Monday, April 14, 2014

# 3 Three Funny Things

My little Danny Sammy, standing with chin up and hands on hips, often repeats to our Berto, his big bro, "We are dudes!"

Berto taught him this mantra, because although Danny and Ella Boo are fantastic friends who play house all the day long (and terrible enemies), Berto wanted Daniel to know that guys are very different from girls. You know the old saying: they're made of snakes and snail goo and sharp rocks and puppy dog fleas and cool machinery, or whatever that old rhyme says.

So when the girls and I cry at the end of the movie Hachi, and Berto is rolling his eyes and Daniel is looking bewildered and completely insensitive, it's a, "We don't cry...because we're dudes. Right, Daniel?" Same thing goes for squeals over pretty clothes on shopping trips - their mantra is spoken with the same kind of thanksgiving and relief.

And Daniel always responds proudly to his hero, "Yeah, we are dudes!"

One night it morphed into something more in keeping with the times. While putting Danny to bed, I tried to ease Ella Boo's fears about an upcoming, special trip for her uncle's wedding by calling to her, "Mama and Papa will keep you all safe. It's going to be fun, and all you girls are going to be flower girls. Just think about that!"

"All of us?" asked Daniel.

"You're not a girl, Danny!" replied Booey from the other room, giggling.

"No," he said. "We're going to be flower dudes!"

**************************

We pray Our Father in the car on the way to school each morning. During one hard week I added a personal plea of, "And may God help Mama to understand, because I feel like I have no understanding, so may he help me grasp some truth!"

And Analisa said simply and immediately, "Jesus is the truth."

"Oh, Ana..."began Berto in typical exasperation.

"No, you know what?" I interrupted cheerfully. "That may be just what God wanted me to hear this morning. Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the life. And he also said out of the mouth of babes!"

"Out of the mouth of babes?"

"Yes, Berto - like children, babies."

"Oh!"

I started laughing. "Berto, you thought Jesus meant out of the mouth of hot chicks?"

He grinned at me

I merrily laughed it up all through car line. God had blessed me with a simple answer and humor through my children. It was going to be a brighter day.

***************************

We're getting ready to paint our house for the first time in eleven + years. There's just one problem.

Handprints.

There are muddy handprints all over the storage cupboards above the back patio. Years ago, on a post-rainy day, Berto and Ana stuck their hands in the fresh, lovely mud in the yard, and with not a papa or a mama in sight, they went up and down the back wall of the house and the cupboards, laughing and laying down their childish signatures in brown, gooey, prolific glory.

We heard them, and we caught them red-handed. Matthew wanted to be mad but couldn't, because I started giggling and became infatuated with the little handprints as their sheepish faces looked up at ours. I somehow convinced Matthew not to attempt to wash them away. They dried in the brutal desert heat, becoming frozen in time.

Our friend Ryan, a painting contractor, left these clay marks of childhood alone the day he power-washed our house. Yet he and my husband warned me that we need to paint those cupboards, or they will stick out like a sore thumb on our newly painted home.

Our house has aged. Berto and Ana have grown. But those handprints haven't changed. Every once in a while I notice them and smile.

So I'll take a picture. Then we may have all the kids dip their hands in the green trim paint and sign the cupboards afresh. Because, hey, if I ever achieve sanctity (which is about as likely as my kids remaining children forever), I might become the Patron Saint of Grumpiness as Berto suggested, but I'm also a good candidate for the Patron Saint of sentimental fools.


This post was based on Clare Law's blog, Three Beautiful Things. I always enjoy visiting her site, because I never fail to be reminded to enjoy each day and to take the time to relish all the silly, cute, sweet, unusual and beautiful things my kids do. It's all about accumulating the laugh lines and the memories.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Watch Your Kids ALWAYS Around Water: A Lesson Learned

It's that time of year again. Arizona ranks behind only Florida in the highest number of child drownings each year in the US.

I live in Phoenix, and it is very difficult to find a home without a pool. My husband and I know this, because we set out to find a pool-less home when we moved to this dusty town, and one time as we were considering moving to a larger home (ha!), that is what we looked for again: no pool. It was a serious challenge.

