Category Archives: character-building books

A Review of Coming Clean: A Memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller

I found out about this wonderful book through a Kindle offer but ended up checking it out of my local library. I like to read memoirs and this one did not disappoint.

I have great respect for the author, Kimberly Rae Miller, as she told the poignant tale of growing up with two parents who had a compulsive hoarding problem. It was not just a case of a cluttered house, but filth and shame as she tried to keep others from knowing her secret. The thing about it is that her love for her parents shines the whole way through the book. Miller adhered to a Biblical principle, “honor thy father and mother,” and her outcome was blessed because she did so.

Kim grew up in the New York City area as an only child. Her mother was Jewish and her Dad was Catholic. Trauma in his own childhood with alcoholic parents led her Dad into an insatiable need to hang onto all kinds of papers. He loved to gather information as well and constantly listened to NPR. Though the papers were mostly not going to be used or needed, nevertheless he felt a compunction to hang onto them, along with all kinds of other junk. Her mother did not have a happy childhood either, and ended up cut off by her mother, who always favored her sister. In spite of her anger over her husband’s hoarding, Kim’s Mom comforted her pain by ordering lots and lots of things online. It grew to the point that her mother only had just a tiny space for where she slept on her mattress each night.

Kim told of how they got burned out of one house and ended up moving from one apartment to another as she grew up, running from chaos and filth. She made some great friends in school in spite of it. These friends helped and did not abandon her when her “secret” got out. In spite of the mess and confusion, Kim was a go-getter and pushed herself to make it to prestigious Emerson College in New England. After her freshman year, she lost her financial aid package through a technicality and became desperate. During Kim’s own lowest point, her Mom sacrificed in helping her find a way to continue there.

Once she left her parents’ home, Kim was overcome by the horror of what she had gone through as a child. But she never abandoned her parents. Instead, she came time and time again to help them clean out, and try to make a fresh start. Each time she did it drained her, but she pushed through it anyway. Her mother suffered severe health problems and nearly died, but Kim let her mother know that she must keep on fighting to get well because she needed her. Her mother needed a clean place to come home to recuperate. Kim realized her parents needed help, and in compassion she shelved her pride and secret to even more people in asking help from them to clean her parents home.

The hoarding lifestyle she was surrounded by gave Miller an almost obsessive need to keep her own home neat and tidy. Part of her own therapy was writing down her story, and it was one which her parents fully supported. When her Dad read the manuscript, he tearfully apologized for all she suffered growing up in utter chaos. The best part of this memoir is that she still loves and supports her parents. At the end, they made tremendous strides in cleaning up their act. Kim found happiness also, but I won’t say more on that.

It was like a breath of fresh air to find someone who was not willing to jump on the wagon to blame someone else for their problems, to find someone who actually was grateful for their parents even if her parents were not perfect people. I commend the author for her bravery in telling this story in a way that could make the reader feel good about honoring and respecting their parents. I really enjoyed this book and maybe now you will also. You can find out more about Kimberly Rae Miller at her blog: http://thekimchallenge.com/

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George Mueller of Bristol: His Life of Prayer and Faith by A. T. Pierson

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If you want a challenge in your faith walk, I recommend reading the biography of a remarkable man, Mr. George Mueller, the founder of homes that housed thousands of orphans in the 1800s in Bristol, England. This book gives a detailed look at the life of Mr. Mueller from one who was greatly influenced by Mueller in his spiritual life. This pastor from America, Arthur. T. Pierson, was a personal friend of George Mueller.

The story is outstanding not because of George Mueller in and of himself, but that he proved in his life and ministry that God was a prayer hearing and answering God. He sought first of all that God might be glorified in answering his fervent prayers for the many needs of his ministry. In fact, everything Mueller accomplished for his ministry (which grew steadily from humble beginnings) was not from going to people as a source but instead was accomplished through fervent prayer.

Mueller chose never to broadcast a need for his orphanages to anyone, however, but only to God. Even all his helpers were not allowed to broadcast any need, but only to petition heaven for their needs. How different this is than the approach used today with ministries having telethons and begging for money. Many times Mueller, his wife and his helpers were sorely tested and lived in poverty themselves as they gave just about everything they had for the sake of the work. Reading these testimonies, it really put me to shame, to be honest. These workers sold all they had for the sake of the work and did not count their lives dear unto themselves,just like the Apostle Paul said of himself in the book of Acts.

