Book review: Mercy Triumphs

When Jana Kelly published Side by Side in 2015, I got the opportunity to review the book before it hit stores. It was great getting into the stories of Mia, Halimah, and Rania, and then to get deeper into their lives with the next book in the series, Door to Freedom. I’m excited to announce the third book in the series has just been released: Mercy Triumphs, and it’s just as great as the previous two. All three books can be read on their own, but it’s a much more satisfying story to read them all in order.

Mercy Triumphs continues the stories of Mia, Halimah, and Rania. Mia is settled in her life in Khartoum, continuing building and strengthening friendships, and maturing in her faith. Halimah works in a refugee camp and then gets to transfer to Nairobi, but she is unsure whether that is the God’s will for her to do. Rania is almost at the end of her year’s studies at the art school in Dubai where she lives with her uncle and aunt, and is dreading return to Sudan to marry her older cousin. She is also growing in her faith, especially with Halimah’s encouragement via text, email and phone calls. Through some turns of events, Halimah winds up living with Rania in Dubai with their uncle and aunt, but fearing for their lives and the imminent arrival of their parents from Sudan, Halimah and Rania manages to escape to the States thanks to the help of the organization where Mia’s husband, Michael, works. The ending is bittersweet, but hopeful in the knowledge that God is merciful in all circumstances. The ending is rather open-ended — how do Halimah and Rania adjust to life in America? Do they reconcile with their parents? Do Uncle Faisal and Aunty Badria come to faith? I wonder if this means there will be another book? ;-)

Reading through this series has been a really special experience for me personally, having spent about half a year in Sudan back in 2004. One of the things that resonated with me strongly was the reverse culture shock Mia experiences on her return to America. I remember feeling overwhelmed with how clean and un-dusty everything was upon my return to New Zealand, how beautiful the tar-sealed roads without potholes were, what insane amount of choice there were at fully stocked supermarkets, and what a profound sense of guilt I felt for getting to live in a place like that where I could freely worship Christ. I cried a lot during that time — and it was a happy time, I was about to get married! — but I just had a lot of trouble readjusting. The thing is, I was only in Sudan for 5 months — how much more is this not an issue for people who have lived on the mission field for years! Thankfully, God put a wise woman in my life who pointed out to me that God calls us to be content with whatever God has given you in His mercy. We usually (to our shame) read a passage like that and think about how we have to put up with the little we have, but she pointed out to me that it was not my place to feel guilty about what was mine, but that I should be content with the much that God had given me. Not to live selfishly, of course, but with thankfulness.

Contentment is definitely something that needs to be learned, and I think this book does a great job of showing how that is possible when we trust that God is merciful, no matter what. God is merciful wherever he’s planted you, whatever lot he’s given you, with whomever you’re writing your life’s story. Mercy triumphs.


 

I received a complimentary copy of Mercy Triumphs but have not been compensated in any other way for this review. Buy your copy today!

A little time travel into the past: March

There used to be a time I blogged several times a week. Then it turned into twice a week, then once a week, then once every two weeks, then… whenever I happen to write a blog post. I suspect the latter frequency is the way it will continue, and so far nobody seems to mind.

In this time travel journey little blog series, we travel back as far as March of this year, when I grew another year older and crept a little further into my thirties. I like it here much better than my twenties. Most of the time, anyway. Marica made me a delicious pecan pie. We must have done something more than eat pie to celebrate the occasion, it’s just that what we did escapes my memory now. That’s one of the downsides of getting older, I’m told.

 

Lauren, who had boarded with us in the past, were engaged to be married, and I hosted a bridal shower for her. That was a first for me, and fun!

There was also a lovely day where the girls and I met Shannon in the city, where she took them to a marionette theater for a show, giving me and Ben some time to grab a quick bite to eat at Dominique Ansel, the bakery that invented the cronut. Yes, we had a cronut, and yes, it’s delicious! Then I joined Shannon and the girls at Alice’s Tea Cup for a delightful lunch. What a treat!

Three little flower girls

Back in February our 3 girls got to be flower girls for a lovely couple in our church, Kelvin and Joanna. It was a beautiful day — unseasonably warm for February basically the whole week leading up to the wedding. The girls did so well! There was no fussing or crying, even though there were some nerves; they walked down the aisle really well and did a good job of sprinkling the petals. They also did a rather great job of looking adorable. I couldn’t help get teary-eyed as they walked down the aisle. I’m proud to be their mother!

The two younger girls were able to wear the dresses Marica and Esther wore for Rob and Julia’s wedding, and we borrowed a dress from a friend at church for Marica. I had fun braiding their hair all special. They don’t often let me do that, unfortunately. I wish I could braid my own hair like that, but somehow the skill doesn’t translate from being able to do it on others to being able to do it on myself.

All the photos below were taken by Jane Y. Kim, used with permission from the bride.

A decade old!

