On Joy…No Matter What

This week I’ve been thinking about joy. And grace. I often think about grace, because it’s a topic I’m totally passionate about. So this week my thoughts about grace have manifested themselves in thoughts about joy, and about how it’s really hard to live a life of joy and freedom unless I’m living in grace. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. (And yes, that was a reference to The Princess Bride. You’re welcome)

In life, there are always ups and downs. There are times when everything seems to be going right, and times when it just…isn’t. There are times when I look around at my life, my circumstances, my occupation, and think, “Yes. This is the life. This is right where I want to be,” and times when I think, “How did I end up here?” Circumstances change. Goals and dreams change. If you had asked me five years ago where I thought I’d be, what my life might look like, in five years, I probably would not have described a scenario of constant chaos, chasing around a strong-willed four-year-old and a one-year-old with a heart problem (not that you would know that from his energy level. He makes me tired), pouring my heart into a couple of ministries that have a lot of potential but can definitely be described as struggling, still buried under a mountain of debt, still writing that same novel. I would have painted a glowing picture of my idea of success – in life, in motherhood, in business, in writing. Instead, the picture looks more like someone who struggles to get up before her kids in the morning. Who sometimes feels depressed, angry, discontent, frustrated with who she is, with what she feels she has accomplished, with her circumstances.

So what does this have to do with joy? Well, like I said, circumstances change. People change. I’m not the same person I was five years ago. I want different things. I’ve learned some things. And here’s one of them: Joy isn’t found in circumstances, but in what is constant, what doesn’t change. No matter how my life shifts, how I change as a person, how many failures and frustrations I experience, God remains the same. His love remains the same. His grace is always there, making me into something I could never be on my own. Complete. Justified. Forgiven. Content. Joyful. In Christ.

The character of the Almighty, Most Holy God is a fascinating thing. He is both just and merciful. He is full of love, and full of wrath. He created humans to be pure and perfect, living eternally with Him, but allows us to follow our prideful hearts down a path of sin that leads to death and separation from Him. He created a code of behavior, called the Law, that He knew we could never live up to, but then grace entered the scene in the form of Jesus. The pure and perfect God-man, the only one who could live up to the Law and then sacrifice Himself on behalf of all humanity so that in one transaction, we can look to Him as the means of our salvation and be covered in His sinless, righteous perfection for all of eternity. This isn’t God throwing His hands in the air and agreeing to overlook our faults because we’ll never get it right. This is the judge taking on his own judgment. This is the executioner turning the axe on himself. This is God doing what I could never do, because He can. This is grace. This isn’t about me. It’s all about Him. My circumstances, my failures, my aches and pains that I complain about when I get up in the morning and when I go to bed at night, fade to nothing when I get just a glimpse of who God is and what His grace means. Grace means I can get up in the morning. Grace means I get to go on living even when I fail. Grace means I have a lifetime to share this good news with everyone I can on this earth, and then I get eternity with the grace-giver, to really get to know Him and maybe begin to understand His grace. When I start thinking about all that, I find joy. Deep, heady, delighted, excited, joy. There are many things in this world that make me happy, and just as many things can take away that happiness in an instant, but nothing can ever take God’s grace from me, and nothing can ever take my joy.

Do you understand this? I hope so. I hope my meandering thoughts make a little sense to someone out there. As Christians, saved by God’s amazing grace, we’ve got the market on joy. We really do. And yet too often we don’t live it. We live sad little lives, afraid to have too much fun, afraid we might offend God with our inadequacies, afraid He’ll zap us when we fail, afraid we’ll ruin our reputations, miserable because we still can’t live up to God’s standard, even while we’re trying to follow in His steps. Here’s my advice: Quit trying and start living. Jesus gives us His life. Let’s surrender our lives to Him, every moment of every day, set aside our pride, our desires, our agendas, our dreams, and offer the broken, empty vessels of our lives to Him, so that He can mend us and fill us to overflowing with the very grace He wants us to preach to the rest of the world. Does that sound easy? It’s not. It’s simple, but it’s work. It’s the best and the hardest work we’ll ever do. It’s what we were made for. I don’t know about you, but for me, doing what I was made to do sure feels a lot like joy.

On An Orphaned Baby Dragon

As much as I love typing out my random thoughts in this blog, fiction is still my true love. I am now 60,000 words into my current work in progress, a fantasy novel that is threatening to become a scale-tipping tome. In my current revision I’m working in some short stories, old-world fables that may or may not actually be true (in that world). Just for fun, I thought I’d paste one in here, to offer a peek at what goes on in my imagination. You’ve been warned: here be dragons.

