Friday, December 8, 2017

Thanksgiving Praises

Our Thanksgiving With Grandkids
(Check out Noah's Dinosaur Roar-front row)

Another Thanksgiving is past. The house is again quiet and I feel the bigness. Jodi and family of five left Monday morning the same time I pulled out for work.  Josh and family of five had left the day before. The quietness greets me as I come home from work.  Touches of toddler decorations linger over the house. Two lego race car drivers, their crudely made vehicles, sitting side by side on the dining room table, look ready to speed away. An orange birthday balloon is nestling in the peace plant on the floor.  Its airhead buddies of other colors bobble in place on the carpet close by.

A mountain of sheets and towels lie in front of the washer. A menagerie of plastic cups spreads across the kitchen counter, each one marked with a name. The refrigerator holds enough leftovers that I will not need to cook this week. Where bustle had reigned, now there is stillness.

We're working on the cleanup gradually; each remnant remaining of the family visit reminding us of the new treasures we carry in our memory. It was a rich time of having fun and sharing thoughts and doing life side-by-side for a few days.

Like playing card games and starting Monopoly (who ever finishes that game?!).  Shopping on Black Friday, not seriously, but just out to experience the adrenaline of this once-a-year craziness. Eating out at our favorite places.  Celebrating Dominic's 7th birthday. Playing Scrabble with Jodi and Josh. Taking Jill, Elle and Brayden, with Jodi, out for coffee and hot pretzels. Taking walks and taking pictures with Emanuel's expertise. And counting on Kira to post it all on FaceTime and Snap Chat where I could later download the pictures I missed taking.

Like this conversation with almost three-year-old Noah:
"Yes, Noah?"
"I love you."
"I love you, too, Noah.

Like Ian 9, playing games with the adults and doing well. Like Nana picking up fashion tips from the teen grand kids.

Thanksgiving Day was perfect.  The meal went smoothly thanks to preparing most of the dishes ahead of time, roasting the turkey the week before and heating everything up in the oven just before we sat down to eat.  Daughter-in-law, Kristina, brought mashed potatoes, Jodi helped bake the pies the day before and Papa worked hard to create a spacious place in the garage where all nineteen of us could eat at the same table and file through a yummy food buffet lined up on his work tables. What a moment of pride and emotion as I paused before eating to read aloud Psalms 100 and Kevin, to offer thanks to our good Father, for family and provision.  Kevin's parents represented the oldest generation among us and were a reminder of the legacy others from previous generations have entrusted to us. May we diligently continue to pass along the reality and truth of the God who woos each of us to his love and intimacy and makes it possible to live forgiven and whole because of the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ.  Indeed Thanksgiving day is everyday! (Thankfully, only a few of them involve cooking for a crowd :)  The rest of the holiday provided time for Dan, Kristina, Aubrey, Shawn and Rebecca to join the families staying in-house and get in on some games, visiting and playing with cousins.

Thank you to the families who traveled long distances to be here. "We missed you"s to the families who couldn't come.  And thank you to everyone for being our wonderful, beautiful family.  You are loved!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hello Fresh Reviewed and Tips I've Learned

-Gardening tip
I had a bumper crop of garden this year.  The weather gave rain when needed and the grass stayed green well into the hot of summer. The green beans kept producing; I had more than I needed to freeze and a larger 4th picking than 1st picking.  No insect bore into the zucchini plant's main trunk and not a single tomato leaf was lost to the big ugly green tomato worms.

The basil grew three feet tall. While the tops were going to seed, I struggled to remember to snip off leaves for cooking.  I'd be in a hurry and not want to take the time to go out to the bed and get some, or it never entered my mind to add it to the dish I was making. One day I brought in more basil from the garden then I needed and decided to stick the extra stem in a shallow bowl of water by the stove.  VoilĂ !  No turning black or looking wilty.  I used it in my eggs in the morning.  It worked well in the fried zucchini, on top of the store bought pizza and in more creative places than I had thought to put it before.

-Fashion Tip
Always on the look out for ways to save money or be thrifty, I now buy my own nail polish and take it to the salon when I get a pedicure.  They use my bottle and  I can take it back home and do touch-up jobs to keep my toes looking good longer.

