Category Archives: Book Reviews

A Summer of Books! {10 books I’ve read and enjoyed in the last 2 months}

book picIt’s summer which means I’ll be reading lots and lots of books. Or, at least, more than I usually do. And I can’t WAIT.

In addition to visiting the library, I’ve already pre-ordered several books releasing this summer that I’m super excited about: All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner, All Day and a Night by Alastair Burke, Yours For Eternity by Damien Echols and Pain Don’t Hurt by Mark Miller. I also just purchased Emily Giffin’s new novel, The One & Only which I’ll be starting next week! Squeeeeeee!

Ohhh, I love books! Here are a few of the books I’ve read in the last couple of months….

Thriller/Suspense:

UnknownThis spare writing style of A.S.A. Harrison’s last book (she died shortly before it became a huge bestseller) reminded me of how Ernest Hemingway might write if he was into psychological thrillers. Although I despised every single character in the story (except for maybe the dog), I couldn’t stop reading. The twist ending is wonderfully rendered and took me by surprise–which I really enjoyed!

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Oh, I do love a good psychological thriller. This one does JUST the trick. Controlling, abusive boyfriend who goes to jail. OCD. Recovery. A new love interest. And then the attacker is freed….what will HAPPEN? This thriller isn’t as heavy or morbid as “Gone Girl,” but the plot moves along quickly between two time frames–before and after the attack–and kept my interest. A good, poolside read.

FICTION:

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This dense, complex, decades-spanning novel, The Goldfinch, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. And for good reason. At 700+ pages long, it takes awhile to get through–but it’s SO WORTH IT. The characters are unforgettable. The description of scenes and places is extraordinary. It’s one of those rare books that I WILL read twice because it’s THAT good.

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Americanah is one of those books that teaches while it entertains. My eyes were opened to the experience of a NAB (non-American-black) and her rich, insightful, humorous and painful reflections on American society. With a sharp eye, the protagonist skewers the blatant hypocrisies and systemic racism found throughout American culture. I loved every page of this book–it was uncomfortable at times, too, because it made me look at the ways I’ve unwittingly perpetuated harmful stereotypes.

SELF-HELP

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As someone who grew up in a cult, I have struggled to conduct my interpersonal relationships in a healthy way. Pia Mellody’s book, Facing Love Addiction, helped me see the unhealthy patterns of behavior I’ve carried through out my life while also providing tangible, practical advice for creating NEW behavior and repairing relationships. I so often flip-flop between clingy, needy behavior or overly intense, co-addictive behavior that it’s hard for me to live from a place of acceptance and self-love. Most of my relationship issues stem from self-loathing and this book has given me hope that I really CAN change the way I love.

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Love Idol is like the Christian version of Facing Love Addiction. Jennifer Dukes Lee provides such positive affirmation about how God sees us and how we are PRE-APPROVED before we even TRY to earn His love. Using narrative story-telling coupled with fantastic insight, Jennifer shows how we can let go of our need for approval. It is SO HARD to do that! Especially when receiving approval was a matter of survival (at least for me). But Jennifer’s words help me believe it’s possible.

HUMOR:

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Jim Gaffigan’s hilarious take on family life (especially family life with LOTS of kids) had me laughing so hard, tears rolled down my cheeks. Topics range from being “bedridden with children” to a hilarious re-imagining of God’s conversation with Abraham about..cutting off part of his penis. Best humor book I’ve read since Tina Fey’s Bossypants.

NON-FICTION

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When her new husband is killed in action, Artis must grapple with grief new and old in Unremarried Widow. I bought this book because I’m always interested in how other women manage grief and loss and how they rebuild their lives. But something about the way Artis told her story left me empty–I needed more from her. There was a kind of distance, a disconnection from the emotion of her story. Still, it was a painful and necessary look at the impact war has on those left behind.

