Monthly Archives: February 2018

Love Stories and Chocolate Treats (Part 4 of 4) Dare We Write it in Cement?

Friends! Have you ever seen anyone staring at a mailbox?  I get that.  I’ve done that.

Four weeks before our wedding, with invitations in hand, all addressed and stamped, I remember I hesitated at the mailbox.  “This is it!  No turning back now!”…

Seconds, seeming like hours, passed.  Deep breath.

Whoosh…into the mailbox they went.

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Almost thirty-four years later, I’m pleased to report, John and I are still happily married and yes, we’ve dared to write many things in cement.  Two of our homes, a former one and our current one, have had charming water-in-the-basement issues. Upon their repair, new cement poured, we trek down the stairs to write something prolific or silly in the cement.

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So why is it, please tell me, so many of us are afraid to make a commitment?  Fear of failure, or pride, perhaps.  “Blame it on today’s culture…” many will say.

Allow me to offer a brief respite.  One  into the blissful world of love.  Young love.  Naive love.   Pagan-turned-Christian love.  So completely-certain-of-love, this couple you’ll meet would one hundred percent  have written their names in cement.

All of the above and more is found in an extraordinary love story, A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken.  It won the National Book Award as well as the Gold Medallion Award.  (A dear friend gave me this for Christmas a couple of years ago and I can’t quit talking about it!!!)

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Along with such bliss, throw in a friendship with none other than infamous author  C.S. Lewis.  You, the reader, will get to read eighteen of Lewis’ letters to Sheldon within the book.

Favorite discovery?  Lewis was quite the crackerjack!  He certainly didn’t fear sharing his brutally honest opinion about anything!  (And for you happy texters out there, Lewis abbreviates a lot, so you’ll have to crack his code.)

How God orchestrates Sheldon’s friendship with Lewis is fascinating.  How God orchestrates Sheldon and Davy’s (her real name was Jean) romance and ultimate marriage is nothing short of breathtaking.

Sheldon’s picturesque writing causes you to ooh and ahh, turning the pages as fast as you can to discover what lies ahead.  I found myself floating along the countryside right with them, almost feeling a breach of privacy in their romance.

Voracious readers, poets, lovers of the sea, and music aficionados, Sheldon and Davy delight the reader with their daily antics.  Their gatherings with friends are festive and intriguing.  Their spiritual path, while comical at times, reinforces how God is so passionate in His pursuit of us.  His painstaking attention to detail never ceases to amaze me.

Our Heavenly Father provides just the right person at just the right time to lead us into His loving arms.  When doubt arises, as it often does,  He brings to mind that special person in whom we may confide.  Watching these scenarios transpire in Sheldon’s life is amazing grace at its’ finest.  Many times Sheldon shares his questions with C.S. Lewis.  Can you imagine having C.S. Lewis as your spiritual mentor?

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Sheldon and C.S. Lewis’ friendship was a gift to both of them, especially in later years.  Believe it or not, both of their wives suffered from terminal illnesses.  They walked these paths together.  Don’t miss their journeys.

C.S. Lewis preceded Sheldon in death.  Sheldon recalls Lewis shouting across the street during their Oxford days, “Christians NEVER say goodbye!  In eternity, there’ll be ‘time enough’!”

Sheldon called C.S. Lewis  “Jack” per Lewis’ pleading.  He added, “And as Jack said, ‘We must talk of a thousand things when you come.’”

Early in their relationship, when Sheldon accepts Christ into his life, he writes to tell Lewis.  Lewis replies, “My prayers are answered!”  Then he issues a warning we’d all be wise to heed:  “There will be a counter attack on you, you know, so don’t be too alarmed when it comes.  The enemy will not see you vanish into God’s company without an effort to reclaim you.  Be busy learning to pray. “

Lewis continues, “Blessings on you and a hundred thousand welcomes.  Make use of me in any way you please; and let us pray for each other always.”  (I’d drop the note like a hot potato if C.S. Lewis offered me his council at any time, wouldn’t you?)

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Prior to Sheldon’s conversion, Lewis closes another letter with, “The Holy Spirit is after you.  I doubt if you’ll get away!” Sheldon confesses to us readers that this time in his life “was getting serious” and he and Davy were a bit frightened.  He says, “Alarm bells sounded, but I couldn’t decide where to run.  The personality of Jesus kept emerging from the Gospels with astonishing consistency.”

