Sunday, June 25, 2017

Meals for Mars-Book Review

Ben Sciacca is executive director of Restoration Academy, a K-12 Christian school in Birmingham, AL.  The school of close to 300 students, seeks to provide a high-quality and Christ-centered education to inner-city youth in the Birmingham area. Ben has been invested in city ministry for twenty years. What he's authored for us in Meals for Mars is a chance to gain a new perspective on racial differences by helping us feel the tension and taste the discomfort of two very different worlds being forced to connect.

White and very middle class, Jim Dawkins, drives his black Lexus into Edgewood a few nights before Thanksgiving to deliver groceries to Wilma Thompson.  Regular church volunteers for this job are unavailable; Jim needs to go, even though his wife anxiously argues for him to back out of the commitment.

Malik, Wilma's grandson, is eighteen and struggles to make sense of his life.  His dad is absent and his mom has left to live with her boyfriend.  He resents the fact that his grandmother has to raise him and his siblings on the meager salary she gets from cleaning the church. The same night Jim Dawkins arrives in his neighborhood, Malik is headed for the corner store on an errand for his grandmother, with a gun tucked into the back of his waistband.

Jim's worst fears are realized when he encounters Malik, gun raised, and on the run from a crime scene, forcing his way into Jim's car. Jim is instructed to drive out of the city and miles from home. What Malik and Jim share in the next twenty-four hours, while alone together, will give them a new understanding of their racial differences and foregone conclusions about one another.

My own thoughts and beliefs were challenged as I read Jim's fears and peered into the unjust world that Malik inhabits.  I pray the new insights Sciacca offers me in this story will lead me into conversations towards racial reconciliation, and at the least, help me identify my prejudice, so I can better love as Christ loves.

In the afterword the author states, " of the most destructive ways to enter into a conversation about race is to ignore that we have different opinions and experiences...[our church community] sacrificed crucial conversations for the sake of apparent harmony.  That is not love, nor does it produce true community...We must deal with truth in order to get to reconciliation....We must also be allowed to mess up without the threat of being labeled racists or race baiters...We must throw away bitterness and entitlement because we are indebted to the Maker of all creation, and we must be ready to forgive as Christ forgave us."

Meals for Mars is a story with a purpose. It is easy to read, suspenseful and realistic, and not completely resolved when you get to the end.   I hoped for a new beginning for the characters in the story, and as I imagined them coming to a happy ending, I ask myself what it would take for all of us to create those happy outcomes in the world around us.

This book was given to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Hello Stars-A Book Review

Meet Lena Daniels!  A likeable, vibrant fifth grader with three younger sisters and parents who provide her plenty of love and support.  She pals with two best friends in school who all adore Mallory Winston, a popular, Christian music artist.  When Lena enters and wins Mallory's movie contest, she is thrilled, yet overwhelmed by expectations and the intense work required to produce the film.

Lena, with family in tow, spend the summer in Hollywood.  Lena is ecstatic about working with Mallory, yet misses her friends and Austin, her blue-nosed bully puppy. She finds comfort in her night time journal entries, often addressed to "Hello Stars" and is strengthened in believing in the movie's purpose to encourage families to trust in God, and in the Bible verses and prayers of her Dad.
The story is told in Lena's voice and well written for it's intended audience of young girls. The book is number one in the series, Lena in the Spotlight, and is a Zondervan kidz faithgirlz creation.  I was impressed with the way Lena's family expresses their faith daily and spontaneously. The authors illustrate how faith can be lived out very naturally for a Christian family.

The story is predictable with a light amount of conflict. Hearing Lena's inner voice, where emotions sometimes get messy, provides it's own kind of conflict which keeps the book interesting and engaging.  However, Lena is never disrespectful to her parents, intentionally disobedient or deceptive.

Movie productions are familiar to author Alena Pitt, who acted in The War Room movie.  Co-author, Wynter Pitt, founded For Girls Like You magazine.  Taken from the back cover, Wynter states her mission-"to empower and equip girls to walk boldly into becoming who God created them to be and to provide parents with the resources and support needed to raise strong Christ followers".

