Monday, August 30, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 7-9

Happy Monday! This week is going to be a zoo for me because the Baarts are moving! We're so excited. :) In fact, I was able to get into our new house this morning and begin painting and moving some boxes in. Though we don't officially move until Saturday, it's going to be a week-long process because we didn't just buy a new house, we are actually swapping houses with the family that bought our house. Crazy, eh? And not only are we trading homes, but the people who we originally bought our current house from have bought it back. Are you following me? It's quite the story--very exciting and smudged with God's divine fingerprints. We couldn't have dreamed this up if we tried!

At any rate, I'll be taking a break from blogging for the rest of the week as we endure the final push to get into our new house. I'm exhausted... And it's only Monday. But I had to blog today because I am so excited to talk about this section in our book. Chapter 9 (How Jason Saved His Family) contains one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. Ever. I think it encompasses the complexity of the human condition (at least, the condition of the humans inhabiting most of North America) and our longing for something more. At our core we long for meaning. I believe that heart and soul...

So. I'm dying to know. Did Jason's story hit you as hard as it hit me? How many of us have lived Rachel's life? We're not bad people, we're just "choosing the best story" available to us. We want to be pursued, wooed, adored, wanted. We want to be a part of a grand adventure. And when our experiences fall short we try to manufacture feelings and excitement from things that will not (cannot) satisfy. I love how Miller puts it: "I pictured his daughter (Rachel) flipping through the channels of life, as it were, stopping on a story that seemed the most compelling at the moment, a story that offered something, anything, because people can't live without a story, without a role to play." Wow.

By the end of the chapter, Miller's friend Jason was able to say this about his daughter: "She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while." Wow again.

Like last week, I'm not going to eulogize the book. Instead I'll open up the discussion... Have you ever lived a role simply because it was better than nothing? What is the best story available to you right now? Have you ever forgotten who you were? What caused you to remember? Of course, you can always talk about what stood out to you in these chapters. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Beneath the Night Tree

I'm so excited to finally be able to share with you the cover for my new book! Isn't it gorgeous?

From the back cover copy:

I have thought about you every day for the past five and a half years...

I'm sorry...

Do I have a child?

Julia DeSmit knew she would face the question eventually, but she didn’t expect it now that she is finally content with the way her life has unfolded. A single mother to her son and younger brother, she cherishes living with her beloved grandmother and is hoping to be engaged to Michael Vermeer—the man of her dreams—by year’s end.

Then a cryptic e-mail from her son’s father spins her world off axis. She hasn’t heard from Parker since he left her in a college parking lot without a backward glance. But one look at her son—the spitting image of his father—is enough to convince her that, for better or worse, Parker is a part of their story.

Faced with this new reality and the potential unraveling of her unorthodox family, Julia begins a tightrope walk between what was, what is, and what she hopes for in her sanctuary beneath the night tree.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dissecting Harry Potter

Last week I shared a few of my recent favorite reads and swooned a little about J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. (Yup, I've read all seven books several times and I still get a bit weak-kneed. Crazy, I know.) Anyway, Bina asked: What your take is on Harry Potter as a pastor's wife?? I hear SO many conflicting arguments about the series from Christian groups...and I just wonder what you think :)

Good question. 

Believe it or not, this is not the first time I've blogged about Harry. You can read my original Harry Potter post here. I think it will give you a lot of insight into why I like the series. But there are more reasons why I not only don't have a problem with the Harry books, but actually deeply enjoy them and have every intention of reading them aloud with my kids when they are an appropriate age.

There are a lot of people who probably think I'm nuts. I've heard everything from "Harry Potter is Satanic" to "J.K. Rowling is a Nazi." Huh? Anyway, I'm not even going to justify those arguments by trying to denounce them. Nor am I going to launch a lyrical defense of Rowling's books. Frankly, I'm too sleep deprived. Instead, I'm going to keep my reasons short and simple.

I think the Harry Potter series is harmless, entertaining, emotive, and filled with love, truth, and beauty. I don't believe it beckons young people into a life of witchcraft and wizardry any more than The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe entices children to climb into dressers in the hope of entering a new world. Nor do I think J.K. Rowling intended to do anything other that write a good story. I don't believe there are underlying messages or insidious themes. But I do believe that her books strike a deep chord in the hearts of her readers, and there are many times throughout the long series that she truly does a breathtaking job of pointing out the power of love and the human need for justice, mercy, and goodness.