After a youth filled with thievery and rebellion, George Mueller became a believer while studying Divinity at the University of Halle, without any interest in God. A friend invited him to a Bible study and the sight of people praying on their knees that night drew Mueller into seeking his own personal relationship with Christ. He functioned as a pastor for over sixty years. In his retirement years, he took on an evangelistic outreach that took him all over the world. Yet his principles remained the same: the needs were always placed before God and God alone to provide. Mueller kept a Narrative of the Lord’s dealings with him, after being influenced reading the autobiographical narrative of the Lord’s dealings with John Newton, a pastor he admired, who is famous for writing the hymn Amazing Grace. In Mueller’s own narrative, great detail is given to showing how the Lord answered specific prayers in His own timing, and by reading about the details of this Narrative, it imparted great incentive for me to continue in my prayers like the persistent widow in Luke 18. George Mueller prayed for two people’s conversions for over 60 years, and even did not see the answer before his death, but stated: “I have not a doubt that I shall meet them both in heaven; for my Heavenly Father would not lay upon my heart a burden of prayer for them for over threescore years, if He had not concerning them purposes of mercy.” (page 302)

Another important takeaway from this biography is to learn George Mueller’s Bible reading habit and of making himself happy in the Lord as the first order of each day. What a beautiful idea, to start each day making sure that one is happy and content in their relationship with Christ as the most important thing. He read the Bible through two hundred times during his lifetime.

This book is long, 375 pages, but is edifying and worth the read. I should not compare myself to George Mueller, for Scripture says that is unwise, and I fall way short. But, I can glean great encouragement to petition God like George Mueller did, for Mr. Pierson stated:

“While men are asking whether prayer can accomplish similar wonders as of old, here is a man who answers the question by the indisputable logic of facts. Powerlesssnes always means prayerlessness, It is not necessary for us to be sinlessly perfect … but it is necessary that we be men and women of prayer–habitual, believing, importunate prayer.” (pages 371-372)

George Mueller lived like the faith heroes of Hebrews 11, therefore his faith and life of prayer is worth imitating today.

This book was published by Kregel Publications in 1999.

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Review of The Boy Who Said No by Patti Sheehy

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This book is an exciting true to life fiction story of a man named Frankie Mederos, and is a real page turner. I did not want to put it down! Frankie lived in Cuba when Fidel Castro suddenly seized power, thereby making life extremely difficult for the people who lived there. Mederos recalled watching with his grandfather Castro and his soldiers parade down the streets with their guns, while most Cubans applauded. But his grandfather was not fooled, and taught his favorite grandson about the evil that descended upon their island with this so called government “reform.”

Without giving too much away, the action gets hot as Frankie grows up and his multiple talents are realized by the Communists. Frankie also falls in love with a beauty named Magda and it is their relationship which will determine the painful choice Frankie must make which will affect his family and life forever.

The people of Cuba previously suffered in the corrupt regime of Batiste, but this was nothing compared to the suffering under Castro. Horror stories abounded of people tortured in prisons. A friend of Frankie’s humbly supported his impoverished mother and siblings by shining shoes. One day, he was accosted by a Communist soldier, his goods confiscated and ordered to never operate his business again. The boy was absolutely heartbroken, knowing he could not give his mother anything to help feed and clothe their starving family. Such was the life when everything was either given up for the collectivist state or destroyed.

This book made me thank God for my American freedom, even though it is teetering on a precipice right now. There is a sequel to this book that is due out in September, 2014 called Stalked: The Boy Who Said No. I can’t wait to read it!

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Review of Sarah Whitcher’s Story by Elizabeth Yates

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I found an ex-lib copy of Sarah Whitcher’s Story for sale at a local library and bought it. I remembered hearing about this book while I was homeschooling my children. The hardback version that I bought was beautifully illustrated in black and white sketches by Nora Unwin.

Last night, I sat down and read it. It is based on a real event that happened in Warren, New Hampshire in the late 1700’s. A little daughter of a pioneer family named Sarah Whitcher becomes lost in the woods outside her log home one day. Her mother and father had gone to get supplies and Sarah wanted to go with them, but was not permitted. Her older brother was to watch over her and some of the other children.

