Favorite Wife

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Favorite Wife is the sad and insightful story of religious abuse and polygamy in a fundamentalist Mormon sect. Although she grew up in The Church of the Firstborn, Susan began to see some of the problems that polygamy presented when she married one of the leaders of the church.

Favorite Wife by Susan Schmidt
Favorite Wife by Susan Schmidt

When she was fourteen years old, Susan had a dream that she was supposed to marry Verlan. Confused by this dream, she confided in Verlan’s grandmother. Not long after having this dream, Verlan’s brother Ervil told Susan that he believed he was meant to marry her instead. However, in their church they believe only the women receive revelation about who they are meant to marry. Because of his position as one of the leaders in the church, Susan felt vulnerable to Ervil’s “revelation.” It was not until he pushed her to get sealed to him (spiritually married) without telling her parents that she knew something was wrong with his “revelation.” Only days later, after her fifteenth birthday, she married Verlan instead. She became his fifth wife.

Susan soon learned that life as Verlan’s fifth wife was not as rosy as she thought it would be. She found herself lonely and living in poverty. Between his travel and his time with other wives, he was rarely with her. With the cost of keeping up five wives and over twenty children, all of his family lived in poverty. After Verlan’s brother Joel, the prophet of their church, was assassinated, Susan began to search for answers. According to their church, Joel was not supposed to die until the end of time. If this was false, maybe polygamy was as well. In searching the Bible, Susan found that it said unfavorable things about polygamy. She knew she had to leave Verlan. Eventually, she found a way to escape to the United States with her children.

How Control was Exerted over Susan

Throughout the reading of this book, I noticed several ways in which control was exerted over Susan in order to get her to stay in The Church of the Firstborn and in her marriage.

New Information Stifled

Whenever Susan would find a new piece of information, it would be disregarded if it was contrary to what Verlan believed. This was especially true if that belief was polygamy. When Susan confronted her husband with the teaching in the Book of Mormon that calls polygamy a “whoredom,” he called it an old revelation. He told her that the newer revelations of their church’s doctrine overrides what the Book of Mormon teaches.

Susan also found Verlan believed things contrary to what modern science and medicine believed. She found it difficult to convince him to take her or her children to the doctor because of the cost and his lack of belief in modern medicine. He also had outdated (read: false) beliefs about pregnancy that frustrated her. Although she tried to show him new information, he was not convinced.

Her Questions Dismissed

When Susan began to have questions about what she was reading in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, Verlan dismissed them. Several times when she had questions about the inconsistencies between the Bible and the teachings of their church, he dismissed her questions. He would say, “You just don’t understand.”

These words were meant to dismiss and silence her. Yet they only worked to further frustrate her and convince her of the need to get answers.

Her Opinions Belittled

Susan was often accused of being argumentative for having an opinion on things that impacted her life. Verlan would get frustrated by any emotion she showed in discussion and ask her why she was being so difficult. When he spent a large portion of “her night” with another woman, he belittled her feelings about the situation. When he began moving his wives to the jungle, he did not consider that she would not want to go. Verlan frequently used accusatory language about her being difficult as a way to end the conversation and force her to concede.

When he wasn’t accusing her of being difficult, he was laughing at her anger and calling her “cute.” He would tell her that her anger was cute in an attempt the diffuse the situation. Verlan managed to get around resolving the actual issues by doing so. Whether he called her “difficult” or “cute,” he treated her feelings as secondary to his.

Quick Review

Favorite Wife was interesting and heartbreaking. Susan’s strength through an abusive situation is inspiring. I’ll admit that I’ve had a fascination with books about those who survive through living in cult-like situations, and this one has been one of the most interesting. One of the things I liked the most about this book over other memoirs was Susan’s ability to write about her actions and feelings in the moment. While there was not sexual abuse like I’ve read about in other books about polygamous cults, there was still abuse of power. Ervil is the kind of evil that will make your skin crawl. And although at one point Verlan is painted the hero, his more subtle abuses of power will begin to wear on you as well. Most inspiring is Susan’s survival and motivation to give her children a better life than that which the cult provides.

Why I Keep a List of the Books I’ve Read

I have always loved reading. When I was in middle school, I used to read several books a week. Books were always my escape, and I have always loved the idea of reading as many books as I possibly can.

