Friday, January 6, 2017

Book Review-Crossing the Waters by Leslie Leyland Fields

I am currently studying the Gospel of Luke and found this book a helpful companion resource to bring context to the stories about Jesus and his disciples. Leslie Fields opens to us her unique perspective on making a living on the sea in Alaska, where she moved from New Hampshire, when she married, Duncan, her Alaskan husband whom she met in college. There have been rocky family times, isolation from conveniences and close neighbors and now some of her 6 kids have just recently left home to pursue their own dreams and adventures, bringing a new season of life for the author.

Leslie's insights come through her wealth of experiences, many of them through her fishing occupation -storms, rugged land and weather, hard fisherman work, and the constant possibility of danger and tragedy.  Leslie says these circumstances give her a special connection to the fishermen who Jesus called, and they have grown her faith immensely.
Leslie also shares wisdom from her travels to Israel. We are with her on the Sea of Galilee, talking to local fishermen, or approaching a priest after a church service asking, "Why do you think Jesus chose so many fishermen?"  The trip afforded her a new journey through the gospels, which she shares with us.

Throughout the book, more questions trouble her.  "Does following Jesus mean we must all leave the material world of commerce to fish for men and women with the net of the gospel?" Or, "I believe he is with us in every storm...Yes, so many saved, but so many lost. (Leslie's mother-in-law died in a fire, a neighbor friend loses a son and father who drowned at sea) I know that 'take up their cross' means to be ready to die.  But who can do this?...If we who follow after him cannot even be sure he will save us, how can we trust him?" How does Jesus bring peace and understanding in spite of the questions?

I was deeply moved by Leslie's story and the spiritual lessons she shares so candidly. Leslie hopes the reader hears Jesus calling. Come follow me.  Do not be afraid. Following Jesus changes us. He never leaves us as we are.

There is a study guide in the back of the book for those who want to dig deeper, individually, or in a group study.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas Musings 2016

I like that Christmas brings not just decorations carefully hung, recipes newly chosen, and family's never-the-same dynamics, but also a new appreciation for the central story which birthed the celebration.  I share this year's new discoveries for me.

Our pastor used the Sundays in December to focus on characters in the story of Christmas. On Mary, he emphasized how Mary's obedience taught her sufficiency.  She gave up dreams of what marriage would be like and bore the judgment of those who would not understand. She and Joseph together would raise an unusual son whose early understanding of Scripture made him a "Bible nerd" in a way that his parents couldn't relate to.  Yet, this son, scripture says, grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man. In spite of Jesus' uniqueness, he becomes well-adjusted and well-rounded.

Jesus brings salvation not only so we can experience eternal life with him, but salvation now from fear, regret, shame and turmoil. He is sent to guide our steps in the way of peace.  In any darkness of soul, which we all have, he invites us to come and trust him to deal with it.  He makes everything beautiful in his time; he knows when to bring it to the surface and to his light. His gentleness makes us great.

Rebekah Freelan's book, His Advent, gave me a new perspective on Joseph, the husband of Mary. Joseph shows his Godliness by obeying God's instructions, respecting Mary and accepting the role of surrogate father to Jesus. Rather than resentment at this intruder, he becomes the father figure who brings training to God's son. Introducing him to the earthly way of gaining God-knowledge through synagogue attendance. Teaching him a career skill of carpentry.

Rather than pushing for his own recognition, Joseph accepted his role of being overshadowed by the real Father of Jesus.  He embraced the shadows; a life of uncertainty, a life never dreamed of or one he could have prepared for.  Jesus still brings surprises to lives that he claims. I want to allow this true Father to overshadow all that I am and do, so his brightness shines.

Our pastor pointed out Joseph's lineage to David was important because it gave Jesus a legal representation.  Jesus, through Mary, had a blood line to David yet that lineage would not have been legally recognized without Joseph's adoption.

