Shifting Shadows

Reading nonfiction is something I find to be very important in my life. This year, even when I took a break from most of my reading, I’ve still picked up a nonfiction book nearly every day and spent a couple of minutes learning from the pages.

This is my most recent nonfiction read. It was interesting, opening my eyes to a world that I’m very unfamiliar with.

Find the book on: Amazon and Goodreads
Pages: 256
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Release Date: May 5, 2020
Title: Shifting Shadows
Nonfiction

ABOUT THE BOOK

Herman Mendoza built his kingdom in Queens, New York. He made a fortune selling cocaine with his brothers up and down the Eastern Seaboard. He had apartments around the city for his mistresses and a home in the Poconos for his beautiful nuclear family. But when he and his brothers were busted in a large-scale crackdown, his kingdom crumbled. Ready to kill himself rather than live behind bars, Herman instead came face-to-face with the all-consuming love of God. He would never be the same.

Today, Herman shares his story at every opportunity, knowing that it may play a part in someone else’s journey into a relationship with Jesus. An engaging and fast-paced read, Shifting Shadows offers hope to those in despair, and shows all of us the lengths to which God will go to bring a troubled soul home. Also available in Spanish as Sombras cambiantes.

About the Author

Herman Mendoza (www.hermanmendoza.com) speaks nationally and internationally more than 100 times a year on college campuses, in churches, at Christian conferences, and in prisons–with his ministry spanning four continents. He is an associate pastor at Promise Ministries International and is the director of Powerhouse Kids Ministry in New York City. Mendoza lives on Long Island in New York with his wife, Alexandra. Their three children, Samantha, Adam, and Penelope, share in their ministry.

WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT THIS BOOK

The author did a great job of telling about his life without making it seem glamorous or going into too much detail. I appreciate the balance that he struck, and how I got a clear view of where he came from and the enormous change that took place in his life, but without getting bogged down in the lifestyle he lived. 

I really felt like I got to know the author. He didn’t try and make his life look good or justify what he did and how horrible of a human he was. He got involved with drugs and gangs when he was just a kid, and his life spiraled out of control from there. From juvie, to eventually becoming a big-time New York drug lord, and then finally finding God while in prison, his story kept my interest and made me want to know what would happen next. 

This book was a good reminder that God is at work all over the world and in various situations and that no one is too far past God’s love and forgiveness. It was also encouraging to see how the author allowed God to totally change and redeem his life. It was obvious that the author and his brother were a fantastic team, and to see them go from being drug lords together to serving God in prison together was neat. The author’s story was inspiring and a good reminder to not stop praying for people, even when it feels hopeless. 

CONCLUSION

This book talks a lot about bad things – violence, drugs, unfaithfulness, alcohol, crime, running from the police, etc… But it does so in a way that is vague and doesn’t glorify that lifestyle. 

RATING

I’m giving Shifting Shadows 3 out of 5 stars. Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for sending me this book to review on my blog.

A Mosaic of Wings

This year I haven’t done well with keeping up with the books I choose to review for publishers. I have a pile of them that I received this spring and summer and was so excited about, but then….but then life happened.

Right around the time this book arrived, I moved back to Kentucky, started working again (but with a lot of regulations), my health dipped, my grandfather died, and I didn’t hardly read for several months.

But now I’ve finally I found some balance in my world and here I am with another review. Enjoy!

THE STATS:

Find the book on: Amazon and Goodreads
Pages: 368
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Release Date: May 5, 2020
Title: A Mosaic of Wings
Fiction

ABOUT THE BOOK

It’s 1885, and all Nora Shipley wants, now that she’s graduating from Cornell University as valedictorian of the entomology program, is to follow in her late father’s footsteps by getting her master’s degree and taking over the scientific journal he started. The only way to uphold her father’s legacy is to win a scholarship, so she joins a research expedition in Kodaikanal, India, to prove herself in the field.

India isn’t what she expects, though, and neither is the rival classmate who accompanies her, Owen Epps. As her preconceptions of India–and of Owen–fall away, she finds both far more captivating than she expected. Forced by the expedition leader to stay at camp and illustrate exotic butterflies the men of the team find without her, Nora befriends Sita, a young Indian girl who has been dedicated to a goddess against her will. 

