“’It feels like everyone else is living their perfectly normal lives while we’re in survival mode, for who knows how long.’ Rebekah hesitated. ‘Patrick said…that he felt God had forgotten us.’
"…‘It’s hard for me to leave this up to God. I wanted my plan to be his plan.’ Rebekah paused. The truth was that she no longer had a plan, no layout in mind, no outfits to match the specially chosen designer paper, no arrangements to create a perfect album.”
How often have you felt something like this – like everyone else’s lives are “normal”, and you can barely keep your head above water? Like if everyone just paid attention and listened to you, everything would work out fine. And how often does that happen? Yeah, I have no idea what “normal” looks like, either, and I have a hard time letting things just "happen".
These comments sum up one of the central themes of Leslie Gould’s new novel, Scrap Everything. Much of the storyline deals with change, and how different people view it and cope with it. It’s a story of faith, of learning to let go of what you cannot control, and learning to accept help from others. It’s remarkable how hard a lesson this can be. Perhaps that’s why this particular message hit home for me.
Scrap Everything is the story of two very different women, and their families – how they become involved in each other’s lives, and how they struggle to give and accept help in times of need.
Elise Shelton is an army wife with two teenage sons. With her husband’s retirement from active duty, she and her family move to her husband’s hometown, a small town in Oregon. She is not excited by the idea of living in “the best little town in the world”, and is relieved by the knowledge that it’s only temporary. In ten months, they plan to move on to Seattle. Which is more than fine with her. She has no intention of settling into life in the small town, and no intention of getting involved.
“Involved” could be Rebekah Graham’s middle name. She throws herself whole-heartedly into every project, whether it’s scrapbooking, meeting new people, or her home life. We see evidence of her obsessive nature in her thoughts of getting a part-time job or maybe opening a business. A month later, she opens a scrapbooking store.
It's at the scrapbooking store that the two characters meet. At the suggestion of her husband, Elise grudgingly attends the introductory workshop at the store. Elise immediately nicknames Rebekah "Miss Perky", mentally describing her as speaking "in italics and exclamation points…" Rebekah welcomes her into the store, and essentially into the lives of the other women gathered there. After chatting with her a bit, Rebekah impulsively invites Elise to come horseback riding at her ranch that weekend, even though she thinks Elise seems "awfully pretentious". She mentally compares Elise to the "popular girls" in middle school. On this note, they begin their relationship.
Life doesn't go smoothly for either of these main characters. Shortly after the two women meet, Elise finds out her husband has been offered a choice. As a Lt. Colonel in inactive army reserves, he can accept a three-month deployment to Germany, or stay with his unit with the chance that he will be deployed again to Afghanistan or Iraq. They choose Germany, and begin all the preparations involved with the travel and Elise's transition back to being a single parent.
At the same time, Rebekah's adopted daughter Pepper becomes sick. She has had kidney problems before, and the doctor informs them that her kidney function has significantly declined. They need to put her on the list for an imminent kidney transplant. Because they are not biologically related, none of Rebekah's family is a donor match for Pepper, and the birth mother is deceased. The stressful wait, and search, for a suitable donor begins.
Both Elise and Rebekah endure these challenging situations through the course of the book. Both need support to get through them. Both struggle to accept help – they both suffer from the "I-should-be-able-to-handle-it-myself" syndrome. (Can you relate?) While the book follows their day-to-day journey through the challenges, it also highlights their thought processes in learning to accept the changes, and the support necessary to attend to all their duties. They come to learn more about each other and themselves as they grow to accept these challenges. They learn that leaps of faith are easier when you accept that friends and family will be there to catch you. And they also learn that sacrifice can also be seen as giving a gift.
I'll be honest -- when I first started reading this book, I didn't particularly like it. Elise seemed so judgmental and negative that she was hard to "be around", so to speak. Rebekah seemed like an overly extreme case of an over-achieving multi-tasker – though it's more likely that I related too much to the character, and didn't like what I saw. I was also uncomfortable with the short scenes that seemed to begin and end abruptly.
But as I read more, I grew to like the characters, thinking about them when I wasn't reading the book. As I got closer to the end, it was harder to put down. I became engrossed in their personal growth, and how they came to have faith and trust that things would work out. Elise's faith reaches a turning point during one particular sermon at church:
"The sermon was on John 6, the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand people. 'If you love Jesus, he's going to test you just as he tested Philip….Jesus knew Philip couldn't feed that many people; he wanted Philip to trust him.'
The pastor read the passage and then continued. "Philip was overwhelmed, just as we're overwhelmed with what we face in our lives. Jesus felt compassion for the crowd, and he feels compassion for us. He knows that you can't handle what overwhelms you on your own; he wants you to trust him.'"
From this Elise learned that "Christ will use us to show his compassion to others," and that she was being "stingy with her love". The latter idea hit home for me. I had to wonder where I was being stingy with my love in my own life. A sobering thought.
After reading this book, I made a conscious effort to be more present in my interactions with my family, and spend more focused time with them. It's been a good two weeks for me. This book helped me with that, because I came to identify with the characters, and saw how they handled complicated situations with strength and faith.
Something else I liked about this book was the role scrapbooking played in the characters' lives. (Perhaps that's to be expected.) I liked that the whole thing didn't focus on scrapbooking, but rather showed how scrapbooking was woven into their lives. I liked how the regular group of croppers rallied around both Elise and Rebekah when they needed support, offering domestic help, as well as help with scrapbooking projects. That was real to me, having experienced the same support from my own scrapbooking friends. It shows that scrapbooking isn't just about the actual hobby – more often it's the gathering of like-minded people, sharing their lives, both the positive and the challenging. Which made scrapbooking, and a scrapbooking store, the perfect background for this story.
I would recommend Scrap Everything for those who are interested in scrapbooking, stories of women's friendships, and faith journeys. It's a strong story which may give you more than you were expecting.
Editor's Note: This review is a part of a Virtual Tour for this book, with reviews being posted on October 30th. Have a look around the blogosphere, and see where you can find other reviews! Check out:
Note2: This book is a part of the prize package for Tasra Dawson's Real Women Scrap contest.
Lisa Andrews at Families.com