Reading Challenge 2014 – March

Forgive the lateness of this blog post. I’ve been dealing with sick kids, a crazy business project, and my own foray in to emergency surgery when my appendix decided to call it quits. Apparently, working for me wasn’t rewarding enough, so it packed a bag and fled the scene. Fortunately BEFORE leaving behind any damaging remnants…

In the meantime, I DID read an amazing book in March in spite of my many trials. I’m discovering that reading three books a month (like I’d originally planned) is reaching a bit high on the goal meter. Apologies for promises not kept in that regard, but apparently mommyhood means I actually DON’T get all the time in the world to read any more. Who’d a thunk it?

On to my review…

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I’ve read many retellings of the classic Bible stories, but very few that caught my eye like this one. For one thing, it doesn’t actually retell a well-known story. Redeeming Love tells the story of a little known prophet named Hosea and his relationship with the prostitute turned wife who added gray hair to his head and ultimately left little in the way of a happy ending for the man of God. At least, no happy ending was told, though it might have been implied depending on how one reads the book of Hosea.

To give some background. Hosea was a prophet living in the time when Israel had fallen far from God and God had finally had enough. He sent his prophets and judges to administer truth and justice to his people, while foreign kingdoms ravaged both the land and His wayward Chosen. Hosea was given a task. A job that would ultimately show the Israelite nation exactly what God meant when he called them unfaithful.

Hosea was to marry a woman KNOWN for her casual, paid sexual encounters with multiple partners. Some called her whore, prostitute, loose woman. No matter what they called her, she was a prisoner in the life she lived and it only led her down a deadly path. So Hosea in a very real sense, saved her and destroyed her chains when he bought and married her. He gave her respectability, a home, a name for her children (even the ones that weren’t his), and the love of a strong man of God.

Here’s the kicker. Gomer could not seem to accept the fact that her chains were gone. She went back, again and again, to the life of prostitution. Her illegitimate children were still claimed by Hosea, but she stomped on his heart time and again every time she returned to the men who used and abused her. She was beaten and raped and violated and she still chose to run away from the only man who showed her what true love and forgiveness looked like.

I remember reading this story as a young girl and wondering how a man like Hosea could continually pursue such an unworthy woman. Who cares what God asked of him. No man should have to suffer with the humiliation and degradation of an unfaithful, ungrateful spouse.

What I didn’t ask until much later was this: How far gone was Gomer, that it took SO MANY rescues for her to finally get that she was no longer a prisoner? How many years of suffering and poor choices and degradation did she experience to make her cling so tightly to the chains that once bound her, because she was so very afraid of the freedom she’d been offered?

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers is set in the 1840′s gold rush in California. Michael Hosea is a god-fearing farmer, unafraid of hard work and with an unfailing love for his Savior. On one of his trips into town, he meets a beautiful, haunted prostitute and hears clearly God’s command to marry her. Of course, what sane man would willingly choose that life, regardless of how beautiful the woman is? In a time where the brothel women were sex slaves to powerful men and women (actually, the sex slave trade doesn’t seem much different even now), Michael knew the cost of freeing Angel went far deeper than just offering her his home and bed. In the end, after much prayer and wrestling, he gave in to God’s will, saving his reluctant bride just in the nick of time.

The problems only began when he brought her home and tried to care for her needs, while refusing to be just another Tom, Dick, or Harry to the wounded woman. In the meantime, Angel’s bitter past leaves jagged scars that refuse to let her go. Though Michael tries hard to understand and help her heal, she repeatedly runs from his love and tenderness. How can someone who’s known only abuse and hatred her whole life, understand what love and forgiveness looks like? How can one who’s only seen demons ever comprehend what God looks like, even represented by such an amazing man like Michael.

In the end, Michael must release her from her god-worship of him so Angel can finally see that he was only a representative of the One who could and would heal all of her wounds and love her unconditionally–in spite of her unfaithfulness.

In the end, two wounded souls discover a healing that goes both ways, and a promise of forever from a faithful God who knows our true names and understands exactly why He chose to covenant Himself with our broken spirits.

Readers Challenge 2014

Readers Challenge 2014 ~ Book One

This February has passed me by and I’m reeling. Still wondering where it went.

Oh yeah, I remember.

So my six week old son decided to scare the pants off me and spend a week in the hospital with RSV. He was on oxygen for a short time, but otherwise responded very well to symptom treatment like suctioning and cluster feeding.

Now you know why I did not get out the promised book review last weekend. I have since written up all three and will be posting them on a pre-set schedule this week. And pray that March does not hold too many crazy life happenings.

I need a vacation from winter too…

Anyway, here is my review for one of my favorite books of all time. I found it during my college years (too long past) and have re-read it over and over again for the simple truths and divine comfort it inspires.

