Friday, September 30, 2011

A Most Unsuitable Match

It's 1869 in St. Charles, Missouri. Fannie Rousseau is emerging from her grief over her mother's illness and death to dire circumstances. She sees signs that her family finances are not in good shape, and her house is in such a state of disrepair that a burglar tries rob it thinking it has been abandoned. While going through her mother's dresser, she discovers letters from her aunt, her mother's twin sister whose existence has been hidden from Fannie. When she asks her financial manager about her aunt, something about his response is off-putting enough that she is determined to go searching for her. She convinces Hannah, the faithful family servant, to accompany her on a steamboat up the Missouri River to Fort Benton, Montana, where the last year was sent from over a year ago. On the steamboat, she meets a young man, named Samuel Beck, who bought his passage by working as a freighter whose is searching for his own missing family member. But sailing up the Missouri is never easy and the land beyond is even rougher.

So it goes the Christian historical romance, A Most Unsuitable Match, by Stephanie Grace Whitson. And as far as that genre goes, it's a worthwhile read. It's entertaining, wholesome, a little sappy, but generally heart-warming. The twists are somewhat predictable, but the characters are loveable enough to make you care about what happens to them. My favorite character is Patrick, a little blind boy who is alarmingly perceptive and calls people on their bluffs. And it had settings that I love--give me a good river story and I'm happy. A fictitious version of Concordia Seminary even makes a cameo appearance. (No, I don't think Whitson is Lutheran.)

I received a copy of A Most Unsuitable Match from the Bethany House Book Reviewers program. The opinions on my own. :-)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Generous Proportions

Rarely do I think of myself when I think of generosity. I wish I was more generous, but I always find fault. However, I have received much generosity. Wherever I end up I find myself among extremely generous people. And it's those people I wish to highlight today:

Thanks, Messiah, Clio. Six years ago, you kept my fiance/husband fed and social (both difficult things) during his long year of a vicarage. Then, you welcomed me with open arms each time I visited. Most recently, you welcomed us back for your 50th anniversary celebration. And once more you blessed us with your hospitality, warmth, and generosity.

Thanks, Zion, Cincinnati--the little church with the big heart. Your friendliness gave us a church home as we began our marriage. You provided Mike with a call (a big blessing that anyone who is synodically trained without one will understand). You constantly ask how you can support our ministry, together and separately.

Thanks, Lori, Sue and all the women of the Monday morning bible study. It was hard to start going. You all had your lives together and I was a newlywed hoping for plans that didn't work out. I didn't know where I'd fit and you welcomed me anyway. On top of that, you sent me home with lots of goodies and opened up your homes even more to weekly laundry visits. But it's not really the laundry; it's the friendship that spans decades which really shows your generous hearts.

Thanks to my law library. What started off as a part-time, most likely temporary position, has evolved to a full-time job going on its 5th year. You bless me with health insurance, income that helps Mike and I feel less like poor graduate students and more like real adults, tuition benefits for my LIS masters. While life in the library is not perfect, you support me in my current career and give me opportunity to find job satisfaction. It's not the vocation I would have chosen, but God blesses me with it every day.

Thanks to my Seward profs. I think of the think I spent in Jesse top taking up my profs time trying to figure out my life, and I'm grateful. Their generosity went above and beyond the duty of profs, and while I know it was freely given, I still stand it awe. They are the people who make me want to teach at the college level.

Thanks, Mom and Dad. You were and continue to be generous even from a distance. I worry that I was spoiled as a child--and as a college student, but their financial support gave me the opportunity to focus on my education (to have time to spend on Jesse top talking to profs). I remember falling into my first full-time job and calling up my dad to cancel my monthly allowance. They gave me the car which they had graciously let me borrow for 7 years as a wedding gift. I know I'm lucky, and I'm thankful that they supported me so Mike and I can be living a decent life now without the weight of credit card debt I would have accumulated without their help.

And I thank my husband, who probably doesn't think he's a generous person because he's always trying to get me to not spend money. :-) However, busy grad student that he is, he always finds time to respond to a gchat or talk to me when I come home. He generously does the dishes which I will always procrastinate on and responds kindly when I nitpick. He even finds space in our little budget for things like a MacBook when my battery case begins popping out of the bottom of my old one.

God has richly blessed me through all these generous people. It's because of them that I strive to be more generous not only with my money, but with my words and actions as well.