-Cooking in Vogue
How fun!  A friend gave me a free offer to Hello Fresh.  Their ads had beckoned me to try their convenience and imitate their lovely photos of food fare. I had never succumbed to the temptation, but now I had the opportunity to check out this spoil-me way of dining.

The big brown box was sitting on the porch the day it was scheduled to come.  Not knowing exactly what time of day it arrived, I wondered how well the meat survived a warmer than usual day in October. I eagerly slashed the packaging tape, opened the box and found two plastic wrapped large sheets of flexible insulation surrounding the inside contents.  My meal plan promised enough food for 3 meals for 2 people. Each meal's ingredients were in a separate bag, except for the meat.  Under the 3 meal bags was a flat cookie sheet size freezer ice pack. Under the ice pack was 3 packages of meat, exactly portioned for the recipe it went with. Under the meat, was a matching ice pack, followed by the bottom sheet of insulation.

Here's my review on the experience.

Thumbs Up to the freshness of the food, the ease of having each recipe's ingredients parceled out in the exact amounts and ready to use, the clear and easy to follow recipe instructions and how tasty everything was. It was fun to try-at least once.
Thumbs Down to the large carbon footprint this service leaves. If I allowed shipments to come weekly, which is the default frequency, I'd soon have enough insulation layers to make a mattress! And I wonder how many landfills are in overload with unfrozen ice packs rippling like white giant amebas.  My sandwich recipe ingredients included a cute little glass jar of just enough mayo to coat two buns.  And the lettuce greens came with an even cuter tiny glass jar of balsamic vinegar.  Let's count the ways I can clog the landfill. Any wonder the price is high for this convenience? Probably half of the cost is in the packaging.

Anyone else want to weigh in on a food service like this?  Does anyone use one on a weekly basis?
I'd love to get your feedback.

Good Night Tales-a review

The artwork in Good Night Tales is my favorite part of this book. The colors are bold with dark edges and the  characters are delightful. Something about the artist's style whispers mystery and playfulness. Very child-catching. (C.S. Fritz writes and illustrates this work)

Each of the 12 tales is a parable of a Bible story or reference.  I wasn't persuaded all of them readily identified the story they were meant to portray, but the discussion questions in the back of the book, make the parallels very clear and bring the stories into more focus. A few of them have no text, only pictures.

 My favorite tale is the "The Song of the Cricket".  Merton Sourwood was a good fiddle player... until Cricket came to town and outplayed him with his tiny fiddle. Jealous Merton destroys the little fiddle, only to find his playing gets worse and he does not receive the popularity he wanted.  Cricket surprises Merton by accompanying him with beautiful music Cricket plays by using his own two legs. Merton is humbled by Cricket's forgiveness and from then on they play music together.  Any guesses what passage this portrays?  It's an illustration of Phil. 2:3- Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.

While the book is beautifully done, it's full value will only be appreciated if parents or other adults will follow through with sharing the values of the Biblical perspective. This narrows the appeal of this book to Christian homes/settings that prize God's word, are constantly familiar with it and seek to apply it to all of life.

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


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Kingdom Disciples-a book review

Knowing about some of Tony Evans' public presence, I wasn't sure what to expect from this book.  Would his message be political in nature or written from a pastor's heart to the church?  The answer is both, although it's first a plea to Christians to become Godly disciples, and then, out of that commitment, he calls churches to become involved in community action, effecting God's kingdom here on this earth.

The text is divided into three parts.  Part one explains our call as Christians to become true disciples of Christ. Too many serve Christ as long as he doesn't start messing with their comfort. This section of four chapters lays a great foundation for the rest of the book, but it seemed long and sometimes redundant.  I kept waiting for specifics on how this growth comes about and what the process might look like.  Tony writes very passionately.  What sometimes felt judgmental or condemning, I attributed to the urgency in his message.

Part two began to satisfy my questions of "how".  True disciples pursue intimacy with Christ.  The power to live victoriously comes through that relationship. This involves abiding, soaking in God's Word, depending on the Holy Spirit, and identifying with Christ even through suffering. It's consistent growth in living with the mind of Christ. True followers dig deeper into spiritual things on their own and work hard at spiritual exercise. "Spiritual maturity demands spiritual responsibility." There is heavenly incentive for any sacrifices Christ followers make.  Because rewards may not be immediate many aren't willing to pay the cost of kingdom living.