One of my best memories from school was in eighth grade when we had the Accelerated Reader tests for books. When we read books that were in this program, we would take a short test and get points. Our teacher required 25 points each quarter. Being the over-achiever and book-lover that I was, I decided to read as many books from this program as I could. I got well over a hundred points one quarter, and inspired a little bit of competition between my classmates.

My Great-Uncle Logan

When I was in my senior year of college, my grandma and I went to a family get-together. Since it was close to where her brother Logan lived, she thought it would be nice for me to meet him. I had heard things about my Great-Uncle Logan, but I had never met him. I knew he preferred to speak Pennsylvania Dutch over English and that he didn’t come to the family gatherings. He was the oldest child (like me). But other than that, he was a mystery.

We arrived at his little apartment, and Logan did not appear to be very happy to see us. However, he showed me around his apartment. When he showed me his books, I was amazed. He had giant bookshelves filled with books, and he had read them all. He pulled out some paper that contained a list of all of the books he had read since 1973. Proudly, he shared that he was getting close to 3000 books.

My Own “Logan’s List”

My “Logan’s List”

I started my own list of books in May of 2014, right after I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree. I have continued to add books to the list, and transferred it into a journal about a year ago so that the list would be safe. As of 2017, I have just added my 109th book to the list. While it is far from the 3000 titles Logan had on his list, I believe it will eventually grow to that length.

Last year, my Great-Uncle Logan died. I only met him that one time, but I was sad to hear about his passing because of all that he had inspired in my life. I like to think that in a small way, his legacy is living on because I am keeping a list of the books I read, inspired by him. I’m often amazed by how much that one encounter has shaped and inspired me.

 

How Starting a Blog Made Me a Healthier Person

The entire time I was reading How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell, I was struck by the impact that creativity had on her health journey. It especially resonated with me because her creative outlet was writing and I have loved writing for as long as I can remember.

Although I have never done drugs, Cat’s story reminded me about how creating this blog and taking the time to intentionally write have turned me into a healthier person. I know that drawing parallel’s between Cat’s drug addiction and my mental illness may be strange, but the only intended parallel is that doing something creative helped both of us in our very different situations.

My Bipolar Disorder

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the diagnosing psychiatrist thought my condition was mild enough that I could go with or without medication. I tried a medication for about two months, but without insurance it was too expensive for me to maintain without asking my family for money (and confessing to them that I was diagnosed at a time I wasn’t ready to do that). I stopped taking the medication, and for about a year and a half did not have any major problems.

In 2014, I had a pretty bad concussion. One of the doctors I saw thought that it was possible that the concussion was making both my migraine condition and my bipolar disorder worse (although I didn’t really need a doctor to tell me that). In the years that followed, I started to actually feel like I had bipolar disorder.

Choosing to Medicate

In August of 2016, I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I had just finished my classes for my first Master’s Degree a few months before. Since January or so, my bipolar disorder had been fairly turbulent. Despite all of that, I still did not feel like I needed medication yet. I was still getting things done, even if I was not getting things done well.

However, in August I hit a low. There were problems with my family. When I completely overreacted to something because I was manic, I began to realize that I was not managing my symptoms as well as I had in the past. The situations I was dealing with that were causing me stress would have been more manageable if my mind were sound. As I watched my sister get good treatment for her bipolar disorder and become stable, I began to really desire that. I could act stable, but inside I wasn’t actually stable.

After swallowing my pride (and trust me there was a lot of it), I went to my doctor. I sat in the office and cried, telling her that I didn’t feel right. She immediately put me on a dose of medication that changed my life. Within a couple of weeks I found that I was able to focus on things for more than a couple of minutes. Best of all, the racing thoughts and crippling depression were gone. I was finally beginning to be stable.

Choosing to Write

So you might be asking yourself what this has to do with writing. It was around the same time that I chose to go to the doctor and start taking medication that I also realized that I needed a creative outlet. My jobs were feeling especially unfulfilling (even if that feeling was only temporary) and I wanted to have something that I could build and create that was my own.

I had been reading a book or two a week at that point, and thought that a book review blog would be really fun. Because I was especially enjoying biographies and memoirs, I thought it would be great to keep the focus on those books.

Growing as a Writer

When I first started this blog, I didn’t know anything about blogging. I knew how to write, and knew how to use Blogger. I got a free site there and began to write posts weekly (on a pretty ugly site). While I worked at my cleaning job, I began to listen to podcasts about blogging and writing. They gave me a focus and an energy I hadn’t had for a long time.

