Review #4: I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me

 

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“EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE LOVED. TO BE CELEBRATED AND RESPECTED. TO BE KNOWN. WHAT IF CREATING DEEPER, MORE MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK?

We want people in our lives we can trust, confide in, and turn to when life gets tough—people who not only appreciate our gifts, but who are also fully aware of our flaws and failures, yet want to be with us anyway.

In I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me, bestselling author John Ortberg shows us how to overcome obstacles and create the kind of deep, meaningful relationships we all crave—with God and with others. You’ll learn:

  • how to recognize and respond to bids for connection
  • how to get past your fear of intimacy
  • how to sidestep common relationship pitfalls
  • how to make God an active part of your everyday life

Whether you’re a man or a woman; whether you’re the life of the party or a wallflower; whether you’re a thinker or a feeler or a category not yet known to social science, you were made for connection.”

The book I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me by John Ortberg is a principle-based work categorized in the genre of Christian living. It pursues the themes of intimacy, family, and practical love. Ortberg, through experience and research, walks the reader through many obstacles to intimacy, through learning what true intimacy is, and through ways to achieve true intimacy in every area of life.

Honestly, I feel like this whole book was enjoyable for me as a reader. This is the first book I’ve officially reviewed where I can find little to nothing to criticize. I laughed. I cried. I worried. I rejoiced. I learned. And I was able to apply. Ortberg named some of the big areas of difficulty for me in the area of intimacy, and God used this book to highlight some habits and ways of thinking that I’ve always known were bent but didn’t know how to make straight.

Still, for the sake of clarity and to avoid all the pitfalls of being vague, I will specifically name a few.

The first thing is hard, self-reflective questions. In several of the beginning chapters, Ortberg calls the reader to self-reflection concerning the “season of relationship” they’re in (e.g., “Do you have several people you could visit with little advance warning—and without apology?”), their perspective of those relationships (e.g., “Are you able to discuss differences of opinion without losing your sense of connectedness with one another?”), and even their use of technology (e.g., “Do you feel bummed when you forget to bring your cell phone into the bathroom?”). These questions brought me in and set me up to listen.

The second thing is the practical applications offered. With each obstacle to intimacy discussed, the chapter ended with hope, with “you are able to make this change/defeat this obstacle,” and Ortberg consistently brought the hope back to Christ’s example in His relationships with the disciples and God’s relationship with Israel, and then brought it closer to home with bringing in our relationship with Him. The truth ringing throughout the book is that true intimacy can be experienced with God, and it is His true intimacy that enables us to seek true intimacy with others. As we seek intimacy with God, how do we also practically seek intimacy with others? I think this aspect was the most important to me as a reader.

The third thing is the humor. Ortberg balanced the serious principles with bits of humor from his perspective and life experience, particularly from his marriage to his wife Nancy and some of his most embarrassing moments as a pastor, which made the seriousness much easier to digest. “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down” truly applied here.

In light of all this, I would recommend this book to everybody…But, specifically, I would recommend this book to anyone who feels lonely or disconnected from the people in their lives, from themselves, and especially from the God who created it all.

About the Author:

“John Ortberg is the senior pastor at Menlo Church. John’s teaching centers around how faith in Christ can impact our everyday lives with God. He has written books on spiritual formation including, The Life You’ve Always WantedWho is This Man?The Me I Want To BeSoul Keeping, and most recently, All The Places To Go. John teaches around the world at conferences and churches.

Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, John graduated from Wheaton College with a degree in psychology. He holds a Master of Divinity and doctorate degree in clinical psychology from Fuller Seminary, and has done post-graduate work at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Prior to joining Menlo Church, John served as teaching pastor at Chicago’s Willow Creek Community Church.

John is a member of the Board of Trustees at Fuller Seminary, and is on the board for the Dallas Willard Center for Spiritual Formation. He has served on the board of Christianity Today International. Now that their children are grown, John and his wife Nancy enjoy surfing the Pacific to help care for their souls. He can be followed on Twitter (@johnortberg) and is on Facebook.”

