Friday, November 20, 2009

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Lessons from a Broken Chopstick by Mary Anne Phemister

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Lessons from a Broken Chopstick

Hannibal Books (September 30, 2009)

***Special thanks to Jennifer Nelson of Hannibal Books for sending me a review copy.***


Mary Anne Phemister is a nurse, author, mother, grandmother and wife of noted concert pianist Bill Phemister. The Phemisters live in Wheaton, IL. She has also co-authored Mere Christians: Inspiring Stories of Encounters with C.S. Lewis.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Hannibal Books (September 30, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1934749621
ISBN-13: 978-1934749623


The Chinese Chest

A large, beautifully carved Chinese chest rests on curved wooden legs in my kitchen. Long-legged cranes decorate the top and sides in various poses. One bird in the background looking wide-eyed and perplexed, I’ve come to call “the bewildered one.” She reminds me of my mother, full of questions she dare not ask.

A furniture maker in Hong Kong sold this beautiful chest to my parents during their early, happier years of married life. Being practical and resourceful, they knew that this fragrant, camphor-lined vault could store and preserve the many curios and keepsakes that they would be collecting over the years to ship back home, someday. A skilled Chinese woodcarver had chiseled these revered birds into the outer teak frame, knowing full well its commercial appeal. Throughout Asia, red-crested cranes are symbols of long life and good luck.

My parents, however, believed in divine providence rather than in lady luck. To them, the force that operates for good or ill in a person’s life is not as capricious and precarious as luck. Good fortune is not the result of mere chance; it is part of God’s plan. Unfortunate circumstances, like the time my father almost died of food poisoning, are blamed on the enemy of our souls—Satan, the devil or the evil one. Hence, even when God allows bad things to happen to good people, it is not without some purpose. God is teaching us something or testing our faith. Our job on earth is to trust God, who has clearly instructed us not to lay up treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupt. Nevertheless, the few curios they brought home in this chest, fortified with camphor against pesky moths, could not be considered real treasures, merely mementos to display at missionary meetings.

My parents firmly believed that one should not—must not—expect to reap the rewards of living a virtuous life here on earth. However, in the life to come, all would turn out right. Then, all life’s troubling questions would be answered to our satisfaction. “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” was a bible verse I had memorized at a very early age. Thus, I have always known that life has meaning and purpose. I have never doubted God’s goodness, although I have often questioned His methods.

This core belief, that all will turn out well in the end, that good will triumph over evil, that God rewards the faithful, was the force that enabled my mother to endure the countless challenges in her life. Her unshakable faith held her fast after the death of her infant son, Johnny, the puzzling alienation of her brother, Andy, and throughout her unhappy marriage to my father, notwithstanding all her attempts at being the good wife.

My parents’ acquaintance began at the suggestion of my father’s sister, Agnes. She had met Violet in Buffalo, New York and knew of her intent to go to Tibet as a missionary. Agnes suggested to her brother, Al, who was living in Shanghai at the time, that Violet would make him a good helpmeet. My father, who was on the lookout for a wife, then began a correspondence with this devout woman with a winsome smile, recently graduated from the Nyack Missionary College. Al eventually succeeded through his letters in persuading Violet to join him in China. Thus, Violet Anna Agnes Gibson and Alexander George Kowles were married on the very day the steamer docked in Shanghai harbor, September 6, 1938. She was just six days shy of turning thirty. Al, two years younger and two inches shorter, regretted these facts most of his life.

Why my parents went to China was never a mystery to me. In church service after church service they told of how God had laid on their hearts the burden for the lost. They were dedicated to answering the Master’s call for reapers to work in the harvest field for lost souls, as they would express it. They were merely obeying the great commission to go into all the world to bring the message of God’s love and salvation to people in heathen darkness. These words and phrases I heard often. I have never doubted their sincerity and resolve. They were more committed to their duty to obey Jesus’ imperative to preach the Gospel than to any other obligations, even to each other. Their marriage, based on their sincere desire to serve God, seemed to them at the beginning, to be God’s will. But before long, my mother began to recognize the smoldering notion that she had made a grave mistake. Where was God in this? How was God going to work this marriage out to his good?

“But you’re here,” my mother would say, dodging my question whenever I asked her why she stayed with my father for all those painful years. So, it was my existence and that of her other three children that enabled her to endure and be faithful. To her, the ever self-sacrificing handmaiden of the Lord and Al, divorce was unthinkable. God must have some purpose in it for her, she often reasoned throughout her prolonged heartache. It was her duty to persevere, to keep up family appearances for the sake of us children and “the ministry.”

I’m sure now that it was her strong sense of duty, her belief that marriages are made in heaven, her determination to endure to the end, bound and kept her locked in that disappointing marriage. Like the flight plans imprinted in those cranes’ brains, the mechanisms that steered the course of my mother’s life were those strongly implanted religious beliefs. I have inherited some of my mother’s sense of adventure, her perseverance, as well as strong religious beliefs, but for me, marriages cannot possibly be made in heaven. Where does it say that in the Bible? People make those choices, some good, some unhealthy. Somewhere along the line I have learned, contrary to family maxims, that if you make your bed, you don’t necessarily have to lie in it. You can get up and move, especially when one encounters, emotional, physical, sexual or even spiritual abuse.