Since August, I’ve learned a lot about writing and blogging. I bought a domain and moved my blog to WordPress. I’ve started adding more content and asking friends to write guest posts for the blog. And as the blog has grown, so have I.

While the medication has been a big part of getting healthier, medication does not give me self-confidence. Medication does not force me to have self-discipline. Blogging has forced me to build time into my schedule for creating and editing my content.

While there are still Mondays when I don’t post (sorry!), those days are fewer and fewer. I have gotten better at sticking to my schedule, and have gained so much confidence through my writing. That confidence has carried over into other parts of my life. I feel like blogging has brought me to a very healthy place and turned me into a better person.

 

How to Murder Your Life

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell was funny, dark and irreverent. It was the perfect guilty pleasure read that had enough good hidden inside it to justify the cringe-worthy content.

How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell
How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell

Cat grew up the middle child of two psychiatrists. Her father’s temper and the problems between her parents made home life turbulent. In her teenage years, she went to boarding school. It was there that she was first introduced to Ritalin and its ability to take her from failing grades to the top grades in the school. Unfortunately, Cat failed to take her Ritalin as prescribed and her lifelong addiction to prescription medication began. In her senior year of high school, she became pregnant, dropped out of school, and had an abortion.

Cat slowly worked her way back through the depression in the aftermath of her abortion, finding a passion for fashion journalism. As she attended college, she worked as an intern at several different fashion magazines. Even as she began to build a career, though, her addiction only escalated. She added to her prescription medication harder drugs. She spiraled out of control, landing in rehab multiple times. It was only through creativity that she eventually regained some amount of control over her life.

The Inner Life of an Addict

Perhaps I was overly naive to think that prescription medication addicts stole their pills from relatives or bought their pills on the black market. Cat writes extensively about the process of shopping for doctors who would write prescriptions for her, and how easy it was for her to walk in and get exactly what she wanted from different doctors. While there were occasions where she got pills in other ways, she primarily got her medication legitimately. That’s terrifying.

The first time she went to rehab, she did not get better because she did not want to give up drugs. Cat wanted to have a better grasp on her life, but she did not want to give up all of her addictive behaviors. She just didn’t want to feel as addicted as she did.

It wasn’t until she really wanted to get better that she was able to improve her life as much as she did. In the end, she still uses Adderall. She has given up other drugs and even drinking. Although I wanted to get to the end of the book and read about her giving up all of her addictions and addictive behaviors, part of me realizes that with her underlying ADHD she probably needs some amount of medication as treatment. With her history of abusing medication, though, she realizes that she is in a delicate place where she can easily end up back in the the throes of addiction.

The Power of Words

At one point, Cat checked herself into a mental hospital as a way of avoiding rehab. When the psychiatrist realized she was not depressed, she wanted to get Cat to go to rehab. When Cat refused, the psychiatrist called her parents and had them visit. Infuriated, Cat refused to be a part of the conversation with them. After years of bottling up her anger and frustration toward her father, she told him off (with some profanity I won’t use here).

The part that resonated with me was that she didn’t feel the satisfaction she thought she would. Instead, she immediately felt regret. The words she thought would make her feel so good and powerful did just the opposite.

Our words are powerful. I can think of several times I’ve said something that I’ve immediately regretted. Words have the ability to stick with you for years, and you may not even know if your words are the ones someone has carried with them for so long. Even if you’re angry or have been angry for years, it’s worth it to be careful what you say.

The Power of Creativity

At one point, Cat’s grandma tried to help her by having her meet with a life coach a couple times a week. The life coach had Cat take several personality tests. When she looked over the results, she found that Cat was extremely creative. She believed that if that creativity could be properly channeled, Cat may be able to more easily keep herself from depression and addiction.

It was not until Cat came to write this book that she was able to get healthier and fight back against her addiction. She is now able to work from home doing freelance writing. The creativity that writing allows her has given her a lot of fulfillment. It is a part of her personality that she needed to satisfy in order to feel complete.

I love the idea of getting to the core of who we are and what we were really made to do. I wholeheartedly believe that when we fight against our personality in our vocation, it leads to depression and can lead to addiction. And perhaps pursuing our passion cannot always be a career. The things we are passionate about do not always pay the bills, but we can make time for them (even if it’s a few minutes a day). When we find that thing that makes us tick, that passion will shine through all parts of our lives.

