Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Revealing of a Man

Look up close
examine every part
draw near, pull back, and don't gloss over
Forget and you might miss
miss the wonder-beauty trapped within
the potential draped in rough.

Take time to wonder at creation
something yet untapped
but trying hard to surface
don't discard the shrouded rock
it's yet to be a David.
A diamond in the rough.

See the forest for the trees
as much as for the sapling
And love fellow man just as Christ
beyond what seems so plain.

So look up close to catch the treasure
then take a large step back
sit back and watch God's handiwork
the revealing of a man.

Emily Bergstrom
August 29, 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015

Christian Hypocrites

You can't go on facebook or anything of the like without running into rampant posts about surfacing accusations of Christian celebrities. I'll get onto idolatry at another time. And to be completely honest, the more articles I read, the more my heart breaks. I read angry comments from other viewers who seem to be loosing their faith in humanity and God right alongside angry Christian defenders who hurl back insults along with the best of them. Some even outright deny the accusations.

To be honest, I can't deny what's happened, some have issued statements confirming the accusation. I wish I could say these people perfectly model the Christian life - but they don't. But I never put much stock in modeling my life after other Christians. The best statement I've ever heard is, "follow me as I follow Christ." And that's the real heart of Christianity and discipleship, even as we encourage one another, we should never look to people as our examples, rather, Christ is the only perfect executer of all that is good - love, grace, justice, peace.

All that leads me to my real point.

While the Christian world mourns it's fallen figure-heads, I think we need to step back from our idolatry and remember that we're all sinners under grace.

And you may or may not know this, but the Church ISN'T A MUSEUM FOR SAINTS. In fact, if we were to try and build one, not one Christian would completely measure up to the standard. In reality, the whole reason we need Christ, is the fact that we aren't perfect. And needing God isn't a one time thing that happens when you accept his gift of grace. I ALWAYS NEED GOD. There's never a moment where I can do life on my own. I'm utterly dependent on him.

If it were just me, I would say and do whatever came to mind. Life would revolve around my happiness - forget taking the time to help the people around me.

Confession: When I forget to read my Bible, when I forget to pray or listen in church - if I hide away and get wrapped up in my own needs and wants - sin gets ahold of my life.

And to be honest - it's embarrassing.

By taking on the title of "Christian," I feel an enormous pressure to live up to the name of Christ. So when sin has a foothold in my life, the only response I have is to hide. To put on a good face, to look "right."

And let's face facts, I can imagine that's pretty similar to the Josh Duggar case.

It's a big lump of shame, hiding and pretending.

But don't we all do that in our own way?

That's life when we forget to depend on Christ for our strength. Our own strength just isn't enough.

So church, let's turn our attention away from these other Christians, and take a good look at our own spiritual lives. Because they are accountable before God, NOT US. And they should never have been your heroes of the faith in the first place. They're just human.

Because Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. We're all a little broken.

But isn't that the whole reason Christ came?

Don't forget to put your trust and reliance on God today.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Swedish Bröllop: Celebrate Heirtage

I love History... I really do. 

And it's not because I like dates and facts. In and of themselves, dates and facts don't have anything of value to offer. But when paired with events, people, memories, traditions... history has quite a bit to offer. 

Something that has meaning and relevance. 

When was the last time you really gave any thought to your heritage? Where your family came from?

I'm often amazed at how much influence heritage exerts. Not just in time honored tradition, but something in the DNA. I can't say exactly what. Or maybe it's patterns... the things we share with children that are passed on from generation to generation. 

But that's a conversation for another day. 

This train of thought began while I was watching an episode of TLC's "Four Weddings. 

Just for quick reference, the basic gist of the show is a competition between four brides who attend one another's weddings and vote to decide best dress, best ceremony, best reception and overall score. The winner gets a luxury honeymoon. 

But anyways...

On the particular episode I was watching, a young lady marrying a Swede happened to be apart of the competition and she made a comment about wanting to include bits of her husband's heritage. This intrigued me, so I got comfortable on the couch and waited for her turn at the alter.

Let's just say, he wore funny clothes, they misused a Dala Horse and the "frog dance" is just another version of the chicken dance.