     It was in the days when the Ancients and the dragons were at war. The King had come across a great golden dragon and her young, a half-grown blue male and a tiny female, only a few years old, who glowed with the soft purple of the amethyst. The mother dragon heard the King coming and warned her son, who immediately took flight, but the baby was too young to fly well. Quickly, the mother hid her baby beneath a huge gold wing and turned to face the King of the Ancients, who was armed with a bow and arrows designed to pierce dragon armor. She tried to Speak to him, to tell him she was not an enemy but a Servant of the One as he was, but he would not listen. As she reared up to defend her baby, he shot the bow with the skill of the master, piercing her heart. She fell, and as she did, her wing knocked the baby’s head and she fell too,unconscious, one leg trapped beneath her mother’s dying body. 
     Hours later, the baby awoke in confusion. Her leg hurt terribly, crushed underneath her mother, who by that time had grown cold. She keened in pain and mourning, a terrible, lonely sound that only dragons can make. Her brother had fled, her mother was gone, and she knew she would most likely die there, orphaned and injured in one of those terrible twists of fate that sometimes happen when the servants of the One pursue their own crusades instead of paying attention to His desires and interests. The little dragon did not know much, but she did know that her mother had fought against the evil dragons and did not deserve to die. The keening continued until her throat ached almost as much as her leg. She was so distraught, she didn’t hear the rustling in the nearby undergrowth.
     “Hush, little one. Do not be afraid. If you let me, I will help you.” Despite the gentleness in the voice, the baby was filled with terror when she recognized the language of the Ancients. She choked and looked around in horror, but her vision was blocked by her mother’s wing. Then the wing was lifted, and she looked for the first time into the face of the King’s daughter. Tears filled the girl’s eyes and tracked down her cheeks.
     “Oh little one, I am so sorry. Please let me help you. My father does not know that I followed him on his patrol. I was pretending I was one of his warriors, strong and able to help him if he should need me. But at the first sign of trouble, I hid. I heard your mother try to speak to him, but he was filled with fear at the thought that a dragon had found its way so near to our home. He reacted without listening. I tried to stop him, too, but I was too far away and he still does not know I am here. He is gone now, and I swear I will not hurt you. You do not have to fear.”
     With strong arms and gentle hands, the girl lifted the dead dragon’s body enough to free the baby’s leg. “It is broken badly. I do not have a gift for healing, but I will do what I can,” she promised. As she worked, the baby was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude that only grew as the days went by. The King’s daughter hid the little dragon in a clearing miles from the city but came to visit her every day, bringing food and herbs to help with her injured leg. Unfortunately, she had spoken the truth when she said she did not have skill in healing, for the leg developed a twist and the dragon never could walk without a limp. However, with the guidance and encouragement of her friend, she did learn to fly well. Once she had grown strong enough to fly away and make her home wherever she chose, she insisted on staying near her friend. Long after the dragon war ended, their friendship continued as an enduring symbol of the truth that the One an take even the worst of circumstances, the most bitter enemies, and make something beautiful from the pain.

On Being Good

I am a pastor’s wife. I am surrounded by good people. In fact, we tend to be so good that we compare our goodness to the goodness of others. We measure our worth in our eyes, in our friends’ eyes, and in God’s eyes, by a certain set of standards, bad behaviors we should avoid and good behaviors we should be able to check off a list. And if someone should happen to fall below those standards, well, we can talk about ways that they should improve themselves, and avoid them until they can manage to behave better. After all, bad company corrupts good character, right? Or is it that bad character corrupts good company? Either way, if I continue to surround myself with better and better people, I should have an easier time making myself better, too. At least, that’s how it ought to work. Isn’t it?

There is a fundamental problem with this kind of thinking. On our own, in the very depths of our souls, we are not good. None of us are. We are the broken products of a broken world, destined to fail in our endless drive for perfection. Not a very pretty picture, is it? Generally, it leads to one of two responses: We give up on this perfect ideal and just live to get whatever we can out of this miserable life until we die, or we try to cover up the ugliness and imperfection with a mask of goodness. That is human nature. And honestly, it’s never going to do us much good. We need a new nature, a perfect mind, a flawless character.