The season invites us to gift each other as God gave us His indescribable gift of Jesus. Among my gifts was a book by the artist, Carolyn Blish. Great! Another coffee table beauty, for a furniture piece I don't own.  I have one of her prints, so my interest was half-way piqued. For bedtime skimming some night, I decided.

Pages of color and youthfulness awaited me. Admiration for the talent of brush stroke and crafted words grew as I turned all 150 pages that night. This women captured sunlight, beach sand and waves, and children's faces in a way that moved me to worship the God of creation, whom she loves and proclaims. One page spread seeped down into that place where emotions hover waiting to be stirred. I named the stirring, Nostalgia. As usual it played with me very briefly before slipping away.  On the left side was a full page painting of a small girl in a daisy field with a crown of the flowers encircling her head. The right side page had two small sketches-one a daisy, close-up and the other of a girl handing a bouquet to a woman. Emotion surrounds them. I remembered such gifts of drooping dandelion bouquets, school-made clothespin reindeer ornaments, and handmade cards with large crooked lettering bestowed on me by children now grown and receiving their own sweet endowments.

At the top of this page the author-artist shared a memory of presenting a daisy bouquet to her mother and in childlike excitement asking if they were liked.  Her mother said, "I love them because you picked them for me."

That's it!  I love my gifts, whether practical, questionable or spot on because they were each picked for me. There was joy in selecting the gifts I presented to others, too, because my choices reflects my relationship with them.

Thank you, Father, for showing us how to give by your generosity to us, those you know and love so well.  Thank you for coming for the least of us, lying in a manger as your first bed, and welcoming shepherds and animals as your first visitors. "To meek souls who receive him still, the dear Christ enters in."  Thank you, for a Christmas story that only becomes more precious as we gain greater understanding of your amazing love and amazing plan of salvation.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Gift of the book, Drawing Closer by Carolyn Blish

The cover falls open and
admiration bumps
curiosity aside.

The child stands
among daisies
and you make her
dance in a
wind-swept way.

Pages further, words
outline your
intentions and my
admiration slips
under a banner of worship.

You capture beauty
and gifts and wonder
and youth; my eyes lift
to your God.

I didn't expect this                                                                      
divine in your brush,
this blush in your Blish
But you capture it
by word and paint.

You show sea and
coast, I yearn
to be there. A child
bends to sand,
I feel that surface by heart.

A child offers a bouquet,
"Do you like it",
she asks. Mother words,
"I like them because you
picked them for me."

You picked words
and made images
for me and I
like them.  Thank you
for the gift enclosed
inside this cover and
now inside my being.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Book Review-Larger-Than-Life Lara

Larger-than-Lara is a quick read, but not a simple story or quickly forgotten.  The story is told from Laney Grafton’s point of view, a fourth grader who demurely accepts her impoverished life with a dad who drinks too much, three older brothers who have no respect for her and a mother who left the family and who Laney doesn’t remember.

Laney’s classroom enters major upheaval when a new student, Lara, joins the class. Lara is hugely overweight; she needs her own adult chair and desk, and her skin flaps when she walks.

Lara invites meanness and ridicule just by her looks. But how she responds to the hurtful comments and unkindness shows a character that never gets angry and is incredibly positive.  She responds with amazing kindness and often speaks back in poetic sentences.

Bullying escalates into disaster for Lara.  How the class is transformed by what happens next is touching and persuasive.

The author, Dandi Mackall does a brilliant job of portraying fourth grader’s actions and thinking.  At the same time, she tackles the subject of bullying, gives the reader some basic lessons on writing techniques and made an elementary reading level story hold my interest through every paragraph..

The book chapter titles disclose the writing techniques woven into Laney’s telling, as she tries to incorporate what she is learning about crafting a story; Character, Setting, Climax, Cliff-Hanger, etc. Very clever and informative.

