Monday, November 6

A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star: A Book Review

          I recently received a copy of A Forest, a Flood and an Unlikely Star, a YA novel written by J.A. Myhre. The premise was a compelling one-- it's a story about Kusimma, a 13-year-old boy who lives in the tiny, fictional town of Rwendigo in the center of Africa. This young boy has lost his mother and has been abandoned by his father, is living with his grandmother and sick baby sister in a land where resources (money, food, proper health care) come only with great struggle, and sometimes not at all.



While the summary may sound bleak, the bigger story is about living life, one day at a time, in the midst of struggle and somehow finding hope and perseverance to live well. There are bits of family reconciliation and redemption at the end, and though they are imperfect moments, they are a reminder that we live in a broken world and that the best is yet to come.

 While I don't read a ton of fiction these days (mostly because mom-life is busy and I tend to lean towards non-fiction when I have the time) I figured I could make time to read  a book marketed as YA fiction, assuming it was a bit shorter than a full-length novel intended for an adult audience.


Here is a brief synopsis from the publisher: 

Just thirteen years old, Kusiima has no time for school, sports, or hanging out with the other boys in his African village. With no father or mother to take care of him, he works long hours to support his grandmother and sickly baby sister. Then one day, Kusiima’s life suddenly changes when he travels into a nearby protected forest. In the forest, Kusiima is presented with many choices, all with uncertain outcomes. Should he go along with illegal logging? Help to save an endangered baby gorilla? Follow a donkey to who knows where?
With each choice, Kusiima has to make yet another decision about what is right in front of him. As he does, he meets a mysterious doctor who holds the key to his past and his future. In the end, Kusiima is faced with the hardest choice of all. Can he forgive a great wrong and heal a broken relationship?

     J.A. Myhre, the author, serves as a doctor in East Africa and is passionate about health care for the poor. Myhre wrote this book, and two others as Christmas presents for her own children over the course of several years, which I think is incredible!

    A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star is an engaging and interesting story that explores a culture, and the multifaceted issues of poverty, the healthcare crises and other interpersonal struggles related to these things in many remote African villages. It is a beautifully written book, that excels in developing the characters, the land around them and how the people and the land impact one another.

    While I did find the book a bit slow in pace, I was intrigued by the story and wanted to finish. I needed to find out what happened to Kusiima and his family! It is a beautifully written story- I will always sit through a book-- even one that does feel slow-- if the writing is good!

    While this was written for the author's children and marketed as YA literature, it is not a book that many young adults (that I know) will pick up on their own.  That said, I think it's an excellent book to read alongside your young adult readers, to use as part of a classroom or homeschool curriculum, particularly while studying African culture. It's an excellent choice to help open a young person's eyes to the bigger picture of struggle in the world:  In summary,  YA's might need to be nudged towards reading this, but there will be great value in the experience.

    There is much to be learned and appreciated in this series of books.  I definitely recommend this book to young adult readers (maybe 10 and up?), as well as adults interested in the themes/landscape explored.


To learn more about J.A. Myhre and this book click here. To order A Forest, a Flood, and an Unlikely Star on Amazon, click here





{MORE ABOUT J.A. MYHRE}

J. A. Myhre serves as a doctor with Serge in East Africa where she has worked for over two decades. She is passionate about health care for the poor, training local doctors and nurses, promoting childhood nutrition and development, and being the hands of Jesus in the hardest places. She is married to her best friend and colleague Scott, and together they have raised four children for whom many of her stories were written as Christmas presents.









Friday, October 27

Are You a Woman Overwhelmed by Life? Check out This Book Review!

 




      What a title, huh?! 

      Wow, that’s a book for me if I’ve ever seen one, I thought.  

      Overwhelmed? Messes? Finding God in the middle? Yup. Yup. Yup. Sounds like my life. 

      But, I wish it weren't that way. I wish "overwhelm" didn't feel like my MO- my modus operandi- my go-to pattern of thinking and feeling. I wish my faith were so big, my perspective so holy, that I didn't let that bugger of emotion sneak in...stealing precious God-given joy that it has no right to steal. 

     While wishing doesn't usually get me very far, hope and prayer always move me in the right direction. Hayley DiMarco's book does an excellent job of encouraging all women in that direction: Yield...Let go...Pray...Trust = Less Overwhelm. 

      The truth is, I wasn't always overwhelmed by life...really, I wasn't! Were you?

       It turns out that this gig as an adult, raising children, it isn't as much fun or as simple as it looked way back when I was a young woman with ALL of the answers. When my parents told me that being an adult wasn't as much fun as it seemed (while I was wishing to grow up quickly and do things my own way!). I never believed them.

