What I'm Reading in April
It’s time for the April installment of “What I’m Reading”. I get so many requests to review books, and I can’t get through them all. But I wanted to give up and coming authors a chance to get in front of my audience. So once a month I’ll be letting you know about three books by new authors that I think may interest you. I try to choose books that focus on marriage, parenting, or Christian women’s themes. You can be featured in the future, too!

Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider

A collection of inspiring stories that will make you laugh, make you ponder, and even make you tear up!

Just like the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, the Hot Apple Cider series publishes short pieces from great authors–in this case, 37. Sure you can read it one sitting, but I’d really recommend reading one at a time. Each piece is carefully chosen, and is a gem–and you’ll want to chew on them for a while. (True confession: I’ve even kept these books in my bathroom. Hey, you always need great short reads in there, right?). And there’s a mixture: a few profound poems; fiction stories that will make you weep; and reflections on life that will make you laugh–especially the one about menopause (“women of a certain age”, I should say).

Judi Peers reminds us, through a memory of an antique yard sale, that “God doesn’t see our past–He sees our potential.” And Glynis Belec discovers that even during cancer treatment, you can still laugh! My real life friend N.J. Lindquist (many of the authors of this series are my In Real Life friends) shares a fictional story of a 25th high school reunion–and how an insecure woman finds that her fears really weren’t warranted after all. And one that brought me to tears was Ann Brent talking about meeting her father for the first time–as an adult. As an estranged daughter of a father myself, I understand that confusion. My friend Les Lindquist shares the experience of being downsized at 57, and realizing that you STILL don’t know what you want to be when you grow up–but now  you have a unique opportunity to find out!

And, dear friends, there is much about marriage in this collection, too. My dear friend Heidi McLaughlin tells the heartbreaking story of hearing the news that her first husband had died of a sudden heart attack at age 49. And yet God sent friends to surround her and love her. Mary Ann Benjamins, mother of four little ones, shares the story of hearing her cancer diagnosis, and what that did with her marriage. And Glynis Belec discovers that even during cancer treatment, you can still laugh!

Probably one of my favourite pieces is called “Chrysalis” by my Real Life Friend Ruth Smith Meyer, relating how the quietness and strength that had attracted her to her husband drove her crazy after they were married. She’d ask him what he was thinking, and he’d reply “Nothing.” It was always, “nothing.” And she found them drifting apart because they didn’t understand each other. On their ninth anniversary, her husband announced he wasn’t leaving. He would still provide for her and the kids. But their marriage was dead to him.

Sound familiar yet?

Yet in the midst of that, she heard, “what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly.” And from those broken pieces of her marriage God built something beautiful. If any of you need hope, this is it!

My friend Ed Hird shares a powerful one about marriage. He says, “Inside the heart of each and every one of us, there is a longing to be understood by someone who really cares. When a person is understood, he or she can put up with almost anything in the world.” And isn’t that part of why God designed marriage? To be a strength for us? Yet that understanding can be so difficult because we’re simply different. And we come into marriage with expectations of what our spouses should do for us. Ed offers a perspective of what really builds intimacy.

While there are stories of cancer, and children’s illnesses, and prodigals, I don’t want to give the impression that the stories are all about tragedies. No, in fact, I find what the stories do is point us to Jesus. In our pain, He is there, and each piece weaves a tale of the same cry: Live a big life. Don’t let these things bog you down when He wants more for you! Go out and find joy, don’t wait for it to come to you. It’s all in a Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider.

For The Love of Our Husbands

Has your husband taken a backseat to your kids, your job, your church, your life? That’s what Darby Dugger found. She says:

My husband, Jason, and I had been married almost four years when we were blessed with our first child, Havana, in October of 2008. Though we had not been married very long, I loved my role as a wife. I enjoyed praying for Jason and serving him in every way. However, it wasn’t long after the birth of our daughter that I realized the majority of my thoughts, actions, and prayers were now directed toward her. Of course, I still loved Jason very much, but I am embarrassed to admit that he took a backseat in our family. So when New Year’s rolled around a few months later, a friend suggested I pray very specifically each day for my husband. I made it my resolution.

