Woe! It’s Wednesday: Reunited …

… and it feels so good.

We had a family reunion of sorts recently. https://i1.wp.com/cdn.buuteeq.com/upload/3625/family-reunion-sign.jpg.852x286_default.jpg

Once upon a time, in a magical land known as Southern California, four couples met together to study God’s word and share each others’ lives.

The group expanded and decreased and ebbed and flowed for a number of years. But the basic four had a special bond. They vacationed together. They brought meals when babies were born. They prayed for each other during job transitions and life decisions.

Two of the couples moved away.

Still they stayed in touch.

If the American divorce rate is 50% (and it sort of is … I learned lots of interesting facts when I googled and researched American divorce rate), then the law of averages would say that in the roughly twenty-eight years since we started meeting together, two of the couples would be divorced.

But we’re all still married to our first spouses.

Another (divorced) friend at church recently asked me  about our closest long-time couple friends, if there were any divorces among them. Two of my dearest girl-friends have gone through divorce, but in our core group of couple friends the answer is easy.

No.

Not one.

That same friend made the connection I hadn’t. He said, “Makes sense. You’ve surrounded yourself with like-minded people, couples in it for the long haul.”

When we started vacationing together, there were five children in the group. There are now eight—all grown-up—and four grandchildren. We were quite the crowd last week.

We had a ball catching up, eating and drinking together, playing cards. We had a ping-pong and hula-hoop forest golf tournament. We shared our most memorable stories of other vacations.

Most important, we reinforced those bonds so they’ll stick for another twenty or so years.

Book Talk Tuesday: The Offering

The Offering by Angela Hunt is a haunting and vivid picture of the unseen pitfalls modern medicine routinely digs as they reap what may seem to be a miracle.

Mandy Lisandra wants a lot of kids. She was an only child whose father died when she was a child. Her husband’s extended Cuban-American family has folded her into their hearts. Mandy and Gideon have one daughter but have postponed enlarging their family until they stand on firmer financial ground and Gideon’s time in the military is completed.

A chance conversation with another military wife alerts Mandy’s interest in gestational surrogacy. Pregnancy was easy for Mandy the first time, so she figures it’s a great way to give someone the gift of a child that would be biologically theirs. She’ll provide the “oven” to bake their “bun,” and add to her and Gideon’s bank account at the same time.

I’m hesitant to share too much more of the plot. One of the reviews I read on Amazon said the back cover copy gave away too much of the plot and I have to agree I had several of those “when is that going to happen?” moments as I read.

The Offering is a novel in the style of Jodi Picoult: a thought-provoking what if that is thoroughly rooted in reality and could really happen. Modern medicine enable us to do many things unbelievable even a generation ago. The Offering has the courage to ask if just because we can do something, does that mean we should do it?

You may not agree with Mandy’s decision at the end, but I believe she made not only the right choice but the best decision for herself and her family.

Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane had an epiphany about the men in her life and left the Date My Son! house and called Jesse. They agreed they belong together in Rosedale.

Chapter Fifty-Seven

 

It didn’t take long to pack up my tiny furnished apartment. I had my clothes and a few tchotchkes. By noon the next day, I’d given notice at the school and to my landlord, and April and I were chugging up I-5 toward the Valley and home.

I’d even managed a quick call to Nathan, still at the Date My Son! set. He confessed his feelings for Cassie and I told him I was thrilled for him. I really was and it didn’t have anything to do with my own light-hearted feelings for Jesse.

April kept herself occupied with her iPod and my thoughts continued to whirl like a tornado, touching down on various thoughts about where I’d live, work, and love in the future.

Jesse and I talked all night. The job he applied for was a good one. He could afford a place of his own while we got re-acquainted. I would insist that Jake and Daniel and Abel finish my garage apartment. I needed a place of my own, out of the main house. The clapboard farmhouse was Anna’s nest now and I had been kidding myself to think I had any say in how she ran it.

I shouldn’t have a problem getting my old job back at Rosedale Elementary. But even if Principal Reardon had replaced me, it wasn’t the end of the world. I could drive a tractor as well as my brothers.