*A complimentary copy of this book was given to me by Tyndale Press.

 

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Do Not Be Anxious

I dropped Anna off at her house after Tuesday night Bible Study. It was late, and raining. I was still all crusty from going to Zumba with Sarah before Study. And I hadn’t heard from Jake in a while.

As I pulled out of the driveway, I suddenly had the picture of a government car at the house at which I was presently living, with men in it holding Jacob’s flag to give to me, and I began to sob. I drove for thirty minutes to the house, crying out to God, “Even if the car is there, You are still good.” It was only anxiety, I thought, and God says to not be anxious, but to present my requests to Him. I need to present them.

And so I spent the entire drive praying that, if Jake should not be okay, or if he, yes, died, that God would not let me fail to glorify Him in the loss, that He’d protect me from confusion, from bitterness, from anger, from dragging His name through the mud as I failed to represent Him well in what would be thus far the hardest and most impossibly agonizing thing I’ve ever endured. I prayed that I would still be able to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as being more significant than [myself]…[looking] not only to [my] own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). I prayed until I had no words or tears left.

When I arrived, there was no car. And so I pulled in behind the truck and the black Acura that were always there, because their owners lived here, and fully stopped crying. I checked my phone: no missed calls from Rear-Detachment to tell me he was injured and had been airlifted to Germany. No texts from any of the Family Readiness Group leaders letting us know about how our paratroopers were doing. “No news is good news.”

Jake was still okay.

“Cast your burdens on the Lord, and He will sustain you. He will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)

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Not Without You

My phone went off at 7:30am, which felt early. I turned over in bed in the red-tinted room, colored so because of how the morning light filtered in through the fire-engine red curtains over the window. I grabbed my phone in a sleepy stupor. It was Jake.

“Good morning, my love 🙂 I need to check my guys’ gear at 1630, and then would you like to do quiet time together?”

I suddenly remembered that that’s something Jake and I did together when he was home. We consistently spent time with God together, read our Bibles together, and prayed together. That was normal. And I had forgotten. Had he be gone that long so that I would forget something so foundational as that?

About half an hour later, with my eyes still swollen from sleep and him wearing his PTs, we connected via FaceTime and sat in general silence as we did our devotions. I set up my phone leaning against the printer, in front of the now open window. Jake had set up his phone a million miles away on a makeshift table, leaning against a tub of salted peanuts.

I could not focus on the genealogy presented to me in 1 Chronicles. So I flipped over to Matthew chapter 1, and there was yet another genealogy. I’d spent a lot of time with both of these genealogies over the last few days as I tried to reconcile how Matthew 1 and 1 Chronicles 1-3 didn’t match up (If you’ve never noticed that, go look it up, pray over it, look up answers and trust God to be awesome). My faith wasn’t shaken, by any means, but I didn’t know how to figure it out, and had yet to settle on a satisfying answer. So they were “problem passages” for me as of late. So then I turned over to 2 Corinthians chapter 2, and I couldn’t read it right, like my perspective was tainted in some way. And so I grew frustrated—I can’t remember the last time I felt this way during my devotions—pulled out my journal, and started writing.

“Lord, I know Your Word is living and active, and that it’s profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness…But Lord, I feel like what I’m reading this morning is either really confusing, or maybe my brain’s not awake yet, or maybe my perspective is overall tainted, Lord, and I don’t trust Your Word as much as I think I do.”

And so I sat there, discouraged.

“Lord, help me understand Your Word, but help me also be satisfied with not having all the answers…Help me trust that this Word is Yours, and that it does not return to You empty. Help me know. Lord, help me not be content with simply reading Your Word, and help me instead take the time to dig and question, trusting You completely.”

And somehow, through that initial prayer, I woke up. I felt like “wake up sleeper, lift your head” was a neon sign at the front of my mind.

