One of the best things about 2017 is that I've been prioritizing reading - and it has been amazing to feel a little more like "myself" that way, after several years of not really reading much at all. Ah, I have so missed it! I'm learning that even if I make through one chapter a day - or less, like even just a page or two, as often is the case in this crazy season of motherhood! - it is much better than NOTHING. And it all adds up a lot more quickly than I expect. :)
So I was excited to say "Yes" when Handlebar Publishing asked if I would be interested in reviewing a couple books for them this fall. Here are my thoughts on these titles, both by Frederick Buechner:
The Remarkable Ordinary
"How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life"
A Crazy, Holy Grace
"The Healing Power of Pain and Memory"
Both books are very similar in style and content, so I'm just reviewing them together. On the positive side, Mr. Buechner has a very beautiful and poetic way of writing at times, and there were sections that I wanted to highlight or copy down as quotes. The books are a collection of essays and unpublished lectures, so they remind me of the type of stories you might hear if you sat down with a grandparent and asked them to share about their life. He writes about different experiences and memories, and what he learned from them.
The essay and lecture format has its downside, though, in that there is a good bit of overlap in the stories - not only between the two books, as might be somewhat expected, but also between chapters of the same book. So it held my attention pretty well for the first few chapters, but then I found myself skimming as the same stories came up again. The writing often came off as disjointed and unfocused - something that would be much benefitted by editing. I found some sections quite confusing, especially the chapters where Mr. Buechner holds imaginary conversations with his deceased Grandmother. And I was disappointed to see some mentions of unorthodox theological viewpoints, including a great deal of ambiguity regarding the gospel and an apparent endorsement of evolution.
For these reasons, I cannot endorse these books - though that is a shame because there really are some beautiful little literary gems tucked throughout the chapters.
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Saturday, January 21, 2017
When I signed up to help launch Counting Grains of Sand, I had no idea just how timely its message would be in my life. I've been blessed by Natasha's previous book, Pain Redeemed, as well as her blog, so I knew Counting Grains of Sand would be good and I looked forward to reading it -- but I was in the final weeks of my third pregnancy, and the book dealt with Natasha's journey with infertility and adoption. Probably only snippets here and there would be applicable, right?
I opened the book file on my phone during yet another weary night of pregnancy-induced insomnia. Natasha's humble honesty drew me in from the first page, and even as sleepiness finally began to set in I found it hard to set down. Page after page held relatable accounts of Natasha's journey to fuller faith in God's goodness: so many precious stories of how He had showed Himself faithful, even in miraculous ways. These were reminders that I needed as I actively sought to focus on Truth instead of giving space to the "what-ifs" that crowded my tired brain.
As the weeks passed, I had to face a few complications with the pregnancy as well as with labor and recovery. This involved two visits to the hospital (one via ambulance ride, my first), and then finding out that our son has a few birth defects: minor compared to what they could be, yet involving multiple appointments with various specialists and the likelihood of several surgeries.
Medical situations are probably the hardest for me to handle well. I found myself carrying a heavy load of fear, the worries only made worse by the extreme exhaustion of those newborn days. I snatched moments here and there to read more from Counting Grains of Sand, again finding myself in tears as I related to Natasha's struggle to truly let the unknowns rest in God's faithfulness.
"God didn’t expect me to have perfect faith at every moment. He just expected me to remember, like I expected my daughter to remember. She needed to remember that she was kept, day after day after day, and I needed to remember that God never left my side—not once."
Like Natasha's story, my current situation doesn't have a neat and tidy ending. I'm still in the middle of it, to be honest. But seeing God's amazing faithfulness to Natasha and her family as they walked the long and bumpy road of infertility and adoption has given me hope and helped me refocus.
We really do have a faithful Father -- a Father who puts families together across the years and across the oceans, a Father who can multiply bags of concrete and planks of wood flooring until there is just enough, and a Father who meets us right where we are, even in the midst of our doubts.
"God is so kind.
He is so, so kind to me.
Even when I doubt Him. Even when I have wavering, faltering faith. Even when I try to stiffen my back and just trudge on through life. Even when I am trapped in survival-mode and not being the best mother or friend or wife.
God’s kindness and the gentle way He leads me toward faith astound me."
Counting Grains of Sand is a book I know I will read and re-read, and one that I will share and recommend freely. I wish I could buy copies for all my friends, because it's just that good! If you have appreciated Elisabeth Elliot's writings, this book will also speak to your heart: it comes from the same place of hard-won surrender to and acceptance of what God has allowed.
No matter what you are going through in life, you will find encouragement and hope in Natasha's story. You likely will never fully understand the "why" of your aching heart, but you will come away from this book with a clearer picture of who Jesus is...you will know Him more fully.
And in the end, that is what matters most.
"I still ache for the babies who will never be. I’m learning it is okay that I do. Because there, in the aching, I can know God.
And knowing God is a glorious thing.
It’s easy to want to demand answers. To ask God if I will forever just be counting grains of sand, searching for some taste of fulfillment to my dreams. But I don’t really need answers.
I need to cling to Jesus."
Find Counting Grains of Sand on Amazon and on Natasha's webpage. #CountingGrainsOfSand
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