By the time we pulled off 99 and into Rosedale, I was just the teensiest bit apprehensive about seeing my brothers and Anna. Would I be strong enough to stand up for myself? I never could before.

I stopped in front of Enns Dry Goods, put the car in park, and sagged against the seat back.

“Can I get an ice-cream?” April asked, pointing to the lunch counter.

“Sure.” It seemed like a good idea and would give me a chance to catch up with Emma.

The black stiletto heels, the ones I saw on the day Jesse and Rachael had returned to town, still held a place of honor in the front window. Along with a traditional Mennonite kappe. Our order didn’t wear them, but the tourists didn’t know that.

The juxtaposition of the chic heels and plain bonnet made me smile.

Inside, April slid onto a stool at the counter and placed her order. I kept looking over my shoulder at the front window.

“SarahJane!” Emma hugged me then stepped back. “Oh, I’ve missed you!”

I grinned at her. “I have so much to tell you. But first, I have to buy those shoes and that kappe.”

She grabbed my elbow and pulled me toward the window. “I can’t believe neither has sold yet. They’ve been in the window for weeks.” She reached over the waist-high back and snagged first the heels then the bonnet. “It’s like they were waiting for you.”

I laughed out loud at that. “You know, I think they were.”

At the register, Emma rang me up. Instead of a paper or plastic bag though, she pulled out a box from under the counter. “These deserve something extra special.”

The box was more than an ordinary shoebox. It was round, like a hatbox. Cream-colored with a black band around the lid.

“That looks like something out of the 1940’s,” I said.

“I ordered just a hundred.” Emma fit the shoes inside and laid the kappe on top. “They’re for the discriminating customer who will appreciate them.” She winked at me as she pushed the box across the counter.

Tears filled my eyes.

“SarahJane, are you okay? It’s just a box.” Emma’s concerned voice slipped around me like a warm comforter.

I blinked rapidly. “I’m fine. I—it’s just—I have so much to tell you and this is the perfect end to this summer. These shoes, the kappe, the box. It’s my life in one neat package. Our culture and heritage, and the reality show that gave me back my past.”

April scampered up then. “I’m ready to go home now.”

I propped the box on one hip and gave her a hug with my opposite arm.

“We are, sweetie. We are finally home. And there’s no place I’d rather be.”

The End

Book Talk Tuesday: Christian Living

I’ve read several books recently that would be filed under the “Christian Living” tag at your local bookstore.

Product DetailsYour Captivating Heart was given to me several years ago by a dear friend. It’s always on my nightstand where I can turn to it for a few pages of inspiration.

It’s full of wisdom and insight about women and why we are the way we are and it’s the way God created us to be. We express His love through our uniqueness. I love the reminders that I am exactly who God intended me to be.

Victim of Grace by Robin Jones Gunn is an excellent read. I’m a big fan of Robin’s fiction and enjoy her non-fiction as well. <font color=”red”>NEW!</font>  Victim of Grace

Robin shares her journey as a daughter, friend, sister, mom, and wife, all with transparency. I loved walking with her through the various ways God meets us in our lives.

I had the privilege of spending a few hours with Robin last March and receiving a word of encouragement from God through her. This book reinforced what she had shared with me. I heard God on every page, speaking through Robin. This one will join Your Captivating Heart on my nightstand.

The Practice of the Presence of God has been on my to-read list for well over twenty years. I finally got around to it when one more friend told me I had to.

Brother Lawrence was a Carmelite Brother in the 1600s who worked in the Product Detailskitchen of the monastery. He disciplined himself constantly to remember that he everything he did and thought was in service to God. He believed (and lived out) that we are always in the presence of Jehovah-God. Whether we live in the city or the suburbs, work in a soup kitchen or on Wall Street, what we do has eternal significance in God’s plan.

Brother Lawrence shows us that no matter our circumstances, our time in history, or our position, we can offer it to God as our service to Him. Because isn’t that what’s it all about, really? Serving God whole-heartedly wherever He has placed us.

Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

 

The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane arrived back at the Date My Son! house for her meeting with Austin and Linda to ask why they let her go and get some closure. Linda told her she was too sweet and not cut out for life in Hollywood or on a reality show. Austin told SarahJane that her brother Nate was about to propose to Cassie, her friend on the show and asked her if he could call her after the show. She had an epiphany about the men in her life and left the house and called Jesse.