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The author is Philip Yancey and Disappointment with God was not the first book of his I’ve read. But it was definitely dropped in my lap at a time when my faith was feeling smaller than a mustard seed and my questions about God seemed completely unanswerable.

Disappointment with God not only restored my faith in God, it also made Job my favorite book of the Bible.

Yancey tackles three of life’s most perplexing questions. Is God fair? Is God Silent? Is God hidden?

The interesting thing about the author’s take on these questions, is that he concludes God not only Loves us desperately and completely, but His agenda is far greater and more fulfilling an answer to these questions than our own expectations of Him.

Yancey does not negate pain and suffering, nor does he pack God into a box built by the human experience. He counters the questions with the concept that God is so much bigger than we can ever humanly imagine, yet He’s made His place amongst us as deeply personal and highly spiritual. His interactions with the human race have ramifications in the spiritual world as we are a big part in a cosmic battle between good and evil. That God chooses to honor us with this role (really, who would have thought we’d be judging angels someday?) is inspiring and a bit intimidating.

It was our choice to put distance between ourselves and God. It is His ongoing choice to continue bridging that gap. The problem we face is the consequences of our choice to turn away from Him. We still have to suffer with those consequences and we also need to realize that sin affects more than just our own spirit’s connection to His. It also caused destruction and decay in the universe God created. We cannot blame God for the choices WE  made (and make).

The author also speculates that the reason God often appears silent or distant is because of something called a Divine Shyness. He could prove His power and authority in one fell swoop if He wanted to, but He chooses to allow the world to continue as it does. Suffering and death and destruction do not end with one blast of His breath. Another word for this is Divine Restraint.

God’s story is all about Love, not Power. He does not grasp for our fealty with displays of a mighty hand or vengeance. He does not force our hand–instead, He works in the midst of compassion and charity and grace. He demonstrates His desire to bridge the gap by the ultimate sacrifice–death on the cross. He chooses to restrain Himself in order to reach us through love, not force. He does not want automatons serving Him. He wants us to come to Him freely of our own accord.

Even the miracles Jesus performed did nothing in the end to convince those who would not be convinced of His divinity and authority. He met needs with no expectations and gained devoted, free followers by showing them what it means to be a servant leader.

Disappointment with God speculates that we are asking the wrong question. Why is not the right question. Instead, we should be asking, To what end?

God holds back because He has chosen to use the human race to restore and reclaim the Universe for Him. He takes the slow path, knowing that our expressions of faith in Him reverberate throughout history and throughout the entire universe. So while we balk at the suffering and the pain and destruction, God is busy waiting on His creation to prove that we believe, even when it seems there is no reason for that belief.

In which I enter a Readers Challenge for 2014…

I cannot resist it…the call to read is far too loud and enticing for me to ignore. It always has been. Even when I was ten years old and avoiding my homework by hiding under the covers with a good book…or three. Even on my third anniversary when my dear husband willingly gave up his time to spend it with me in a line at Barnes and Noble as I waited for the last Harry Potter book. Even later that night, when instead of enjoying a romantic evening with me, he allowed me to read the entire thing in four hours while he slept.

I will give up a good many things for time with a good book. I consider myself a social introvert since I LOVE spending time with friends and family, but I am only truly refreshed after a few hours with one of my favorite tomes. My dream in life is to not only be an author, but have an entire library in my house covered in floor to ceiling bookshelves.

I am a simple person with simple dreams…

So when one of my fellow contributors on OneFunMom.com chose to host a readers challenge for the year 2014, I jumped at the chance.

I will be blogging and reviewing the books I read each month and as a bonus, will add my own list of favorites to the reviews on top of the one required book. I’m hoping to review three books a month. Be on the lookout for the first one this weekend. :)

If you wish to join in the fun, use the link above or click on the image below this post to get your name added to the challenge and to link your reviews!

I look forward to seeing your choices and adding my own! :)

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In which the winter lingers…

This winter has been the sunniest winter I recall in many years…

The excessive sun is the only redeeming quality of a season I can usually appreciate.

It’s too cold. So I find myself cloistered in a home with three children, unable to bring them out for exercise and fresh air and to save my sanity.

I mean, let’s be real. There are only so many dance parties, board games, coloring pages, and books you can use to entertain the littles before that age old adage, “I’m bored. There’s NOTHING to do.” comes back to haunt every mom’s wakeful hours.

Sometimes, I curse the sun because it shines so brilliantly, mocking me with its warm rays as the temperatures continue to drag on into arctic levels day in and day out. If it was dark and dreary, I might be less depressed at the extreme cold.

The sun is just taunting me.

Mental note: Do not give birth to babies in the dead of the coldest winter we’ve seen in many long years. Especially if said baby has two siblings in desperate need of energy burning activities as much as mommy needs full pots of steaming, CAFFEINATED coffee to compensate for her lack.