     It also turns out that doing things "our way" really isn't the way to go anyways, which is where I've gone wrong too many times in my adult life-- relying too little on God and too much on myself to navigate my days as a woman, wife and mother.  This choice hasn't always been intentional...sometimes we think we just need to put one foot in front of the other and muster through,  but the truth is that God offers a much better and more peaceful way.

   DiMarco calls us to take a serious look at our lives, at the things that are "stressing us out" and to reconsider them all in the light of prayer, in the light of asking God to show us what He is calling us to. Chances are, when we bring our daily task list to the light of God's word, there are a whole bunch of things that can be crossed off. And, if they are supposed to be there, then we need to start trusting God at a deeper level to fill us to the brim with His supernatural strength to muster through. He will strengthen us where we fill weak, provide energy when we're tired, and replace anxiety with peace if we are faithful to turn to Him. 

    Hayley DiMarco's central question in this book is an important one: Are we pursuing our mission or God's mission on a daily basis?   One leads to overwhelm, the other leads to peace. The hard truth is that many of us are living overwhelmed lives by our own making...not by God's leading. 

   In summary, DiMarco argues that most women are overwhelmed because they are trying to control the details of their lives without fully yielding to what God’s purposes may be—perhaps God is using the things we see as messes, or interruptions or distractions to our getting things done, to grow us into more patient, loving, and selfless women: Sanctification from selfish to servant.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book that I felt really nailed the issue at hand: 

“Control is at the heart of the god complex that I struggle so frequently against. It’s a condition suffered by millions of women across the globe, each of whom is sure that if everyone would just do what she told them, life would be so much better…Jesus knows the tendency of our hearts to want to pull the strings of life and control our worlds. He knows that we have dreams, plans, hopes, and that they all revolve around our getting what we want. And that’s at the heart of our overwhelming lives—we aren’t getting what we think we need.” 
  
"What is your normal reaction to interruption, failure, rejection and inconvenience? The mission of me is overwhelming because it is forever being interrupted. But the mission of God is never wrongly interrupted."

"When the to-do list doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed that faithfulness, and all that goes with it is gone. You know that’s not how things are supposed to go, but you feel powerless to change it."

”If you wake up tomorrow dead-set on the mission of God (instead of the mission of “me”) resolved that love is the Instagram filter of your life, and determined that you won’t do anything without love being job number one, then tomorrow will be less overwhelming than today. And if you keep God’s mission as your goal for the rest of your life, you will find yourself less overwhelmed by life and more overwhelmed by your God."

DiMarco is very honest about her own weaknesses and failures in this book. I wasn’t sure I liked the self-depreciating tone at first, but I came to appreciate it by the end of the book. Her honesty made her feel more like a graceful friend than a hard nosed preacher. Thanks Hayley!


If you are a women overwhelmed by life who would much rather be a woman overwhelmed by God, than this book is very much worth the time it will take you to read it, even in the middle of your overwhelmed life!



Publisher Prize Giveaway!!!!

DiMarco and her publisher are currently running a super fun contest to help with at least one potential part of your overwhelm: cleaning! You can win a $75 Merry Maids Visa Gift Card...Click on the box below for details!

One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of A Woman Overwhelmed
  • A $75 Merry Maids Visa Cash Card
Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on November 3. The winner will be announced November 6 on the Litfuse blog.



To check out the book on Amazon, click here





{MORE ABOUT HAYLEY DIMARCO}

Hayley DiMarco is the best-selling author of more than 40 books, including multiple books in the God Girl line, “The Fruitful Wife,” “Obsessed,” “Die Young” and “Own It.” As the founder of Hungry Planet, a company intensely focused on feeding the world’s appetite for truth, DiMarco speaks regularly for women’s groups and events, including Women of Faith, dotMOM, Precept National Women’s Convention and MOPS International. Hayley and her pastor husband, Michael, live outside Nashville with their daughter and four dogs.
Find out more about Hayley at http://hayleydimarco.com.




Note: I agreed to  write an honest review in exchange for a copy of the book via Litfuse Publicity. 







Sunday, September 3

Ode to a New School Year!



Today is September 3rd, and in our neck of the woods (Western NY/Buffalo area) that can only mean one thing...

School is about to start! 

I know. I know. I sound a little too excited, don't I?!

I'm really not, honestly. The beginning of September always comes with bittersweet feelings that must be reminiscent of my childhood days. Do I want school to start? Do I want summer to end? Do I want to say goodbye to my kiddos for hours on end while they head off to their classrooms? I know they certainly don't feel like heading off to their classrooms for hours on end.