Why did we not want that luxury? Because they are hugely expensive to maintain and serious water hogs. Also, there are a multitude of public pools here. But the most vital reason was because I was absolutely terrified that I would one day get distracted, and one of my children would manage to get to the pool unsupervised.

I was terrified. I still am. I've read the stories, Just today I read an article from Sunday's newspaper about a non-profit, water-safety-awareness group started by a mom whose son drowned in the family pool. She didn't think it could happen to her, even though she had read the stories, too. Now she does everything she can to let parents and children know that it CAN  happen, but it positively CAN  be prevented.

Even though our family took the precaution of having just a simple backyard, knowing my easily distracted nature, it can still happen. It almost did happen to us at a pool party.

We went to an end-of-season party for my son's football team. The party was being held at the home of one of the families. They had a pool with no fence or gate. I was nervous right away. I always am, because my kids, although having taken swim lessons with the city, do not have the opportunity to practice swimming at home. Our youngest two do not technically know how to swim yet. They have learned only basic water safety while overcoming their fear of water.

I knew what I would do. I would go in my bathing suit even if I was the only parent to do so. I would sit by the pool the whole time, my youngest within arm's reach. I would follow those kids everywhere, and if one of them ventured out of sight for even an instant, I would look toward the pool first.

But I made an error. My husband and I decided to bring an inflatable dragon pool toy, one which we very rarely used, to the party for the kids.

This is a good time to point out how dangerous inflatables are for kids who do not swim on their own.

Of course, we forgot it in the car, but then I remembered, mentioned it to my husband, and then the kids started to beg for it. Matthew, circumspect man, said that they didn't need it, that I shouldn't get it because they had been having fun without it. But my whole dumb idea was to say, well...why did we bring it then?

I wish I had listened to my husband, because, apparently, the reason we brought it was so that I could, through my own foolish pig-headedness, be taught a valuable and frightening lesson.

I made the kids get out of the pool and follow me to the car. Then we went back to the backyard, and someone blew up the toy for us. Danny Sammy stayed on the pool steps. I shoved in the large inflatable dragon, and Ana or I helped her little sister Ella onto it. Right when it reached the middle of the pool, the damn thing capsized, and my little daughter splashed into the pool beside her swimming big sister.

I stood up. Ana grabbed her little sister and tried to force her up back onto the bobbing dragon. I don't remember doing anything useful in those terrible, slow moments except for yelling at Ana to grab Ella.

Good heavens, can you imagine? Why didn't I just jump in?

My beautiful, extraordinary and slender daughter Ana kept her younger sister afloat and attempted to swim her to the pool edge. Finally, my heart slapped my brain awake; I kicked off my shoes and jumped in to save my precious daughter....or should I say daughters?

I didn't realize that the water was deepest there in the middle; I couldn't touch the bottom. It caught me completely off guard as I grabbed Ella and tried to keep our heads up out of the water. I finally shoved her over and onto the lip of the pool and pulled my own self out.

And all I could say was thank you, thank you to my Ana girl over and over and apologize to Ella as my soaked cover-up and hat dripped about me.

***********************

I have my penance to pay, because when Ella remembers that terrifying incident, she doesn't recall Mama jumping in to save her at the last moment so much as she remembers her big sister keeping her afloat for what seemed to all of us like an eternity.

It broke my heart one time when I reminded her that I had in fact pushed her out at last, and she said, "No, uh-uh - Ana saved me."

"Ana did save you," I agreed. "And I'm so grateful to Ana for keeping you afloat. I wish I had just jumped in right away instead of hesitating. Why did I hesitate? But I did finally jump in and push you out, remember?"

"No, Ana saved me," she reiterated, shaking her head and crossing her arms.

Berto, irritated, lectured Ella. Ana looked around at us with her sorrowful, soulful, saint-like face and gently tried to get Ella to see what Mama had done, too. But what can I say? I deserve no recognition. It was all my fault in the first place.