I was incredibly disappointed.

Let me begin by saying that my family left Sweden 100 years ago and I know more about Swedish wedding traditions than this poor couple... and the groom was born there.

So, to encourage you to pursue learning about your own heritage, I wold like to... no, love to... share some of what is so special about Swedish weddings, or "bröllop."

So here goes.

4 Swedish Wedding Traditions

1. The Coins in the Shoes

 Before a Swedish bride takes a walk down the isle, she receives a gift from her parents. And it's not old, nor new, not borrowed or blue. Actually, she gets money. Sort of. While not worth anything significant, like a dowry, the bride is given a gold coin for her right shoe from her father, and a silver coin for the left from her mother so that she will, "never go without." 

 2. A Crown of Myrtle Leaves

Recently, flower crowns have become all the rage in American weddings, but Swedish brides have been wearing them for years. Most traditions would have it that the bride wears white to show her virginity, but in Sweden, it's the flower crown (sometimes replaced with a real traditional crown). 

3. Three Wedding Rings

 Well men, fork over the cash, because Swedish brides get not two, but THREE rings. The first is her engagement ring, but on her wedding day, she receives two more: one for marriage and the other for motherhood.  

 4. Shouting Vows

Normally someone in any pair has the louder, more dominant personality. But in a Swedish wedding, the couple competes to wear the pants in the relationship. There are typically two ways this one goes: One... whoever says, "I do!" the loudest, or two... whoever crosses the threshold of the church first during the recessional. I'll let you decide which you prefer. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Diamond of the Rockies Series (Kristen Heitzmann)

 I really do love Historical Fiction.

So its on this note, that I'm sharing one of my favorite series (though I do have a few).

If I have to narrow down what makes a book meaningful, enjoyable, and worth reading two dozen times (my record is about 15 times) I would say two things:
Historical accuracy and prose.
Kristen Heitzmann is well known for her Italian characters and suspense novels, but she has put out a few historicals, and her Diamond of the Rockies series is on my top ten list.

That's a hard list to make.

 To be on my top ten, a book has to be a really, REALLY good read. I have standards, you know!

But as I mentioned before, I have a short list of qualities, and my goodness, this series is beautiful - and words can be beautiful.

Just to start, in my own writing, I use this series as a standard. No exaggeration.  Someone once told me that the trick to writing a good historical fiction novel, is recognizing the fact that you're telling a story, not writing a history book. That said, if a historical anecdote is not relevant to the story, it's not necessary.

As a writer, it's SO easy to get sucked down endless holes and lost down rabbit trails of research. One little detail will lead to another so fascinating, it's difficult to resist putting on the page, whether relevant or not. But that's not even half the struggle. The real struggle is finding the perfect way to set the scene - blending foreign concepts into the story without confusing the reader.

 For this reason, I truly admire Heitzmann's style. The way she sets the scene - describing the Sonoma, California of the 1880s as well as the mining town of Crystal Colorado. The cities come alive without sounding unreal. They have a certain grit to them, like you're standing in the world of antiques - but come alive.

I can't exactly put words to it, but something that bothers me about Hollywood and novels, is the unrealistic nature of their settings. the places and scenes feel more fictional and corny than a place and time in history.

Heitzmann brings a bygone era to life, putting texture and taste to history - and I do mean taste. My mouth waters when I read about Carina's cooking. There is nothing quite like a word picture of Italian food.

Even the characters fit into this old world - their language, their clothing, mannerisms, values - it all feels so real. You can't impress modern values on a historical character. Heitzmann however, takes historical values and makes them relevant to the reader. And isn't that the point of history?

But I said I had two things on my short list - here's the second.


Now, let me begin by saying that not all of my favorite books are poetic, metaphoric, and full of symbolism - I don't think that's always the best approach. Instead, Heitzmann enters into her characters and brings their unique perspective onto the page.

