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Book Review: Author: Eileen Flanagan “The Wisdom to Know the Difference – When to Make a Change–and When to Let Go”

From Powell’s Books:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can change; and wisdom to know the difference.
Millions of people have been moved by these famous last lines from the Serenity Prayer to make important and lasting changes in their lives. But how exactly can we know the difference? How can we acknowledge the real limits that we face without negating the possibility for dramatic change? In this wise book, Eileen Flanagan guides readers in determining what they can-or perhaps should- change in their lives, accepting what they cannot, and discovering the “wisdom to know the difference.”

I have a confession to make…….

I have had the book “The Wisdom to Know the Difference”, by Eileen Flanagan, for approximately three months, (maybe a little longer), and I have been reading it for approximately two months, (maybe a little longer). For someone who is generally a quick reader, this has seemed like a long time. Or has it?

A few weeks ago I emailed the author, explaining that the reason the book took me so long to read, was actually her fault!! (Nervy, right?). Well, I did not phrase it exactly that way – ‘her fault’. What I actually said was: “If the book was not so well written, I would have been finished reading it a long time ago!!” And what I actually meant was, had I not been so drawn into the book, its topic, and its effect on my life, I would have been finished reading it much sooner.

Yes, that’s my confession…. This book so impacted me on a personal level, I had to take it in slowly, digest it, and incorporate it into my life.

As a prayer, ‘The Serenity Prayer’, has not been a favourite of mine. My husband, on the other hand, has always had a deep connection with this prayer. As a result, he has tried to help me understand why this prayer is powerful. I always kind of fluffed him away. “Yah, yah, serenity, courage, wisdom – whatever…..”. I had my own favourite prayers.

At the end of May 2011, I read a post by Eileen Flanagan, looking for book reviewers. While writing book reviews was a new idea for me, reading books certainly was not! I replied to Eileen and a couple of weeks later the book arrived in my mail, sent free of charge, for my impartial review. The act itself was spur of the moment, and I spent the next few weeks furtively looking at this book, about this prayer that was not one of my favourites!! I must have been crazy to volunteer for this task! Toward the end of June 2011, I ventured into Eileen’s world, and began to learn a little more about this prayer, and how it has impacted a number of lives, (and not just my husband’s!).

Eileen does not simply go out into the world, ask people if they know the prayer, then ask their opinion of it. Rather, Eileen’s choice of people to write about, are clearly a small sampling of a much larger group interviewed for this book. We learn about these individuals, their life stories, and how the emotions of The Serenity Prayer have played out in their lives. One of Eileen’s literary devices is that throughout the book, some of these main characters reappear. It is not just a matter of them being introduced and described to us, but, at key intervals throughout the text, Eileen brings them back by reminding us of their stories, and how their stories continue to evolve – with The Serenity Prayer continuing to play an important role. In some cases, the individuals themselves are not necessarily aware they are living out the prayer. And that is one of my favourite portions of the book. People, who live according to their own values and characteristics, yet can be an example to me, the reader, of the impact of this powerful prayer. (Notice I now say “powerful prayer”….don’t mention that to my husband….!)
Eileen Flanagan has a knack of writing that I find particularly appealing – repetition. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not mean simply stating the same thing over and over. What I mean is gently, without boredom, Eileen imprints key points for the reader. Making her points stronger over time, but in each telling and sharing, being done in new and informative ways. One of my favourite Christian writers – Ronald Rolheiser – has this same story-telling knack. Gentle – soft – peaceful. Bringing the reader to an “Ah-Ha” moment with skill and dexterity, without being the least bit repetitive or tedious. It is a tremendous way to learn new concepts and thought processes.
Through the reference to other Christian authorities, Eileen brings additional credibility to her own research, and a familiarity to her writings. And not only do we learn more about key characters, as we move forward in Eileen’s book, the author brings forward earlier concepts. Once again, bringing us to a deeper understanding of what Eileen’s focus is on.

