Tag Archives: philip yancey

Book Review:: Passport Through Darkness by Kimberly L. Smith

22 Mar

Passport Through Darkness by Kimberly L. Smith ruined me.  See, I have this preconceived notion about missionaries—that they all wear ethnic garb and have 10 kids (because there’s nothing else to do on the mission field when you’re not evangelizing or translating the Bible into native languages.)  Or they’re single women who never got married.  I know that sounds kind of mean, but it’s secretly (now not-so-secretly) what I’ve believed to be true.

Kimberly L. Smith changed all that.

A corporate executive, a wife, and a mother (not to 10 kids), Kimberly’s whole world changed in one terrifying incident.  In Passport Through Darkness, Smith details her experiences not only fighting against human-trafficking, but also digs into the depths of her own heart.  Surprisingly, the darkness is found both within Smith and abroad in orphanages through Eastern Europe and Africa.

Smith had a lot to lose, including her personal safety.  Yet she wasn’t afraid to get uncomfortable (very uncomfortable) to challenge a system in which children and teens are used as sex slaves.  Her writing is articulate and her use of language is beautiful, which only enhances Smith’s eye-opening story.

I didn’t expect Smith to get so personal; I thought she might just detail her adventures, throw in a few heartaches for good measure, and go on with her life.  And I would go on with mine.  But then again, when I saw that Philip Yancey, my favorite writer, endorsed this book, I thought it might just be different, and I was right.

I  hope Passport Through Darkness will ruin you, too, that you will see beyond your stereotypes into a world hurting, long, and starving for redemption.

For more information on Kimberly’s work, be sure to check out her mission organization, Make Way Partners, which is working to build a private and indigenous network to end human trafficking in Eastern Europe and Africa. Also, she has a very interesting personal blog.

*Thanks to The B&B Media Group for my review copy of this book.*

I [finally] met Philip Yancey!

12 Apr

Isn’t the crazed fan look on my face oh-so endearing? I already made this my new Facebook profile pic!

A dear friend informed me that Philip Yancey was speaking at Messiah College—a mere two hours away from the Lehigh Valley.  Well, as you can imagine, I was all a’twitter (and I Twittered) with excitement.  Of course, the event was a week away, so I had to make plans—pronto!

Dragging myself out of my depressive coma, I enlisted the help of best friend Sarah, who decided that we should make a day of it.  So a day of it we did make, doing an Amy-style tour of the Gettysburg battlefields in the afternoon before Philip Yancey’s lecture.  Believe me, you have not truly toured Gettysburg until you’ve gone with me (more on that over at Atypical Musings.  Read “My Trip to Gettysburg“).

We got to the venue early, so I pulled out a Beth Moore book and started reading.  After all, I had (and still have) a review to finish.  Curiously, everyone else was reading a Philip Yancey book.  Very strange.

The crowd was mostly middle-aged and older with a few young faces here and there.  I definitely thought there would be a massive influx of college students who wanted to experience the awesomeness that is Philip Yancey.  So, here’s a message for all my college-aged pals, if you have the opportunity to see Philip Yancey, go!  Plus, if there’s a guy or gal you’ve been thinking about asking out, it would make a perfect date night  (and if you’re a guy thinking about asking me out, taking me to see Philip Yancey would be the perfect first date.  Go for it!)

As part of Messiah College’s centennial celebration, Philip Yancey was being featured as a keynote speaker.  It’s one of those things that college boards and alumnae treasure, while students and the general public think, “OK, that’s great.  We want to see Philip Yancey speak.”  At least that’s what I was thinking. Finally, Philip Yancey took the stage, and I wanted to “Woot!” for him while everyone else politely clapped.  Overcome by peer pressure, I stifled the “Woot!” rising up in my throat and I clapped, too.

Philip Yancey was just as I pictured him (because I’ve seen his picture), but he was definitely a lot funnier than I imagined.  He spoke about prayer saying it allows us to invite God into our lives and it also invites us into God’s life.  I loved what Yancey had to say but was slightly distracted by a tummy ache and some bad news on the home front.  And I was scared half to death to meet the man face to face in the autograph line.