Enter Jesus. God in flesh, born perfect, lived perfect, died to destroy our imperfection, raised to life to offer us His life, His nature, His mind, and His character. The exchange cost Him everything, and it costs us, too. We have to be willing to take it, to admit that we are not enough, will never be enough, and that we need Him to save us. Once the exchange is made, God never sees us the same way again. We are forgiven, clothed in Christ, free from condemnation, free to live the way He designed us to live in the first place. And in a novel, that would be the ending to the story. Everything would be “happily ever after” from that point on. So, why doesn’t reality look that? Why are so many of us who have made that exchange still living like it never happened? We do, don’t we? We thank God for His blessings, His salvation, His promise of eternal life, and just keep living by human nature, either focused on getting everything we can out of life, or finding that old mask of goodness and trying it back on. We don’t even notice that it’s filthy. We look out from the mask and wonder what’s wrong with other people. Why can’t they get their lives figured out? Why do they make things so difficult for us? And come to think about it, when we were promised all this joy and freedom, why are we still so miserable?

Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal. 3:1-3) To paraphrase: “What are you thinking? You know the truth of what Jesus did for you. So let me ask you, were you saved because of something you did, or because you trusted in what God did? Are you an idiot? Are you really trying to cover up God’s work in your life with your own stupid mask?”

We don’t have to wear a mask. God has given us His Spirit, which is everything we need to live the good life He wants us to live. The Bible says repeatedly that the only reason we want to do good is because of His life in us. Only His grace equips us to do good. Philippians 2:12-13 says specifically that we should obey God’s commandments and work to live like people who have been saved, because it is God who gives us both the desire and the ability to do good. So even when we live like we are supposed to, it is because of the work of God within us. We still live in a broken world. We still fail. But the grace of God that covers our failures also gives us the ability to live in victory. This is the good news that I live my life to proclaim. My ugly old mask never fit very well, anyway.

On Hate

Last night’s Superbowl left me feeling disappointed and disturbed for many reasons, and this morning I’ve been mulling those reasons over. I had high hopes for the match-up between the Seahawks and the Broncos. If you know me at all you know I don’t like the Broncos at all but they had played well all season and I saw no reason to suspect that they simply wouldn’t show up to play in the big game. So that was disappointing. In America we’ve come to expect awesome, mind-blowing commercials in the Superbowl, and although most of the ones I saw last night left me feeling confused, my mind was definitely intact. We’ve also come to expect lame half-time shows, and I think Bruno Mars impressed everyone. So it was definitely a night that, in many ways, did not fulfill my expectations. But what upset me the most was the behavior, both online and in person, of many Americans.

We had a small party at our house with good food and good friends, people who I spend a lot of time with, and who I enjoy spending time with. And yet, several times I felt compelled to defend our nation, the entertainment, the teams, and even the commercials in the face of vicious, hateful comments from my friends. I have no doubt that I was guilty of some unfiltered comments as well. The spewing of hate has continued this morning on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m thinking it won’t end anytime soon. Last night it was made painfully clear to me that in America we have fostered a culture of hate. Witty, sarcastic comments are applauded as being clever, and it’s not a long leap from being sarcastic to being spiteful, and then it’s another short hop from spiteful to hateful and just plain mean. I have often participated in it, and now I’m feeling really uncomfortable about it.

Why do we hate people who are different? We live in a large nation with millions of people from diverse countries, cultures, backgrounds, and belief. America’s diversity is one of its defining characteristics. It’s what makes Americans uniquely Americans. Honestly, it’s one of the things I love about this nation. I’m not saying I agree with all of it, but I can appreciate it. I live by a very strong moral code and a worldview that espouses the idea of absolute truth. I disagree with many people about many topics, and yeah, there are people, organizations, political entities, and sports teams that I don’t like, but spewing hate and condemnation isn’t going to do anyone any good.

I’ve been thinking a lot about grace lately. I even tried posting about it, but it’s such a huge concept that I simply can’t boil it down into a few words for a blog post. I am convicted by the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44, “I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” I can be so critical of others, but if I’m claiming to follow Jesus, I can’t ignore these words. My husband (and pastor) has frequently pointed out the idea from John 3:17 that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. We are simply too good at condemning ourselves through our words, our social media rants, and our behavior toward our friends, our enemies, and people we don’t even know. We are surrounded by proof that hate, depravity, selfishness, arrogance, and more ugly things dwell at the heart of the human condition. We all fail frequently, publicly, and privately. And yet, God in His grace can and will forgive us and set us free from all of that if we ask Him. It’s telling to me that the best picture of grace I saw last night was not from my group of Christian friends but on the show Sherlock (I would elaborate but I despise spoilers). My message to my Christian friends? We need to be more aware of what we’re doing, and of the image of Christ that we are displaying to the world. And to my non-Christian friends: I’m sorry. I fail. I’m not perfect, I’ve never claimed to be, but my God is, and He is the only reason there is any good in me.