The Serenity Prayer holds some big words: serenity, courage, wisdom. Eileen starts by narrowing down these words, to smaller, everyday expressions, phrases, and examples; and concludes the book by bringing them all together in the amazing words of the prayer itself. (Notice I now say “amazing words of the prayer”……do you think I need to share this with my husband?!)

My journey with this prayer, with this book, “The Wisdom to Know the Difference”, has been a very personal one, and this is not the place for review of my prayer journey. But, this is the place for a review of this book. And my opinion to you is that your own prayer journey will not be complete without spending some time with The Serenity Prayer, and definitely some significant time with Eileen Flanagan’s book: “The Wisdom to Know the Difference – When to Make a Change – and When to Let Go”.

P.S. I have since confessed all to my husband, and now, this book is on his reading list!

 

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Book Review: “Mary Jane” – Dorothy Sterling

One of my favourite memories from elementary school is the Scholastic Book Catalogue!!! Do you remember that Catalogue? In my school we started to receive the catalogue in Grade 4. It was the first place I actually purchased books!! It was so exciting! I can remember pouring over the catalogue, reading the descriptions of all the books, and seeing how much they cost! As you can imagine, my parents had a slight cap on how much I could spend, at times bending the rules when I could not decide between titles. I filled in the order form, gave it to my teacher, and waited. Waited for the arrival of THE BOOKS!! When the day came, I would come back to my desk after recess, and there they would be – a neat little pile on my desk. Oh, my! That was thrilling!

For the most part, I still have my Scholastic books, which proudly occupy a shelf in my ‘book room’! My all time favourite Scholastic book and actually I would say it is still my all time favourite book, was and is “Mary Jane” by Dorothy Sterling. I purchased it in Grade 5. The lead character is Mary Jane Douglas, who lives in High Ridge, in the southern United States. The book is set in the early days of integration; Mary Jane is a black American – who has decided to go to what was an all white high school – Wilson High – simply because it was the best high school in town. Integration had just started and Mary Jane, and her friend Fred Jackson, were the first, and the only, black students starting at the high school, junior level.

After Mary Jane has spent the summer on her Grandfather’s farm, she returns home to find her mother talking about getting ready for high school. Mary Jane’s Mother is putting more excitement in this new year, than ever before! Mary Jane is overwhelmed by her Mother’s purchases: new clothes, shoes, school supplies, and even a new ‘big’ bed.

On the first day of school, Mary Jane and Fred are escorted by their fathers, right into the door of the school. To get to that door Mary Jane, Fred, and their fathers must go through a large crowd of white protestors – they even have a police escort. The crowd is filled with angry townspeople, neighbours, students, and parents, and is a startling experience for Mary Jane.

Mary Jane does not really understand what the problem is – she is simply starting high school! All around Mary Jane, other characters in the book, especially in the first half of the book, frequently speak about “they”: ‘they won’t like this’, ‘they have rules’, ‘what will they say’ and ‘what will they do’? This puzzles Mary Jane, who really cannot understand what the fuss is about and cannot figure out who are ‘they’?

Mary Jane faces discrimination, taunts, and physical hurts; but that does not stop her. When shunned in the lunch room, she calmly sits alone. When hurtful words and hurtful names are thrown at her – she forges ahead; learning new subjects, completing projects, she is befriended by one fellow classmate, two teachers, and eventually entering a Science Fair with trained white mice. Mary Jane even becomes part of a Junior Science Club, where she meets students who do not care about the colour of her skin – a happy experience for Mary Jane.

A typical first year high school student, Mary Jane does get mischievous, visits the science room after school is over, hides a squirrel named Furry, and hides secrets from her parents. The book ends just as the Science Fair is getting underway, and although the mice act as they were trained, whether or not Mary Jane wins a prize, is left to the reader’s imagination.

