Thursday, June 21, 2018

Book Review: The Night Child

How do I give an adequate fair review to this intense debut novel by Anna Quinn? On the one hand, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I listened to the whole thing (my husband actually suggested it was something I shouldn't really open my mind to because of the extremely graphic nature of the descriptions of child sexual abuse - yes, he had to walk into the room every time a difficult scene arose). It was quite uncomfortable and I was wishing I had encountered the book in tangible form so that I could skim quickly through the more disturbing explicit bits. However, I have nothing but praise for the writing. It was a very well-written debut novel and, the intensity aside, quite an accomplishment. I would have toned down the descriptions, but then, perhaps that would have rendered the novel less effective.

The Night Child tells the harrowing story of Nora Brown, a teacher who is startled and taken by surprise when a girl's face appears before her. She is convinced she is going crazy and seeks the advice of a psychiatrist who helps her uncover the childhood trauma that left her inner being fractured and emotionally-scarred. With a six year old daughter of her own, Nora is devastated when the memories of her six-year-old self begin to force themselves to the surface. Can she protect herself and her daughter from the fall-out of her painful past?

While it is a very difficult novel to digest, it stands as a faithful representation of significant childhood trauma. The topic is indeed uncomfortable and disturbing, but for women who have endured similar traumas it might provide a sense of solidarity and understanding (although for one Amazon reviewer who warns against the book, it hits too close to home for an abuse survivor). Clearly, the book is not for everyone. It is painful and raw, told with heart-breaking honesty and vulnerability. I would hesitate to recommend it to Christian friends because of the intensity of the explanations. But, I dare say, there are women who would be willing to walk a mile in Nora's painful shoes, despite the discomfort.

Monday, June 18, 2018

On the Move

Bryce begins his new job a week from today. He was given a portion of money to help pay for his moving expenses but because he wanted to save as much as possible (great thing to raise a saver, no?),  he decided to forego hiring movers and simply have his family assist him. I must say, given John's recent surgery for hernia repair, I wasn't thrilled with the decision. Thankfully, Trevor is a big strapping teenager now, so he was able to heft quite a bit of the weight for the larger items (only three challenging items - the couch, the queen mattress, and the easy chair).

Saturday was a very long day. We drove to Purdue and loaded everything into the truck. I had actually prayed that some burly college student might pass by and offer to assist, but that didn't materialize and Bryce and Trevor managed to load the heavy items alone. After a quick packed lunch we headed out for the five hour drive to Parkersburg, West Virginia. The drive took longer than expected because we hit two traffic jams, two spells of torrential rain, and made three different pit stops. Still, unloading is always easier than loading and I'm thankful that the rain was restricted to the drive. The biggest obstacle was the wall directly in front of the apartment door. I'm still not sure how they managed to get that large couch into the apartment, but they did. By 9:30 p.m., the truck was unloaded and returned to the drop-off site and we were seated around the coffee table (hadn't yet put the legs onto the large wooden dining table) eating a hearty Taco Bell dinner.

I was able to snag a photo of my men shortly before we pulled out for the drive home on Father's Day (now that Bryce is officially on his own, I'm not sure we'll all be together for future Father's Day celebrations):

I pray that God would protect Bryce and bless him in his new life there. I pray he will make new friends and find fulfillment in his work. It was harder to leave him this time around (as opposed to leaving him when we dropped him off at Purdue) because you know your child will make friends at college, but when entering the work force, it feels slightly more intimidating, with fewer assurances that loneliness will not creep in. But, I'm happy for his new beginning and hopeful for his future.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Book Review: 50 Ways to Get a Job

A month or so ago, I stumbled onto what would appear to be a "dream job" for me. In checking my sons' school lunch menu, I jogged over to the job opportunities link on the district website and noted an opening for elementary school librarian. What could be better for a dedicated bibliophile than the opportunity to encourage children to love books? I immediately filled out the application and was quite pleased to get an interview.

Alas, I believe it was the interview that tripped me up (well, that and my twelve years out of the work-force while raising my boys and attempting to get my writing career off the ground). My intensity of desire led to a bad case of nerves and when I'm nervous, I tend to prattle on about things that are irrelevant or counterproductive. Looking back, I think I drew attention to my weaknesses instead of my strengths. Needless to say, I didn't manage to prove myself the best candidate for the job. Still, it was a great exercise (I've only had one other job interview in the past sixteen years, so it stands to reason, I might be a bit rusty) and I learned quite a bit. I might have fared better if I had worked through this book prior to that interview.

50 Ways to Get a Job: An Unconventional Guide to Finding Work on Your Terms is very unique kind of job-search manual. For starters, the structure is quite striking. It feels like a choose-your-own-adventure style book. At the end of each section, the author provides a number of exercises to work through (including some excellent writing prompts I intend to use during my daily free-association writing pages), followed by possible non-linear paths through the book. It makes sense, really, because every job search is a unique endeavor and people move at different paces and have differing needs.

