The Road So Far

It has been a long year. Back in May I shared that we began the process of embryo adoption with the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville, TN. On November 15, we travelled to Knoxville and I received an amazing birthday present, one I thought for so long impossible – I became a mom. Just these last few weeks have been nerve-wracking with many emotional highs and lows, joys and fears. And a long path still lies before us, full of unknowns. But the Lord knows, He hears us and He cares for us. And as we pray, we pray that above all else God would be glorified through this journey.

Below is Ben’s summary of the process to date. We appreciate all your prayers. Continue reading

Book #59: Refresh

My husband got me Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by Shona and David Murray after he read the companion book, Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray, one written for women and one for men. The premise of each is that we are all filling our days and time up with more than we can handle just heading for an inevitable breakdown. The Murrays take a look at the causes of burnout and exhaustion and specific, practical ways to slow down the pace of life. I appreciate that they not only look at the spiritual aspect of burnout, but physical, emotional, and mental as well, rooting their work in much Scripture and scientific research. The main idea I took from the book is that, as humans, we must realize we are finite and limited; we are not able to do any and every thing that others – or even ourselves – might expect of us. We must have our priorities in order, but we also need to have grace with ourselves, recognizing that it’s ok if we have to say no to some commitments or if our to-do list isn’t finished. We need to take care of ourselves spiritually and physically. And sometimes we just need to take a nap. If you feel caught up in a whirlwind of busyness and are afraid you can see breakdown on the horizon, this is a very helpful and practical book. I also appreciate the companion book, which is the same material but tweaked a bit for men. I found it helpful for Ben and I to have read them both so we had a common frame of reference to discuss the material. My favorite quote:

The key is to grasp that pacing ourselves is biblical, whereas living the fast, frantic life is not. It takes faith to believe that and to follow through with it. To live it is in fact a dying to self – a dying to our self-will, our self-sufficiency, and our self-image.”

Book #58: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I’ve recently discovered Philip K. Dick, a science-fiction author who has had several novels turned into well-known films. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the source novel for the Blade Runner movies. I’ve never seen them, but the story sounded intriguing (I’ve since learned that the movie and novel are not the same story, fyi). The novel takes place in a futuristic 2021 following World War Terminus, a nuclear war that has left the earth decimated. Most animals have died and most humans have relocated to a colony on Mars to avoid the damaging effects of the lingering nuclear fallout. The colonists are given androids to help with the rough living on Mars. However, some androids are not content with their servitude and kill their human owners and escape to Earth where they attempt to live as humans. Rick Deckard has remained on Earth. Like all the others left on the planet, he dreams of having enough money to afford to own one of the rare surviving animals, the ultimate status symbol. Those that can’t afford real animals buy electric substitutes that look so real they’re indistinguishable. Rick longs to replace his electric sheep with a real animal. His job is as a bounty hunter for the San Fransisco Police, tasked with hunting down rogue androids and “retiring” (killing) them. He is given the assignment to retire six of the newest and most advanced androids that are hiding in San Fransisco. Dick’s novel is classic sci-fi that explores deep philosophical questions in a dystopian, futuristic setting. He questions what makes us human and the answer he offers is empathy – the only way to tell the difference between androids and humans is by a test that measures empathy. Androids have none, and can only fake it. This makes them cold and unfeeling, unable to perform a selfless act; they’re calculated and willing to do whatever it takes to protect themselves. As Deckard hunts the androids down one by one, he begins to question his identity and the morality of his quest. He fears he cannot do his job anymore because he realizes he empathizes with the androids and even the electric animals. Ultimately, he comes to see this not as a weakness but exactly what makes him human. It’s a fantastic tale fans of science-fiction will enjoy.

Book #57: Britt-Marie Was Here

After finishing My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, I decided to read Fredrik Backman’s semi-sequel novel Britt-Marie Was Here, which picks up where the previous novel left off for one minor character, Britt-Marie. After moving away to start her life over, Britt-Marie ends up in the tiny, unknown town of Borg as caretaker for the Recreation Center. She longs to find meaning and purpose in her life, but wonders if she can change in her middle-age. She begins to settle in and meet the town’s children, who are all soccer fans but have no field to play on. Suddenly, Britt-Marie finds herself as their coach and mentor. In true Backman form, the story is full of zany characters and odd, sweet friendships. He explores the value of all people, despite their origin, age, and social status. It’s a quirky, fun read as enjoyable as Backman’s other novels.

Book #56: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

I discovered Fredrik Backman last year and enjoyed his writing, so a friend lent me another of his novels, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. I had not read anymore Backman because it seemed like his novels were all the same story told with different characters. But I’m so glad I read more by him; I loved this book. While he does deal with some similar themes again, this novel handles them in a very unique and creative way. Elsa is a different kind of seven-year-old whose best friend is her grandmother. Every night, they go to the Land-of-Almost-Awake where Granny tells Elsa stories about all the kingdoms and inhabitants there. Right before Granny dies, she gives Elsa a quest – to deliver her apology letters. As Elsa tries to find and deliver the letters, she begins to discover that the Land-of-Almost-Awake was not purely from Granny’s imagination – or solely for Elsa – but is a reflection of the real world and the lives of others. As Elsa begins to understand its origins, she also begins to understand the people around her better. This is such a wonderful, sweet tale about the importance of looking past the surface of others and seeing the complexity and vulnerability underneath. I also love Backman’s celebration of storytelling and imagination, and the new zany cast of characters. This book was so great and I look forward to reading more by Backman. 