You’ll be moved to tears witnessing their faith come alive.  Because of Sheldon’s very open and tender depictions, it feels like another breach of privacy.

Sheldon and Davy embraced Philippians 1:21 and Galatians 2:20:

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“For to me, to live is Christ

and to die is gain.”

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I’ve been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

(Footnote: for an excellent read on To Live Is Christ to Die Is Gain checkout Matt Chandler’s book…)

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Without giving away anything else, I’ll end with Sheldon’s closing words about writing this book.  He said he prayed almost hourly, “that Christ would be in me, and speak through me.”  His prayers were answered…(Also don’t miss how the title came to be.)

He was dumbfounded by the overwhelming responses from readers once the book was published.   Scores told him how much the book meant to them, stabbing them in their hearts, making them kindred spirits.  Sheldon said, “Our broader kinship is, I think, we’re all so alone in what lies deepest in our souls, so unable to find the words and perhaps the courage to speak with unlocked hearts, that we do not know that it is the same with others.”  Amen.

“Robert Louis Stevenson said that every book was intimately a letter to friends.”

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I pray each and every one of you dashes out to find and read this beautiful love story, A Severe Mercy.

Finally, as February winds down, it’s time for our conclusion of our four chocolate treats…This is an easy store-bought delicacy by our good buddies at Godiva. Some angel in disguise gave me these last year and I’ve been buying them ever since. (Bad discovery!)

We had our family over for Valentine’s Day and this was the very fancy dessert I served RIGHT OUT OF THE BAG. (My Mother, who served everything in crystal or silver serving pieces, is rolling over in her grave. God rest her soul.)

Don’t miss these little morsels of Heaven! Your Friends will love you!

‘Til next time!

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Love Stories and Chocolate Treats (Part 3 of 4) Please join us for Book Club February 26th!

Friends! Grab some of your friends and head over to Book Club to hear what promises to be a grand discussion of an even grander love story and mystery, Sandpiper Cove by Irene Hannon.

The Branches Book Club gals will be meeting at Middletown United Methodist Church on Monday Night, February 26th, from 6:30-8:00 p.m.

11902 Old Shelbyville Road, Louisville, KY 40243 http://www.middletownumc.org

It’ll be fun to hear everyone’s thoughts on their favorite characters, and let me tell you, author Irene has created some real characters. You won’t want to miss the love story budding in this book and I suspect you’ll be as frustrated as I was with the twists and turns.

Frustration only kept my eyes peeled on the pages while neglecting the laundry and dishes as they began to pile up. Shhh, don’t tell my husband! Also, don’t miss other books by Irene! She’s a three-time Rita Award winner, having written fifty-plus books…

While Irene keeps the story moving, she dots it throughout with what I call “wow” statements. An early example is:  “Letting yourself care for anyone—or anything—was an invitation for grief.” Perhaps she does this to brace us readers for what’s around the corner.

Irene also weaves pictures of grace throughout the book.  We readers struggle right along with some of the characters trying to overcome their past. Adam Stone spent time in prison and is trying to get a new start.

Single mom, Lexie, is the police chief of Hope Harbor. She conveniently works on Sundays so as to avoid church. She and Adam converge over vandalism done to his home which triggers sparks for a potential romance. Irene says, “Strange how adversity could turn some people away from God yet lead others to him.”

You’ll find yourself turning pages more rapidly once the mystery of multiple vandalism unfolds coupled with Adam and Lexie’s relationship.  Other characters enhance their relationship in fun and many times humorous ways.

One teenage boy, after being discovered as one of the kids involved in one of the vandalisms, gets mentored by Adam, keeping him out of trouble. His mother is also a single mom.  His, and later his Mother’s transformation is another bonus we readers get to witness.

It’s surprising so many of these characters wind up together at the local church.  Don’t miss the orchestration!

Hurry and read Sandpiper Cove to find out if the mystery gets solved with the vandalisms, if Lexie and Adam jump the hurdles necessary to start a relationship (including a late-into-the-story complication against Adam’s character), and if grace really can be extended to those who seem guilty.

Come join us Monday night, February 26th from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.  Please call Nancy Tinnell to RSVP at (502) 245-8839. We’d love to see you!

Our chocolate treat this week comes from Kentucky cookbook Bluegrass Winners by the Garden Club of Lexington.  Don’t miss the Chocolate Torte on p. 280.