And I can only thank God with my whole heart that Ella was not seriously harmed by my foolishness and slowness. She will always remember her big sissy holding her up in that deep, unforgiving water, and I will always remember the lesson I learned.

So, please: whether you live in Milwaukee, San Diego, Tampa or Phoenix, please, please watch your kids around water at all times. Enroll them in swim lessons. And don't ever use inflatables for children who don't know how to swim.


The scary tale of how a very dear family friend almost drowned as a preschooler is found in The Hand-Dug Pool And The Day I Drowned

For the story of how my big sister Annie saved me from drowning in our flooded creek, click
HERE.




Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Selfish

Tonight I finally made the muffins I've been meaning to mix up this whole week.

Not too many years ago, whenever my husband Matthew left for work, he always had a little baggie with some homemade goodie in it to take to work. Eating breakfast at his desk, other managers would find him, perhaps hoping for leftovers but always astounded by the fact that his wife would do such a thing for him each week.

"You're spoiled," they told him enviously.

I suspect my man just felt well-loved.

It's not surprising that acts of service is one of the languages illustrated in Dr. Gary Chapman's book The Five Love Languages. I recall reading a while back that it is a common one with men. They feel loved by an evening meal all ready when they walk in the door, a pot of coffee when they wake up in the morning, their favorite blueberry muffins to snatch on the go.

Sigh. I want to speak this love language, but I have a speech impediment called selfishness.

With each baby born into this family, the chance of a morning pastry became slimmer and slimmer. Yes, I was busy for quite some time with those little ones and royally exhausted, but now I think I don't bake as often because there are other things I would rather be doing: reading, studying, writing, and cleaning.

And that evening meal? Blah. I have never loved to cook savory food. I am not enchanted by new recipes I find on the Internet. I would be enchanted by eating them, because I love consuming interesting food, buuuut....if I were left to my own devices, if every man in this house had to fend for himself, I would likely have for dinner each night what I have for breakfast most mornings: cocoa with whole grain toast. I am not picky. I am a grazer, and if anything can save me from actually cooking (not baking, mind you), then it sounds good to me.

Selfishness.

As for that pot of coffee, I do indeed try to be good about that. But there has been many a morning when Matthew has woken up and asked, "What? No coffee?" I may have actually remembered to wash the pot and pour in some water, or I may have put coffee into the filter while waiting for water to drain through our pitcher, but somehow I didn't get the job done. And if by sure luck, a trick of the mind, I have completed all the steps, I will then forget to actually pour him a cup of coffee. Then, when I see him get up, I will attempt to bulldoze him out of the way to be the one to pour just so I can have the credit for being so loving.

Let me tell you, the guilt is killing me.

My kids know how to lay on guilt, but my man does it just as well.

And, honestly, I know it; I'm selfish.

When I am writing and my kids come to me for just a drink of water, I get irritated. If I am reading and studying, puzzling over some issue I'm trying to resolve or some newspaper article, I do not like to be disturbed, so I get very snippety at a mere question. When I am cleaning or cooking, and the kids ask me to play, I want to cry, "Why do you think God blessed you with siblings!"

Brother, I'm selfish. I feel burdened by it, convicted by my full awareness of it. But I don't know how to escape this nasty craving for time and peace and creativity and mental stimulation all for myself. And where in the name of all that is green on this green earth can I find that blasted balance? I want to feel good about what I am doing at every single moment - writing, reading, cleaning, being silly with my kids (though, actually, I usually feel good when doing that). I do not wish to feel that I should in fact being doing something better and for someone else, more noble and loving than what I have chosen. I'm guilty.

One day while beating myself in the head with a cheese stick during my Danny Sammy's post-nap tantrum, I complained to God, "This job is so aggravating (motherhood) - ag-gra-vat-ing! Why is it so hard?"

Then I felt a gentle but firm nudge to look at my blessings, to look at the healthy children and food and love that fill this house, and I promptly prayed, "Father, I'm sorry. Never mind. Thank you for all we are blessed with."