Part three speaks to:
-the individual; the Kingdom disciple has learned to rest, trusting that God will do the work in him
-the family; established to be God's framework in society to carry out his plan in history
-the church; "God's officially designated university of discipleship" to bring believers to spiritual maturity
-the community- "In national times of racial crisis, the church should have a greater collective voice in addressing responses to the chaos.  Protests take place and anger is often displaced, and yet we need more than a protest, we need a plan." Tony believes a national plan of restoration involves a community-wide solemn assembly, unified community impact, and a shared public voice. Personal agendas need to be set aside.  Real impact requires unity in the Body of Christ.

The last chapter on community includes some examples from the community outreach strategy the author has created in his church.  Appendix B in the back of the book offers more resources about Tony's ministry called "The Urban Alternative".

The message of the book is confronting and challenging.  As an individual I can focus on my commitment to discipleship and pray for a willing and eager heart to continue to pursue spiritual maturity. I can influence my family to be Kingdom centered rather than focused on self satisfaction.   I think it will take pastors and church leaders to implement the strategies for community involvement. It might not be Tony's model, but some kind of unified goodness into communities to benefit the broader society is needed. We are called to go, to share the good news. Thank you, Tony for being a voice urging us to be about the Father's business.  What could be a greater calling?

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

Things I've Learned This Month

July 2017

-How a natural and simple gift of generosity operates
Volunteering to help in our church's Vacation Bible School is like stepping back into a memory of flannel graph board stories, games where I could show off my tom-boyishness, missionary tales and popsicles on Friday.  Adults, who I now know gave days of preparation in God's Word, were creatively tucking Bible stories into my senses.  By assisting my friend this year with craft activities for the preschoolers, I could pay the goodness forward.

The kids were cooperative some days and others not so much. One intense creator never quite finished her project and we pulled crayons from her hand more than once as she barely caught the end of her class line filing out the door. Whether it was an upside down sticker or a picture with a black out of scribbling, the kids seemed to have fun participating.  Overseeing children's activities wasn't new to me.

What I didn't expect was the way my friend, Julie, shared generosity. Not only had she given time to separate the pack of VBS materials into daily useful chunks, she had built gift-giving into her plans. Each day there was a fresh bouquet from her well-tended flower garden sitting on the work table, spreading beauty and sweet scents into our room. Each one was marked to go home with a certain staff member she had chosen to bless that day-the director, the pastor's wife, me, our  preteen helper...  One day, Julie called in the pastor to present him with the kid-crafted flower bouquet we had just made.  I heard about the slices of blackberry pie she had baked and left on the pastors' desks during that week.  Thank you, Julie, for showing me what it looks like to think of others in the midst of a busy week for you.

-That Hydrogen Peroxide can exorcise the demons of  carpet coffee stains

My son and family recently visited.  In the bustle of getting breakfast served, I accidentally shoved a cup of coffee off the counter and onto the dining room carpet. My heart sank as I envisioned yet another coffee stain I would have to hide somehow.   My daughter-in-law quickly began soaking up the mess. We needed to leave soon after that, so I figured I'd try some lame method I'd used before to make it better later.  My son was rattling off some formula that he had found successful for coffee stains in carpet.  I asked him to write it down so my befuddle brain of the moment could process it later.

His Instructions:
1. Spray peroxide on the stain (bought it in the drug story for less than a dollar)
2.Wet a towel
3. Lay a damp town on stain
4. Put a hot iron on top of the towel; let it sit there for 15-20 sec. (you will see a light cloth get yellowish brown and you will smell coffee!)
5. Repeat as necessary.

IT WORKS! After the fresh stain was steamed out, I proceeded to attack living room, basement and bedroom coffee stains; some that had been there for years. Here are before and after pictures to verify our method. It took maybe 9 applications for this stain, but definitely worth the effort.

-An Enchilada Funnel Cake is Not Worth Trying

The 4H Fair took place last week, just across the road from us. As usual, my husband and I visited the Fair Wednesday evening to reenact our first date. Though things have changed over the years there are always two activities we have managed to duplicate every year. 
A Ferris Wheel Ride

Pie and Coffee at the Pie Booth (our sober looks are only because it takes great concentration for us to capture a selfie)!!  Lol.

