Book Report

Book Report

Don't worry... I won't talk your ears off like I did with Unbroken (even though I gladly would.) But here's a list of what I've been reading and my thoughts on the books. Even though I'm really missing the classroom, I have to admit that it's been nice to have some extra time to read!

1. My Secret War: The WWII Diary of Madeline Beck by Mary Pope- this is part of the Dear America series and I absolutely loved those growing up, so this one was a re-read for me. Maddie lives on Long Island in a boardinghouse with her mom and a rather motley group of strangers during World War II. She worries about boys (one in particular), popularity, and clothes like any other teenager, but she mostly worries about her dad, who's stationed in the Pacific. (Pearl Harbor happens about halfway through.) Maddie and her friends do the best they can to support the war effort but quickly learn that war is anything but a game.

There's just something about historical fiction that brings these events to life. Yes, the stories themselves are made up, but there really were families like the Becks during wartime who made sacrifices and worked hard to support the war effort. If you have kids (oh wait, I don't...oops) and they aren't that interested in history, this series is so great. It includes facts about the time period without feeling like a textbook, and the stories are really well done. Plus, they're in a diary format so it all feels more personal. I highly recommend these (and they're not all girls!)

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry- okay, confession. I know this one's been around for a while and I didn't read it until now because of the movie preview. (Bad girl, I know.) But I was curious, so I checked it out and read it in one night. Jonas lives in a "community" where everyone is assigned a position, clothes, food, etc. Basically, there aren't any choices at all, due to the concept they call Sameness. So when he becomes a "twelve" (12-year-old) and is not assigned a career, everyone knows something's up. But instead of being assigned, the Counsel has selected Jonas to be the new Receiver of Memories. Basically, the former Receiver will transmit all the memories of history to Jonas so that the "community" won't figure out how things used to be "elsewhere." So, Jonas becomes the Receiver and works with "The Giver," but receiving all these memories makes him ask a lot of questions. Some are fairly innocent ("Why don't we have color? Why don't we have snow? Or hills?") but some become dangerous ("Why don't we get to choose our jobs? Why can't we love? Why do they send babies and old people 'elsewhere' when they're sick?")

It's really too much to condense into a brief summary (and the plot is hard to explain since it unfolds in so many layers) but the more Jonas learns, the more he wants to escape and take the Giver with him. I won't spoil the ending but I will say that the movie version looks extremely different but I guess it has to be because I have no idea how they'd end the movie the way the book did. Anyway, it was an interesting plot but I wouldn't say "instant classic!" the way I know others have.

3.I, Saul by Jerry B. Jenkins- I really liked this book, even though the back-and-forth between past and present became a little confusing. It was really interesting, fast-paced, and of course extremely well-written since Jerry Jenkins is the master. It jumps from a modern-day story about a theology professor who finds himself caught up in some international intrigue surrounding the discovery of some ancient documents to the last days of the life of the Apostle Paul, including passages of his own personal memoirs (which, you can probably figure out, happen to be the previously mentioned ancient documents.) I really wasn't sure what was going to happen up until the last minute, which was nice, and there were several little subplots that kept things interesting along the way. But then the last page turned out to be a cliff-hanger... booooo. Now I'll have to buy and read I, Paul which is coming out sometime this year. Well-played, Mr. Jenkins.

Also, I read this while working my way through Paul by Beth Moore, which tells a lot of Paul's story in a similar, narrative-type way so reading them at the same time was really cool. They definitely enriched each other! Like I said about the Dear America series, there's just something about fiction, whether its telling a Bible story or some other part of history, that brings everything to life in a new way. 

4. Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel by Judith and Neil Morgan- I tried to like this book; I really did. But not only did it move soooo slowly to me, but it also revealed some things about Dr. Seuss that I didn't like. To address my first grievance: it moved slowly, I guess, because of all the minute details included. I'm a big fan of details that bring a person's story to life, but these were a little dry to plow through. Some parts of it were absolutely fascinating, and then some really dragged. I guess that's true of a lot of biographies but (now on to the second complaint) this one was so revealing of Ted's "quirks" (to put it mildly) that I felt a little disillusioned. I know that's not the biographers' fault, but still. It's a bit disappointing to find out that a beloved children's author had some pretty serious issues, some of which many believe led to his first wife's death. Such a tragedy! Anyway, I guess the person who came up with so many zany, inventive characters had to be just a little "off," but it was still sad to read about. 

On the other hand, the parts I did enjoy were really interesting... for example, he started drawing his "Seussian" creatures as a kid, he did fine art paintings as a hobby (April!! That tidbit's for you!) and during World War II he was part of a "Hollywood League" type military group that included Meredith Wilson (of "The Music Man") and was led by the legendary director Frank Capra. Who knew? Overall, I learned a lot about Ted but I prefer to know him as Dr. Seuss. (And even though it was a dismal failure, I still love The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.) 