The book will have the most appeal to Christian families who want good material for preteen girls.

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

Time for Fun!

Family time for fun is always in the present.  Times missed in the past can never be regained, and future plans may never happen. Between bringing home the bacon and getting the recommended hours of zzzs, there has to be fun and laughter with those we love the most.

My childhood fun memories include backyard baseball with trees and bushes for bases and the time mom hit a home run.  Relatives came for birthdays and baptisms.  There was hand-cranked homemade ice cream and games like Spoons, Scrabble, Hide n Seek, and Rook. We even created a version of Battleship called Find My Animals to fit our values of peace, nonresistance and aversion to war. I learned to play hard, compete passionately and enjoy my family.  Our quirks and idiosyncrasies blended into a smoothy of teamwork when we played together.

As Mom, I created space for leisure with my kids.  We graduated from Candyland to Checkers and Aggravation. We played I Spy in restaurants and Hide the Whatever in the Living Room. There was time to read stories and take picnics to the park.  Ever on the lookout for new crafts to create, I oversaw many projects and gluing sessions. On rare occasions we'd borrow a movie from the library to watch together.

Now I plan play dates and overnighters with the grandkids and oh, what fun! Like this:

We.Are.Almost.Ready! Papa carries the kindling to the backyard firepit and sets the serving-table- plywood piece on its saw horses. Five lawn chairs await occupants, hopefully sitting on the non-smoke side of the fire site.

Croquet wickets decorate the yard.  Nerf guns lay on the porch.  Inside the food is laid out for willing hands to pick up and carry outback.

As three beautiful youngsters, aged 11, 9 and 6, unroll from the family vehicle, we greet them with hugs and kisses.  Their parents drive away and we catch up on recent activities, lost teeth, and the latest bug bite. The croquet game is soon underway.  Papa helps the youngest with her swings, but she quickly tires from the effort.  We continue the game while Rebecca chases butterflies.

After the game, someone spies the nerf guns; supper will wait.  When the food has finally made it to the makeshift table, the fire is ember-burning perfect for roasting hot dogs. Later s'mores are assembled after the appropriate amount of flaming marshmallow torches and sticky finger licks.

Dusk is creeping into our fun.  Mosquitoes viciously launch their attack.  Papa quiets the coals while the kids and I grab food items and croquet equipment and head indoors.  Someone soon begs to play the hide-an-object game so we vacate one room and wait in another for the signal from the hider that the hunt is on. After "hot" and "cold" guidance a finder locates the hiding place and shouts victory.

Our go to game is Uno.  It affords enough competition for, Aubrey, the oldest grandkid, while being easy enough for Rebecca to play.  Even Papa and I are entertained. After several rousing rounds of this favorite, it's time for P.J.s and a movie.  While the kids change clothes, Papa stirs up a batch of stove-popped corn.

We usually argue about what movie to watch. The kids have already seen most of the family movies on Netflix and siblings object to the idea of watching the umpteenth viewing of "Frozen" which Rebecca smuggled along in her backpack. (I don't remember what movie we actually watched that night but since then I've done some homework and our next movie night will give us some wonderful options from Pure Flix. We can try a month free subscription to Christian movie company, Pure Flix. This streaming network offers a host of family friendly movies and most of the descriptions allow me to see what themes are in the movie and what age it is recommended for. I think we'll start with Angel Dog which seems to have enough interest for all three kids, age wise, and not too girl gender heavy for Shawn. Besides three dogs live with them, so they are definitely dog lovers.)
Finally, the house is quiet and Papa and I fall into bed.  Our bodies are tired, but our hearts are full of grandkid joy. We nestle in for a good night's sleep, knowing there will be no snoozing in when morning comes.  Our assembly line for mixing and frying up our traditional pancakes will officially start when the first footsteps scurry downstairs.