Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Book Review: The Sweet By and By

I like Sara Evans’ music, so I jumped at the chance to read her first book, written with Rachel Hauck.

The past is over and done with. Jade and her fiancĂ©e Max told themselves that what was behind them didn’t matter, that they had started their relationship with a clean slate. But when her hippie mother Beryl shows up a few weeks before their wedding, all of the hurts, regrets and disappointments Jade thought she’d buried begin forcing themselves to the surface. Jade must not only come to terms with her past, but open her heart to God’s grace and recognize that by accepting God’s forgiveness, she can begin to forgive herself.

Despite some unexpectedly heavy and potentially touchy subject matter, this book was overall a light, enjoyable read. It wasn’t quite as sugary-sweet as I expected; I found myself drawn into the complexity of the characters and their relationships with each other. They, like all of us, are flawed in a myriad of ways that perhaps don’t always turn out ok in the end. One off-putting aspect was the amount of brand names the author used; I felt sometimes like I was being subject to product placement. On the whole, though, a great story of redemption and the transformative power of God’s grace.

*I am a member of Thomas Nelson's (the publisher) Book Review Bloggers. A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review. No other compensation was received.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Heart-breaking Prayers

How, as as a pastor, do I pray when my heart's breaking just as much as my congregation's? It's a question I've yet to figure out, and one brought to light during the pastoral prayer yesterday.

Over the last month or so, we've been lifting up two five-year-old girls in our prayers; one with cancer, one with a serious blood disorder. Neither are part of our church, but a member is a friend of relatives of the girls (the girls aren't related).

Sunday, during the joys and concerns, we had to break the news that one of the little girls, Anna, had passed away Friday night. The heartache of the congregation was palpable. None of them knew her, but of course it's difficult to hear about any child dying, especially one so young and so prayed for.

After a brief period of silence, I had to offer the pastoral prayer. I began with the prayers of thanksgiving for the many blessings--cancer in remission, people home from the hospital. Then I moved to needs--a woman fighting cancer who'd been moved to hospice, a friend having surgery. Then I moved to the girls. I prayed for Molly, the one still fighting, and her family.

And then I paused. The tears were right at the back of my throat. I didn't know this girl, didn't react when I'd read the e-mail message about her passing with more than a "that sucks" thought, wasn't bothered when my senior pastor and I discussed it before the service.

But when I offer that pastoral prayer from that lectern, I don't just speak words. I actually pray. I have nothing written except the list of specific needs just lifted up by the congregation, so I open myself up to the movement of the Spirit. I open my heart. And at that moment, my heart was breaking for that child's family. At that moment, all I could think of was a mother's grief, a father's anguish, a sibling's confusion.

I couldn't speak. I took a deep breath, willing myself not to cry, to make a spectacle. When I managed words, they were brief, asking comfort for Anna's family as they grieved. I could say no more.

I wondered, afterwards, if I should've let myself cry, let my tears fall onto the big Bible underneath my hands, let the congregation see just how much this little girl's death touched me. I'm sure many of them heard me choking up anyway. Or maybe I did the right thing, distancing myself, staying professional, letting the deepest grief pulsate through the pauses, the silence, rather than try and speak inadequate words. I don't know.

It seems like such a simple thing, but really it's complicated by so much. I'm young and unexperienced. I'm a woman. Me crying during prayers would probably be received differently than if it were the older, experienced, male senior pastor.

Sigh. This ministry thing is complicated in the most surprising ways, sometimes.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Project 52

It's done. I've made the commitment. Last year, one of my resolutions was to blog every week. I failed miserably, writing only 25 posts--down from 35 in 2008. (I did, however, teach myself to juggle and run a 5k--the year wasn't a total wash).

Now, however, the gauntlet has been thrown down. Through one of the people I follow on Twitter, I learned of a new blog challenge called Project 52. Beginning today, January 1, 2010, and running until January 1, 2011, participants agree to post new content on their blogs at least once a week. I just signed up. By following RSS feeds, they will be able to tell who has been slacking--and it's that accountability that I need to keep me on track.

So, here's post 1 of 52 (or more) in 2010...Happy New Year!

P.S. In case you're wondering, this is pretty much my only "resolution" for the year. Another way to ensure it happens!

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