Friday, March 31, 2017

A Five Minute Friday Book Review: NEVER UNFRIENDED

 On most Fridays on this blog, I participate in the Five Minute Friday blog linkup with Kate Motaung. Today I'm combining my post (based on this week's prompt, DEFINE) with a book review.

Never Unfriended: The Secret to Finding 
and Keeping Lasting Friendships
by Lisa-Jo Baker
(to be released April 4, 2017)

A couple of months ago I applied to be on the launch team for Lisa-Jo Baker's book Never Unfriended: The Secret to Finding and Keeping Lasting Friendships (to be released next week). I actually haven't read much of Baker's other work (such as her first book Surprised by Motherhood or her writings on the (in)courage site), but the book title and theme intrigued me. When I was accepted to the book launch team -- which turns out to be more like a book launch MOB; there are a lot of us! -- and received an Advance Reader Copy, I was excited. But I also had this moment of "Whoa, what if I actually end up not liking the book? I can't write a bad review if I'm on the launch team!" I imagined myself deleting all subsequent emails related to the book ... AND quietly withdrawing from the launch team's Facebook group ... AND possibly the entire Internet ... AND possibly changing my name and moving to a remote wi-fi-free location somewhere, all the while simultaneously hoping no one would notice AND wishing they would ...

Of course, none of that happened because I have thoroughly enjoyed Never Unfriended. And I don't have to twist myself (or this post) in knots to make the Five Minute Friday prompt, DEFINE, fit either -- because defining is a huge part of this book. In the introduction Baker says,

"While we might have defined
friendship our whole lives by what others
do to us, in the end it’s what we do for
others that will define us as friends or not."

At the heart of Never Unfriended is the call to BE a friend: by letting our greatest Friend, Jesus, define our worth and allowing His faithful love to shape the way we pursue friendships with other women.

In Part 1, "What are We Afraid Of?", Baker looks at some of the fears we as women have about friendship. Maybe we've been hurt by past relationships and are reluctant to trust and risk again; maybe we're afraid of being excluded by those we most want to belong to; maybe we fear giving up our own possibly shaky sense of inclusion by drawing in other women who feel left out. This section is great because it addresses head-on the lies women often believe about their own worth and encourages us to place our trust in God's truth: "that we were always planned and wanted and included from before the beginning of time."

Part 2, "What Can't We Do About It?", addresses many of our expectations around friendship and how we need to acknowledge our limitations as friends. This part was helpful. In my experience I've struggled a lot with "I should have set better boundaries. I should have insisted others clarify their boundaries. Why was I so willing to just take what was given and not push back?" This section of the book helped me explore those questions but not just stay stuck there. Baker says, "In order to be agents of peace, of long-suffering, of long walks with a God who doesn't turn His back on relationship, we need to be healthy ourselves." (She draws quite heavily here on the work of Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, authors of Boundaries and of many other books I've read and benefited from.)

Part 3, the longest section, is "What Can We Do About It?" I loved this part because it is so heartfelt and practical. Here Baker discusses concrete ways we can be better friends: Going first. Choosing not to be "fine." Giving the benefit of the doubt. Listening well ... and so on. We all receive suggestions and advice better when the person giving it has been there -- and Baker gives many moving and often hilarious examples from her own experience of how these principles have strengthened her relationships and helped her be a better friend to other women. As she puts it,

"The secret to finding and keeping
lasting friendships: become women who want 
to see the women around us flourish."

I think pretty much any woman who wants to have friends -- and more importantly, be a friend -- will find something in this section that speaks directly to her experience and gives her encouragement to take positive steps in her own relationships.

The two short chapters in Part 4, "Where Do We Start?", urge us to practice being a friend to ourselves as well as to someone else -- today. I agree with Baker that we as women often have a very hard time making friends with ourselves: we focus on our shortcomings and make long lists of should's. But she encourages us to remember that (as Romans 8 emphasizes) nothing can separate us from the love -- and friendship -- of God.

This book is an "easy read" in some ways. Baker's style is warm, intimate, and engaging. I enjoyed her humour and vulnerability; she draws you close, just like a friend having a chat over coffee. But there is also a great deal of substance here: the book touches on some very real areas of hurt and woundedness in our personal lives and relationships, and explores many concrete, practical aspects of friendship-building and maintenance. 

I would unreservedly recommend Never Unfriended to any woman who wants to be a better friend to the other women in her life and who wants her relationships to be defined by the example of Jesus. 