I looked up from my journal at Jake, who was busy reading the book of Deuteronomy, and I remembered, like I’d remembered the other day in Starbucks, that I didn’t marry Jake so that he could serve me and make me happy, or so that he could be more focused on me and I could be more focused on Jacob. No….We got married because we love each other, of course, but God’s purpose for our marriage is to be more effective for Him and to be part of His sanctifying work in each other’s lives. I felt like I’d been living in some kind of relational fog, and suddenly the Son came out and things were clear again. That’s why I’d felt like our communication had been strange lately, why we’d had a sort of conflict: I’d lost focus.

We lived on mission together. That’s why we were drawn to each other in the first place. Right.

And so I started praying for our focus, for my humility in my role as his wife, for my unconditional respect for him, and ultimately for my complete submission to and trust in God.

Proud wife moment: Jake’s leadership made this reminder possible. We were spending time with God together, which we’d always done before he’d deployed. I just didn’t realized how long it had been since we’d done so. He led and took the initiative of placing that time together with God as a priority, and that allowed me to seriously wake up.

We talked about our memory verses (His is Deuteronomy 10:12-22, and mine is Romans 13:14) and why we’re memorizing them, we talked through what we’d read, he got ready to leave for a while, a time in which I wouldn’t be able to communicate with him, and then we prayed fiercely and strongly for one another.

I prayed for Jake’s time with his guys, for his endurance, for opportunities to further God’s kingdom through evangelism and discipleship. He prayed for me concerning my acting despite fear or worry, and for influence in the lives of the ladies around me, to feel known, and to go forth and conquer for Jesus. We prayed to not lose focus of God’s purpose through the Gospel of Jesus Christ for us, and, ultimately, for the world.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

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Trial Is The Sieve For Sin

I sat in the dimly lit living room, with Dog, the German Shepherd, cuddled up next to me, as I tried to finish the many mini-assignments for my online History class. All of the family with whom I presently lived had retired for the evening. This was the first time in a while I’d used homework and studying to avoid the poison of bitterness and hurt pervading my heart.

I fell asleep in “my” room later while reading a book about Virginia Dare. I woke up the next morning, avoiding talking to the God I knew was waiting, expectantly, for me run to Him for help and sense and peace. Everything—well, almost everything—in me resisted running to Him. I needed to protect myself.

I left the house to go coffeeshopping before chapel, knowing He was present, tugging on my heart, not willing to let one of His warriors forsake their Sword in the midst of battle. Deployment was getting harder. My selfishness and self-dependence were coming out more obviously than they had when Jake was in the States. Our deepest struggles and the evidence of our disobedience had started to tug on each other in ways that hurt, and the latest conflict, or what felt kind of like one, brought out the struggles of self-preservation and self-reliance that I’d buried and had forgotten about.

Don’t let yourself be manipulated. Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. Don’t let yourself be abused.

I knew that I was not in any kind of situation where any of those things would happen, and there had been no actions taken to merit those responses in myself; I was physically and emotionally safe. I also knew that my current heaviness of mind had nothing to do with Jake, and had everything to do with my heart. It wasn’t about anything Jacob had said or done, and had everything to do with my response and the reaction of my heart. My heart was wrong, which was frustrating, because it meant I had no one else to blame for my present state.

I pulled onto Post, into the Starbucks parking lot, into a spot. I walked towards the Starbucks kind of stuck in my own thoughts. What right, I thought, do I have to be brooding so deeply? I’m surely not facing any real issue. I’m being too sensitive. These things shouldn’t bother me so much or hurt so deeply. I have a home, food to eat, clothes to wear, and an infinite amount of extra stuff that I was never promised nor am I entitled to. I have people in my life who love me regardless of what I do. Why am I so stuck? I suppose when material things are taken care of, it feels like I have no excuse for the sin in myself.

I went past the coffee shop, where I knew I had an appointment with God, and went into the bathroom instead, and spent time dillydallying. Then I bought coffee—bitterly, because I was feeling bitter about being bitter when I was able to purchase coffee wherever, however, and whenever I wanted, and should therefore not be bitter about anything, because not everyone in the world can do those things—and sat at a table with a white marble surface, soft jazz playing overhead and the smell of cinnamon pervading the air.

