If We Make It Home—A Book Review

At the Oregon Christian Writers (OCW) conference this summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Christina Suzann Nelson, author of If We Make It Home. Christina won the OCW Writer of Promise Award, a well-deserved honor.

I picked up Christina’s book in the OCW conference bookstore, not realizing it wasn’t yet available and I was getting an advance copy. I even got it signed!

The description on the back cover drew me into this story of “four college friends [who] graduated from the University of Northwest Oregon, their lives stretched before them, full of promise and vows to stay connected.” I thought of my own three college roommates and me, who graduated from an eastern Washington college with plans to stay in touch. The remaining description promised a unique story about characters I knew I’d love.

I opened to the first page the weekend after the conference and finished the book within a week. When I should have been doing writing of my own, I was instead drawn into the lives and struggles of Ireland, Jenna, and Victoria as they journeyed to their college for a reunion, with hopes of seeing their fourth roommate, Hope.

The story is recounted from the alternating perspectives of these three characters, which could have led to a great deal of confusion if not done well. However, Christina introduced each character so well in the first three chapters that even if I missed a name-heading on a subsequent chapter, I could tell whose viewpoint I was reading.

I found myself trying to decide which character best summed up each of my college roommates, and which best summed up me. Although we four have kept in touch since college, are quite close, and wouldn’t be caught dead going on an outdoor survival adventure, there were parallels between our personalities and the personalities of the characters of this book. I think that is a testament to Christina’s ability to craft realistic and recognizable characters.

When I turned the last page, I thought I had two more to go, only to find those last two pages were acknowledgements. An overwhelming sadness hit me to be at the end of the story, at the close of my interactions with these wonderful characters, two pages earlier than I had prepared myself for. I want to have coffee, or tea, with each of them to find out what happened next.

But alas, one cannot sit down to coffee with a fictional character. But I can wait patiently for Christina’s next novel. Whether it involves these characters, or a whole new roster, I’m sure it will be worth the wait.

 

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100% of Statistics Are Just Numbers

Mark Twain popularized the saying: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But even when statistics are an accurate representation of the truth, they amount to nothing more than numbers.

It’s easy to ignore outrageous statistics, like the fact that in America 27.4 percent of blacks, 26.6 percent of Hispanics, and 9.9 percent of whites live below the poverty line. Or that one in six women are a victim of rape. Or that by age 45, one in three women in America will have had an abortion. It’s also easy to ignore the rising suicide rate in this country, which is the highest it’s been in 30 years.

If you don’t know anyone living in poverty, or even if you are one of those who do, statistics alone are irrelevant. If you don’t know a woman who has been raped or had an abortion, or even if you are one of the women who has, numbers don’t change anything. If you are considering suicide, or know a dear friend who has, the rising suicide rate is tragic but it doesn’t solve the problem.

Statistics may highlight a problem, but they do nothing to fix it, they don’t change lives. Numbers don’t change people’s hearts to do anything about poverty, rape, abortion, or suicide.

What changes lives are individual stories. Who changes hearts is Jesus. Jesus was the King of the storytellers. The story of the prodigal son impacts people’s relationship with God more than any statistics about the number of wayward children ever could. The story of the Good Samaritan impacts people’s understanding of how to love others who are different more than any statistics about the millions of starving children in third world countries ever will.

Stories change lives.
Jesus changes hearts.

That’s why I tell my story of how the trauma of rape and abortion consumed me with anger, shame, and despair. Because I am one of the one in six women who have been raped, one of the one in three who has had an abortion, and one of the rising number who seriously considered suicide. But I’m not just a statistic.

I am more than a number. And so are you. You and I are individual human beings loved by our Creator. We are loved and forgiven. We have been given the power to forgive and live again by the One who loves us and died on the cross for us.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Luke 12:6-7 (NIV).

Do you struggle with pain and shame because of past experiences like I once did? Take heart—there is hope and healing in the love and mercy of Jesus. God has numbered the hairs of your head, but He has not relegated you to a mere statistic. And that’s a truth you can count on.

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No Complaints

If I called today bliss
I’d be remiss

It’s Monday, after all
The weekend had the gall

To end far too early
Leaving me feeling surly

Yet I shan’t complain
There’s not a drop of rain

No Texas-size flood here
Praying for friends dear

_______________________________

It’s Quadrille Monday at dVerse Poets Pub and the word of the day from Bjorn is bliss. I started out a little funny, but it turned somber in the end. Perhaps not what Bjorn was looking for, but it’s what came out.

