Book review: Back to Bremen by Cecelia Wilson

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The following week our orders arrived at the house. Our family had been directed to leave Bremen for reassignment to Saxony in eastern Germany, which had been spared the bombing the majority of the country had sustained. The larger the family, the more likely permission was given to evacuate, so we would be one of the first families leaving our neighborhood. … I remember being sad and excited at the same time. None of us wanted to leave, but we were also more than eager to escape bombs, death, and fear.

– Excerpt from Back to Bremen

By the time Edith Ropke was 3 years old, she was well acquainted with the horrors of war.

In 1939, Edith, seven of her eight siblings and their mother, Marta, could not have foreseen the devastation they would experience as they endured evacuation, separation, hunger, illness and loss before making the weeks-long journey back to their hometown of Bremen, Germany.

With Father conscripted to service — whisked off in the middle of a family meal — the rest of the Ropke family had to carry on with Mutti (Mother) and eldest brother Gunter, not yet 10 years old, in charge.

(That is, until just before Gunter turned 14 and was, himself, ordered to report for duty.)

Throughout the six-year journey that unfolds for us in Cecelia Wilson’s Back to Bremen, Marta Ropke’s mission was to keep her remaining family together, and safe.

Each child knew by heart Mutti’s mantra: Always stay together.

That mindset, Marta’s humor amid challenging situations, and her fierce love and determination to see every family member safe, is at the heart of Back to Bremen, the true story told with heart and skill by Cecelia Wilson.

Most of the World War II books I’ve read are told from the perspective of the soldiers or the Jews or — in my favorite book of all time, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom — the families trying to save Jews from Hitler’s brutal Nazis.

In the case of Back to Bremen, the story is told from the perspective of a German girl whose family was thrust into the thick of it and remained …

Well, if I went any further I’d be giving away too much. (I hate spoilers. Don’t you?)

You’ll have to buy the book, read Edith and Marta’s story, then come back here (or, even better, visit the author’s website) and tell us what you thought of it.

I’m serious. Buy it. Read it. Share it.

OLD MEMORIES

My family and Cecelia’s family have been friends for 45 years — since the Taylors moved to Batesville, Ark., in 1972. We met at church, and church (a different one in a different town) is exactly where Cecelia met Edith Ropke Harris, whose story is told in Back to Bremen.

Edith and Cecelia sat for many hours over servings of popcorn and Dr Pepper, Cecelia marveling at Edith’s stories and taking copious notes, grateful that she and her friend had finally found the time and the circumstances to make good on Cecelia’s promise to tell the tale of Marta Ropke and the journey back to Bremen with her children.

I had the privilege of meeting Edith and one of her daughters, Barbara, at a book signing a few months ago. That’s how long ago I promised Cecelia I’d read and review her book.

SIGH OF RELIEF!

You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a friend says, “Do you like my new haircut” (and you don’t) or, “Do these pants make my butt look big” (and they do)?

I had a twinge of that feeling when I found out that Cecelia had published Back to Bremen.

I knew she was a part-time writer — I’d read one or two of her pieces in Searcy Living magazine — but when I heard that she had published her first major book, I was a bit nervous to read it.

I was afraid it wouldn’t be good.

And because I have an extreme aversion to false flattery, I would have to find some way of being a good friend without lying. Or I’d have to avoid Cecelia and her family for the rest of my life.

To join the Witness Protection Program or something.

Imagine my relief when I turned the last page and knew beyond a doubt that I could give the book a good review.

In the span of 36 hours (interrupted by church, sleep and feeding the dogs and people in mein Haus), I read the book, phoned Mom and gushed about it (she then read it and phoned Cecelia’s mom to gush about it), and fell asleep. The next morning at work, I gushed about it to my co-worker, who was also at the book signing, but I didn’t know this because I was too busy listening to Cecelia’s fascinating stories of the book, her writing career and the publishing process. (I’m a geek that way.)

LIVING HISTORY

It was such a joy to meet Edith and Barbara at the book signing. I asked Edith a couple of questions, had her and Cecelia sign my copy of Back to Bremen, introduced myself to Barbara, and marveled that I had the privilege of meeting someone who lived through such a time in our history.

If you’re on Facebook, take a look at Cecelia’s video of Edith talking to Fred Hilsenrath, a fellow survivor of WWII, as they converse for a few minutes in their native German.

And here’s where you can buy the book.

Go on. Buy a copy now! Then let us know how you like it. Comment here or on Cecelia’s page, wherever you’re the most comfortable. Be sure to like her Facebook page while you’re there.

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Well Well Well tips & tools – 09/04/17

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I haven’t brought you a Well Well Well in a while, so I guess it’s about time I do something about that.

Well Well Well is a way for me to share three tips, tricks, tools or other resources that I think you’ll find useful, informational or inspiring. And today I got a little carried away, so our “three” will be three themes, with sub-items. 🙂 Here we go:

SPIRITUAL

Some may call it serendipity; I call it a kick-in-the-pants by the Almighty. Read Meeting with God in the Airport, then come back and tell me if you’ve ever had an experience like this and how you responded.