 

‘Til next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love and Chocolate Treats for February (Part 2 of 4)When You’re STUNNED about your Valentine’s Day Gift…

Friends! Happy Belated Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day! Please enjoy two wild tales…

FLASHBACK:  Valentine’s Day 1993…

“No babysitter for Valentine’s Day???” I whined, coupled with a proficient pout…

“Now honey…” my way-too-practical hubby began…”You know restaurants jack up their prices on Valentine’s Day, and the boys are too little to take out…”

Translation:  “Why don’t you just cook us up somethin’?

Silent thought while heaving an extra loud sigh for future Oscar potential:  “Oh boy, grocery shopping with three boys is such a trip…literally….”

Determined to create fun and education for our Valentine meal, I hunted down ingredients for everything RED:  cherry cool-aid, red spaghetti sauce, cherry jello,  red sprinkles to go on the ice cream with the not-so-red-but-filled-with-a-boatload-of-chocolate brownies.

Spreading out papers for the boys to color, my scary cooking commenced…

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Quickly into our “project”, something was not quite right.  I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Our oldest son, John Jr., was way too excited about helping with his brothers. They were coloring at lightening speed, wanting more and more “Valentines” to make for Daddy.

Dinner pulled together, Hubster now home and seated,  John Jr. and Gordy seated, Woody in his high-chair, the following proclamation ensued:

“Mommy!  We have a huge surprise for you! Daddy’s gotten a babysitter and everything!”

Visions of an escape to a hotel sans les enfants rolled thru’ my head….

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Fantasy interrupted, my mischievous husband said, “John Jr., why don’t you tell Mommy about her Valentine’s Day gift?”

“Mommy”, John Jr. continued with wildly excited eyes, “Daddy and I got a babysitter for Woody…

so that the four of us can go to…..

…the Truck and Tractor Pull!!!”…

Taken from www.farmmachineryshow.org Photos by Scott Henson

Taken from http://www.farmmachineryshow.org Photos by Scott Henson

“The what?”  I managed to ask…feigning interest…

“THE TRUCK AND TRACTOR PULL!!!” John Jr.  repeated, now standing, voice at high decibels.

Fabulous hotel fantasy comes to a screeching halt.

Pivotal moment in Mother/Wife Career:

Enter a God moment…”You’d better put on a sense of humor while raising these boys, being a Godly, cheery, loving  wife and mom, or you’ll never make it.” (Guessing The Lord didn’t say “or you’ll never make it”, that’s just my translation.)

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Bidding adieu to my very-sheltered-only-child background, it was time to buck up.  Riding a perpetual roller coaster comes to mind. Nevertheless, I will still praise you, Lord.

That year was a turning point for me.  Ups and downs, yes, but with a sense of humor.  Which segues beautifully into one of the funniest books on marriage I’ve read lately.

Allow me to share snippets of The Antelope in the Living Room: The Real Story of Two People Sharing One Life  by Melanie Shankle.

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You’ve probably heard of Melanie.  She’s one in the same who wrote Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn. She reports receiving countless pairs of earrings after the book published.  (There’s an idea!  She said she really wanted her next book to be Louis Vuitton Purse with Matching Wallet!!!  I’m thinkin’ A Caribbean Villa…could be swell.) Check out her way popular blog at www.thebigmamablog.com.

With killer humor, Melanie shares good times and not-so-good ones with her husband, Perry.  Melanie and Perry define opposites attract.  She puts it like this:  “Perry loves the outdoors and I love air-conditioning.”

She says,  “There are days filled with laughter and compromise.  And then there are days filled with silence and anger.  But at the end of it all, you’re two people God has joined to journey through life together

… For  better or for worse.  In hunting season and in health.”

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My  wild-n-adventurous husband, John, used to ride motorcycles.  Shouts of praise he’s not riding anymore.  (At least for today.)  I poked fun at all the “accessories” a bike could have, not to mention the “gear”.  They make that in leather???

But guess what Melanie’s husband’s hobby is?  In addition to hunting, he makes homemade ammunition. You go, Perry.

In addition to humor, Melanie includes the importance of their faith.  She alludes to not following God and making bad choices prior to meeting Perry.

She and Perry met at a Bible study at Texas A &  M.  She said, “There was something about Perry that intrigued me.  He was different from other guys I’d met.  And he had a heart for God I hadn’t seen in many other guys.”