In this spellbinding new land, Nora is soon faced with impossible choices–between saving Sita and saving her career, and between what she’s always thought she wanted and the man she’s come to love.

WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT THIS BOOK

The title and cover of the book do a good job of conveying what the story is about – a languid and flitting story that delves deep into the minute details and focuses on the little things.

If the story was a song, it would be a piano instrumental piece. If the story was a painting, it would be a sun-dappled peaceful stream scene. If the story was a day, it would be a Sunday afternoon right in the heart of Summer.

Nothing was wrong with this book, but it wasn’t what I was in the mood for during this time in my life, which is unfortunate. Therefore, I’m going to go for the three pros and three cons approach for this review.

Three Pros:

  1. The book explored a subject that I don’t know a lot about, and I’ve only read one other author who delves into the world of entomology (the study of insects) in her stories. The book was well-researched and the characters stayed very true to what I would imagine an entomologist to be like. I was impressed by the level of detail the author went into without making the book boring
  2. The main characters were varied and well-written. I liked Owen a lot – he was sweet, kind, and I could imagine having a friend like him in real life. Although I didn’t like Nora (more about that in the cons section) she still was well-written, had a good character arc, and had many details making her feel complete
  3. The setting was beautiful – every time I read I felt like I was out in the wilderness. I could nearly feel the heat, and watch the bugs, and reach out to touch the butterflies. This book was filled with nature and that was peaceful

Three Cons:

  1. Nora, the main character, wasn’t someone I liked. I know this is completely subjective, but I couldn’t relate to her and – sadly – found her annoying. Except in regard to one person, she always had to have her own way. She was headstrong and rude. I get why she was that way. And she was well written. I just didn’t like her
  2. The writing was too flowery for my tastes. Some people would really like the style, just not me. There were also a lot of similes and metaphors that didn’t completely make sense to me
  3. I really liked Owen, the main male character, but there were times when the way Nora related to him bothered me. It felt like she was too focused on how he looked, and little romantic scenes would be thrown in at times that didn’t make sense
Snippets From the Story

These were sentences I marked as I was reading because I felt like they did a good job of showing the pace and writing style of the book:

She felt the languid pace of her new home seep into her pores and thicken her blood so that it traveled through her veins as unhurried as the Indian people who lived life without any clocks.

Page 133 of Mosaic of Wings

They studied the ponderous movements of a green beetle and watched a brilliant blue flycatcher eat a dragonfly and tripped over moss-covered rocks that made stepping-stones across transparent creeks.

Page 144 of Mosaic of Wings

Dryness filled her mouth, and her heart – which had spent the previous six years sheltered beneath barely-there veneer of phlegmatic constraint – twisted so violently, she though the pain must rival being stung by a thousand ants.

Page 154 of Mosaic of Wings

The trail wended up Mount Nebo, and soon they stood overlooking the mist-enshrouded trees surrounding Kodaikanal. The waxing moon, pregnant with the desire for completion, poured its ghostly light over the houses trailing down the hill.

Page 258 of Mosaic of Wings
CONCLUSION

I didn’t have anything morally wrong with the contents of this book, except there was a feminist bend to the story that I don’t agree with.

There are, however, a few things that are dealt with in the book that wouldn’t be suitable for young readers.

(Spoilers Below)

The book talks about child prostitution and abuse in the Indian temples (it doesn’t go into detail). The main character’s father dies before the story and she deals with that throughout the whole book. The main character has a hostile and manipulative relationship with her step-father. There are a few mentions of gambling, a child born out of wedlock, a suicide (mentioned, no details), and a few scenes with slight violence. There are also multiple times that the two main characters sneak out to look at bugs together in the middle of the night.

RATING

I’m giving Mosaic of Wings 3 out of 5 stars. I’m thankful to Bethany House Publishers for sending me this book to review.

When a Book is So Good You Review It Twice

Before I called You Mine was one of those books that I went into without a lot of expectations. I read and reviewed it in February, and although I only gave the book 3.5 out of 5 stars, I’ve thought about the book on a weekly, and sometimes daily basis. And that means something has to change.