Quick Review

There is a lot not to like in this book. Cat Marnell’s excessive use of profanity can be off-putting, since hardly a page passes without some curse word. In addition she uses anti-Semitic racial slurs as well as other offensive language to describe the people in her life. Despite these things, there are enough redeeming qualities in the book that I enjoyed it immensely. Overall, I found her to be funny. Her writing style was excellent. And her ability to capture the inner life of an addict gave me real insight into an addiction I had not given much thought to. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an interesting read about prescription addiction.

Discussion Topic: What is the Best Memoir You’ve Ever Read?

What is the best memoir you’ve ever read? Why did you love it so much?

Personally, I loved Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner. I found it heartbreaking and inspiring. It was a memoir that not only kept me interested, but changed the way I thought about charity work in poorer communities. A close second would be the haunting memoir by Amanda Knox, Waiting to be Heard. It rattled me and made me feel so saddened for those who face injustice like she did.

Let me know your favorites in the comments. I’d love to know!

Nobody’s Son

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Nobody’s Son by Mark Slouka was an interesting story written in an uninteresting way. Slouka’s writing style felt forced and awkward, but the compelling nature of his story may have redeemed his style.

Nobody's Son by Mark Slouka
Nobody's Son by Mark Slouka

Mark Slouka was a novelist. After the loss of his father and the impending death of his mother, he decided to reflect upon his upbringing and his mother’s decent into mental illness and addiction. Despite some problems between his parents and his mother’s depression, Slouka’s childhood was otherwise happy. As he grew into a teenager, his mother’s illness grew more pronounced. He argued with her about her delusions that he was trying to hurt her. On stormy day during their trip across Europe, they spent hours pulled over on the side of the road arguing. Slouka’s mother, as she often did, insisted that he was trying to harm her and that he was evil.

After college, Slouka married. His mother’s mental illness worsened. He discovered that she had an addiction to prescription medication. His parents separated, and after years apart his father died. Slouka went on to be a novelist. In his writing, he modeled characters after his mother and the pain he felt because of her illness. They had periods of estrangement, but he made a point to visit her shortly before she died. During the writing of Nobody’s Son, Slouka’s mother passed away.

Slouka’s writing style left a lot to be desired.

The biggest complaint I had with Slouka’s writing style was that it felt like he was trying too hard to be great. He spent an excessive amount of time saying things along the lines of, “I’m writing a memoir, and when you write memoirs, you feel things.” I generally do not mind some reflecting on the process of writing the memoir itself, but there was so much writing about the process of writing the memoir that it almost felt like it was a memoir about the time he wrote a memoir.

In addition to his excessive musing, I felt like his lack of chronology and the way he formatted his book made the plot less clear. He wrote in a way that was vague, and he often jumped between different periods of time. While jumping between timelines can often be done well, I felt like it was done in a very confusing way in Slouka’s memoir.

Slouka writes honestly about the struggles of having a mentally ill parent.

Having a parent with a serious mental illness is difficult. Despite my dislike for a lot of things in his writing, I found myself crying throughout the second half of the book. While his mother’s mental illness is different in many ways from my father’s bipolar disorder, being the child of a parent with a mental illness is a unique experience. The usual “parent-child” relationship does not apply.

He writes about his frustration and his anger.

When Slouka’s mother started having delusions, he did not understand what was happening. His father chose to ignore and support her delusions, rather than argue about them. Frustrated that his parents were denying that events that happened minutes before had actually happened, Slouka would argue with them. His mother would make him feel crazy, then call him evil when he did not support her version of reality. So frustrated and angry about his relationship with his mother, he had written about her death in novels and short stories.

“I need to acknowledge that you don’t imagine your mother’s death, even in a novel, without there maybe, just maybe, being some issues to think about.”

Mark Slouka

I’ve spent plenty of time frustrated and angry with my father. I have been frustrated with his antics when he’s been off of his medication and having manic delusions. Instead of just being frustrated, I’ve spent years angry at him when he’s turned to drugs to self-medicate his bipolar disorder. It’s so easy to be angry at a mentally ill parent when their actions so directly impact you. It is also easy to be angry when you know that they are doing things that are hurting themselves.

He writes about his guilt.

Slouka carried guilt over his mother’s illness. He felt responsible for some parts of if, primarily because he sometimes felt like he should have done more to help her. She often called him evil when she was having her delusions. I can imagine that this only added to the guilt he felt over being unable to help her.

“I want to know why I couldn’t save us, thought what I really want, I think, is absolution, the beginning of this sentence with the word “why” removed like a long thorn: I want to know I couldn’t save us.

