I'm back! After way too long, I'm finally back to the blog. I'm surviving the crazy Oklahoma weather so far and even this storm and rain loving girl is hoping we are about done with it all. Our poor state can't handle much more. I'm hoping to have an update for you all on publishing soon (it's been a crazy ride, ya'll) but for now, I'm here with a book review!
Those of you who know me, or have been following me for awhile, have undoubtedly heard me talk about Melissa Tagg, one of my all time favorite authors. I wrote a blog post about finding her and her books at a time when I really needed them a couple of years ago. (You can read that here if you want a-fake-snow-day.html). Her previous Walker Family series was one of my favorites and I fell in love with the fictional town they took place in, Maple Valley. So I was delighted to learn this brand new series was also going to take place there and even more excited to receive an early copy of the first book Now and Then and Always for review before it releases tomorrow. Here's the back cover description:
“It was just a house. Just a weathered old house in a hidden grove, shuttered and still . . . ”
Last year, after traumatic circumstances forced her from her job as a nanny, Mara Bristol finally found a place to belong—the winsome Everwood Bed & Breakfast at the edge of Maple Valley, Iowa. For months, she’s helped its owner, Lenora, maintain the ramshackle property despite their shortage of guests. But when Lenora fails to return from a month-long trip and the bank threatens foreclosure, Mara worries she’s once again alone . . . abandoned . . . about to lose the only true home she’s ever known.
Detective Marshall Hawkins is no closer to whole today than he was two years ago . . . the day his daughter died. Between his divorce, debilitating migraines, and a dependence on medication, his life is falling apart. And when a reckless decision on the job propels him into administrative leave, he has no other plan but to get in his truck and drive. A one-night stay at the Everwood was supposed to be just that. But there’s something about the old house—or maybe its intriguing caretaker—that pulls him in.
Together, Mara and Marshall set out to save the Everwood. But its secrets run deeper than they could’ve imagined. As they renovate the house and search for its missing owner, they’ll each confront the pain that brought them to the Everwood in the first place . . . and just maybe discover a faith and love to help them carry on.
This description drew me in immediately and once I started reading, I was even more enthralled. Both Mara and Marshall's stories were tragic and heartbreaking but were so true to life and made me want to root for them all the more. What I also loved was a small group of friends who were included as secondary characters. All of them were characters that had appeared previously in other books, but their roles were more predominant in this one and the depiction of a close-knit group of friends, a chosen family of sorts, was amazing to see. The group folded Mara and Marshall into their group and it reflected what true friendship and community is supposed to look like.
Another element that was a little different than Melissa's previous books was the inclusion of a mystery (which turned into multiple mysteries!). The mystery was intriguing and added the perfect amount of suspense that had me at the edge of my seat. I kept wondering how it was all going to play out, and just when I thought I'd had it figured out, she would add a twist or turn that had me perplexed all over again.
The friendship and eventual romance between Mara and Marshall was satisfying without being formulaic or predictable. Two people who have problems trusting anyone are forced to admit that they need each other and it left me wondering if they would ever get past their many obstacles and find their way to each other.
Overall, while this book was a little more serious than some of her previous novels, it is definitely among my favorite books not only written by Melissa Tagg, but in general. The seriousness of some of the storyline felt true not only to the characters but to life. So often life is messy and full of tragedy. We don't always get neat and tidy solutions to problems and things happen that leave scars we can't ignore. But God is right there in the midst of our sufferings and trials, if we allow him in. He also provides people to help shoulder our burdens. This book was such a sweet reminder of that.
Now and Then and Always releases tomorrow! You can pre-order it here: http://bit.ly/nowthenalways.
Two posts in less than a month? Wow. After my last post, a good friend of mine encouraged me to keep writing on the topic of Christian friendship. I was still struggling a little bit to figure out how to articulate what I wanted to say. Then last weekend I went to a concert/worship night put on by Page CXVI and Loud Harp. Latifah Phillips, of Page CXVI, was talking about how when we go through hard times, other believers, our community, can pick us up and help us through our struggles. She said she was reminded of the story in the Bible about when four friends carried their friend who was paralyzed to Jesus to heal him. He could not get there himself, so his friends literally carried him, cut a hole in the roof, and lowered him to Jesus. (Found in Mark chapter 2). As she was talking about this, I just couldn't shake the image. As my best friend (a singer-songwriter and lover of imagery) said, "What an amazing metaphor!" When we are paralyzed by something, we can rely on our friends to put us on their shoulders and carry us to Jesus.
Verse 5 of the passage says "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'" Not his faith, their faith! Sometimes we don't have the faith that we want. Life is hard, and sometimes even when we know God is in control, we struggle to fully believe it. That is when our friends' faith can carry us. The paralytic man probably struggled with believing what his friends were doing mattered. Once they got to the house, they couldn't even get through the crowd. If I'm this man, laying on mat carried by my friends, and we can't even get through the door, I wouldn't have much faith that I would be healed. But his friends persisted. They cut a hole in the roof and lowered him down to Jesus. They had faith, and their friend benefited from it. We all go through seasons of life, seasons of varying levels of faith and trusting in God. I would like to say my faith never wavers, but then I would only be lying. It's at those times when we need our close friends to carry us.
