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Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Review, Dance with Me by Luanne Rice

The story centers around a mom and two grown, unmarried daughters in Twin Rivers Rhode Island. With the mom, Margaret's health failing, the youngest, Sylvie, has moved into her mother's home to take care of her. Concerns about Margaret's fragile health bring the older sister Jane back for a visit. As the story unfolds we learn that Jane has a secret. She became pregnant as a teen in college and at her mother's insistence and against her will gave up her infant daughter,Chloe for adaption. The heart-wrenching decision left deep scars  and Jane has never been the same. It destroyed the happy future she planned with her fiance and caused her to drop out of college and purse a path as a baker instead of an gifted English major.

While visiting her mother Jane becomes obsessed with finding Chloe and because it was a private adoption her mother helped arrange, she knows who the family was who adopted her and they are local. Things become a tangled mess as Jane pursues this strong need to learn more about what happened to her daughter. What she hadn't expected was to fall in love with Dylan, Chloe's Uncle, a tough, retired U.S. Marshal who has suffered through his own heartaches and is now trying to get the family orchard back up and running.

Luanne Rice is a superb secular writer, and unlike some authors who cause we to question how they made it to the  New York times best selling list, I agree that this book deserves to be there. The characters are very real and the struggles--Margaret trying to come to grips with her failing health and memory and Jane coping with the deep hurts that being torn from a daughter she wanted to keep--make it all the more compelling. There is a sensitivity to Rice's work that gets into issues that run deep and allows readers to feel the pain the main characters are experiencing. Not many writers can take you to that level.

Fifteen-year-old Chloe is vibrant and compassionate and she endears herself to her reader becoming a very real teen facing real issues that a young girl who longs to know her real birth mom can face. I give this book five out of five stars.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Building the Bridge as We Walk On It

I don't talk too much about ministry and my personal life here on Nearly Brilliant but today I feel led to. A few years ago Robert Quinn published a book called Building the Bridge as You Walk On It. Quinn's book's focus was on leading change. I haven't read the book but I love the title and wish I had thought of it myself because it's so clever. The title itself has become a motto for me, especially in recent years. Just a few years ago, my husband, Jeff, and I left secure positions in traditional church ministry in California (we are not native Californians)  to do something crazy by starting a non-profit coffee shop ministry church in Hickory, NC. It's been a faith walk ever since and has been both the most exciting and most stressful thing we've ever done. We took what was left of the proceeds from the sale of our house in CA and put them into the ministry...of course by that time the housing market crashed and the economy tumbled and no bank would give us the loan we needed to close the gap. So we've been getting along with volunteer labor behind the counter and no pay check in the ministry realm.

During the start up phase helped support us by working at a non-profit which brought in meager but reliable income while we got Java Journey up and running. All that shifted at the end of June in 2011 when I lost that job and our faith walk increased considerably with me now spinning multiple plates as a freelance writer, artist and entrepreneur (helping run and grow a friends pet silhouette business) and church plant manager while Jeff does sports officiating off an on and church plant managing. From one month to the next we are not sure what our income will be nor whether we will still have a house or a coffee shop ministry. But it often seems that when things look the bleakest is when God steps up to the plate. It's almost as if he's got these extra poker chips in his pockets and when it looks like we're going to lose the game, he suddenly throws some more on the table.

He did that today. The bathroom at Java Journey has been out of order since Dec. 24th and it was not an easy fix, not merely a clogged toilet. Te landlord isn't liable because of the nebulous contract we signed. So with the pipes needing more than Roto Rooter--we are talking cutting up concrete and replacing pipes--the bathroom has remained out of order. We had various people get involved in trying to help and each time we thought we'd have it fixed something fell through. But last weekend we began to see a glimpse of hope and today we had a break through. We managed to cut a hole in the floor last weekend to get down to the pipes with the help of some guys from Exodus Homes ministry. They gave us an estimate on what it will take to finish the job. Today Jeff talked with the landlord about the cost, $1,000 which we don't have.  He agreed to pay for the cost up front and allow us to pay it back a little at a time, an answer to prayer. But it also means fundraisers. Just as I was contemplating how we would go about having a fundraiser, in walked J.D., a guy who was helping dig up the floor last weekend. When he learned of the financial predicament he came up with a food fundraiser idea which he and his crew are willing to help with. Amazing! It seemed as if God said, "Don't worry, I've got this."

This same kind of thing happens with our finances too. It seems no matter how hard I work, I nearly almost always make the same thing, or God brings in a little extra to cover the difference. I still get worked up over finances. I should know by now that God has a universal savings account he draws from. Day after day we continue to experience God building the bridge as we walk on it. I don't truly understand how it works but I can tell you it's real and the bridge is solid, an amazing testament to how God continues to work in our daily lives.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Book Review, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

We are taught to obey the rules in writing and most of us do. It takes fearlessness to break the rules and try unique techniques when writing a book because we don't know if a) the book is too avante guard to get published and b) if it does whether the public will accept it. Author Jonathan Safran Foer's book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close did get published and he is fearless in his experimentation.  You will either love it or hate it. The story centers around 9-year-old Oskar Schell who has been tramautized by his father's death in the destruction of the world trade center. There are actually two stories going on. The first is the story of Oskar's quest to deal with his grief and find someone who can solve a mystery behind a key he found in a vase in his father's closet. It's in an envelope with the words Black written on it and he surmises that Black is the name of a person. As only a 9-year-old would, Oskar decides he will go through the phone book and contact every Black listed in person, one at a time until he finds the solution.