Never once did I hear my mother question God’s sovereignty. To her, that would imply that the God whom she trusted with all her heart had led her down the wrong path. In her theology, and reinforced by my father with quotes from the Bible, that it was God’s will that she submit to her husband. She was committed (and coerced) to love, honor, and obey him until death intervened. “I accepted the future in simple faith that the Lord was leading me all the way,” she said. Simple faith did not permit her to question. A professional Christian counselor was out of the question, even if there were any around to be consulted a half century ago. Seeing a counselor pre-supposed that intense prayer and fasting and Bible reading were inadequate remedies to life’s problems. She told very few about her anguish, and never to her children while we were growing up.

During the time my mother kept the Chinese chest in her small apartment, it lay shrouded under a heavy, black brocade cloth. Stacked on top of the chest sat her phonograph player, her photo memory books, and piles of assorted record albums. Out of sight, the noble cranes lay hidden for decades until my mother moved into an assisted living residence. I remember her broad smile when I told her that I would take good care of her beautiful camphor chest, this lovely thing she bequeathed to me. She had begun to distribute her “things,” as she called them, to her four children. My mother lived to be eighty-nine. Clues to her life had been locked away in that Chinese chest for most of those years. In time, it was my joy to unearth some of the mementos and letters she had penned to her mother when she first sailed to Shanghai on the Empress of Japan to marry “by faith” a man she barely knew.

As I look at those cranes now, embedded in that chest that has come down to me, the bewildered one in particular seems to encapsulate much of my mother’s fascinating, woeful life. She, like the cranes, had mated for life, despite the unhappiness she endured. I suppose that if we children had all turned out to be preachers or missionaries to a foreign country, she would have felt some recompense, but none of us did. Throughout her lonely migrations to strange and foreign lands she kept searching for a resolution to the sadness she was feeling but could not verbalize. God did not provide the reconciliation to her husband and brother that she had so desperately prayed for. To bolster herself, she often took comfort in the words of the old hymn: “It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus; life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ.” I am sure that now she has found the answers in heaven and has found peace--the peace that passes understanding. What has she learned over there? What have I learned from her life experiences? How does one resolve the problem of pain in a Christian worldview? C. S. Lewis has helped me understand what my mother knew and quietly bore: many questions in this life are left unanswered. Life in Christ is a faith journey indeed. The Bible reminds us that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18 NIV) Trust and Obey were the three little words that guided the choices my mother made throughout the bewildered maze of her life.

When I initially received the e-mail about this book tour I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Not only was the name of the book incredibly intriguing, but the author's story revolved around her life on the Asian mission field- a place I too am familiar with. Fortunately for me, my experiences on the mission field were vastly different from those recounted by Mary Anne in this, her memoir. Infact, it was this varying account that really piqued my personal interest in the book to begin with.

Eager to see just how different our experiences really were from one another, I jumped right in to Lessons from a Broken Chopstick. What a story! Mary Anne may have lived in and traveled through many of the same areas as I did during my own time on the mission field, but what she experienced throughout was vastly different. Pushed by a father who was blinded by his faith, Mary Anne spent most of her childhood in China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam serving on a mission she didn't quite understand. And despite their negative undertones, it was these life experiences that shaped Mary Anne into the woman she is today.

Well written, interesting, and very enlightening. Lessons from a Broken Chopstick is a book that provides a thoughtful yet unique look behind the scenes of missionary life. It should be mentioned that not every missionary allows himself to be led by blind zeal, though in every situation God is/should be ones focus. For while every account is different, the final outcome can never be pre-labeled and will always be dependant on what cards God gives to you and what play you choose to make with them.

~Bookish Mom, aka RebekahC

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Handy Answer Book for Kids (and Parents) by Gina Misiroglu

The Handy Answer Book for Kids (and Parents) Second Edition by Gina Misiroglu
(Parenting and Family Care)

Being a parent is truly one of the most amazing opportunities I think any person can ever have the pleasure of experiencing. It's full of up's and down's, but there's almost never a dull moment. Of course, as any parent will know, having a child can also be very enlightening. Things you didn't know your child could come up with, they'll inquire about. Why is the sky blue? How does a bird fly? What causes leg pains while one is sleeping? Why does a cat pur?

These are just a few of the many questions children love to ask, and when they do ask them we, as parents, are expected to have an educated answer to offer. Sometimes, depending on the age of your child, you can get away with a simple "Because it just is." It's highly unlikely though that this response will generate the desired response. The more likely scenario is the one where the child will continue to hound and harrass you for a fact based answer until you either find it or make something up. And let's face it, nobody wants to lie to their kid because they don't honestly have a clue what the answer to their question is. Yet, what are you supposed to do when you don't have a good explaination? Some might turn to the internet or the dusty encyclopedia set that rests, untouched, on the family bookshelf. But what if there were an easier place to find the answers to your child's interesting and highly imaginative questions? Now there is...

