Friday, May 31, 2013

Tori's Top 10 Books of Senior Year

I love to read.

I'd rather read than watch TV. I'd rather read than go to a party. I'd rather read than do most anything.

Between the end of my junior and senior year, I read a total of ninety books. Some were great; others, dismal. But with pleasure, I'd like to present my Top 10 Books of Senior Year.

Even if you don't love reading as much as I do, these books are worth picking up this summer!

1. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
          While this memoir of a family who hides Jews in their home during the Holocaust is anything but light, it is a book that everyone should read at least once. The faith of the ten Boom's and their perseverance in the most degrading and inhumane of circumstances is an example to all. Both sickening and inspiring, this book redefined faith for me.

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
          Many will groan at the size of this book and its proper Victorian English, but the story is worth pushing through the more difficult pages. Orphaned Jane Eyre has almost nothing going for her - no fortune, no beauty, and a horrid childhood to boot. But her fortune seems to change when she takes a position as a governess at the formidable and haunting Thornfield Hall, owned by the equally mysterious Mr. Rochester. It soon becomes obvious, though, that the old house contains a dark secret, and Jane must be careful not to get tangled up in it. Romantic and exciting, I read into the wee hours of the morning finishing this book.

3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
          Mitchell's tale of the old South is as polarizing a novel as ever there was. Set in the South before, during, and after the Civil War, Gone with the Wind takes many forms - a romance, a social commentary, a war story. The fact that it has stood the test of time vouches for its status as a classic. With spunky, bratty, determined Scarlett O'Hara taking the lead, and the sassy, sardonic Rhett Butler adding his special flavor of wit; lazy, aristocratic Ashley and selfless, noble Melanie, Gone with the Wind personifies the old South in an unforgettable way.

4. A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt
           The third book in Cynthia Voigt's Tillerman Cycle, A Solitary Blue tells the story of young Jeff Greene, whose life is changed forever when his smothering, flighty mother takes off, leaving him with his distant father. Jeff struggles with separating himself from his mother, and learning to see the good and bad in both of his parents; he must become his own person, separate from his parents' decisions and learn to trust again. Poignant, poetic, and moving, A Solitary Blue is a true masterpiece.

5. The Fiddler's Gun by A.S. Peterson
          Fin Button was orphaned as a baby, her parents having no use for a girl. Raised in a small town orphanage, Fin grew up rough, fighting and playing with the boys. But her restless and fiery disposition soon finds her an unexpected friend of the old and mysterious cook, Bartimaeus. After an unexpected run-in with the invading British, Fin must flee to the high seas with nothing but an old gun and a banged-up fiddle, but danger lurks there as well. Mutiny, hidden treasure, and the American Revolution make this story as exciting as it is well-written.

6. Rules by Cynthia Lord
          Twelve-year-old Catherine wants nothing more than to live a normal life - which is impossible with her little brother David, who has Autism. She makes it her goal to teach David all the "rules" of being normal from "Keep your pants on in public" to "Sometimes people laugh because they think you're funny - other times they're laughing at you." Over the summer, though, her growing friendship with Jason, who is in a wheelchair and speaks with a communication device, causes her to question what normal really is. A wonderful narrative from the perspective of a child who has a sibling with special needs, an unusual and refreshing point of view.

7. There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz
          A shocking and disturbing glimpse into America's inner cities, There Are No Children Here follows two young boys, Lafayette and Pharaoh Rivers, for two years in a Chicago public housing complex. The world in which these two boys grow up is so disgustingly different from the one I grew up in. When reading about the shootings, gang violence, and drug abuse, its unbelievable to think that this strange world is not in another country, but right here in America. An eye-opening work of journalism, and a must-read for all.

8. The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
          Set in Israel at the time of Roman occupation, The Bronze Bow tells one Jewish boy's story of revenge and redemption. Fighting for the independence of his country and his people, as well as freedom from paralyzing fear for his sister, Daniel finds himself more and more intrigued by the traveling teacher, Jesus, who believes that overthrowing the Romans is not the way to victory. Some say that he is the Messiah, while others say he's crazy. An interesting and insightful look into the world Jesus lived in, and how others viewed him.

9. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
          Caitlin has Asperger's, and her world of perfect order has just collapsed. Her older brother's tragic death has caused her to question everything. As she grows older, too, she starts to realize the differences between herself and others. She finds herself constantly misunderstood and sometimes mocked. A beautiful insight into the life and thoughts of someone with Asperger's or Autism. Erskine skillfully explores hard topics through the eyes of a child, helping us all to better understand and appreciate people like Caitlin.

10. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
          Something awful happened to Melinda over the summer. Something unspeakable. And as she goes into high school, her awful secret takes its toll on her. Misunderstood, a social outcast, blamed for something she couldn't help but do, the truth Melinda is keeping to herself is eating her alive. A book about courage, friendship, and speaking up for yourself, this book was profound and touching.