 

Chapter Fifty-Six

 

“Thanks, Chip,” I called to the driver as I dashed out of the car and up the steps to my apartment.

“You’re home!” April launched herself at me from the couch.

Rachael reached for the remote and paused their movie.

“I am. But you need to go to bed and Rachael, thanks a bunch, but I need you to leave.”

“What’s going on?” Rachael reached for her purse but April only burrowed her head into my gut.

“I’ve invited someone over for a serious talk about the future.” I couldn’t help the grin spreading across my face.

A quizzical furrow appeared between Rachael’s brows. “Someone from that show? I thought you went to get closure or whatever.”

“Not from the show.” I kicked off my heels and unpeeled April’s arms from around my waist. “But the people there helped me see what I really want and what I deserve. Which is to be in a relationship without someone wondering what I can do for them and their career.”

“I agree.” My sister grinned at me and I flashed back to our years sharing a bedroom. Instead of wondering what she was doing when she sneaked out our window, she was the onlooker. It felt weird. But also right.

A knock sounded.

“That’s our cue, April.” Rachael pulled April down the hall and I heard the bedroom door click as I strode to open the front door.

“Hi, SarahJane.”

Jesse.

“We’ve been so stupid.” I drew him into the room and to the couch.

“I know I have but what did you do?” he asked.

“I let you be stupid.”

He grinned.

“I played the martyr at home instead of going away to school like you did. I was scared. Mom and Dad would have supported me.”

“Keep going.”

“So I spent years resenting you and Rachael both, for getting away.”

“Do you mean you’re not going back to Rosedale?”

The thought silenced me for about half a second. I shook my head. “Rosedale is my home. I see that now. These months in LA have been good, but I miss my home. I miss my brothers. I even miss Anna. But most of all, I miss you. I miss us.

His eyes widened at that. “Us?”

“Yes. Will you forgive me for giving up on us so easily?”

A grin spread from his lips to his eyes. “Maybe.”

“I know your job is here now and I want to go home to Rosedale, but you know what? I learned that home isn’t just a dot on the map. It’s where your loved ones are.”

He took my hand, twining fingers through mine. “I’ve been thinking this summer, too.”

My heart did a little jump-rope dance and skipped around my chest. “Oh?”

“You’re right. Rosedale is home. I’m ready to go back. I applied for a job with the county. I have an interview next week. And if I don’t get this one, I’ll keep applying until I get one.”

My cheeks warmed. “Are you saying—”

“I’m coming home, too. We belong together and we belong in Rosedale.”

The bedroom door opened with a crash and April barreled down the hall. “Auntie SJ, are you really coming home again?”

I pulled her into a hug. “We’re all going home.”

Woe! It’s Wednesday: Doormats vs. Fishwives

I’m still learning, growing up, maturing into the person God wants me to be. Some lessons are more easily learned than others.

For a long time, when I had not-nice people in my life I thought I could change them. If I continually turned the other cheek, returned their rudeness with kindness, and reflected Jesus’ love back to them, one day they would wake up, smack their forehead, and say, “Why have I been so mean to Carrie? She’s a nice person who doesn’t deserve to be treated the way I’ve been treating her.”

Typed out like that, black letters on a white background, I see how naïve stupid that was.

Being a doormat gets you nothing except stepped on.

I’m sad to say it took me more than fifty years to learn that.

The last couple of years I’ve really worked (I thought) at not letting myself be a doormat. The trouble is that I sometimes swing to the opposite end of the pendulum and become shrill in demanding “my” rights.

As a Christian, I am taught such truths as dying to myself, being a submissive wife, serving my husband. Teachings that I agree with. In theory.

The problem lies in my practice of them. I turn into a martyr and then I’m an angry martyr when no one acknowledges rewards my suffering.

I feel a constant tug between setting healthy boundaries and being too accommodating to the bullies in life.

I have no answers except that I’m grateful for the opportunity to keep trying to get it right.

One of these days.

Maybe.

Book Talk Tuesday: Irene Hannon

I’ve read two Irene Hannon books recently.