But Sarah slipped away and no one could find her by the time Mother and Father got home. In the meantime, she is playing in the woods pretending she is her mother and father. It starts to rain and she cannot find her way back to the log cabin. She ends up being protected by a mother bear who treats her like she is her bear-cub. But Sarah does not realize that it is a bear protecting her, for she thinks it is the family’s dog.

The community rallies around the Whitcher family in the attempt to find the little girl. Neighbors come from far and near to help out in the search every day for three days. Sarah’s mother is only heartened when she hears her husband tell her to trust in the Lord that Sarah would be found.

After the third day, the neighbors are ready to give up the search, for they think she will not be found alive. Mrs. Whitcher implores them to come back for one more day of searching, and so they agree.

Sarah’s parents refuse to give up hope and on that fourth day a stranger walks into the clearing saying he had  dreamed three times about a little girl that was lost and in the dream was shown just where to find her. He tells them he will find her. The Whitcher’s neighbor accompanies him, but in disbelief.  Astonishingly, the man walks to the spot that he saw three times in his dream and finds the little girl there.

A signal is given by gunfire that Sarah has been found and soon all the neighbors are rejoicing with the Whitcher’s. Mr. Whitcher says that He knew the Lord would help them find her somehow. At the end of the book, the stranger soon leaves but he hears the village singing praises to God as he walks away.

This is a great book for readers in elementary school. It could be read by the child alone but it also would be great for a read aloud. Emphasized within are the values of faith, family and community. It shows children how neighbors used to help each other out and worked together, something that has sadly become less and less common.

The black and white pictures are endearing, especially of the little girl Sarah. This is an older book, published in 1971 by E.F. Dutton, but it is a classic. It will help children learn about our pioneer heritage as well. I really enjoyed it, and it reminded me of my love for reading pioneer stories when I was a girl. It will be worth the time taken to share with your young readers.

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An endearing story of selflessness…The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

OK, I admit to you all that I had a book on my shelf that I bought for my children when homeschooling them. It sat for many years. I am not even sure that any of them read it, but last night, I said to myself that the book had sat long enough neglected. I pulled out my ex-library copy of Paul Gallico’s novella The Snow Goose.

I have a vague memory of seeing this as  a movie and it haunted me. For some reason, I thought it was a Christmas tale but it isn’t. However, it does convey the spirit of Christmas as the main character gives his life for others.

Paul Gallico’s short story was first published in the Saturday Evening Post and then made into a novella. Philip Rhayader is the main character, but he is deformed. His one hand is like a claw and he is hunchbacked. Society shuns him so he lives in a lighthouse all alone, but he has a magic touch with the birds he encounters along the English shoreline. One day a disheveled little girl comes to him with a wounded snow goose in her arms. He is able to nurse the goose back to health, and he and the goose eventually becomes attached to Philip.

Though the bird is from Canada, it does not return there, but every winter will fly down to winter with Philip. The little girl, Fritha, comes back every year to see the snow goose. Eventually, a deep friendship grows between Fritha and Philip, even though she recoils because of his deformities at first.Fritha looks beyond the outward and realizes she loves Philip as she grows into a woman.

Britain is at war with Germany in the second World War and Philip hears of wounded soldiers trapped at the Battle of Dunkirk. One day Fritha sees Philip getting into his boat. She wants to go with him, but he must go alone across the sea to rescue the wounded soldiers and collect them off the bloody beach. But actually, Philip is not alone, for the snow goose is flying with him.

He ends up rescuing hundreds of soldiers. But the Germans attack with their machine guns and Philip is killed. The snow goose protects him whenever someone comes near. The bird becomes like a legend. and anyone who sees him is protected.

When the snow goose returns to the lighthouse alone, Fritha knows that Philip is gone. She comes to the lighthouse every day to care for the birds. But, at last, the lighthouse is destroyed by a German bomber.

The Snow Goose teaches adolescents, well, all of us, valuable lessons. Fritha looked beyond an apparent handicaps and saw true beauty in Philip as he cared for the creatures, and the soldiers on the beach. The Snow Goose shows us his loyalty by coming back to Philip’s lighthouse year after year, and guarding his body in death. Philip was kind to all, in spite of being an outcast. Good lessons, all, and revealing the wonder of the spirit of giving as exemplified when God became a tiny baby for our sakes.

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