Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger–Book Review

This is a book about loss and healing; forgiveness and acceptance; faith and pain. It’s the story of one summer in the life of a young teenage boy named Frank– a summer when several people die violent deaths, one of them his older sister, Ariel. This death shatters the family and the community in which they live. The mystery of who is responsible slowly unravels until Frank and his younger brother Jake discover the truth. Secrets are revealed and painful growth results.

Ordinary Grace: A Novel

Central to the story is Frank’s father, a Methodist minister, whose calm faith holds his family together as they navigate the process of grief. Even in the worst moments of despair, Frank and his family encounter small, “ordinary” miracles that lead them to God’s grace. Through the love of family and friends, God’s truth expressed in a sermon, the simple act of giving thanks, they begin to release their hurt and anger and continue living.

Well written and realistic, this book will likely become a favorite. It’s an easy read, but one that will make you grapple with important issues of the faith.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. I recommend it.

For more book reviews of fiction see:

Beyond the Storm by Carolyn Zane–Book Review

white picket fences by Susan Meissner–Book Review

The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton–Book Review

Christmas Every Morning by Lisa Tawn Bergren–Book Review

Christmas Every Morning by Lisa Tawn Bergren (2008-05-03)

If you are looking for an easy, escapist beach read this may be the book for you. Otherwise, pick something else.

++SPOILER ALERT++The plot is completely predictable. Ever since she can remember, Krista Mueller felt unloved by her mother (her father was not in the picture at all). For years, her mother has been cared for in a facility for Alzheimer patients, and Krista has not visited with her. Now, notified that her mother is dying, Krista returns to her home town of Taos, New Mexico, to make peace. She also reunites with her teenage flame, Dane, who is (surprise!) the director of the Alzheimer facility. Old wounds are quickly exposed and healed, the lovers find one another again and the relationship between mother and daughter is restored.

The characters are not well developed and the Christianity portrayed is superficial. Conflicts are resolved too quickly to create much tension. I read it in one day.

The most edifying part of the book was the description of the Alzheimer facility. Here the author had done her research and suggested some interesting alternative therapies, such as the “Christmas room” where residents could hear carols and see Christmas decorations every day and garden paths that led back to the rooms to satisfy their desire to roam without the risk of getting lost.

VERDICT: 2 STARS. Even if you’re looking for an easy read, there are better choices.

For other Christian novels see:

Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron–Book Review

white picket fences by Susan Meissner–Book Review

Beyond the Storm by Carolyn Zane–Book Review

Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me by Ian Morgan Cron–Book Review

Ian Cron is an Episcopal priest, speaker and author. I previously reviewed his book Chasing Francis (Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron–Book Review). I liked that book so much, I searched to see what else he had written. He calls this book, “a memoir of sorts.” It’s not just a book about faith, but about God and faith in the midst of all of our life and our suffering. In it, he recounts the story of his life with an alcoholic father, his painful adolescence, and his own experiences as a dad.

Ian’s dad was an enigma. He was often absent, and sometimes abusive. His alcoholism led to instability in the life of the family. Later Ian discovered that his father had worked for years for the CIA under the “cover” of other professions. Although Ian prayed for his father to change, that never happened. The rejection he experienced led to bitter feelings toward his father, and toward God. Still amidst the suffering were moments of grace, and eventually they led him home to the church. He was able to forgive his father, although they were never completely reconciled.

Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts

This book will make you laugh and cry. He tells his story with honesty and humor. It will make you think about your own story with gratitude as you remember those experiences of God’s grace and presence that have marked your journey.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. An easy and enjoyable read.

For other memoirs see:

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird–Book Review

In My Grandmother’s House by Yolanda Pierce–Book Review

The Night Lake by Liz Tichenor–Book Review

Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lysa Terkeurst–Book Review

Lysa Terkeurst is no stranger to pain.  She was a victim of childhood abuse by a neighbor, and her husband of many years betrayed her by having an affair.  She uses her own life story to illustrate both the need to forgive and the difficulty in forgiving those who have wronged us.

Her approach is both practical, empathetic and biblical.  The Bible tells us to forgive others because God forgave us.  It does not tell us that we will be able to forget or that we will always be able to reconcile with the person who has hurt us.  Sometimes we must establish boundaries for our own peace of mind and to avoid enabling the other person to avoid the consequences of their actions.  Sometimes the other person involved will never ask for forgiveness or desire reconciliation.

Often a lack of forgiveness leads to bitterness and the desire for revenge that only hurts us. Painful events from long ago, can continue to fuel anger that makes us easily offendable.  As Lysa says,

“Holding on to thoughts of resentment is like pulling a belt so tight across the middle of our thoughts that it prevents us from ever completely relaxing and resting and certainly makes future growth near to impossible.”