Honorable Mentions
Worst Books of the Year

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Freshman Group

My stomach did somersaults as I shuffled timidly to the door of a house I had never been in before.

I was meeting with people I'd never met before.

I was terrified. But I sucked in a deep breath and rang the doorbell.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

A year ago this month, I agreed to be a mentor to a group of rising freshman girls at church during their summer study.

I realized on my very first day with them that there was something very different about these girls and their leaders. They were strangely mature for having just graduated middle school. And their leaders truly lead them in biblical truth. They didn't shy away from what the Word said, or how important it is to study it.

I quickly found myself fitting in more than I had in any other youth group - and that's saying a lot. I'd been in various groups with various leaders throughout my high school years, and I had never felt so at home.

I wanted desperately to ask the leaders to let me be a part of the group during the year, but knew that it wouldn't be an appropriate request. I would have to be invited.

And, praise be to God, I was. Everything fell together for me to be a part of this group of freshman girls throughout my senior year.

Many of the other seniors were confused at my leaving my current group to join a freshman one.

"You want to be in a freshman group?" I was asked over and over again.

My answer then was a resounding yes.

And my answer now would be the same, but with a few added remarks.

Yes, because I love them dearly.

Yes, because they made me feel more loved and more welcomed than any of my previous groups.

Yes, because I've grown in my faith and in the Word more this year than in any other.

Yes, because I love being a big sister to them.

Yes, because I belong with them.

I'm sad that the year is coming to an end, and that I'll be in another state after this year's summer study.

As my girls move into their sophomore year of high school and I move into my freshman year of college, I hope they know that I won't forget them when I go to college.

In fact, it will be quite the opposite. I will miss them immensely.

I hope they know that I always want to hear from them. I always want to be there for them.

I hope they know that I will love them just as dearly from afar as I do from up close.

True friendship transcends state lines and grades.

And I am proud to call each of these beautiful, wonderful sophomore girls is a true friend.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mothers Got a Hard Road

It's career day at school.

There's a mom who is a lawyer.
A dad who's a fireman.
A contractor.
A chef.

There is hardly ever a mom who is simply a mom at career day.

Unfortunately, our culture has defamed the name of mother into a side-job, an unimportant, unappealing choice.

Lawyer moms are seen as heroes while mom moms are seen as burdens on society.

There is no hero like a mother, though.

My mom gets up before five some mornings with Levi. She makes him homemade smoothies for the day - spinach, carrots, fruits, juices, coconut water, almond milk, proteins, vitamins.

She changes his diaper (a much more arduous process than you would think), gives him his medicine through his mic-key button, and gets him ready for school.

She makes sure Jace has all his homework before he heads out the door at 6:56.

Then she gets Evan up, changes her diaper, gets her dressed, and feeds her breakfast.

Sometimes Levi throws things at people. Sometimes he takes something from Evan, and she starts sobbing. Mom has to fix it.

It takes a good ten minutes sometimes to get the kicking, screaming Levi out of the car at school at 8:30.

Then she does things like running errands, going to IEPs, scheduling therapies, and learning how to help Levi talk with a communication device.

After a three-hour hiatus from motherhood while the kids are at school, she goes to pick them up, taking them to two different places to get fries. McDonald's because they're the only ones that are gluten-free for Evan. Then Zaxby's because Levi asked for them, and she wants to instill in him that his voice has value.

Sometimes they come home and do bubbles. Sometimes they paint or color. Sometimes they play outside and draw with chalk. Sometimes they have a dance party.

During the dance party, Evan will annoy Levi. He'll throw something at her head. Evan will start crying. Levi will dart under the table to avoid his impending punishment. Mom will have to fish him out, and hold him in a "time-in", while trying to calm Evan down at the same time.

Three hours later, she'll lift Evan over the gate that blocks off our stairs, and send her up to bed with an iPad. She'll sit in Levi's dark bedroom for an hour, waiting for him to fall asleep, since he cries when no one's in his room with him.

When they wake up, Levi will want cheese puffs. They'll sit out for a few minutes while he's distracted by his trains, and by then he'll want new ones. Some days Evan will have reached into her diaper and smeared poop all over herself and her sheets. Another load of laundry, a washcloth-bath.

Then she'll fix dinner, waiting for Dad to get home. Sometimes Dad has to work late, though, and she'll be alone with the kids for the rest of the night. Jace will need a ride to church, so she'll pile all three kids in the car and drive them to Brentwood.

After dinner comes diaper-changing and pajamas. Levi spills his medicine and it has to be made again. Evan is crying because she can't get over the gate to go to bed.

Then she sings with both of them, says a prayer and kisses them goodnight. Exhausted, she still finds time to ask how my day was, or watch an episode of the The Voice.

She goes to sleep, knowing that the same thing will happen again tomorrow.

That is a job.

That is a career.

And that is why moms are heroes.

Especially mine.