Monday, May 27, 2024

Book Review: The Forever Gift

By now, I should know that if I finish one book and launch into another before writing up a review, that review suffers. Amazon recommended The Forever Gift by Brooke Harris. I finished it and failed to write up a review right away. I'm not sure I can give it its due. Plus, I lack strong feelings about the book (and perhaps that played a part in my avoiding the review process). It was entertaining enough, but nothing stands out.

Heather and Kayla reminded me a lot of the mother-daughter relationship in The Gilmore Girls show. Their bond is strong. Their lives change when Kayla's knee starts hurting. She is the captain of the basketball team. Surely, she should just play through the pain. Unfortunately, it is more serious than a bum knee. Kayla's Ewings-Sarcoma diagnosis draws Heather and Kayla's father closer together, creating friction and stress in his marriage.

The book addresses the complicated relationships that occur in blended families. As many Amazon reviewers said, it is emotionally stirring. The characters are realistic and the plot builds adequately. The ending doesn't tie the story up with a tidy bow, as one might expect. Yet, it ends with hope. I think it was a worthwhile read.

đź“’ Content Caution: language and taking of Lord's name in vain

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Book Review: The Second Life of Mirielle West

Long ago, I read Philip Yancey and Dr. Paul Brand's book, The Gift Nobody Wants (otherwise titled, The Gift of Pain). Ever since, I have wanted to explore leprosy more. This affliction, where patients do not feel the healthy warning signals of pain, goes all the way back to the Bible. Jesus cared for and healed lepers. Despite the outcry against them, despite public stigma, Christ met them where they were and didn't hesitate to touch their wounds.

The Second Life of Mirielle West by Amanda Skenandore tells the story of a California socialite shipped to the Carville leper colony in the 1920s. Her first telltale sign is a burn from an iron. She didn't feel the pain. Upon a doctor's inspection, the white patches of skin identified her as a leper. Aptly titled, this book highlights the difference between her first life (filled with the sorrows of a lost child, depression, and alcoholism) and her second life (lived in isolation at the national leprosarium).

According to The Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, Carville was in operation between 1894 and 2005. Amanda Skenandore presents an engaging historical fiction based on the facts and details of both the dreaded disease and the imposed isolation. My heart ached for the children and adults forced into residence at Carville. Simultaneously, I respected the nurses and doctors who worked tirelessly to ease the patients' suffering and to seek a cure for leprosy. This is a tale worth visiting and one worth discussing in a book club.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Book Review: Wuthering Heights

In 1979, my family moved from Alton, Illinois, to Chicago. I was entering my freshman year of high school. Acclimating to the complicated hallway system in the large urban high school was daunting enough. But they also placed me in honors classes. There, in those honors classes, I first encountered the Bronte sisters and their fine novels. I fell in love with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.

Wuthering Heights is full of atmosphere. During my days of the Wheaton-in-England program, I wandered the moors and imagined myself jumping right into a Bronte novel. My mind has long held the characters of Heathcliff and Catherine with intensity. They are unforgettable. Perhaps my teenaged heart was simply ripe for a tale of love that transcends the grave. This time around, I listened to this classic in audio form. I loved the British narration. We had plenty of days where the atmosphere outside my car matched the atmosphere communicated within my car. I couldn't have asked for a better accompaniment to my drive time. 

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Prayer Update: Importunate Prayers

One thing I loved in P. T. Forsythe's book, The Soul of Prayer, was his insistence that importunate prayer is vitally important. What does the word "importunate" mean? It means "persistent to the point of annoyance or intrusion." The Bible urges us to petition persistently. God encourages and honors importunate prayers. Of course, our persistence relies upon His will and our acceptance that His will occurs in His perfect timing. But, God begs us to lay those precise and persistent prayers at His feet.