So after the lecture, Sarah dragged me through the crowded auditorium (converted gym) to the autograph, I mean “book signing” line.  I asked Sarah how I looked about 50 times, fixed my hair 23 times, practiced smiling, and thought about what I would say.  When I finally arrived at Philip Yancey, I went with a very cool, “Hey.” Pause.  “I’m Amy.” No spark of recognition.  I’m sure I’m the only Amy that Philip Yancey has ever encountered.  “From Backseat Writer.”  Eyebrows rose in what I hope was excitement.  And Philip Yancey reached out and shook my sweaty palm as Sarah the bestest best friend anyone could ever had captured the moment with my camera.  I did what any girl who was meeting her favorite author in all the world for the first time would do, I extended that handshake so Sarah could get a great shot.

Then Philip Yancey did something that shocked me as he signed Sarah’s book (because I forgot to bring one—duh!), he said, “This is Amy.  She let me write on her blog.”  OK, so technically he did a Take 5 (Read Take 5 with Philip Yancey) and it was basically a dream come true for me.  But if he wants to think I let him do it, that’s quite alright.  I would completely let him do it again…anytime.

As I bid Philip Yancey a kind farewell—something about how he hasn’t seen the last of me (I expect the restraining order to arrive at any moment)—I thought, “What a super guy!”  And then I jumped up and down like a giddy school girl (or like a tween girl meeting the Jo-Bros) because I had met Philip Yancey…and I don’t think I said anything stupid either.  But you’ll have to ask him about that.

A shout out to the Gehmans–I also ran into my good friends at the event—Cath, T.J., and Sarah Gehman—which made me happy, too.  The Gehmans are warm, quirky, and amusing.  I just love them!

Take 5 with author Philip Yancey

22 Feb

Philip Yancey is a lot of things—a “writer’s writer” who has received awards, accolades, and praise for his books.  He is also the editor-at-large for Christianity Today.  His vulnerable and personal writings have touched the lives of over 15 million people.  To be sure, Philip Yancey is gargantuan in the writing world.

But that’s not why I asked Philip Yancey to do a Take 5.  I asked him to do a Take 5 because I am one of the 15 million whose lives have been touched.  Yes, I remember the moment I first laid my eyes on a Philip Yancey book.

It was 1997 and I was a troubled 17 year-old girl struggling with depression, anxiety, cutting, and of course, issues of faith.  The Jesus I Never Knew stared at me from our living room coffee table.  Literally, stared at me!  Intrigued by the cover (who says you can’t judge a book by its cover?), I picked up the book and began reading.

The Jesus I never knew became the Jesus I started to know in a whole new way.  So I read more of Yancey’s books—Soul Survivor, What’s So Amazing About Grace?Disappointment With God,  and many more including another favorite, Reaching For the Invisible God.

Yancey managed to reach into the heart of a very confused teenage girl.  His honest reflections on faith helped a young woman cling to her own faith in the midst of heartache.  And the fact he answered my e-mail and agreed to do this Take 5 made my dream of interviewing Philip Yancey a reality.   Thank you, Philip—for everything!

On Backseat Writer, we write a lot about music and books.  So what music are you currently listening to and/or what books are you currently reading?

My music answer is always the same: old fogy that I am, I only listen to classical music.  I did a three-year project of digitizing all my albums and (yes) reel-to-reel tapes, so I can order up “Symphonies” or “String Quartets” or any individual composer and then music plays all day in the background.  I’m afraid that when I hear about the GRAMMY Awards I haven’t heard of two-thirds of contemporary musicians.  Oh well, somebody’s got to support the classics.

My next book is a kind of memoir, so I’ve been reading almost nothing but memoirs for the last year or so.  I must have read at least 100, simply to study the form and see how it’s done.  Some are juicy, some are boring.  I’m gradually preparing to make the transition from an essay writer to one who works with narrative and dialog–that’s my hope anyway.

On average, how long does it talk for you to write a book?  How much research goes into a Philip Yancey book?