As I flipped the calendar page this week I felt like I should hear a trumpet bellowing out a tune to alert me to an important announcement:
"Here ye, Here ye! 
Today ends the endless carefree schedule, late bedtimes, lack of structure, bored children, sleepovers, pool parties, don't make your bed, squeeze in the summer reading, roast marshmallows, fun in the sun, squeeze the most of life, kind of days. 
Yes, yes. I'm sorry to inform you.  
You may proceed to engage in picnics and parties for the rest of the weekend, but you must also get your supplies, shoes, backpacks, snacks, water bottles, lunch boxes and books ready. Another school year is about to commence." 
I must say, I'm thankful to have friends who live in places like Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida and Michigan, where school started this week. Their first day of school pictures always help me to acclimate to the impending transition....like easing into the water in a 0 depth entry pool rather than jumping right into the deep end (I like slow transitions!).

The hardest part for me about a new school year is reinstating the structured days...

The reality is, I'm a middle of the road mom when it comes to structure. There are moms WAY more structured than me and moms WAY less structured then me. I'm content with my middle of the road structure status.

Structure in the way of bedtimes, and chores, reading schedules and homework, a clean house and folded laundry...well, sure it makes me feel better! It makes me feel on top of things. But, when it comes to executing such structure....ahhh, well...I'm still waiting to take that class. Sometimes, when it's time for dinner, and backpacks are flying, and homework questions are coming at me, and the laundry is sitting pretty and piled high, I keep thinking the "real" mom is about to walk through the door and make it all happen like a pro.

And then I remember, I AM the "real" mom. Hahahahaha.

So, I'm bracing to re-embrace the necessity of highly structured days that I aspire to be good at, but don't always follow through on.  I'm a little bit sad to let the girls head back to their classrooms for hours on end, mostly because there are things I still wanted to do with them that we never got around to this summer...

I wanted to paint a picture with Ella (she's my little artist).

I wanted to go geo-caching with Ava (she's my little adventurer).

I wanted to take Aubrey to Museum of Play in Rochester WITH her sisters to show her all of the fun stuff...not just with boring mom (she's my embrace life as it comes, exuberantly busy 3rd child!).

I wanted to hit up a waterpark and food truck Tuesdays in Buffalo.

We did do other things-- lots of spontaneous sleepovers, playdates, neighborhood play sessions...the stuff summer should be filled with. So, you know what?  I'm penciling the rest of my little bucket list into the fall. Who says it all had to be done this summer and why would I have put such silly expectation on myself in the first place?!

I am looking to a few quieter mornings. There are house projects I'd like to tackle, more writing I'd like to do, and thoughts I'd like to find that have receded to the faraway, quieter places of my brain. I plan to recapture them, and sit with them...maybe write about them, or write poems from them, or use them to resurrect parts of our family life that I always have good intentions of trying to act on, but get too busy to actually follow through on.

Here's to yearly transitions-- I do love that September feels ripe for trying out new habits and setting a few new goals (even more so than January for me). Here's to embracing structure again. Here's to extending my "summer" bucket list into the fall. 


Ode to a New School Year

Here ye, Here ye. 

The summer days were long and fun
But the daily party has had its run

Structure, I say, is due to return
So back to school you must go to learn

It's time for new friends, classrooms and Fall
Lets celebrate a new school year, adventure and all! 



Blessing to all my momma friends and their kiddos as we start a new year!





Tuesday, July 25

Dear Tired Mom in the Middle of Summer Vacation...






Dear Mom in the Middle of Summer Vacation with Young Children At Home,


Are you tried? I am.

Are you wondering if you're going to make it?

Through the day? The week? Until September? Gosh, sometimes I wonder if I'm going to make it out at all. I often picture myself, in 15 years or so, looking a bit like a mad scientist...beady eyes, crazy hair standing on end, a little on edge wondering what wild thing is going to happen next.

This summer vacation stuff is NOT for the faint of heart.

It feels like we've been going from morning till night, non-stop-- ice cream and carnivals, sleepovers and picnics, swim lesson and Vacation Bible School, swimming and crafts, bike rides and berry picking. It's all good, good stuff, and the truth is that I love doing a lot of it. I suppose if there were 30 hours in each day I'd be coping better.  The reality is that I have mommy things to do (and sometimes things I'd just like to do) that just never get done; I don't mean to sound selfish here, but I'd like to read a book (the entire thing!), do some laundry, and try to keep the house from looking like a tornado touched down...again.

