Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother (Jana Wolff)

(This library issue was an older copy. The newer version features updated cover art.)

In this charmingly poignant memoir, Jana Wolff gets away with the kind of transparency most adoptive moms find elusive. In her honesty, she gets to say all the things adoptive mothers think at one point or another in their process. She gets to share the brutally honest "Dear Birth Mother" letter she really wanted to write, and she gets the chance to pop off all the witty retorts she'd ever thought toward people's nosy inquiries or observations about her son.

She gets to do all of this because Jana Wolff knows she is preaching to the audience. She has adoptive moms pegged from the prologue, and that makes this a great read; light, simple, and fun, but also serious and emotional.

Wolff and her husband (both Jewish) adopted their biracial son (whose heritage is a blend of black and Hispanic races) through a domestic, open adoption. This book chronicles their adoption experience from facing infertility to moving along into the adoption process, and all the way from interviewing with birth mothers to witnessing the birth of their son and beyond into their new life as a family. Wolff infuses each step with a clear depiction of her thoughts and emotions at each stage, which makes this an invaluable book for adoptive mothers. Having recently completed an adoption process (even though mine was neither domestic nor open), I found myself deeply comforted by Wolff's observations and emotional candor. I wish I'd had this book to read at the beginning of our journey!

For more information on Jana Wolff, go to: http://www.janawolff.com. I found the page with her articles and blog posts quite interesting!

Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most (Wess Stafford)

Today, Wess Stafford is the president and CEO of Compassion International, which is a global child-focused sponsorship organization grounded in Christlike principles. Compassion International helps over 1 million impoverished children and their families with basic needs and education in at least 26 different countries. Today, Wess Stafford is at the helm of one of the largest and most efficient aid organizations in the world.

Fifty years ago, Wess Stafford was growing up in a tiny West African village (with French influence) called Nielle. In this book, he describes his childhood and the wonderful pieces of wisdom he discovered about life through the people of Nielle...the most important being that all children are important. He writes about the differences in typical American culture and typical African culture, and how valued children tend to be in African circles. Children are given important jobs. They are always included, never shut out or sent to a play room to be occupied while dinner was cooked. They were watched over but not hovered over. Life was and is very dangerous for a child in Africa, so they were and are taught responsibility and how to contribute at a very early age. Children are counted on because all children are important.

Stafford's interesting perspective on child advocacy comes from his experiences of being highly valued as a child in Nielle, but it also grows out of some very ugly experiences in a boarding school several months out of the year in another part of West Africa. There he and his sister, along with hundreds of other kids, were abused in the worst ways possible by people who had been entrusted with their care. Describing a few dark memories from this time, he shows how ugly people can be to innocent children...especially when those people know that the children cannot speak out for themselves and will not be heard by anyone who could help them. Their experiences are much like that of millions of children who are abused and neglected on a regular basis. Adults abuse children because they are powerless. Most of the time adults abuse children who are too small to have a voice, or they scare them into silence. Stafford challenges readers to view children as God sees them: as important. He gives several examples from Scripture when God had a big task and only a little child would do. Jesus Himself publicly admonished his disciples at least twice because they were trying to belittle the relevance of children in His presence.

If this sounds like a book for you, be warned that there are some truly horrific stories within these pages. Some of them are from Wess Stafford's visit to Haiti or Rwanda. All of these stories, combined with Stafford's personal childhood, have sparked a bottomless passion within him to advocate for children on every level of society but especially the most powerless: the poor. He presents some specific ideas for changing the way the world thinks about children, and ways to elevate them from being a discarded member or society to an intensely valued member of society. Wess Stafford is intensely passionate that all children are important, and by the time you finish the last page, you'll believe that just as deeply as he does.

Malia and Sasha Obama (Jennifer M. Besel)


I always find the Biography section of the library a most interesting place. This section is filled with the life stories of people who have lived important lives and done important things and experienced important events. Anytime I browse a new vendor catalog I am always a wee bit concerned over the saturation of biographies of young people who (Lord willing) still have 3/4's of their lives left to lead on this earth. Is it appropriate to write biographies of children and young adults? Is it appropriate for kids to read these stories of lives that can so easily change in the next month, or perhaps were drastically changed even before the book was completed, printed, and published? Is that contributing to the amount of inaccurate information our kids can take in, if we are not careful? And I wonder also about the subjects' opinion of people writing books about them. What are Malia and Sasha going to think in 20 years when there is a book on a library shelf stating that their favorite musicians are the Jonas Brothers? (Nothing against the JB, I'm just sayin'...)

Maybe I'm overthinking it.