“Lord,” I started writing in my journal, despair in my heart. “I don’t want to talk to You today…I don’t want to talk to anyone who knows me. I just want to brood and be hurt and be self-protective…I just want to sit in those feelings…I want to sit in the imagined feeling of being unclaimed, undiscovered, and unknown. I want to pretend I’m not Yours today.”

I looked up to see if anyone was watching me, because I was already starting to cry.

“Because,” I started again. “If I’m Yours, then I have to pray and petition, and look for reasons to be thankful, of which there are many, and then let Your peace, which surpasses all my understanding, guard my heart and mind. If I’m Yours, I have to read Your Word and be reminded that I didn’t marry Jake so that he could serve me and make me happy, and that You command me to submit to him. And it means that I have to think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy…I don’t want to do those things.”

But even as I wrote, my heart melted. It didn’t make sense to not want all of the things God has promised me as His daughter, to deny His administration of holy medicine to my soul when I needed it as I took on the burden of my own sin. I did want all of those things. There was freedom there, and it didn’t make sense for me to refuse freedom.

And so my bitterness and anger dissolved, and I was more ready to listen to Him. So I opened my Bible then and started reading. I read through a few chapters of 1 Chronicles, a Psalm, and then the first chapter of 2 Corinthians. And it was in the epistle that the second level of my “stuck-ness” was satisfied.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any troubles with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Okay, I’d memorized that verse before, but to know how to better pray for and empathize with other people as they were hurting, not necessarily for my own comfort. I read further.

“For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” (v.5-7)

The promise of comfort in all my troubles screamed at me. God is comforting me right now, regardless of how I feel. And then in verse 5, I can freely and abundantly comfort others, because my comfort overflows through Christ (I’m not entirely sure if that’s saying “I have an abundance of comfort because of Christ’s comfort,” or “I can give an abundance of comfort to others because of Jesus”…I’m going with the latter for now). Having to be comforted is a good thing! And then, the final promise is this idea that my “distress” can and might always be for someone else’s comfort. So, my distress and suffering and hurt is for my growth and for other people’s comfort.

For some reason, this was really reassuring to me, and made my sin apparent, thus shattering the third “stuck-ness” level. God’s holiness was overwhelming in the center of that coffee shop, and the state of my heart before Him in light of my and Jacob’s struggles was exposed for the black and sinful thing that it was, and I was broken. God hated my sin, and I could not stand before Him with my heart the way it was. I had no right to His grace or mercy, no right to believe for one moment I should be pitied, empathized with, or protected from His wrath because of any righteousness in and of myself. I could not be justified, and I could not be confident. I was exposed. And yet, there was Jesus…If God was the righteous Judge, who judged me guilty by His Law, then Jesus, who took my sentence, was my attorney, who pleaded for my innocence not because of any evidence in my life, but because of the evidence in His. I was nothing without Him.

And I started writing again.

“Lord.” The tears came freely this time. Yes, in the middle of Starbucks. “I’m so sorry…I’m sorry for my bitterness, anger, and selfishness. I’m so sorry for my fear and worry, which claim You to be untrustworthy and a liar. I cannot say that I trust You and worry at the same time. I’m so sorry for my pursuit of self-preservation and protection, and for how I comfort myself with hard-heartedness and lie to myself about Your identity as the God of all comfort. I’m so sorry, Lord, that these are my responses to heartache, hurt, and trial. Please forgive me, Lord…I cannot rise above who I am right now…please pick me up and take me to a place where I can, or where I can trust You to do it for me.

God, please help me trust You with comforting me, because You have always been and will always be the most trustworthy.”

 

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Send Me…?

Anna and I walked down the sidewalk trailing Ardennes St. on Ft. Bragg, our destination, the Airborne PX, looming in front of us. We followed the footsteps of two of the men in the ministry, who’d put this whole thing together. They called it recruiting, and it was basically a practice of going out and sharing the Gospel with people and/or inviting them to the Bible study that happened on post every Tuesday night.