And over the next year she wrote out specific prayers for him each week. She’s turned those 52 prayers and meditations into a wonderful book, For the Love of Our Husbands, that I know will bless your marriage and increase your love for your husband. Each week has a challenge section–a meditation and a very practical challenge for us to grow our love. Then it’s followed by a prayer and Scripture section, where we are encouraged to pray “big” prayers for our husbands, so that they may see the blessing of God in their lives.

I really relate to Darby, because she wrote this when she had a young child, and when her husband was studying for his finals to become a board-certified physician. Been there, done that. And it is stressful! When your husband is busy, but you are also busy with little ones, it’s so easy for the marriage to go downhill. You see all the things you have to do by yourself, and it becomes really frustrating. Darby didn’t want to go down that road, and so she decided to be intentional about making sure she kept on track, making her marriage her priority.

It’s an artistically done ebook (and paperback), making it a pleasure to read. But it’s also very convicting. She asks in the first challenge, for instance, what are your distractions from loving your husband? For her, she found she was turning to music instead of conversation. Do you have the TV on too much? Do you spend too much time on Facebook?

Another week encourages us to keep our expectations in check. She relates one time when her husband went out for Indian food for lunch with a friend, and didn’t bring her back anything, even though he knew she loved it. Yet she hadn’t asked him. When those feelings of irritation well up, can we put a check on them?

She walks us through forgiveness, being intentional with our time and our love, and growing our spiritual life together. What I liked about the book especially, though, is that she doesn’t “overspiritualize” marriage. She also includes the practical, encouraging us to fight the frump for our husbands–a topic near and dear to my heart! And she talks about such things as dealing with finances, vacations, and even how to start the day well with your husband–something that she hasn’t quite mastered yet! And, of course, she talks about sex.

I loved her challenge of remembering that “my husband is my home”, not my parents, not my house, not my hometown. Your commitment to your husband means that when you are with him, you are at home. A great thing to remember!

If we women honestly worked through this book on a weekly basis, and prayed those prayers and took those challenges to heart, our marriages would be transformed. Our hearts would be transformed. And we would feel much closer to God.

However, these types of books really aren’t meant to be read in one sitting. They’re meant to be LIVED, as Darby wrote them, one week at a time, so you get the best benefit out of them. So if you feel like your marriage needs something, if you feel like you’re walking through life always slightly irritated at your husband, and disappointed in your marriage, then get For the Love of Our Husbands (available in paperback or ebook).

Love’s Memory

It’s hard for a novel to really impress me with its take on marriage, but I did so enjoy this one. When your marriage has become a shell, and you find yourself feeling increasingly isolated and insecure, how to rebuild? And do you even want to?

Sharon O’Donnell has written Love’s Memory, the first installment in the Scotts of Mountain Ridge series, focusing on a family of three–husband, wife, and one teenage daughter–who are uprooted from their farm and moved across country where there are better economic opportunities.

When she was a teenager from an abusive home, Valerie needed a savior, and she found one in good-looking athlete Manny. But their marriage means the end to his athletic scholarship. Instead, he struggles to eke out a living on the family farm, and when the economic downturn hits, bankruptcy looms. To avoid it, he decides to move the family to where Valerie’s wealthy sister lives. Valerie experiences this as a betrayal, since her relationship with her sister has always been rocky and characterized by jealousy on both sides. And as Valerie loses her home, she fears her sister will take her husband and daughter, too. She becomes a shell of herself, stops taking care of her appearance, and loses her confidence.

When an accident strikes and she loses her memory, her family is desperate to find her. But she finds great peace with some older Christians who give her shelter and God’s truth. Without her memory, and her shame, Valerie becomes beautiful again. So when she learns she’s actually married, will she want to become that mousy woman she sees in that picture? And can Manny win her back?

A great portrait of how we women can lose ourselves to shame, and how God’s love–and a husband’s tenderness–can bring us back. I really enjoyed Love’s Memory–available in paperback or as an ebook.