Crossposted at Via Scribendi.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Last Dregs of Summer

Fall has arrived! So let's wrap up my summer reading:

The Ordering of Love
This was the last compilation of L'Engle's poetry. All of her poems from the previous three collections plus two dozen recent and not-so-recent poems were gathered together. So if you love Madeleine L'Engle's poetry (and to be honest it's pretty awesome), this is the book to get.

Savor the Moment
The third in the Nora Robert's bride quartet. It's my least favorite. However, I love the quartet in general so it's not all bad. :-) Laurel, the cake baker of Vows weddings, falls for Del, whose always been an older brother to the quartet.

The Joys of Love
The LAST Madeleine L'Engle book. It was published posthumously by L'Engle's granddaughters. L'Engle had given it to them as a special book all their own which they wished to share with her fans. It was a nice sentiment, and the book was nice, but I understand why L'Engle didn't push to publish it. Elizabeth is participating in summer stock, sure that some tips from her favorite actress will help launch her acting career. She has fallen for the director whose perfection blinds her to the honest love Ben, a fellow troupe member has for her. When her aunt pulls her funding, Elizabeth only has a couple days to figure out all the decisions waiting for an answer this summer.

Happy Ever After
The last of the Bride quartet. Even workaholic Parker find love. Aw. What I really want to know is how Parker figures out how to provide 24/7 service to her brides (which Vows is known for) now that she has other demands on her time. Also, I want to see their weddings. It's really sad we only get to see Mac's.

Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture
This was the hardest book I've read in a really long time. Victor Turner is the expert in his field, but that was much more academic writing than I've encountered in a long time. (The Nora Roberts probably isn't challenging my reading skills.) Nonetheless, I finished it and it was really intriguing. While everything is from an anthropological view which is a little less satisfying for this theologically minded person, the patterns developed around pilgrimages are fascinating. The more I read, the more I think I need to take a very intentional view of travel whether it is to spiritual sites or not.

Flash and Bones
A Kathy Reichs novel. Yay for a very different Temperance Brennan than is on fox. Still her no nonsense attitude shines through as she tries to unravel various missing person cases to find the murderer who dumped a body near the North Carolina raceway. BTW have you seen that commercial where a driver sabotages another driver by pumping Amy Grant into his headset? It makes me very upset. Amy Grant is awesome. Don't diss her.

A Long Way from Chicago
Our church secretary heard about my love for YA and sent me this and the next book. Joey and Mary Alice are sent down to their grandma's house in small-town Illinois for a week every summer during the Great Depression. Grandma is pretty wacky and prickly, but she's also a hoot and a half. Those kids get into more trouble with her than without her. For instance, they would never borrow the sheriff's fishing boat to gather catfish from illegal traps to feed the hobos being kicked out of town. But they discover, summer after summer, that under that gruff exterior is a heart of gold.

A Year Down Yonder
Joey is off in the civilian corps and the parents are forced to move to a smaller apartment, so Mary Alice spends a whole year with Grandma. While Joey may have been won over by her, Mary Alice is definitely skeptical. But living with Grandma day in and day out makes Mary Alice wise to her pride, her eccentricities and her deep compassion for those she loves. You should definitely read both books together.

Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay
Though there are certainly other books demanding my attention, I downloaded the Hunger Games trilogy to my nook. Maybe the nook is not the best thing for obsessive series readers, because holy cow, it's really easy to move from one book to the next. You don't even have to get up and find the next book on your shelf; it's just there. So I was able to follow Katniss from her selfless volunteerism in the 74th Hunger Games, through her charade of feelings (or is it real?) with Peeta in the 75th Hunger Games, right through to the attack on the Capital mirroring the 76th Hunger Games. I still don't agree with all her decisions, but man, I cannot wait for that movie. And I totally get the end now. Ugh, it sucks to be you, Katniss.

Beauty Queens
After the drama of The Hunger Games Trilogy, the absurdity of 12 beauty queens stranded on a seemingly deserted island was delicious fluff. And you have to go into it with the intent to allow it to just be silly, otherwise you're going to go crazy. One beauty queen fights her way out of a giant snake. It's just the type of book that is. However, it is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon or you know any time you want to procrastinate your library science homework.