Damn, I have it good! Why am I so selfish?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Quick Takes: Daniel is Four, Faith and Giving

"He's not ready for that!"

Daniel just turned four a couple of weeks ago, and as I watched my husband take the training wheels off his bike, my gut reaction was to blurt out those words.

I shouldn't have said them, because I was wrong. Matthew placed our littlest guy on his small bike and gave him a push, and Danny Sam pedaled forward with a smile and no inhibition. I may not have been ready, but he was. He may still have some trouble negotiating the turns and getting started on his own, but the boy is indeed learning to ride a big boy bike. And he just began Sunday!

****************

Beware of saying the words, "I have to go to the bathroom," in this house. Danny will start singing to you:

When you have to go
Stop!
And go right away
Flush and wash
And be on your way!

He learned it from Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood on PBS. I don't mind, really, because I love PBS. (I joke that I've raised my kids on PBS - hours and hours of it.) He also loves the Special song and the one that encourages, "Keep trying - you'll get be-et-ter!" I miss Mr. Rogers; I'm glad they found a way to bring him back to us.

****************

I've discovered a lot of great blogs lately, this one just this morning. The writer is a Catholic mother from the Newtown community. Her life, the lives of everyone in that community, was changed by the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary, and she decided to write more openly about her faith. I love her post today: Living by Faith. I am often a fearful person, and I do not have the reason to be fearful that so many do. I find that whenever I feel hampered by my fears, I am able to move outside their influence primarily because of my faith.

Speaking of faith, Jennie from A Lady in France regularly writes faith posts on her blog. I don't always agree with her completely, but I like her courage and appreciate her knowledge of scripture. Today on her post, On Being Good, she is helping to raise awareness of a non-profit that sprang from a beautiful collection of stories by grieving mothers, to which she contributed, who have lost a child: Sunshine After the Storm, Inc. They are working toward donating 100 copies of the book to hospitals and bereavement groups on Mother's Day and are accepting donations now. Please consider giving. I think it is a beautiful idea brimming with love for our fellow mothers. To find out more about this campaign, please visit Jennie's blog through the above link.





Friday, March 21, 2014

My tender moment of pride and guilt

We took our girls shopping for fancy clothes to wear for spring school pictures a couple nights ago.

I, their personal shopper for an hour, ferried clothes to them. You would think we never take those little ladies shopping. Regularly as I draped a new wardrobe change over the dressing room door, my daughter Analisa gushed to her little sister Ella, "Oooh, Booey, look at this!"

They were so noisy in their exuberance that Matthew had to retreat to a safe, manly distance after attempting several times to quiet their loud, happy exclamations over bright-colored dresses and shirts. And, of course, Booey wanted Ana to try on matching outfits.

Ana tried on an absolutely splendid dress in her perfect shade: an indigo top with a flowery-patterned skirt. Our tall, slender girl loved it, and her Papa and I loved it, but the length would not do, at least an inch too short on her long legs. When she tried a larger size, however, it gaped badly under the arms and about the chest.

Yet Ana did find one outfit she adored which fit wonderfully: a tie-dye jumpsuit. When she tried it on, I'm pretty certain her papa staggered back a few steps to adjust his eyes because of the explosion of color against her tan skin, but I loved it almost as much as she did. I remember what it was like to be a little girl in love with color. My parents regularly bought me multi-hued canvas sneakers in elementary, and I wore a pair of bright green pants in junior high and a chartreuse turtleneck in high school despite some unkind feedback from others.

Booey's dress, the one that she flipped head over heels for right when we entered the store, was a riot of flowers and fuchsia, orange, indigo and green. Because Ana could not have the dress she wanted, I brought her one to match Ella's which made them both happy as they paraded out together.

They both knew exactly what they were going to wear for picture day, were ecstatic, so it should have gone smoothly.

Well, blame me for obsessing over details; I excel at it!

After I helped Booey with her signature pigtails that morning, getting the part at back just so-so, Ana asked me if she could wear her hair down today.

"Yes, I guess so...."