If you're interested in ordering the book, 



- As stated above, I received a free Advance Reader Copy of this book as a member of the launch team.

- It took me longer than five minutes to write this post!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Five Minute Friday: EMBRACE

Today I'm linking up with Kate Motaung for Five Minute Friday
Today's word is EMBRACE.

(I'm also linking this post to Jolene Philo's
Different Dream Parenting link share - March 28/17)


Jonathan has been really enjoying his first year of high school. He gets along great with his Educational Assistant, Matt, and they do many fun outings together each week like stocking food at the Food Bank and going to the YMCA to do fitness or swim in the pool.

Today, as he does every second Friday, Jonathan goes on a particularly special outing with Matt. They get on the city bus, ride to another high school, and spend the afternoon with Jonathan's friend Nick and his EA. Jonathan has known Nick for several years; they go to the same special-needs day camp and are the best of friends. 

Nick does not communicate verbally at all, and Jonathan speaks in quite simple, concrete sentences. 

Jonathan (L) and Nick (R) at  summer camp

 But their friendship does not depend on words. They beam with delight when they see one another. They laugh and act silly. 

And they embrace each other -- sometimes literally, in fact. They accept and enjoy each other just as they are. They have no inhibitions, no filters when they get together: they can just BE.

Their relationship is a good model for us all: to embrace the moment. Embrace the love. Embrace the joy.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Five Minute Friday: FRIEND

I really can't believe how quickly the weeks pass! ... Again today I'm linking up with Kate Motaung for Five Minute Friday
Today's word prompt is FRIEND.


This morning I had a coffee date with a friend. We don't get together one-on-one all that often, actually, but when we do it's really meaningful. One reason is that we have quite a lot in common. We both have certain challenging situations in our lives that are similar -- and we both realize that the "solutions" to these situations aren't as simple or cut-and-dried as someone on the outside looking in might think.

On the outside looking in ... that's the difference, I think. It's one thing to observe a friend's situation from a distance and offer solutions or critique. It's another to be on the inside.

A real friend does her best to look at your situation from the inside: to go beyond observation to participation.

In my broader experience, though, problems can arise when you think you've been invited to be a participant -- an insider -- but you're really expected to be more of an audience member. So I think it's important to be candid with our friends about when we just want them to receive what we've said and give no response besides affirmation, and when we want real involvement, pushback, or advice.

This past month I became part of a book launch team for Lisa-Jo Baker's book Never Unfriended: The Secret to Finding and Keeping Lasting Friendships (due to be released on April 4). I've been reading the book and loving the author's honesty, humility, humour, and helpful encouragement. One of her guiding principles is expressed in the first chapter:

Instead of asking, “Who is my friend?” 
this book will be asking, “How can I be a friend?”

Maybe one way is to be willing not just to remain on the outside looking in, but to share in the other person's life and feelings from the inside.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March 2017 "Quick Lit"

Today I'm joining Modern Mrs. Darcy 's monthly "Quick Lit" linkup, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. This novel begins with the words "Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet" -- Lydia being a sixteen-year-old girl, and "they" being her family, the Lees. As her parents, Marilyn and James, and two younger siblings, Nathan and Hannah, deal with the devastation surrounding Lydia's mysterious death by drowning, they are forced to confront family secrets and deceptions. Marilyn, whose own dream of being a doctor was unfulfilled, has tried to push Lydia in that career direction, while James has insisted on Lydia having the social popularity that he, as a Chinese-American growing up in Ohio, missed; now they both face guilt and regret. And the younger children have their own suspicions of why and how Lydia died, involving an enigmatic neighbour. Ng is so skilled at weaving all the characters' different voices together and combining a sense of mystery with the poignancy of the family's loss. This is Ng's first novel, and it's excellent.


The Life We Never Expected: Hopeful Reflections on the Challenges of Parenting Children With Special Needs by Andrew and Rachel Wilson. The Wilsons, who are on the leadership team at their church in England, write from their experiences of parenting two children with autism -- both of whom developed quite normally and then regressed and lost skills at around 3 or 4 years of age. This book is not a chronological narrative, but a series of reflections, each written by one of the parents, highlighting different aspects of their journey. One chapter is simply a day-in-the-life; another addresses lament; another explores suffering; another is about lack of sleep and how not having their prayers for sleep answered has affected their faith in God; and so on. 

I've read quite a few books on special needs parenting, and I haven't seen anything like this one. It's totally real and honest (I had many "me too" moments), funny, and encouraging. 