I consciously seek to live a life that honors Christ by upholding a certain standard of behavior, but I am aware every day of my need for His intervention in order to be able to live that life. Left to myself, I would be a mean, angry, horrible person. I am often tempted by all sorts of things, and by the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life I can usually resist those temptations, but I often fail. And if I fail, how can I condemn others for failing, too? It’s not right and it’s not fair. Can we admit we’ve been wrong, and let God fix this in us?

“This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” 1 John 4:5-9

On Twitter

In my last post on social media, I mentioned that I might write a later post on Facebook. Since then, however, several things keep popping into my mind about Twitter, so I’m posting about that instead.  I have an almost irrational hatred for Facebook, and anything I have to say about it would probably be painful to read, anyway.

I am by no means a Twitter expert. I’ve had my account for a few years now, but I only have about 120 followers and I follow about ten more than that, and I’ve tweeted a little over 2,000 times, a pretty moderate number. I participate in a fun writer chat on most Monday nights, so if you happen to be on Twitter at 7:00 MST you may see a bunch of posts with the #WritersRoad hashtag. Other than that, I try to tweet at least once a day and check my feed a couple of times.  Here are some observations:

Twitter is sort of a strange place.  The challenge to express your thoughts in 140 characters or less, including a variety of hashtags that may or may not actually mean anything, is daunting to some people. I love it. I love trying to make myself sound pithy and concise. Others use it for marketing and exposure. I think that’s a perfectly good use for Twitter, as long as it isn’t your entire purpose for being there. Twitter is by its nature very public.  I don’t post about my kids on Twitter for that reason. I do post about writing. At least half of my followers are fellow writers.  I’m also a little more like my usual sarcastic, realistic self, because I don’t have to worry about silly things like comments and likes on Facebook.  Very few of my “real” friends follow me on Twitter, and that’s ok with me.

Twitter is often used for marketing, with varying levels of success.  I actually saw a tweet this week that said a survey showed that email is still 40 times more effective for marketing than either Facebook or Twitter, and I can appreciate that. I actually started my Twitter account with the intent of using it to promote my Mary Kay business, but I almost never tweet about Mary Kay, and I’ve never gotten any kind of response when I do.  Personally, I ignore a lot of the blatant marketing I see on Twitter, and some of it just annoys me.

Just in case anyone is wondering, I will unfollow most tweeps for committing two of my three major pet peeves:

1) Sending a Direct Message after I follow with an invitation to check out your website or current promotion. Not a good first impression.
2) Retweeting every Tweet that mentions you (it’s kind of, um, narcissistic) or retweeting a whole bunch of people you follow (like 20 or more) several times a day, every day, so that I have to scroll through a bunch of them when I check Twitter. Especially when those retweets are basically ads. Because that’s just annoying.
3) Auto-scheduling tweets promoting yourself, your blog, your books, your music, your art…whatever, every few minutes. Especially if you rarely tweet anything else.

The main reasons I like Twitter is because I like seeing what people have to say – briefly – on a variety of topics. I do like the “retweet” button. To me, it’s like a nod saying, “I see what you did there. Nice. I’d be happy to pass that on.” Although I’m not sure I completely understand the “favorite” button, I like to use it to bookmark Tweets that I want to keep track of and reference later. More like a bookmark than a “like,” I suppose. I use Twitter to keep up with news, celebrities, sports figures, writer blogs, and sometimes, just for a good laugh.

So there you go. My thoughts on Twitter, for what they’re worth. I suppose I may be completely off base as to why most people are on Twitter, but those are the reasons why I like it, and a few things that bother me about it.

Are you on Twitter? Why or why not? What are your thoughts about it?

On Social Media

Web 2.0. Social networking. YouTube. Blogs. Facebook. Pinterest. Twitter. You get the idea. The beauty of social media is that it allows people to create content on the Internet for other people to see, share, admire, hate, whatever. It helps us connect with people we haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years, or in the last five minutes. Or who we’ve never met. It gives us the instant gratification of being noticed, appreciated, liked. It’s addicting, especially for someone like me, who thrives on approval.