SPIRITUAL

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Choose Joy is not the kind of book I usually read but I had the privilege of meeting Kay Warren (yes, Rick Warren’s wife) in person this year. She’d read MY book and invited me to coffee. I was terrified. Pastors wives and all that stuff. But Kay was so very kind and REAL and honest. We talked for hours. She gave me her book to read and I’ve been enjoying it so much. Kay’s words are practical and accessible. Kay talks about the “parallel” tracks of joy and sorrow that run through our lives. So often I feel like I’m a victim to the sorrows of life. Kay’s book reminds me that I have a choice. I really CAN feel better each day. I copied her definition of joy into my journal: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.” I need that kind of joy in my life. I’m so grateful Kay has come into my life. It’s healing me….

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Written by a Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox monk, The Communion of Love, expresses profound spiritual truths about how to read the Bible, the nature of repentance and what it means to do God’s will. It is deep without being abstract, practical while also honoring mystery. The forward is written by Henri Nouwen, another one of my favorite spiritual writers. This book has gently corrected some of my deep-seated perspectives; mainly, about how to approach the Bible and how to read it. My priest gave me this book and it has quickly become a book I cherish and will read over and over again.

Soooo…. what are YOU reading this summer??

“Spiritual Misfit: a memoir of uneasy faith” Book Giveaway!

UnknownToday I’m honored to host the lovely Michelle DeRusha whose book “Spiritual Misfit: a memoir of uneasy faith” releases today. We are publisher-sisters. Her book and mine are both published by Convergent Books. Michelle is offering three copies of her book to my readers. To enter, please leave a comment. Much love, EE.

 

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He drops the bomb at dinner, over meatloaf and baked potato. “I think I might be in a not-believing-in-God stage,” he announces.

My heart sinks. “Really?” I ask, peering at Rowan, my nine-year-old, across the table. “What makes you think that?”

I try hard to sound nonplussed, but inside, I’m panicky. I’ve wrestled with doubt and unbelief for most of my life; I know the hopelessness and loneliness of that road. The last thing I want is for my child to travel the same path.

“I just can’t get over the idea of being dead,” Rowan explains. “It seems so weird to think that once you’re dead, you’re just gone, like, not existing at all.” Now he’s trying to sound casual. But his eyes are wide, unblinking. He stares at me hard across the dining room table. I know he is afraid.

“It’s okay,” I tell him, spooning sour cream onto my potato. “Everyone doubts from time to time, everyone wonders about God and death and how it’s all going to work out in the end. It’s going to be okay, honey. God is still there, even when you can’t see him or feel him. ”

The truth is, the reassurance I offered to Rowan that day I still offer to myself, more often than I’d like to admit. While I’m not stranded in the no-man’s land of unbelief like I once was, I still wrestle with my faith; I still question. Skepticism is woven into my fabric.

Not long ago I read the story in Luke 24 about Jesus and the two travelers on the road to Emmaus. As I read the text, I kept stumbling over verse 16: “But God kept them from recognizing him.”

Why, I wondered, did God intentionally keep the two travelers from recognizing Jesus? What was the point of that? Why would God do such a thing? I searched Bible Gateway for other translations, hoping for a different interpretation. But nearly all the versions I read translated the verse the same way or similarly. God kept them from recognizing him.

I admit, I didn’t like verse 16 much. I wrestled with it for days, re-reading the passage, mulling it over, until finally I reached a conclusion that made some sense. Sometimes, I realized, God uses our doubt as a means to bring us closer to him.

Doubt is difficult, no question. But wrestling with doubt also often motivates us to dig more deeply into our faith, to yearn for and to seek Jesus in a fresh, new way. In fact, that’s exactly what happened to the travelers on the road to Emmaus.  God used their doubt as an opening, a window, to lead them back through Scripture, to remind them of his promises. God knew exactly what they needed to hear.

As “the stranger” led his traveling companions through the Old Testament, they were reminded of the promises God had made to his people, from the time of Moses and the prophets to the present day. In the midst of their devastation and loss, the travelers needed to be reminded of these promises. They were hungry for hope, hungry for answers, and their doubt, ironically, opened the way back to faith.