In this case, my rating is what’s changing, and it’s changing to 4.5 stars. Why not a solid 5? Well, there were still aspects of the story that annoyed me, but that’s totally a preference thing – not something the author did wrong. And therefore, for this review, we’ll be focusing on the parts that I did like.

And yes, you heard that correctly – I’m writing a second “review” for the book. The book meant so much to me and I enjoyed the e-copy so much that I requested the physical copy from the publisher so I could take pictures and share them with you and talk about the book again. To make the review unique, I’m going to go completely from memory, rather than going back and referring to the book as I often do while writing reviews. If you want to get my just-finished-reading-thoughts, check out my earlier review here.

Screen Shot 2020-08-31 at 6.04.49 PM

THE STATS:

Find the book on: Amazon and Goodreads
Pages: 368
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Release Date: March 31, 2020
Title: Before I Called You Mine
Fiction

Screen Shot 2020-08-31 at 6.05.12 PM

In a nutshell, this book is about a woman – Lauren – who’s dream in life has always been to be a mom – something I can very much relate to. The problem for Lauren is that although she wants to get married, it’s not happening, and therefore her dream of having kids isn’t happening either. So she decides to adopt.

Throughout the story, we follow Lauren as she walks through the journey of adoption. Lauren is well-written and I felt through her so intensely as she experienced her joys and heartaches. She works as a teacher and surrounds herself with children, pouring all of her love into them as she awaits having a child of her own.

Lauren has a chaotic relationship with her family and the way she did – and didn’t – interact with them made her feel so much more real, layered, flawed, and relatable. There’s also a fair portion of the book designated to a romance, but that’s not the part that stuck out to me in the story, so we won’t go into that today.

Screen Shot 2020-08-31 at 6.05.45 PM

I was completely unsurprised to find out that the author has adopted a child of her own, because I’m not sure how else the book could have been so well written. The story felt real, with highs and lows and a kaleidoscope of feelings. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to adopt, but it’s something I’ve been praying about, and a lot more since I read this book.

If you’re interested in adoption, then this is a book you should pick up and read. Well done, Nicole Deese! (And thank you, Bethany House Publishers, for sending me a copy to review.)

And Then She Began Reading Again

I rarely get my computer out any more. It sits in my cupboard alongside my clothes and languishes. Okay, maybe that’s being a bit dramatic, but you get my point.

I also barely read these days. That, I suppose, is a matter of perspective, but I went through June and July without finishing more than a handful of books. My grandpa died in June, and while it wasn’t unexpected, it was emotional and exhausting. I spent the ensuing couple of months not being overly dedicated to my goals or trying to accomplish much other than work, quality family time, and rest.

But now. Now I’m ready to get back into the saddle and begin getting back on track with life. One of my goals for this week is to read for an hour and fifteen minutes each day. This is because I got into the habit of watching Youtube when I got home from work instead of reading or learning. And while the stuff I watch on Youtube isn’t bad – and is even helpful in some instances, it isn’t the way I prefer to spend my time because while it can be good, it can also be a huge waste of time.

So, that huge introduction is to catch you up on my life and let you know that I finally finished a book to review for y’all. It’s a small book, but due to the above circumstances took me a long time to read. And now, my friends, the review…

THE STATS:

Find the book on: Amazon and Goodreads
Pages: 187
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Release Date: June 16, 2020
Title: Healing Family Relationships
Nonfiction

1

ABOUT THE BOOK

Every family is hurting, and the wounds that come from our relatives can be deeper than all others. Conflict within a family can range from daily frictions and annoyances to rage and hatred and eventually estrangement. We want things to be different but have no idea where to start.

After 25 years of ministering to families, Rob Rienow believes reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel–reconciliation with God and one another. You will come away with specific steps you can take in your relationships with your family members to pursue peace and healing in your homes. Each chapter includes key biblical examples as well as present-day stories of families who have experienced God’s help and healing–including the author’s own miraculous healing of his relationship with his father.

Our families can bring out the best, as well as the worst, in all of us. May this book guide you in making your home and family a blessing in a broken world.