After all, Malia and Sasha Obama are easily the most famous kids in America right now. With their dad as President Barack Obama, that makes them the youngest children to live in the White House in a very long time. As school-age children learn about how our government functions, they are naturally curious about current leaders and their families. This book, this biography of America's most popular 12 year old and 9 year old, barely stays on the shelf in my school library. I can hardly check it in before another child wants to check  it out, and unlike most biographies there are no boundaries in its target audience. Boys want to read it, girls want to read it, high readers, low readers, etc. Even teachers are interested to flip through it.

Here are a few things that I learned about the Obama girls from this book:
-Malia's birthday is July 4th; she gets to be in a parade every year on her bday (how fun is that!)
-Her dad calls her "Little Miss Articulate" because she has a talent for saying just the right thing.
-Malia suffers from allergies and asthma.
-Sasha's real name is Natasha; Sasha is just a nickname.
-Her dad calls her his "precious pea."
-Sasha had meningitis when she was just 3 months old.
-Their room at the White House was decorated from items from Pottery Barn, Target, and Crate & Barrel. When they moved into the White House, they brought their own Jonas Brothers posters from home.
-They have chores, which include cleaning up their own rooms, making their own beds, clearing the dishes after supper. If they complete all of these, they get $1 a week as their allowance.

The pictures of the girls at places such as the presidential inauguration, serving troops by stuffing backpacks for their children, helping serve food to the homeless, and looking beautiful in their famous attire are probably what draws most readers to this book. I like that the visuals communicate to kids that being the child of the American president doesn't make you a princess; it makes you a joyful servant of the nation's people...and that makes me think that this is a pretty great addition to my library.

So Long, Insecurity (Beth Moore)


The women's ministry at my church often meets to discuss books or Bible studies. Beth Moore is by far one of our favorite authors, primarily because not only does she consistently point readers to the Creator and true source of help/wisdom/healing/peace, she is also discerning, authentic, funny, and wise. Recently we read So Long, Insecurity. In this book, Beth tells us what security is, and what it is not.

It's no secret that largely because of the misery mainstream culture projects, many women are plagued with insecurity. It is downright scary, however, to read about and consider just how that insecurity manifests itself in our lives. It can lead to perpetual misery, a controlling nature, being a painful perfectionist, mistrust of everyone around you, rudeness, issues with intimacy, constant fear of loss, and so much worse. Insecurity affects the way you act with your spouse, your children, your friends, your co-workers, and even your acquaintances. Beth, who has devoted her life to serving and ministering to women, guides the reader to uncovering the source(s) of insecurity and dealing with it in order to reclaim a life full of true peace and liberty. She does delve into how men and their personalities/attitudes relate to our security, and she poses the interesting question of whether we have been and should be treating the men in our life as gods or as devils (the correct answer, by the way, is neither).

Every single chapter is brimming with note-worthy quotes, but one of my favorites was Chapter 15, titled "Looking Out for Each Other." In this section, Beth writes that oftentimes it is women who are causing insecurity in other women, leading to a deeper pit of insecurity. She calls all of us ladies to respect one another in unity and sisterhood, specifically to:
-Stop making comparisons.
-Start personalizing other women.
-Stop tripping another woman's insecurity switch.
-Be examples of secure women. She elaborates in Chapter 14 (my most favorite section) that for our own freedom and peace we should actively seek to be examples of secure women, but mostly for the sake of our daughters, nieces, sisters, cousins, and granddaughters. How much easier our little girls will learn to live a life of security if they see it demonstrated daily in our lives!

Reading through this book is a very unique and personal experience, and it can be rather messy. Discussing it in a group of women was not an easy thing, but the wisdom within brought healing to many.

Three Cups of Tea (Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin)

Greg Mortenson was a mountain climber. Not your neighborhood outdoor store brand of mountain climber either, a real mountain climber. In 1993 he visited the Pakistan Himalaya Mountains, specifically a summit called K2 in the Karakoram district, and set out to scale K2. Long story short, he failed. He came off that mountain lost and broken and near death, but was taken in by a local village called Korphe. They saved his life, and by the time he was well enough to realize it and head home, he had decided he would come back and help this impoverished group of people who had given so much to help him. That turned into a dream of building a school for the Korphe children. Greg raised enough money (in the most desperate, sad, and interesting ways) and returned to Pakistan to build the school. Long story short, he was able to build the school despite incredible opposition and numerous glitches.