I have a few misgivings about it, though. Theologically, the Wilsons are of the John Piper school; the DesiringGod website is cited at the end as a primse source for their Christian outlook. This gives me pause because I am not a huge fan of Piper's form of Reformed theology (I often find him and others of this theological bent to be "so heavenly minded that they're no earthly good"), and I dislike their complementarian views on gender. At one point the Wilsons describe their struggle with the challenges of their children's autism, and Andrew speaks of how hard it was for him as husband because he could not "protect" his wife from the severe stress she was experiencing. This seems oddto me, that a husband would see it as his role to protect his wife from suffering. Perhaps the reality of their life challenges put a bit of a dent in this husband-as-protector-hero paradigm, though -- which I think is a good thing. 

It is also troubling that in some places in the book autism is depicted as a source of suffering which God will one day do away with: "One day there will be no autism and no suffering whatsoever, but until that day, we wait." For autistic people and others who see autism simply as a difference and not as a deficit or disease, this is bound to be hurtful. However, I give the Wilsons credit for acknowledging at the beginning of the book that this is a journey for them, that they are wrestling with the spiritual implications of what's happening in their family, and that the feelings and opinions they express in the book may change at some future point. Maybe their whole concept of autism will change as their children grow up; they may become more attuned to autism identity and advocacy. 

Overall, I liked this book very much. I think it would make any parent of an autistic child feel that they are not alone and that there is hope and joy in the journey.


Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark by Addie Zierman. I really liked Zierman's first memoir, When We Were On Fire, which I reviewed here on Quick Lit a couple of years ago. In Night Driving, Zierman writes of a midwinter road trip she takes from Minnesota to Florida with her two little boys -- ostensibly going on a book promotion tour, but really seeking something deeper. Struggling with the numbness of depression, the darkness of winter, and the  fact that she doesn't feel God's presence as her Christian upbringing said she should, she hopes that this trip will help her find those feelings again. 

Reading Zierman's writing is both unnerving and reassuring, for the same reason: her honest vulnerability. I remember someone saying about another memoir that they didn't want to put the book down in case something bad happened to the narrator while they were gone. I felt that way about this book. I was honestly terrified that she was going to have a car accident after falling asleep at the wheel or texting while driving, and I cringed at her descriptions of screaming at her kids and collapsing in sobs at a friend's house after a book talk. But to me those aspects are what make her so appealing as a writer: that honesty, that sense that she has bravely explored the gap between what we think faith "should" look and feel like and what, so often, it actually is. As Zierman says on her website, "Night Driving is a book for anyone who has ever felt far away from God. For anyone who has felt far from themselves. For anyone groping for faith in the dark."


My current read is Silence and Beauty , a very beautiful and profound book by Makoto Fujimura. That will be a challenging review: stay tuned for next time!

What have you been reading? And have you read any of the books above? Please share in the comments.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"Daylight saving": a poem

Daylight saving

The morning after the time change
sets you back on your heels a little.
An hour’s worth of light has been given
to the evening instead, and when you wake,
you can’t help but miss that bright piece of time.
But when you step out at dawn and breathe
the cool, fresh air, you realize 
you haven’t been cheated of anything. Not 
when a black checkmark of geese 
flies over, leaving its stamp of approval
on the gray-gold page of sky.


I wrote this poem a year ago in mid-March, right around the time we switched to Daylight Saving. But last year it wasn't -16 degrees Celsius on the Sunday morning the way it was today! I had to walk to church early for practice with the music team this morning, and as I stepped outside at 7 a.m. into the breathtakingly cold air, I thought, Okay, this is not quite the kind of morning I was talking about in that poem.

But in fact it was a beautiful morning: cold, yes, but clear and fresh. There were no geese, but the crows and cardinals were awake and filling the air with their voices, and the sky was that exact gray-gold colour I had in mind when I wrote the poem.

Then as I crossed through Churchill Park, I saw something shiny on the stone ledge that marked the end of the pathway. It was a gold-coloured watch. Someone must have lost it, and another passerby placed it there hoping the owner would find it. Someone does "miss that bright piece of time," I thought.

As I went on my way, I savoured the beauty of the seasons, the wonder of sunrise, the sound of birds, and (in spite of the temperature) the signs of springtime all around me.


Photo by Bill Abbott (Blue, gray and gold, my favorite sky)

CC BY-SA 2.0 (]
via Wikimedia Commons