In February, Marica turned 10. TEN?? How does a decade go by so fast? Marica is growing up — both taller and also growing in maturity little by little. Or maybe not so little! Her independence in the kitchen is growing, and she’s becoming quite the cook and baker. It’s beautiful to see her help out her younger sisters and play with them in a kind way (most of the time), especially with Laurelin; and to start taking on more responsibilities and duties without so many complaints. She’s still a voracious reader, is getting really good at playing the piano and doing her schoolwork diligently, she can do some pretty impressive gymnastics moves, and loves our homeschool co-op. She’s also been trying her hand at sewing, much to my delight, though I see a problem brewing on the horizon — having to share my sewing machine when I want to use it!

This year Marica wanted a purple themed party. It was probably the biggest party she’s had yet (in number of kids). The kids made their own pizzas, baked brownies, played good old fashioned games, and ate ice cream cake. There seems to be a strong food-related theme going here! She got some really neat gifts — people clearly were thoughtful in getting their gifts for her, which was special. She had requested an ice cream crunch cake, which turned out very yummy.  All in all a lovely day for a lovely girl!

1920’s Day at co-op

In February we had a 1920’s festival at our homeschool co-op where we learned about some things that happened in the 1920’s in general, and in our area (Thomas Edison, who lived nearby, was actively inventing cool things; the Holland Tunnel between NJ and Manhattan was being built); we got to dress up in fun costumes, someone came in to teach us how to dance the Charleston, and we had a 1920’s themed feast. So much effort went into the whole event to make it a memorable and fun time for everyone. This is one of those posts where the photos will tell a better story than me. What a fantastic time!

(Photo credit: thanks to Russ Dubé for the last 8 photos.)

Book review: Door to Freedom

Back in 2015, I was given the opportunity to review the book Side by Side by Jana Kelley. It was a realistic and an enjoyable read, which I was excited to hear is turning into a trilogy. The second book in the series was published this year, and is called Door to Freedom. I was very happy to be offered the chance to review it as well!

These days there seems to be some sort of hype-driven fear that all Muslims are evil and just waiting for their chance to kill someone. This book helps to drive that unrealistic fear away and shows that Muslims are people just like us, with friends,  with family tensions, with hopes and dreams, but mostly with a deep need for the peace that comes only from the Gospel.

As with Side by Side, it was wonderful to feel as if I was back in Sudan through all the descriptions in the book. I could feel the grit of the dust, hear the honking of rickshaws and taxis, taste the food, and feel the heat. In Side by Side,  we meet Halimah who is a convert to Christianity and has to flee and leave her family and all she knows behind to save her life. We also meet an American couple, Mia and Michael, who are working in Sudan with an aid organization.

Door to Freedom is set about a year later. Rania, Halimah’s sister, misses her sister dreadfully and expresses her feelings through art. She keeps thinking about her sister’s courage and eventually she builds up enough courage to read the book of John that Halimah had left behind and she becomes a Christian. Soon she faces the prospect of marriage to a much older cousin, but her mother steps in and convinces her father it would be a good idea to send her to live with family in Dubai where she can also study art. We are left at the end of the book with the hope that Rania’s mother might also be on the road towards putting her trust in Jesus.

Mia and Michael have matured more in their faith and have become more bold in their witness, and experience various trials as a result of that. In fact, Door to Freedom deals with some more of the difficulties of living in a country like Sudan in more detail, including a fairly tense few chapters where Michael is under investigation by the police.

I loved seeing how the characters have developed and matured, and how Michael and Mia have increased in their boldness in sharing the Gospel. There was, however, one thing that didn’t sit right with me: the ‘lone ranger’ type of work Michael and Mia were doing. From my experience (which was, I admit, pretty limited) in Sudan, Christians stuck together and supported each other, even when they were not working with the same organization. In the book, Michael and Mia lead a couple to Christ and even baptize them, but without other Christian witnesses and with seemingly little long-term Christian support and discipleship. There might well be an explanation for this, but it struck me as odd. It’s also odd to me how little other Christians feature as a support network for Michael and Mia — we do hear about them going to church, but it doesn’t seem to be a large part of their lives. Maybe we’ll see more  Christian support for them in the next book?

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Door to Freedom, and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book. I should mention that while this is a series, each book stands on its own pretty well. Get yourself a copy, or enter the giveaway to win!

Giveaway: I’m giving away one free copy of Door to Freedom! Reply in the comments section with a sentence about why you’d like this book and I’ll enter you in the draw. I’ll announce the winner next Friday, the 10th of March. (This giveaway is sponsored by me.)

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I received a complimentary copy of Door to Freedom but have not been compensated in any other way for this review. 

Rambling thoughts

The year starts off differently here in the northern hemisphere compared to the southern hemisphere. In some ways it doesn’t really feel like a new year — school and work just keeps going after a short break for Christmas; whereas in NZ just about nothing happens the first few weeks of January because 90% of the country is off somewhere on holiday. Neither is better or worse, just different.

