Savannah from Savannah is a fun, first-novel by Denise Hildreth. Nancy Drew-style sleuthing and early Erma Bombeck writing make Savannah Phillips from Savannah, Georgia the perfect parody of the newspaper columnist she aspires to be. Savannah, naïve yet confident, returns to her hometown after graduating with a masters degree in journalism, primarily to prove something to her mother, Victoria.
Savannah calls her mother, the former Miss Georgia and the Martha Stewart of Savannah—Vicky, much to Victoria’s chagrin. Ironically, Savannah moves back into her parent’s home and launches a crusade to right the wrongs of the antiquated lifestyle she feels her mother represents—namely beauty pageants.
Savannah from Savannah is dedicated to those who have ever grieved the loss of a dream, and that’s pretty much everybody who’s old enough to have had a dream in the first place. Savannah Phillips learns the hard way, which is the only way most of us ever learn, that everyone dreams of touching the world with something of eternal value. How like God to redeem loss and make it a part of our greater destiny!
Denise Hildreth follows her heroine through two succeeding novels. The Savannah Series is a part of the young-adult fiction genre, commonly called “Christian chick-lit” that has become a staple for female, twenty-something’s. Its humorous, first-person, stream-of-conscience style makes Savannah easy to read and easier to love.
“There’s praise, and there’s encouragement, and your kids are smart enough to know the difference.” Do you?
Have a New Kid by Friday, the newest book by Dr. Kevin Leman, author of previous parenting classics such as The Birth Order Book and Making Children Mind without Losing Yours, promises to change your child’s attitude, behavior, and character in just five days. Sound too good to be true? Well, dozens of parents who’ve tried it testify at the end of each chapter as to how their toddlers and teenagers alike have changed by using Dr. Leman’s tactics.
Half of the book is given to detailed instructions for each day of Dr. Leman’s challenge, Monday through Friday. Parenting principles like “never threaten your kids,” “don’t give any warnings,” “always follow through,” or “keep a happy face on, even when you want to . . . do something else” are explained and even guaranteed to work.
The “Ask Dr. Leman” section is an alphabetical listing of over one hundred child-behavior topics with advice and an action plan for parental response, not just reaction. Dr. Leman’s gleeful anticipation of what he calls “Fun Day,” the day you launch your plan, and his sense of humor help to alleviate parental anxiety, panic and desperation. What’s more, Have a New Kid by Friday promises that parents, too, will have a change of attitude and behavior. In fact, it’s imperative that they do.
It’s hard to get excited about living in a place forever that you can’t imagine. Yes, we know that in Heaven we’ll be with Jesus, and we won’t ever again experience sorrow, trials, or pain, but what will we be doing with all of that eternal time? Randy Alcorn puts forth some astonishing ideas about Heaven in his 2004 book by the same name. Although Alcorn’s ideas about Heaven were new to me, they struck a reassuring and comforting chord.
The first half of the book deals with the theology of Heaven–two Heavens—the present, or temporary Heaven, where we go when we die, and where God resides now– and the ultimate, eternal Heaven where God will dwell with his people on the New Earth. God intends to redeem ALL of His creation, including animals and nature.
The second half of the book answers specific questions about life on the New Earth. Whole chapters are devoted to such questions as, What will our bodies be like? Will we learn new things in Heaven? Will there be weather on the New Earth? What about eating and drinking? and Will we be involved in arts, entertainment, and sports? Heaven will surely be more than an unending worship service.
Heaven is a long book filled with Biblical documentation and interpretation, but its thrilling possibilities are hard to lay aside. I found myself asking, “why not?” with each new idea that was presented. Of course, many surprises await us in Heaven, but God has revealed some things to us. To quote Deuteronomy, those things “belong to us and to our children,” which is precisely why we should study and understand them now.
Second Calling: Finding Passion and Purpose for the Rest of Your Life is a book for grown-up women who want to make their lives count for something bigger than themselves. Author Dale Hanson Bourke tells us in the first chapter, “God has been patiently waiting while we fitted Him in around all the other aspects of our lives, raised our children, and built a professional resume.”
In this Age of so many female American octogenarians, God is calling an unprecedented number of healthy, wealthy, and educated women in the second half of their lives to “build spiritual muscle, to develop a resume of soul work, and to join Him on an unimaginable adventure.”
