Zazoo

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I very seldom like a book enough to gush, but I’m probably gonna gush about this one.

I picked up Zazoo, by Richard Mosher, just before Christmas. My husband and I had an irresponsible amount of store credit at Pioneer Book, so we decided to buy ourselves books as Christmas presents. A lot of books. In fact, we weeded out our book collection, gave away a few, consolidated, and measured (with a tape measure) that we had something like 6 feet of shelf space. And then we went to the bookstore (with a tape measure) and picked out everything that looked remotely interesting.

Zazoo fell into the “This Looks Remotely Interesting” category. I had never heard of it, but it was just sitting there in the YA section, looking lonely, and it had an interesting cover and blurb, so I threw it on the pile.

Currently the best book I’ve ever read. You guys.

Zazoo is a Vietnamese girl growing up in France, raised by her “grandfather”—the French soldier who adopted her after her parents were blown up by a land mine. The book is a coming-of-age story about Zazoo’s poetry, romance, tragic lack of breasts (she’s about 13,) neighbors, and relationship with her grandfather. It also follows her emotional wrestling match with the truth when she finds out that her beloved grandfather was a killing machine in WWII and Vietnam. She slowly learns about her family, real and adopted, and about what horrible things were done by some of the most innocent people around her. And more than anything, it’s also a story of forgiveness. The book places pain and love so close together that they become inseparable.

Please go read this book. It deserves so much more attention, and it’s so beautifully written. ♥

Love Poems

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Love Poems, by Pablo Neruda. I picked this up at the BYU store, because it was on crazy sale upstairs. Like, a couple bucks. Score. I had heard good things about Neruda from my husband, who thinks he’s just a wonderful poet. And he’s Chilean, which means I can cross Chile off of my “countries to read a book from” list.

Anyways. Love Poems is a very short collection, and fairly sweet. He’s not the best romantic poet I’ve ever read (I think Shakespeare takes the cake on that one so far), but I did enjoy most of the collection, and I’m looking forward to reading some of his less love-based poetry in the future. Because, you know. It’s not like that was the only book I bought. ♦

The Bean Trees

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Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees is possibly one of my favorite books of all time. The book deals with an incredible amount of life experience in a very short amount of time, and it does it with grace. The book follows Taylor Greer as she runs west, away from her small Southern town, and ends up taking care of an abused and shell-shocked toddler whose parents she’s never met.

The real appeal of The Bean Trees is in how well Kingsolver addresses pain. The story contains death, violence, irrational fear, child abuse, sexual abuse, disillusionment, divorce, deportation, blindness, loss of a child, kidnapping, “dirty war”, torture, guilt, and unrequited love – and yet, all of it is handled so carefully that I would recommend the book to anyone over twelve years old. The book opens wounds and then heals them so completely that the entire experience is uplifting, even when there are still loose ends. It makes you feel empty and full at the same time.

Five stars, and please go read this book. ♦

Is the Devil Afraid of Me?

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I was reading Jesus the Christ this morning, by James E. Talmage (which is super long, and might take me a long, looong time to finish), and something struck me that I’ve never really noticed before. Talmage is talking about Jesus enduring the devil’s temptations: Satan asks Jesus to prove His Godhood by turning stones into bread or by throwing Himself off of the temple and expecting His Father (God) to rescue Him. Jesus answers “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord, thy God.” And then Satan changes tactics, and offers Jesus power and glory:

8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceedingly high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;

9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.

10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

(Matthew 4:8-10)

So Satan shows Jesus the kingdoms of the world, and promises to give them to Him in exchange for worship. Now here’s what Talmage says about it:

“The effrontery of his offer was of itself diabolical. Christ, the Creator of heaven and earth, tabernacled as He then was in mortal flesh, may not have remembered His pre-existent state, nor the part He had taken in the great council of the Gods; while Satan, an unembodied spirit – he the disinherited, the rebellious and rejected son – seeking to tempt the Being through whom the world was created by promising Him part of what was wholly His, still may have had, as indeed he may yet have, a remembrance of those primeval scenes.”

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So let’s break this down, because Talmage is rather – shall we say – verbose. Jesus created the world. Then He was born, forgot everything (as mortals are wont to do), and slowly learned He was the Messiah. So Satan came to tempt Him, offering Him the worlds…that He created. It would be like somebody stealing your bike and trying to sell it back to you. But on a much, much bigger scale.

