Friday, August 26, 2011

Smack-Dab in the Middle of God's Love-A Book Review

Smack-Dab in the Middle of God's Love by Brenan Manning and John Blaze will have you smack-dab in the middle of a delightful interpretation of what it means to be centered in Abba God’s love, “love big enough to hold us all”.  The words, though not in rhyme, ripple across the page in poetic cadence.  Lively words like tousled, smushed, dollop and twinkled draw the reader into a story you’ll want to visit again and again.

Children will enjoy the vibrant, close-up illustrations, created by Nicole Tadgell, that flow across the center of every page spread.  The artwork nicely defines the setting of a place where sopapillas, burros and abuelas fit comfortably and abundantly.  Willie Juan and Ana, the two main characters, are sketched just-right  as the man and wife who aren’t “old and crotchety” nor “young and giggly” either. 

This childless Mexican couple take grandparent roles with the neighborhood children as they bake together, take time to notice nature with them and engage the children by asking and answering questions.  Most of the story is centered around a conversation about God’s love that all starts with Willie Juan’s question, “…someday when you are in heaven, what do you think Abba [his name for God] will ask you?”

As different children respond, you get a glimpse into what they each think is important to  God.  Willie Juan responds kindly, using the opportunity to expand their appreciation for how much God loves them. Willie shares that because of Abba’s love for them, God wants them to enjoy his gifts; gifts like hummingbirds and late summer evenings and good friends. The book ends in an endearing group embrace with laughs and belly laugh tears.

During the question and answering session one of the children talks and everyone seems surprised.  The authors don’t explain why it was unusual for this boy to speak. Did he have a handicap? Was he shy?  It adds a bit of mystery to the narrative, but I found it a tad distracting and wondered if I had missed something I should have picked up on.

Published in hardback with a dust jacket, this book is written at a preschool level, but children much older will delight in the warmth of the characters and will find a sense of belonging as they realize the message of being smack-dab in the middle of God’s love.

I received this book free of charge from the program in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Oh, Joy!

It's one of those seasons when Joy doesn't come easy.  At least the feeling of deep contentment and "all's right with the world" isn't my default mode right now.  I know it's only a temporary state and there aren't any big reasons why I'm seeming a little Eyorish. So what do you do while you wait for the Joy to return?

I speak to my insides some Davidese like Psalm 42: 5. (msg)
"Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
  Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God--
  soon I'll be praising again."

I'll cry a prayer for wisdom and understanding
surrendering any areas that worry has eroded
and admitting my need for help


I listen to those songs that keep coming to mind,
deposits in my psyche from listening to the radio
or Sunday worship last week
or from hymns stored in my long time memory,
my waking-up-mind hearing the musical words,
like a heavenly jukebox dropping the perfect song
just for  me.


I remind myself that God has restored my soul before,
and he will again.


I deliberately choose to think on good things,
I build a list in my mind of things to be thankful for,
and wear a smile anyway, not to deny my cheerlessness,
but to cast hope into grace pools, and defiantly reel the empty line in,
confident one of the next casts will pull up the Joy.
Like this quote another blogger posted last week.
"Joy in this world," says John Ortburg, "is almost always a joy
in spite of something.  It's a defiant joy." 

So I borrow comfort from others and expect much from the Joy-Giver.
And I trust again, today.  And quietly wait, again. And say, "I love you,
anyway, Lord."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Random Encouragement

Sometimes it's refreshing to read familiar verses of Scripture in a different translation or paraphrase. Here's where I was meditating one day this week.
Eph. 3:14-20:  (Msg)
...I ask him[the Father] to strengthen you by his Spirit-not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength-that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love.  Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you know--far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!  He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

I've prayed some wild requests and thought, God can do even more than this, more than I'm capable of thinking right now. He never lets us down and he isn't limited to what we ask him for.  I'm so glad.