Then it struck me that in all her sports pictures, her long hair hangs straight and unadorned behind her back. No, I thought, let's do something special, put a flower in her hair, make it a tropical day. But she said no to braided pigtails, so I suggested a side ponytail over which we could pin a big white flower in her shiny locks.

She was skeptical, but I swooped it around, the silky strands trying to escape my fingers as I labored to smooth out all the bumps. When it was finally done, she tilted her head this way and that in the mirror, but didn't grin and flirt with her reflection as Booey does when her pigtails have just the right bounce and curl. When I asked if Ana liked it a little later, she replied, "Yeah...I like it."

I love and admire my sweet and sensitive daughter, but if she doesn't like something, you're probably not going to hear it from her lips - at least not in the words; you have to read the face and the tone and try not to get irritated if you feel she's not being straight with you to spare your feelings.

I removed the ponytail and told her to try a soft headband with the flower. Then just the flower. Neither looked right, so I asked her what she liked best.

"The side ponytail," she answered.

So I sighed and attempted to brush that hair back into shape, but my son couldn't find the holder when I asked him to fetch it, so I barked, "Alright, Ana, come on. Let's go!" And I held onto that ponytail as we marched down the hall.

That's when my son got mad. His face was stern as he spoke up, "I don't think that felt good. I bet it hurt."

"What? Me pulling Ana down the hall while hanging onto her ponytail?"

He nodded, arms folded. I made some silly joke, and Ana asserted that she was pulling me, but Berto still stared at me with accusatory eyes.

That righteous flame only intensified when I couldn't get the ponytail back into submission and gave up in full-fledged irritation, saw that we would now be tardy for school, and realized I had still to pack the fruit for my kids' lunches. I then vocalized my feelings, because I don't know how to keep anything bottled up - ever.

Yes, I vocalized loudly all the way to school - not yelling, mind you - just obnoxiously expressing my feelings and stating the obvious about being late and Ana's hair hanging straight as usual, same as every other picture.

"You should have let me fix her hair," said Berto. "I would have spiked it all up like mine into..."

"You mean you would have cut it off?" I interrupted. "That would have been something different at least!"

I glanced in the rearview. "I'm joking, Ana! I'm just joking."

No response, face turned toward the window.

"Ana, I'm just joking. Are you okay?"

"Yeah...I'm fine."

I sighed and turned and saw Berto's grim, blazing eyes of truth and judgment on me.

"Mama's just stressed," I began my defense speech. "I should have just let you wear you hair down, Ana. Your hair is beautiful as it is, unadorned, but I got stuck on the flower. And I thought it looked like a Hawaii girl."

"Hawaiian girls wear their hair down. All the Hula dancers have their hair down," interjected Berto.

 "I meant the flower to go with the outfit," I replied. "Look, I should have just let it go. We didn't have time to mess around anyway, and it's not just about what I want. It should be about looking natural....what you want, too. And now we're running late."

At school I tried to wish my kids goodbye with false cheer waxed over my guilt for ruining a perfectly good picture day when my kids - for once - actually get a chance to wear their own special clothes instead of school uniforms.

"What, Berto?" I asked, hoping to wipe that look from his eyes as he left his seat.

"You're going to make her cry," he said and stepped out.

Booey bounced out in her dress, eager to go, and then Ana came from the backseat and, sure enough, her eyes were moist.

"I'm sorry, Ana," I said. "Just enjoy your day. Mama was wrong. Your hair looks beautiful as it is."

"I know," she answered gently as she backed away. "I just don't like stressing you out. And then I get stressed out."

"No, it's mama...I love you!" I called desperately.

I had to pull forward with my guilt to make room for the other stressed-out parents in cars behind. On the way home, I noticed I had forgotten to give Booey her money for the photographers, and I felt relieved. I went home and finally combed my own hair, turned around, and entered the school office. The front office lady called Ana from her class for me, thereby preventing me from barging into her classroom with showy emotion.

I hugged my eldest girl and stroked her long hair and asked if anyone had complimented her on her outfit. Then I told her to enjoy her day in her colorful, unique clothes and let it go and think of being in Hawaii; she would be beautiful as always. I hugged her long and sent her on her way.

