Saturday, May 10, 2014

Eye-Opening Memoir

When I began reviewing books and blogging over five years ago, I never expected that reading and writing would open my eyes in the ways that it has. Many of the books I've read seem to blend together in my memory, but there are many that stand out. Recently, I read one that I know will have a lasting impact on me.

The book is Deception by Deb Myers. A good friend of mine is an interpreter for the deaf. She suggested
the book to me, because she knows that I enjoy learning about other people's lives and opening my eyes to worlds I haven't known about before. She's right. I do. Learning about other people's lives helps me make sense of my own and often better understand the people that the Lord brings into my life. And that has already been the case with this book.

Ms. Myers wrote Deception to help her process the past and hopefully help others. Ms. Myers grew up deaf and attended a residential deaf school. After an on again-off again relationship with her high school boyfriend, she entered an affair when she was 17 with one of her teachers, who was married and had a family of his own. This affair lasted several years and it hung around like a monkey on Ms. Myer's shoulders for many years after it ended.

There is some background that I'd like to share before this review. The word “deaf” refers to someone who cannot hear. The word “Deaf” refers to someone who identifies with deaf culture. Not being able to hear drastically changes one's life. We live in a hearing world. In the United States, most deaf people learn ASL (American Sign Language). This is different than the sign language of other countries. Can you imagine the impact of that? 

There are two methods by which children learn to read. The first is phonics and the second is whole language, aka see and say it, aka sight word reading. It has been a common belief among educators that deaf children could not learn to read by phonics since they can't hear sounds in their heads. Recently, there is a new movement to teach deaf children to read using a method of visual phonics. But, because of the differences between English and ASL (which include very different grammar), deaf people often communicate differently than hearing English speakers in their writing. 

I noticed this right away as I began to read Deb Myers' book. Whereas “The Long Awakening” was a very flowery memoir, “Deception” is a straight to the point memoir. You can tell as soon as you begin reading that Ms. Myers has a succinct writing style. The chapters are compact, yet they give the reader a full picture. Sometimes as the reader, I found myself wondering about certain details that I wished were included. But, this was a good wondering for me. Let me explain.

This story is a very sensitive one. It is personal and filled with vulnerability on the author's part. In our culture, the press pushes and believes in the public's “right to know” the truth. As a society, we do not respect the privacy of others and their right to share what they are comfortable with and not share what they don't want to. I was very convicted of the importance of what Ms. Myers chose to share in her story. It is not my place as the reader to presume that I have the right to know other details. Yes, there were some I would have liked to know... like “how did her hearing husband end up signing?” and “are her children hearing or deaf?” These are not necessarily invasive questions, but I can imagine many readers having more invasive questions as they read this book. So, I would encourage any reader to reflect on how they would feel themselves if they were to share a very personal story of their own. I think we all know that there are times when there are details other people don't need to know. Those details may not be respectful of others or of the privacy of others. Those details may not be ours to share.

Then, skip the forward of the book and start with the first chapter. Come back and read the forward after you've finished the book. The forward sets a certain tone that's more in keeping with the ending than the beginning. I think the interview does a better job of setting the tone and helping the reader understand why Ms. Myers wrote this book. The book flows pretty well, but does make a jump in the last two chapters. I would encourage readers realize that sometimes that is the way God works in our own lives. Sometimes ideas just “click”. God teaches us a lesson very suddenly and everything clicks in—the pieces fit in a way that they didn't before. Sometimes there isn't a series of events that gradually lead up to fitting that last piece into the rest of the puzzle so that you can see what the picture really looks like. That is the way the ending of this book fits in. After I read the end, I had to step back and then reflect on the rest of the book. I needed to process what I'd read in light of the ending and make sense of it for myself. As Leland Ryken says in his book Realms of Gold, we read books to help us grapple with the realities of life and the struggles we or others we know face.

For me, reading this book was eye opening. I had never considered that many deaf children leave their families all week and stay at residential deaf schools during the week, only to return on the weekends and holidays. I had never pondered the impact on a deaf family of having both deaf and hearing children. I had never considered how I, as a Christian, could love deaf believers and people who were deaf that the Lord brought into my path. It would be extremely helpful if I could learn some basic signs.

But, there's another more central issue that this book brings up and that is the line that Ms. Myer's teacher crossed. In the book, Ms. Myer takes responsibility for the affair and blames it on herself for much of the book. In reality, she was the victim. Her teacher crossed a line that he was responsible for not crossing. The book is one-sided since it is only Ms. Myer's telling. If you are aware of how the cycle of violence and how people manipulate, you can see the manipulation of the teacher and how he encouraged their relationship in reading her book. You can also get glimpses of how he hid the relationship from others. What the teacher did was wrong. I have learned in my own life that when I feel I need to hide something, there is something wrong that I need to address. You will see that in Ms. Myer's recollections of her own feelings. Yes, she did approach the teacher and had a part in what happened, but is that what the reader should dwell on?

