Light from Distant Stars Book Review

“He stares down at the body again, and sadness keeps him leaning to one side. It’s the physical weight of emotion and that weight is not centered inside of him but skewed, imbalanced.”
This second paragraph of Light from Distant Stars hooked me. I think most of us would agree that we all have experiences from our past that the emotions of them can render us skewed and imbalanced. A story isn’t near as impactful unless the author draws us into the character’s story and make us feel such empathy for him. And Shawn Smucker does just that in his latest novel.
Light from Distant Stars is the story of Cohen Marah, a middle-aged man haunted by his broken childhood. When a tragic accident happens to his father, he wonders if he is responsible and the circumstances plunge him into memories from his childhood, forcing him to face wounds from his past.
My favorite novels have a little bit of mystery, a bit of the supernatural, and the spiritual. Smucker weaves Cohen’s past and present into a dark and sad, but beautiful story. As Cohen works through the memories of a painful childhood, he finds grace and redemption at the end.
Light from Distant Stars kept me turning the page to see what happened next and surprised me with a turn that I did not see coming. I am so glad I discovered Shawn Smucker’s The Day the Angels Fell last year and this year Light from Distant Stars did not disappoint.
I received an advanced reader copy of the book from the publisher and this is my honest review.

In the Midst of Grief

Disclaimer: If you are struggling and find yourself sinking into depression and unable to function normally or even if you want to keep yourself from becoming too depressed, please seek professional help. 

Grief. It’s a part of life. Usually hitting you when you least expect it. And of course in our culture it feels like we are supposed to buck up, move on, get over it.

But that’s not healthy.

It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to be sad. Some days you will find tears flow more easily. Other days you will find putting one foot in front of the other is a bit easier than the day before. Then like a roller coaster you may feel like you’re going up hill again. And that’s okay too.

What I’ve learned is we can’t let it paralyze us. We can’t let it steal our joy. We have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We have to keep winding the clock so to speak.

My great grandfather had a cuckoo clock. He loved clocks and he especially loved that clock. Every night before he went to bed, he pulled the cords winding it up again ready for another day. The clock may have begun slowing down toward the end of the day, but he would adjust the hands & wind them once again to keep time for another twenty-four hours.

In our grief we have to “wind our clock.” It may look like folding a load a laundry when we just want to go to bed. Or maybe it’s forcing ourself to go outside for a walk when sitting and watching television would be easier. Winding the clock is doing whatever it is that we need to do to keep moving forward. Even if we move through it slowly as we navigate our grief.

Grief isn’t a straight line from point A to point B. It’s a hilly, circling, up and down winding road. And that’s okay.

So what can we do to keep “winding the clock” through our grief?

Read scripture. At first it may or may not feel calming to your spirit, but don’t stop reading it.

Pray. Pray truths about peace from scripture outloud over yourself.

Wind the clock. Just do one routine thing and then do another. Make your bed, clean the kitchen, do the laundry. Do a normal routine chore or task that you do almost daily. Keep putting one foot in front of another step by step.

Talk about the loved one. Share funny or memorable stories you have about them. Personally, I have found that choosing to remember the good and funny things helps push back the darkness that can threaten to overwhelm us as we walk through grief.

Move. Physically move. Go for a walk. Go to the gym. It may take a lot of will-power to make yourself move in some way, but doing some sort of physical movement like walking or, as crazy as it may sound, even marching in place, can help keep your brain from moving into a negative mindset.

And I know this last one may be difficult, but purpose in your mind to choose joy. When the sadness threatens to dig deeper into your spirit, choose joy instead. Write down things about the loved one you are grateful for. Speak them out loud even if you are just talking to yourself. (I promise you aren’t going crazy if you talk to yourself.) Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. That doesn’t mean you can’t be sad. There will be moments of sadness. But you can choose joy in the midst of the grief.

As I said at the beginning of this post, if you find yourself struggling to cope, have major appetite changes, or find it difficult to even get out of bed, please seek professional help. 