There are ugly sides to social media, too. There are privacy concerns, for those who actually are concerned about privacy. There are marketing issues, for anyone who has tried to market themselves and their products through social media. There is the sheer time and effort involved – time and effort that we could, and maybe should, be spending on other things like, oh, I don’t know, real relationships with real people. It’s time consuming and a little bit risky to put yourself out there, where everyone can see what you did today, what you really thought of that movie or that actress’s dress, or what so and so did or said, or what you ate for dinner, or how cute your kid looked on his birthday. But we keep doing it. It’s become a part of our culture, who we are, how we define ourselves. And that’s one of the beauties of social media: you get to craft your profile, your posts, your persona, just the way you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be real or genuine, if you don’t want it to be. But that’s part of the fun, right?

I’m not saying that social media is good or bad. It just is. Like the internet, television, video games, and any other amoral source of information or entertainment, social media is what we make of it. Sometimes I make too much of it. Sometimes I rely on comments and likes on Facebook, views on my blog, and favorites and retweets on Twitter for my sense of worth and accomplishment. And honestly, that’s wrong. As in, sinful. My worth, my identity, my meaning in life comes from who I am in Christ. My purpose is to glorify His name, bring Him attention, impact lives by drawing them to Him. Not to gather my own followers and fans. Reality check.

So I won’t be deleting my Facebook account (although don’t get me started on Facebook – but I’ll save that rant for a later post) or deactivating my Twitter, and there’s a good chance that there will still be times when I get carried away with thinking my internet presence is somehow important. It’s not. There are moments when it’s a good idea to stop, look around, and remember what truly is important. God. Family. Friends. The relationships that last forever. One thing I love about social media is that it allows relationships to grow and flourish everywhere. I just want to keep it real, and keep it all in perspective.

What about you? Do you ever get carried away by social media?

On fresh starts

It’s a new year. New start, new blog title, new resolutions…or goals…or adjustments…or whatever you decide to call them because calling them resolutions dooms them to failure by January 2nd.  Oh wait, it’s January 4th?  Oops.

Here’s what my year has looked like so far: By the end of the day on January 1st, I was starting to feel a little panic about all the things I was supposed to have started on, but hadn’t yet.  But really, New Year’s Day is a holiday, so if you don’t get to your resolutions until the 2nd, that’s okay, right? So by the end of the day on the 2nd, I was starting to really feel bad about myself. By the end of the day on the 3rd, I was starting to think I might as well write this whole year off as a failure because I’m already so behind, I’ll never catch up. Welcome inside my head. It’s a scary, scary place, right?

So today is the 4th. This morning I realized that every day is a fresh start. We don’t always get a chance for a do-over, but we do get a clean slate. Every single day. Two verses come to mind that testify to this: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:23-24) and “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5). God, in His mercy and wisdom, gives us second chances with every new day, every new week, every new year. We are always one decision, one right action, one merciful word or repentant thought away from something new.

I want to make changes this year. I want to eat more vegetables, eat less…well, eat less. I want to lose a little weight, tone up my core, be more intentional about the way I use my time, finish my novel, blog more often, write a Bible Study, be a better Mary Kay Consultant, Tweet every day, improve my finances and my meal planning, and establish better daily habits. Looking back on that sentence, here’s what I see: “I want…my…I…” Since when do I think this life is about what I want?

So, it may not be January 1st, but it’s still a new year. I don’t know what it’s going to look like. I do have goals, desires, ideas for ways that I can improve, and I can decide right here to do my best. But ultimately, 2014 is not up to me. I trust God to write His story through me this year, and I’m looking forward to see what that looks like.

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)

So if you’re like me and you have started this year out frustrated and overwhelmed, take a deep breath. Let it go. Thank God that tomorrow is a new day, and offer it back to Him. That’s what I plan to do.

What do you plan to accomplish in 2014? Have you already been frustrated with yourself and your failures? Please tell me it’s not just me!

 

 

Writing… and rewriting

I believe I failed to mention that I reached the ending of my first novel.  I failed to mention it because when it actually happened, I discovered that it was not particularly newsworthy.  Because although I now know where and how this story ends, I am by no means finished with it.  There is a still a long way to go before I can feel confident that I have written a complete manuscript.  Almost before I’d gotten to the end, I was rewriting parts of the beginning and middle, and adding whole new scenes.  I think parts of it are pretty good, almost readable in fact.  Parts of it are absolute drivel.  And parts are missing.  So now I’m adding, fixing, tweaking, revising, and so forth.  Some of it is fun, but some of it is rather miserably hard work.  I am hopeful that all of this work will eventually make for a halfway decent book.  Meanwhile, I just keep writing.  And rewriting.  And rewriting some more.  And then once I’ve done all that, I’m thinking I’ll go back and do it again, from the beginning.  Sounds fun, right?  Well, it is, a little.  It’s like polishing away layers of grit and grime and tarnish to find out if what’s underneath might actually be valuable.  I’m discovering (inventing, really) nuances to my characters and my world that I didn’t think about before.