Then, one school turned into another. And another. And another. And eventually Greg Mortenson was in charge of an organization called the Central Asia Institute building schools all over Pakistan. He dealt with many issues along the way, and nearly lost his life numerous times. Eventually he was able to build schools in Afghanistan as well. As far as I can tell, Greg Mortenson is still spending most of his time in Pakistan and Afghanistan, building schools. He learned the process of getting things done (usually the hard way) in Pakistan, and also was fortunate to receive wise counsel from some of his friends in Korphe. One mentor explained to Greg that to thrive there he would have to respect their culture, their ways. The first cup of tea he shared with a Pakistani was as a stranger, the second was as a friend and honored guest, and the third was as family member, for whom any of them would die. Greg Mortenson learned to share many cups of tea with his acquaintances in Pakistan.

Mortenson was in Pakistan on September 11, 2001. He made some foolish mistakes during this time, in my opinion, such as returning several times in the months following 9/11, remained in the country even after he was specifically told it was a very dangerous place for American citizens, and approached the Afghanistan border "just to see what would happen" (what happened was he lost his passport and had to waste weeks getting one back and explaining to the hyper paranoid Intelligence Agency what he was doing there in the first place-he was lucky he didn't lose his life). He had a front row seat to the events that occurred in the Middle East following the terror attacks on America. Soon, the motivation for building these schools evolved from merely wanting to return a kindness to wanting to help promote peace in the world through providing an opportunity for educating Pakistan's youngsters...an opportunity other than the Islamic Wahhabi madrassas, many of which at that time taught (and may still teach) militant jihadi Islam. "The madrassa system targeted the impoverished students the public system failed. By offering free room and board and building schools in areas where none existed, madrassas provided millions of Pakistan's parents with their only opportunity to educate their children." (pg. 243)

 Mortenson believed then, and continues to believe, that the most important and effective way to fight terrorism is to prevent future generations from being trained to hate. The schools built by the Central Asia Institute are traditional Islamic schools which honor the culture of this country, but without the harsh militant agenda. The more schools that are available for children (especially girls) to attend, the better a chance the people have at rising above the hate that spews from some of Pakistan's best-known inhabitants (the Taliban and al-Quaeda).

I thought the piece about how Greg met his wife Tara was super sweet, and sort of awe-inspiring. I was a little concerned that this book seems to imply that Greg was married to building schools in Pakistan and was involved with his family only a little the side, though. I certainly hope that isn't an accurate assumption. It would be sorrowful for a man to accomplish so much in the lives of other families while forsaking involvement with his own.

I learned so much from this book. I had no idea there were so many various people groups in Pakistan, nor did I have a clue about the way most Pakistanis felt/feel about the Taliban. I also learned quite a bit about the Pakistani government, and (from Greg Mortenson's point of view, anyway) the United States's great successes and great failures in the days following the September 11th attacks. It made me remember how scary and broken we all were in America on September 11th, but also to realize a new perspective on the events that took place in the years leading up to and following the attacks on the United States. It made me angry to read that the yellow humanitarian food packets that American military planes were dropping down to Afghan refugees closely resembled the bright yellow pods of unexploded cluster bombs. (pg. 279)

This book has been plaguing my life as a reader for well over a year now. As I have inched through it, it has taken up space in my bag, my laptop case, my backpack, my bookcase, basket of books, and my stack of books on the bedside table. I started it over a year ago, when it was first released in paperback. Everyone was talking about this book, and how I just had to read it. I'm a library girl, not much a book purchaser (except for my children's collection), but in this case I made an exception. I've read it on and off ever since then, frustrated because it wasn't a very friendly read. It was difficult, and sad, and did not truly catch my attention until about 180 pages in.

This is very unlike me. I believe life is too short to read bad books. I know there is great value in seeing a book through to the end no matter what you think about it. In this case, I never felt like Three Cups of Tea was a bad book, it just required a lot of effort to read. More so than just about any other book I've read. The names of the cities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the unfamiliar names of individuals Mortenson encountered, and the ever-changing rules and politics were so confusing. There is a map included at the beginning of the book, and I wish I had remembered it was there to go back and look up the name of each city rather than relying on my mind's very abstract notion of where those cities were in relation to one another. There is also an index provided so that would also be very helpful to readers. Those are some mistakes I feel as though I made when reading this book. I underestimated it, I did not put forth significant effort to keep the people and places straight, and I did not use the index to refer to places, people, and issues. In essence, I'm saying that this book isn't meant to be read casually. It's meant to be studied and discussed. So I'm reiterating that Three Cups of Tea is not a bad book, it's just a difficult one. Approach with caution, handle with care, and for crying out loud, use the maps.

For more info, follow Greg Mortenson on Twitter- @gregmortenson

or see his website: http://www.threecupsoftea.com/