Please Help Me Pick Out Some Books!

I’m in a bit of a pickle, you see. In just three weeks time, I will be boarding a flight to Asia and will have to suffer about twenty hours of air travel. TWENTY HOURS. *starts hyperventilating*

To make things worse, I don’t have an ipad. Or a Nook. Or a Kindle. Or anything even slightly technological that would help me out with the entertainment factor on a long and brain-suckingly endless flight. So I plan on bringing books and snacks. Books and snacks. Books and snacks. (This has become my mantra)

The obvious problem, of course, it that I can only fit a few books into my carry-on bag. Those books have to last me my whole eighteen-week-long trip to Asia and both sets of flights. Talk about a dilemma!

I don’t really want to bring something I’ve read before, so I’m trying to branch out and pack four or five new titles to enjoy while I’m away. But that’s where I need your help. I have some ideas, and I want to get feedback and suggestions. Let me know what you’ve read (and enjoyed) lately, and what you would suggest!

Here’s what I’m thinking.

 

The Fault in Our Stars

 

Yes, I know it’s depressing. Please don’t spoil it for me, but I have heard the horrific tales of women who literally bathed themselves in a warm flood of tears after reading this. BUT. I’ve also heard that it’s amazingly good, and I’m thinking that as long as I can read it behind a pair of incognito *cough cough* sunglasses on an airplane, I should be fine. Right?

What’s Your Mark?

 

I read about this one on Ann Voskamp’s blog and as someone who has a heart for missions and service, I’m really longing to read this and see how God has worked in the lives of other ordinary individuals. Problem is, it’s sold out on Amazon. Anyone know where else I could find this? Has anyone read it yet?

 

The History of Love

 

I put this in my Amazon cart with a bit of trepidation. The reason being that I have no idea if this is a wholesome book or one of those titles that I will just end up wasting my money on. I know that it’s amazingly written because I have read sections, and a blogger that I really respect had nothing but good things to say about it. So I’m stepping out in faith and hoping that it’s a worthy read. Does anyone know for sure?

 

Pleasing People: How Not to Be an Approval Junkie

 

Might actually tackle this one before I leave. Because I’ve already been peeking in it and I know it’s good. This is something I desperately need, as an extrovert and general people-pleaser, so I’m excited to see what God teaches me through this one! I promise I’ll share…

 

Death by Living: Life is Meant to be Spent

 

Because “Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl” was the best book I ever read and my soul needs to soak up some more of this goodness.

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So those are the new titles I’m considering. Thoughts? I may just end up packing all my old favorites in spite of it all. Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl is really dying to be re-read, now that I think about it…

-Rachel

 

Stuck

“You can pick your friends, but your family you’re stuck with.”

It’s a funny word. Stuck. It makes me think of gum on the roof of my mouth and stickers on the plastic wrapping of a new DVD and rusty old zippers on the back of a too-small dress. One time, when waiting in line at a Cracker Barrel somewhere in Tennessee, Hannah got a mood ring stuck on her pinky finger. She twisted and pulled but there it was, stuck. A hopeless swirl of purples and greens and a red throbbing finger.

I’ve been stuck in a lot of places with these people. Crammed into the back seats of minivans next to coolers of water bottles and peanut butter sandwiches. Waiting in long lines at amusement parks in the rain, with clear vinyl ponchos sticking to our skin. Pushed into corner seats of bbq dives and squished into elevators and piled onto one couch for movie night.

Stuck.

That word makes me think of elbows lightly pressed against each other. Feet colliding underneath the supper table. Bags of french fries and chicken nuggets passed around while someone shouts out a prayer of thanksgiving.

I can’t imagine being un-stuck. A world of feelingless, motionless, accident-free isolation. A nightmare of space and freedom. No arms to crash into. No hands to hold tight.

If I’m going to be stuck, I’m glad it’s with these people. If this is a web I’ll never escape, I’m thankful it was created by this mom and this dad. If these are relationships I’ll never step out of, I couldn’t pick better ones to have fallen into.