I came across an author/pastor named Scott LaPierre. After subscribing to his newsletter, I also happened upon a video of a sermon on importunate prayer that he preached a year ago. If you don't have time to listen, I'll summarize some points I gleaned. LaPierre emphasized we must be persistent and not give up. We must cry out to God day and night, recognizing that we are helpless to remedy our situation and are at the mercy of God's ruling. He cited Romans 12:12 (be constant in prayer), Ephesians 6:18 (pray at all times), and 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (pray without ceasing). Importunate prayer requires a receptive disposition toward God. We may be tempted to lose heart because it is hard work (a spiritual battle), but what a privilege to labor (Romans 15:30 - strive together, enter the fight in prayer to God on my behalf).

I will admit, my husband and I have not always prayed together. When we encountered our prodigal son's path and then entered the pandemic period, it propelled us to concerted prayer together. We don't pray together every day, but when we do, many of our prayers have been importunate prayers. Those we pray on behalf of our sons are perhaps the most importunate prayers of all. We do, indeed, pray for them day and night. We are, indeed, aware we are helpless to remedy the issues that sometimes plague our children. Thus, we surrender to God's timing and ruling in their lives, while begging for His mercy and His grace.

We can grow discouraged. Many things have not changed that desperately need changing. Yet we experienced recent confirmation of the validity of strenuously importunate prayer. We received an answer that blew us away. Despite full belief in God's ability to do the impossible, when it occurs, we cannot help but marvel and praise Him over and over again. Especially so, because so many elements of the answer lined up with the exact precision of our prayers.

Our oldest son is approaching marriage. He and his fiancée have a September wedding planned. Having grown up in the church, my heart ached for them to be married in Christ and to have a minister officiate the wedding. We earnestly prayed that a coworker would invite them to church, that they would go, and they might enjoy attending. We prayed this church would preach solid Biblical encouragement and guidance. We prayed that they might seek righteousness.

A few weeks ago, our son called and outlined some changes occurring in their lives. He said a coworker invited them to church and they've been going for two months. They took the membership class and even asked a pastor to officiate their wedding. That pastor required pre-marital counseling. In the counseling, the pastor confronted their cohabitation, and they agreed to make changes. Our son is splitting his time between two co-workers' homes until after the wedding.

John and I flew to Dallas this past weekend for a brief visit. The highlight of our time was our attendance with them at Eastside Community Church on Mother's Day morning. As we drove in the parking lot, attendants directed traffic. I'll admit, I was concerned it might be a mega-church where they water down God's Word to appeal to "what itching ears want to hear." (2 Timothy 4:3) Instead, we praised God for a powerful sermon with theological depth and a call to action to combat sin in our lives. 

The pastor addressed two weighty concepts: justification and sanctification. He likened it to the house-flipping shows, explaining that when you accept Christ's act on your behalf cancelling your debt of sin, it is justification and is equivalent to God taking ownership of the house (your heart). You now belong to Him. Yet, there is still much work to be done and often we balk at allowing God into the closets of our lives, where we desire to hold on to sin. Sanctification is like the renovation process. God moves in and cleans things out and beautifies them. He talked about how your inclinations and desires change, following Christ's example. He wants us to be holy, as He is holy, but that requires giving up sin that infests our lives.

I loved, too, that he preached from a passage about Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus dynamically altered his life after exposure to Christ. Greed gave way to giving. The pastor emphasized we are called to follow hard after Jesus, not after the crowd. This world encourages you to follow the crowd and its opinions. If you focus on Jesus and His commands, the crowd may call you "judgmental" or "unloving." It is always best to follow Jesus rather than the crowd.

The final blessing was when they passed around communion. After the pastor emphasized that those who have been justified are welcome to take part in communion, my son and his fiancée joined my husband and me in taking communion. God knows their hearts. May they continue to be drawn into deeper relationship with God. May they hunger and thirst for righteousness. May God continue to renovate and sanctify.