My son’s declaration of doubt took my breath away that night at the dinner table, and part of me still worries that it signals the beginning of a lifelong struggle with faith for him. But I also know that God can work within any circumstances, even the empty, cavernous spaces of doubt and unbelief, to bring us into a deeper relationship with him.  That’s his promise, and I’m holding onto it as tightly as I can.

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DeRushaheadshotA Massachusetts native, Michelle DeRusha moved to Nebraska in 2001, where she discovered the Great Plains, grasshoppers the size of Cornish hens … and God. Michelle writes about finding and keeping faith in the everyday at michellederusha.com, as well as for the Lincoln Journal Star and The High Calling. She’s mom to two bug-loving boys, Noah and Rowan, and is married to Brad, an English professor who reads Moby Dick for fun. Her first book, Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith, will be published April 15, 2014.

Book Giveaway! “Found” by Micha Boyett! @MichaBoyett

Today I’m honored to host the lovely Micha Boyett. Her first book “Found: a story of grace, questions and everyday prayer” releases today. I wrote an endorsement for this beautifully written memoir and highly recommend it. Micha has generously offered three copies of her book to my readers. To enter, please leave a comment.

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Before I had kids, I was on staff with a non-denominational evangelical youth ministry, working with students at various high schools. On the random days when I wasn’t meeting volunteers, parents, and kids all over town, I worked out of a donated office at the local Episcopal church, down the hall from the priests and church staff.

One day, prior to making a difficult phone call to the angry father of one of my students, I paced the floor beside my desk, overrun with anxiety. I couldn’t pick up the phone to dial that number. Just as I was giving myself a lecture about bravery and berating my tendencies toward conflict-avoidance, I found myself standing outside the pastor’s office next door. She was sitting at her desk, as if she had been waiting for me to arrive.

I took a deep breath, walked into her office, and asked her pray for me. We sat down together and in near-silence prayed for ten minutes. Finally, Pastor Beverly opened her mouth and her few words were weighty and humble and powerful.

I’d lived my life in church circles that valued words in prayer—smart words! holy words! culturally relevant words!—and I had run out of words. I was at a point in my spiritual life where I didn’t know what to say to God anymore. I was worn out. I was anxious. I was failing at prayer. (I always felt like I was failing at prayer.)

So that near-silent prayer with Pastor Beverly was profound. She held my hands and prayed, “Come Holy Spirit.” And we waited together for the Holy Spirit to come, as if we believed God’s Spirit was actually en route to me, to that phone, to the angry father who was waiting on the other line. She sat in silence with me as if she believed I was worth her time, as if the ministry God wanted to offer me was there, in the silence. And it was. The ministry was the silence.

I left her office, called the student’s father, and let that quiet prayer ping around in me for several days. I didn’t really understand what made that time of prayer different. All I knew was that I wanted to experience that sort of silence again. I wanted to pray with less words and more belief. I wanted to give people my time, and in doing so, acknowledge that God was there with us, remaking us.

A few weeks later I went back to Pastor Beverly and asked her to teach me contemplative prayer. I wasn’t sure what I was hoping to learn from her. Prayer had always been something I performed at, both in public and in private. I worked hard to worship correctly, to ask for God’s intervention at the right time with the truest spirit of contrition. And I had come to a place where I was heavy laden by my expectations for myself. I needed a path out of that pattern. I needed to believe that God was willing to sit with me, whether or not I followed my internal rules for what prayer was supposed to look like.

We began meeting and praying together and I promised myself that I would be brave; I would risk something in those hours we spent together. I began praying with beads in my hands. I kneeled and repeated prayers written hundreds of years ago. I began (gasp!) staring at icons and asking God to use all my senses in prayer.

And, over time, I began to believe that God heard my quiet heart louder than my impressive words. I began to experience a God bigger than language, bigger than culture, bigger than my own performance.

Prayer, it turned out, is not a task that allows me to find God. Prayer is the work God uses to let me know I’ve already been found.

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I wrote a memoir of the story of rediscovering prayer through the Rule of St. Benedict. The story of my book begins a couple of years later, a year into my life as a mother. But our stories always begin earlier than the first page of the book lets on, don’t they?