Also, if your kids are anything like mine, there is the daily bickering about things "not being fair", or sisters instigating each other until someone is shrieking for me to intercept,  or in tears. There is griping about chores, and whining about going to bed. There are wet towels and suits left precariously around the house, no matter how many times I holler about picking them up. There is the feeling of always, ALWAYS, always being in the kitchen to make a meal, clean up after a meal, or manage the snack consumption in-between meals.

There was also this conversation, while we were running late for a swimming playdate with friends-- despite trying to keep everyone moving in the right direction, finding goggles, suits, towels, throwing sandwiches together, etc.

"Ava, I'm just going to run upstairs to change (because mommy can't go to a swim date in pajamas) Could you please make sure Aubrey gets her shoes on and would you mind cutting that cucumber for me?"

"Sure, mom."

Except, what I found when I came downstairs six minutes later, was Aubrey laying flat across the keyboard (trying to play with her entire body, I presume?), Ella attempting kick overs and Ava dancing, eyes closed, to a song on the I-pad, while the dog was running circles around everyone, barking.

I know there is this idea about there about "being in the moment", but seriously?!

"What are you guys doing?" I holler. Loudly. 

They all look at me like I'm really mean and have two heads.

"Awww, mom, but I wanted to finish my kick over," Ella says with saddest, poutiest face known to man.

"Ava, did you cut the cucumber for me?"

"Um."

"Oh my gosh, you guys! Get in the car, NOW! We're already 15 minutes late."

The conversations ensues in the car when I start to go on and on, and on,  about how I used to be a really, really nice, CALM, patient, easy going person who was fun to be around.

"So..." Ella interjects. "You're saying it's our fault?"

Oh mercy, I think. No one prepared me for ANY of this. 

And, the reality is, nobody does.

Motherhood is a tough, tough job. Some days I feel like the worst version of myself imaginable- not because I'm a bad person. In all honesty, and by the grace of God, I feel like I'm trying really hard to be a good person. A kind and compassionate person. An empathetic, intentional, encouraging person. A faithful, Godly person.

But, somedays I feel like I'm surrounded by utter chaos.  Let's be real, it can be challenging to live in  chaos for long stretches of time...like a decade, or so. Give or take a few days.

To be fair, I'm a highly sensitive person who is keenly sensitive to stimuli. I don't say that lightly. If you've never read about HSP's (highly sensitive people), it's a real classification, with a compelling body of reasearch. It's part of what makes me creative- the noticing of EVERYTHING-but, it also feels like my kryptonite in this land of motherhood. A land chock full of perpetual stimulation, needs, crises, responsibility and noise.

All that to say, tired momma, whether you're highly sensitive or not, this is no easy gig.

I'm here to remind you that you're doing a really good job! You're most likely pouring out all of yourself to love your children in the very best way you can, despite feeling like you're failing.  You're not failing, I assure you. Your kids will remember this all in a new light someday when they are parents (just as we have!), and think "Whoa! This is why mom seemed a little crazy on that day in the middle of July when we were all acting like drunk monkeys!"

They'll have a LOT of grace for you then. I have a lot of grace for you now. We need to have grace for ourselves in the process.

Anne Lammott, one of  my favorite authors on grace-- someone who talks openly about how utterly human we all are (aka: broken) and how much grace we need, said this in her book, Grace (Eventually), 
  "Sometimes grace works like water wings when you feel you are sinking." 

I like that picture, especially in the middle of a summer where my four year old wears her pink water wings every time she's in the pool. Especially, in the middle of a summer, and a season of parenting, when I feel like I'm sinking... a lot. Especially, in these moments in life when I'm realize I'm somehow still floating, or "swimming", or whatever you want to call my awkward strokes,  as I attempt to swim through this ocean of life, despite feeling like I should have sunk a long time ago. (Grace!!!)

Grace is a beautiful thing. I'm reminded of our inspiration for giving our third daughter her middle name, "If we're going to have a third girl," I reasoned, "we are going to need a LOT of grace!"  And so, Aubrey Grace Littlewood came to be. 

Quite frankly, she's putting us to the test (:

In Grace (Eventually) Lammott also says, "You can get that monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town."

If that doesn't describe motherhood with young children in the middle of summer vacation, I'm not sure what does.

Here's to the circus fellow mommas! Let's step out to the concession stand for a minute, buy some popcorn and nachos, and try to gracefully enjoy every minute (alright, as many of them as we can!) of this wild ride called motherhood, with our pink water wings on!





P.S. Next week I'll be posting a few tips and favorite quotes about staying in the moment...Please stop back!