The pain the odd and extremly intelligent child experiences seems very real and his perceptions are often endearing and funny. The second story interwoven throughout this story is that of Oskar's estranged grand parents and the role the fire bombing of Dresden had in shaping their lives. Foer uses unusual techniques throughout the book which includes pictures, pages with single words or lines and more.  He often doesn't identify who is talking when he jumps from one story or point of view to the next. Frankly it got pretty confusing at times. I was captivated by Foer's brillance but also annoyed  because it fractured the story and sometimes frustrated me. Overall it is a very tender and bitter sweet story. My biggest disappointment is that Foer obviously doesn't seem to believe in an afterlife. To him life is what it is and that cast an overwhelming sadness over the story and the characters who are left to deel with deep grief and little hope in the end.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Confession, I Stole Somebody's "Buggy"

Boy, do I feel stupid. It's definitely Friday. I stopped by WalMart to pickup some groceries after dropping my sick printer off for repair elsewhere. WalMart was kinda on the way home. I was making pretty good progress filling up my cart until I decided to call Jeff and ask him if we needed Trisket (how do you spell that) crackers. I must have grabbed the wrong shopping cart as I was winding my way through the store. While I was talking with Jeff some lady came chasing after me. "Ma'm, Ma'm, I think you have my buggy."

A few years ago I would have been clueless as to what a buggy was but having lived back in NC for about three years now I know know that a buggy here is a shopping cart elsewhere. Yes, I know, it still sounds really weird. Can you say, "b-uuu-geee?" Apparently she had also put a loaf of bread in her top basket and I was busy thinking of a zillion other things like I always am--just ask Jeff. It looked right to me. I apologized profusely to the woman and sheepishly picked out the additional groceries I had added to her cart, and then head by to the cereal aisle. I found my forlorn cart waiting for me right where I left it.

I shame-facedly have to admit that I have actually done this one before, many moons ago. Sheesh. Is this the beginning of the end? Are they going to half to put me away? See, that's what happens when they take away a writer's printer. We get very disoriented.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Can J. K. Rowling Top Harry Potter?

J. K. Rowling, author of the highly successful Harry Potter book series just struck a deal with Little, Brown for a new novel for adults. Personally, I would hate to be in her shoes. It's a bit like the Sports Illustrated phenomenon. Nine times out of ten, those successful athletes featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the peak of their success, plummet, never to reach that level of success again. Also known as "regression toward the mean," it is based on the hypothesis that if a variable is extreme when it is first measured, it is more likely to be closer to average upon its second measurement.

Rowling is fighting an uphill battle. Can you imagine J.R.R. Tolkien writing another series that rivaled or surpassed his Lord of the Rings Trilogy?  or Margaret Mitchell topping Gone with the Wind?

Rowling's new book is thought to be a mystery novel for adults though this has not yet been officially confirmed. The specifics have yet to be announced. J. K. Here's wishing you the best. Having made your fortune on Harry Potter series, you have the option of sitting back and taking it easy for the rest of your life. Instead, you've decided to forge ahead and "explore new territories." I count Harry Potter among my favorite literary works and anticipate your next release. I, and the rest of your loyal followers hope you don't disappoint us. No pressure.

Teena Stewart is author of the Treasure Seeker and other books.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lessons from The Rifleman and Bonanza

I just celebrated another birthday. They say with age comes wisdom. But it seems the older the get the more I realize how little I know, especially when I hold up my knowledge to the old time TV characters.  Since we've had to financially cut back, our upstairs older TV which is the one we watch the most has more limited channels. While the downstairs TV has many more options including a program recording feature. The problem is we are renting out our downstairs to a tenant so we don't get to enjoy the benefits and many many channel choices except on occasion when our renter is gone.

I rarely watch TV unless it is to enjoy a movie or on a rare occasion a recorded TV show. But sometimes I do sit down at dinner if my husband is gone and flip on the television in our den.  I try the news, but it covers the Charlotte area and we are in Hickory. So much of what they discuss has little bearing on our great metropolis here. I end up flipping channels. Sometimes I watch old shows just for fun. The Rifleman and Bonanza are "old friends" I've come back to (and re-runs of Project Runway). I'm  astounded at how fast the plots move. Especially the Rifleman. I mean, just how deep can you go in a half hour? Even with those time constraints, there's always some earth-trembling crisis to be solved by Lucas McCain or Ben Cartwright. Sometimes they have to wrap up the end so quickly it's laughable. Everything comes to a screeching halt. But they always make it through and they always learn something. They even get shot but there's little blood to show for it. Those were the good old days.

I wish I had just a fraction of their smarts to figure out the hard stuff. I mean really, right now I am facing cleaning out my mom's house, trying to find tax records--did they ever have to find tax records? Or deciding how we should liquidate everything when no one is buying houses these days.  I'm also piecing together jobs to make ends meet and trying to figure which direction to go in for the future. If Lucas or Ben ever had these concerns, they never dealt with them on TV.  They handle big stuff--all neatly wrapped up at the end of the day.

If age comes with wisdom then shouldn't I be able to handle small matters a tidily as these guys handled the big ones? Instead I go through a groping and searching process. Yeah. I pray for direction, but it's not always so clear. I guess  Lucas and Ben are operating from a fictional script. I, on the other hand, am dealing with  real life, an unscripted part.  I can't see what's happening next so I can plan out how what to do or how to react. The most God expects me to do is hold tight, keep the faith, and seek to do the right thing based on what what he has revealed. He'll honor my response. Of course, being a crack shot might not hurt in the least.


Teena Stewart is author of the Treasure Seeker and other books.