I found Laney believable and likeable.  Navigating her difficult family dynamics has made her sensible and more mature than many of her classmates. We see wisdom in her assessment of events and people.  May those of us who have opportunity to work with youth take to heart the lessons and insights into this age group that Dandi Mackall has given us in this fascinating book. 

Most Tyndale books have a Christian theme or perspective. While this book upholds some Christian values, there is no reference to anything spiritual or religious

I received this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

He Makes Me Rest

Inside the white tent, our group crowded close to the dog sled and it's owner, Jason.  Rain pelted the canvas outside.  Glad to be sheltered, we listened intently to Jason describe the exhilaration and dangers of the Iditarod races he had completed. We peppered him with questions about endurance, supplies, and the dog booties strung along a line tied to one side of the tent. A shiver crossed my shoulders as I imagined the bitter winds and sub-zero temperatures.

Halfway through the fascinating lesson on Alaskan dog sledding, we became aware of a cacophony of barking outside. We had seen the field of hundreds of Huskies tethered to their individual dog houses when we arrived at the camp.  They had been quiet then, so what had set off the dog raucous now? Someone asked Jason. Part of our group excursion that day was to take a cart ride with a team of dogs pulling us. Jason said another group must have just boarded a cart and were pulling out, which caused all the hundreds of dogs left behind to express unrestrained eagerness to be in the action. These athletes were trained and ardently jealous to use their prowess.  He further explained that sometimes on the trail, during the race, a dog may find it difficult to take necessary rests and time out from the action. The musher may have to headlock the fidgety one in a tight squeeze until his body succumbs to rest.

"He makes me lie down in green pastures" slipped into my thoughts. I wonder why sheep need to be made to lie down.  Are there any similarities to this and the sled dogs' need for intervention? I went to my bookshelf in the bedroom.  There among my best loved books, books that I keep because I want to read them again, only a limited number make it to this shelf, I pulled out, A Shepherd Looks at Psalms 23, by Phillip Keller. This author grew up surrounded by native sheep herders in East Africa and actually made a living for eight years as a sheep owner and rancher.  I treasure the insights I've gleaned from this book about how a shepherd tends his sheep and how we like sheep are cared for by the Good Shepherd.

Sheep require four necessities to be taken care of before they can be made to lie down:
-freedom from all fear
-no friction with others in the flock
-freedom from pests such as flies or parasites
-free of hunger

Only the presence of the shepherd will alleviate these anxieties.  He makes it possible for them to lie down. His closeness brings security and takes away the fear.

When there is rivalry and competition in the herd, they cannot rest; they must stand up and defend their rights against the challenger.  The shepherd defends the weak and brings a peacefulness that ends tensions. 

Sheep tormented by insects find it impossible to lie down.  They are up stamping legs, shaking heads and ready to rush to some place to find relief. The shepherd applies a repelling ointment to their heads; they relax, eat and lie down contentedly.

Sheep want to eat and fill up quickly so they can lie down quietly and ruminate. If food is scarce, the creature is ever on the move trying to fine the next mouthful.  The good shepherd works hard to clear  rough land so good crops can grow, crops that sheep thrive on.  Many countries where sheep are tended are dry climates, which aid sheep health but require much labor to make green pastures.

He makes me lie down in green pastures because he has provided for all my needs. 
-His presence takes away my fears; he has made me feel safe to lie down.
-When He is near I can trust him to protect me so I don't have to be on edge that someone may take advantage of me or that I have to defend myself when others are mean. He makes me lie down peacefully, because my enemies are his concern and he will always have my back.
-When I feel 'bugged' I can go to him and get the soothing oil of the Holy Spirit to keep the pests away that want to make me frustrated and too distracted to take in the right nourishment. He makes me lie down because I've been able to eat without interruption and my belly is full.
-I don't have to work hard at finding my provision; he has made it possible to trust that there will be enough to satisfy my hunger.  He makes me lie down because I've stopped trying to find my own way of provision in skimpy pastures and believe that his provision is just what I need to take in what is necessary for my growth and health.