Making a list of husband qualities, Melanie realized, “What you really need is someone you’d want to be in battle next to you, someone who can make you laugh even in the tough times, someone who will encourage you to be the best  you can be…” (Sounds just like our “Balcony People” from a couple of weeks ago.  My friend Trish says her husband looks at her with “husband eyes”.  Same concept.)

Since surgery seems to be in the air at our house (we’ll go there later), I cried from laughing so hard over an incident when Perry had yet another surgery for his back.  After a night in the hospital, Melanie got Perry secured in the car for the drive home.  Spying a Chik-fil-A and craving one of their chicken biscuits, Melanie pulled into the drive-thru’ only to be informed they were no longer serving breakfast.

Seven minutes past the breakfast hour caused her to jump the curb to get out of the drive-thru’ lane.  Never mind Perry was in the passenger seat, barely twenty-four hours post-op from back surgery.  This is only the beginning…

Melanie gets Perry home and situated on the couch, somewhat still sedated.  She reports: “According to Perry, the Clemson Tigers band marched thru’ our living room to dispense his pain medication at some point that afternoon.  Which is weird, because we’re not even Clemson fans, not to mention that South Carolina is a pretty good haul from Texas.  So I took this as an indication that maybe it was time to cut back on the meds just a tad.”

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So for a guy who creates his own ammunition, hearing him suggest they try “radiant barrier paint” one day doesn’t seem so far fetched.  When Melanie asked him what he was talking about, he explained:  “It’s paint that makes a surface heat resistant.  They use it on the space shuttle, and I’m thinking about buyin’ some.”

Melanie replies, “Well, of course you are.  I’ve always said that if it’s good enough for the space shuttle, then it’s good enough for us.” 

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John and I aren’t the only ones having fun with this book!  Guess who else was caught laughing out loud reading this?  Ann Voskamp’s husband!  “The Farmer”, as she often calls him, got side-tracked while paying bills, and read some from The Antelope in the Living Room.  Picture Ann and the Farmer  howling, all the way up in Canada.

Melanie also sprinkles in a few stories about their daughter, Caroline.  She discusses leaving a legacy for Caroline and her future children.  A prayer she prays continually comes from Deuteronomy 30:6—“that the Lord would circumcise our hearts and the hearts of our descendants so that we will love God with all our heart and with all our souls.”

“That’s the legacy that’s worth working thru’ the hard times to leave for our daughter.”   She adds, “In this world that sometimes treats marriage like it’s a disposable commodity we can throw away when it no longer seems to serve our purposes, a world that whispers to us that the grass might be greener on the other side, that’s something worth keeping in mind…”  Oh, someone please shout hallelujah over that one!  May we press on…

Finally, soak in this visual:  In one particular scenario, Perry offered Melanie some inexplicable kind of grace.  She said,    “…even tho’ I thought I understood what grace looked like, I really had no idea how deep and wide the mercy of Christ is.  That he looks at us when we lay ourselves bare before him, with all our ugly truths and realities, and says, ‘And?’”

“In Psalm 103 we are told that God redeems our lives from the pit.  Verses 11-12 proclaim, ‘As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’”

Melanie adds, “I once heard someone say that those words (of Psalm 103) represent the beams of the cross—reaching all the way up to the heavens with his love and stretching out to remove our sins as far as from where the sun rises to where it sets.”  Grasping the picture???  Beautiful!!!

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I pray you’re encouraged and enlightened by these glimpses of The Antelope in the Living Room.  There’s twenty-four lovely chapters to keep you that way!!!  And don’t forget this Valentine’s week:  Marriage is fueled by fun and forgiveness.

‘Til next time!

Our chocolate treat this week comes from another Kentucky cookbook called “Splendor in the  Bluegrass” by the Junior League of Louisville.  Its’ Chocolate Chess Bars on p. 245 are not to be missed!

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Love Stories and Chocolate Treats for February (Part 1 of 4)

Friends! It’s February—the month of love. I’ll be sharing a variety of engaging love stories with you over the next four weeks.  After all, who doesn’t love a good love story?

Plus, at the end of each post, I’ll be recommending some fun Kentucky cookbooks, pointing you to chocolate recipes as well as my new favorite chocolate treat I discovered. (I’m saving that for Part 4, just to keep you in suspense.)