Moreover, the book encourages you to do more than simply make a list of your skills and dream job components. Here is a minor glimpse at some of the suggestions in the book: "1) Make a Map of Your Current Career Path, 2) Schedule a Vacation Buffer, 3) Find Your Center of Gravity, 4) Write Fiction About Yourself, 5) List Twenty People Whose Careers You Admire, 6) Practice Different Ways of Introducing Yourself, etc. The activities aid in self-understanding, so you have a clear picture of where you've been and where you'd like to possibly go. Even if you're not looking for a job, but simply would like to get to know yourself more, this book provides interesting things to consider. Writers will find a variety of writing prompts.

Thankfully, my job search is on hiatus until the fall (because of commitments to my annual music camp and family Bible camp). This means I will have plenty of time to work through several of the writing prompts and exercises suggested in this book. I still think I would have been a perfect fit for that school librarian position, but who knows, maybe something even better is out there just waiting for me to stumble upon. Hopefully, when that opportunity opens up, I'll be armed with the proper ammunition for securing work that is meaningful and enjoyable.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Feeling Impotent in the Face of Another Vaccine Reaction

I have been dreading my youngest son's entrance into middle school. This is not because it signals the end of his childhood and plants him firmly into the tween years. No, I have dreaded this moment because I feel my hands were forced to comply with a government mandate to have my child immunized despite blatant evidence that it is not in his favor.

Six years ago, we visited the doctor to get Sean's required kindergarten immunizations. I was horrified when he awoke a few days later almost unable to walk and sporting a grapefruit-sized red welt at the dTap shot site. It was hot to the touch and he had a fever. I posted about the worrying shot reaction and although it subsided in time, it left me quite hesitant to encounter a repeat performance.

Alas, despite attempting to convince our pediatrician that we wished to conscientiously opt out of the vaccines, we felt our hands were tied as they continued to insist that he had to have the shots in order to attend public school. So, I scheduled the appointment and surrendered to the inevitable.

He seemed fine during the shots, but woke a few days later with some swelling and redness:

I don't know if he would be exhibiting a high fever because every morning he clamored for a dose of ibuprofen for the pain. I guess what irks me the most is that I ran across an advertisement for the meningoccocal vaccine (the one he is experiencing an allergic reaction to now) that clearly states individuals who have exhibited an allergic reaction to a diptheria vaccine should not receive the meningoccocal vaccine. Yet, despite evidence in his medical files, the doctor urged us to put this agent into our son's body.

I understand that meningitis is a serious disease. I have friends who lost their ten-year old daughter to spinal meningitis. I'm sure they would have preferred to endure this minimal allergic reaction, but I'm feeling quite frustrated that I'm being told he'll have to have an additional dose at age 16, and possibly again as a freshman in college. Who's to say the next allergic reaction won't be more significant? Moreover, why can't I, as a parent, decide what is in the best interests of my child?

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Book Review: Looking for Cassandra Jane

Melody Carlson is one of those tried-and-true authors that Christian publishing companies go with time and time again because they know she will deliver a story that readers will gobble up. She has written over 200 books and sold over 6.5 million. She certainly knows how to weave a good story. Her tale about Cassandra Jane gives a glimpse into the heart of a character who is wounded and broken and definitely in need of a Savior. As Liz Curtis Higgs (author of Thorn in my Heart and A Wreath of Snow) writes in her endorsement: "Cassandra Jane's first-person narrative reads like an intimate diary, allowing us to share in this troubled young woman's long and winding road toward the one true God."

Cassandra Jane is one tough cookie. She has to be. Her mother died days after her birth, her father is an abusive alcoholic, and her temporary safe haven at her grandmother's house evaporates with her grandmother's death. When authorities imprison her father for two attempts on her life, it brings little consolation because she is farmed out to foster homes. Desperate for love, she is easily swayed and led astray, down a path of counterfeit Christianity. God continues to woo her in the midst of her confusion.

I thought her grandmother's repeated colloquialisms felt intrusive and annoying, but the story did hold my interest throughout. I will admit, I was hoping it would have been more of a comparable title to use in pitching my women's inspirational novel. Alas, it was a very different type of story. Still, if you are looking for engaging Christian fiction, Carlson is an author you can trust.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Book Review: Orbiting Jupiter - Highly Recommend

I'm becoming a huge fan of two-time Newbery Honor-winning author, Gary D. Schmidt. He is a master at rendering a believable and engaging voice, presenting boy-friendly fare, creating tough characters who exude tenderness, and tapping into the depth of human experience. Moreover, you can always be assured a good laugh, sometimes immediately followed by tears.