I don't think so. Instead, I think we need to dwell on the need for solid relationships with our children as they enter their teen years. I think we need to care about the young high school and college age women in our churches. They need solid, biblical input. They need to know they are loved for who they are. They need to know that God loves them. Young women will search for love in other relationships if they don't have it. The love and approval of one's father is something daughters deeply desire. I know that I have sought this out myself. I have tried to fill a hole with the approval of others. And if you know someone who has been in such a relationship, show them grace and love. Realize that they are living with pain from their pasts. Comfort and do not judge. God does call us all to repentance and He forgives us. But, any relationship takes two people, when someone shares a story with you, remember there was another person involved and that person had a part in it. Love and show grace. This is what God has laid on my heart to do.

I remember a few years ago when I read the book Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild. I highly recommend this book to young women in their late teens and twenties. For younger girls in middle school, I'd recommend Beth Moore's book So Long, Insecurity (teen edition). Both books can help young women learn what wise boundaries are when it comes to boys and young men.

What did I take from this book?
  1. A greater understanding of what it means to live as a Deaf person in a hearing world.
  2. The need for me to learn some signs.
  3. Encouragement to love and reach out to the young women in my church and who God brings into my life.
  4. A stretching of my heart.
  5. An opening of my eyes to the life of another believer.

God has already used this book in my life. Because of my questions and learning more about the Deaf culture, I was able to have an encouraging conversation with a mom at a church yard sale last weekend about her son. I noticed her signing with him and commented on how wonderful that is. I had always assumed that deaf people should simply learn to read lips. But, I learned just two weeks ago after reading this book that reading lips is only 20-30% effective. Signing is much more effective in communicating thoughts to someone who can't hear. We had a neat conversation about all of this and about where her son goes to school and her hopes for him long term. She and her husband are hearing.

Reading this book has enriched my life and I'm thankful that the Lord brought it across my path...

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Life Sentence Publishing.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Needing Each Other

I was supposed to go on a trip next week to see a dear friend of mine.  I have never gone anywhere for more than a couple of hours on my own without my children or husband since I got married thirteen years ago.  But, that trip isn't going to happen.  Six months or a year ago, I would have been crushed with disappointment, because of the state of my heart.  

It was something I yearned for... to be free for a moment. But, two weeks ago, something clicked during the sermon at church.  The resentment I'd had for a long time and the yearning to not be a wife and mom for a moment and be able to focus on a friend disappeared.  I had yearned just to be able to do what I wanted to do without distraction.  There's a lot of focus in our culture by moms on the idea of "taking care of me".  There hasn't been much room for this in my life.  I have tried to not listen to that message, but sometimes it has gotten into my heart over the years and it sewed seeds of resentment every time it got past my defenses.

Two weeks ago, my heart was freed from those seeds.  I knew it at the time.  The pastor was talking about doing our work and something else.  I can't honestly remember exactly what he said.  But, I knew I need to do my job.  Our culture tells us that "taking care of me" is what's going to refuel us.  I actually think this is a bit off.  What really can refuel me is words like the ones my son said to me last night.  I think the story will speak for itself.

As I sat down on Eli's bed to put him to sleep, I asked him if he understood that I'm not going on my trip next week.  
He started to cry.  
I knew his 6 year old little head.  I asked if he was upset because this meant he wasn't going to go over to his grandma's house.  
He cried, "yes."  
I said, "Well, you would miss me."  
No response.
I took this as him thinking he wouldn't miss me.
My heart grew a frown inside and I felt bad.  I was already coping with my own disappointment and somehow this really hurt. I said something to him about how this is just the way it was going to be.
I was upset and I left the room.   
I pondered for a minute and then went back after my heart had cooled down a little.  
I can't exactly remember what I said next, but I think I explained to him that I was staying because they (my kids and husband) need me to stay and take care of them.
My son launches in and said, "Oh! Like in the story!"
"the story?" I asked.
"The story about Hubert and the lady.  He told the king that he needed to stay because she needed him and because... HE needed her."
Then my son was very wise and he said to me. "We need you and you need us."

Yes.  They need me. AND  I need them.  

What will actually refuel me?  Being with them.  Sitting and resting with them.  Reading with them and engaging my heart.  Loving them.  It sounds a little backwards.  But, I know it's not.  