But, being faithful to God’s new calling often means giving up some of our identities from the past, and looking at our “idols of the heart,” Think about what you worry about most, what you couldn’t live without. Is it the approval of others? Being needed? Your physical attractiveness?
Bourke encourages us to get over getting older, to pull away from those voices calling us to stay attached to our youth. Secondly, she challenges us to release the insults, betrayals, injustices, and criticisms of the past. Second Calling deals with “self-care,” what it is, and what it is not.
Naomi from the Old Testament book of Ruth is the archetypal second-half-of-life woman, and her story is woven into every chapter of this book. Like middle-aged women today, Naomi could never have imagined how God was going use her, her past experiences, her faithfulness, and her willingness to become someone new.
Kay Warren, the wife of Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, tells her own very personal story in Dangerous Surrender: What Happens When You Say Yes to God.
The title of her book, Dangerous Surrender, accurately describes of her message. Surrender implies defeat, failure, capitulating, especially to our Western ears, but giving up our rights and plans, in deference to God’s purposes for our lives is what Kay calls surrender.
The dangerous part comes because our physical safety may be in jeopardy, but also because our emotional well-being will be “gloriously ruined” (as Kay calls it) forever. “There will always be a ‘before AIDS’ and ‘after AIDS’ classification for me,” Kay explains. Being ruined to the life you knew before you where in direct contact with hurting people, means more than being disturbed by the statistics and reports of suffering. It requires doing something! Willingly, unreservedly, and deliberately, choosing to take on the pain of others, suffering with them requires self-sacrifice, obedience to Jesus, and surrender.
Kay sees the solution to the AIDS crisis in the church. No other organization on earth is bigger than Christ’s church. Churches are a part of a grassroots networking system, more effective than any bureaucracy. What other institution has the power of Almighty God associated with it? The challenge to all of us who share with Christ in the sufferings of others is found in Kay’s answer to the inevitable question of why anyone should put their faith in the ordinary, flawed “losers” who makeup the church: “Because,” she says, “God does.”
The Emergent Church outreach of today uses movies, theater, and literature to communicate and converse with Postmoderns, but centuries ago, Irish Christians pioneered the use of the arts and storytelling to reach the pre-Christians of Europe. In his book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, George Hunter explains the Celt’s “culture-friendly” way of evangelizing.
“The gulf between church people and unchurched people is vast,” says Hunter, . . . “but if the unchurched know and feel we understand them, by the tens of millions they will risk opening their hearts to the God who understands them.” That key to evangelism, practiced by St. Patrick in the fifth century, is the Celtic way of reaching pre-Christian or postmodern western culture.
Unlike the Roman way of evangelism which initially engaged people as sinners, the Celts tried to see the goodness in people, to perceive God’s view of their potential. This way of initiating a conversation with people is quite different from the traditionally- taught practices of twentieth-century evangelism, sometimes making it difficult for modern evangelicals to embrace the Celtic way.
Secular people, called pagans by the Celts, want to know what Christians believe, and if we live by it, but more importantly, they want to know–does it make a difference in our lives? Hunter believes that only as we live in community with unbelievers will they discover that they matter to the God of our Christianity. The Celtic way of evangelism is, at its core, helping people belong so that they can believe.
A Song I Knew by Heart by Bret Lott is a modern-day retelling of the Biblical story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz from the Old Testament book of Ruth. This first-person fiction is told by Naomi who has been living in Massachusetts for eight years with her son and his wife Ruth.
When Ruth’s husband dies in a traffic accident, Naomi decides to return to South Carolina where she and Eli, her deceased husband, grew up and married. Naomi’s motives for moving home are in part to escape a terrible secret, and her best friend who knows the secret from Naomi’s past. Ruth begs to go with her mother-in-law, and reluctantly Naomi agrees, if only to make the travel easier.
Ruth grieves for her husband, and hopes to find comfort and peace with his family. It is Naomi who has the most difficulty adjusting to the move. Her secret has changed her. She is no longer the person everyone in South Carolina remembers. Naomi is estranged from God because of the guilt and shame she’s harboring, while Ruth searches for the God her mother-in-law is studiously avoiding. Healing for both women comes through hospitality, the power of family, and their “Redeemer Kinsman.”
The relationship between Ruth and Naomi seems remarkable and even unbelievable in today’s culture, but the story reminds me of how powerfully God works through our families and our faith communities. A Song I Knew by Heart is a book about Christian hospitality that goes much beyond Martha Stewart. Welcoming, caring for, and loving the hurting strangers among us, like Lott’s fictional characters, transforms both the hosts and the guests, just as it did with the biblical Ruth and Naomi.
