Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Review: Sparkly Green Earrings

Author: Melanie Shankle, from The Big Mama Blog
Publisher: Tyndale House
Pages: 240

Sparkly Green Earrings is a memoir written by my favorite blogger, Melanie Shankle, author of the Big Mama Blog. I started reading Melanie's blog around 2008, but eventually went back and read every post she ever wrote.

Much of Sparkly Green Earrings, was familiar to me from reading her blog. However, it was worth reading because she added life lessons and spiritual depth to what might just be a funny story on her blog. Everyday that she posts on her blog I look forward to pulling it up on my computer and reading.

Though I don't know Melanie personally, I have read her blog long enough to know her voice. She wrote her book in the same flippant and entertaining style that she writes her blogs, staying true to her voice and who she is. She is well-versed in pop culture and can always manage to squeeze in a line or two from a favorite song ("well-versed"... get it?) or reference something that has recently happened. (By the way, that was a Melanie-style sentence right there, just in case you needed an example.)

I laughed, cried, my ovaries ached while reading Sparkly Green Earrings.

After talking about the birth of Caroline and the moment she was placed in her arms, Melanie writes, "...like I was looking straight into the face of God. A God who had just blessed us with more than we ever could have imagined."

Prior to this, Melanie had talked about her miscarraige.

She continued, "How amazing that he brings life this way. Through pain and hurt and the ugly things inside us we try to keep hidden away. The things we don't talk about. In that moment, as I looked at my little girl lying in my arms, I realized this whole process was such a striking picture of how Christ works in us. He takes our disappointments, rejections, and hard times, and he makes something beautiful. He creates life and shows us what beauty looks like in places where we look and see nothing.

He blesses us beyond our imaginations, in spite of all the broken roads we've walked. In fact, maybe he blesses us so lavishly because of all the broken roads we've traveled. As if to remind us that he sees us -- really sees us -- not just for who we are at any given moment, but for what we could be one day" (page 46, emphasis mine).

That one had me on my way to an ugly cry, as Melanie calls it. Though I'm not a mother, I am a woman. I am a human. I have disappointments and rejections, and hard times... and I know that God blesses me lavishly. He sees me, not just for the wretched sinner that I am, but for the person he created me to be.

In Chapter 14, Melanie talks about stepping out in faith and leaving her job to be a stay-at-home mom to Caroline. She looks back at times when God has led and how he has always been faithful to her. I can 100% relate to the struggle of knowing that God has been faithful, but being faithless myself at times. But it's amazing how when we exercise that faith, God blesses beyond our wildest imaginations.

As much as this book is about motherhood, it is so much more. This book isn't about Caroline or Melanie. At its core, this book is about learning to trust a God who is bigger than we are. For Melanie, God is teaching her to let go and let him be God through the experience of being Caroline's mother.

In her last chapter, Melanie quotes something that a guest speaker said one mother's day at her church: "When we loosen our grip, he tightens his." That is the essence of Sparkly Green Earrings. It is also what the Christian walk is about -- loosening our grip, and being, to borrow a line from Max Lucado, "in the grip of grace."

There are people who we meet, and people that we may never meet who impact our lives in ways that may never realize until we all get to Heaven and start chatting. Melanie is one of those people who has impacted my life without me having ever met her. I see so much of myself in her. She is real and transparent in her book about some of her insecurities that God is working with her on... and I have those same insecurities at times. Like Melanie, I am an introvert and I have a plan for the way things should be, but just like she is learning, I am learning that God sometimes has other plans. And even if he has other plans, we can ALWAYS guarantee that they are better than ours.

Through reading The Big Mama Blog, and now Melanie's book, Sparkly Green Earrings, I have come to know and understand myself better and trust that I will be a better mother one day for having "known" Melanie. I have always wanted a large family, but because of Melanie I have actually considered that God may only have plans for me to have one child... and that's okay. That would never have been okay with me before. Because of Melanie, I've realized that even now when I don't have children, that it's okay if I feel that it's necessary to sit in a closet ALONE and cry if necessary... or go to my bedroom to get away from people for a while. Because Melanie is so real and so honest about who she is, I have been able to see myself in her and come to know and understand who I am and what I need to function at my best.

If you want to laugh or cry or understand God a little better, I highly recommend Sparkly Green Earrings. And for your daily dose, check out The Big Mama Blog.

You can purchase Sparkly Green Earrings (click the link to go to her webpage about the book) at Barnes & Noble or Lifeway or purchase it online at Amazon. I'm sure it's available in lots of other places too as Sparkly Green Earrings debuted at #27 on New York Times Best Seller's list!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Author: Susan Cain
Publisher: Broadway
Pages: 352

Disclaimer: I received this book for free through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was a great read. Written by an introvert, Susan Cain, who was a quiet and soft-spoken lawyer on Wall Street. Susan had the ability to be a powerful negotiator, not in spite of her introversion, but because of it.

Part One: The Extrovert Ideal
Part one discusses the cultural shift from a society that valued character and integrity to one that valued personality and gregariousness.

Part Two: Your Biology, Your Self?
This section of the book explores physiological and psychological studies done concerning introversion and extroversion to discover how our temperament is an intricate part of who we are.

Part Three: Do All Cultures Have an Extrovert Ideal
This section looks at other cultures and what their “ideal” temperament is considered by society. It especially focuses on the Asian culture and the value that they place on thoughtful study and meditation rather than socialization.

Part Four: How to Love, How to Work
This is where the book brings it all home and becomes very practical by giving advice for when you should act outside your temperament and how; how to talk to members of the opposite type and the value in conversations with opposites; and how to relate to your introverted child.

As an introvert myself, I really enjoyed this book. It took me quite a while to get through, though not necessarily because it was boring. I think more because I’ve been spending my time lately on things other than reading. It was a fairly easy read, but still one that I would have to read in sections and then spend a few days ruminating over the information I had learned.

I cannot tell you how many times I have referenced this book recently in conversations with both introverts and extroverts. It has been a very valuable source of insight into my own temperament and the reasons for it. Though I had come to a point that I had learned that I was definitely introverted and that my temperament was normal and ok and a healthy part of who I am and I had learned how I function best and happiest because of my temperament, this book gave me a small push toward stepping out of my comfort zones at times as well. This book also encouraged me that there are many others out there like me and that I AM normal.

I highly recommend this book if you are an introvert, married to an introvert, the parent of an introvert, friends with an introvert, the child of an introvert… or just ever come in contact with an introvert. And considering that introverts make up approximately 1/3 of the people we know it’s safe to say that you have a few in your life.

You can purchase Quiet online at Amazon or from your favorite book store.