That said, I do think that as with any book (ANY book), parents should know what their kids are reading and be involved in the process. Books like this are ripe for great conversations with your kids and have the potential to make inroads that might not have been opened if not provoked by "controversial" material. Read it. Talk about it. Engage.

Okay, enough from me. What do YOU think? Disagree with me? I'd love to hear what you have to say...

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 4-6

I promised to blog about Donald Miller's book on Mondays and I'm just squeaking this post in! I'm rusty at this blogging thing... Not to mention very, very busy. Have I mentioned that the Baart family is moving next week? Have I mentioned that I hate packing? Well, we are and I do. But I can't complain--we're so excited to settle into our new home! It's a pretty incredible story... I'll have to share it with you sometime.

But not now. Now I need to talk about A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Wow. Can I just say I'm loving the dialogue so far? We need a forum or something--in lieu of a face-to-face gab session, I'd love to chat "real time" with you about these issues even if our fingers are doing the talking. Oh well, we're making do, aren't we? You all are awesome.

Today I'm going to keep it short and sweet. The book is speaking for itself and I certainly don't feel the need to narrate. Instead, I'm going to jump right into the paragraph that gripped me this week.

It didn't occur to me at the time, but it's obvious now that in creating the fictional Don, I was creating the person I wanted to be, the person worth telling stories about. It never occurred to me that I could re-create my own story, my real life story, but in an evolution I had moved toward a better me. I was creating someone I could live through, the person I'd be if I redrew the world, a character that was me but flesh and soul other. And flesh and soul better too.

It never struck me until I read this paragraph that the person I am and the person I think I am are not necessarily the same woman. Let me give you an example... Just tonight one of my friends asked to hold my new baby. I happily passed him off, and as she buried her face in his sweet cheeks she murmured: "Oh, you smell just like your mommy." Of course, I assumed she meant he smelled good--maybe like Dove soap and the light perfume I wear. But for all I know she meant my son smelled like sweat and sour milk. How can I know how other people perceive me? In my mind I'm a "good" character. I do nice things, work hard, take care of myself, and yes, even smell decent. I draw a better me no matter the circumstance. But when I think about myself the way the rest of the world must see me, I realize that the life I live is indeed boring. I'm selfish and petty and probably mean. Lacking. I'm not the storybook character I wish I was.

So, here's my question for the day: If you could edit one thing in your life, "dream it all up again" like Ben says, what would you change? How would you redraw your own character to be flesh and soul better?

There are so many things that I would love to do to "better" myself, but I guess if I had to pick just one I would mold myself into the sort of selfless woman that always puts others first. You know the type: quick to listen and slow to speak, always ready with a helping hand, a smile, a meaningful gesture of true compassion and kindness. The truth is, I think about me way too much. I would love to be one of those woman that people are drawn to because of the sincerity of her heart.

How about you? Or, what stuck out to you in these chapters? I'd love to hear what you have to say... 

PS - I forgot to mention how we would proceed with readings. Let's take 3 chapters a week until we finish the book. Next week we'll talk about chapters 7-9. Happy reading!

Friday, August 20, 2010

One Body Update

Want to know what our non-profit has been up to? Check out the video. I made it! I feel like a proud kindergartner showing off her crayon drawing. :)

Have a fabulous weekend! See you on Monday for more conversation on A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Best Breastfeeding Books

Okay, you don't have to read these books while nursing, but I liked the alliteration. Since I'm reading a couple of books a week these days, I thought I'd share my favorites with you.

Best Escapist Romp

The Forgotten Garden
Kate Morton

This is a delicious book. Mystery, romance, and dark secrets... Such fun. I had a bit of a hard time getting into it (too much backstory for my liking), but once Cassandra arrived in England, things really picked up. I also guessed the big plot twist long before the reveal, but the book was so enjoyable I didn't much mind. (Contemporary/Women's Fiction)

Best Page-Turner

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins

I devoured this book. In fact, I stayed up late reading it--and this is no small commendation considering my sleep is short and interrupted these days. It's fast and furious and made me hopelessly uncomfortable... In a good way. Definitely a book worthy of discussion. (Young Adult/Sci-Fi)

Best Tear-Jerker

Niagara Falls All Over Again
Elizabeth McCracken

I bawled over this book. Granted, I'm a little hormonal, but still. It's a beautiful book. Funny and fascinating and bittersweet. Though I didn't think I'd be much interested in the life of vaudeville, I was rapt as McCracked unraveled her story. (Contemporary Fiction)