Hadassah: One Night with the King by Tommy Tenney is Biblical fiction. The novel begins with a contemporary bride Hadassah, living in Jerusalem. Hadassah has inherited an ancient letter written by her grandmother one hundred times removed, Queen Esther of Persia. The letter had been written in Esther’s later years to a young Jewish girl also chosen, as she had been, as a candidate for Bride of the King.
Queen Esther tells her story as a means of impressing upon the young candidate the utter importance of heeding the protocols of the palace. “You will never again come this close to such an opportunity for power and influence,” Esther advises her protégé. “One night with the King changes everything.”
Tenney’s novel is historically accurate and true to the Biblical story of King Xerxes, Mordecai (Esther’s uncle) and Haman, the provincial governor determined to annihilate the Jews. As with any historical fiction, additional characters, back-stories and subplots have been added to put the story in context and to give some motivational explanation to contemporary readers not familiar with ancient cultures and practices. Still, I marveled at how a man could write with such feminine feelings and reasoning.
Unfortunately, a subsequent movie, One Night with the King, is based on Tenney’s 2004 novel but strays somewhat from the dialog and characters of the book, and takes poetic license with the Biblical account. Tenney has recently written a sequel to Hadassah titled, The Hadassah Covenant: A Queen’s Legacy in which he continues his story of the contemporary Hadassah and the young Jewish candidate Leah to whom Queen Esther originally addressed her memoir.
In her latest book, Home to Holly Springs, Jan Karon has done it again, stirred my interest in an unlikely protagonist–Father Tim Kavanagh, the retired Episcopalian priest from Mitford, North Carolina. When Karon’s Mitford series ended, I felt that sixty-nine-year-old Father Tim had done it all, or certainly enough, over the last ten years of his fictional life. He’d rescued a family of orphans, adopted a son, solved a crime or two, pastored several parishes, been diagnosed with diabetes, and married for the first time.
In this the first book of Jan Karon’s new series, The Father Tim Novels, Kavanagh travels with his dog Barnabas, to his childhood home of Holly Springs, Mississippi. Of course, Tim had thought about his family and friends in Holly Springs many times in the decades that had passed since his last visit home, but then a terse, anonymous note arrived in Mitford and compelled him to, “Come home.”
Every chapter of Holly Springs is filled with flash-backs and numerous new characters—a best friend now missing, a long-lost sweetheart, a housekeeper and nanny gone without a goodbye, and a cruel father not forgotten or forgiven. As Father Tim searches for the sender of the note and revisits the places of his childhood, we learn how Father Tim, the only child from a seemingly mismatched marriage, came to be a priest, and much later a follower of Christ.
As always, Father Tim shows us how to weave scripture, Christian literature, and our own faith journey naturally into a conversation with friends, strangers, and even with those who know our secrets.
Recently I experienced first-hand the process of adopting a child through my sister. I accompanied her to China where she received her then two-year-old daughter. For the first time, I understood the fear that all adoptive parents face, even if only briefly. What would I do, what could I do, if someone tried to reclaim my child?
Karen Kingsbury’s 2006 novel, Like Dandelion Dust, explores just that scenario. Molly, Jack and their preschooler Joey Campbell couldn’t have imagined a life more perfect–until that day the social worker called. As months of legal proceedings gave way to despair and desperation, the Campbell’s asked themselves how far they were willing to go to keep their son.
Kingsbury’s novel is the story of two mothers, and the meaning of motherhood itself. Does the end ever justify the means? Should the birthmother’s plight, before or after the adoption, have any bearing on the custody decision? What about the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph who took their son Jesus and fled to Egypt when they learned he was in danger from those in authority? These questions and more are explored in Kingsbury’s provocative novel and in the Reader’s Guide included at the end of the book.
Author Karen Kingsbury is an adoptive parent herself, and has been personally involved in the making of the movie based on her book. “I wasn’t prepared for the faith lessons that would come by way of a four-year-old,” Kingsbury says, speaking of Joey Campbell and her own six children. Why are we so surprised when God uses the weak to teach the strong? Aren’t we all admonished to be like children, trusting God and “leaning not on our own understanding”? Like Dandelion Dust is a story about choosing to leave our choices to God.