We took the week between Christmas and New Year’s off school, but were right back into it at the start of January. The girls are doing really well, and learning and growing. We still have attitude struggles, but those seem to be getting better too (I’m still working on mine most of the time!).

We have had a couple of snowfalls of maybe half a foot or so, which the kids always enjoy. On the whole, though, this has been a really mild winter. There have been a few days that our temperatures have been the same as those in Christchurch! I don’t know if that says something about our winters or about NZ summers…

At the start of January, we had cousin Eva stay with us as her last stop before heading back to Vienna. It was a delightful visit! Lots of quiet and relaxed conversation. She even cooked us a gourmet meal one night, which was really delicious.

In January, Trump was sworn in, as most of the world knows. I don’t know what to think about the man. I don’t know if he’s really clever and shrewd or if he’s just a complete narcissistic idiot. He backs certain things that I’m very happy about (he has pro-life policies, for one), and then he does and says other things that are just beyond comprehension. I don’t know what the next 4 years will hold, but I do know that whatever happens it won’t be a boring ride. Seeing that I don’t like exciting roller coaster rides, my response has been to laugh, or for the most part the ostrich in the sand-type of response. The less I know, the less my blood pressure rises. This is probably not the best response, but I know whom I have believed, and He’s ultimately in control. I’m not trying to be fatalistic, I just really don’t want to know every crappy detail of what stupid thing Trump tweeted now. Too much freak show makes one freaky. End diatribe.

Yesterday I finished the Whole30. It’s basically a program where you eat only whole foods (fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, nuts and seeds) for 30 days to give your body a break and to find out when you re-introduce foods how they make you feel. I’ve been wondering for a long time if dairy makes me feel groggy. We’ll see. :-) The first two weeks were hard, but then I got into a groove and it stopped bothering me. I didn’t even feel like I wanted the stuff I used to, and I can now even stomach a cup of coffee black. I think it would be too restrictive to eat like this 100% of the time, but I’d like to eat like this most of the time for the main reason that I got rid of my stupid mind fog. I could get a full night’s sleep and wake up tired — no more of that (except when I don’t actually get enough sleep!). That feeling of walking into a room with a purpose only to get there and wonder what on earth I’m doing there is gone. Some people report big weight loss and lots of energy… I can’t really say that was the case for me, but for the sake of some clarity of mind, I’d be willing to forego a few things.

Laurelin has been growing up. She’s so cute, so clever, and so… challenging. She’s a champion tantrum thrower and a very feisty fighter. I’m sure fighter in her will stand her in good stead one day, but for now they just make her mother bone weary. She’s a lot of fun when she’s not decided that she wants something to go her way. Which is a lot. Unfortunately for her, she has pretty stubborn parents too, so she seldom wins a fight. Maybe she’ll learn it’s not worth the energy soon and give it up, ha. It’s so funny — usually after a major tantrum, when she finally calms down, she’s so tired she needs a nap!

I’ve been thinking. Startling thought, I know. :-)  I’ve been thinking that our modern lives are just too busy, too full of distraction. I took an 18 month break from Facebook a while back, but have been back on it again for a few months, and I’m struck by how easy it is to procrastinate. How short my attention span can be, how I’ve trained myself to skim articles instead of actually reading them and then when it comes to reading real books I catch myself skimming. Bad habits are easy to form and hard to break. It’s not like Facebook is this big stumbling block for me, it just seems like such an apt metaphor for the rest of life. Everyone’s busy with trivial stuff, we’re all busy chasing… what, exactly? I do believe that God created us to work, and to work hard for His glory. I just wish things were simpler and more clean cut, and less busy. Busyness seems to kill joy. I guess it takes a lifetime to figure out how to find a healthy balance in it all.

I’ve been reading Door to Freedom by Jana Kelley, the same author who wrote Side by Side that I reviewed a while back. It was a very enjoyable read, and I’m hoping to post a review of it soon.

I signed Marica and Esther up for homeschooling ice skating classes for the winter, and they’re loving it! There’s also the perk that I get to join in on the other side of the rink. I’m way worse at it than the kids, and have had a couple of pretty hard falls, which makes me afraid of falling again, which in turn doesn’t make one skate very well. I’m gaining confidence, though! It’s a pretty fun way of working a bit of physical activity into the schedule.

You might have noticed I haven’t been posting on a weekly basis recently. Or maybe nobody’s noticed (or they’re relieved!). I don’t have time to blog because I’m sitting on the couch drinking tea and reading People magazine. :-) No, it’s not for lack of wanting to — it’s a matter of getting around it with the few spare hours in the day when the kids are in bed.

One of the things taking up evening time recently is my new role as Gifty Weddings‘ new marketing director. <cough/> We’re trying to push Ben’s little side business a bit more, but I know next to nothing about marketing, so I’m learning on the job. Hopefully I don’t lose us too much money in the process! Hey, if any of you know someone getting married soon who would like the idea of using a gift registry that is not tied to a specific store, please point them to Gifty!

Thus ends my (very) rambling thoughts.