5. My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir by Dick Van Dyke- I saw this at Target a couple years ago and flipped through but I haven't seen it at the library until this recent trip, so I snatched it up. I absolutely LOVE Dick Van Dyke as an actor. Mary Poppins was my favorite Disney movie growing up, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was another favorite, and of course The Dick Van Dyke show is an undeniable classic (it's on Netflix if you've never seen it. SO funny, and I'm obsessed with Mary Tyler Moore's wardrobe.) So I was really excited at a peek into his life (it's like literary bonus features!) and I flew through this one in a couple of hours. It was good and I appreciated his work even more after reading about how hard he had to work to "make it" in show business. Many years of doing comedy acts in just about every type of venue and TV show eventually led to the starring roles for which he's known now. 

The only thing that left me feeling a little sad was that throughout the book (in addition to the issues that led to the end of his first marriage- sad!), he discusses at length the different times in his life when he has studied the Bible, attended church, and even served as Sunday school teacher. As a teenager, he even contemplated becoming a minister. But it seems like (by his words, not my assumption) that all that spiritual knowledge never really led to a true understanding of the gospel or a relationship with the Lord. I hope I'm wrong, because I sincerely that he really is a Christian. At the very least, I do appreciate the choices he made to make clean, family-oriented movies and shows and the stand he took against most of the junk in Hollywood over the years.

6. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand- after reading Unbroken, I knew I had to read anything else by this woman! She's such a talented biographer. (I know what you're thinking... "Isn't Seabiscuit a horse?" Well, yes. But he still had a life!) I'm actually not quite finished with this one, but it's fascinating so far. Laura Hillenbrand just as a way of weaving together so many details and stories and facts seamlessly so you're learning but it's not at all textbook-like. Anyway, the whole world of horse racing is pretty unbelievable... just the danger that jockeys face was staggering, and it was even more dangerous 70 years ago when there were few rules and even fewer safety precautions. 

The serendipitous way that all the events unfolded to bring together Seabiscuit's trainer, owner, and rider were pretty awesome, and I've never been into horse racing as a sport (shocking, right?) but reading this book really makes you feel like you're right there in the middle of the action. I'm currently alternating between really wanting to ride a horse and feeling terrified to ever go near one again. Even if this topic doesn't really interest you, the author is just so insanely good that you'll feel yourself getting into it. 

Check these out! And if you do, let me know so we can talk about them! (This happened in the book section at Sam's with a total stranger the other day. We had a jolly conversation about Unbroken and Jonathan is convinced I'm crazy.) 


To My Students...

To My Students...

Dear Students,

Can you believe school starts in two weeks? (I can hear your weeping and wailing cheers of excitement from here.) You guys, I know we've already said our goodbyes and all that mushy stuff, but now that school is rolling back around it's hitting me all over again that I'm really not going to be teaching you this year. Some of you are sad with me. Some of you couldn't care less. (It's okay; I'm not taking it personally. =) Some of you are indifferent about it. But however you feel about it, I'm really sad. 

I will miss laughing over the most ridiculous things... usually a dumb sentence in your grammar book but more often than not one of my stories that mysteriously inserted itself into the lesson. Thanks for letting me live out my dream of being a stand-up comedian for three minutes at a time. I'll miss watching you guys FINALLY understand something we've gone over a million times (adverbs, anyone?). I'll miss singing with you in chapel, listening to your prayer requests in homeroom, and acting out literature stories. I'll miss having class on the front steps of teen church. I'll miss hearing about your drama "social activities," joking about all the dating couples, and running into you at Target. (Actually, there's a solid chance that that will still happen.) 

I'll miss watching you struggle and then come out on top a little older and a little wiser. I'll miss choric speaking practice and clapping in absolute delight when you finish a section. I'll miss our pizza days, pep rallies, basketball games, and having you beg to skip P.E. help take down bulletin boards. (I know that game.) I'll miss going outside and watching during P.E. or bringing popsicles when it was so miserably hot. I'll miss Christmas parties, Charlie Brown specials, green Rice Krispie treats, and valentine cookies. (Well, you'll miss them, won't you?) I'll miss singing the Preposition Song (and various Disney arrangements), our library trips, and dress-up book reports. I'll miss those rare but special moments when a lesson would magically turn into an opportunity to teach you more about Jesus and how, through many weeks and months, the Lord was able to speak to your hearts and I was, in some small way, a part of that. 

