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Review: “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In honor of my brother’s birthday, we’re taking a brief break from children’s literature. (I mainly made this decision because I thought I owned The Lightning Thief and I don’t… Whoops!) So instead of looking at the books my brother and I read together as kids, we’re discussing my brother’s favorite grown-up book. How does faith mesh with the American Dream? Time to talk about glamour, green lights, and The Great Gatsby!

Glamour and Green Lights

To be honest, I’ve written so many literary analyses of The Great Gatsby in my life that I could bang my head against the wall. I think that’s why I enjoy bantering with my brother about “old sport” and “boats against the current” so much. After all, the book’s final line is one of the top two Greatest Last Lines of All Time. (I mean, Winnie the Pooh poses tough competition.) As an English major, I love having a book to discuss with my non-reading brother. (When my brother was seven, he told my mom that he didn’t need to know how to read. He was going to be a major league baseball catcher, and he knew enough to read road signs. My mom brilliantly told him that he had to learn to read his baseball contracts. My quick-witted brother didn’t really have any comebacks after that.)

As an aspiring entrepreneur, my brother finds the book’s discussion of the American Dream very interesting. (Of course, he wants to do everything the legal way. None of us want him to wind up dead in a swimming pool.) While the glitz of the rich holds universal appeal, the pitfalls the book portrays help us analyze making money ethically.

Faith in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I can’t say that F. Scott Fitzgerald put any faith-based values in The Great Gatsby. Truthfully, every character behaves corruptly regardless of their social status. Nick holds the most morals of the entire book, and he ultimately flees back to the boring mid-west where he grew up. However, the blatant corruption doesn’t mean the book holds no value to Christians.

While we may not want to emulate the characters in The Great Gatsby, we can certainly learn from their mistakes. Rather than amassing wealth for meaningless grandeur, we can use the fruits of our hard work to help others in need. Instead of seeking extra-marital relationships, we can encourage our family and friends to grow in God’s love. Unlike the cold pomposity of East Egg, we can care about the struggles and joys of our fellow humans because God made them. Truly, Fitzgerald so eloquently portrays corruption that it is easy to learn what not to do.

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Review: “Butterfly Kisses” by Bob and Brooke Carlisle

It’s birthday month for my family. In the span of three weeks, we celebrate four birthdays, one anniversary, any graduations, and whatever else pops up that deserves cake. This week, we start off by celebrating my dad. In honor of his birthday, I wanted to review my dad’s and my special book, Butterfly Kisses by Bob and Brooke Carlisle. So, let’s all pretend we are four again, curl up next to our dads with our favorite blanket, and listen to the story.

Butterfly Kisses

First off, if you were a little girl whose daddy read Butterfly Kisses to you, try reading it as an adult without crying. I dare you. Even if the tears don’t fall, I guarantee you’ll feel a lump in your throat. And honestly, I think that’s the beauty of books like these. The book itself evokes so much love, and the added memory of that time together makes the message even more powerful.

For instance, I always remembered the page where the little girl stands on her Daddy’s toes and twirls around the room like a ballerina. That picture came to my mind first whenever I thought of this book. I remembered that part so well because I loved dancing with my own Daddy. He held my little hands and spun me in circles, and I’d giggle like there was no tomorrow. We created our own memories based on the ones in the book. As I got older, I remember random dance parties with my parents doing jazzy twirls while my brother threw his hands in the air and I did the Peanuts bop. This one page in a “Little Golden Book” now brings with it a slew of happy, laugh-filled memories.

God Our Father

I imagine all of us realized at some point in our lives that our daddys were not perfect. Maybe they snapped sometimes, maybe they didn’t always understand feelings, maybe they worked a little too hard. Some people may have endured much worse situations with their fathers than that. That’s why I love this book so much. Butterfly Kisses portrays the unconditional love we all long for and need. While the book shows idealized human love, it also reflects the perfection of God’s love for us.

Whether or not you had a relationship with your earthly father like the one portrayed in Butterfly Kisses, we can all experience that depth of love through Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus cared deeply for little children, and the Bible often talks about salvation as adoption into the family of God (Matt. 19:14, Eph. 1:3-8). All in all, I highly recommend reading Butterfly Kisses both to strengthen your own relationships and to remember how purely God loves us.

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Writing for Granna

We spent Thanksgiving lunch at my grandparents’ house for the first time I could remember since I was a child. For whatever reason, the holidays got celebrated in the days before or after the day marked on the calendar, or my grandparents would stop at our house on the way to see other family, or someone had moved or changed schools and it was easier not to leave town. This year, my mom and I really wanted to spend it further south, so we packed up our respective families (minus the cat) and drove two hours to the Quad Cities.

When I walked in my grandparents’ house, I didn’t remember the narrow galley kitchen being blue. I recognized the blue living room and den, but my mind expected the darker colors from twenty years ago. Both my mom and grandfather tilted their heads when I asked how long the kitchen had been blue. “It was all painted at the same time,” they said. “Granna turned on a light under the cabinet to make it brighter.”