Oh, how I needed that affirmation of His ability to answer our laser-specific prayers! We continue to struggle with our prodigal. We plead for wisdom on how to address issues we cannot ignore. The other day I was reading in the Old Testament, the passage about Saul. In 1 Samuel 10:6 it says, "And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou... shalt be turned into another man." (KJV or in NIV it says "you will be changed into a different person.") Verse 9 says, "And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart." That is my prayer for my son. I pray fervently that God might send the Spirit of the Lord to fall upon him and change him into a different person!! We offer audacious prayers, begging God to make him a soul-winner and a minister for the Kingdom. Do it again, God! "Is any thing too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14) "With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible." (Mark 10:27)

Other prayer needs also persist. My mom entered the hospital with internal bleeding they could not address. They reduced it and sent her home, but told my dad to consider contacting hospice. She has grown difficult (at one point, refused to budge and sat down on the ground - because of my dad's heart surgery recovery, he had to call nurses to assist him in getting her up and into bed). For now, hospice comes in once a week to assess her, but at some point, my dad may need to place her in a facility where she can receive round-the-clock care.

My dad was rushed to the hospital earlier this week because of pressure in his heart that made him feel as if it were about to explode. Fearing clots, they placed him on blood thinners. They ended up doing emergency catheterization and placed two stents. In doing this, the doctor determined that all four bypasses have failed. During this time, my mother was in the apartment alone, with nurses checking on her occasionally. Before my sister could arrange to go down, he returned home from the hospital, but we are still awaiting an update on what further steps will be required down the road. It is so hard to be too far away to get there quickly or assist more fully.

Sean also had an episode of heart racing one night (keeping him awake until 2 a.m.). The doctor ran an EKG, but found nothing. However, blood tests said his kidneys were not functioning well. He stopped the NSAID and all supplements and it was back to functioning normally within two weeks. He is in physical therapy for the knee injury.

John has an upcoming follow-up appointment regarding his persistent bulge. I pray we will finally get some answers to this perplexing problem. 

I'll end this encouragement to importunate prayer with two things. First, I encourage you to invite someone to church. You never know. You might help answer someone's importunate prayer. Second, on a lighter note, I'll leave you with a photo of my youngest and his date for prom (another answer to prayer):

Monday, May 13, 2024

Mid-month Mention: Mental Health and Learned Helplessness

May is National Mental Health Month. As I've said before, this issue is close to my heart because it forms my most significant struggle. Lately, I've been struggling with everything: my parenting, my marriage, my inability to do what brings me pleasure normally (writing), and a sense of overwhelm in the face of these obstacles. 

I really identified with this podcast by Dr. Andrew Huberman with Dr. Paul Conti.

Photo by Aleks Marinkovic on Unsplash

(I loved this image by Aleks Marinkovic because it shows books on a shelf, but it appears you cannot use them or access the knowledge within because of the bars across each shelf - interesting! What a thought-provoking image!)

One thing I'm addressing in therapy is the problem of learned helplessness. I am seeking to change some of my negative beliefs (I am insufficient) and replace those beliefs with affirming beliefs (I am sufficient to meet this challenge). This blog post, by Allaya Cooks-Campbell, was also helpful to me.

Another Psychology Today post on learned helplessness identifies my challenges and offers suggestions for solving this dilemma.

I had hoped to be further along in this process of changing my mind and my outlook. Instead, it often feels like I ripped off one band-aid (a trauma experienced last June) only to find multiple wounds yet unaddressed. Everything is oozing and healing seems far off. Yet, I will persist. I cannot give up. Indeed, as the PT article affirmed:

"People can push back against learned helplessness by practicing independence... and by cultivating resilience, self-worth, and self-compassion. Engaging in activities that restore self-control can also be valuable." 

Maybe that's where those affirmations and visualizations in The Miracle Morning book might improve my morning routine to make it more effective in my life. Do you struggle with mental health issues? What difficulties are you addressing? What causes you the most grief? Do you ever feel like a book on a shelf, held back by an inexplicable bar?

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Book Review: The Secrets of Paper and Ink

I thoroughly enjoyed The Heart Between Us by Lindsay Harrel. Thus, I sought another title from this author for my treadmill time. The Secrets of Paper and Ink was quite different from The Heart Between Us (although, at one point, a modern-day character in the book mentions having read that book - a clever nod to her previous work). In this second book by Harrel, the author establishes a dual-timeline tale that follows three women coming to grips with who they are and what they want from life. Set in Cornwall, England, it was delightful to roam the countryside and the literature of that locale.