I never THOUGHT I'd miss telling you to stop talking a million times, pausing the music in study hall to get you to get back to work every day, walking through the junkyard locker hallway, especially between classes, going back over the same concept 237 times (adverbs, anyone?), giving the same homework lecture every class period, picking up eraser pieces from my floor, sweeping my floor a million times a week (to no avail), yelling at you to shut the door when it's 25 degrees outside, grading your research papers, forbidding snacks in my room, listening to the screaming that somehow always accompanied the time spent changing for P.E., or reminding whoever it was to PLEASE finish cleaning the lunchroom and go to class.... but in their own ways I'll miss all of those things. Because if I'm not doing them, then someone else is and I'm not there with you, even for the less-than-awesome moments. 

I want you guys to know that the years I was able to teach you were a gift to me. They certainly weren't perfect... and neither was I. There were many moments of joy, fun, laughter... and many of confusion, discouragement, and sheer frustration. But through it all, I hope I taught you much more than grammar (although I would love nothing more than for everyone one of you to be able to name the parts of speech at any given moment for the rest of your lives.) I hope that I made it clear to you that serving God doesn't have to be boring (I mean, call English class what you want but I think we can safely say it was never boring. Well.... maybe a couple units. I'm no magician! =) But living for God, whether it's in a ministry position or not, can be exciting, fulfilling, and...dare I say... fun; certainly it doesn't have to be a life of being enslaved to a list of rules. You don't have to be a Puritan missionary to live for God... and you don't have to choose a wild extreme in the other direction. Going to church, doing right, and living for the Lord don't just bring blessings in your life... they guarantee them. Sure, things will be hard, but not nearly as hard as those who don't live with the hope of Jesus Christ!

I hope I've taught you that there is much more to life than the tiny circles we create for ourselves. Through literature, we were able to explore many worlds far beyond our own, and I want you to live your lives that way. Think outside of yourself and your interests and be interested in other people... in their ideas, their feelings, their way of life. It will teach so much, including what NOT to do. The chance to learn and grow as a person increases significantly when you are willing to be interested in others. (Also, it helps if you voluntarily crack open a book now and then. Just a thought!)

Please remember, too, that how you communicate IS important. I know that grammar isn't a spiritual matter, but representing our Savior is. When you talk or write, do it correctly. If someone is distracted by your incorrect word usage or spelling errors, they're not likely to think you'll do a good job as an employee or student... talk about discrediting any chance to talk about the Lord! If you're portraying an image of someone who doesn't know what they're talking about, it's going to be a hard thing to convince another person that you should be telling them about something as important as eternity. Think about it! (I know you've heard this lecture many times, but one more won't hurt.) 

Know that authority... your parents, your teachers, your youth pastor, your pastor.... loves you. I know it doesn't always seem that way. I know it may rarely seem that way. But speaking as one of those people, I can tell you it's true. If your teachers sometimes seem cranky or irritated, it's because we see the vast potential that lives within you. We see that beneath your disinterest in your homework, or attitude, or constant joking, lie talents, abilities, passions, and gifts from God that could turn the world upside down if you would let them. So sometimes we just want to take your face in our hands and say, "Hey! You're a great kid! Stop interrupting the lesson for a second and do your best and watch what happens! You'll be amazed!" (This teacher could possibly be grumpy because there's no more coffee but that's beside the point.) 

Remember that your homework DOES matter, and I promise it's not something we give you just to make you (or ourselves) crazy. It serves a purpose and if you DO your homework on a regular basis you'll be shocked at what magically happens (you'll probably do better on the next quiz. It's a miracle, I know.) Also, I hope you've learned that we WANT to help you. I've been know to tell you that I get a little "testy" when you don't let me know you need help. (Again, not a magician... and neither are your other teachers!) When should you tell them you need help? (I can hear you groaning out the answer now, "BEFORE the quiz/test." Right!) 

Most of all, I hope you've learned that no matter what you choose to do in life- whatever career, college, hobby, whatever- it will be worthwhile if you make Jesus the center of your life. After high school, I doubt you'll remember my Chick-fil-A stories, Disney parodies, or movie quotes (who knows, maybe you will.) You'll probably have forgotten all the clever bulletin board captions that I spent way too much time on. And SOMEHOW I doubt you'll remember the list of verbs that can be both action and linking. But I hope and pray that you will remember that Mrs. McNeese loved you, that God loves you, and that living for Him is SO worth it. It's not the easiest way, but it IS the best way. 

At the end of the year, when I talked about having a baby (someday), one of you said, "You don't need a baby... We are your babies!" And despite the physical impossibility of that statement =) it's true. You're my kids and always will be. I'll be back for your graduations, I'll keep up with you online, I'll dance at your weddings... wait a minute. Too far ahead! (And I don't dance.) After all that I taught you, I can't thank you chuckleheads enough for what you taught ME... patience, understanding, sympathy, love, and far, far more about Justin Bieber and pop culture than I ever, ever wanted to know. Thanks. 