I’d confessed to Anna several times that I’d never done this before, that most of the times I shared the Gospel with total strangers or talked to them about Jesus, it was while I was in a coffee shop, or when I went out to eat with someone and I would talk to our server, or something…come to think of it, that’s not all that different from what we were trying to do today.

Lately I’d been overwhelmed by guilt—not conviction, as in that of the Holy Spirit, but guilt, as in that of the enemy—concerning evangelism. Kat had written to me about her and Bree’s last semester excursions out onto Pratt campus to evangelize their fellow students. Several guys in the ministry consistently shared the Gospel with everyone (everyone) they talked to, from cashiers, to gate guards, to servers, to people walking down the sidewalk. All of these were meant, I believe, to keep me reminded of the lost in coffee shops, in the commissary or Wal Mart, at the gym, the places I spend most of my time, and to give me momentum in talking about Christ with strangers. But I think the enemy quickly twisted this one on its head, and instead made me feel guilty about not sharing it with EVERYONE and being perfect in my sharing, thus making me want to not do it all, which of course played into my flesh and my own selfish desires and laziness.

Yeah.

Anyway, one of the men in the ministry, Pat, decided that he was going to go recruiting. Yes! This was the perfect opportunity to make myself uncomfortable for Christ. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? They say “no,” they reject it completely. And it’s okay. Because the result is not up to me, and all God has called me to do is be obedient and faithful.

Can you tell how much I have to psyche myself up for this? It’s bad. And I wasn’t always like this…Or maybe I was. I guess there’s a difference between when you happen to have a conversation about Jesus when you’re doing something else, like studying at Barnes and Noble and whatnot, and when you go out with the purpose of “My sole reason for being outside of the house right now is to talk to people about Jesus.” Why do things suddenly become more intimidating? When I sing “Send me, I’ll go,” with Lecrae, do I mean it?

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

But am I really not ashamed of the Gospel?

And so I grabbed Anna and together we went onto Ft. Bragg about an hour before Tuesday night study and sought out people to talk to. I decided that I needed to talk to at least one person. Then I decided that I would talk to any women that were there. Then I decided I wasn’t going to do it because it would be awkward for the guys we were with. Then I realized that was stupid and didn’t make sense. Then I was back at square one: I just need to talk to one person.

Random piece of news relevant to this post: I have now moved out of my and Jake’s house and in with a Navigator ministry family in order to learn how they do marriage and parenting and life through Jesus. Yeah 🙂

So, as I walked out of the house today to go forth and conquer Ft. Bragg (or, at least the act of talking to one person on Ft. Bragg), I called “I just need to talk to one person! That’s it!” And the lady of the house called to me, saying, “Yeah! And you can’t fail!”

Oh, right. I can’t fail! God has called me to do this thing, to talk to people about Him, and He has not called me to defeat!

Not to make this anti-climatic but excuse me while I make this anti-climatic. So Anna and I walked into the Airborne PX, and stood there awkwardly while the two men just went for it. I eventually saw a girl standing with who looked like her father.

That one.

I walked up to them, introduced myself, explained why I was talking to them and where I was coming from, and they responded super well. I had a conversation with the Dad about his experience growing up Catholic, and asked him how that affected his life now, and as he responded with it not affecting it at all, I got to challenge him to step back into it by coming to Bible Study. That part felt kind of weird. But it’s okay! Because we, like, had a conversation, and it wasn’t too awkward, and they received it well!

After the end of that conversation, Anna and I sat outside and talked for a bit, then we went back inside and joined the guys where they were in line getting food at Subway. I then noticed a female soldier waiting for her food in the line at the restaurant next to us. I approached her like I had the Dad and daughter, and she responded tiredly. I quickly learned she was on staff duty, which is where soldiers are on duty at their brigade or elsewhere for 24 hours. So it made sense that she was tired. But she’d just come to Ft. Bragg after 2 years in Japan (Wow!). And so we talked about her career mostly, but I did get to invite her to study and exchange numbers, though not explicitly share the Gospel. My desire immediately after our talk was to more clearly share the Gospel, even if the person seems to be religious…or something, because I think that’s where I’ll get pushed more outside of my comfort zone. How would I share the Gospel intentionally? What kinds of words would I use? How would I seek to consider and protect the other person from feeling talked at or like I’m some kind of salesperson?