The Handy Answer Book for Kids (and Parents) by Gina Misiroglu is the perfect reference resource for parents, teachers, and kids alike. Written in a clear and easy to understand fashion, this book is exactly as it's name suggests, a handy answer book. I really love the way the author has chosen to breakdown the contents of the book, because it makes it easy to navigate through when looking for information on a particular subject. For instance, everything related to Outer Space is in it's own chapter. Next follows a segment on Planet Earth and our Moon; Creatures Big and Small; Plant Life; People Around the World; Politics and Government; How Things Work; Math, Measurement, and Time; All About My Body; and Daily Life.

If you know what category your child's question would fall under, you only need to flip that section to search out an answer. What's wonderful is that this is a book you can really turn to in all those "I dunno" moments when your child asks you a question you simply haven't got a clue how to answer. Granted, there's no guarantee your child's question will be one that is featured in this compilation; however, with nearly 800 queries touched on within its pages I think it's fairly safe to say you've got a good chance at finding the information you need.

I should also mention that the author has been incredibly thorough when collecting the data for her book. Every question that is listed is paired with a thorough and comprehensive answer which parents can adapt to their own situations. In other words, say a parent finds the answer to his child's question but the answer is too indepth for the child of this particular age to be able to absorb and understand it. Not a problem. All the parent has to do is shorten the given answer to something a little more age appropriate. This way, the parent can be certain he is offering the best answer possible to his child, but he's also able to do so in a way that doesn't, hopefully, leave the child with more questions than answers.

I'll tell you what, even if you don't have a child who's quite to that critical stage of 24-7 curiosity, this is a book you'll still want to get your hands on. Why is that? That's an easy question, and one I don't even have to look up the answer for in the book. (hahaha) The reason is because The Handy Answer Book for Kids (and Parents) is actually really interesting. Reading through it, in order to write this review, I found myself constantly amazed with the knowledge I was consuming from each page. It's a true wealth of information- useful to useless and everything in between.

My thanks go out to online publicist, Lisa Roe, for giving me this fantastic review opportunity. This is a book I guarantee will not get set on a dusty old shelf to become forgotten and outdated. Nope, this is one I know is going to get a lot of use in this house. So, thanks again, Lisa!

~Bookish Mom, aka RebekahC

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Curable Romantic by Katharine Miller

The Curable Romantic: Advice for the Romance-Impaired by Katharine Miller

In this day and age a person can find any number of self help books on the topic of love, romance, and relationships. But is the answer to it all really something as simple as can be captured and contained on the written page? Well, pick up a copy of Katharine Miller's The Curable Romantic: Advice for the Romance-Impaired and find out!

From companionship to courtship to relationship to jumping ship, this short and sweet compilation covers everything you need to know about romance and is nothing short of hilarious. Filled with tips and advice perfectly suited for the romance challenged, this collection of colorful essays will serve as a wonderful guidebook for anyone on the road to love. Should one find though that in their own personal situation this book fails miserably on that last bit, I can safely promise it will, at least, give the reader many a good laugh.

Take, for instance, my personal favorite, the section titled "Guide to Pet Names". It's more likely than not that everyone ever involved in any form of romantic relationship has at one time or another referred to [or been referred by] his/her significant other by an endearing nickname. However, have you ever stopped to really think about what inspires a person when he/she is selecting a pet name? In this segment of her book, Miller gives several interesting examples of cutesy nicknames couples have been known to adopt, and also gives some suggestions on how a person can decide on a name for their special someone. Behind the scenes we all know that each person's nickname is going to be unique to their own on situation, but these lists give many fun suggestions to get you started if you haven't already done so. With a "Positive", "Negative", and "Questionable" list it's easy to sense the author's comical flair.

And, seriously, who can't use a few good pointers when it comes to love? Nobody is perfect and anyone who's ever set foot in the dating pool of life knows there are too many things that can go wrong. Forget what to wear on your first date. What do you say when you get there? What if you like him and he likes you; then what happens? Or worse yet, what if he doesn't like you? If you do feel a spark and see yourselves going someplace, how to tell when the moment's right to take things up a notch? Love is a tricky beast to master, but with Miller's helpful and often humorous advice readers should be able to more properly arm themselves for what is yet to come in their relationships of the heart.

The Curable Romantic: Advice for the Romance-Impaired offers a fun and light hearted approach to romance. Whether you're currently in a relationship or living single, this is a book that's worth the quick read. Check out for more information or to order your own copy today.

~Bookish Mom, aka RebekahC

P.S. Thank you Katharine for this entertaining review opportunity! Even though my mailman all but ruined my copy of the book by practically soaking it clean through in the rain, I still plan on passing it along to some of my friends to enjoy. Cheers!