At lunch I told my husband about how Berto - the boy I had just lectured the previous afternoon for discouraging Ana, so often hurting her feelings, and not giving her enough credit and support - had stood up to his tyrannical mama for his sweet Ana's sake in order to protect her sensitive soul from their mother's selfish, compulsiveness, controlling nature.

"I was proud. It was a tender moment," I said. "And it would have felt good if I hadn't felt so guilty about it."

Matthew laughed.

In the evening Ana came to me and thanked me for coming to see her at school.

"Did it help?" I asked

"Yes," she said brightly and smiled.

I hugged her tight. That's all I wanted, the chance to make it better.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thoughtless Betrayal

This week my brain betrayed me again, and I've got the bruise on my thigh to prove it. I wasn't injured seriously, of course - that would spoil the game - but enough and in so ludicrous a fashion that any bystander couldn't help but laugh.

Normally, you understand, the two of us get along quite well, my brain and I; the command center has only my best interests in mind. Then there are times when I slam my own fingers in the sliding glass door. After I am done making incoherent noises that sound something like pig-Latin cursing, I say out loud, "Really?! How does that happen?"

How does it happen, indeed! Slamming someone else's fingers in a door is an honest mistake, but it's a rudimentary thing for my brain to advise my own fingers to remove themselves before a glass door trundles into them. There is either a leprechaun up there pushing buttons (as my brother always suggested), causing glitches, or I am hitting a snooze button inadvertently during some simple but necessary action.

I once...or twice....or, uh, a few times, tried to move a cookie sheet, fresh out of the oven, with no protective mitts, systematically killing the nerves in my hands. How does that happen?

Several times I've stood up into an open cabinet door, the one I just left open, scarring my back in a couple places. How does that happen?

Just two weeks ago I rounded the corner into the laundry room, shoving open the door, and planted my face square into the door jamb as I turned. Dear sweet heavens, I HATE having my glasses rammed into my brow and nasal bones - especially by me! And, blast it, my sweet, new spectacles got all bent out of shape. Now, really, and I mean really, how DOES that happen

The latest incident happened a couple of days ago. I was pitching baseballs to my youngest two outside when my daughter Ella decided to set up an old bat, its top missing, as a tee. She placed a hard plastic whiffle ball gingerly on the base of the handle and got ready to hit.

"Hurry up, Ella!" I said, standing right in front of her - not twenty feet away. "I promised to pitch Danny some more balls."

So she wound up and fired that ball at a bazillion miles an hour straight into the soft, fleshy part of my inner thigh (as opposed to the flabby, squashy part of my outer thigh). I immediately doubled over in pain and indignation. Crying out loud, didn't she see me standing right in front of her? Why on earth would she take out her poor mother like that? Couldn't she just tell me to move?

Ella rushed over and kept murmuring, "I'm sorry, Mama. I'm so sorry, Mama," as I stared at the pink half-moon on my leg for a couple moments in outraged silence. Then, quite suddenly, the absurdity struck me, and I began to chuckle, and chortle, and threw my head back in laughter. Ella quickly joined in, slapping her knees in relief.

"I was standing right in front of you!" I cried merrily, breathlessly. "And I didn't even move out of the way!"

And I know exactly what my bemused brain, that eternal mischief-maker, must have been thinking:

Well, lookey there! Wouldn't you know it? The girl has a sense of humor!

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Lady in France


Every great story is a love story.

And every story of conversion is the greatest love story of all.

Today I was talking to one of my dearest friends, Camille, and during the course of our conversation about life, faith, work and family, I found myself alluding to various things I had read in Jennie Goutet's memoir, A Lady in France.

Have you ever read a book and thought, Oh! So-and-so would just love this story! Once finished with a tale, the urge to share it with friends or loved ones or pure strangers is an obvious sign of its value to inspire or entertain. That's why I have a Kelven's Riddle page on this blog, even though the latest book broke my heart (and I relished it). That's why my friend Holly and I bond over Jane Austen novels and Downton Abbey episodes. That's why I've passed Dad's books on to friends and why I told Camille today I would be sending her A Lady in France.