She emphasizes that forgiveness is a decision, but also a process. Even after we have forgiven a particular person and let go of resentment, it may surface again when we encounter a trigger that reminds us of the event or situation.  We need to learn to forgive over and over again, and to forgive daily.  She encourages using The Lord’s Prayer each morning to prepare ourselves for the times we will need to forgive that day.

“The best time to forgive is before we are ever offended.  The next best time to forgive is right now.”

At the end of the book there are other resources including:

  • What the Bible actually says about forgiveness (this lists and explains many verses on forgiveness)
  • Lysa’s most asked questions about forgiveness
  • How to get the help you need
  • Important notes to consider on abuse
  • Online resources at http://Proverbs31.org/forgiveness

VERDICT:  4 Stars.  A bit repetitive at times, but certainly helpful for those who are struggling with the issue of forgiveness

For more on the topic of forgiveness, see these posts:

The Opportunity of Forgiveness

A World Without Forgiveness

Forgiveness: It Does a Body Good

 

More on Loving One Another

Charles Kingsley (12 June 1819 – 23 January 1875) was a priest in the Church of England, as well as a novelist and poet.  In this quote, he urges us to “love one another.”

“Let us see that whenever we have failed to be loving, we have also failed to be wise;  that whenever we have been blind to our neighbors’ interests, we have also been blind to our own;  whenever we have hurt others, we have hurt ourselves still more.  Let all of us at this blessed Whitsuntide, ask forgiveness of God for all acts of malice and  lack of charity, all blindness and hardness of heart;  and pray for the spirit of true charity, which alone is true wisdom.  And let us come to Holy Communion in charity with one another and with all;  determined henceforth to feel for one another, and with each other;  to put ourselves in our neighbors’ places;  to see with their eyes, and to feel with their hearts, so far as God shall give us that great grace;  determined to make allowances for their mistakes and failings;  to give and forgive, even as God gives and forgives for ever;  that so we may be indeed the children of our Father in heaven, whose name is Love.

For more on loving one another see these posts:

Love One Another

Wash One Another’s Feet??

Keep Loving One Another

 

a long time comin’ by Robin W. Pearson — Book Review

I’m not a big fan of most Christian fiction.  It’s often sappy and not particularly well written (at least in my opinion). However, this novel is an exception.  The family of Beatrice Agnew is portrayed honestly with all their problems and foibles.  Bea has a different relationship with each of her children, and the exploration of these family dynamics is the engine that moves the plot along. I found myself caught up in her story and wanting to learn more about her life and her secrets. Told from the viewpoint of her granddaughter, Evelyn, “Granny B.” comes to life as a complicated and well developed character. She reminded me more than a bit of my own grandmother.

Author Robin Pearson leads the reader on a journey through pain and hardship, guilt,  forgiveness, healing and grief while exploring the family relationships between Beatrice and her children and grandchildren. God is a real presence in the life of the characters. The faith portrayed is authentic, but not sentimentalized.

There are discussion questions at the end, so this would make a good read for your book club.  According to the blub, this novel is the first in a series of three, so if you like it (as I did), you can look forward to more.

VERDICT:  4 STARS.  An easy and enjoyable read.

 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — Movie Review

Yes, the Mr. Rogers you may have watched as a child on television was the real Fred Rogers — not a character he invented.  And no, he was not a “living saint” but a real person who had learned through certain practices to control his anger and to be fully present to others.  What were those practices?  Nothing we can’t each easily undertake.  According to his wife, Joanne, he read Scripture, swam laps, prayed for people by name each day, and wrote many affirming letters.

In the film, Lloyd Vogel, investigative writer for Esquire is given the task of interviewing Fred for a series on heroes.  He has a reputation for revealing the worst about people in his articles, and has his doubts about Rogers.  Could anyone really be that good?  However after his initial meeting with Fred, he tells his wife (in a rather disappointed tone), “he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” He also finds the tables are turned– instead of interviewing Mr. Rogers, Lloyd becomes the interviewee.  Through his genuine interest in people, Rogers questions Lloyd about his life and family and helps him to reconcile with his father.  The plot is based on a true story.

Tom Hanks makes a very believable Fred Rogers.  I remember how our daughter, Beth, would watch the program as a preschooler and actually answer Mr. Rogers if he asked a question.  Not surprisingly, in the film Rogers says his goal is to look into the eyes of a single child, being fully present.  In my experience, he succeeded.