He's a good, good Shepherd,
That's who he is
And I'm loved by him,
That's who I am.

Whether like the sled dog, I need to be held tight to be brought to rest, or like a sheep that needs the shepherd's presence to stop fretting, fighting, swatting and sweating for staples, I am thankful that I can lie down in green pastures no matter where he leads me.   

I yield to your discipline and care, Great Shepherd, Jesus.  You make me to lie down where abundance is promised. Forgive me for the times I think I know better how to meet my needs, for the times I substitute empty calories for good organic, free range, non GMO, hormone free food that you generously provide. May I increase in goodness and love as I feed in your pastures. 

Book Review-The Domino Effect

The Domino Effect, by Davis Bunn, reads like an unfolding current events news report.  Esther Larson , a brilliant senior risk analyst at one of the largest banks in the U.S., leads an insulated life with few friends and a brother who is confined to a nursing facility .  His grim prognosis and future care falls solely on Esther who has no other family.

With the help of the one group of casual friends Esther has connected with, she is able to open up and share.  The unethical practices of risk management in her company and the data about the economy she has gathered since the Wall Street crash in 2008, have created a mounting panic she no longer can keep to herself. With her friends' encouragement and one particular divinity student, Craig, Esther puts together a plan and message that needs to be heard to avert what she believes is a financial global disaster.  As she exposes fraud and worldwide market strategies of greed, many get on board to help her stop what has been set in motion.  Will her plan be too late?  Will Esther survive those intent on blocking her?

Besides the market tension, there are Craig's two teenage daughters to woo, questions about Nathan's medical care, and a job change. Esther finds courage in remembering the faith of her parents and the woman in the Bible who she was named after.  Just as her Biblical namesake had a time sensitive mission, so Esther Larson is the woman at the right time and the right place.

The book pulls the reader into the story, teases by not revealing all of Esther's scheme at once, and is very disconcerting as the facts in the story feel too real to life in the present. I thought there could have been more development of the antagonists; Esther seems to publicly expose powerful, sinister entities with little resistance, until her plan is well underway.

Perhaps a good moral for the story is that those who are privy to secrets that can bring destruction need to be courageous enough to speak and act out for good and stop the first domino from falling.

I received this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Alaska-Part 4

We had booked the trip excursions we wanted to take before we left from home.  Knowing zip lining was on Kevin's bucket list, I had signed us up for this fate tempting devilry in Skagway, and we had just now arrived.  My stomach was fluttery and all resolve to be brave and attempt this for Kevin's sake had vanished. I had hid my anxiety pretty well until he found out I hadn't slept very much the previous night.  I peered out the cabin window as the ship was docking.  The sky was overcast. It appeared to have rained recently and dense fog hung over the harbor.  Maybe the excursion will be canceled! Wanting to help relieve me of trepidation, Kevin was all for checking at the service desk for any cancellations. I timidly asked if the zip lining was still on schedule. The attendant informed us that yes, it was still a go and then added, "It should be a lot of fun.  The zip lines go even faster when it's rainy and wet."  Just the answer I wanted to hear!!

I managed to eat breakfast and then it was time to gather on the dock to board the bus which would take us out to the rain forest.  Our guide was a college student earning money for the summer by enabling people to do these crazy things. Once there we hiked up a rugged trail on the side of a summit, stopping at a station where more college kids joined us to fit us with waist and chest harnesses. We checked out the other travelers in our group and shared some friendly banter about our anxieties.  It was somewhat reassuring to discover only one person in the group of ten or so, had zip lined before.