PS the story he was talking about was Lamplighter Theater's story of The Lost Prince.

PPS I'm not saying that as moms we shouldn't take care of ourselves at all, but what that means in our society often gets very twisted around...

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Movie Line

I love the library because I can check out movies and just watch the endings without feeling guilty about having paid to rent the movie.  That was the case for one of the two movies I checked out yesterday.  The ending was actually even more painful to watch than I thought it would be.  I'm so glad I didn't waste my time watching the rest of the movie.

The second movie was Enough Said starring Julia Louis Dreyfuss and James Gandolfini.  After the horrible ending to the first one, I thought I'd skip to near the end on this one.  I started at a certain point in the movie when Gandolfini's character says this great line.  He asks Dreyfuss' character if she protected their relationship.  She said that she hadn't.  She replied that she had protected herself.

There are so many crummy movies out there.  Lots of story lines about a spouse leaving their other spouse for "the right one".  The movies make us sympathize with that other person and that relationship over the marriage because of how they portray it.  The fuss over celebrities splitting up is interesting.  It's become expected.  People's cover last week was of Gwyneth Paltrow's and Chris Martin's split.  I know this because I've been in a lot of doctors offices this week and People magazine is everywhere.  When I was growing up, People was filled with human interest stories.  I liked it.  It isn't anymore.  Now, there's usually one story that's an encouraging, human interest story.  Sometimes I pick it up, though, hoping it will remember that it was the magazine of my teenage years.  It never is, though.

I picked up this issue hoping to find an encouraging article and read the editor's letter on the inside of the magazine.  It was interesting.  It spoke of Paltrow's split and how it's understandable, everyone goes through, and we all hope we'll be married for life, but it usually doesn't end up that way.  It made me so sad to read this editorial.

Then, I hear something like the line on Enough Said.  I was glad to hear it.  How do we protect our relationships?  Paltrow is all over the news with the phrase "conscious uncoupling".  Hmmm...

Marriage isn't easy.  It is the union of two sinners who often don't see eye to eye.  So, it gets attacked from the inside.  But, it also gets attacked from the outside by all the messages we hear from the media and even at times from friends.  The media says there's someone better out there.  The media says we should be treated or loved the way we want to be loved.

But, that's not what God says.  The dialogue in that scene from Enough Said was wise.  Before that line, he asks her why she didn't walk away.  Why did she stay in that friendship that ultimately tore apart their relationship?  His questions were right on.  Dreyfuss' character didn't turn her ears away from what she was hearing.

Do I do that?  Do I choose to listen to the right things?  Do I turn away from the bad ones?  It's good to reflect on, pray about, and make sure that I am making wise choices to continually protect my marriage.  I am a very loyal wife.  I need to make sure that I continually show this to my husband.  I do strive to do this.  I've been convicted since the first six months of my marriage thirteen years ago that I needed to not dwell on what I thought I deserved from marriage.  I remember the moment, actually.  We were driving to Austin, Texas, and I was upset over a fight my husband and I were having.  And then, I began to think.  I had this thought that this was how it started... thinking I deserved this or that.  I understood it was a downward spiral that ultimately could lead to the demise of a marriage because that line of thinking feeds itself.  I then became convicted that I need to remember that I didn't get married because of what I thought I'd get out of it.  I got married because I loved and continue to love my husband.  I was convicted from the beginning that I need to protect my marriage and guard my heart.  I am thankful that the Lord gave me these convictions.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Free Middle School Science Materials Online!

I am beginning to search for what my oldest daughter is going to do next year for science.  Through elementary school, she has completed 4 years of Harcourt's Science, 1 year of Considering God's Creation, and Singapore's Early Bird Science in Kindergarten.  Heading into middle school is tough for me in this area. I want a curriculum that is going to teach her more.  I've also learned that she needs a text in front of her.  I loved Christian Kids Explore Science, but my kids did not!  They struggled to follow what I was saying without a text and without being familiar with the spelling of the long words I was saying outloud.  So, where do I go?  I've looked at Apologia before and though I know lots of homeschool folks love it, the formatting of the books I've looked at in the past is very hard for me to focus on and digest.  I'm very visual, so font and formatting are key for me.

So, I'm starting with taking a look at Common Sense Press' science (Great Science Adventures) again this week and looking at some free resources I found online.

Then, I found this free course for general science inquiry:
Cathy Duffy wrote a review of it and that was I found it on her site:

From that site, I found this free Chemistry course for middle school:

And the third that I'm going to be taking a look at is NOEO Science.

I need to dig in a little more.  I'm leaning towards the free or the Noeo....