WHY I CHOOSE THIS BOOK

I’m actually exceedingly blessed to have super good relationships in my family – something for which I’m very thankful and don’t take lightly. Still, this book looked interesting and of course, I can always learn something new.

WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT THIS BOOK

Is it dramatic to say this book is small but mighty? Because that’s the way I felt about it. The first couple of chapters had me kinda nodding my head, but not sure what I thought about it. The author had some good points, but since he’s a new author to me, I had to develop some rapport with him before I felt like I could really get on board with what he was saying.

I’m not sure where that point in the book happened, but partway through the 187 pages, I found myself eager to pick up the book and learn more. The author does a great job of finding balance between using the Bible, examples from his own family, and examples from people who he’s known, in order to produce a solid book.

One of the big things I look for while reading nonfiction is how practical a book is – if a book makes good points, but has no practical application, then what’s the point? Also, as a relational person, I don’t like books that seem impersonal. The author covered both these facets really well. I felt like I was actually getting to know the author and learned a lot from his life as I read. He wove his story throughout the chapters, drawing me in and making me feel the pain he experienced, and ultimately the joy when things went well.

This book is one I consider to be simple. It’s not a hard read. It’s not got huge words and a vocabulary that will make you pull out your dictionary. And, while I do enjoy books that stretch my understanding with large words, for the purpose of this book having one that was easy to read and understand was important and a good choice.

CONCLUSION

There were a few small things that I didn’t agree with the emphasis that he put on it, but overall I really appreciated this book and the author’s point of view and stance. He brought up several things that I feel are really important and most people skip over in life. (Like praying through generational issues.)

This is a book I would recommend to people who are struggling with family relationships.

RATING

I’m giving Healing Family Relationships 4 out of 5 stars. Thank you to Bethany House for providing me with a copy of the book so I could tell y’all about it.

The Ideal vs. The Ambassador

In nine minutes I’m supposed to be out the door and on my way to work. My breakfast is cooking on the stove, my shoes on sitting by the door, and I’m perched at my table tapping away at the keys as I sip coffee.

d2ba387e-c27a-4c61-94cf-4108ee38ddf5

This spring I read a book that talked about how sometimes we can make idols of our ideal selves – we know who we want to be, and if we don’t hit that elusive dreamed-of-person we fall apart.

I think about that often.

There’s a Lydia that I see in my minds’ eye and I want everyone else to know that Lydia, too. It’s a driving force that keeps me going, working, and striving. And it’s not all bad. But like with most everything else, without balance it is bad.

Ever since reading the aforementioned book I’ve been working at giving my image to God, and working at showing His love, instead of running towards who I want people to think I am.

Quarantine was a good time for me to realize that I’m not nearly as good of a person as I thought I was. When my world went inside-out and upside-down I turned into a grumpy person which was rather horrifying since I consistently consider myself a joyful, happy, positive person.

This morning as I sat down with my Bible and prayer journal I prayed as I often do that God would use me to be His hands and feet – to share His love with the people around me. Because now more than ever I realize that if I’m working on perfecting my ideal Lydia instead of seeking to glorify God, that it’s a waste of time.

My ideal Lydia is a pretty cool person, but the real God I serve is so much better. And so today, as I head to work, it’s with the hope and prayer that I can be an ambassador of His love.

That Thing Called Growth

As it turns out, I like summer a lot more than I thought I did.

Summer has always been my least favorite season – mostly due to the heat. It took me twenty-seven summers to figure out that my real probably was just not getting outside early enough in the morning. Sure, I heard plenty of people talking about how wonderful summer mornings could be, and I would concur. Yet, we were talking about two different things. They were talking about five and six am, and I was talking about seven and eight am – and as it turns out in the summer those two hours can make a vast difference.

Appreciating summer mornings isn’t the only place where I’ve experienced monumental shifts in thinking. Apparently, I do a superb job of forming an opinion and then sticking by it until someone challenges my presupposition.

fullsizeoutput_1c93

For instance, I had a co-worker last year who kinda just got on my nerves. There were various reasons for this – justified reasons, I might add. So, I pretty much just went through my days of working with this co-worker being nice, but not reaching out more than necessary.