I washed my hands in the kitchen sink and tilted my head to look through the window into the added-on sunroom. I remembered sitting on the couch with my brother and grandfather playing Spyro or Ratchet & Clank on the Playstation. Granna would be fixing sandwiches in the kitchen, or washing dishes, or frying chicken for our picnic supper, and she would lean through the window to tell us we were doing a great job or that food was ready. We would lean forward and wave, and sometimes I ran to the sink to imagine what the window looked like from Granna’s view.

Despite feeling like I was straddled two decades in a single moment, my brother and I laughed at the ceiling fan chain hitting us in our foreheads. We had been so proud to grow tall enough to reach it with the tops of our heads, and now we had to pay serious attention not to whack it when we walked through the middle of the room.

We finally all settled in front of the tv to drift off in a turkey-induced dream or zone out to the random and somewhat confusing movie on the screen. Granna sat at the dining room table and asked me across the room how my writing was going. I told her about my blog and how I was working on my book.

Granna smiled and nodded. “There’s a woman at church who writes books,” she said. I told her I remembered hearing about the author. “What I like about her books is the same thing I like about your writing. Your books aren’t over complicated or deep; I can relax when I read them. I can’t keep up with all those multiple storylines like I used to. I just want books I can relax to.”

Granna then told me the story of her struggles to learn to read in 1st grade and her transformation to a teacher when reading clicked. I nodded; I had heard the story before. More than this story, her earlier comment was circling in my head. I just want to read to relax. I had spent so many hours in college studying literature and feeling sheepish for writing simply that I never realized the reason I wrote that way in the first place. I wrote because I wanted to help people relax, to give them an escape where they could process emotions through catharsis and feel a little more hopeful when they finished.

Before we left, my grandfather ran to a shoe box and pulled out a handmade star ornament. “I want you to have this, an ornament for your first Christmas tree.” I held the slim piece of glass in my hands and felt my heart swell. I knew my grandfather had spent a lot of time choosing the best pieces of glasses and soldering the pieces together. I also knew I would be putting it at the top of my tree when I decorated the day after Thanksgiving.

As I held the ornament in my hands on the drive home, I decided I would no longer feel guilty for not writing complicated literature. I would write well, yes, and use all I knew to make the words true and round and engaging. But my Granna needed stories she could relax to, and so did someone else’s Granna or Meemaw or Grandma. I couldn’t fail these ladies who poured their hearts into teaching children to love reading, who still devoured books to cope, who read to keep their minds sharp. I love them too much not to write for them.

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In Honor of Father’s Day

My first memory is riding in the backseat of our Pathfinder while my dad drove. He was wearing his purple college track jacket that reflected the sunlight coming through the windows. My baby brother had been born, he told me. We were going to see Mommy and my new brother at the hospital.

I also remember being buckled into the front seat of his sports car later that year. It was just the two of us, and he slid the passenger seat as far back as it would go so my car seat wouldn’t put me too close to the air bag. Daddy drove us up and down the mountain while the trees and rock blurred around us. The engine revved when he hit the gas to glide up the hill.

Fourteen years later, my dad went over the contents of the truck’s console before I drove it by myself for the first time the next day. He left some pennies and dimes in change, just in case I ever needed them. He left the gold medallion representing the patron saint of travel. He had kept it in his car since he started driving. This time, he thought I might need it. I touched the dingy gold where it rested in the console, then closed the cover.

This past week, I bought my first car. Daddy went over all the details with me and made sure everything was signed in my name. Then it was time to transfer my belongings from the family truck to my new crossover. I left the patron saint in the truck, but I transferred the angel charm I had bought after I called him in a panic one night when I made a wrong turn. I was going to leave the change, too, but my dad scooped up the pennies and left them on my bed that night. I dropped the change in the bottom of my new console so I could carry a little bit of my dad’s provision with me every day.

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In Honor of Mother’s Day

Sunday night at small group, the leader asked us to share a memory of our mothers.

The question had pestered me for a week, ever since I had decided to write my first blog post in a year for my mother. How could I summarize a lifetime in 300 words or less? What single memory did justice to the unconditional love that got us through any situation?

I think I gave myself an impossible task. But as I filtered through snippets of memories, I remembered her room-filling laugh that echoed wherever she found a friend. I remembered her warm arms wrapping around my shoulders and rocking me when I felt empty and alone. I remembered the numerous phone calls when I felt like my insides would swallow me, and she would say, “Breathe,” until the world felt a little smaller.

I remembered all the gooey chocolate chip cookies she would bake when we had emptied the house of our usual desserts. I remembered the smell of coconut and pineapple steaming out of her bathroom to remind her of her “happy place” at the beach. I remembered the heat of a bowl of popcorn when she would mix it with M&Ms and mini-marshmallows for movie night.

Of course, there were moments when one’s sideways comments would make our heads fill with fury. We made each other cry at times, and not the happy tears that followed a scribbled note or a small bag with an uplifting quote on it. But I also remembered my mother praying with me, and I remembered her faith that God always knew what was best for me, even when I didn’t quite believe it myself.

So I decided that I could not distill my mother into a single representative memory. She was too much a part of everything around me for that.