I’m not stuck with my family. I’m stuck to them. Our lives are entwined with the most beautiful and precious tangle of memories, smiles, and sloppy tears. There’s a stickier kind of adhesive slathered all over my heart and smacked onto theirs. 

This is why I’m stuck.

Hopelessly, simply, and amazingly bound to these four hearts in this one home. 

-Rachel

Some Evenings You Don’t Forget

You don’t forget the evenings spent with people you love. The ones when you wore your hair down and wild and pinned with things that sparkle with the light. Those are the nights that are impressed upon your memory. You can remember every detail of the car ride. The songs you sang. The stories you laughed over.

The show was magnificent. Your brain replays every detail. The harsh beauty of stage makeup. The swell of an orchestra. The arch of a pointed foot.

There is so much beauty in life. Ballets are meant to be watched. Bows have always belonged on dresses. The human body was meant to spin and jump and laugh like this.

In the whole of your life, there will be days that slip through the cracks and nights that escape your notice. But some evenings you just don’t forget.

-Rachel

Everyone Wants an Ideal Life

I’m addicted to Pinterest. I should probably start off by making that very clear. I really need to write a blog post on this topic at some point and spend some time analyzing what needs in my life are being filled by a cyber bulletin board  consisting of clothes I’ll never own, cookies I’ll never eat, and men I’ll never marry.

All this aside, something caught my eye when perusing Pinterest for the three hundredth time yesterday. It was a little picture of a couple on a beach. There were palm trees and a brilliantly blue sky and some kind of magical blue volcano-like mountain in the distance. The caption under the photo read: “5 Blogs, 5 Books, and 5 Free Resources to Help You Achieve Your Ideal Life.”

I blinked when I saw that. And so naturally I clicked the photo and perused the author’s informative list of inspiring jumpstarts to my ideal life. I found tips on managing my finances. On creating the super job that will combine my passions and strengths to achieve maximum success and happiness. There were even social media apps and step-by-step guides to ease the process and help get me motivated.

At about 10:05, I closed the webpage and packed myself a lunch. Then I knocked on my little sister’s door, told her I was off to work, gave the dog a good head rub, and headed out.

It was sixty-five degrees and sunny. I wished more than once that I’d brought a pair of sunglasses. I rode with the windows cracked and the sunroof opened. My curly hair was frizzing at the ends, little brown strands tickling my eyelashes and escaping my stretched out elastic ponytail holder. Ray Charles on the radio and the wind whipping through the three inch gaps blurred in my ears and filled the car with a beautiful, wild kind of noise.

But I guess I still haven’t achieved my ideal life.

My lunch was kept cool in an old black lunchbox that my dad had left over from one of his first jobs. I’d packed a Ziploc bag full of ice and somehow managed to stuff in a turkey sandwich and apples. I ate lunch in front seat of my car and pulled off my shoes so I could stretch my feet across the seat and rest them in the slivers of sunlight that slowly shifted across the dashboard. I munched on slices of red bell pepper and flipped through a book I’d gotten for Christmas and somehow forgotten about until mid-February. Lunch breaks seem short when you’re eighteen and there’s so much world to be explored and pondered and experienced. But thirty five minutes of sunlight and open windows and watching families walk in and out of stores is enough time for me.

And yet this is just a temporary stepping stone in my journey toward success.

It’s a beautiful day, so my writing students decide to do lessons on the back porch for once. Their mom opens the door in a pink floral apron and compliments me on my purse and I smile and make mental notes on how much I love these people. We sit on padded deck chairs and dip our fingers into cool bowls of blackberries as we flip through picture books. My reading voice always makes them laugh. Two dark haired little boys with chocolate hiding in the corners of their cheeks and plastic swords lying abandoned on their laps.

But none of these people know how close they probably are to their ideal lives.

The night ends with milkshakes. The crumbly kind with chunks of cookies and foamy cream. Sucking through a straw until your cheeks hurt is the best, most beautiful kind of pain. I’ve never met someone who doesn’t welcome the tingling sensation of a numbing tongue. And car rides at night are always my favorite because of the way street lights blur through moving windows and music seems louder and clearer on the radio. My mom has to wear glasses when she drives and it’s nice to see those black rims out of the corner of my eye. To know that we’re all whizzing across this moving planet at forty-five miles an hour. Twenty in the school zones.