Best Re-Read

Harry Potter (all of them)
J.K. Rawling

Seriously, do I even have to explain? I'm re-reading the entire series and I'm up to The Goblet of Fire. My heart breaks for Snape just a little more every time. Who's with me? I should start an "I love Snape" fan club... I'm such a sucker for the underdog, the unloved, the left-behind. (Young Adult/Fantasy)

Best Cat-Nap Inducer

One Thousand White Women
Jim Fergus

Okay, I don't mean to be nasty, but I could NOT make it through this book. I so wanted to, but every time I picked it up I started to doze off. I'm sure it's a wonderful book (it sure got enough acclaim!), but my nursing mind was simply not impressed. Maybe I'll try again when my baby is weaned... We'll see. (Historical)

How about you? Any "bests" to share with me? I'd love to hear...! :)

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 1-3

Happy Monday! And what a wonderful Monday it is... We celebrated our baby's baptism yesterday, my in-laws are in town from British Columbia, and the weather is gorgeous. Life is so good. And to make it even better, I get to kick off an on-line discussion today. Oh, I've been looking forward to this. :)

Have you started reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years? Yay if you have, no problem if you haven't. The cool part about this book is you can be a part of the conversation whether or not you've read the chapters. And there are so many levels of application--from personal to professional (i.e. lots of neat insight into creating memorable characters, scenes, and stories), there's something for everyone.

So, here's how we're going to do this. Every Monday I'll blog about whatever struck me in the readings for the day. At the end of the post I'll invite you to answer two questions: one related to my own musings, and one soliciting your responses to the chapters we've read. To be perfectly honest, I'm far more interested in what you guys have to say. Then, throughout the week we'll keep the dialogue going. I promise to respond to every comment. In fact, I can't wait to do so. Without further ado...

Chapters 1-3

From the Author's Note:
"... Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo. But we spend our lives living these stories, and expect our lives to feel meaningful. The truth is, if what we chose to do with our lives won't make a story meaningful, it won't make a life meaningful either."

I'm cheating a bit today by launching our discussion with a quote from the Author's Note instead of one of the chapters we read. But if I had to sum up the book in a couple of sentences, this would be my summary. The first time I read this book those lines floored me. I'm sad to say that I have spent much of my life chasing Volvos. Well, not Volvos exactly, but clothes, home decor, vacations... things. And Miller is right. That makes a crappy story.

There are entire weeks and months and years of my life that would make a terrible story and an even worse movie. I'm convinced that nobody, not even my loving God, would be much interested in my teenage quest for a boyfriend, my college self-absorption, and the almost hedonistic indulgence of my twenties. That's not to say that my life story is entirely meaningless--it's definitely peppered with moments that transcend my own selfishness--but I want more than just a great scene or two. I want to live an epic.

But epics don't happen overnight. They develop slowly, age like fine wine. And they begin long before anyone realizes that they're in the midst of a grand narrative... Which leads us to Random Scenes. In the first chapter Miller laments that his life is little more than a collection of random scenes. And yet, I believe that what we remember about our lives (about ourselves) says something about who we are. What do you remember?

Looking way back, to my childhood and young adulthood in particular, there are two types of memories that stand out. The first is a collection of all the imaginary worlds I inhabited. My cousin and I were best friends and confidantes, and we created vibrant imaginary landscapes that we spent years of our lives perfecting and playing in. From Ancient Egypt to the Midwestern prairies, we lived as queens and handmaidens, explorers and adventure-seekers. It's funny how those memories are crisp in my mind's eye and yet I can't remember the name of my third-grade teacher. The second type of memory is not quite so fond... For some reason, I very clearly remember everything I have done wrong. Every time someone yelled at me or I got in trouble, every time that I was made fun of or teased or hurt. You'd think that those sorts of memories would be repressed, or at least relegated to some far-flung and cobwebby corner of the filing cabinet that is my brain, but instead each incident is meticulously cataloged and made available at the slightest provocation. Anything can bring back those feelings, those ugly scenes. Sometimes it's a scent, a scene in a movie, or a sideways glance. Whatever triggers the memory, the end result is always the same: I'm left feeling exposed, naked. Like one of those dreams when you show up at a party and realize you've forgotten to put on clothes. Yuck.