Moving on, now suited up with the right gear, we again stopped at a higher elevation.  In front of us hung three suspension bridges that would have to be crossed before any zipping would take place. What?! I didn't know this was on the agenda! The bridges straddled a ravine below us and were hooked between tree tops.  I watched our first group member step onto the planks of the first bridge.  There were no sides to hold on to; just a strap connected from his chest to the cable above.  The guides had demonstrated how if someone were to 'fall' off the planks, you would hang there in mid air until balancing back on the bridge.  No chance of really falling down. Right! The group watching the first brave soul crossing slowly,  began to break the tenseness by shouting out words of encouragement and support.  After three or four had crossed, the guides helped them begin to cross the next bridge while the rest of the group continued across the first one.  That was our pattern for the rest of the adventure. We crossed the bridges and later zipped between tree stands, with five minute waits between zips to the next tree.
I made it across the first bridge, then the second, which had rope loops to step into, and finally the third, a 2x4 beam to foot across.  The last two did have a thin cable on either side to hold onto which made it a bit less intimidating. When we finally hung and glided across the zip lines, I began to relax and even enjoy the sensation.  The rides were only moderately fast and the guides were always on either end of the zip to send us off and then to apply the brakes as we approached the next stop.  Not near the scary, risky endangerment I had imagined. Whew!

Our group was quite fun and international- from Australia, Japan, Asians living in New Jersey, and Serbia. Would I do it again? Perhaps, but having done it once, I'm perfectly satisfied not to.  Kevin had a great time.  Cross that one off the list, my dear.
All geared  up!
The first bridge! That's our guide making it look easy.

Me crossing the 3rd bridge

 Me on the last zip

This shows some of the height we reached.
Our group after the last zip.

We had another excursion planned that day, but it was cancelled due to foggy weather.  So instead of the bike ride down a summit, we had some time to explore the town of Skagway.  The town was quite small and is kept alive by the tourists who visit.  Besides the Ruby docked there that day at least two other vessels about the same size as ours had also docked.  At 3-4,000 people on each one there are quite a number of visitors over the summer months.  Skagway's history tells of a stopping place for gold rushers with saloons and brothels aplenty.  As our guide pointed out the sites,  he said there are  three ways to get to Skagway- by boat, by air and by birth canal.  Another fact about the town; there are no resident doctors.  I was glad to visit, but it would not be a place I'd want to live in.

We boarded back on the ship Thursday evening.  Friday and Saturday would be  at sea with a stop in Vancouver, Canada Saturday evening and from there,  the Ruby would sail back to Seattle, arriving Sunday morning. We had only a few more days to enjoy this kind of relaxing schedule and the pleasant amenities onboard.

Daylight hours to view Vancouver were few as we didn't dock until 7 pm.  Our scheduled walk through the Butterfly Museum was in a greenhouse of beautiful plants and butterflies that landed easily on our shoulders or hair. Next was a stroll through the Butchart Gardens.  It was too dark to enjoy the full beauty of the flowers, even though the grounds featured special night lighting just for evening tours.  Besides nature's attractions we discovered the lines for popcorn and ice cream.  Cruise ships don't specialize in hard dipped ice creams or popcorn.  The evening ended with a fireworks show in the Gardens.  Crowds kept us from comfortably watching the show and exiting the gardens was a slow process as we weaved towards the exit among a river of people all bottlenecked together.  There were many lighted buildings and venues in the city to enjoy as we were bused back to the ship. Another city I'd like to return to some day.
Butterfly Garden

As we felt the boat bump into the shore of Seattle Sunday morning, we made one last visit to the 11th deck breakfast buffet and then began our debarkation. Another impressive system in place to get all of us back to land, through customs, and onto the right bus to take us to the right terminal at the airport. I had an unexpected feeling of nostalgia as we walked off the vessel.  Goodbye Ruby Princess!  Thank you for your wonderful hospitality.

And thank you, God, for your good gifts.  For 20 years of marriage to a man who is kind, compassionate and always faithful.  We have much to be thankful for. 

A few more pictures if you've lasted with me this far:

Formal night:

One of the two formal nights on the cruise

One of the rare warm-enough-to-eat-outside breakfasts