Based on a newspaper article about food at the Fair, I wanted to try the Enchilada Funnel Cake. If you like  funnel cake loaded with gobs of plastic cheese and a smidgen of sauce with a few particles of the chorizo it was advertised to have, it might have brought you pleasure.  We were disappointed; at least we had bought just one to split.

-That Overgrown Mint sprouts a fuzzy, lavender, caterpillary shaped flower at the top of its stem and makes a wonderful filler in a bouquet, plus smells good too

-That my grandaughters have turned into beautiful teens and are smart and fun

We visited Josh and family over the 4th and had lots of fun playing cards and hanging out.  Josh treated us to his famous grilled ribs and smoked pork.  Elle baked with me and we played tennis together.  Jill had her first job interview while we were there and a first date. She introduced the chap to all of us when he came to the door to pick her up.  Our spying eyes watched to see if he'd open the truck door for her; he did.  Later when I asked her how the time went she said she warned him that we'd all be watching so he'd better open the door for her. Smart girl! :)  He continued the courtesy through the rest of the evening so we think his chivalry was genuine.

-That Grand Rapids, our first stay in an airbnb, and a tour of Our Daily Bread Ministies was a great way to spend an anniversary celebration

Our anniversary number 21! The overnight stay in Grand Rapids was pleasant.  Though the house was older our room was clean and inviting and the host made us feel at home.  We found a breakfast cafe and ice cream stand within walking distance and a park where we sat and read for a couple of hours. Our Daily Bread has an interesting history, begun in 1931, and mails the little devotional booklets all over the world. They operate on a $40,000,000 yearly budget all by donations.  It is heart warming to see how God has blessed them and continues to use them.

Hello August! What lessons do you have in store for me?

Monday, July 17, 2017

We Miss You, Paisley Noelle

...but words can never hurt you. Not true!

"They. Can't. Find. The. Baby's. Heartbeat."

These six words pummeled my brain, my gut, like rapidly fired bullets. My knees felt weak and uninvited emotions were spreading through my chest like flames of fire as my daughter's distress spoke from the cell phone I held to my ear.

What?! It can't be! You are only 11 days away from your due date and you've been nothing but a picture of health. Thirty-seven weeks you've been interacting with this little body and longing to see and hold the awesome delight of baby number four. You and hubby enjoyed the baby's movements just last night, you tell me. No God! 

"Are they sure there is no life?"

My daughter's voice is tearful, but resolute. "I will be induced and deliver the baby this afternoon." I long to go to her, to be another face and hand of support, but the miles between us make it impossible  I leave work, not able to concentrate.  Phone calls are made to family and friends, repeating the stinging words and asking for prayer. A friend comes over to sit with me.

I wait.  I hear nothing.  At bedtime I text for an update.  Six centimeters. I pray again for a miracle. That somehow they are wrong and a healthy, alive baby will be born.  I go to bed knowing sleep won't be restful and making sure the cell phone is close by with sound turned up. The call comes in at 12:30 am.  My daughter is holding the baby. A girl! There are three brothers in the family, and we so wanted this one to be a girl. My daughter tells me what the newborn looks like and grief is put on hold while she takes pride in what her body has created.  There is relief in her voice, too, to now know what happened. A tight knot in the umbilical cord, close to the placenta. There was nothing this mama did to cause or could have done to prevent this tragedy.  They text a picture.  The baby is beautiful! Her name is Paisley Noelle.

The sorrow is too intense. My daughter is holding our granddaughter who will never take a breath of this earth's air, whose soul never made it into this world. My heart is broken for her, for us; I cry. It's almost impossible to finish the night in bed. I wake Kevin.  We cry together.

Morning comes.  I move in a fog of grief and shock. Phone calls, tears, and a two hour wait on the phone with Delta to change flight plans. Each time the details are retold, I withstand the listener's shock and sympathy. At the end of the day I am drained, exhausted.

In two days we are scheduled to go to them, the family who bear the loss.  I pack, go into work for a half day to prepare for my absence. The sweetness of friends who care shows up in bouquets at the door, in texts with soothing words and even in presence to touch me, pray with me.