And the story of my finding and being found just might begin in Pastor Beverly’s office, in the silence.

Maybe silence is the space where our stories always begin.

 

mbheadshotMicha (pronounced “MY-cah”) Boyett is a writer, blogger, and sometimes poet. Her first book Found: A Story Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer is available for pre-order and releases April 1. A born and raised Texan, Micha lives in San Francisco with her husband, Chris, and their two sons. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and at michaboyett.com.

Book Giveaway! “Not Marked: Finding Hope & Healing after Sexual Abuse”

Today I’m honored to host the beautiful writing of Mary DeMuth. Mary’s memoir: “Thin Places” was a pivotal part of my healing journey. She has followed that memoir with another deeply personal story: Not Marked: Finding Hope & Healing after Sexual Abuse. Mary is kindly offering three copies of her new book to my readers. Simply leave a comment and three winners will be randomly chosen. EE.

NOT MARKED - FOR AMAZON 3D

marydemuth-headshot-squareI’m humbled and grateful to be here today. A huge thank you to Elizabeth for allowing me to share my heart. A little background. I’ve shared my sexual abuse story in the last few years, but I haven’t always been so open. Initially I kept it silent for a decade, then over-shared, then went silent another decade. The healing journey hasn’t been easy, but it has been good.

About a year ago, I sensed God wanted me to be bold in sharing about sexual abuse. I wrote “The Sexy Wife I Cannot Be” on Deeper Story, which went crazy (so many comments), followed by “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife” on Christianity Today. The overwhelming response to those two posts prompted me to write Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse.

The book proved too risky for publishers, so I decided to crowdfund it, which turned out to be an amazing success. I cannot believe that now I can hold Not Marked in my hands, and also offer it to you. What’s unique about it: It’s written from the perspective of a survivor. It doesn’t offer cliche answers. It’s honest. And my husband shared his unique journey of how to walk a loved one through their sexual abuse.

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I get a lot of emails where folks ask me perplexing, painful, amazing, real questions. Today I’m going to attempt to answer (if there is such a thing as a “correct” answer) a question I’ve wrestled with for years. See if you relate to this emailer’s dilemma.

Hi Mary, I have a childhood of abuse. I survived by dissociating and now I have to untangle that dissociation. I hope that makes sense. I have a good solid counselor who I am grateful for. I know you have mentioned in your writing that you do not understand why God allowed your abuse to occur. With my father and stepmother I had to pretend that they were good parents – I had to attend to their needs – all the while my father was abusing me. If I did not “pretend” they were good parents then I was not being a good Christian – then I had no value. My value came in being submissive to what they told me to feel, think, do, and put up with. I struggle now with feeling like I have to pretend God is good even though there are all these things in my life that are not good and point to God being capricious. I know the theological answers given – free will of man, for His glory, make us more like Him, and He is/was with you in the pain. I struggle though because if I am honest it all feels like rationalization for God being God. And I can’t do it. In church, we sing songs of His protection – of us being safe in His arms – and I struggle. I have heard people say things like “if you had not gone through trauma you would see things differently.” But the truth is I did go through trauma – that is my reality. I really want to know how you are able to hold those two realities in your hands – that you do not understand why your abuse was allowed and that God is good.

 

I so resonate with your questions, and I applaud you for asking them and not being satisfied with cliche and pat answers. I wish I had some perfect satisfactory conclusion to offer you, but I can say this: you are not alone in what you ask.

Many people struggle with looking over the evil in the world, particularly the evil perpetrated against them, and wonder how a good God would let that happen. Looking back on my own childhood, particularly the sexual abuse by the neighborhood boys, I can’t fathom why God wouldn’t have stepped in. Is He weak? Did He not care? Was I expendable?

I consider my own children. If I knew someone was hurting them, rest assured I would DO SOMETHING to protect them. So if I’m a relatively good parent and I would rescue, why would God the perfect Parent choose NOT to rescue me?