That Certain Summer

First up was That Certain Summer. It represents a return to Irene’s roots as a contemporary romance writer before she turned to suspense.

It was good.

I enjoyed it but I didn’t love it.

It’s about two sisters, long … not estranged, but certainly not close. Karen was the good sister who married young, stayed in town, and cared for her parents in spite of her mother’s constant fault-finding and comparisons to Val.

Val escaped town at graduation and never looked back, partly to escape her mother’s criticism and partly to leave behind a nightmare.

The story picks up about seventeen years later. Karen’s husband has just left her. She’s struggling to get by as a single mom. Val lives in Chicago where she teaches drama to high schoolers and makes extra money modeling. Their mother has a stroke and needs more help than Karen can manage so she calls her sister.

The story is well done, but I never really connected with either sister. Karen was a bit of a door mat, even after she woke up and started standing up for herself. Val’s story seemed more issue-driven, then rooted in Val herself. That’s a fine distinction and not one most readers would pick up on, other than to leave vaguely dissatisfied with the resolution.

On the other hand, Fatal Judgment was very good. I liked it from beginning to end. I think Irene’s talents definitely are in the suspense arena. FatalJudgement

Jake Taylor can’t believe it when his next U.S. Marshal job is to provide protection for federal judge Elizabeth Michaels. Liz was married to Jake’s best friend until Doug died, possibly driven to suicide by his cold, career –driven wife. Or so Jake always thought.

As Jake gets to know Liz, he discovers she’s a lot more than he’d thought. And he enjoys her company.

There’s a subplot about anti-government groups that I found completely plausible. For suspense readers, I recommend this one! The story is great, the pacing excellent, and the writing is well done. This one’s a keeper.

Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane arrived back at the Date My Son! house for her meeting with Austin and Linda to ask why they let her go and get some closure. Linda told her she was too sweet and not cut out for life in Hollywood or on a reality show. Austin told SarahJane that her brother Nate was about to propose to Cassie, her friend on the show.

The Bandbox Hat

Chapter Fifty-Five

My heart froze for an instant then I let out a breath. “Oh, wow.”

“How do you feel about that?” Austin asked.

“I’m not sure yet … Happy, I think.” As I turned over the idea in my mind—Cassie as my sister-in-law?—the more I liked it. “They’re a good fit. I love them both.”

“They’re lucky. They didn’t let this bubble of luxury and glamour mess with their heads. Mom was squared away when we got here, but somehow in the last couple of weeks, she’s lost it.” He sighed then stood and shook the clinging water off his feet.

“Thanks for the chat, Austin.” I slipped my feet back into my sandals.

“Do you think …” He paused and gave me an appraising look. I was suddenly conscious of the camera angled over his shoulder. “Could I call you when this is over?”

I swallowed a bark of laughter. “So much for finding true love on reality television?”

He shrugged. “I want someone who’s the same on camera and off. You and Cassie are the only two who resemble that.”

“And Cassie’s taken.”

He had the good grace to look away. “No, I really do like you, SarahJane.”

I glanced around. He was right. This place and this show sold an idea, an image of what a good life should be. A fully-stocked bar. A pool. Granite countertops. Fabulous dates and hip places. Helicopter rides to bowling alleys. But it was a faux life. The real good life is hot chocolate in front the Christmas fire. Scrabble on rainy days. Sparring about whether to order pizza or Chinese for dinner. And I knew who I wanted to debate pepperoni or fried rice with.

“Thanks, Austin. But, well, no thanks.”

“Really?” He actually looked disappointed.

I would have bought it except he spoiled it by looking in the camera and sighing.

I laughed. “See you around, Austin. Tell your mom bye.”

I skipped down the walkway and back to the front drive where the limo waited.

The door was barely closed before I had my cell phone out and dialed.

“Hello?”

“Jesse. It’s SarahJane.

Book Talk Tuesday: Duchess

Duchess, the final book in Susan May Warren’s historical trilogy is a satisfying end to the series.

We started with Heiress, the story of the Esme and Jinx Price and different paths in life. Baroness followed their daughters, Rosie and Lilly in their quests to belong.