ART/GOOD READS

As usual, I’m reading too many books at once, but I’m enjoying all of them. Here are two of the books I’m still reading (you might even say savoring), plus one about which I owe my friend a review.

I’ve been taking in a lot of content about creativity, writing and art lately. These are two of the books on my Kindle app:

Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins. I follow Jeff and, in fact, helped him promote Real Artists Don’t Starve when he published it early this year. The more of Jeff’s content I consume – books, courses, challenges (including one I’m participating in right now – my500words) – the more I like him. If you’re any type of artist (writer, musician, painter, whatever) who wants to make money with your craft – or you need someone to help you understand why it’s OK to make money as an artist – read this book.

A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman. Before the session on writing that I taught at last month’s Megaphone Summit, I asked my fellow Arkansas Women Bloggers for suggestions on books to give away. This was my third time to lead a class at Megaphone, and I always like to give away books. A Million Little Ways was one of the suggestions. I had never heard of it, but I’m truly enjoying looking at ways I can use my particular skills to serve my audience and help each person realize her/his God-given potential.

… And then there’s my friend Cecelia Wilson’s book, the true story of a German family displaced by World War II. Cecelia and I grew up in the same church, and our families have been friends for longer than we care to admit (but that doesn’t mean we’re old! 🙂 ). When Cecelia spoke at a local event this summer, I sat in the audience, bought the book, met the 81-year-old woman whose story Cecelia told (I met Edith’s daughter, too), and fell in love with Back to Bremen. You don’t have to be a World War II buff to enjoy this book; it’s the story of a mother’s love for her family. Check it out.

And I promise, Cecelia, I’m going to get that book review written soon!

CULTURE

Racism in our country weighs heavily on my mind, and the recent events in Charlottesville, Va., stirred me up again. Here are two posts about racism from a Christian perspective (actually, three, because I’m linking to a post I wrote a couple of years ago). In the second one, I urge you to make the time to watch the 22-minute video:

Responding Biblically to Racism by Bob Lepine of Family Life Today.

On Taking Sides Like Jesus Read it, watch the video, and decide to do something to help make the situation better.

We Are Every Tribe, Tongue and Nation, one of the guest posts I wrote in 2015 on Seth Godin’s Your Turn Challenge blog.

In the words of Heather Heyer, the young woman who was martyred at the Charlottesville rally:

Heather Heyer quote: If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.Check out these links, then come back and let me know what action you’re going to take.

And, if you’ve found any value in this post, please share.

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Finish strong this year and get a head start on 2017

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nietzsche-claireequote2016 has been a year of challenges for my family.

Without boring you with the details, I’ll just say that, if Nietzsche and Ms. Clairee were right, I should be able to bench-press a couple of tons by now.

It’s been a tough few months.

A year ago, I set out to make 2016 my best year ever. Did I?

I’m still working on it. (I have a few weeks to go, though. Don’t write me off just yet!)

The good news? I can make a fresh start any time I want. I got off track on some of the goals I set, but I’ve decided that I’m not going to waste the last few weeks of the year in disappointment and regret. I’m using the next 40 days to:

  • Review where I am right now (the good and the not so good, the wins and the losses).
  • Refresh my commitment to those areas where I drifted off course.
  • Focus on what’s truly important.
  • Set myself up for a phenomenal 2017.
  • Finish the year STRONG!

When I set my 2016 goals a year ago (personal, professional, physical, financial and spiritual), I had significant help. I’ve been following Michael Hyatt for about a year and a half, ever since a friend from church recommended him. Since then, I’ve been somewhat of a Michael Hyatt evangelist.

Why? Because every piece of his content I’ve consumed (blog posts, podcast episodes, online courses, his Platform University and his books – most recently Living Forward) is topnotch. He embodies quality, integrity and commitment – values that draw me to him as a person and a brand. He helps me see the positive side of … well, just about everything. And he has given me some of the most meaningful phrases I use to motivate myself. (My favorite? Remember Your Why.)

So, how did Michael Hyatt help me set goals for 2016?

Among other things, it was his course called “5 Days to Your Best Year Ever.” The course included a workbook and video instruction from Michael. He helps you lay out a plan for visualizing where you want to be and how to get there.

I’ll tell you more about that later, because the 2017 version of “Best Year Ever” is coming soon. But first I want to let you know about a FREE ebook that is available to you starting tomorrow, Nov. 21. (Don’t worry; I’ll email you a link tomorrow – to be sure you get the link, provide your name and email address in the turquoise and gray “Subscribe to” form on this page.)

The book is called Achieve What Matters in 2017: 8 Strategies Super-Successful People are Using Now to Accomplish More Next Year.

You’ll recognize the names of a lot of the people Michael interviewed for the book: Dave Ramsey, Lysa TerKeurst, John Maxwell, Andy Stanley, Tony Robbins, Lewis Howes and many more. These high achievers shared their strategies for setting up the new year for success.

I got a preview copy of the book and read it over the weekend. It’s pretty good, my friends! This book will prime you for your “Best Year Ever” and whet your appetite for what the course will help you accomplish.