Most people feel it sacrilegious to voice such questions, as if God would be angry for us putting words to what we feel way deep inside. The truth is, He knows our questions and quandaries already. So why not share them with Him? I let out many of my questions in my latest book, Not Marked. (link: http://www.notmarked.com)

When I get to the place of despair in these questions, I remember that Jesus is God’s beauty in the flesh, that He took on those awful sexual sins perpetrated against me on the cross. He bore every. single. sin. It was wholly unfair, particularly since He did not in any way deserve to receive those sins. When the questions holler louder than God’s goodness, I try to picture Jesus on that cross, bearing the weight for my sin, your sin, everyone’s sin.

This is a fallen world with fallen people messing with each other, inflicting awful pain. And until I realize that I am part of the problem, that I am a sinner who also perpetrates, it’s easy for me to point to the other sin calling it uncalled for, yet glossing over my own.

I can say that God used the things in my life I’d rather not have happened to create deep empathy in me. Sometimes people ask me how they can be close to Jesus like I am (though honestly, I feel small in this area). The answer is that He and I have walked through so much together, and He has healed me of multitudes of wounds. In that place of deprivation, I’ve become a more loving, forgiving person.

I honestly wonder if I would’ve reached for Him had I not experienced what I did. Would I have longed for a daddy had my earthly father not died? Would I have an insatiable need for feeling clean had I not been violated? I don’t know. I’m pretty stubborn, and I love control.

To be honest, there are many times I would rather that God would let me be, stop sending trials my way, and let me experience abundant circumstances. But then I look back on my Christian life and see where I grew the most. It was through the awful trials.

I also have to remember that this world we live in is fading away. God does see the pain I’ve walked through. He will reward me for faithful service despite my limitations. He will bring complete and total healing on the other side. I don’t live for the wholeness now or even demand it. I wait on tiptoes for the wholeness that will come.

But you’re right. Saying, “I serve a good God,” is difficult when you see the abuse of the past. I’m sorry you walked through that. And I don’t know why you had to walk through all that. It is hard to trust God in that instance because He can seem arbitrary and capricious.

Perhaps that’s what trust and faith are all about–where we acknowledge our perplexities, let them stay in tension, and choose to risk in faith anyway. I know for me, I’m happiest when I don’t stay in that place of figuring things out, but when I lift my hands in surrender and honestly tell God, “I don’t get it.” A settled peace comes over me in that moment, something I can’t explain, where I realize again that He is God and I am not. He is sovereign and I am small.

I don’t expect this answer to clear up your wrestling, not by any shot, but I do hope you see that you’re not alone in wondering these things, and your questions don’t nullify your faith. You are normal. You are human. And you’ve been injured. May our great big God continue to heal you, help you to trust, and experience His goodness even right now.

EE’s Best Books of 2013

FICTION:

UnknownTHE CIRCLE BY DAVE EGGERS: Like Orwell’s 1984 except way more plausible. The Circle tells the story of a woman scores a job at a prestigious social media conglomerate. But her dream job becomes a living nightmare. Which is just another way of saying: terrifying, couldn’t-put-it-down, page-turner. I may never log onto Facebook again. EE RATING: 4 stars.

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THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS BY ML STEDMAN: The tragic beauty of this story by debut novelist, M.L. Stedman, will capture your heart and keep you turning the pages. I was utterly captivated by this book. It is a story of regret and longing, of isolation and intimacy. An elegant lighthouse standing high atop a windswept, rocky island serves as the haunting backdrop to this poignant and remarkable novel. EE RATING: 4 stars.

NON-FICTION

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SISTER CITIZEN BY MELISSA V. HARRIS-PERRY: “Though we seldom think of it this way, racism is the act of shaming others based on their identity. Blackness in America is marked by shame…Shame makes us view our very selves as malignant. But societies also define entire groups as malignant. Historically, the United States has done that with African Americans. This collective racial shaming has a disproportionate impact on black women, and black women’s attempts to escape or manage shame are part of what motivates their politics.” (p. 109) More than any other book this year, Sister Citizen opened my eyes. I saw the systemic shaming of black women in America and came to understand the unfair burden these women carry. As a white woman, it was uncomfortable for me to read this because it showed me my own blindness and privilege. It brought me to tears and convicted my spirit. The African American women of the Combahee River Collective are quoted as follows: “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” Read this book. It is IMPORTANT. EE Rating: 4 stars.