Another day this week I listened to a radio podcast on The Smart Stepdad.  If you've searched for good material or support for stepparenting, Ron Deal has some practical and encouraging advice.  I'll let you listen for yourself:     Scroll down to Thurs. Aug. 11 on the web page.  (If you check this out at some later time, you may have to find this date in the program's archives)      My husband and I have combined two families and have gleaned from Ron's expertise.  Our kids are gone from the house, but we are still learning how relationships work in this setting. We put together a curriculum from Ron's materials for a small group study.  Ron's organization now has a DVD and study series available, also.  For any local people, we are open to going through the study with anyone who would like to learn more about building a successful step family. God's grace is awesome and his gifts are given generously!

Generously!  Consider just a few ways of how our Father gives:
The Magi brought gifts to Baby Jesus that if sold, probably sustained Mary and Joseph during the ensuing years of their flight to Eygpt.

Water turned to wine was a generous wedding gift, considering the miracle happened near the end of the celebration.  Perhaps the leftover wine was sold and the money used for the young couple's start-up costs.

Not only were 5,000 some people fed with a few loaves of bread and fishes, but there was more food than they all could eat.  I'll bet the overage went for some further need the Father wanted to provide for.

When taxes needed to be paid, Jesus took a withdrawl from one of his vaults-- the mouth of a fish! Mt. 17:27

He imparted healings whether asked for with loud cries or just a timid touch to his garment. He offered living water to one who others would have labeled less than worthy. 

Be encouraged! We have a God who gives beyond what we can ask or think. Watch for his generosity to you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wisdom for a Creative Mind

Recently, I received a revelation about pursuing new projects or plans I want to do.  My mind thinks very creatively, and I love to dream about how I could do this, or remake that, or repurpose something. Some of the schemes come to be, others are discarded, and some are tried with frustration being the result.  What if I prayed that God would lead me to pursue the ideas that He wanted me to accomplish and just let go of the others? And to do this early on in the thinking process, before I had wasted sleep time or money to gather the equipment to do the project?
I believe He will show me, and I will be more effective in what I put my hand to.

Post Trip Thoughts

After traveling 1400 miles with good friends last weekend, my husband and I can say the friendship remains intact and we now share some wonderful new common memories.  Like visiting Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  Not visiting the Liberty Bell, at least not indoors with our appropriate awe of the historic artifact.  (A brief study of the Bell through a window seemed better than standing in hot humidity, in the midday sun, behind a line that snaked to an unseen door). Like spotting a motorcyclist in a dress (yes, a female) with flimsy flipflops, but wearing a helmet. Like watching a fist fight in the parking lot of a hotel, a hotel that happened to be ours.

Our purpose for the trip was a wedding.  And the wedding was beautiful and God-honoring and we were happy for our mutual friends whose son was getting hitched.  But why does this generation think loud music, loud as in not being able to hold a conversation across the table, and being heard by the shoulder-touching person besides you only if you use an outside voice, is cool?  A group of us took our visiting elsewhere and discovered some of the beauty of Swarthmore College where the reception was held.

The wedding site was adjacent to my growing up stomping grounds. We were able to visit my sister who resides in the area and she and my brother-in-law taxied us further north to visit more relatives.  I am grateful for these family affairs, more so as age brings new time perspective.  Who knows which visit will be the last one with the elderly aunts and uncles?  Even though we visit infrequently, I feel that bond of belonging that only comes in family gatherings.

I wonder when it started to change for me?  Reunions used to be boring.  Most relatives had eccentricities too glaring to overlook.  And my youthful activities easily trumped spending time with kin.  But it did change and someday it will change for my kids.  I had to remember that when I later,  excitedly shared with my son how cousin Luke made us homemade french fries and Uncle Ray is still amazing as he gets around with three of his limbs gone, only to hear my 30- something son indicate that he didn't  know these people and that I had lost his attention.  Because my kids have not had much contact with this out-of-state clan, it is harder for them to feel a connection.  But may be important to know these roots...if not in story or photographs.  I can hope.

We're home again, laden with gifts from my sister and the landscapes of our hearts painted with new strokes of colorful memories.  The luggage is packed away and the laundry finished.  Thank you, Father for your protection and provision for this pleasant excursion.