Mark Slouka

What child doesn’t want to save his or her parents from what is wrong with them, regardless of what they have done? Before my dad got really sick, he used to drink a lot. I thought that alcoholism was the worst thing in the world (and it’s pretty darn bad). Some nights he would get mad at me and yell, “You drive me to drinking!” and get a beer. For the longest time, I thought it was true. Then I figured out that he was drinking whether or not he was angry with me. When he began using drugs and having problems with his mental health, I carried a lot of guilt. Even thought I knew (logically) that I didn’t “drive” him to do anything, there was always that part of me that wondered if there was anything I could have done.

He writes about loving his mother despite it all.

Slouka loved his mother. He knew that she couldn’t help her mental illness. And even though she had an addiction to prescription medication because of her mental illness, he still loved her. He loved her smile and her laugh. He loved the way she told him stories when he was young. She taught him so many things. And despite the damage she did later on, he loved the woman she was beyond her illness.

“I don’t know that she had a choice. And all I can be is sorry for it. And let her go.”

Mark Slouka

When my father is in his right mind, he is the most generous person I know. He’s funny. If he’s around a group of people, he’s the center of attention and will do anything to make everyone laugh. So many of my good qualities came from him. Whether or not he comes to terms with his illness and his addictions, I love him. He’s my dad. And I know there’s so much good in him. His illnesses just make it hard for some people to see that.

Quick Review:

Nobody’s Son had a powerful story. Slouka’s expression of what it is like to be the child of a mentally ill parent was what made this book worth reading. However, his writing style and the lack of chronology left a lot to be desired. He spent a lot of the book musing about how it felt to be writing his memoir, which felt unneeded and obnoxious. In a way, it felt as if he was trying to sound like a better and more philosophical writer than he was. It is unfortunate that such a great and powerful story may be obscured by these quirks in his writing.

Five Tips to Encourage Your Kids to Read

Rebecca Fletcher is a guest blogger from Coffee, Cats, and Kindergarten. Her blog can be found here.

What was your first favorite book?

Can you remember? For some people, it’s difficult. For me, it’s easy.

My first favorite book was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I began reading it in first grade. It was hidden in a huge box of books but, once I discovered it, I was obsessed. I carried it everywhere. I read it in the car. I read it at the kitchen table. I missed the bus because I was too busy reading to watch the clock.

Throughout the years, my favorite books have changed, but my love of reading has not. I have several book series on a bookshelf in my home office, and the local public library workers know me by name. I still read in the car and at the kitchen table and, while I have not recently missed a bus due to my incessant reading, I have almost been late for work on several occasions because I got so caught up in my reading!

As a teacher, I am very fortunate to get to share my love of reading with my students. Something that I used to struggle with, though, was how to reach reluctant readers. It was very difficult for me to fathom how someone could not love reading. However, I knew that it was a reality. I also knew that it was my job to try and change their minds!

In my three years as a kindergarten teacher, I have found several effective methods for getting those reluctant readers to fall in love with reading, and I would love to share them with you! Below are a few suggestions for helping to foster a love of reading in children.

1. Read Aloud

One of my favorite (and most effective) ways to encourage children to love reading is to simply read to them! I love to incorporate different voices and motions into my reading. My students and I will occasionally act out a scene from a story. For example, we acted out The Three Little Pigs during our fairy tale unit. My teaching team and I like to spice things up by switching classrooms sometimes. That means that I will go into another teacher’s classroom to read a book to her students, while she comes into my classroom and reads a book to my students.

Another thing that I love doing with my students that can also be done at home is reading aloud books that they wouldn’t be able to read on their own, such as chapter books. In fact, just this week I started reading aloud an abridged version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Even though there are very few pictures, my students are listening attentively to every word!

2. Have “Kids’ Choice” time

I frequently allow my students to choose which books I read to them. In the morning, I might pick 2 books (with similar themes) and allow the students to pick which one to read today and which one to read tomorrow. If we have a few extra minutes before a transition, I’ll grab a few books and allow the students to pick which one I read. Knowing that I am reading a book that they chose makes them much more likely to listen to and enjoy whatever I’m reading!

3. Allow Different Mediums for Different Interests

Along the same lines as the previous point, I try to give my students as many options as I can in their reading materials! I have a classroom library that is stocked with different kinds of books, including fiction and nonfiction. However, I also have magazines in the library, as well as several travel books from around the world. Last year, I created a Donors Choose project, and received funding for more than three dozen National Geographic books on many topics. Comic books have also made their way into my classroom library.