RECOVERY:

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ADDICTION TO LOVE BY SUSAN PEABODY: Being raised in a cult left me particularly susceptible to harmful relationships. This book has helped me understand the symptoms of unhealthy relationships: love at first sight, excessive fantasizing, irrational jealousy, clinging, neediness and the solutions for overcoming problematic behaviors in friendships and relationships. I had the chance to meet Susan Peabody in person this past year and she is brilliant, eccentric and has laser-sharp insight into human relationships. This book is a MUST for anyone who has struggled to untangle themselves from addictive relationships. EE Rating: 4 stars.

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THE LANGUAGE OF LETTING GO BY MELODY BEATTIE: This precious book has positive, affirming and hopeful meditations for each day of the year. Part of the recovery process has meant learning to be gentle with myself and Melody Beattie’s gentle words of encouragement are a balm to my soul. Each morning I begin my day with journaling, Scripture reading and a daily reading from this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough. “You are lovable. Yes, you. Just because people haven’t been there for you, just because certain people haven’t been able to show love for you in ways that worked, just because relationships have failed or gone sour does not mean that you’re unlovable. You’ve had lessons to learn. Sometimes those lessons have hurt. Let go of the pain. Open your heart to love. You are lovable. You are loved.” (reading from 2/29).

 

MEMOIR

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WHEN WE WERE ON FIRE BY ADDIE ZIERMAN: Growing up evangelical, Addie Zierman was deeply “on fire” for God. Her memoir explores the zeal, disillusionment and disintegration of her faith and then its unexpected resurrection. But of all the stories she tells in this book, the one I related to the most was her struggle to get over a broken heart. Girls growing up in evangelical Christianity face a double burden of expectations entangled in purity culture and “saving the first kiss” and “guarding our hearts.” Addie’s memoir is an important documentation of what this experience is like. EE Rating: 4 stars.

 

POETRY:

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PLATH (EVERYMAN’S LIBRARY POCKET POETS): When I was writing my book, I was literally chilled to my bones. It was a strange, somatic response to reliving my childhood. But Sylvia Plath’s poems, wine and a hot bath were my healing balm at the end of a hard day’s writing (and yes, I am restored by depressing poetry). One of my favorite lines from Syliva’s “Spinster”: How she longed for winter then!–Scrupulously austere in its order / Of white and black / Ice and rock, each sentiment within border / And heart’s frosty discipline / Exact as a snowflake” Oh, that last bit…heart’s frosty discipline / exact as a snowflake…that line has stuck in my head for weeks. How often we dismiss the messiness of love and idolize something more orderly, timely, precise, austere. But then we miss out on love, don’t we? EE Rating: 4 stars.

Now, it’s your turn! What were YOUR favorite books this year?
I need some recommendations for reading in 2014! 

What I’ve been reading {EE’s Three-Sentence Book Reviews}

Unknown The Circle by Dave Eggers: Like Orwell’s 1984 except way more plausible. Which is just another way of saying: terrifying, couldn’t-put-it-down, page-turner. I may never log onto Facebook again. EE STARS: 4

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple: A daughter’s love covers a multitude of her mother’s eccentricities. Clever point-of-view. Only problem: plot line gets a bit muddled and confusing near the end. EE STARS: 3

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The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker:   The only question I kept asking throughout this book was: why wouldn’t a father at least explain to his daughter why he suddenly disappeared from her family? Annoying. Also, sad ending. EE STARS: 2

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Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: The author says it took him fifteen years to write this novel. He should have stopped after five. Clunky time-jumping narrative and poorly rendered, two-dimensional characters. EE STARS: 1

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Love To Stay by Adam Hamilton: Another marriage advice book by another mega-church pastor. Yawn. Nothing new or noteworthy here except a recent, troubling trend: pastors polling their own congregations and then using these limited surveys to pronounce sweeping prescriptions for All Marriages at All Times. EE STARS: 1.