I'm in touch with the brave ones in Florida who are trying to do normal, while the world is upside down. I am assured they will be ok, as my daughter describes the mobilization of support their life group from church is quickly putting into place. Someone opens up "Take Them A Meal" online and soon suppers are scheduled to be dropped off every day for the next two weeks. Emmanuel's family are first responders, staying with the grand kids overnight, dropping off the first food, giving hugs and holding hands. Jodi describes the flowers that keep appearing at the front door and who they are from.

I want to be there, but our plans are delayed another day when the airline cancels our flights. I call Delta once again.  Hours later we are booked for a flight the next morning. Another delay is announced after we arrive at the airport.  The desk attendant quickly gets us rerouted and we scurry into a line already boarding, hoping the connections will get us to our final destination.  When we finally touchdown in FL, we are still 90 minutes away from the family we long to be with. Uber finishes the last leg of the trip, delivering us into the driveway of Jodi and her family.

We have come to offer help and comfort.  Words are inadequate; we say little, but feel strength in being together.

The first week is busy with household tasks and driving boys to and from school. Keeping the kitchen counter by the sink uncluttered is like wiping out a peephole in a foggy bathroom mirror while someone is showering. Whether getting Noah , the two year old, diapered and dressed, or folding laundry, the work is constant. As any postpartum mama, Jodi is needing to lay low, even though her arms hold no baby.

Wednesday night is chosen for Paisley's memorial service. Family and close friends arrive with food and settle into the living room. There is friendly banter until Emmanuel and Jodi stand up. Emmanuel reads the thoughts he has written. We watch through teary eyes and feel the sadness of the tender words in our bellies. He ponders whether Paisley would have been a Daddy's girl and been spoiled by her brothers.  He expresses his thanks to the  Loving Creator who allowed them to be her parents for 37 weeks and declares that even though we don't know why this happened, God is in control.  "I appreciate a Loving Savior who provides us comfort when we need it most." We carry Chinese lanterns to the backyard and watch the ascending lights that symbolize our love and goodbyes to this little one who we will someday get to know and enjoy.

Back in the house we eat and visit, temporarily soothing the ache inside. Just before the group disperses we surround Paisley's family and pray for them to have strength, comfort and peace. We acknowledge that our God is still good and we will keep trusting in His love to make all things work out for our good.

Two days later, Good Friday, Kevin leaves for Indiana.  I will miss his support.

At church service Easter Eve, we soak in the hugs and love of friends who care. Songs focused on Christ's death and resurrection and victory over the grave have fresh new meaning. I cry the words from a heart touched by the Savior's presence, the One who has made our hope for eternal life possible. Paisley's closeness is magnified here in this setting.

Days pass quickly as Jodi and I do some outings together. She takes me to the beach because she knows I enjoy the chance to be there. In the resale shop I hear an infant cry and wonder how our schedule would be different if Paisley was with us. At the restaurant there are infant twins in the booth beside us.  Our eyes turn away; we can't watch them today.

Jodi is pensive and restless; she misses the object of her planning and preparation for the last eight months. Her body is prepared for a suckling infant. She needs the rest and precautions of a postpartum mother.  But there are no sweet rewards of newborn snuggles, smells and sounds.

Into that emptiness, now nine days after Paisley's birth, slides the news that her cousin Wesley is born in Ohio. We rejoice in our sorrow and Jodi longs to hold this new family member.  To feel the form of new life in her arms would be comforting.  As the day wears on the reality of loss increases and I know my daughter is hurting.  She is able to share tender texts with her brother, the Daddy of the new baby.  He is sensitive and sympathetic.  Why God?! This seems so unfair! 

Paisley's brothers demand our attention.  I find distraction in playing hide-n-seek with Noah, concocting science experiments with Dominic and throwing Frisbee with Ian.  While the younger two can't fully comprehend the loss, Ian who is  8 feels our pain.  He understands more and we remember to include him in some of our processing of the grief.