This week, we’ll be highlighting a book by none other than Ravi Zacharias.  In addition to being a powerful speaker, Ravi is a prolific writer.  The book?  I, Isaac, take Thee, Rebekah—Moving from Romance to Lasting Love.

Ravi makes no bones about marriage being challenging.  He amuses us readers by telling several stories on himself.  Who knew he was a wedding crasher in his younger days? You’ll laugh out loud in every chapter.

Currently, my friend, Becky Pippert, speaks with Ravi on occasion and is one of many authors and speakers who are directly involved with his ministry, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. (RZIM – www.rzim.org)

Ravi’s own story of coming to know the Lord after growing up in India is astonishing.

Ravi blesses us with relational ideas for your marriage while also issuing warnings. I’ll call them relevant wake-up calls. My favorite aspect of the book is how Ravi points us to Scripture, showing us what God wants us to learn about marriage.

Here’s an early example of his warnings: “I am convinced that marriage is at once the most powerful union and the most misunderstood relationship we can experience. Like everything of intrinsic value, its use or abuse determines delight or devastation. To understand marriage God’s way is to carry a cherished dream into reality. To violate its’ built-in pattern is to mangle beauty and plunder one’s own riches.” Whoa.

Because Ravi travels the world frequently, he says he’s been privileged to visit many different cultures in many different homes. He shares, “One impression of any relationship that stands out and is remembered is the level of kindness or unkindness demonstrated between a husband and wife. The first is refreshing and the latter is discomforting. I’d go so far as to say there is NEVER a reason to be unkind…EVERY relationship should be marked ‘Fragile: Handle with care.’”

Ravi helps us dive into Genesis 24, the story of Isaac and Rebekah.  I’d forgotten how remarkable it is and the lengths to which God goes.  Abraham sends his servant, Eliezer, to find a wife for his son, Isaac.  How would you like that job?

He doesn’t just send Eliezer next door, he instructs him specifically to go to his home land, to his relatives to find this wife. He did not want Isaac to marry a Canaanite woman.

Eliezer prays to God asking for him to send a girl from this family who will approach him and ask a specific question.  You must read the whole account as it’s fascinating.

Fast forward after Eliezer meets Rebekah and takes her to Canaan to meet Isaac.  Can you imagine going to meet your husband for the first time whom you’ve never laid eyes on?

Somehow, even tho’ I’ve read these verses before, I’d never noticed Isaac’s posture upon Rebekah’s first glance. Ravi shows us, “Gradually, in the distance Rebekah deciphered the figure of a man walking, meditating, and praying.” He continues, “Hebrew scholars are not exactly sure how to translate the word used in this text, but the consensus was he was in a POSTURE of prayer.”

Before I could read the next sentence, I thought, “I seriously doubt I’d be found praying if I knew my spouse I was about to meet for the first time was due to arrive at any minute! I’d be nervously pacing…” Ravi proceeds to admit the exact same thing.  Do not miss this part!

Two of many excellent take home points for your relationship are pointed out to the reader from Isaac and Rebekah’s story:  “the first one is  hesed, or loving-kindness.  The second is the  constancy of prayers.  This entire story is bathed in prayer.

Eliezer prayed as he began his mission,

As he drew near to his destination,

And as he returned home again.”

Then he reminds us readers of Isaac praying. He again calls our attention to Isaac’s POSTURE of prayer. What is your posture of prayer? This must’ve been a point the Lord was calling my attention to as I had that exact same question in my Bible study class this very week. Coincidence? I think not…

Ravi’s writing style is inspirational, causing you to want to embrace his key points he makes.  Considering some of them, especially straight out of Scripture, you’ll see firsthand, with God, ANYTHING is possible!

Obviously, I strongly suggest grabbing this book ASAP to learn loads of ways to make your own love story just that:  beautiful and grace-filled.

Here’s one more sneak peek into Ravi’s suggestions:

Amen.

As promised, I’d like to share a couple of good ole’, reliable cookbooks from my home state.  This week I’d like to recommend one from my hometown of Lexington, KY.  I’ve used it countless times. Published by the Fayette County Medical Auxiliary for the benefit of Kentucky’s children, give this cake a whirl: “Decadent Fudge Cake with Double Chocolate Drizzle” on p. 272 of Creating a Stir in the Bluegrass and Beyond.

‘Til next time!

 

 

 

 

 

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