Then one time I was talking to a manager who I really respect and he kindly mentioned that said co-worker really just needed someone to draw them in and make them part of the team. I took his words to heart, repented of not showing love like I should have, and changed my attitude towards the co-worker. Instead of allowing myself to be annoyed, I began searching for my co-worker’s positive traits – and wouldn’t you know, there were a lot of them. Before long that co-worker and I were friends and instead of half-dreading working with them, I began to look forward to the shifts we shared.

Growth is happening everywhere.

It’s easy to miss it. Easy to not see the little sprouts poking their heads up in the herb bed. Easy to miss the changes in a friend or family member. Easy to put my head down and charge forward. Focused. Forceful. Full-speed.

But that’s not who I want to be. I want to see the growth. I want to experience the growth. Growing is an important part of life and learning to let go of my old presuppositions and opinions isn’t always easy, but it is rewarding.

Today I thankful for the reminder that change is good. Growth is good.

Have a wonderful day, y’all!

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. {Philippians 1:6}

When Flowers Aren’t Practical

I bought flowers.

Like, the kind that are in a pot and you plant in soil and then you hopefully watch grow and spill out over the sides of the container and bring beauty to all.

This might not seem like a big deal, but I’m an ever-practical kind of girl. I grow veggies (because flowers are a luxury, not necessity). I make main dishes for people (because desserts are delicious but not necessary). I take long walks after walking miles at work (because it’s a productive way to relax). I have probably as much fun saving money as most people have spending it (because, well, saving money is logical).

IMG_9560

And flowers. They’re delightful to look at. I’ve always been thankful to live around people who did grow flowers because I freely admit that while I couldn’t envision myself spending time or money on them, I did enjoy looking at them.

Last week I spent way more than what was practical to reclaim a little patch of weeds and fence it in to keep the raccoons at bay, then delightedly planted a few vegetable plants.

One of my teammates from work lent me his gardening tools and an impressive amount of knowledge. He also showed me gorgeous pictures of his own flowerbed which left me amazed. “Don’t get your hopes up, my little garden isn’t going to look anything like that” I told him. And true to my word, my vegetable patch was nothing compared to his cultivated garden.

My slip-shod work left him shaking his head and me shrugging my shoulders. I had a garden and that’s all I really cared about. I could go out in the evenings after the heat of the day was past and weed, water, and eventually harvest dinner.

Then another co-worker invited me to her house and showed me her lovely back porch with flowers artistically arranged in beautiful planters. It was peaceful. It was inviting. And suddenly I began to rethink my stance on being a practical human.

Yesterday was my day off. I had to go to the store for a few groceries, and while I was there I picked up a few more things for my garden – spending more money than I had planned to. But, as it turns out, some things are worth a $20 splurge. When I got home I took down my sagging fence. Stood on a bucket to pound in more stakes. Found twine, tied bows, and worked in the hot sun until my garden looked presentable.

I added soil to the beautiful blue pots my parents had given me (that really were too lovely for a simple tomato plant), then placed the flowers inside.

Being practical is good. Saving money is important. But balance is, too.

And that’s a big lesson I’ve been learning. I’m driven to being productive. I want each moment to count. Sometimes I can’t help but feel the pressure of needing to do build up inside me. Because sometimes doing isn’t the most important thing in the world. Sometimes it’s far more important – and harder – to simply be. To let go of the plans to accomplish that seemed so grand in my head and take the time to stand and listen for a minute.

This lesson has become real for me time and time again when I have a question or issue to discuss at work. My bosses are busy. They have a lot on their plates. And yet they take the time to listen. To stand there without glancing at their full inbox or piled high desk and be present as I bring questions or concerns.

Time and time again I’ve been blown away by how people – busy, hard-working, must-get-things-done-or-else-there-will-be-big-consequences people – have taken the time to sit, be still, and listen. It’s not practical. But it adds beauty to the world, to my world. And it makes a huge difference.

And so, I planted flowers.

Flowers to remind me that sometimes the practical isn’t the most important. Flowers to remind me that while vegetables might keep you alive, flowers have a way of making you thankful to be alive.

Today, I don’t want to focus only on the practical. Today, I want to focus on whatever God places in front of me. To take the time to be instead of just doing.