In my first draft, my focus was just on getting the story out of my head and into actual words.  Now I want to take the essential parts of that story, the parts I’ve already written, and make them into something that other people might someday enjoy reading.  Because honestly, why write if not for others to read and enjoy?

Windchaser by Krissi Dallas

I’m making life hard on myself this week. After writing a review of a book that was fascinating and brilliant but hard to talk about (Words by Ginny Yttrup), now I’m attempting the daunting task of reviewing a book written by someone I know. It’s true that Krissi and I have never actually met, but Greg worked with her, I (usually) read her blog, and we’re friends on Facebook, so I feel like I know her. I’ve followed the journey of Windchaser and Windfall from a single, self-published volume (Phantom Island: Wind) to the two volumes now published by Tate. I even have my own autographed copies of the shiny new books. I feel like I’ve shared a teeny tiny part of the whole process, which somehow makes reviewing them feel a little intimidating. So I guess I’ll just do it anyway.

Luckily, I enjoyed Windchaser very much. It’s a fun story with fun characters. Whitnee is a somewhat-troubled teenage girl who, along with her best friends Morgan and Caleb, is spending the summer as a mentor at Camp Fusion. The camp is a place where preteens who have gone through traumatic experiences can find hope and healing and a path to a normal life. Whitnee met Morgan and Caleb during her summer as a camper, after her father’s disappearance. Years later, the three return to the camp to revisit their experiences there and to give back by helping other campers work through their own difficult times. One night they set out to explore the forbidden property across the Frio River and are rather dramatically transported to the mysterious White Island, where Whitnee suddenly develops strange powers and everyone seems to have been expecting her arrival. Whitnee must find a way to deal with these unexpected events, keep her friendships strong, and try to get everyone home, hopefully before anyone realizes they are gone!

There are several things I liked about this book. The characters are very real, and clearly very young. You get treated to some pretty awesome teenage camp drama (anyone else remember those days? I sure do!) before the setting shifts to the White Island. Whitnee’s emotions are very turbulent as she deals with the confusion of being attracted to (gasp!) more than one guy, tension between her campers, and the pain of wondering what really happened to her dad. It’s really easy to get caught up in all of it. In addition, Krissi has a definite knack for worldbuilding. You can see it during the camp scenes, but once the story moves to the Island, it really shines. You can almost get the feeling that this place actually exists somewhere; it’s that real. The scenery, the people, the tribes, and the village of Aerodora: it feels like Krissi really knows these places and these people, and therefore the readers can really get to know them, too.

I did read (and review) the original version of this book and its sequel, and I appreciate the subtle differences. The biggest thing I noticed is that it seems a little more polished and cohesive, and I appreciated that. My favorite scenes, the ones I remembered best from the first reading, are all still there, so I was happy. This book does end somewhat suddenly, leaving you with the feeling that you’re right in the middle of something, which is true. It picks up with Windfall, which I’m planning to pick up shortly after I post this review!

Words by Ginny Yttrup

First of all, I have to say that this was an incredible book. I have put off posting a review about it because it’s a little hard to just talk about the book. It’s the kind of thing that you really have to experience for yourself. That said, I’m going to give a review a shot.

Kaylee Wren is ten years old and lives in an almost unimaginably horrible situation. After being abandoned by her mother and trapped in a tiny shack with a man who abuses her terribly, Kaylee is no longer able to speak. Instead, she amuses herself by reading a dictionary and imagining what the words sound like. Sierra Dawn is a thirty-four year old artist whose past mistakes haunt her life. When the two meet unexpectedly, events are set in motion that will change both of their lives and lead them toward the healing that is found only in Jesus.

This is an intense book. It is written in first-person present tense, which really pulls the reader into the minds and hearts of the two main characters. It deals with some very difficult topics with great insight and sensitivity, and ultimately points to the peace, hope, and love that God offers each of us. Despite the heavy material, there are some sweet, light-hearted, and heart-warming moments, especially with the precocious and word-loving Kaylee. Yttrup is truly a gifted writer and this is a remarkable book. I highly recommend it, especially if you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual abuse. In spite of the ugly beginning, it is ultimately a beautiful tale of redemption, healing, and hope.