It would take about a year if I did nothing else.  I travel quite a bit, and do other projects on the side, so it ends up taking 1.5 or two years.  I figure the ratio breaks down like this: 40% preparation (including research, interviewing, outlining, all those writing-avoidance tactics); 20% composing (all the paranoia and psychosis occur here); 40% cleaning up what I wrote (I began my career as an editor, so I truly value this editing process.) While doing my book on Prayer, for example, I spent about six months in libraries before writing a word.

With all your success, how do you keep stay humble?

I play golf.  Seriously, though, nothing that happens on the outside helps when you face that blank page or blank computer screen.  Writing is the most humbling act I know.  Nothing that has happened with prior books offers any guarantee that my current or next book will work, will connect with anyone, will show that I’ve lost whatever spark I may have had.  Writing is a lonely, demanding craft, and the longer I do it the worse I feel, in a way, because I recognize more mistakes as I make them.  My job is to produce the best book I can; the publisher and readers determine what happens to that book, and that world seems very far apart from how I spend my time.

Young writers often make foolish mistakes. What is a mistake I should avoid?

Writing should come with a label, “Do not practice this alone.”  Starting out with an ideal of self-expression is suicidal.  Writing is communication, connection.  And when you begin, it’s best to find a supportive community, or writers’ group, who can point out what you’re doing wrong (feedback you need) while encouraging you to keep going (feedback you need more).  Otherwise, you’ll likely give up.

How does your writing affect your relationship with God? (The reason I ask is this—I feel so close to God when I’m writing or taking pictures, the act itself turns into worship.)

God doesn’t seem to give me great words or great thoughts.  Rather, prayer helps remove the distractions that interfere with mental focus–the most crucial ingredient in writing.  “Cast all your anxieties upon him, because he cares for you,” the Bible says.  That takes on stark reality in the composing process.  I have anxieties bubbling up–over deadlines, creativity, finances, a million other things–and they can prove paralyzing.  I bundle them up and present them to God.  Then I trust God with the result.  I hear later from people who have touched by my words, but in the process I simply commit them to God as an act of faith.  God knows better how to use my words than I do, and I trust God with that part of the process.

For more information on Philip Yancey, visit him online at PhilipYancey.com.  Also, I recommend you buy every book he’s ever written, but that’s merely my opinion.

Amy’s Favorite Things (Take that, Oprah!)

13 Dec

By Amy Sondova Every year, Oprah Winfrey features a few of her favorite things on her daytime talk show (“Oprah’s Favorite Things“) and then adorns the audience with each and every one of her favorite things.  Well, I’m not Oprah, and therefore, cannot give all Backseat Writer’s readers samples of everything that I adore.  But I can tell you where to get ‘em.   Without further adieu, I bring you “Amy’s Favorite Things,” which I hope will help you as you finish shopping foryour favorite people this holiday season (and beyond.   These are timeless suggestions).

Altered Art Charm from TickleMePinkBoutique on Etsy.com

Altered Art Charm from TickleMePinkBoutique on Etsy.com

*Etsy.com—Have you visited this site?  It’s a entire craft show right on your computer screen with everything from Scrabble tile pendants to handcrafted shoes!  There are a plethora of cool things for guys and gals alike.  Don’t believe me, guys?  Check out some of the screen printed messenger bags and t-shirts.  There’s something for everyone, and unique is the bottom line.

*Music—Every year almost everyone on my Christmas list can expect to get a CD or two.  This year there are a few artists who are hot on my list—debut artist Josh Wilson and music veteran Bebo Norman.  Besides being two of the nicest and most open guys I’ve ever interviewed, they’re also great singer/songwriters who released albums this year.  Bebo Norman’s self-titled release, Josh Wilson’s Trying to Fit the Ocean in a Cup, and Jon Foreman’s Limbs and Branches are must-haves!  But perhaps you’re looking for something a little rockier, then look no further than Seabird’s ‘Til We See the Shore or This Beautiful Republic’s sophomore album, Perceptions.   If you want to support indie artists, then get lost in the vocals of Tara Leigh Cobble’s Playing Favorites or Justin McRoberts’ latest project, Deconstruction.  And here are a few more recommendations: Narrow Stairs – Death Cab For Cutie; What If We – Brandon Heath; The Nashville EP and the Bee Sides – Relient K;  Opposite Way – Leeland;  With Arrows, With Poise – The Myriad;  anything by Caedmon’s Call, Fernando Ortega, Phil Keaggy.