This is Home {Return to the Museum}

A hundred and three days.

That’s a long time, my friends.

When I left the Museum to go help my family for a week back in March, I was sad to be leaving for a whole eight days. If you would have told me that it would nearly fifteen weeks before I returned to my favorite place in the world, I’m really not sure how I would have reacted.

Like the rest of the world plans that I’d held so tightly and seemed of supreme importance crumbled before me. Ideals I’d worked towards, goals I’d hunted, and dreams I’d chased all dissipated in the wake of the pandemic.

The last 103 days were good, hard, amazing, tearful, delightful, and oh so confusing at times. During these months I experienced some of my best days and some of the worst  – at least in recent years. I grew a lot. I found out I needed to grow a lot more.

And finally, at long last, I’m back.

IMG_9229

Back in March, no one was really sure what was going to happen. The future stretched before us in a foggy mist, scary and vague. And there are still things that way in my life, and I’m sure that other people continue to have that as their daily reality.

At times I wondered if the Museum would re-open. And if it did, would I get re-hired? And if both those things happened, would everything else be different.

And yes, things are different. But it’s okay, because now everyone is aware of how different it could be. Of how much we do have to be thankful for. There’s a lot of stuff that’s difficult to do at the museum nowadays. So many added steps to run things in a way that hit those just-post-COVID-pandemic-world-guidelines perfectly.

IMG_9253

And yet, we’re here, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

I’ve tried for the last ten minutes to put into words how it feels to be back. To be home. To get to spend each day at the Museum, serving the guests and co-workers. I’ve tried to express the emotion that comes along with having a whole host of people excitedly welcome me back and make sure I knew I was missed. I’ve typed and re-typed what it was like to get to see everyone in person again and jump right into the activities that I am comfortable with, plus learn a whole new protocol which I’m not quite getting the hang of yet…

But I can’t. The words escape me.

I’m still processing. Processing the joy of being back. The thankfulness that the museum is still here. The delight of the work I get to do each day. How right it feels to dive back into my responsibilities. The excitement of getting to see my co-workers each day. The sadness of missing co-workers who won’t be returning.

Each night I return home with my heart full of thankfulness, my legs tired from miles of walking, and my face relieved to be maskless.

I love my job. My co-workers. My teammates. It’s delightful to get to interact with guests. To get to make life a little easier for my bosses. To learn new things and grow. (Like yesterday when I made an announcement over the Museum loudspeakers for the first time.)

There’s a lot of new stuff to learn, but that’s okay because grace is freely given around the museum. So is love and care and laughter.

The Museum is my favorite place, and I’m so thankful to be back.

Yellowstone Ft. the Geysers

I tried writing a post where I told you all about the amazing geysers in Yellowstone, but the internet wouldn’t work and the post didn’t save, and here I am, with a blank screen in front of me.

We’re nearly two weeks into our trip now, and it’s been nothing like I imagined, and yet also so much like I imagined, both at the same time. Crazy, right?

There was a lot in Yellowstone that I was unaware of until last year when I read a book that took place there. After I read the book I realized all my preconceived ideas about Yellowstone were just that – ideas. So I was really eager to get there and see it for myself.

Visiting Yellowstone is probably my oldest traveling dream, and so to see it realized was mind-blowing and amazing at the same time.

The above vlog is about the thing that I didn’t think about when I thought about Yellowstone, next will come a vlog of the things that I did imagine when thinking about that wild and wonderful place. Things like elk and bison, bears and birds, mountains and waterfalls.

Yellowstone is huge. Huge, beautiful, and beyond what I had imagined. There was so much wilderness to simply gaze at and soak in. We spent two days there and could have spent a hundred more and still not see everything.

Independence Rock

It’s funny seeing how the pictures I imagined during a childhood full of reading don’t quite match up with reality.

Nowadays, when I read historical fiction I have fun Googling the places I’m reading about, researching the historical figures, and delving deeper into the real-life account behind the fictional story.

As a child of course I had school books to look through, but even the best of books (or especially the best of books) leaves a lot of room for the imagination to take over.

Following the Oregon Trail and seeing all the places that I read and dreamed about for so many years has been fun, enlightening, and quite surprising at times.