And so I talked to a total of three people, and the whole experience was not nearly as intimidating or uncomfortable as I thought it would be. I knew that I HAD to do though. I had to break free of the guilt by being obedient regardless of the guilt. And I feel like God was being very gentle with me through the people He gave me to talk to…I still don’t feel like I did an adequate job, but I’ll learn, I think, and I’m sure I’ll experience rejection and defensiveness the more I do it, but I’m thankful that He let the first time be easy.

Now the desire I have is to have that mindset all the time…I CAN talk to at least one person about Study, or about Jesus specifically, or use talking about Study to talk about Jesus when I’m studying at a coffee shop…or when I’m at the gym…or when I’m going grocery shopping. I want to not struggle with this intimidation factor anymore. It is possible, and I can do it, because God has not called me to defeat, and I am not ashamed of the Gospel.

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Review #3…Just Sayin’

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“Nick and Cassie almost had their perfect family: their parents were getting married, and that meant a best-friend brother and a sweet little sister for Cassie, and Nick would have Cassie as his partner in crime. When their parents mysteriously call off their wedding and Cassie is left in her Gram’s care, Cassie and Nick become “almost-step” pen pals. Through letters, they scheme about how to get on their favorite game show, The Last Insult Standing, and just maybe figure out how to get their parents back together. Just Sayin’ is a heartwarming, funny story told through letters, demonstrating the power that words have to tear people apart or bring them together.”

The novel Just Sayin’ by Dandi Daley Mackall  is categorized in the genre of juvenile fiction, and seeks to emphasize themes of friendship, kind speech, and reconciliation. Through her characters—both children and adults—she seeks to humorously work through the power of words and the need for both kind and clear communication, and even show how the Bible can bring about change in the Christian life.

A few things that made this book enjoyable for me as a reader:

The first thing is the concept/structure. This story is told almost entirely through letters written between the characters, beginning with the child protagonist, Cassie Callahan. Mackall brings in the realistic expectation via the supporting characters’ comments that in today’s technological society that Cassie should have a phone or a computer through which she can communicate, but her love of words and writing comes through pretty seamlessly. The letter-writing format is consistent throughout the book, save some necessary records of phone conversations, as well as text exchanges.

The second thing is (warning, spoilers) the humor. There’s a point where Nick and Cassie attempt to get their parents back together by writing to them as each other (So, Nick writes to Cassie’s mom as Nick’s dad, and Cassie writes to Nick’s dad as Cassie’s mom). The writing here is hilarious, and the absurdity of how these two kids view romance is both realistic and enjoyably naive. It really did make me laugh out loud.

The third thing was Cassie’s character development as well as her uniqueness as a character. There’s a clear and realistic spiritual change that happens in Cassie the more she contemplates her words, what they mean, and how they affect others. And yet, the change isn’t so drastic within the time frame that it makes her growth unrealistic. She’s still the snarky, sassy, little girl that she was at the beginning of the story, still Cassie, but by the end of the book she’s on her way to changing not just her words, but also her whole life, even as an eleven-year-old. Her enjoyment of words was just one of the many other idiosyncrasies that set her apart from the other characters, and helped her earn her spot as the protagonist of the story.

*Bonus element that made this read enjoyable: Mackall did a great job of bringing Scripture into this story and making sure, at least in Cassie’s life, it was clear that the Bible is what brought about her character change. The way Cassie approached the Bible and “writing letters to Jesus” was in line with her character and how she typically did things, and gave me a sweet look into how an eleven-year-old might see God.

A few things that made this book difficult for me as a reader:

The first thing is the inconsistency of the voice. There were a few times when Nick or Cassie sounded considerably more mature than the eleven-year-olds they are. There were also a few times when Nick or Cassie used outlandishly poor grammar that didn’t fit with their general maturity; the mistakes seemed too intentionally placed and took me out of the story as a reader.