Limbs and Branches - Jon Foreman

Limbs and Branches - Jon Foreman

*Sock Monkeys & socks—Is it just me or are you always running out of socks, too?  Whether getting lost in the wash, stolen by a shih tzu who shall remain nameless (Maddy!), or developing ginormous holes, pairs of socks seem to lose their mate after a month or two.  Therefore, I wear a lot of mismatched socks–argyle, plaid, and all patterns funky are worn together and I become a candidate for “What Not to Wear”.  Besides becoming a fashion mishap, there are are only things to do with those single socks.  You could make sock

monkeys, of course! You don’t even have to limit yourself to monkeys, there are patterns for all kinds of creatures online (sock monster, sock owl).  Then you can sell your creations at etsy.com.  Or you could just buy a conventional sock monkey at sockmonkey.com.

*Digital Cameras—The first time I got my hands on a digital camera, I took pictures of everything in sight, and I haven’t stopped.  My first pictures weren’t that great; then again, my camera wasn’t that great.  Yet I treasure the images of my grandmother’s last Christmas with our family.  Buy yourself a camera to capture the moments that truly matter, and then buy one for someone else.  Check around for the best prices and give yourself a gift that goes far beyond an electronic device.  I highly recommend Canon cameras, but if you want to go a little cheaper, Olympus makes great cameras as well.

*Anything handcrafted by you—Maybe you’re not into making sock monkeys, but there are tons of other projects in which to immerse yourself.  Try your hand at crocheting or knitting (you can even use a knitting loom like the Knifty Knitter) and make everyone scarves, hats, and SOCKS!  (See what a valuable gift socks can be?)  You could paint a thoughtful picture or make a collage.  If you’re not crafty, melt chocolate wafers and dip some pretzels; chocolate-covered pretzels make great gifts!  If all else fails, just make your dad an ashtray like you did in kindergarten—he’ll still think it’s cute (hopefully!)

Psych - Season 2

Psych - Season 2

*Amazon.com—Free shipping on orders over $25 and books, music, and DVD’s galore.  Every year Amazon is adding to its inventory.  I check back every day to see what’s on sale so I can nab Psych Seasons 1 & 2, Bones Seasons 1-3, books like The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen, The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey, the chick-lit novels of my fave fictionista, Christa Banister and those aforementioned CD’s at discounted prices.

*Ebay.com—Whatever you can’t find on Amazon.com, you can find on Ebay.  There are literally millions of treasures on this site from low, low prices on video games to truly bizarre items like vintage hand towels.  But whatever you’re looking for, you can probably find it on Ebay.  You can also find a bunch of stuff you weren’t looking for, too.

*Michael’s, A.C. Moore, Joann’s—Craft stores are slashing their prices, and signing up for their e-mail newsletters allows customers to get even more coupons (especially if you don’t get them in your local newspaper).  Remember that camera I told you to buy?  You can get beautiful frames for those pics on sale at any of these stores for 40-50% off during the holiday season.  Plus, custom framing is 60% off (I say buy a frame and do-it-yourself!)  Not only that, but you can find deals on Christmas décor, craft kits for the kids, and nice gifts like candle holders and scented candles for your co-workers.  Even if you aren’t crafty, craft stores are a great place to shop for gifts.

Even though Black Friday has come and gone, you can still save money and give great presents to your loved ones…and those people you don’t really like that you still have to buy for.  We know Christmas isn’t all about the presents, but if you’re like me, you sure do like to get them (hey, I’m being honest here).  Plus, great presents show cleverness and creativity that has little to do with price and everything to do with thoughtfulness.  Our mere trinkets can never compare to the gift of God’s Son wrapped in humanity, so as we give to one another let us remember the greatest gift that mankind was ever given.

Click here to see all my my favorite things!