If ever there was a book to cut through my recent reading malaise, Orbiting Jupiter fit the bill. What a profound story of the power of love! I devoured the book whole; of course, I was kind of a captive audience because we were on a car trip, but at 183 pages, the novel slips by fast. I proceeded to hand it off to my youngest, who then read it in a little over an hour. I think he was especially curious because I had been seated next to him quietly chuckling one minute and then full-out sobbing by the end.

Twelve-year-old Jack narrates the story of his parent's experience fostering 14-year-old Joseph Brook. Despite the social worker's clarification of the harsh realities (Joseph is a juvenile delinquent who almost killed a teacher and has already fathered a child), Jack's parents agree to take him on at their dairy farm. Jack doesn't expect to be sucked into Joseph's world, yet slowly begins to think of him as a brother. But can Jack's family assist Joseph in his quest to find his daughter, Jupiter?

I smiled when Sean leaned over to show me the laugh-out-loud funny bits. He knew full well what had previously tickled me. While Sean didn't cry at the ending, or think it was as phenomenal a book as I did, I know he appreciated Schmidt's ability to create characters that male readers will root for. He certainly got the message that you cannot judge a person based on a limited understanding of their past.

While some parents might hesitate to recommend this book because it treats the experience of a very young father, I believe Schmidt did a fantastic job of outlining the budding relationship that creates the child, without dwelling on sexual specifics. Moreover, just as in the previous Schmidt books I have read, he presents an edgy, rough character from a difficult background who highlights the presence of grace and redemption in the midst of the gritty realities of life. He inspires the reader to mete out forgiveness alongside responsibility and to recognize the beauty of life alongside some of the ugliness.

Here are my reviews recommending the other Gary D. Schmidt books I've read: The Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now, and Trouble. Schmidt is definitely one of my favorite authors.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

In Defense of Cory Asbury's "Reckless Love"

Lately, I have been fixated on a popular song airing on the Christian radio stations: Cory Asbury's "Reckless Love." I'll admit, I was caught - hook, line, and sinker - pulled in by the beauty of the melody and the intensity of the expression of God's love.

Thus, I posted my affection for the song on Facebook (something I rarely do). I know that I'm not alone in my attraction. One of the announcers on the station I currently tune to exclaimed that it was the number one song request these days. Moreover, the official lyric version on You Tube has received over 21 million hits. Billboard pegged it the number one song on their US Top Christian Songs list for eleven weeks running.

Apparently, this song is creating quite a stir. Theologians are jumping to urge worship leaders to forego use of the song because of the questionable word "reckless," with its negative connotations. In a recent interview with John Piper, a listener asks "Is the term 'reckless' too reckless?" Piper discusses his issues with the word and outlines all the possible meanings attributed to the term. But that's the problem in a nutshell. Words have multiple meanings. You can only discern the intended meaning of the word by interpreting it within its context.

I honestly don't understand how people are getting their haunches up over the possible connotations of a single word in a song that clearly demonstrates the unfathomable extent of God's love. If you actually take the time to understand the song in its entirety, you cannot misunderstand the intended meaning. He is not saying that God's love is risky or feckless, or that God doesn't know the outcome. He is not implying that God could have made a mistake in choosing to love us or that His act of love on our behalf was ill-advised. Moreover, I don't believe he is saying it was a careless act.

The lyrics as a whole point to the use of the word in the synonymous form of "audacious," "impetuous," or - my take on the word - "relentless." His love is, indeed, "overwhelming" and "never-ending" - it "chases me down," "fights 'til I'm found," and pays it all, for me! It gives without any concern for whether it will be accepted or denied. I'm convinced there would have been nary a dot of hub-bub if the author had penned the word "relentless," instead.

I guess what rankles me the most is that individuals who go against this song because a particular word raises negative connotations for them seem to be presenting themselves as the sole judge of whether a fellow Christian is theologically sound or theologically defective. There is that implied sense of "Well, I wouldn't sing those words because they are not Biblical." Surely there is much to be gained by a song that directs even unbelievers to the audacious, unexpectedly impetuous, and relentless love of God. And isn't there enough divisiveness in the church already? Do we need to add the additional friction of pointing fingers at others who can sing these words with integrity in their hearts?

As for me, I don't see these lyrics as "theologically defective." To me, this song is highly reminiscent of the beloved poem, "The Hound of Heaven," by Francis Thompson. That poem begins with the famous lines:

"I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him ...
From those strong feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat ..."

The poem communicates the relentless pursuit of God for one of His own, just as this song does. And, it highlights our lack of worth, just as "Reckless Love" does ("I couldn't earn it; I don't deserve it; still You give Yourself away"):

"How hast thou merited -
Of all man's clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee.
Save Me, save only Me!"

I'm thankful for that love that recklessly pursued me. I'm thankful for a song that reminds me of the intensity of God's love. And I don't think I'm being "unfaithful" by enjoying or singing along with Cory Asbury's song. So, as for me, I will recklessly continue to sing along.