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My Award-Winning Vacation

Some might call it work, but I used five of my vacation days to prepare for and attend this conference. It didn’t feel like work at all, even though I spent most of it inside on my favorite type of bright, sunny summer days. Normally that would be torture, but not last week. The conference began with my name being called to win an author photo session. The actual photo shoot was the only time I stepped outside the hotel doors all week. The high of meeting agents and editors, telling my story to rapt listeners, getting requests for my proposal to be sent via email, carried me through the weekend and into a new week. Even the so-so hotel fare for lunch and dinner and the one agent who told me I’d need to self-publish my memoir couldn’t dampen my mood.

An extra fun part of the week was when my teddy bear Calvin got to meet Ranger Bear in bearson and get his picture taken with him. Ranger Bear is the mascot for Karen Barnett’s historical fiction series centered around the National Parks. The first in the series, The Road to Paradise, came out in June. Ranger Bear and Karen were oh so gracious despite their fame.

The best part, and the most nerve-wracking part, came on Thursday evening, the last night of the Oregon Christian Writers Conference. The Cascade Awards Ceremony began with each finalist coming on stage to receive a finalist certificate. Then the announcement of the winners! Would the first line of my memoir be read? I hoped so, but couldn’t be sure. Then Susan May Warren read: “No sunny Southern California blue sky watched over me the day everything change.” I won! The perfect cap on a wonderful, award-winning vacation.

Summer sun outside
Loyal and true in darkness
Remind me of You

_________________________________

It’s Haibun Monday at dVerse Poets Pub and Toni wants us to write about our summer vacation, so I decided to make the first post I wanted to write about the Oregon Christian Writers Conference into a Haibun for the occasion.

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My Sweet Pea

I named her Bette, after Bette Davis, as a complement to Bogart. She was the best Christmas present I’ve ever received. Sometimes I called her Sweet Pea or Peeper. You’ve never met a more adorable, sweet, and perfect blond Cocker Spaniel puppy in all your life, I guarantee it.

Until the moment at Bo’s food bowl when a quick growl and nip left her eye hanging from the socket. The vet couldn’t save the eye. He suggested perhaps we should put her to sleep and get another puppy who wasn’t imperfect. Eighteen years later, when the time to put her to sleep finally came, I reminisced about her life and didn’t regret a single moment of having a one-eye dog. And it kind of made me chuckle to think she was named after an actress known for her “Bette Davis eyes.”

Seeing winter days
Bring us fun filled holidays
Pain oft’ in the mix

______________________________

It’s Haibun Monday at dVerse Poets Pub today and Victoria is asking us to consider the compelling world-view of Wabi-Sabi in our Haibuns. “Wabi-Sabi is the art of imperfection. It is the recognition that everything real is transient and imperfect. It recognizes the circle of life—that things die, break, disintegrate—and to find therein beauty.” I almost wrote about my current one-eyed dog Roman, but I’ve written about him quite a bit. So I decided to relate a true story from over 30 years ago wherein I learned that there is nothing wrong with a little imperfection.

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Fear, My Foe

My adversary
fueled by lies
half-truths
in disguise

You shan’t win
oh dreaded fear
if I hold truth
ever near

My devilish foe
all deceit
my Advocate
I’d have you meet

He is Truth
and the Way
You shan’t win
but perish this day

___________________________

I haven’t had much time for poetry lately because I’ve been working on my memoir and a book proposal to pitch the memoir to agents at a conference I’m attending in two weeks. But I was compelled today to make time for a Quadrille. It’s only 44 words, after all. And then to find that the word for today at dVerse Poets Pub‘s Quadrille Monday is fear. Can’t wait to see what others wrote on this topic that is dear to my heart.

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A Minute of My Story

Do you want to hear my story
Parts are gory
I think you don’t
Listen you won’t

I feel compelled to write it all
Each trip and fall
Won’t you please read
Hear my heart bleed

I write to bring others healing
Share this feeling
Anguish explained
Hope is regained

_______________________________

Frank is tending the bar at dVerse Poets Pub today for Meeting the Bar. The form lesson for the day is the Minute Poem. It’s sixty syllables with added line length and rhyme scheme rules. The only rule I didn’t consciously follow is that each line is supposed to be in iambic meter. But then, I tend to break the meter rules with some regularity. Head over and check out some other Minute Poems.

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