Life is Better with Lists

30 Jul
If I snorkel in Hawaii with sea turtles, I could do three things at once!  Lets hear for life goal multi-tasking!

If I snorkel in Hawaii with sea turtles, I could do three things at once! Let's hear for life goal multi-tasking!

Death has a way of making us appreciate life. Not our own deaths, of course, but the deaths of our loved ones. Today (July 31) marks the third anniversary of my grandmother’s death. The interesting thing about my grandmother is that she was so afraid to do things, like drive a car or “upset” someone. It seemed like the last few months of her life, she threw convention aside and just starting being herself. She started saying how she really felt about things. Some could chalk it up to dementia, and there was certainly an element of truth to that.

Yet it seemed like all of a sudden her world came alive and instead of wearing drab fabrics, she wore vibrant, colorful prints. Instead of worrying what people thought of her, she told others what she thought of them. It was a beautiful thing to see someone freed from her fears, especially her fear other others, and to actually enjoy life fully…though it was ever so brief. Not that she didn’t enjoy life before that, she just held back way too much.

Well, I don’t to hold back. A few weeks ago I blogged about the movie The Bucket List and Justin McRoberts’ song, “Done Livin'” (read post), and I’ve been trying to do things even when I’m uncomfortable. In fact, especially when I’m uncomfortable (but not too uncomfortable. I mean, we don’t want me to become a basket case). Therefore, in honor of my grandmother’s life, these are the things I want to do before I, uh, kick the bucket. Being 28, I hope to have many years to do them all.

1. Snorkeling. I totally want to do it.

2. Buy a horse. I wanted one when I was a little girl, and I want one now that I’m a big girl. I want a mini-goat, too.

3. Travel the world, specifically Alaska, California, Texas, Hawaii, Arizona, Australia, the U.K. (all of it), Greece, the Ukraine, Israel and anywhere in the continent of Africa. If you’re booking a trip, I’ll go anywhere, even New Jersey.

4. Learn to play guitar, violin, and mandolin. Yes, I like stringed instruments.

5. Sing “Send in the Clowns” on stage in front of an audience.

6. Publish a book.

7. Go on an extreme road trip across the United States and/or Canada (I’ve always thought a road trip would be the GREATEST honeymoon ever!)

8. Animals I want to see in the wild (and photograph): manatees, humpback whales, orcas, elephants, any kind of sea turtle, bears, moose (as long as it doesn’t charge me), horses, armadillos, those weird anoles running amok in Florida, and buffalo. I want to see more, of course, but these are the must-sees of my life.

9. Be a character actress in a local theater production (like Ursula the Sea Witch in the stage version of “The Little Mermaid” would be awesome).

10. Interview Philip Yancey (if you happen to know Philip Yancey, hook a girl up!)

11. Get a digital camera with D-SLR, preferably a Canon Rebel. Cool lenses would be an added bonus.

12. Buy a Mac.

I hope to have half of these things accomplished by the time I turn 30…just kidding! If I think of more things I need to do before I pass on, I’ll be sure to come back and update this list. Oh, and please let me know some of the things you want to do. And don’t say things like, “Raise my kids right.” Be wild, daring, and adventurous!

Philip Yancey’s Healing Pen

29 Apr

My favorite writer in all the world is Philip Yancey…and if you check my MySpace, he’s one of the two people I most want to meet. But really, he’s the person I most want to meet. Why? Because Yancey’s writing has profoundly affected my life, my thoughts, and my writing. The Jesus I Never Knew is still one of my favorite books (it could possibly be my favorite, but I don’t want all my other favorite books to feel left out!) Before his determined analysis of Jesus in character, culture, and humanity, I never could fathom Jesus as “real”. True, I believed the Bible, but I never felt deeply one way or the other.

Through his other books Disappointment with God, Reaching for the Invisible God, Church: Why Bother?, and others, I found someone who shared my doubts. Yancey put things in a way that related to me, that allowed my mind to consider new possibilities. So it was with great pleasure I read Christianity Today’s online article about Philip Yancey, who is editor-at-large and a regular columnist for the magazine. The article, written by long-time friend Tim Stafford, talks about Yancey’s history, passion, and his “healing pen”. It made me want to spend the rest of the day reading all the Philip Yancey books I own!