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I just re-read this book about a month ago and it held my interest as much now as it did in Grade 5. I enjoy the fact that Mary Jane is a strong young girl, who accomplishes everything she puts her mind to, and my imagination sees her becoming a leader as she continues through high school, and moves forward to a career. Mary Jane’s grandfather is a retired biologist university professor, her father is a lawyer, her elder sister is a nurse, and her brother is studying to become a lawyer. Mary Jane’s great-grandmother was a slave who fought to educate herself, knew things “were better up north”, and eventually escapes the south, only returning after the Civil War. These are Mary Jane’s heros.

I love the way this book is written so easily, and flows so gently, while attacking the painful hurt of discrimination. Dorothy Sterling’s writing just draws me in – even after all these years – into Mary Jane’s life and world, and eventually I feel like I am Mary Jane, feeling all her challenges and emotions through the difficult beginning of high school, and the difficult time of forging new friendships in a world that could be peaceful, but instead is alive with racism. This book is definitely written for a grade five student back in the ‘60’s. Some of the phrases are outdated today, but the sentiments are still real. The lessons and teachings of this book contributed to the lessons and teachings I received at home from my parents. Be kind to everyone. Treat everyone the same. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated. And 45 – 50 years later the world still needs to know about Mary Jane.

It was only recently that I found out that Dorothy Sterling continued her career as a writer, completing approximately 35 books for adults, including some of the first non-fiction works about black history. The attached article was written when Dorothy Sterling died in 2008, at the age of 95. Interesting reading. I think a trip to the library is in order!

<a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/05/arts/05sterling.html” target=”_blank”></a>

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It Definitely Had to Happen!! Book Review!!

It Had to Happen” – written by Cynthia A. Patterson

One of our biggest hurdles in life is letting go of our past. As humans we seem to want to linger in the past, especially dwelling on our times of illness, suffering, and loss. The question that repeats itself is: “Why?”, “Why did this happen?”, “Why now?”, and “Why me?”

In the book “It Had to Happen”, Cynthia Patterson assists us in moving past the “Why’s”, and moving forward with the understanding that our past is necessary for our future; even the rough past, maybe especially the rough past. In less than 100 pages Cynthia Patterson brings the reader to not only acknowledge the past, (the good and the rough), but to move forward from that past to the present life. A pathway that is unique to each reader.

Even when some of the author’s life examples, life wounds, did not directly apply to me, Patterson’s skilled prose led me to an alternative place – that was uniquely mine. I would suggest that it will be the same for any reader poised to move forward on their life’s spiritual journey.

When I read a book, such as this book, which has questions at the end of each chapter, I sometimes bypass those questions – and therefore the subsequent internal work those questions imply!! Sometimes.

However, you know the phrase: “She had me at `Hello'”? Well, Cynthia had me at the very first question at the end of Chapter 1. The Journal Reflections, which repeat themselves at the end of every chapter, fit together with the questions in unique and compelling ways. Cynthia calls her questions: “Discovery Questions” and they are just that.

“It Had to Happen – Understanding that Everything You Go Through in Life is for God’s Purpose” is fully realized step by step, leading the reader to the revelation that everything truly did have to happen – for you to journey your own unique path during this life.

For her biblical connection, the author chose a passage from The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 9 – the woman with the issue of blood. Now, do not be put off by this scripture passage, it is simply referring to a woman with some sort of health issue. Basically referring to each of us, with our everyday health and spiritual challenges, whatever they may be.

Whether you are new to a quest of self discovery and personal faith, or seeking to deepen your connection with God and self, “It Had to Happen” is an enlightening place with which to move forward. It is a book that invites the reader back time and time again, with each reading bringing you closer and closer to your inner self and ultimately to God.

“It Had to Happen” is a definite `keeper’ on my personal bookshelf!

Cynthia Patterson introduced her book by stating that we would embark on a journey – that we would visit our past – and that we would see the direction of our future. And for me, it happened! “It Had to Happen”!

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