And that’s where I really started thinking. If Jesus existed before He was physically born, it stands to reason that we all did, right? And if Satan used Jesus’s strengths – the things He already had – as temptations, why wouldn’t the devil use the same tactic on me? Let’s say, for example, that I was really good at music in a previous life. Now I’m here, and I’ve forgotten how great I was at music. But I’m still the same person, so I still care about music – so Satan tries to convince me that I’ll never succeed in the music industry unless I go all Miley Cyrus about it and throw all morality to the wind.

Are you following me? We don’t remember what happened before this life – that’s why this life is such a test of character – but Satan remembers, because he rebelled and opted out of the test (or rather, dropped out of school). And now he tries to use our strengths against us.

Now, this isn’t doctrine, as far as I’m aware. I’m speculating. But let’s just pretend for a second that I’m on to something. If I’m right, what does that say about the millions of women struggling with self-image? If the devil puts dark thoughts in your head that you’ll never be pretty enough, is that because he knows exactly how beautiful you already are? If he tells you you’re untalented, does he remember how invaluable you are to those around you? If he tries to convince you you’re stupid, is that because he’s jealous of your intellect? What if he tells you that nobody cares? That you’ll always just be a mindless follower?

What does the devil know about you that you don’t? What is he trying to hide from you?

And what does God know about you – that He desperately wants to remind you – that you’re not taking the time to remember?

Jesus loves you more than you know

I believe that if anybody knows our full potential, it’s God – our Creator. He remembers who we were before this life, and He knows who we are now, better than anyone. And He knows it, free of the screaming sounds of the media telling us what we should be buying and who we should be idolizing and why we’ll never be as good as [insert fabulous celebrity here]. He knows us. And I believe He’s willing to show us who we are, if we just spend enough time talking with Him to learn. But how will we ever learn if we won’t take the time to listen?

This week, I want to spend some time on my knees, just asking questions and quietly listening. I want to know what kind of person God knows I can be – what kind of person He knows I already am. ♥

And Many More…

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While on vacation last weekend, we were seated at a restaurant across the way from an adorable old couple. They just talked and laughed, and at some point, my dad started up a conversation. We found out it was this couple’s 70th anniversary. They were at a restaurant to celebrate.

My husband asked him, “What’s the secret?” Without hesitating, the old man said, “Marry a good woman – and then live to be 90!”

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Everybody laughed – but I really do think that’s the secret. This old man’s comment shows why he’s been married – to the same woman – for 7 decades. He doesn’t think it’s complicated. When he got married, he married a good woman. And at his 10th anniversary, he probably thought, “She’s still a good woman, so I’ll stay.” And at his 20th anniversary, he probably thought, “She’s still a good woman, so why would I leave?” And I’m sure her thoughts were much the same. “If he’s a good man, why would I leave?”

I think sometimes people make things more complex than they need to be. I’ve been married all of 6 months. We’re pretty happy. Sometimes we fight. Whatever. Life has ups and downs, and we can either face them alone, or together. So why would we leave? We’re staying.

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In all my 6 months of married wisdom (cough), I’m probably not in any position to share the secret of wedded bliss. But this old couple had been married for 70 years. They were happy, and I’m going to follow their advice. I found a good man – now all I need to do is live to be 90. ♥

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The “To-Be” List

I have a problem, and it’s one I think is pretty common. I want to be successful. American society expects “success” – whatever that means. If you’re a businessman, you should be a successful one. If you’re a minister, you should be a successful one. If you’re a politician, be successful. If you’re a student, be successful.. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, be successful.

I agree with this – which is not the problem. As Shakespeare said, “Whate’er thou art, act well thy part.” Whatever I’m doing with my life, I see no reason I shouldn’t do it well. No, the problem is when the definition of “success” is an unattainable thing. A businessman is “successful” when he’s the CEO. A minister is “successful” when the entire neighborhood is in his congregation every Sunday, and knows the Bible backward and forward. A politician is “successful” when he has a 100% approval rating. A student is “successful” only with a 4.0, a scholarship, and an internship in Japan over the summer. A stay-at-home mom is “successful” when the homemade bread is cooling on the counters, the house is spotless, and the kids are all on the honor roll. And I am “successful” when my long-term goals are all on track, my short-term goals are being met, and I’ve got my to-do list done and then some.