DuchessDuchess is all Rosie, bringing the family full circle.

I reviewed several of Warren’s other books and it’s no secret I’m a big fan.

Duchess lives up the Warren’s standards. The writing is lyrical without the poetry of the words distracting from the story.

I had a small quibble with Baroness. I didn’t feel Rosie’s motivation to pursue a career on stage had been given enough plausible set up. But that was dealt with a bit more in Duchess. Enough that I’m okay with it now.

In Baroness we left Rosie as she made a deal with Dash: she’d act in motion pictures and he’d make her a star.

We start Duchess with Rosie living her dream. Her new movie has just premiered. She’s married (although secretly) to Dash and they are partners in their fledging studio. She hates being considered a property though and rebels when she’s loaned out to another studio for a World War I epic. She and a stunt pilot named Rafe renew their acquaintance and it helps pass the time on location.

We follow Rosie through several pictures and heartbreak when she loses both a child and her husband. Then she discovers that her stunt pilot friend isn’t who she thought he was.

A few years pass. Hitler is stirring up things in Europe. Rafe returns and offers her a chance to reignite her movie career with a film he’s producing in Austria and Belgium. Rose agrees and is soon caught up in world events.

I appreciated how Warren tied up all the loose ends in the Price/Worth family. I loved the story, the inside glimpses of life in Hollywood in the 1930s and ‘40s. I was born in the same hospital that Rosie lost her baby in. Many of the sites mentioned are familiar to me as a California native. I liked that Warren did her research and got it right.

All in all, I loved Duchess and I enthusiastically recommend it.

Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

 

The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane arrived back at the Date My Son! for her meeting with Austin and Linda to ask why they let her go and get some closure. Linda told her she was too sweet and not cut out for life in Hollywood or on a reality show. SarahJane told her that’s why Liam recruited her for the show. She left, but Austin grabbed her on her way out the door.

Chapter Fifty-Four

“Let me go.” I stopped walking but kept looking straight ahead, away from the cameras. Austin’s body kept the camera operator behind us but I knew as soon I opened the door the outside crew would have a perfect shot of my red-eyed and snot-nosed devastation.

“Wait, SarahJane.” He didn’t let go. “I’m not letting go until you listen to me.”

“Fine.” I shifted a bit to see him, but still kept him between me and the camera.

He guided me through the maze of people and rooms and out the back door. We paused by the pool and he sank onto the pool deck.

“What do you want from me, Austin?” I wrapped my arms around myself.

“Sit.” He patted the concrete and rolled up his pant legs before dangling his feet over the side.

I complied. I’d come here for answers and even though I didn’t like what Linda had to say, I couldn’t say I hadn’t asked for it.

Austin could have read my mind.

“I tried to tell you,” he said now. “I told you my mother had motives for the show.”

I nodded. “You did. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”

He sighed. “The truth is that I’m done with this whole thing.”

I turned to look at him. He gazed at the water and drew a foot through, making a wave that lapped my ankle. “Do you mean that?”

“I do. I grew up in Hollywood. I’m tired of everyone having double motives for everything they do. Sure, it’s nice to help your son find love, but the fact that it also launches your own show is only typical of the stuff I’ve seen. I envy you.”

“You do not.” I gave him a shoulder butt. “You’d hate life in a small town.”

“I’m not so sure.” He sounded rueful.

“You’re just tired of life in front of a camera. You’ll propose to Cassie and start planning a televised wedding, then call it off because you’re moving too quickly. You’ll quietly break up, and marry the girlfriend your mom made you break up with so she could get the two of you on the show.”

He twisted my way. “Wow, did we make you turn so cynical?”

I shrugged. “Does it matter? Cynical or real? The end is the same.”

“Maybe. He returned his focus to the water. “But you’re wrong about one thing.”

“You didn’t actually break up with your girlfriend?”

He chuckled. “Two things.”

“I knew it! I knew you were too great not to have someone.” Glee at being right stimulated my leg to kick up a stream of drops that plopped back into the pool. “What’s the other thing?”

“You forgot the twist in the show.”

My heart stilled. “Nate. He’s still on.”

Austin nodded. “I think he’s going to propose to Cassie.”