Emmanuel does the brave work of making a video to let social media friends know what has happened. He offers it as a tribute to Paisley and to his "loving Savior". He posted it on Facebook with a warning that the viewer will cry. You may see it here. (Emmanuel's video)

My departure is near.  I have a husband who longs for my return and friends who love me in Indiana.  But it is hard to leave. I cry hard when the family drops me off at the airport.  I hug Jodi and whisper, "I don't know why this had to happen to you." Later we text about this moment.

Jodi: It's almost like it had to happen, for some reason I'll never understand.  All of this doesn't make any sense but again I have to trust in Jesus.  Because I've heard it said so many times and am believing it with all my heart that all things work together for good to those that love the Lord.  And that his ways and his thoughts are higher than mine.  And that he is a good, good Father.  He has the best for me.  He is our hope.

Me: Amen.  I am encouraged because I know Jesus is always faithful and that your faith and hope rests on him.  It was just so sad for me to leave you Sunday.  I cried for your loss, for our loss and the reality of not being able to be close by to help you.  Even though I believe that God is good and has some kind of purpose in all this, I still ask him why and feel grief for what you are experiencing.  When people ask how you are doing I say, "It's tough and sad, but she is surrounded with good support and her faith is strong."  We'll all just cling to Jesus together and be amazed at his love for us through it all...God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in time of trouble. Always there always available for each moment.  Like you said, the little things mean a lot.  God's gifts of love in the sadness.

Two months have passed.  Jodi is busy being mom to two out-of-school-for-the-summer boys and one busy two year old.  She is enjoying new friendships that have developed through this tragedy.  She and Emmanuel were included in a video their church produced about weathering hard times.

Though life for all of us continues in its normal rhythms, there is a silent member of our family whose footsteps still tiptoe through our hearts. We will never hear her voice or receive her hugs.  We'll celebrate her birthdays, wonder what would have been her favorite things, and imagine the color of her eyes.  We'll think about her when the class of 2034 graduates and wonder who she might have met and married.  Our hearts will flutter when Sorrow whispers her memory and each time we'll feel heaven tugging us closer. Yet, we will always rejoice in knowing she is indescribably happy and making heaven fuller with her presence.

One of Jodi's friends sent her a text soon after Paisley's short, silent debut into this world.  It beautifully expressed comfort to Jodi and continues to breathe hope and encouragement as a word from God's heart to ours.  I share it with you.

 "Oh, I bet she was beautiful!  I was telling someone about it [Paisley's death] to pray for you because you lost your baby; but I didn't like saying lost...because she's not lost.  She's right where God wants her, which seems unfair to you because of all the joys of having a daughter you'll miss, I had thought.  Then as I was crying for you, God seemed to tell me, she will have an eternity of all the joys and more to be mother and daughter and they will be perfect!  No messing up, no missing the moment or saying the wrong thing, no failure or dashed perfectness she will have her daughter. She just had a glimpse of things to come and must just wait to take part in this gift for longer than she had hoped.  Hope deferred makes the heart sick the Bible says, but when desire comes it is a tree of life!  Your precious Paisley has been born to you!  All the joys you must wait for are going to still be had, just later than we thought.  The verse that says we are born for such a time as this..she was born in the season where we celebrate the gift of eternity and new life with our Father by his sacrifice. She's already tasted of this gift! She is safe! And with all the hard work and sacrifice you had in bearing her all these months was not in vain or lost, her soul is forever and you've accomplished a beautiful thing to bring such a precious little one into eternity! I will love to meet her someday!  You did a beautiful job, Jodi. Your heart will always hurt but that will end someday as you hold her in your arms again!"

We will all love to meet you someday, Paisley Noelle!

Thank you Father, for life here and for greater life beyond this one because of Jesus' death and resurrection. We worship you. Help us in the times of sorrow to reach out for your ever present help.
Your ways are higher than ours, and we will forever trust and love you.

Though I can't see Your holy face
And Your throne in heaven above
It seems so far away
Though I can't touch your nail scarred hands
I have a deep and unspeakable joy
That makes my faith to stand
Lord, I believe in You
I'll always believe in You
Though I can't see you with my eyes
Deep in my heart
Your presence I find
Lord, I believe in You
And I'll keep my trust in You
Let the whole world say what they may
No one can take this joy away
Lord, I believe.

-Lord I Believe in You, Crystal Lewis

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.