Pinterest seems slightly different when I log in that evening. I read a poem that makes me smile. My friend sent me a photo of Napoleon Dynamite and the caption makes me laugh out loud. I’m grateful for people who know me like that. I scroll through photograph after photograph and see what my friends have been enjoying for the past few hours.

The page ends and I see where I started out that morning. 5 Blogs, 5 Books, and 5 Free Resources to Help You Achieve Your Ideal Life.

There’s the picture of the beach. The couple. The funny cactus plants that look strangely out of place in such a paradise setting. Looking at the photo, I see peace. I see comfort. Luxury. Business must be accompanied by pleasure, and I have no doubt that this couple worked and sacrificed and saved for years to get to that beach. To finally sit back and enjoy what they spent so much time preparing for.

But then my phone buzzes. A photo of my best friend flashes across my screen. She’s wearing a black hat tilted on the side of her head and the hat has big white circles on it. And I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. Hats with white circles. Eyelashes on cheeks. Faces I love.

I’m not sure what my ideal life would look like. Maybe it would be on a beach somewhere. Perhaps it would involve hard work, success, relaxation, and lots of fun with someone amazing in an incredible location.

Or maybe it looks like car rides with the windows down. Maybe it’s sitting on back porches and sipping chunks of oreos through red straws and having wind-blown hair.

But maybe, just maybe, achieving your ideal life is as simple as noticing the life you’ve been given.

-Rachel

Galentine’s Day

Let’s celebrate some dead guy by buying each other chocolate. By going out for pancakes and smothering them with syrup. By rolling down the windows and shamelessly singing “Call Me Maybe”. By wearing obnoxious amounts of red and pink and wishing every waitress, employee, and random citizen we meet “HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!”

Yes, it’s cheesy. But it’s also fun, and these are the best kind of days.

Hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day! (Or, as we like to call it, Galentines Day) What did you do with your friends/significant other to celebrate?

-Rachel

Do Over

I wish I could do this being a child thing all over again. I know I could do it better now.

I’d eat more popsicles, especially the red and blue kind. I’d re-read “Swiss Family Robinson” and talk my sister into building a fort in the backyard. We’d hide in the bushes and eat soup out rain buckets and darn pretend holes in our jackets.

I wish I could shrink back into the size of wonder and giggles and hiccups. I’d try chocolate milk, even though I never really liked it. And if it still didn’t taste sweet in my mouth, I’d eat a piece of chocolate cake instead. The kind with rainbow sprinkles.

If only I could have a conversation again with the stuffed animals in my closet. I’d tell them to button their jackets and ask them how their cousins were. I’d let them sit next to me on the bed and hide them under my fuzzy blue blanket at night. I’d stare up at the neon stars dimly glowing on my ceiling and wonder about the weather and hope to play outside tomorrow.

I wish I could remember when the scariest unknown in my life was the existence of the monsters in the corners. Back when a healthy whiff of “Anti-Monster” scented Febreeze was enough to calm my stomach and cause my heavy eyes to close.

Every summer I want to pull on my faded rainbow striped swimsuit and scrape my hair into a ponytail and jump off the splintery wooden dock. Dive into a world of murky lake bottoms and sandy peanut butter sandwiches and plastic bags of goldfish. It was a place where ants built landscapes out of clay and Saturday morning meant tying on cleats and climbing in a pickup truck.

Winter was a flash of white and fleece pants and the smell of a kerosene heater. Fall meant finding our way through hay-filled mazes and spreading peanut butter on bagels in the morning. You could buy the world for ten dollars and a pack of stickers at Pizza Hut for fifty cents.

Sometimes, when my car is low on gas, or my checkbook is unbalanced, or I have too many emails to respond to, I wish I could re-do my childhood. My fists clench at the injustice that comes with a ticking clock. The memories that fade and the moments you wish you’d appreciated when they sat in front of you. You wish you hadn’t thrown as many fits. You can’t believe your mouth ever uttered the words “I’m bored” or “Are we there yet?”