Check out “The Healing Pen” a biographical piece on Philip Yancey and how he uses words to heal himself and others (like me).

Why Bad Nativities Are Funny

1 Dec

I am apalled by “Jesus Junk”. I’ve blogged about this in the past (read here) and to this day, I have to laugh when I see merchandise that cheapens God. For example, a perennial favorite of mine has to be Bobblehead Jesus, one of which is owned by my buddy, Gman. He bought BHJ while at National Youth Workers Convention (not actually at the convention) a few years ago and BHJ has been a great source of amusement for many. What makes it funny is the fact that the concept of manufacturing a BHJ is so stupid. In fact, for a while Gman’s BHJ had a blog in which BHJ discussed crappy Christian merchandise.

I’ve also come across the super transportable Dashboard Jesus (he can sit right next to your radar detector), the Jesus action figure (with gliding action), and Huggy Jesus (who’s got really scary eyebrows). What is up with our cultural obsession with manufacturing ridiculous images of Jesus? Philip Yancey, author of The Jesus I Never Knew would say that as a culture, we just can’t get away from Jesus. From cussing His name, to “Jesus Junk”, to the incredible curiosity most have about the God-man.

That brings me to the topic of nativities–bad nativities. Last year I shared with you the story of “Duct-Tape Jesus” (read it here). He was definitely part of a bad nativity set. Yesterday while shopping at a local department store, I can face-to-face with some of the most horrible nativity sets ever produced. They took up not just one, but two aisles. Ghastly renditions of the birth of Jesus in plastic, resin, and fake moss sellling for $7-$150.

Not only does the historical inaccuracy of the whole situation bother me, like the fact the whole set-up was most likely in a cave-like setting and the wise men are always shown at the birth, even though they didn’t show up to well after a year later. Oh, and there may not have been three wise men, there could have been any number of wise men. It’s been assumed that there are three because three gifts were given to Jesus (imagine the humiliation of those wise men who didn’t show up with a baby gift. Not so wise, are they! Of course, there are only three gifts recorded. In reality, there could have been more). When I set up our nativity, I put the wise men as far away as possible to show that they are traveling to see the Christ child.

But, really, why are bad nativities so funny? There’s even a website dedicated to bad nativities called “The Cavalcade of Bad Nativities“. I’ll admit–it’s one of my favorite sites to visit during the holiday season. I think bad nativities are funny because they can’t possibly capture the mystery and beauty of Jesus’ birth. Even nativities that are done well can’t capture this, must like the movie The Passion of the Christ can’t possibly capture Jesus’ spiritual suffering.

Sometimes I feel a little guilty when I chuckle at the Holy Family as a trio of snowmen or ducks or cats. Yet I realize that this is man’s attempt to capture and market something that can’t be captured and certainly can’t be marketed. While churches sing songs, do adorable plays with a doll depicting Jesus and precious little ones playing the roles of Mary, Joseph, the angels, and the shepherds, something in us knows the reality is far beyond our grasp. We simply cannot fathom what a heavenly chorus looks like, we can only imagine. We cannot imagine the expression on Mary’s face when her child is presented with three very pricey gifts because he, too, will be a costly sacrifice, but we can read that she “pondered these things in her heart” and listen to the song “Mary, Did You Know?”

There are beautiful depictions of the birth of Jesus, but they can never truly capture the majesty of God coming to earth as a helpless infant. Then there are very bad nativities, that cause me to feel enraged. So much so that I want to destroy the department store racks screaming, “You’re turned my Savior’s birth into a mockery! Not only that, you probably underpaid the Chinese workers who made this crap!” (I especially feel compelled to this whenever I enter a Christian book store). But I can’t go around destroying nativities and other ridiculous depictions of the miraculous, so I laugh. And I take pictures and hope I’m not mocking the Savior, but rather man’s poor attempt to make a buck on His life, death, and resurrection.

Often poorly painted, historically inaccurate, and plastic, bad nativities could cause our blood to boil or put a smile on our face. Sometimes things are just so poorly done, they’re funny. That’s why I think bad nativities are funny.

%d bloggers like this: