Calling it like it is (or could be)

Maybe you’re not like this, but when God’s trying to get my attention about something, He usually has to give me three or four different experiences or messages before I’ll think, “Okay, God, I’m listening.”

This time, I think it started on a trip to the indoor playground with the kids. Isabelle, our almost-4-year-old, took off for the slides while her brother made his way to the train set. A few minutes later, she came over to me, almost in tears, talking about some boys who were saying things to her. I think. The message was somewhat garbled by her hysteria. So, I followed her and watched as two boys about her age, made guns with their fingers and pointed them at her while chasing her and saying things I couldn’t really understand.

My first reaction, understandably, was Mama Lion. I gave them the you-better-not-mess-with-my-baby look and sort of stared them down. I’m sure they knew I meant business. (That’s a little sarcasm. I’m not really as fierce as a lion.) I told Isabelle to try to avoid them because quite frankly, that’s what I would do. I searched the place for a parental figure but couldn’t find anyone who seemed to be claiming these boys. My eyes locked on a dad parked in front of the TVs in the “lounge” area, and I assumed that disconnected dad was to blame for their behavior.

I wanted to discipline these boys or at least chew out their father for his lack of disciplining them. After all, their actions were causing harm to someone I love beyond measure. I think I might have even told Isabelle to ask the boys if they knew Jesus, but I’m not sure I meant it. Later, though, I realized that maybe I could have handled this situation better. Maybe the boys just needed a hug or someone to tell them they’re special and valuable and useful. Naive, right?

Later that same week, I noticed my choice of words toward my son, who at age 2 is showing signs of stereotypical terribleness. He takes things from his sister just because. He tells her things that aren’t true, which upsets her. And he hits and tries to bite. Sometimes I tell him he’s a stinker. Or that he’s being a bully. The word “jerk” passes through my mind. I’m ashamed to admit these things because this is a child and I love him. What I don’t love is his behavior.

Tell me this kid isn’t bound to give me trouble? (And by the way, maybe I should get some advertising dollars from the Quaker company for this …)

Then God reintroduced me to this verse in Romans. Paul says this about God: “who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17)

And I began to wonder what would happen if instead of calling it like it is with my son, I called it like it could be. What if instead of saying, “You’re a bully” I said, “You’re a child of God”? What if instead of “you’re being a stinker” I called him “my beloved son”?

Now, I’m no child psychologist or behavior specialist nor do I have any research to back this up. I only know that labels tend to stick and kids can become what people believe about them, for good or bad.

If this wasn’t enough, I read this post this week. (The guy uses some profanity, but it’s a powerful read.)

I’m terribly fearful of causing my kids emotional damage yet also fearful of protecting them too much. I want them to know how to take criticism, to evaluate its worth and to know who they are apart from what people say about them. Yes, they’re only 4 and 2, but doesn’t it start here?

Honestly, I don’t have these things worked out perfectly in my life. I can still make an effort to set them on a good path, though, right?

I know that God is the kind of parent who says of me what I don’t always believe is true, but maybe that’s a discussion for another day.

So, parents, child educators, behavior specialists, theologians, anyone … help me out here.

How do I build my kids up without lying to them? How do you handle kids with obvious behavior issues using love and not judgment? How do you acknowledge the truth of a behavior (taking your sister’s purse was not nice) without labeling (you’re not nice)?

These are my thoughts over a cup of tea today. Please, join the discussion.

Saturday smiles: friends in deed edition

Life got overwhelming this week. Kids sick off and on. Unexpected uncertainty. Fear. Gloom. Rainy days. Our last week of “freedom” before my husband starts his last semester of classes.

Once again, though, God came through, showing His faithfulness, giving me reasons to smile.

Sunday afternoon, my friend Dawn, whose husband is also in seminary, texted to ask if I could get out of the house that night. Her request made me chuckle because at times we feel like prisoners in our homes, slaves to our families, so getting out of the house for something as simple as ice cream and a trip to the grocery store without kids or husbands is like a mini-vacation. So refreshing. And I’m thankful that my husband didn’t hesitate when I told him about the text. He’s 100 percent supportive of me leaving the house when I need a break.

The next night, I got to talk with my best friend, Katrina, for what’s become a monthly phone date. She is so encouraging and uplifting, and I love that our friendship has spanned decades and life experiences and geographical distance.

Wednesday morning, I had breakfast with a fellow writer and pastor’s wife who has become a great friend. I was pretty low in spirit that day, but sitting with a bottomless mug of coffee and a breakfast sandwich at Panera with someone who’s “been there” was the cure for what ailed me.

Friendships don’t always come easily to me, so I’m grateful to have found a few kindred spirits in my life.

Other reasons to smile this week:

Seeing our nephew on Skype. He was sleeping, but still, it was more than a picture can show.

We had a financial scare this week but I spent a day worrying for nothing. God continues to take care of us.

During Bible study this week, we took time to encourage one another by telling of the positive qualities and spiritual gifts we see in each other. It was a fun and uplifting time, both in the giving and receiving.

Discovering that my husband was a recipient of $200 JCPenney gift card for being a veteran of Iraq. It’s an annual program for which he registered once before. Today we spent a family day helping him pick out some new clothes we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford.

Realizing I need to shop with my husband more often and/or pay more attention to the fashion trends of the day. Consider these comments while shopping:

Me: They make skinny jeans for guys?

Husband: Oh, yeah, you didn’t know that?

Me: “I need to get out more.”

And, me again, while noticing a pair of white jeans amongst the offerings: “You definitely should get a pair of those. What is this, 1985?”

Yet again, me: “Who would buy jeans with holes in them?” (Yes, it’s official. I’ve become old.)

Losing another pound and a half this week. That’s more than 9 pounds in almost a month!

Finishing our taxes.

Making snowmen out of the food offerings at Old Country Buffet. Check out the template here. And kids eating free? That’s ALWAYS a reason to smile.

Wishing you a week’s worth of smiles.

All I ever learned about Presbyterians I read in a book

A small-town southern church seeking a pastor assembles a search committee of seven parishioners who spend months secretly attending services at other churches auditioning candidates for the job.

A promising premise. Unfortunately, The Search Committee gets lost along the way. That’s not to say there aren’t some highlights of Tim Owens’ debut novel. Owens borrows three real-life sermons throughout the book, and I appreciated the messages in those sermons, as well as the messed-up lives of the committee members. Their struggles are the real struggles of churchgoers and nonchurchgoers alike. I could identify with aspects of several of the characters’ lives.

However, I think Owens spread himself too thin with the characters. I never got a sense that anyone was a main character, and trying to make seven people the main characters in a book left me feeling like I didn’t really get to know any of them. And because I didn’t know them, I didn’t care that much about them. I wanted things to work out well, I guess, but I wasn’t invested in their lives. I was hoping for more depth from one or two of the characters. It just didn’t work for me.

The whole concept of a search committee was new to me. Our church denomination doesn’t do things that way, and I was kind of surprised by it. The committee often admitted that it felt like it was trying to steal a pastor from another church. Maybe that’s more prevalent than I know. I also didn’t know much about the Presbyterian Church. Owens opens many chapters with excerpts from the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Order and Book of Confessions, which I found interesting but not exactly entertaining. I couldn’t decide if Owens was trying to educate readers about Presbyterians or if he was just drawing on his experience. (His bio says he was once a Southern Baptist and is now an elder in the Presbyterian Church.)

I wanted to like this book, but it fell flat. I stuck with it till the end, hoping it would redeem itself, but I was more relieved than rewarded to have finished it.

FAVORITES: One of the committee members keeps a running list of church signs the group sees on their travels. I get a kick (and sometimes a groan and a shake of the head) out of church signs.

FAULTS: Because of all the characters, the individual storylines felt rushed and underdeveloped. Even the resolutions seemed hasty. I wasn’t crazy about the dialogue either. Some of it felt unnatural.

IN A WORD: Disappointing. I was thinking the committee was going on a road trip in search of a pastor, not that they would set out on several Sundays over several months on day trips. Maybe my expectations were too high.

———————————————————-

In exchange for this review, I received a free copy of The Search Committee from Tyndale House Publishers.
I Review For The Tyndale Blog Network

Asking the right question

I’m not often able to watch daytime television, but in recent weeks, my husband has occasionally tuned in to ABC’s “The Chew” to cultivate his “bromance” with Michael Symon. One afternoon, I caught a preview for a new show called “The Revolution.” The show brings together a team of experts in areas of design, fashion, health, fitness and therapy to help people transform their lives “from the inside out,” according to the Web site.

It was the “t” word that first caught my attention. Transformation.

So, I tuned in to the debut episode and was surprised to hear host Ty Pennington use this word repeatedly. He even referred to the team of experts as a “community.”

Transformation. Inside out change. Community.

Those words sounded familiar. I’ve heard them in church from time to time. But here, on TV, was a model for what the church could be doing to live out its mission in the world.

“The Revolution” is not the only show of its kind. Pennington’s previous show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” contained these elements. TLC’s “What Not to Wear” offers people a change in how they see themselves by showing them how to dress to accentuate their beauty. “The Biggest Loser” gives severely overweight people the tools and opportunity to literally lose half of themselves.

Changing people’s lives seems a popular idea these days, especially on television. I’m not saying the church has to be popular, but I have to wonder what causes people to allow their lives to be changed. It involves three steps.

  1. We have to know there’s a problem. I think, whether we admit it or not, we all know an area of lives we’d like to change. And there are lots of reasons we don’t. Maybe we’re embarrassed to admit it. Or we don’t know how to make the change happen. Or we’re afraid of the work it will take. Or we think we don’t have time.
  2. We have to be willing to ask for help. Most of these programs solicit nominations or applications to be on the show, so the person or a friend has to make the need known.
  3. We have to be willing to receive help. People trust the advice these “experts” have to give because they’ve seen the results on other shows or they’ve read their credentials. Those who want to give help have to prove, in some way, that they have the expertise to do so.

I’m reminded of a story in the Bible, recorded by the apostle John, when Jesus encounters a man who had been an invalid for 38 years (John 5). The man was lying near a pool that was said to have healing properties when the waters were stirred. By lying there, he had admitted his need.

Jesus’ question to the man has always puzzled me, though. He asks him, “Do you want to get well?” I’ve thought that’s a dumb question because the guy has been this way for 38 years. Isn’t the answer obvious?

But the man’s answer is equally puzzling. He doesn’t come right out and say, “Of course I want to get well!” Instead, he offers reasons why he isn’t already better. “I have no one to help me.” And, “someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Jesus, because he has the authority to do so, heals the man, and his life is changed.

I’m wondering why people don’t seem to be interested in the inside-out transformation the church has to offer. Because Jesus is still in the business of changing lives.

Maybe the changes in our lives aren’t obvious. I know it’s not always easy for me to admit, “yeah, I’ve got problems but this is how Jesus helps,” or to say, “you know, my life used to be like that but then I let God in.” It’s so much easier to pretend that we’re OK and we’ve always been that way. As if God somehow created a group of people who are immune to everyone else’s problems.

Maybe we ask the wrong questions. We ask what people need, if they’d like to come to church, if they know about Jesus, but how often do we ask, “Do you want to get well?”

Can you imagine a community of transformed people getting together regularly to celebrate the changes in their lives and the One who made it possible, offering themselves, their expertise and their experiences to people looking for a change in their lives?

It would be a revolution of its own kind.

Jesus isn’t going to give you $5,000 to spend on clothes in New York but He will clothe you with character qualities like kindness, compassion, gentleness and humility.

Jesus isn’t going to make you super fit, but He will exercise your faith.

Jesus isn’t going to give you a new house but He will prepare a place for you to live eternally.

He will give you a new heart. A new life. A new purpose. He will do all things for your good, even when it doesn’t make you “happy.”

Transformation is big entertainment business, it would seem. The church has the chance to make it her business again, too.

That’s my cup of tea for today. What’s got you wondering?

Saturday smiles: finding the good edition

I’m a little late with the smiles today. It’s been that kind of week. Honestly, I was avoiding writing this until I felt like I had something to smile about. (And I’m on my second “draft” of this post right now because of a computer glitch. Ugh. Technology does NOT make me smile.) Sickness, discouragement, grief, disappointment — we’ve had some of each this week, and I wanted to wallow in pity about the lack of smile-worthy moments in my life this week.

Then this happened.

And God, in His new-every-morning mercy, reminded me with falling snow, that He is faithful and He loves me. And He gives me lots of reasons to smile.

Had it not snowed, our day would have looked drastically different. I would have been off to writer’s group this morning while the kids stayed home with my husband, then I would have hauled them off to a birthday party while my husband stayed home. Hectic is how it was shaping up. Instead, we spent the day together, and it looked more like this.

That’s my husband, getting ready to playfully toss a snowball at our son. He aimed too high, though, and sent the little boy back to the house in tears. The boy was not to be denied his snow time, though. After towelling off, he was right back at it.

Today, I smile because my husband shovels snow. And takes the kids out to “help.”

And helps a neighbor lady shovel her walk even though it was not what he necessarily wanted to do.

Because our plans were canceled, we collaborated on dinner, too, which always makes me smile, even if the pile of dishes afterward makes me groan. My husband can make something amazing out of the need-to-be-used-today ingredients in our house. His creativity in the kitchen is a strength in our family.

Indulge me in a little more bragging. We got his second-to-last semester’s grades today: straight B-pluses. Encouraging and relieving and maybe a little bit unexpected.

Speaking of unexpected, I lost more weight this week. That makes almost eight pounds in three weeks. I don’t feel like I’ve made drastic changes, so maybe the little things really do make a big difference.

I took a turn outside with the “little things” who live in our house, seizing what I think will be a short opportunity to play in the snow. (We’ll be in the 40s again early in the week. So long, snow. It was nice knowing you.)

In less than a minute, our daughter had flopped onto the snow and made a snow angel. She invited me to join her, but I discovered that I’m a winter wuss. Thirty minutes outside and I was ready to go back in and have a cup of hot coffee. Our goal was to make a snowman, but we had the wrong kind of snow. This was as close as we got.

While outside, our kids exercised their imaginations. We worked a construction site a la Bob the Builder. Our son was Bob. Our daughter and I were both Wendy, Bob’s assistant. Big Bob, she said, was inside.

She’ll be 4 soon, and daily she shows us what fun awaits us as she grows. Earlier in the week, she sang a song about pumpkins and rainbows. When she sang it for me, I had to buy a ticket and then follow her in a dance around the living room.

And this guy.

His challenging personality keeps us on our toes. Tonight we made the decision to convert his crib to a toddler bed.

You can almost see the glee on his face. This is both smile-worthy and sad. My babies are growing up. It’s bittersweet.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I look at life positively all the time. I don’t. It’s a chore, sometimes, to choose to see the good rather than focus on what seems to be the bad.

Life is full of disappointments and discouragement. I know that. But I’m finding there’s more to life than that, too. The good doesn’t always outweigh the bad, but counting my blessings gives me a lift out of an otherwise unbearably dark pit.

Choose to see the good.

Even if it’s just one thing at a time.

Even if you have to smile through tears.

No lie, this guy can handle the truth

My first thought when I read the synopsis for Phil Callaway’s book To Be Perfectly Honest was, “Wasn’t Jim Carrey in that movie?”

In the book, Callaway chronicles a year in his life when he attempts to tell the truth. Every. Single. Day.

I wasn’t excited about this book initially, and I passed it over several times before deciding to read and review it. Although the idea caught my attention, I thought it might be the kind of book that makes me feel bad about not always telling the whole truth or would attempt to answer the “is it ever okay to lie?” kinds of questions with lots of Scripture.

I was so wrong.

Callaway is real. And honest. An average Joe who tells jokes, writes books and follows Jesus. In the midst of his humorous stories, there is capital “T” truth. Challenging. Thought-provoking. Inspiring.

Nuggets of wisdom like “Do you suppose we’d be forgiven more if we asked more often?” and humbling observations like “I’ve walked with Jesus all these years, but I’m so clumsy.”

FAVORITES: I can’t tell you the number of times I laughed out loud while reading this book. That’s rare. Humor doesn’t always translate well on paper, but Callaway does it brilliantly. I hadn’t heard of him before reading this book, but I’m likely to read and/or listen to more of his stuff. Like a spoonful of sugar with medicine, Callaway proves that humor helps us swallow the truth.

FAULTS: My only disappointment was that in the first pages of the book, Callaway reveals that this book was not his idea but his editor’s. That soured the experience slightly for me because it seemed more like a marketing ploy or a trick to make money. And maybe it was. But this is still a well-written book with a lot to offer.

IN A WORD: Surprising. I often got so caught up in the humor and the stories that I didn’t see the Truth coming. Welcome surprises.

Click here to read chapter one.

Or watch this video, which is like hearing parts of the book read to you.

—————————————————-

In exchange for my review, I received a free digital copy of To Be Perfectly Honest from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group’s Blogging for Books program.

Click the link below to enter for a chance to win a copy of the book by rating this review.http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/bloggingforbooks/reviews/ranking/15563

The writing on the rock

Sometimes, truth is so obvious, you wonder why you didn’t notice it before.

Our ladies’ Bible study is working through a series of lessons on spiritual gifts, and several weeks ago, we focused on ways we’ve stepped out in faith, felt God leading us, and when we’ve been most fulfilled in our walks with Him.

Powerful stuff. I wasn’t sure at first how this exercise would turn out, but I was amazed by what I discovered. We made a list of experiences and events in our lives, then looked for patterns and how that related to where God might be taking us next.

I’d never seen a pattern in my most meaningful experiences before, but what I noticed was that God often called me to do something that seemed impossible, impractical or insane to other people. And when I did those things, my faith deepened and I learned to trust God a little more.

But time can be a great eraser of memories, and I forget easily how much I’ve learned. Maybe it’s because I don’t exercise my faith enough.

So God reminded me.

In a big way.

When we had detected a pattern, we were to then write a word or phrase in marker on a rock that represented where God was taking us next.

I chose the word “impossible.”

And got this.

Sure, it’s a long word and I had a short rock and big handwriting. But I didn’t do this on purpose. When I’d finished, I felt like I’d been smacked in the head.

The future might seem impossible, but God says “I’m possible.”

The Bible even says that.

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

Days later, I heard one of my favorite songs on the radio: “I Will Lift My Eyes” by Bebo Norman.

The chorus goes like this.

I will lift my eyes to the Maker
Of the mountains I can’t climb

© Sebastian Grecu | Dreamstime.com

I will lift my eyes to the Calmer
Of the oceans raging wild

© Iperl | Dreamstime.com

I will lift my eyes to the Healer
Of the hurt I hold inside

© Chris Galbraith | Dreamstime.com

I will lift my eyes, lift my eyes to You

© Jakub Cejpek | Dreamstime.com

What unclimbable mountains, raging oceans, or hidden hurts are you facing? What’s “impossible” about your life right now?

With man, it’s impossible. With God, nothing is impossible.
I’m believing with you.

Saturday smiles: out of the zone edition

So, I’m not exactly smiling as I write this. I’m at the beginning of a weekend of single parenting, and I already miss my husband terribly. Not because the kids are awful, but I just get used to the company, I guess. I cry like a baby when we’re apart. Maybe that’s good.

I do have a lot to smile about this week, and I know the weekend won’t last forever.

Here we go.

Toe socks. I wasn’t sure I’d like them, but they’re strangely comfortable. And secretly fun. Like, no one can actually see them on your toes when you’re out and about, but you know they’re on your feet, which puts a little extra zip in your step. (This is the last picture of my feet, I promise. Sorry if feet creep you out!)

Breaking the routine. After dropping my husband off at the church where he was catching a ride to a weekend retreat, I took the kids to the mall to play at Club Kid, a sort of indoor playground awesome land for the little ones. We bought a pass for the month of January especially for days such as this where I feel the need to treat them (and me!) to a little change of pace. Afterwards, we ate slices of pizza at Mancino’s, just across the way from Club Kid and still in the mall. All in all, we had fun. Sometimes, I pre-freak out when considering doing something new and different with the kids by myself. But afterwards, I gain a little confidence and courage to do it again.

Meeting new people. I am so shy sometimes, but every now and then, I open up and share a piece of my life with strangers. Like other moms at indoor playgrounds. I met a nice Italian woman Friday night whose father is the namesake and founder of a local pizza place. She was excited to hear that my husband is in seminary and about to graduate and shared with me about her church experience. She said she hoped we’d meet again. I’ve never considered myself good at making friends, so it gives me a boost emotionally and spiritually to interact with strangers and walk away with a potential friend.

A good night’s sleep. I felt ill a couple of nights ago and went to bed before 8:30. When I woke up at 6 with the kids the next day, I felt refreshed. I love sleep, and it’s something I’ve had to give up for parenting (which is like sacrificing for Lent, only longer).

Our big, out-of-the-box event this week was a trip to the Pennsylvania Farm Show. This is the fourth opportunity we’ve had to go since living in Pennsylvania but the first time we could actually make the trip. We went with friends from the seminary and one of their daughters. The kids had an amazing time getting close to animals, watching draft horses in the ring and kids racing stick horses.

(We didn’t cage the kids, honest. This is the result of my daring husband dangling the camera over the arena balcony to capture our kids’ faces. I refused to do it for fear of losing the camera over the side.)

The bunnies were a big hit with Corban. He waved at most of them.

And the birds were noisy but impressive. Especially the turkeys. Holey-moley. I’ve never seen such big birds.

This guy was a Bourbon Red, and though you can’t really tell from the picture, Isabelle’s hair matched his (or maybe it was a her?) feathers perfectly. We’ve decided “Bourbon Red” will be her professional wrestling, roller derby or ultimate fighting nickname. (Just kidding. Please don’t report us to child services.)

Speaking of turkeys. I’m all for educating kids about where our meat comes from … you know, farm to table and all, but this bit of eavesdropping had me a bit uneasy. The conversation went something like this.

Mom: Daniel, do you see those turkeys? You know when we eat turkey on Thanksgiving? That’s what we eat.

Daniel: Let’s get a gun and shoot him right now and eat him!

Daniel was maybe 6 years old and shouted this several more times. Is it just me?

I learned a lot about Pennsylvania agriculture. I could probably bore you with facts about mushroom production, dairy farms and apples, so I won’t. But I will tell you this: honey ice cream is surprisingly amazing. We ate chocolate and raspberry honey ice cream over honey waffles. Dee-licious. Just ask our kids, who gobbled it up. (Maybe that was the wrong word to use after the turkey talk!)

It was a fun family outing for these native Illinoisans. We only wish we’d had more time to check it all out. Maybe another time.

I’ll leave you with one last nugget of smile-making. If you’re not smiling yet, I hope you will be after you see this. My kids are silly and that often makes me smile.

Have a great week!

Only the beginning: A review of The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow by Joyce Magnin

They don’t call Joyce Magnin the queen of quirk for nothing.

Before I ever read a word she wrote, I heard her speak twice to our writer’s group, and let me tell you this: She’s as funny in person as she is on the page. I was eager to read her series of novels set in the fictional Pennsylvania town of Bright’s Pond, so while home in Illinois for Christmas, I took the plunge and began reading The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow.

The first of the series focuses on two sisters, Griselda, the town librarian, and Agnes, the controversial patron saint of Bright’s Pond. Because of Agnes’ prayers, several Bright’s Pond residents have experienced miracles, and they want the world (or at least everyone traveling on the Turnpike) to know about Agnes Sparrow.

What ensues is comical and heart-wrenching. When things take a turn for the worse in Bright’s Pond, the sisters face some tough decisions. Magnin handles these issues and her characters with wit and grace, and it’s not hard to find pieces of yourself in their actions.

This book was a feast for my brain — like mental chocolate. I couldn’t get enough. I’m only sorry I waited so long to start the series. Magnin’s recently release the fourth book in this series, so I have some catching up to do. Check out Magnin’s books and stories at her website.

FAVORITES: The character names of everyone in Bright’s Pond are original, funny and sometimes a little strange, but they’re fitting. I appreciate the care Magnin took in creating unique names for her characters. That makes them more memorable to me.

FAULTS: I read a digital edition of this book and found some typos, as well as some inconsistency of the name of the chapel in Bright’s Pond. Little that bother the editor in me but don’t detract from the overall story.

IN A WORD: Entertaining. I had so much fun reading this book.

————-

Bonus content: I didn’t wait long to read Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise. While it doesn’t feature many of the characters as the first book, it takes place in the same region as Bright’s Pond. It’s a delightful story about a recent widow who moves to a trailer park, makes friends, starts a softball team and well, unintentionally, takes over. Hers is an inspiring story of what can happen when you free yourself to follow your dreams and instincts.

FAVORITES: Memorable characters. And not just their names, as was the case in Agnes Sparrow, but Magnin creates a community of people I want to meet and hang out with. We learn about their struggles and care about what happens to them. I’m convinced that Magnin either knows some really wacky people she’s written into her novels or her imagination is out of this world. Maybe a little of both?

FAULTS: The ending felt a little rushed to me — like a steep downhill slide after the long trek to the climax. The story  was over almost before I realized it, and I was sad to say good-bye so quickly to Charlotte Figg.

IN A WORD: Uplifting. Charlotte Figg grieves the loss of her husband but she doesn’t stay mired in it. She decides to get on with and do something with her life. She has struggles, but she presses on, with help from her newfound friends and a renewing faith in God.

—————-

Double bonus material: Earlier this week, both of these books were still free  — yes, free! — for the Kindle on Amazon, so if you have a Kindle, you have NO good reason not to check these books out.

On becoming an aunt

Daughter. Granddaughter. Sister. Niece. Cousin. Wife. Mother.

I’ve been all these things in my 30-plus years, but one thing I’ve never been is an aunt.

Until this little guy entered the world on Wednesday.

I have to admit: I’m a little bit nervous about the role. I’m not exactly sure what an aunt is “supposed” to do. Being an aunt is not a clearly defined role, in my mind. At least, not like those other roles. I’ve had moments where I haven’t been sure what to do as a wife or mother or daughter, but for some reason, those roles and titles are more comfortable to me.

“Aunt,” on the other hand, well, that’s a whole new ball game. The word conjures up images of everything from cooky old ladies who give sloppy smooches and wear too much lipstick to hip, young girls whose older siblings have kids and are more like cousins.

Neither of those is my experience, by the way.

If I want to know how to be an aunt, and a good aunt at that, I don’t have to look very far.

When I think of a great aunt (not a great-aunt, though she is that now to my kids), my aunt Dina comes to mind. She has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I don’t mean she showed up to family functions and I vaguely knew who she was. Aunt Dina and her husband, my uncle Lewie, have invested in my life in ways I can never pay back. They spent time with me, let me sleep over at their house, supported me, challenged me and loved me. Honestly, it’s just who they are. I don’t know if they intended to play such an important role in my life, but their involvement and care drew me to the God they loved and served. They are a major reason I miss our home church. My husband and I have served with them in youth ministry, which has been an awesome blessing. Aunt Dina is the kind of aunt who always gives hugs and who is open to talking about anything (especially the stuff you never wanted to ask your mom about … no offense to moms). And she’s fun. Contagious fun. She tells my daughter that purple is God’s favorite color. I smile just thinking about her. If I could be half the aunt to my nephew that Dina has been to me, I’ll be doing good.

Then there’s this lady.

I totally sniped this picture of her. She probably would have posed and smiled if I’d have asked, but I didn’t. Aunt Nancy entered my life later when she married my Uncle Kent. I think I was in high school. She is a positive, encouraging and caring person who expressed her love for our family from the start. For an insecure, self-conscious, occasionally depressed teenager, her love — spoken and otherwise expressed — was a HUGE boost to my confidence. She countered my negative image of myself with positives. When I had a bad break-up in college, she encouraged me that it was his loss. She, too, spoke of God and faith in ways that made me curious and hopeful. She is the life of a party, a great listener and quick-witted. At our recent family Christmas gathering, when my brother was going on and on about how ideal my parents’ house will be when the zombie apocalypse happens, she listened patiently and then interjected dreamily, “And it’s so beautiful when it snows.” We all cracked up. Except my brother. Aunt Nancy is another great example for me to follow in the aunt department.

And my aunts don’t end there! Aunt Vicky, I remember, had the most interesting Barbie collection. I couldn’t play with any of them, but I loved to look. She made a wall hanging of my name that I kept on display until college, I think. Maybe after. I still have it. She hasn’t let up now that she, too, is a great-aunt, making aprons for my daughter. I think some of this craftiness rubbed off. The day my sister-in-law was in labor, I made a card with the kids and then had the urge to get back into cross-stitch to make things for baby Kaiden’s room. Do all aunts do this? Probably not.

Aunt Bev and Aunt Shelly, I’ll admit, I don’t know well, even though they’ve been in my life for as long as I can remember. This, I know, though: I think of them fondly and always enjoyed family get-together they were a part of. Even now, we keep in limited contact through Facebook. (The wonders of technology!)

I share one thing in common with all of my aunts: they all married in to the family. I have no aunts related to me by blood. That is my position with baby Kaiden: aunt by marriage, not by blood. But if I’ve learned anything from these great women in my life, it’s that it doesn’t matter how I came to be a part of my nephew’s life just as long as I am a part of his life.

Living 700 miles away from our first nephew right now stings a little bit. It might be six months before we see him, but the aunts and uncles in our kids’ lives have proved that it’s possible to be involved, to shower love from afar and to invest in the life of a niece and nephew.

Becoming an aunt has given me a lot to think about.

That’s my cup of tea today.

If you’ve got a great aunt or you are one, let’s talk!

What makes someone a great aunt? How have your aunts made a difference in your life?