I remember the rainbow sprinkles and the fuzzy cotton kisses of my past. But then I think about the wooly sweaters and peanut butter milkshakes of my present.

And suddenly, I just wish I could stay eighteen forever.

-Rachel

What To Do if You’re Single on Valentine’s Day

Go out for pancakes with a sister. Or friend. Or mom. If any female is paying the slightest amount of attention to you, suggest that they do it over pancakes. And don’t forget extra bottles of maple syrup.

Try on every pretty dress in your wardrobe and spin around your bedroom listening to the soundtrack to “My Fair Lady”.

Get the oil changed in your car. I did this last Valentine’s Day and it was quite diverting.

Rent all three classic James Dean films and sit on the couch all day in your fuzzy pants with a bowl of super buttery popcorn in your lap.

Or invite all of your nerdy friends over and watch “Les Mis” instead, living vicariously through the character’s tumultuous love lives and singing at the top of your lungs.

Babysit for some lucky couple and make twenty bucks.

Go to Victoria’s Secret, drool buckets, save your money, and buy a philly cheesesteak on the way home.

Log out of Facebook for the day. Or don’t, and say you did. Like you honestly care about who got engaged… (The number is getting much too high among my own friends)

Call up your best friend and have a loooong talk about how content you both are.

Give! Join  a challenge like #4love14 and give $4 this Valentine’s Day to show Christ’s love to someone else.

Set aside ten bucks to buy yourself some flowers on February 15th, when roses and chocolate are both on sale.

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I may or may not have a few of these in mind for myself…

-Rachel

“Christian” Romance Novels?

[This is a repost of a blog entry I wrote a few years ago, but I rediscovered it the other day and felt like bringing it up again!]

Ugh. A topic that I am both dreading and dying to talk about. Obviously, this is something that both interests and impacts me personally, as a popular YA author in the Christian market. I’m also a teenage girl and huge reader, so this is a topic that has come up probably a million times among my friends. So obviously I’m going to have opinions on the subject and I figured it’s about time I wrote about it!

So this is the great debate: Should Christian girls read “Christian” romance novels?

(I guess you could add guys in there, too, though I’ve yet to meet a teenage guy who likes reading romantic fiction, although maybe they do and they just don’t like to admit it. Who knows?)

I have heard both sides of this argument. Some of my friends argue that unmarried Christians should have absolutely nothing to do with any type of romantic fiction because it leads them to wish for unrealistic things and spend all their time dreaming about the future, which can be very harmful for their wellbeing. Others believe that it’s absolutely fine to read romantic fiction as long as you remember that no one’s perfect and don’t get carried away by silly daydreams.

So what do I think? Hmmm… You’re not going to get a definite answer out of me that easily. Because, truthfully, I don’t think it’s a black and white issue. I believe it’s something that has to be carefully thought-out and considered, and a lot of prayer has to be applied. We don’t want to be legalistic and absolutely condemn something that God hasn’t forbidden us to do. I mean, the Bible certainly has its share of love stories and I’d say there are quite a few things in there that might even be considered highly romantic. Just saying.

In thinking through this topic, I want to refute five statements that Christians make about romantic fiction, and then ask a few questions to help everyone come to their own opinion.

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Statement Number One: When young women read romantic fiction, it opens them up to desiring a whole new world of things they’d never thought of before.

Um, not true. While filling your head with thousands of pages of romantic stories and dialog may obviously cause you to obsess over love a little bit more than a girl who spends all her time solving calculus problems, romantic fiction isn’t what makes teenage girls desire romance. That’s just the way God created women. They don’t need to read books about Amish women giving up their community to be with handsome outsiders with sweet motorized vehicles to want a romantic relationship. Just put a teenage girl in a room full of guys for more than three minutes and she’ll start to realize that all on her own. That’s just the way God made us! While fiction may not always be helpful in this area, it most certainly isn’t what causes young women to desire relationships. That’s a natural thing.