Have you ever had a moment when reading or hearing  scripture that makes you stop and say “Wait. What?” 
I remember the first time I heard the scripture that talks about Satan fighting Michael the arch angel for Mose’s body. 
“But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.””
Jude‬ ‭1:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬
This happened again recently when I heard someone reading Exodus 14:14-15. 
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  Exodus 14:14 NIV
How many times have I heard this verse when I needed to be reminded that some times I just need to be still while I wait for God to work in a situation, in my heart. I’ve read the Exodus story many times, but while this verse always seems to pop out and is often used as an encouragement in many ways, I don’t think I ever stopped to consider the very next verse. 
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” Exodus 14:15 NIV
Wait? How can the very next verse be encouraging them to move when in the very sentence before Moses is telling them to be still? 
Another translation puts it this way: 
13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
15 The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Exodus 14:13-15 ESV
Wait. It says “silent” not “still.” 
Being still and being silent can have two very different meanings. Yes being silent can mean being still in our spirit, but 
how often do we think we need to be still, to wait, when God is actually calling us to be silent while we move forward? 
How often does being still really mean being afraid to take a next step or feeling stuck? Are we paralyzed by fear and use the excuse that God is calling us to be still? 
There is a vast difference in being still and being silent. 
Too often I find myself struggling to remain silent when situations are frustrating me. I think most of us would rather voice our frustrations rather than be silent. At least that passes the time while we wait on God to do something about the situation that we are frustrated with. 
But where does that leave our faith? 
Faith is not passive. Faith is active. We can’t be still and move forward. But when we look at it as being silent? Well now that changes everything. 
We can move one step at a time while also being silent. It’s only when we are silent that we can hear the Holy Spirit’s voice directing our steps and fighting for us. When we silence our complaining and take the next step He calls us to, our faith continues to grow as we move one-step-at-a-time toward the purpose He created us for and He uses it all for His glory.  

My Journey with Bullet Journaling

I started a bullet journal in January instead of using a traditional planner this year. Yes, I know I’m a little late to the party on this, but that’s okay. I still use a calendar app on my phone so I get a ding to remind me of an appointment and also for shopping checklists but I find my brain needs an analog planner. There’s something about physically putting pen to paper that you don’t get with digital. I used the Erin Condren planner for a couple of years and while I liked it, I wanted just a bit more flexibility in how mine was set up. I searched and searched, but could never find one set up just like I wanted it to be.

I had read about bullet journaling but was a bit overwhelmed by it all. Then I read a blog post from The Lazy Genius that simplified it tremendously for me. I started from there and was basically using it just to list the tasks and errands I needed to run each day, and while I liked it, it wasn’t working as well as I had hoped.

I still need to see the entire month laid out so I draw one out every month.

I do like using a Future Log so I have more space to write what I know is ahead for the entire month.

In the beginning I just listed tasks and errands or appointments out day by day, but it wasn’t working for me as well as I hoped.

Then last week I saw a friend’s bullet journal & liked how she had hers set up. She sectioned hers off for different areas of her life. For some reason seeing hers caused something to click in my brain and give myself permissions to tweak mine that way. Having sections was the one thing I really liked about my Erin Condren planners, but it had 3 sections per day. After seeing my friend’s and how she had set up her sections weekly, I realized that’s how I needed to do mine!

I modified my bullet journal to work for the different areas I need using a weekly layout and am really liking it now. I know it will continue to evolve over time and I love the flexibility a bullet journal provides to do just that, evolve each week.

What do you use for a planner? Do you bullet journal? If you do, what all do you use your bullet journal for? I would love to hear!



I Was Anastasia

Possible Spoiler Alert

Is it possible to love and hate a book all at the same time?

I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon is a beautifully written historical fiction novel about Princess Anastasia Romanov and Anna Andrews who claimed to be Princess Anastasia after the Romanov family was brutally executed in Russia.

Historical fiction is my favorite genre and I have always enjoyed learning about Russian history. Lawhon does go back and forth quite a bit in time instead of writing in a straight time line, but that did not bother me and really did seem to work in this novel.

I thought Lawhon did an excellent job of making you hopeful for one ending while giving you very small clues close to the end that maybe it wouldn’t turn out like you hope. But even when I read the ending I still found myself disappointed which is why I say I loved it and hated it all at the same time. I was still somehow hoping for the fairy tale ending even though I know the history and know that the way she ended it is the only way the story could have ended.

If you love historical fiction, especially ones about history of royalty, and don’t mind non-linear time lines, I think you will enjoy I Was Anastasia.