TOMORROW: Download the ebook (when you get my email), and get ready to hear more from me in the days to come about “5 Days to Your Best Year Ever.”

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Book review: ‘Choosing to See’ by Mary Beth Chapman

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Faithful lyrics - Steven Curtis ChapmanOne of the things that draws me to people is their honesty and transparency about their struggles. When someone is brutally honest about his or her life without glossing over the mess, that’s when I can relate. That’s what draws me in to a story.

ChoosingToSee_coverUsually when I think of the death of little Maria Sue Chapman (5-year-old daughter of Mary Beth Chapman and contemporary Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman), three things come to mind: 1) the morning I heard the news on my car radio, 2) the family’s appearance on Larry King Live a couple of months later and 3) Steven’s sweet song “Cinderella,” which was even more poignant after Maria died.

But those are things I saw and heard from a distance – before I read Choosing to See: A Journey of Struggle and Hope by Mary Beth Chapman and Ellen Vaughn – before I heard the rest of the story from a grieving mom. After finishing the book, I had a deeper understanding of the family’s grief and how far Mary Beth, her husband and their children came in the two years between the accident and the book’s publication. Slowly but surely … God was healing them. In the meantime, they remained faithful to giving Him the glory and honor – even in the messy middle of their grief.

The family shares some of that story in the Larry King interview, too. The links to the interview start here, and below is the first segment:

The Chapmans’ faith – strengthened by their history of walking with God, and with a strong support network of friends, family, church members and counselors – is a testimony to others who are grieving, questioning … struggling.

There are no pat answers here, no trite quotes or pithy sayings, only the words of a mom being honest about her journey to healing. That she (and her family) looks to God as the ultimate source of that healing is largely what the book is about.

I wrote about this on my other blog last weekend, in a post called “Of funerals and letting go,” after I put down the book to get ready for a friend’s funeral. It was a day that could have been depressing but instead was encouraging.

Something that astounded me is that Mary Beth dealt with depression in the early years of her life, yet she still managed to cling tightly to God’s hand as she mourned, as she struggled and as she told her family’s story.

This story strengthened my faith and reminded me of the great truths of God’s love, mercy and healing.

If you or someone you know has suffered a deeply felt loss, my prayer is that this book would strengthen and encourage you, too. Check it out.

In the aftermath of losing Maria, Steven began writing songs for a new album, which he called Beauty Will Rise. The song “Faithful,” quoted above, is from that album. Give it a listen. It, too, is honest and vulnerable – filled with hope.

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Let’s get organized, Part 1

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10 ThingsLogoI should subtitle this post “10 things you need to know about me, Part 2” because I’m heeding the advice of James Altucher“for the next ten things you write, tell people something that nobody knows about you” — and I debuted Part 1 at Suzy & Spice a few days ago.

Now that I have two blogs, a 10-part series might be a challenge (bouncing back and forth), but I’m up for it if you are.

Also, it’s going to be hard to find 10 things that absolutely no one knows about me, so how about we refer to it loosely as 10 things only the people closest to me could possibly know?

We could also title this “True Confessions,” because I’m about to talk about something I don’t like to talk about: my messy house.

I’m a recovering packrat, but I live with a full-blown packrat (I think they have TV shows about this). In 2010, we moved from a 2,600-square-foot-house to a 1,740-square-foot house. Five years later, I’m still trying to “organize” the chaos. I cannot tell you how many books we’ve gotten rid of, but we still have a ton of books.

In less than 24 hours this week, I heard three mentions of a method, an author — a “cult” (said tongue-in-cheek) — centered on “tidying.”

Except that when I asked someone in one of my Facebook groups, “I’ve read a gazillion get-organized books. Why is this one so special?” I got an unexpected response that hooked me:

“It is not really an organizing book — it is a ‘how to discard’ book. That’s what I needed — I have way way way too much stuff.”

Bruce and I have been trying to figure out how to organize our office stuff. A couple of months ago, we turned our dining room into my office (his office is the living room), and we just haven’t figured out the right configuration. Many obstacles, which also could be classified as excuses:

  • Not enough time.
  • Not the right tools.
  • We never have the same window of time to work on it together.
  • (Fill in the blank.)

I get enthusiastic about working on it, get sidetracked after a few minutes and need a nap. And I have a messy closet, too. And dresser, and bathroom countertop. Ugh!

So … obviously there is another problem.

Marie Kondo would have you believe it’s because we’re trying to organize rather than discard the excess and keep only what gives us “a spark of joy.” (She’s ruthless about papers. Uh-oh.)

I’ll do a book review next week, but let’s just say that this woman has an unconventional method for “tidying” a home. While I don’t agree with every single thing she says, I’ll buy into 98 percent of it.

It’s going to be really weird touching all my stuff and talking to it as I decide what to discard and what to keep.

But I’m keeping an open mind and will be taking up Marie Kondo’s challenge. In fact, I said on that same Facebook page:

KonMariQuoteSuzyOakleyIf you’d like to join me in the tidying madness (er, spark of joy), leave a comment and we’ll tackle it together. Doing weird stuff is more fun with friends!

Check it out: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

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