In which I ponder the Advent…

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I love this season, with all its wonder and magic. There’s a hush that falls over me as I drink in the presence of Christ and pause from the rush of every day life. I love the stillness of a winter night, when the Christmas tree glows with a soft light, and my heart calms in anticipation of the coming Savior.

This year is no exception to the above statement. There are moments of not-calm, when I forget the peace that passes all understanding and scramble for purchase in a sea of stressful circumstances. My pregnancy added hormones and ponderousness to my daily activities, which allowed for some meltdowns and craziness. I have two children who do not yet know the meaning of quiet rest. The only time they are ever still is when their bodies force them into slumber at night. It’s one of the most precious times in my day, though I do enjoy their laughter and energy. I wish I could join in their revelry, but this season of life is about conserving my energy for a big, momentous event. So they must frolic and play without their mother for a short while.

All in all, I enjoyed my Christmas. It was restful and my heart was at peace. We listened to our Advent (Adventures in Odyssey) episode, ate good food, and enjoyed time together as a family. We experienced the Nativity Story, which brought about interesting conversation with my daughter. Apparently, after watching two women (Elizabeth and Mary) deliver their newborn children, my daughter would like to be a daddy instead. She is convinced the pain of childbirth is not worth it, though I explained to her the reasons why she cannot be a daddy. She’s young and this will pass, I’m sure. I told her the pain was worth having three of my own children and being a mommy is still one of the best things in the world.

She’s still skeptical, and I don’t blame her.

Advent: Coming…

My own child is coming soon. Every day, I experience more and more signals that tell me my body and the baby are preparing for the event. It does not move fast enough for me as the discomfort grows with each passing day. However, I know that part of this season of my life is about waiting. Patience and trust in a God who created the little being growing in my womb. He alone knows the hour of this child’s coming, and it will be at the appointed time, no matter what I do to attempt to speed up the process. I can hope and pray and wish for a certain hour or a certain day.

In the end, I am limited by my own humanness…finite and unknowing. Anticipation and celebration for a journey nearly complete. Those are my choices in this season.

Advent: Waiting, hoping, coming…

In which I explain why I blog so honestly…

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I appreciate the insight and wisdom my friends and readers have given me throughout this two day stretch. It’s been wonderful and heart rending to feel your prayers and support and to know that I’m definitely not alone.

Blogging for me is a healthy way of venting my frustrations and finding the answers in my ramblings. I love that this is an outlet available to me.

It is also a way to connect with others in my community–and the larger community around me–who have been there, done that or who struggle right along with me. I love that this gives me a way of openness and honesty, even with the fear that some may not fully understand.

Sometimes my life story is brutal and vulnerable all at once. I cannot be real with people without them knowing the harder, darker parts of me. Sometimes, that includes the harder, darker parts of my family history too.

It’s funny. A lot of my fictional writing brings out those darker parts, but people don’t notice it because–let’s be honest–it’s just a story. I find however, that I cannot tell stories without parts of me seeping through on to the pages. It’s not always pretty and it’s not always laughter and rainbows.

It IS me.

I’m okay with that.

I’ve considered sometimes the impact of sharing parts of my story with others–especially when it includes my family. I try to be discreet enough so as not to tell THEIR story as if it were my own. I put pieces of their story in–told from my perspective–as part of my larger story. Again, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows for their parts of the story either.

A great example is the family in which I was raised. We aren’t the most dysfunctional family by far–things could always be worse, right? We do have our own crazy level of dysfunction however, and it shaped a large part of who I am today. I used to be ashamed of those darker parts of our story. And that was a huge part of the problem, I discovered. The more shame and secrecy, the easier it was to put on a facade for others. We were the family who smiled big and said, “We’re just fine” when we walked through our church doors.

In reality, we were isolated and alone in the mess. It bred fear and anger and a whole lot of bitter division that we could have prevented if only we’d reached out to others with vulnerability and honesty. I think that’s a problem in this culture nowadays.

We’ve gotten so accustomed to putting on a false front while inside, we’re dying for love and the freedom to be real. I’ve never been a passive person and that was probably why living lies was so grating on me. Inside I was shouting and hoping that someone would hear me.

Believe me, there are beautiful parts to my story and to my family’s story. I share those on here too because they are just as much a part of me as the dark parts. I do not mean to shame or condemn my family for a past we cannot change. I merely wish to understand my own present and learn how to become a better person in the future.

I grew up in a reactionary home. We fought loud and we fought dirty. The hardest part about it were the threats that we never knew for certain were true or not. Some of my siblings wised up and stayed out of conflict as much as possible. I was not so wise. I rose to the challenge and met my parents with harsh words and raised voice.

When I got married, the first year was rough for me and my husband in large part because he didn’t know what dirty fighting was. The first time he ever raised his voice to me, I laughed because I’d become accustomed to his calm and quiet nature. He was a peacemaker and avoided conflict whenever possible.