Carina Maria Degratia is Italian - a passionate spitfire - small, yet full of emotion. She speaks with her hands, pulls, her heart makes deep, poetic connections to those around her.  
Quillan Shepard is a loner. He's the strong, silent type with a rogue's smile. While extremely protective of every emotion he experiences, he has the heart of a poet, and can memorize entire books upon reading them. 
These two characters come through very strongly whenever they are featured as the POV character. Carina's passion and compassion are almost heartbreaking - moving - as a reader. You heart will bleed. While I LOVE reading Quillan's poignant wording. Like an artist, his thoughts paint word pictures. It's not flowery prose for the sake of it - it's the characters' unique perspectives. And it's beautiful.

On another note, if you are thinking about looking into the series, I would say that even for a Christian novel, consider the fact that the books follow a married couple and the more intimate side of their relationship is discussed (though not shown). Show discretion. I read them for the first time in High School. Make your own judgement.

Still, the moral values in this story are incredibly strong. Interestingly... Carina is Catholic, while her husband's journey is much more protestant. Still, the differences between Catholic theology and Protestant are not strongly emphasized. Carina crosses herself on multiple occasions and seeks advice from the local Father Antoine. Her favorite expression is "Madonna mia!" But much of the salvation content comes from Quillan's conversations with protestant preachers and a close friend. But as a whole, marital fidelity, even in the face of extreme hardship is a core and central theme. Other themes include forgiveness, trust and justice.

This series really is one one my favorites. I hope you'll give it a chance.
"Driven by hope and vengeance, Carina Maria DiGratia leaves her idyllic home in Sonoma, California, for a new life in the mining town of Crystal, Colorado. Though the town has a rough element, Carina is determined that it is the place her dreams will come true. Early on, two men vie for her trust, but neither is what he seems. Will Carina discern the truth in time to prevent tragedy?"
Click here to find in on Amazon (the first book is free on kindle!)
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Click here to find it on Good Reads

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Through Waters Deep (Sarah Sundin)

My first year attending the Mount Hermon Christian Writers' Conference, I met another writer of Historical Fiction - Sarah Sundin. Interestingly enough, that same year, she received, "Writer of the Year" for her book, "A Distant Melody."

I picked up that book, figuring it had to be good if she was awarded for it, and it quickly became one of my favorites. I've been purchasing her novels ever since and I've yet to read a book of hers I didn't like.

"Through Waters Deep" arrived in my mailbox about a week ago. And honestly, I didn't know what to expect - Sarah Sundin's previous books were very well written, historical romance, taking place predominantly in Europe with the characters' primary involvement in the Air Force, be it the pilots of B-17's or flight nurses. This novel, ventures into new waters (see what I did there?).

Here's the BCC:
War is coming. Can love carry them through the rough waters that lie ahead? 
It is 1941 and America teeters on the brink of war. Handsome and outgoing naval officer Ensign Jim Avery escorts British convoys across the North Atlantic in a brand-new destroyer, the USS Atwood. On shore, Jim encounters Mary Stirling, a childhood friend who is now an astute and beautiful Boston Navy Yard secretary.  
When evidence of sabotage on the Atwood is discovered, Jim and Mary must work together to uncover the culprit. A bewildering maze of suspects emerges, and Mary is dismayed to find that even someone close to her is under suspicion. With the increasing pressure, Jim and Mary find that many new challenges--and dangers--await them.
See what I mean? Still WWII, but now we're pre-war, home-front, Navy, and not just historical romance... but a mystery. Very Nancy Drew.

But while different... I LOVED EVERY MINUTE.

Sarah Sundin does not disappoint.

I haven't read a mystery novel since I was in elementary school, but my goodness, the ah-ha moment - you'll appreciate it. And the very sweet, budding romance between Mary and Jim was adorable. I think every young woman who's ever felt mousey will instantly love Mary. And Jim - he's wonderful in an out-of-step sort of way. The characters are perfectly endearing and you'll be rooting for them the whole way.

But I have to say... Sarah Sundin is a master of "will-they-or-won't-they." I was on the edge of my seat for several hours, frustrated (in the best sort of way) and worried for the characters as they press forward, facing challenges that only with God's strength and courage can they overcome.

Looking forward to #2 in the Waves of Freedom series

Click here to find it on Amazon
Click here to find it on Christian Books
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