Book #55: The Eternity Code

The Eternity Code is book 3 in the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. I read the first two books a few years ago, and decided to give it another try. Artemis Fowl is a boy genius and criminal mastermind, following the generations of Fowls before him. Artemis discovers the existence of a hidden technologically-advanced world of fairies below ground. Bent on gaining the fairies’ gold and technology, he becomes pitted against Holly Short, the top fairy cop protecting her world against the invasion of humans. The series follows their various encounters as Fowl launches scheme after scheme. Colfer has created such an interesting and unique world full of battles, mafia, magic, and space-age technology. Given that it’s a children’s series, the characters can be a bit cartoonish, but over the books there’s some significant character development. I have four of the eight books in the series and they’re fun to pick up here and there for a break from weightier novels. Kids who enjoy action, fantasy, and sci-fi will appreciate this clever blend of genres. 

Book #54: Respectable Sins

Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges is an excellent book I hope every Christian will read. In our ever-changing national landscape of race wars and gender spectrums, it’s easy for Christians to hone in on these big issues outside of themselves and ignore the less noticeable sin within, sins that we begin to accept. But Bridges helps us realize that while there are varying degrees of sin, sin is still sin, abominable to our holy God, and, as His people, we must be about the business of seeking it out within ourselves and killing it. In this incredibly convicting book, Bridges lays out the biblical evidence of the danger of our sin, that God’s people are called to be holy as He is holy, and how He has given us the Holy Spirit to help sanctify us. With this foundation, he then addresses many of the sins we tolerate such as ungodliness, anxiety, pride, anger, and judgmentalism. This book is so helpful in helping us analyze our own hearts and get down to the root of our actions towards God and others. Bridges also provides practical ways to fight these sins, providing Scripture references to help us believe truth such as when we’re tempted to doubt or judge others. It’s not a very long book and one to work through slowly as you ponder and pray over each sin discussed and how it appears in your own life. It’s a difficult book because it reveals so much of our hearts, but absolutely worth the read – several times – as we fight be look more like Jesus.

Book #53: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple was a lucky thrift store find I grabbed after hearing it mentioned on my favorite book podcast. But it languished on my shelves until my sister read it and told me how much she enjoyed it. I was hesitant about starting it because I knew the format was different than a traditional novel, and I wasn’t convinced it could work. The story is told through correspondence – emails, notes, letters, messages – as fifteen-year-old Bee tries to piece together what happened to her mother, Bernadette, when she suddenly disappears. As the story unfolds, we learn more about Bernadette’s background and what would drive her to disappear. In the end, it was an enjoyable book and Semple made the format work for her purpose. It took me a while to get interested because there are no likable characters at the beginning, but one engaging aspect of the novel is that there is some significant development. With a wry sense of humor, Semple explores themes of family (especially mother-daughter relationships), how our response to difficulties can affect our lives for better or worse, and the pressures to fulfill others’ expectations. It’s a fun, quick read, and apparently coming out as a movie next year.

Book #52: Rebecca

With this novel, I’ve hit my goal of 52 books for 2017. Plenty of time left for many more!
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier is told from the point of view of a young, unnamed woman that meets Maxim de Winter, a recently widowed, wealthy gentleman from the English countryside. After a whirlwind romance, the two are married, making our protagonist the second Mrs. de Winter, and settle at his family’s estate, Manderley. The narrator becomes obsessed with Rebecca, the former Mrs. de Winter, trying to piece together the kind of woman she was, while all the characters deal with the repercussions of Rebecca’s life. It’s very interesting how a character that is never alive during the novel dominates the story, affecting the relationships between characters and driving the plot along. Du Maurier writes in a way that propels the reader, with interesting characters, the narrator being especially complex as we see the inner workings of her mind. Before I read the novel, I saw it described as “suspense” and “chilling,” so I picked Rebecca for the end of October thinking it would be a bit of a supernatural thriller for Halloween. Sadly, it wasn’t; the novel is a suspenseful gothic novel lacking anything supernatural. My mistake equating suspense with thriller. Despite not being what I expected, or getting me ready for Halloween, it was a good story. 

Book #51: A Gentleman in Moscow

I was intrigued by the premise of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and the fact that it was wildly popular when released about a year ago. A friend of mine bought, read and loved it, so I finally borrowed the book to satisfy my curiosity. The novel begins in 1922 when Count Alexander Rostov is put under house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel following the social upheaval of the Bolshevik Revolution. I was very curious to know how such a limited and simple plot could be engaging and take up almost 500 pages. I was delighted to find that Towles’ writing is beautiful and masterful. Not only can he write about the most mundane things in the Count’s day in such an interesting way (One of my favorite passages is a whole chapter where the author describes the Count’s agony of trying to make the time pass while reading a very boring book – an experience we can all empathize with.), but he also is able to draw out large, overarching themes from the ordinary.  The novel deals with the bitterness of loss – not only of liberty but of family, tradition, and purpose – while also considering what we gain in difficult situations that we would not have had otherwise. There is also a good bit of social and political commentary which taught me much about that time period in Russia. In addition, the Count along with his cast of hotel employees and guests are skillfully fleshed out and delightful to read about. It is a wonderful, beautiful book and I was glad I persevered through. It’s not action-driven, but if you appreciate great writing and charming characters, you’ll enjoy this.