The second thing is the grammatical errors. There’s a possibility Mackall intentionally placed certain marks in the wrong places (periods inconsistently inside and/or outside the parentheses, when the rule is typically that they belong outside, etc.) to make the story more true to real-life letter-writing. But with how fluidly Nick and Cassie wrote, the errors were more distracting than anything else, and did not accomplish the intention, should it have been the intention, of making the letter-writing more realistic.

The third thing is the perfect ending. Granted, it is a book that seems to be geared more towards children, and it might be that endings in that particular genre are meant to be this way, but the ending seemed too easy. Every loose end is tied up. Everyone gets what they wanted. Things work out exactly as planned. Now, I love happy endings. I really do. But it doesn’t feel like the ending was earned, and no real heartache was experienced in order to achieve it, except from the poor miscommunication of Nick’s dad and Cassie’s mom, and yet even that didn’t seem like a solid enough catalyst for the drama that proceeded, and was then easily figured out and tied up in the end.

I would, however, despite the previous remarks, recommend this book to anyone looking for a light-hearted read filled with humor, in need of a lesson about the power of our words, or looking for a reminder that God changes people.

About the Author:

“Dandi Daley Mackall is the award-winning author of over 450 books for children and adults. She visits countless schools, conducts writing assemblies and workshops across the United States, and presents keynote addresses at conferences and young author events. She is also a frequent guest on radio talk shows and has made dozens of appearances on TV. She has won several awards for her writing, including the Helen Keating Ott Award for Contributions to Children’s Literaturethe Edgar Award, and a two-time Mom’s Choice Award winner. Dandi writes from rural Ohio, where she lives with her husband, Joe, their three children, and their horses, dogs, and cats.”

If you’re interested in knowing more about Dandi, I present thee reader with thine access to her blog…eth.

https://dandimackall.wordpress.com/

*A complimentary copy of this book was given to me by Tyndale Press.

 

 

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I Am Absalom

I grabbed Hannah’s keys off the counter at 7:25 on Thursday morning, making sure I left the keys to my and Jake’s car in case of an emergency. Hannah had been incredibly generous and let me borrow the car when necessary, since I was still waiting to be able to register my car in North Carolina. Logistics, yes. As I headed out the door and into the sweet sunlight to pick up Anna, I felt the exhaustion of the week hit me.

The passage of Colossians 1:28-29 ran through my mind as I hopped into Hannah’s car. I was supposed to be striving with all of God’s energy, and not with my own. I was supposed to invest in others with all of His strength and understanding, not my own. As I thought over this, I reminded myself that Hannah’s car is an automatic, and I don’t have to use both feet to drive, and the brake is not the clutch.

I drove to Anna’s house. We were meeting up to do our devotions together before I dropped her off at work. And so I prayed.

Without Jake being here, it’s been too easy for me to stretch myself too thin, to forget that I’m human and that God has designed me to rest in Him. And though the week had been spent on loving and listening to and praying for people that He loves, I was tired and feeling a bit drained.

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

I breathed out and continued to pray for Anna. I had recently felt like a failure in the area of faithfully praying for people. And yet, it wasn’t because I wasn’t spending quality time in prayer…it was just that there were so many people and things to pray about! “Pray without ceasing” was suddenly making a lot more sense as a command. (Romans 12:12)

I hadn’t been able to talk to Jake for a couple of weeks, and I missed him terribly. But I was reminded that God is a better listener, the God of all comfort, the Father of compassion, and Jesus as living water and the bread of life is able to sustain me and bear my burdens far more effectively than Jake can or ever will be able to…Which is hard to remember sometimes, because Jake is so wonderful and I’m probably still wearing rose-colored glasses.