If you watched  Mr. Rogers as a child, or with your children, as I did, this movie will bring back many good memories.  It is poignant without being sappy.  I enjoyed it and would certainly recommend it to others.  We could all use a good dose of Mr. Rogers’ practices in our lives;  and we could all use a friend like Fred, who really listens to what we say and accepts us “just the way we are.”

VERDICT:  5 Stars.  Make every effort to see this one if you can.

For another movie about Fred Rogers see this post:

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — Movie Review

Overcomer–Movie Review

My husband and I watched this film together last night.  As the credits rolled, I turned to him and said, “What do you think?” His response was “a cross between a Hallmark movie and an after-school special.”

I have to agree.  The plot was formulaic and predictable.  The happy ending (although it does involve a death) tied everything up neatly.  People are reconciled, the underdog triumphs, conflicts are resolved, wrongs are made right.  This seldom happens in real life.  There is also some questionable theology for Lutherans, who do not believe a person can “decide” to follow Jesus.  God chooses us, we do not choose Him.

That being said, the film was uplifting and will raise your spirits.  Sometimes we all just need to be inspired and entertained.  It’s a movie you won’t be embarrassed to watch with your children or your Sunday School class.  No questionable language or nudity — hooray!  It raises plenty of issues to discuss with young people — things like forgiveness, prayer and Bible study.

The basis for the film is this Bible verse:

1 John 5:5 New International Version (NIV)

Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Overall Verdict?  I give it three stars

For a related post see:

What’s So Wonderful About Webster? by Stephen and Alex Kendrick–Book Review

A Quote on Kindness

This is another quote from my daily devotional.  The author is A.P. Stanley(1815–1881) who was an English churchman and academic, Dean of Westminster.  The topic is kindness, one that has been coming up in my reading and study recently.

“We may, if we choose, make the worst of one another.  Every one has his weak points;  every one has his faults;  we may make the worst of these;  we may fix our attention constantly upon these.  But we may also make the best of one another.  We may forgive, even as we hope to be forgiven.  We may put ourselves in the place of others, and ask what we should wish to be done to us, and thought of us, were we in their place.  By loving whatever is lovable in those around us, love will flow back from them to us, and life will become a pleasure instead of a pain;  and earth will become like heaven;  and we shall become not unworthy followers of Him whose name is love.”

Together In The End

I am posting this for Lutheran Lady, Barbara, who is a member of our congregation.  I hope you enjoy her heartfelt message.

Fifty-five years ago we moved eighty-eight miles away from our families, and since that time we have gone back to gather with family and friends for various occasions.

Other than our return for weddings, graduations and baptisms, funerals seem to draw us back far more frequently as we return to offer our condolences to those whose loved ones have gone to glory.

Each time I stand in a funeral home with the clan and friends of the family, I am so very aware of the “coming togetherness” among the mourners.  Relationships, which were often estranged, seem to morph into something more than mere civility in a sad situation. Forgiveness and genuine empathy replace anger and bitterness, and very often emerge into a lasting love and friendship.

I’ve often wondered whether others are impacted as am I by the coming together with one another and wonder what it means. In his book, The Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul states:

“Death often frightens us. When we see another person die, we are reminded that we are also mortal, that someday death will come to us. It is a thought we try to push from our minds. We are uncomfortable when another’s death rudely intrudes into our lives and reminds us of what we will face at some unknown future date. Death reminds us that we are creatures. Yet as fearsome as death is, it is nothing compared with meeting a holy God. When we encounter Him, the totality of our creatureliness breaks upon us and shatters the myth that we have believed about ourselves, the myth that we are demigods, junior-grade deities who will try to live forever.”

I’m sure that many people who attend funerals come because it is expected of them and they do their duty by attending.  But as they move and interact with others, I believe God is doing a wondrous, maybe even miraculous work among them. Who but God knows – maybe the timing of the deceased is an important factor for relationships that need healing.  Perhaps the pastor’s message enlightens attendees who finally realize that time is of the essence for saying, “I’m sorry” or “forgive me.”

In John 10:10 Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” An abundant life most certainly includes a life of peace, love, forgiveness and unity. It truly warms my heart to see the clan gather as one people under God. As the memorial service follows the viewing, and the words of scripture are read, I am grateful for the pastor’s opportunity to remind us all to: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col: 3: 13-14).  And as we recite the Lord’s Prayer TOGETHER, may we pray in all sincerity, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Mt: 6:12.

May each funeral we attend wake us up to the fact that we are all God’s children and we are all in this place together. We will all one day die and hopefully ALL meet on the golden shore to love God and each other forever.