Okay, so we've begun... This feels like a strange place to stop, but we're building something here. It's going to come a piece at a time. So, I'm going to sign off and leave it to you. It's your turn. Here are my questions for you. Answer one, answer them both, or ask one of your own. It's up to you!

1.) What in these chapters stood out to you? Why? 
2.) What are some random scenes from your life? What do you think they say about you? (In fairness, I haven't answered the second half of this question. I will, in the comment section... But I'd like to hear from a few of you first.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


So this is how I spend my days: lovin' on my baby. And oh, am I ever in love! I'm sure I was like this with my other boys, but somehow in the interim between infants I forgot how head over heels this mommy feels when it comes to a fresh-from-God babe. Bliss. I was made for this.

But I was also made for writing... And I'm back at it! Actually, in spite of my lack of sleep, I woke up in the middle of the night a few days ago with a fully fleshed-out scene playing like a movie reel in my mind. Nothing could be more fun for my author side! I got up and hammered it out as fast as I could. Ever since, it's like a floodgate has been opened. In other words, it's time for me to get back into the swing of things. Slowly, of course. ;)

Anyway, today I would like to issue an invitation... But let me give you a little background first. We only have one TV in our home and it happens to be tucked into the basement. I'm a fresh air and sunshine sort of a girl, so I don't go down there often. Truth is, I'd rather read a book upstairs than watch the tube down. So, you can imagine how many books I've read throughout my month-long maternity leave. I am, after all, nursing. I was planning to write a couple posts highlighting some of the incredible reads that have kept me entertained these past weeks. But there is one book that deserves much more than a quick review.

Have any of you read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller? It's a popular book--I'm certainly not the first to recommend it. But I do recommend it. Highly. In fact, I would dare say that A Million Miles is one of the most influential books that I've read in the past ten years. Yup. It was that transformational. And I want to talk to someone about it... It's not enough to have read it. I want to discuss it.

So why not discuss it here? For the next few months, I'm going to host a sort of book club. Every Monday I'll write a post about a chapter of Miller's book. If you want to pick up the book and follow along, great! If not, I believe A Million Miles offers enough challenge and insight to make participation in our discussions meaningful for even a first time reader of my blog. It's a win-win.

Still not convinced? Let me tell you a bit about the book... From the back cover copy: After writing a successful memoir, Donald Miller's life stalled. During what should have been the height of his success, he found himself unwilling to get out of bed, avoiding responsibility, even questioning the meaning of life. But when two movie producers proposed turning his memoir into a movie, he found himself launched into a new story filled with risk, possibility, beauty, and meaning. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years chronicles Miller's rare opportunity to edit his life in a great story...

Ultimately, I believe this book is about helping the rest of us edit our lives into a great story. I know I've been giving my own story a lot of thought these days. And, if that's not compelling enough, Miller spends a lot of time discussing the concept of story itself. What makes a good story? What sorts of characters are readers drawn to? What makes a tale memorable? Though I didn't expect to glean writing advice from this book, I have to admit I learned a lot about my craft.

So, there you have it. For the next several Mondays I'll be posting (and longing for your comments and interactions!) about A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Get thee to a bookstore and join the fun! Or jump in whenever you feel so led. I hope this turns into a very meaningful, and possibly even inspiring, exercise.

If you plan to read along, let's cover the first three chapters by next Monday (Random Scenes, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, and They Fell Like Feathers). Don't worry, they're not long, and my guess is you'll actually want to keep reading. See you in a week!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sleep deprived...

Okay, I had such high hopes for getting back into the swing of things this week! Sadly, my good intentions did not translate into reality. Why? Because I'm tired. So sleepy... My sweet, little baby has decided that sleep is for sissies--and he's no pansy. I, on the other hand, am a wimp, a loser, a wuss, and yup, a pansy. Mommy needs sleep or mommy doesn't function so well. Thus, no stellar blogging from this drowsy lady. Sorry. :(

Thanks for your patience as I continue to try to get my feet under me! I keep reminding myself that he's only three weeks old... I can't expect him to be sleeping through the night and feeding on a four hour schedule. And when he decides that he needs to nurse every two hours for an entire day, I just need to put my feet up and get comfortable. I'm not going anywhere.

Speak of the honey and the honey awakes... I can hear him squirming around in his bassinet. Gotta go--I know exactly what he wants, and I'm not about to keep him waiting. ;)