a family focused on the needs of her younger autistic brother, David. As Catherine struggles to befriend the new girl next door, she attempts to balance her desire for a more normal family with her fierce loyalty and protection of her brother. David struggles with understanding social expectations so Catherine makes a list of rules for him to follow (things like "no toys in the fish tank" and "keep your pants on in public"), alongside her own list of rules about life (rules about deflecting questions and avoiding public dancing). Her rules are tested when she meets Jason, a boy her own age at her brother's therapy center. Jason is wheel-chair bound and cannot speak, yet he provides Catherine with an enduring friendship and pushes her out of her comfort zone.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Book Review: The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children

Anyone who knows me well, knows about our annual trek to a nine-day Bible camp, CBLI, at the end of July. Several years ago, when my two younger sons were quite small, I took a class at the camp called "The Power of a Praying Parent" based on Stormie Omartian's book of the same name. It was a wonderful class and I came away feeling super-charged to exert a positive influence on my children through my prayers on their behalf. Now, my oldest son is no longer a child. Indeed, as he moves away and embarks on a new path beginning his work assignment with the Solvay company in Ohio, I feel a strong desire to cover him with prayer just as intensely as I did when he was younger.

I think anyone who has an adult child knows the typical inner desires for their benefit - their career choices, relationships, financial security and wisdom, spiritual and physical health and well-being, and guidance through the inevitable storms they will face in life. In that sense, The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children will not suddenly stir in you an insight of something you should be praying for but haven't. No, the benefit of this book lies primarily in Omartian's clear language expressing those desires in heartfelt prayers and Scripture passages. I listened to the book in audio form, but would like to seek out the physical book to jot down some of the Scripture passages she references, the prayers she expresses, and the format for the final letter she composes to give to an adult child.

I was pleasantly surprised that while I walked and prayed those prayers for my oldest son, I couldn't help but think of myself as an adult child, as well. I recognized that several of those prayers could be just as important to pray for myself. I fully believe in the tangible, trustworthy power of prayer. My life bears evidence of it through my miracle story and through the many times when I've experienced my own parents praying for me through bad circumstances and difficult roads. I vow to continue to lift my sons to the Lord and ask his protection, provision, and purpose for their lives. My prayers for them have already taken fruit, as they express their own intentions to pray for me when I approach challenges in my own life. How fortunate I am to know that both my parents and my children are bringing me to the foot of the Lord for His best purposes.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Blogging Giveaway: Called to Create

Calling all Christian entrepreneurs, photographers, painters, musicians, writers, artistic creators! If you are creative and share my love of books, then you will be familiar with the common dilemma of creative bibliophiles - too many books burdening limited shelf space. To please my minimalist husband, I've decided to pass along my copy of Jordan Raynor's Called to Create. If you wish to be entered in this giveaway, simply leave a comment expressing that desire or explaining what you feel God is calling you to create.

This contest will be open for entries for two weeks. On May 13th (a day wholly devoted to another creative venture), I will have one of my offspring draw one name from a hat. If you post about my giveaway on your blog and let me know in the comments, I'll enter your name twice.

Check back on Mother's Day for the winning name. As is the nature of creativity, sometimes we are hit with spontaneous ideas. This giveaway was just such an unplanned idea, and thus my copy has a few underlined key concepts. But hey, you have a far greater chance of winning this giveaway for Called to Create than I had in the original sweepstakes that prompted my purchase - ha!