Additionally, I encourage my students to read during our “tablet time” with apps such as ABCMouse. As a teacher, I have had several parents express concern that their child isn’t interested in reading books; that all they want to read is (magazines, comic books, the back of cereal boxes… you get the picture). Whenever that happens, I give this advice: LET THEM READ! I have always believed that it doesn’t matter what kids are reading, as long as they’re reading (and, of course, it’s age-appropriate material).

4. Build Confidence while Maintaining Interest

This one might sound a little tricky, but hear me out because it’s totally worth it! If you are interested in helping your child become a more confident reader, it is important to have them reading at (or just above) their own reading level. I think that I speak for all teachers when I say that your child’s teacher would be more than happy to provide you with that information, should you ask for it. Once you have the reading level, you can search for books on any topic on or around that level. These are books that your child can read independently or with very little help. A fun way to do this would be to alternate pages: your child reads a page, and then you read a page. This allows the child to practice reading about a topic they like, without overwhelming them with reading a whole book.

5. Set an Example

As an avid reader, this is one of my favorite tips. Let children see you reading! In my classroom, I participate in DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) Time with my kids. Though I would love to spend those 10-15 minutes grading papers or assessing my students, I make a point to get the students settled, and then go sit down and read myself. Though it seems like a small thing, my students have definitely noticed that I read when they read! In fact, my students usually even notice when I start a new book. I love knowing that I am setting a great example for them! You can also do this at home.

In addition to that, something as simple as having different reading materials left around the house (newspapers, magazines, books, etc.) can show children that reading is very valuable. Seeing their parents and siblings actually reading those things can have an even better impact!

 

I genuinely hope that you found some valuable nuggets in the information I shared above! I would love to know if you choose to try some of the tips I mentioned. Please share in the comments! If you have any questions for me, you can hop over to my blog or email me directly at cofeecatsandkindergarten@hotmail.com.

Thanks to Faith for letting me guest post.

Rebecca Fletcher is a guest blogger from Cats, Coffee, and Kindergarten. Cats, Coffee, and Kindergarten is a blog that details Rebecca’s insights and fun as a Kindergarten teacher, coffee enthusiast, and cat owner. Her blog can be found here.

Unashamed

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Unashamed is the powerful testimony about God’s transforming work in the life of Christian artist Lecrae Moore. Lecrae writes about growing up without a father, his mistakes, and his transformation into the artist he is today.

Unashamed by Lecrae Moore
Unashamed by Lecrae Moore

Lecrae was abandoned by his father, who he never met. His mother worked hard to provide for him. Because of the emptiness left by not having a father figure in his life, Lecrae looked up to rap artists and uncles who were not always good influences on him. After being molested by a babysitter, he gained a distorted view of sexuality. He used drugs and women. However, he earned a full scholarship to college for theater and continued his lifestyle on campus. It was there that he had to opportunity to go to a conference where he accepted Jesus as his savior.

“I’ve had to learn that my natural responses aren’t normal, that the only way to live a future that’s better than my past is to cling to God in the present.”

Lecrae Moore

Unfortunately, in his zeal he also became legalistic in his approach to his relationship with God. He believed he could do enough good to wipe away all of the wrong things he had done. When he started to slip, he gave up. He began a sexual relationship with a woman who got pregnant with his child. Not wanting to be a father, he told her to get an abortion. Not long after that, they separated and he continued his lifestyle. After checking into rehab, he realized his need for God’s grace. He moved in with a Christian friend and turned his life around completely. It was then that his career as a Christian artist began to take off.

Lecrae’s abandonment by his father severely impacted his life.

Lecrae hungered so much for a male role model that he clung to any male who invested in his life. Even the rap artists he listened to became role models to fill the void his father had left. The emptiness he felt left him eager to prove himself to everyone.

Even after becoming a Christian, the scars from being fatherless still remained. While they were not being filled with drugs and women, the hunger for approval was still there. The lack of a father in his life impacted the way he saw God as a Heavenly Father.

“Because I felt like my dad valued drugs more than having me as a son, I’ve constantly wrestled with my self-worth and craved the approval of others.”