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Good Effort

A few years ago, I read a book by Irene Hannon.  I enjoyed it.  She's written many books and I haven't read one in a while, but I decided to read the new one that has come out this spring.  It is titled One Perfect Spring.

The story begins with Haley Summers.  She's 11 years old and is living with her mom in a home that needs a lot of repair work.  Next door to them lives Maureen Chandler, a 60 year old professor at a local Christian college.  Haley writes a letter to a businessman asking for help to find Ms. Chandler's son that she gave up for adoption when he was born.  The man responds.  Enter Keith, the business man's executive assistant, who is asked to follow up on the request and pursue the matter.  Keith connects with Haley's mother, Claire, and sparks fly.  The back of the book says all of this, so I'm not giving anything away.  Much of the rest of the book is very predictable.  There are a few minor unexpected twists, but nothing major.

The writing is competent, except for a few big jumps that I saw.  I remember being surprised by a scene in which Claire's father arrives at her home.  Keith is there and then "poof!"--suddenly he isn't!  The transition was missing.

I often wonder, too, why so much physical description of how the male and female characters look needs to be given.  It isn't simply thin, slender, or handsome...  sentences like "He had a feeling she had great legs." on pg. 39;  "As for those soft curves..." (Keith thinks of Claire on pg. 56); and "tried not to stare at the well-developed hamstrings below his gym shorts" on pg. 157.    I had a single friend once ask me about writing like this.  I explained that I could see how it wasn't wise for single women to read books like this because of where it leads their minds.  But, I felt it wasn't always wise for married women either.  One of the reasons we love to watch movies and read stories is that as readers, we can live vicariously through the characters.  When I read lines like the ones above, I wonder...  Do these lines need to be in Christian romance books?  Or could you not include them?  I remember a book several years ago, The Familiar Stranger, which made me think it could be done.  The attraction between a man and woman could be described without sounding like a Harlequin romance--because in that book Christina Berry did it well, in my opinion.

The story moves along at a good pace.  I didn't find myself skipping bunches of pages (which is a good sign in my mind) that the book all ties together.

Lately, a lot of Christian fiction seems to be blending together for me.  This one is a lot like Caught in the Middle.  If you like Hannon's writing in other books and like sappy, Harlequin-type Christian romance, then you'll like this one.  If you don't and prefer something more like The Sweetest Thing by Elizabeth Musser or Ann Gabhart's books, then I'd pass on this one.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Revell Books.

My Favorite Christian Fiction Author

For a lot of years, Francine Rivers' books have been among my favorite Christian fiction books.  I have deeply enjoyed reading them.  I have several of them on my shelf and they are among the few books that I have reread over the years.  I usually only read a book once.  Her new book, Bridge to Haven, however, is different than the others.  I am glad I didn't purchase it and instead checked it out from our local library.

The story centers on Abra, a baby found by the river by a local pastor, Zeke.  For five years, she is raised by him and his wife, Marianne, with their son, Joshua.  The book tells Abra's story of growing up.  I don't want to give away any of the plot and details in case you do read it, which makes it difficult to write this review.

My issues with this book are different than what other reviewers have said.

My first issue is with Zeke's taking Abra home.  I don't understand how it is wrong that he took her home.  This part was quite confusing to me.  His wife wanted her in their home.  She had peace about it.  Did he or didn't he?  I think he vascillated, but he acknowledges that the other family wasn't ready to have another baby to take care of right then.  How he discusses this later with Abra doesn't jive to me.  It seems to be contradictory.

My second issue is when Zeke leaves his wife's room (he is a pastor!) and sees Abra in the hall.  He said something that will scar her for life--honestly, it would scar anyone for life.  He wondered if she'd heard it, but doesn't talk to her about it.  Then, she's given to another family where she overhears several conversations about how "they just don't know what they're going to do about her".  Yet, the characters don't understand why she doesn't trust anyone... why she closes herself off... really???  They should have asked--which they never do!  As a believer (which all of these characters were), they should have asked and cared.

Another issue I had was the unrealistic portrayal of what happens when a woman who has a brutal sexual history enters a healthy relationship.  No, it is not suddenly okay.  I have had several friends in this situation and usually--it takes years to form a healthy sexual relationship with their spouse.

Lastly, I was a bit surprised by how graphic Rivers was when it cames to the sexually intimate scenes.  Though she is a "romance" writer, I have never scene her as such. She is one author I have upheld in my mind as portraying romance as a part of life, but not the center and I haven't felt like she went towards the Harlequin genre... until now.  This book is more of a romance than her previous books (and more graphic about it) and that turned me off.

I still love Rivers other books, but I don't think I'll be reading this one again.