“I didn’t know if I ‘believed’ in Mary…but I knew I wanted to be like her.”

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Karen Beattie is the author of Rock-Bottom Blessings: Discovering God’s Abundance When All Seems Lost (Loyola Press). She has a master’s degree in journalism and has written about women’s issues, the arts, and spirituality for several publications including Christianity Today, Today’s Christian Woman, and Midwest Living. She currently works as writing director for a digital creative agency. She lives with her husband, daughter and geriatric cat on the north side of Chicago. You can learn more and read her blog at KarenBeattie.net.

I was visiting my friend Kate at her home a few years ago when she gave me a brooch with a cameo of the Madonna on it.

“Here,” she said, “take this.”

She explained that she had loaned the brooch to two other friends, both of whom had gotten pregnant. Now she wanted me to have it. I took the cameo graciously and gave Kate a hug.

But I was skeptical. Even though I had been attending Catholic mass for a few years, I didn’t know if I “believed” in Mary. And I really doubted that she could help me in the baby department. I had been trying to get pregnant, and then adopt a child, for 5 years. Now, in the middle of the recession, I had lost my job and my husband and I had to put an adoption on hold because we simply didn’t have the money. I was starting to believe that I would never be a mother, and deep down, believed that God didn’t love me enough to give me good things.

I grew up in a fundamentalist church that preached grace, but also subtly communicated that we had to earn God’s love through our good behavior. We weren’t allowed to attend movies, or parties where there might be alcohol, or wear “immodest” clothing (i.e. shorts). And we weren’t allowed to go to dances because—well, there would be dancing.

Hearing a “no” to participate in the abundance of life, of God’s abundance, was woven into the fabric of my soul. And after a while, I was the one who was saying “no” to whatever goodness God might be offering.

When I got home after my visit with Kate, I put the cameo on my dresser and forgot about it. But as the weeks went by, I picked up the cameo every time I dusted my dresser, and thought about Mary.

Since I had been attending Catholic mass, I was hearing more and more about the mother of Jesus. I could relate to her. When the angel appears to her and said she would bear the son of God, did she feel as I did—that the story of her life had just taken a tragic turn? That a good ending could not be imagined? That there would always be a sinking feeling of disappointment and disillusionment?

And yet, she trusted. And believed. And moved forward.

Can you carry my Son to term and give birth to him in a stable?

“May it be,” Mary replied.

In the midst of her fear and trembling and the unknown, she had said yes to God. In Luke 1:30 the angel says to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; God loves you dearly.”

I wondered if I could believe that God loved me enough to fill the emptiness inside of me. I wondered if I could ever live the abundant life Christ promised. And I wondered if I would have the courage to say “yes” to whatever abundance he was offering, even if it was different than what I was expecting.

If I had been Mary when the angel arrived? I would have been skeptical. I would have thought, Yeah, right. You chose me to deliver your child into the world? Maybe I was having a dream, or maybe a migraine with a really elaborate aura. But a visit from an angel? No way. Underneath my disbelief was a feeling that I didn’t really deserve it. Things like this just don’t happen to me.

I still didn’t know if I “believed” in Mary, or that praying to her would make any difference. But eventually, slowly, I knew I wanted to be like her.

Shortly after Kate gave me the Mary brooch, I went on a church retreat, which was held on the campus of a Catholic seminary. During a break I took a walk and stumbled upon a statue of Mary. Who are you, anyway? I wanted to ask her. And what do you have to do with my life?

I lay down on a bench near the statue and looked up at the face of Mary against the bright blue sky. I looked at the smooth, carved white stone. She was holding the baby Jesus up to her cheek. I prayed that I would get past my fear and disbelief that God would bring good things, fulfilling things, life-giving things into my life, even if they were not what I had in mind.

I prayed to be like Mary. Believing. Open to miracles. Accepting of God’s abundance. Willing to say yes. Eager to let God use me to help bring in his kingdom. Giving myself over to God’s will.