The beautiful thing about this metaphor is that we take turns being in the different roles. At times, we're the friends carrying our suffering friend on our shoulders, reminding them that Jesus is the answer. At other times, in the midst of our own suffering, we're the paralyzed friend. My strongest spiritual gift is mercy. I feel things, deeply. Jesus' command to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice almost comes as second nature to me. The idea of carrying someone on my shoulders is not a hard one for me to grasp; I literally feel their pain and can't help but want to help them out, support them, weep with them. What is hard? Letting others help me. I take on other people's problems and emotions, but I try to do it all alone. I watch the news of the sufferings in our country, and all over the world, I see the hurt in my own community, and sometimes, it's too much. I try to carry the weight of the world by myself and all I do is crumble. I've been blessed, however, with some amazing friends. My best friend in particular will shut off the television, distract me, and make sure I know, that I'm not alone. I have a small group of close friends who will ask me regularly how I'm doing, make sure I'm not taking on the problems of the world alone. I've come up with this saying, it's become almost like my motto: "I weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. Christian friendship means I don't have to do it alone."
I don't know what you're going through. Maybe it's a season of exciting things: a new relationship, a marriage, the birth of a child, an exciting trip planned, a career goal met, or a dream being discovered. Or maybe it's a season of hardship: broken relationships, the loss of a loved one, a milestone birthday that reminds you of what you haven't accomplished yet, the loss of a job, or being at a job that makes you miserable. Maybe the current political climate is just too much, and you feel scared to live your daily life based on your race, gender, or opinions. Whatever your season is right now, you aren't alone. Jesus promises he will never leave us nor forsake us. He is always with us. And the great thing? He doesn't stop there. He puts people in our lives who help us celebrate the exciting times and walk with us through the hard times. Sometimes, they even carry us.
Seven months? Yikes it's been awhile since I've been on here. Life has been crazy, I'm in the middle of rewrites (which are harder than I thought they would be, but so good at the same time), and honestly this post has been difficult to write. Not because it's about anything bad, or hard, but because it is about something so important to me. I have felt for a while that God was telling me I needed to write about Christian friendship, but it means so much to me that I don't want to mess it up. Then today I felt very convicted that this was just fear speaking and I needed to get over it write what I felt. So here we go.
I've rewritten this post several times, unsure what I wanted to focus on. Did I want to talk about how friendship is often neglected in the church? Did I want to talk about the difference between Christian friendship and Christian community? Then today it hit me. I wanted to share how I know friendship is worth it, what it means, and why it is so important to me.
Those of you who know me, know I'm a bit of musical theatre nerd. I listen to Broadway Pandora while I'm writing, I did musical theatre in high school, and I try to go to as many live shows that come to town (or nearby) as my wallet will allow. While I was thinking about how to express why I feel like Christian friendship is so important, a song from the musical Wicked suddenly came to mind. The song is near the end, where the witches who used to be best friends meet up again. It's called For Good. This song is about reconciliation but the lyrics apply to friendship in general and some of them express exactly why I'm so passionate about Christian friendship.
They go: "I've heard it said, that people come into our lives, for a reason, bringing something we must learn. And we are lead to those who help us most to grow, if we let them, and we help them in return. Well I don't know if I believe that's true, but I know I'm who I am today, because I knew you." And then continue: "Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But, because I knew you, I have been changed for good."
I was thinking about these lyrics as they wouldn't leave my head and I realized that this is friendship. We are drawn to people, sometimes because we have similar interests, sometimes because we have mutual friends or family, sometimes because we are thrown together in a tiny college dorm room (this is the true story of how I met my best friend).
But these people affect us. Good or bad, when we spend time with people, when we allow them into our lives, they change us. Just like in any other relationship, friends shape who we are. It's part of why relationships, including friendship, are so scary. They can bring heartache and betrayal. But it's also why they are so exciting. They can bring laughter, joy, support, comfort, and so much more. The thing is, you have to take the good with the bad.
When you are friends with fellow Believers, you have something that bonds you beyond your shared love of sports, or movies, or TV shows. Everything we do as Christians should be about obeying God and bringing Him glory. It makes carrying each other burdens even more important. God commands us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Christian friendship means we take that command seriously. But it also means that we don't carry our own burdens alone. We have people to come beside us when we're struggling. It also means we always have some to celebrate with! My closest friends and I have shared A LOT. From the daily things like eating meals together and watching a television show or movie, to celebrating births and weddings, to mourning the death of loved ones, to celebrating new jobs, and mourning lost dreams. We do life together and because of that, we are "changed for good." You cannot be in someone's life and stay the same person you were before you knew them. If you do, you haven't really let them into your life.
There are different levels of friendship. Some friends will be around for a short season, some will be around for a lifetime. Some will be a small part of most aspects of your life, others will be a large part of a small aspect of your life, and a select few will be a large part of most aspects of your life. All of these people change you. I can look back at friendships that lasted only a short season and see ways in which that person's influence still affects me.
So what does this mean? Why does this matter? Friendship is a choice. You choose to let people into your life. You choose to weep with them, to let them weep with you. You choose to rejoice with them and let them rejoice with them. I've heard a lot of people talk about not having many friends or about struggling to find friends. And it's true, there is an organic nature to it. You can't manufacture friendship. But you also can't wait for it to be perfect. You take the good with the bad. You be a good friend even when your friend isn't being one. As Christians, you share your struggles, and you keep each other accountable. Is it hard? Absolutely. But it's even more worth it. Why? Because of what the song says at the end. "I do believe I have been changed for the better. And, because I knew you, I have been changed, for good." When we choose friendship, when God is the center, we are not only changed for good, we're changed for the better.
Christ-Follower. Writer. Caffeine-addict.