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Statement Number Two: God doesn’t want us thinking about marriage until we’re actually ready to get married.

God certainly doesn’t want us spending all of our free time dwelling on what our lives will be like when we’re married and how much happier and holier we will be then. However, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to think about the future! In our family, we’ve always openly talked about what our lives might be like as adults and prayed for our future husbands together. Our parents ask us what we think of the young men in our lives and we have reasonable, God-focused discussions on what attributes we would like in our husbands and what tendencies we want to stay away from. It’s an open topic and it’s not something that we shun until we reach the magical age of 18, or 21, or whenever it’s suddenly appropriate to discuss marriage.

However, there’s obviously a difference between thinking about the future and obsessing over it. If reading romantic fiction causes you to think an unhealthy amount about your future husband, then don’t read it! Use common sense, people.

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Statement Number Three: The men in romantic fiction don’t exist.

Um, obviously. That’s why it’s called “fiction”.

Seriously, though, I’ve heard this one a million times. So many, in fact, that I’ve made it my life goal to go and find an exact replica of Rhett Butler just to parade in front of the world (just kidding!). And, I have to admit, I’ve struggled with not being happy with men in real life too, which may prove that this statement has a bit of truth in it.

HOWEVER, just because the men in novels are incredibly good looking and sweet and funny and charming, that doesn’t mean we have to dismiss them as utterly unrealistic and evil. Why shouldn’t we have high standards? I don’t want to marry someone spineless and lazy and rude. That kind of man doesn’t deserve my love. It should be the same for all of you young ladies! No man is perfect. But neither are you. We all have faults and flaws, but that’s what marriage is: Two sinful people trying to glorify God together. Plus, if you’re really in love with a guy’s heart and character, he’ll be attractive to you, okay? Just because Gilbert Blythe doesn’t exist in real life, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect our future husbands to be sweet and godly. We shouldn’t let fiction raise or lower our own personal expectations.

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Statement Number Four: Sitting around and reading silly novels is a waste of time.

Can I get an amen? I mean, obviously if sitting around and reading is all you ever do, you’re wasting a good amount of time! You should be spending your unmarried years serving and learning and working, doing your best to glorify God with your time. Reading novels isn’t exactly up there on the list of priorities.

That being said, there is nothing wrong with sitting down and enjoying a good, edifying book in your free time. If you’ve been working hard all day and you’ve spent time with the Lord and your family and all you want to do is unwind with a great story—then do it! I know my sister enjoys reading for an hour in the evenings, after everyone has gone to bed. How is that a waste of time? I personally like to read after supper, or on Saturday mornings, or during finance meetings at church (okay, I need to kick that last habit). In other words, whenever all my other duties are done and I have some free time.

However, even after all of that, I know that some Christians will still have questions and arguments on this topic. So here is what I think: You should make your own decision, and just stick to that. Okay? I don’t think it’s a big enough issue to try to convince everyone to come to one ”right” decision. Just pray about it and let the Lord lead you in this area.

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When deciding whether or not to read a book, I would encourage you to ask the following questions (this is my checklist):

  • Does this book meet with my standards of purity? (For example, my books don’t have any kissing in them because I want to be sensitive to my readers, but since I don’t think it’s a sin to kiss before marriage, I don’t mind reading a book that includes kissing. Just no further, please!)
  • Does this book reflect Biblical principles of love and marriage?
  • Is God at the center of relationships in this book, both romantic and non-romantic?
  • Is reading this type of book going to cause me to change my opinions of the young men in my life now?
  • Does this story cause me to feel discontent about my current situation and where God has me in life?

 

I think that as long as you’re asking those questions and keeping God at the center of your life and thoughts, you’ll be just fine. Luckily for me, all my favorite books were written a hundred years ago and don’t contain any more than a few innocent kisses and wishy-washy speeches. But the guys wore suspenders and danced waltzes, which makes it infinitely harder for the men of today to compare, so maybe I am doomed, afterall! Haha…

-Rachel