Spoiled
The YA book by the Fug Girls! I didn't expect a whole lot out of this book, but it was pretty fantastic. Brooke is on her way to being Paris Hilton when she finds out she has a half-sister, Molly, who is coming to live with her now that Molly's mom has died. Brooke's never really had her dad's attention, due to all the demands being an action star/movie producer he has, but now she has to compete with a sister who is not even ugly. The sibling rivalry is pushed just past cliche to heartbreaking. You know these girls are trying to make the best choices, but they're teenagers so they don't quite grasp what those could be. My only gripe is that Stan, who supervises the girls while Dad is off on set, could have been way more instrumental. Sadly, he would have provided too much reason and killed the teenage drama. Also, I'm not sure whether there will be a sequel. The book itself could have been pulled out Princess Diaries style, but they wrapped up every storyline except one so I don't know...

So here's the thing about my summer reading. It was really nice to know what I was reading next. While at times, it was a little obsessive like my book list was demanding to be read, it really helped me focus on my next books. For most of September I've felt a little lost. And now that I'm thinking about it, during the Winter/Spring I had my YA class demanding books be read, so lost makes sense.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Faith Milestones: Baptism

A milestone shows the distance one has traveled or may be how far one has to go.

My mom leads children's ministry at her churchusing faith milestones to celebrate, support, and encourage how far children have traveled in their spiritual development within families. She organizes events to celebrate baptism, learning the Lord's Prayer, getting your first Bible, and moving from the Children's Ministry program to the Jr. High and Confirmation program. As I've listened to her talk about the events and theory behind it, I've fallen in love with the concept. So much of one's spiritual development is personal, but having the church recognize signification milestones, especially in children's faith development is awesome.

But inevitably, I turn to myself. I'm 29, a life-long Christian. I hold an MA in Exegetical Theology. Theoretically, I have a lot of milestones with which I could count my spiritual development. But lately, I've only been focusing on one:

Baptism

I was baptized shortly after I was a month old. My parents and my sponsors made the pledges of faith for me and promised to bring me up in the Christian faith. I don't think it's pride to say they've succeeded, indeed my pride is in the example and instruction they provided me regardless of how well I've lived it out.

My family celebrated my brother's and my baptism birthdays in small ways, with songs, lighting the candle as a child--less so as a teen. There's a banner that I hung in our apartment, that previous was hung in my bedroom. My mom wrote about my baptism story in a publication called Happy Times, that I still have tucked away. The artist portrayed her with a mullet--sigh the 80s.

As I moved into adulthood, I remembered my baptism. Haphazardly maybe. Not with the regularity I read about from Luther or in my other theological texts. But I've learned to rest in my baptism in an effort to stave off perfectionism. (It kind of works.) My baptism is a fact. It means that I know Christ died for my sins, that he has washed them away, that I can have a relationship with God.

But that gets lost in the highway ephemera--the day-to-day drudge of living a life that doesn't have daily chapel, religion classes or even theology classes (which may or may not be a spiritual exercise depending on how you look at it). While I go to church every Sunday, even when I don't want to, and attend bible studies, my faith and my baptism are not daily on my mind.

On one hand, it's okay. Just like I don't have to keep the 10 commandments, pray continually, always be kind and loving to everyone, or on the whole be perfect to be assured of my salvation; neither do I have to remember my baptism. But I want to remember that that I don't have to, that my baptism is the reason I don't have, that the grace given to me from that moment makes the donthaveto's into wantto's.

And so I've return to childhood. Well, the childhood of my mom's Children's Ministry kids. In February, after hearing for years about the baptism tub clings the kids would make during the Splash Event, I asked for one. And Mom sent it with my birthday gift. 5 minutes with some colored sharpies and I have my own baptism cling. (I put Mike's baptism on there too.) And it's been hanging in my shower for the past 6 months.

It's been a remarkably successful way to remind my baptism at least once a day. Often I'll sing "God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It" even though I only know a half verse. Last week, I finally looked up the words and wrote down the first two verses to waterproof and put in the shower as well. Though I might take them out again, I like the freedom of remembering my baptism without having to memorize more words.

So for now, my milestone is my baptism. Certainly, I've developed in the faith given to me at baptism and there are plenty of milestones I can look back on to see how far I've come (and how far I have to go). But baptism is. And I don't want to be far away from that milestone.

This post is part of an online writing adventure at Via Scribendi.