As a therapist, Sophia Barrett is in the business of helping people. So why can't she help herself get over the loss of her controlling fiancé? She decides she needs to get away. What better place to go than to Cornwall, where her favorite author lived and wrote? She finds an advertisement for a room above a bookstore, available for reduced rent in exchange for bookstore help (sounds like a dream, right?). She has always loved books, but is she finally ready to write her own story?

The bookstore owner, Ginny Rose, is struggling to keep the business afloat now that her husband has gone AWOL, claiming he needs some time apart. Ginny appreciates Sophia's help. When they find an old notebook among the books, she gifts it to Sophia. But Sophia knows nothing about the author of the notebook. Is it a novel or a diary? Did Emily Fairfax exist or is she a figment of someone's imagination?

I enjoyed the setting and the characters' paths of self-discovery. They are flawed, yet they admit their weaknesses, face them, and try to make changes. They home in on their dreams and pursue them with abandon. The book explores various things that hold women down. It also leads to the discovery of grace. Spiritual insights come naturally. If you are looking for a sweet tale set in historic and modern Cornwall, this book provides a clean read full of heart, with spiritual application.  

Monday, May 6, 2024

Book Review: The Miracle Morning

With a bright yellow cover emblazoned with a sun, The Miracle Morning promises to change your life. I noticed the buzz surrounding this book (#804 in Books on Amazon and #29 in Motivational Self-help Books on the day I wrote this review). It begins with the author's incredible story of change implemented in his own life. His first challenge occurred when he was involved in a devastating car accident. It was such a harrowing description I read it aloud to my husband and youngest son. The extensive damage Hal Elrod faced when he was 20 is astounding. Yet, this near-death experience wasn't the lowest point in his life.

Elrod's second rock-bottom came with the financial devastation brought on by the Great Recession in 2008. Drowning in despair and feeling helpless to climb out of the hole, Elrod wanted to give up. Then a friend challenged him to go for a run, something he despised doing. The positive result led Elrod to research the practices and rituals of highly successful individuals. In the end, he came up with his Miracle Morning routine. Over time it took off and people joined the Miracle Morning Community, sharing their successes found through using these strategies. The number of book endorsements is staggering!

The author breaks 7 practices down into the acronym SAVERS. I love how you can personalize the plan. Observe these elements for as short or as long as you desire, in whatever order works best for you. SAVERS stands for Silence, Affirmation, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, and Scribing. I wasn't expecting anything earth-shattering or new. 

I already have an extensive morning routine. After I wake between 4:30 and 6, I drink a black coffee with a small spoonful of coconut oil (this, together with a word puzzle, gets my brain charged and my body further into ketosis). Then I head to my basement desk. I begin with my prayer time (both for my Facebook friends and a list I keep in a prayer journal). Next, I spend some time studying God's Word and read daily passages from 2 devotional books. After I complete my daily BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) homework (heartwork) and pray for the women in my group, I write my "morning pages." (I learned this from Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way, many years ago. If you're curious about morning pages, take a few minutes to watch this video by Martin Sketchley - I love his videos because he incorporates doodles into his explanations and talks about the writing process.)

By this time, my husband is up and has brewed the "good coffee." I fire up my computer to tend to emails and often waste too much time on Facebook. Eventually, I pull myself away to exercise for a half hour. While I cool down, I clean the kitchen, play Wordle and Connections, then shower and begin my day officially. So, I've already had a routine that hits many of the words in Elrod's acronym (all but affirmation and visualization). 

I hesitate to believe adding those activities could lead out of mediocrity and into passionate purpose fulfillment. Yet, I wouldn't say this was a wasted read. He is highly motivational. Indeed, I may purchase this book for Bryce. I encouraged my husband to read the brief section on night routines. The author dealt with a similar bout of insomnia, like my husband's lengthy foray into sleeplessness. I suppose I even liked the book enough to consider purchasing it (despite my current purging goals), if I ever see it on the cheap at a thrift store or garage sale. It was a worthwhile and life-affirming read, full of inspiration for living a life without regrets.