And trusting in God when he says, “Do not be afraid. I love you dearly.” 

Books I’m enjoying this summer

A Light Between OceansThe tragic beauty of this story by debut novelist, M.L. Stedman, will capture your heart and keep you turning the pages. I was utterly captivated by this book. It is a story of regret and longing, of isolation and intimacy. An elegant lighthouse standing high atop a windswept, rocky island serves as the haunting backdrop to this poignant and remarkable novel, A Light Between OceansEE Rating: 4 stars.

The Weird Sisters

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown is an infectious, effervescent novel about three, grown sisters who find themselves returning home after failing at adulthood. Rose is the responsible oldest sister, Bianca the glamorous middle child and Cordy, the whimsical bohemian. Despite their difficulties in relating to each other, the sisters find a way to band together in caring for their mother who is struggling with breast cancer. EE Rating: 3 stars.

A Delicate Truth

I used to be a huge fan of John Le Carré. But his most recent novel, A Delicate Truth, suffers from a dense, glacially-slow plot-line and unlikable characters. That said, if you can get through the first fifty pages without throwing your hands up in frustration, it’s an interesting and insightful story about the moral ambiguity of modern warfare. EE Rating: 2.5 stars.

Good PoemsI love a good poetry anthology and Good Poems by Garrison Keillor is bringing me quite a bit of joy this summer. Keillor is a master at observing the small, quotidian beauties of daily life and this selection of poems reflects that. I’ve been mulling over poems like “Welcome Morning” by Anne Sexton and “Hoeing” by John Updike; these words imbue me with gratitude and deeper awareness of life’s transcendence and impermanence. EE Rating: 4 stars.

The Gentle Path

For those of us recovering from abusive pasts, this book offers a gentle path to healing. So often I find myself compulsively WORKING MY RECOVERY! when really, healing cannot be forced or manhandled. Because the work of recovery is emotionally exhausting and sometimes all-consuming, I really appreciate that this book reminds me to take “Gentleness Breaks” and rest. One of my favorite quotes from A Gentle Path: “Safety is an essential pre-requisite for healing the brain and creating successful recovery. Only when the brain feels safe can it optimally reconstruct itself. It needs to know that it is being understood and empathized with.” (pg. 9) EE Rating: 4 stars.

What are YOU reading this summer? Please share!

I have not been blogging because I’ve been doing this old-fashioned thing called reading

I like books. I mean, I really like books. I have 5 floor-to-ceiling bookcases overflowing with double-stacked books and at least 5 storage bins of more books in my garage. I’ve read every single one. I don’t like to give my books away because they feel like friends. Yes, I’m weird.

I’ve rediscovered fiction (and some memoir–because I can’t resist) and have been devouring books at an alarming pace. I read the following books this past month:

Flight Behavior: Dellarobbia is a smart woman trapped in small-town, Appalachia. She is about to self-destruct via an adulterous affair when she discovers a miracle: an entire population of butterflies that has landed in the forest behind her house. The big story here is climate change. The small story here is a family falling apart. It’s an interesting, well-plotted story with a colorful–if sometimes cartoonish–array of characters. The ending is somewhat unsatisfactory, but I guess that’s what you get when the world is ending. Rating: 4 stars.

 

Foreskin’s Lament: I rocketed through this memoir screaming with laughter. I never knew Orthodox Judaism was so similar to fundamentalist Christianity. Shalom Auslander allows himself to be angry, depressed and flawed. Underneath the rage is such a pure, unvarnished pathos that I was brought to tears. I loved every single page of this book. Rating: 5 stars.

 

 

 

Elders: a debut novel that tells the story of two Mormon missionaries struggling to reconcile their faith with doubts and their sexuality with codes of Mormon conduct. This book is no anti-Mormon screed, but rather a thoughtful and humane look at young men trying to grapple with their faith. Although I found some of the preaching passages rather long-winded and unwieldy, the story itself is heartbreaking and heartfelt. I read this book in one day! Rating: 3.5 stars.