Oh, you crazy kids. You are smart, unique, gifted, bright, sweet (and sometimes terrible.) You've made me laugh, cry, and nearly lose my mind... and I'm grateful for every wild moment. I'm proud of you, praying for you, I'm here if you need me, and I hope you have an absolutely wonderful school year. Do your best, pay attention, and walk in His steps. I love you guys.

Mrs. McNeese



It's Montepeque Appreciation Day, appropriately shortened to MAD since it's so hard to say goodbye! (In case you're unaware, my sister and brother-in-law are moving from Georgia to Connecticut this week, and today is their last Sunday at home.) Knowing that "Montepeque Appreciation Day" was approaching and that I would, as both a former youth group member and a sister, probably be expected to come up with some kind of contribution to the festivities, I first thought that I would try to write a poem. Then I decided that I am certainly not the poet laureate of the family (DAD) and that prose would simply have to do. (Also, it would be really hard to say everything I want to without watching you suffer through 37 stanzas.)

It's been hard for me to decide how to approach this post. Do I approach my tribute to Amanda and Steven as simply one of their teens, or do I selfishly include some of the multitude of stories I could share as their sister? (I've already gushed about them here and here, respectively.) It's hard to put into words the love, admiration, and gratitude I have for them... but since today is about their ministry at Berean Baptist Church, I'll try to focus on that.

I've known Steven for twelve years... almost half my life. And I've known Amanda for quite a while... we met on a balmy spring day in 1989... just kidding, obviously I've known her since birth, because she is my sister. (Duh.) But I've known them as a couple for a decade now and it's been fascinating to watch how God's plan for them has unfolded.

Of course, it's no surprise that the Lord has used them the way that He has. Some of my earliest memories include Amanda playing the piano for church, visiting the nursing home (and being far more at ease than I was), and working tirelessly on the bus route, bringing dozens of kids to church and building relationships with their families. While I was always satisified with a perfunctory smile or wave at the old people and usually felt awkward and uneasy visiting in some kind of scary areas, Amanda was nothing but confident as she embraced the little kids, remembered their phone numbers, and truly cared about them. And Steven was no different as a college student, actively reaching kids and families, bringing them to church, and sharing the gospel.

They've continued those ministries and that servant leadership as the youth pastor (and wife!) for these past eight years. Countless teenagers have been discipled, challenged, and loved by these two amazing people. It's rarely easy to listen to preaching that "calls you out," but not only did we know that Steven loved us, we also knew that he modeled the Christ-like behavior he was trying to teach us and lived it more consistently than just about anyone we knew. I relied on his counsel as a teen but didn't really appreciate it until I was grown and "away," and now I count on his calm, rational advice more than ever before. ("WHY WOULD I OVERREACT? NOBODY IN MY FAMILY OVERREACTS!")

In their years at Berean, Amanda and Steven have loved (and been loved) by so many of us for so many reasons. They got back from their honeymoon and literally stepped from their car to the church van to take us to Youth Conference. They washed windshields to help raise money for camp. They let us into their house, fed us, prayed with us, cried with us, and made us laugh. (Where's Stevo, anyone?) They sacrificed more than most would or even could, but they did it with a smile and a passionate fervor for the ministry and the people of Berean Baptist Church. 

Many things have changed over the years, including the addition of three (!) kids, and Amanda and Steven have made  Emily and Steven, and now Ella, their number one ministry, proving that putting family first is definitely the way God designed it. But they've continued to faithfully serve in their multitude of capacities- music, youth, bus, VBS, translating, preaching, teaching, discipling, nursing home, and more... just hauling two kids around! They've not only served in all these capacities but have opened their home to countless families, sent care packages to college students, hung out with young adults, and were just there for anyone who needed them.

I'd love to tell stories that would make everyone laugh... I am the family jester, after all, but I'm too overwhelmed by emotions to even try. I (selfishly) am glad that I couldn't be there today, sparing everyone (and myself) the embarrassment of my ugly crying. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to acknowledge the debt that I owe both of them... so much of what I know about ministry and who I am as a person is due to their love, support, occasional chastening =), and most of all godly example. 

My testimony of their influence is one of many, and today their former teens, fellow church members, friends, and family want to thank them for their sacrificial service. I do not know of two more humble, Spirit-filled, loving, and dedicated servants of God. I am proud to be their sister and even more proud to be a product of their ministry. (As a 4-time Teen of the Month, I think it's safe to say that I am a sparkling jewel in their crowns of service.) =) 

Seester and Bruther, I love you! I hope those New Englanders know what they're getting!