Lecrae Moore

Although I was not abandoned by my father, my complicated relationship with my father has also left its scars on my life. It has left me starved for male role models. I often crave words of affirmation from the older men in my life, especially those I have labeled as role models. Words of criticism can be taken as outright attacks. However, I have been able to work through some of these issues because I am aware of them. As I read Lecrae’s story, I connected with his emotions. I found his honesty about the journey to be healing.

Lecrae has learned to become “okay” with the tension his music creates.

Lecrae’s testimony and his outspokenness about being a Christian have led to him being labeled a “Christian artist.” While a lot of his music does talk about things related to Christianity, he has started taking a direction away from being overtly Christian in his music in order to reach more people. His conviction is that in order to reach people, he needs to be an artist who is a Christian instead of a Christian artist. He wants to write music that will speak to the boy he was growing up so that he can allow doors to be opened to conversations about faith.

“Being an outspoken Christian in the music industry means always feeling out of place. It’s like whatever you have accomplished is less credible because of your faith. You’re in the circle, but you’re not really in the circle. You fit in, but you don’t really fit in.”

Lecrae Moore

While Lecrae is never going to fit in with the non-Christian crowd, he’s also been shunned by some segments of the Christian crowd as well. When he began to shift his focus in his music to follow his convictions, he did not communicate with his fans what his intentions were. Some fans accused him of chasing money. Others claimed he wasn’t a Christian anymore. And although the path he believes God has put him on has left him in a place of tension, he is staying there.

Quick Review:

Unashamed is a powerful and emotional memoir. It is an absolute must-read for fans of Lecrae. Even for those who are not his fans, I highly recommend it because of the powerful testimony that he writes in this book’s pages. This book contains mature content like sexual abuse, drugs, and abortion. However, Lecrae handles his past mistakes and his background in a tactful away. His book gives readers a raw, yet redeemed look inside what life looks like for a young black man in America. Overall, this may be one of the best books I have read in a long time.

I Will Find You

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I Will Find You is a compelling and well-written memoir about a journalist’s journey to find out what brought her and her rapist together on the day of her attack. Joanna Connors writes her heartbreaking tale about how her rape changed the way she lived for over twenty years.

I Will Find You by Joanna Connors
I Will Find You by Joanna Connors

Joanna was thirty years old when she was raped by David Francis at a University theater where she had gone to get a story as part of her job as a journalist. It was by catching a glimpse of his tattoo that she was able to give a compelling description to police. They were able to catch him a day later returning to the scene of the crime. He was convicted and sentenced to thirty to seventy years in prison. But even with her rapist behind bars, Joanna went on to live in fear. A year after the rape, she had her first child with her husband. Unintentionally, she hovered over her two children excessively, afraid that they may fall into harm’s way.

After a college campus visit with her daughter, Joanna realized that she needed to put her fear to rest. She would find David Francis and find out what made him into a rapist. Although he told her that he would find her (a thought that once filled her with dread), she was now determined to find him. She gathered the court documents from her trial. Among them, she found his records and found out he had died several years prior. Although she was relieved that she would not have to face him, she also knew that she would not have all of her answers. Joanna found out that David and his siblings had been abused terribly by his father. This abuse, along with an older man willing to mentor David in crime, may have been contributing factors in David’s outcome.

Joanna powerfully reflects on the journey many survivors go through.

I found myself echoing so many of Joanna’s thoughts and words throughout her story. Although our stories are very different, the emotional toll it took is similar. Joanna is one of the rare cases of a rape committed by a stranger, while my abuse was carried out over a period of nine months by someone I knew. Yet there were several times that her reflected thoughts could have easily been my own.

Joanna reflected throughout the book about her guilt over the rape. She wrote that she blamed herself, even though she would have never blamed someone else in her shoes. Her guilt intensified when the attorney prosecuting her case asked her why she went into the empty building. When I opened up about my abuse, an adult I trusted said, “I thought you were smarter than that.” When they said these things, it only confirmed what we were already thinking: “This is my fault.”

“It was not your fault, even if you were drunk, even if you were wearing a low-cut minidress, even if you were out walking along at night, even if you were on a date with the rapist and kind of liked him but didn’t want to have sex with him.”

Joanna Connors

Joanna also reflected on the fearfulness she felt after her rape. Because of this, she developed a fear of everything around her, to the point that she could not function like she did before. While years of counseling have made that fearfulness less constant in my life, there are still times when I feel afraid for reasons I cannot explain. Men I do not know sometimes make me wary. I startle easily. I’m fortunate that the fear lessens over time, but when it is there, it is very apparent.