When I think of Jennie Goutet's story, I think of a prayer that I have been praying lately, trying to build trust and courage, Cast me to the wind, Lord Jesus. Of course, I then immediately add, But keep me in the palm of your hand!

I believe Jesus is able to do these seemingly contradictory things, and Jennie's story feels like proof. If anyone has said yes to being cast on the wind, it is she! Yet, if anyone has found herself being sheltered and pulled by God while in strange places and unusual circumstances, it is also Jennie.

I recently commented on her blog, on one of her Monday faith posts which I love, that I have to struggle daily to some degree with my personal fears. In her reply she confessed that she is also a fearful person. You would not know it to read of the many adventures she embarked upon before settling with her growing family in France. The woman said yes to studying abroad in France during college. She said yes to teaching in Taiwan - twice - immediately after graduation. She said yes to ministry in Africa just a few months into marriage with her wonderful French husband.

Of course, willingness to be cast to the wind doesn't consist in being fearless but in being courageous despite fear. Because Jennie said yes to all these challenging and sometimes frightening opportunities and experiences, she is able to take us with her on an exotic journey in her memoir, and she has the great privilege of sharing the compelling stories of those with whom she built community for a time. We connect with these people through her eyes.

We're righteously angry with her first French boyfriend, sometimes appalled by his words and actions and her desire to stick by him. We're surprised by the generosity of her good friends as they all pitch in to pay for her wedding dress when she finally finds a good man who was, as she put it, "not her type". We admire her husband Matthieu, once an atheist, as he walks seven times around Lower Manhattan and prays for a job in fearless imitation of Joshua's march around the walls of Jericho. We mourn for her brother Mark, shocked and deeply saddened by his choice, and ache for Jennie as she recovers from a serious car accident and from her emotionally and physically devastating miscarriage. We love the babies Khadra and Moguay, orphans in Somaliland, whom Jennie tries to nourish back to health. We are inspired by the difficult but blessed work of her friends Malinda, Hannah and Edna for the poor in Africa.

Often people talk about whether a piece of writing is honest - brutally honest - as a way to gage the depth of the piece. Heck, we even recognize it as a way to rate humor. And, of course, we are absolutely right to do so. Only when a writer is heart-rendingly honest can readers say, I've been there!, or I thought I was the only one who felt like that!, or Oh my gosh, I can't believe she is telling me this! Wow...

And, after all, what is a memoir for if not to lay your heart bare to your readers, if not to share the saddest, most desperate periods of your life and the grandest, most joyful triumphs? Jennie does this with humor and humility and with superb storytelling. I knew Jennie could write from reading her blog, but I was astounded by the elegance of her writing in this book, and, I'll confess, at times I was amazed by what she revealed. Things that she had hinted at in pieces on her blog are absolutely exposed here, and we appreciate being admitted to her world even if it makes us cringe, weep, almost faint or want to yell, "Stop wasting your time on that man!"

What do I love most about this book? It is a story of conversion, of spiritual awakening. I eat up faith stories, and the best ones are often told by those who tried very hard to eschew God for some time. In the end they are the best witnesses, I believe. He calls and keeps dialing no matter how many times they hang up, but what happens when they finally answer, like St. Augustine or C.S. Lewis, is always extraordinary and encouraging, miraculous. Jennie found God in an appreciation of Scripture, and though the words "the Living Word" may seem foolish to those who do not have such an appreciation, Jennie illustrates just how God's Word speaks to us throughout the ever-changing circumstances of our lives as she opens each chapter with a beautiful verse that shines light on her personal revelations.

So how does Jennie go from a little girl who feels God's presence and invites Jesus to lay down on her pillow beside her to a young woman who can't bear the idea of religion to a wife and mother who, once settled in France (the place she felt she was destined to be), hosts weekly Bible studies and monthly home church? Well, you must read A Lady in France to find out, and I hope you will be inspired and amazed by Jennie's story - just as I was.