It was rough on me too. He was a stuffer and many of our quarrels started because of something that had bothered him for MONTHS before he finally felt brave enough to confront the conflict. Neither of our communication styles worked very well.

We spent a couple years working out those communication flaws and by the time I was pregnant with our first child, I was CONVINCED we had finally gotten closer to that happy medium we both wanted. We were working out conflict and while we didn’t always see eye to eye, we at least talked.

Then I had kids. The temper I thought I’d succeeded at controlling didn’t rear it’s ugly head until my second son was born, but it hit hard. I realized that there were points of weakness in my character that had merely been hidden by the fact that stressors were low and my husband and I had matured in OUR conflict resolution.

It’s a whole lot different when there’s a very sick baby, sleep doesn’t come easily, and another toddler needs my attention and love as well. Stress builds up and somehow, my patience levels were decimated again. It’s amazing what 24/7 care of tiny little bodies can do to a person’s psyche. My emotions were in flux again and the happy medium disappeared. I found myself falling back on old habits of reacting first, thinking later.

There have only been a couple times where I reacted at levels could induce a blog post like the one a few nights ago. My kids are usually happy, whole, well-loved, and energetic little beings and getting to that explosive point on my own personal volcano Richter scale takes quite a lot of effort–or rather, quite a lot of extenuating factors like insomnia, exhaustion, illness, etc. Those times are the times I most regret, because I know my tender little ones have been wounded by me the most in those moments.

I mentioned my father in the last post as part of my venting because those times are times where I do return to my childhood memories and feel the fear and pain again. I know exactly how my littles feel because I was there once.

I’ve “lost it” a lot more than a couple times, but never with the fear that my children and I cannot return to a healed, whole relationship again. I know–as I mentioned–that they are resilient and forgiving and thank GOD for that fact. I know that they will survive and that my repentance and apologies go a LONG way toward healing for them and for me. I know that God gives grace and mercy especially at my lowest and I also know that my children are growing up in a home where their father and I are working together to create a loving, calming, peaceful, joyous environment. We do have our dark parts.

We also have a Savior who shines light on those dark parts and shed his own blood to cover our dark parts with grace and forgiveness.

So–

Brutal honesty, yes.

Shame and fear and hidden places, no.

That’s what my musings are all about. I welcome your insights and questions just as much as I love your encouragements and prayers. I can’t always promise a pretty picture, but I can promise that woven through my story–and my family’s story–is a Grace and Peace that surpasses all understanding.

Some days will be more dark than light. Most days will be stories of hope and healing and the love of a GREAT God uncovering and exposing those dark parts to Light and redemption.

I can never be ashamed of my story because it is a story of Life and Reconciliation and Overwhelming Hope in the Lover of my soul.

In which I follow up…

Last night was a dark one–and I’m not just talking about the lack of moonlight. When Jake got home, he did his best to try and fix the pain. After realizing that wasn’t what I needed, he let me cry and prayed with me. Before he got home though, I surrendered my own selfishness and let God do some healing in me and my children.

They were nearly asleep by the time I got to them, but they let me pick them up and bring them into my room so we could cuddle. I asked for forgiveness and as much as it hurt to admit my selfishness and sin, they ended up comforting ME.

I spent a troubled night, achy and sleepless, begging God for protection over my children’s hearts and for the ability to forgive myself for the pain I caused them. I find it difficult to accept God’s forgiveness when I’m struggling to let go of my own regret and blame.

This morning, His mercies were new just as He promised. It was a good thing too, because my son woke up looking like the victim in a horror movie. His nose had bled through the night, soaking his bed and covering him from head to foot in gore. I would have taken a picture, but figured it wasn’t something I wanted to relive again, let alone have him find it someday.

Bella woke up with energy and smiles, getting herself ready for school without too much prompting from me. She asked me if we could pray that today would be a good day for all of us. I didn’t tell her that I’d been desperately praying all morning long. Instead, I hugged her and prayed some more while Luke soaked in the tub and I tried to figure out how to juggle getting her to school on time without leaving my son at home.

Thankfully, Jake answered my calls and was able to pick her up for me. So I focused on just getting her ready, washing Luke up, and feeding my own tender stomach. Through it all, God held me, giving me patience and a quiet spirit. It’s amazing–His unending grace in our times of need. He didn’t take away the struggles this morning, but He held me through them and gave me the ability to respond with calm and love.

I thought I was done weeping last night, but it seems the tears are still flowing this morning. They have more of a healing feel to them though.

So this might seem raw and too real to some. That’s okay. If I can’t be honest and real in such a public setting, then I have no business trying to relate to others on this journey. I’m not perfect, but I am loved by an All Mighty God and if nothing else comes of my musings, I want THAT to be understood.

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