Joanna wanted to find out what made her rapist the way he was.

Instead of writing David Francis off as a “bad man,” Joanna wanted to find out what made him the way he was. On her journey, she found out about the abuse he endured at the hands of his father. She found his two sisters, both of which had also been rape victims themselves. Joanna found that in his vulnerability, David was mentored by an older criminal and jailed as a juvenile. In jail, it is possible that he himself was sexually abused.

While not all people who are abused become abusers themselves, those who commit these crimes have often been hurt terribly by other people. Although it is merely anecdotal evidence, the young man who abused me had been abused terribly as a child. I believe that the abuse he endured could easily have been the reason for his actions against me.

Quick Review:

I Will Find You is a very powerful book. It is very emotional. It also has mature content. Joanna Connors spends a chapter going into detail describing her rape, so I would not recommend this book for younger audiences, sensitive audiences, or for recent survivors of sexual assault. Additionally, there was some language throughout the book. It was a very good look at one woman’s journey to find answers about what made her rapist into the man he was. As a survivor myself, I enjoyed the rawness of her reflections of what it looks like to cope with a sexual assault.

Her Again

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Her Again is the charming and emotional biography that details Meryl Streep’s early life and rise to fame. Michael Schulman artfully weaves together her story in a way that will enchant readers.

Her Again by Michael Schulman
Her Again by Michael Schulman

Meryl Streep grew up in Bernadsville, New Jersey. In high school she developed her talent and passion for acting. She left high school and entered an all girls college, where she flourished without the distraction of boys. However, in her junior year the school started allowing boys to enroll, causing tension among students. Meryl continued to act, and enrolled in acting school at Yale. Her fellow students looked up to her talent and versatility in the roles she played. This versatility would follow her throughout her career, as she slipped easily in and out of roles.

After college, she began to act in more plays. She took many Shakespearean roles, and in one of those roles she met John Cazale. They fell deeply in love, and continued to act together. When John fell ill with lung cancer, Meryl stood by his side until the end. In the aftermath of his death, her career as a movie actress began to take off. Only six months after his death, she married Don Gummer. Although the wounds of losing John had not healed, she found something enduring in Don that she knew was right. She and Don have four children and remain married to this day.

Schulman painted a bright picture of a brilliant woman.

Schulman’s excellent writing made it easy to be impressed by Meryl Streep’s talent. He wrote about her acting skills and their development in a way that made them come to life, even without a screen. Most interestingly, he wrote about Meryl’s shunning of method acting. Instead of conjuring up her own pain to get to a certain place while acting, Meryl preferred to act as a reflection of life as she saw it.

Schulman also gave the reader a glimpse at Meryl’s fire. Meryl was influenced heavily by second-wave feminism, and has always been vocal in those beliefs. She believes that both men and women should be able to step out of the roles society puts them into. Meryl has also been an advocate for herself and her acting. On one film she was offered, some scenes called for her nudity. Instead of merely turning it down, she asked if the male lead would also be showing the same amount of nudity. The part was offered to someone else.

Schulman captured her fun personality along with her strength.

Meryl has a lot of quirks, and Schulman captured them beautifully within the pages of the book. He wrote about her vocal desire for personal space and privacy, especially after having her first child. She loves pearls and a jacket she’s had since college. If she could do anything, she would act in plays instead of movies. And despite her fame, she still has some insecurities about her appearance.

Most interesting to me, though, was her marriage to Don Gummer. She had met and married him in a six month period. Although her friends and family wondered if she had lost her mind, she had fully thought through the marriage and it has become one of the most enduring marriages in Hollywood. Because I also had a hasty marriage, I am always fascinated by what goes into those decisions. Ultimately, I believe that when you know you’ve met the person you’re meant to be with, you know it’s them and you know when the timing is right. That timing might be mere months (to the dismay of family and friends) or that timing might be years. I do know that it didn’t feel fast to Grant and me, and I doubt it felt fast to Meryl Streep and Don Gummer.

Quick Review:

Her Again was a great read with great writing. Michael Schulman brings to life the story of Meryl Streep’s rise to fame in a very lively and linear way. My only complaint is that it did not cover more of Meryl Streep’s life, although it is a very good “rise to fame” tale. Although I have seen Meryl Streep in a few movies and enjoyed her performances, I would not call myself a “fan,” although this book certainly did a good job convincing me that I should be. For those who love her, this is a must read.