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Then comes the problem. The sudden realization: I’m not perfect. Oh, no. This won’t do. Here – try this – it might make me perfect. Oh, no. That didn’t work either. Now what do I do?

I just graduated from a prestigious university, got a high-paying job, and married the love of my life. I have free time for the first time in nearly a decade. And I just went through a two-week-long existential crisis because I haven’t published a book or mastered Spanish or learned to play the ukulele or convinced our landlord to hurry about that new oven. That’s the problem. I suddenly got some free time and thought to myself, “Great! I can get loads of stuff done!” and wrote myself an impossible mental “to-do” list, a list full of crazy goals that would somehow make me more “successful” now that I have the time to devote to them. And then I broke down crying in a roller-skating rink when I suddenly realized I wasn’t checking everything off that list. What?

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So I’ve been trying to get rid of the “to-do” list. I shouldn’t measure myself, because God loves me no matter what, right? But that’s hard to do. Human beings have a natural drive to progress – to “succeed”. I’ve found myself deliberately avoiding things I wanted to do in my free time, just because I was afraid I might fail and then judge myself for it. So I have goals I still want to accomplish, but I’m afraid to make goals for fear I’ll blame myself if I don’t reach them right on schedule.

Today, Ethan pointed out that without failure, we never learn. We never heal until we hurt ourselves. Christ didn’t die for our sins just so He could hold our shortcomings over our heads. C.S. Lewis once said, “When we fail to forgive ourselves when God has forgiven us, then we make ourselves a higher judge than God.” So who do we think we are, exactly? We think we know exactly what we should and shouldn’t be accomplishing, and exactly how much we’re worth. And then we run, screaming “I’m not good enough! Waaah!” And then God picks us up, dusts us off, calls the waaah-mbulance, and reminds us that we don’t have to get the dishes done or create beautiful oil-paintings or learn Navajo to earn His love and respect. We’re His children -we’re good enough.

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At Ethan’s suggestion, I’m resurrecting an old idea. This week, I’m not making a “to-do” list. I’m making a “to-be” list. Every day, I’m going to decide on a phrase that decides the kind of person I want to be. (In the past, I’ve used “patient,” “happy,” “kind to others,” and “observant,” among other terms.) And every day, I’m going to focus on being that kind of person. I won’t be perfect. That’s what repentance is for. And if I still want to learn Spanish on the side, that’s fine – as long as I remember that the point is to become more understanding, not perfectly fluent.

I’ve spent enough time working my butt off for impossible goals. It’s time I started changing to become a better person. I’ll probably have to change about every ten minutes – but at least I’ll be closer every time. ♥

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Fighting With Shadows

I’ve been angry these past few days. Politicians have been doing stupid things and blaming each other for them. I keep wanting to sit them down, explain to them the laws of common sense, and slap them in the face. Our old landlords still haven’t gotten back to us about our missing-half-of security deposit. I kind of want to sit them down and show them the receipt and slap them in the face. This morning, we found out that a man who served in Ethan’s mission is leaving the Church – among other reasons – because of the way he was treated by a local authority. It makes me sad. I want to sit him down, talk to him about God for a while, and somehow box some sense into him.

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On my mission, one of my companions and I would joke about writing “DUH!”on a 2×4 and carrying it around with us so we could conk people on the head when they said something that didn’t make any sense. Things like, “If God told me I was wrong, I couldn’t believe Him, because I’m always right.” I often wanted to use the DUH! stick when people thought Utah was on the west coast, right next to California. (Landlocked state, people. Landlocked.)

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And then I thought about it. I was reading the words of the prophets this morning, when it just kind of – well, slapped me in the face. You can’t fight darkness. I can’t smack the doubts out of anybody’s mind. But the darkness will leave when the room – or the mind – is illuminated. I can walk around all day kick-boxing at shadows, but all it’s going to get me is a good workout and some really weird looks from passersby. But if I bring a flashlight, I can remove the shadows entirely.

I promise I’m not a violent person. But maybe my immediate reaction is to verbally attack – and that’s not kind, nor is it effective. I need to make more of an effort to understand people from here on out. If somebody says something that doesn’t make sense, I should find out why it makes sense to them – maybe they’ve got some corners of their mind that haven’t been lit yet. Or maybe they’ve got some light that I haven’t considered. At any rate, I need to work on kindling the fire in others’ minds, rather than snuffing it out. I want to push away the shadows by letting in the sunlight. 

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