I pulled into Anna’s driveway and she ran out to hop in the car. I noticed she didn’t have her Bible and notebook. I wanted to facepalm because I hadn’t been clear that we were doing devotions together, and selfishly struggled with feeling like I’d yet again failed in communication. So I asked her if she’d run in and grab those things. As she walked back to her front door, I felt even more like a failure for not saying “Good morning” first.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Right, that’s true of me, I thought as Anna got back in the car. I said “good morning” and we started talking as I pulled out of the driveway. Right, I thought again. I can’t fail. I’m not failing. Christ has made me sufficient as His ambassador, and He’s totally equipped me to do what He’s asked of me, and going therefore and making disciples of all nations is not too difficult with Him. And I’m only meant to live by faith in Christ, who loved me and continues to love me…This is His life to live. I might not feel like I’m doing well, but I cannot be driven by my feelings.

Anna and I parked in the parking lot of The Coffee Scene, the coffee shop frequented by our circle of friends. As we walked in, I realized I’d never been in The Coffee Scene that early on a week day. Everything was quiet and the shop was nearly empty, save a red-headed woman sitting on the couch in the lounging area under the stairs, and a gentleman sitting outside in one of the black iron chairs smoking a cigarette and drinking a hot beverage. Coffee, probably black.

Anna and I ordered our drinks and we sat down at a high table by the window wall to the left of the entrance. I managed to bonk my head on the “OPEN” sign hanging on the wall as I adjusted myself on the seat.

Anna opened her notebook and Bible and started in on her time. I opened my Bible to 2 Samuel and prayed as I read.

I entered into the world of King David post-Bathsheba, and my heart ached as I read of Amnon and Tamar, of Absalom the kinsman murderer, of David’s cowardice and passivity, and of Joab’s anger. I used to see the people in the Bible as intimidating; they were perfect people whose faith I would never be able to emulate. But the more time I spent with God in His Word, particularly the Old Testament, I realized that people in the Bible are a mess.

Well, I can certainly emulate that, I thought.

And yet as I read about Joab (David’s army commander) sending a woman to tell David he ought to bring Absalom home (Absalom fled and was banished from Jerusalem when he killed his brother Amnon for raping their sister Tamar…it’s a mess…), the woman said something really cool.

“Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.” (2 Samuel 14:14)

So, Jake has quoted this verse a lot, and I always thought “Oh! What a great verse about how God forgives us and pursues us! So cool!” But what I never realized was that the “banished person” used as an example was Absalom, a murderous son who would later sleep with his father’s wives and conspire against the king and make an even bigger mess of everything…and yet “God…devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.”

What?

I always associated myself with the position of the banished person for whom God makes a way. But when I read this, I was confronted by the murderous, lustful, deceitful, and covetous state of my own heart. I was Absalom.

“‘You have heard it said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.'” (Matthew 6:21-22)

How many times had I hated someone, or simply been selfishly angry with them, even if it was just for a moment? I very often lived in fear of my own temper, because it was fierce and hurtful when left unchecked. I still had to give my anger over to God.

There in The Coffee Scene, I sat broken before God, ignorantly sipping a hot vanilla chai latte at the feet of the King of the Universe, who made a way through the sacrifice of His own Son to make sure I, a murderer via the hatred I’ve harbored in my heart, would not stay separated from Him. He wanted me to be with Him, even though I killed His Son with my sin.

Anna and I talked some more after we finished reading and praying. She shared some of her thoughts on Psalm 70, and she helped me with my Scripture memory (2 Timothy 2:24-25 and Psalm 75:2-3). Eventually we left The Coffee Scene and I dropped her off at work.

As I drove back home, I prepared my heart for the time that Hannah I would spend with Jessica down the street (she and her husband are also part of the Navigator ministry here), and started thinking about what questions I had or wanted to ask her. We’d planned on meeting up with her at 9:00 that morning, so we’d have to walk down the moment I got home. The drive back, I felt bathed in God’s grace toward me, a murderer who once deserved judgment, thinking on how He showed His love for me by dying for me even as I continued to sin against Him, and who continued to love and forgive me every day from now until forever, as I continued to fall short in pursuing Him.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)

 

 

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