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Category: Books (page 1 of 2)

“Finding Me” Book Review

“I love life… My son is the most precious to me. I will give up anything to be with my son at home where I belong… Life changes from good to bad… in a blink of an eye your whole life can change, so you should live life like it’s your last days on earth because you never know when tragedy might strike… Some people don’t have a family to turn to in time of need… I can’t wait for this nightmare to end so I can wake up and be me again.”
– Finding Me (page 165)

I’m sure most people have heard about the Cleveland kidnappings and the amazing rescue that happened in May 2013; when one of the girls, after having been held captive for over a decade, managed to get the attention of a neighbor while their captor was out of the house.

“Finding Me” is an eye-witness account as told by Michelle Knight, the first girl Ariel Castro lured into his house on Aug. 21, 2002, and held captive for 11 years. Let me just say, while this book is very well-written, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Her life wasn’t easy to begin with. Knight’s family had a very small home, where the amount of relatives living with them made for cramped space and no extra beds. After being sexually abused for years by one those relatives, she finally runs away to live under an overpass for a couple of months, only to be recognized while walking around town. Her dad, after getting the call, picked her up and dragged her back home that night.

Forced to endure more sexual abuse from that same relative, Knight eventually becomes pregnant and has her son, Joey. She loses custody of him 4 years later after the abusive relative got rough with her and broke Joey’s bone when he toddled over to help her. The government stepped in and placed him in foster care, saying her living situation wasn’t safe for the child.

Struggling to gain back custody,  Knight accepts a ride from her friend’s dad, Ariel Castro, who offers to take her to one of her court meetings. They make a stop at his house first, where he tells her that she could pick out one of his puppies to take back home to her son. Bringing her upstairs to where he claimed the puppies were, Castro attacks her and ties her up, rendering her completely helpless.

Words can’t fully describe the awfulness that Knight had to endure throughout the next several years: tied up in the basement with a motorcycle helmet on her head and duct tape on her mouth to keep her from being heard, forced to do the most disgusting sexual acts for “the dude’s” pleasure, starved because he either forgot to bring her food or refused to do so, raped daily, beaten until she aborted her child when she got pregnant… 5 times.

In the book, Knight never refers to Castro by his real name once she starts talking about her kidnapping. She calls him “the dude,” which, in a way, strips him of his humanity for readers – presenting him as a monster who is driven by a desire for sex and his twisted fantasies.

Knight said that “the dude” also kidnapped Amanda Berry on April 21, 2003, and Gina DeJesus on April 2, 2004, bringing them together to complete his “family,” as he called it. All three girls had some connection to Castro’s daughter.

Throughout the book, Knight keeps mentioning how many times “the dude” told her that she was worthless, that no one was bothering to look for her because they didn’t care, that she was ugly and unloved. I can’t even begin to imagine what that would do to me, having to hear that day after day, week after week for years.

“I truly believe no one cares for me. I feel like I’m dying in here. Sometimes I feel powerless to the pain and destruction. I find myself paralyzed. I’m going out of my mind thinking about if I’ll ever get home to see my lil’ angel. I’m sitting in a prison with no windows and waiting for someone to come rescue me. I’m lying here cold, shivering, but I am still not totally broken.” – Finding Me (page 176)

Yet, there is one thing that keeps her going and gives her the strength she needs to keep going: her son, Joey.

“To My Son: You are my shining star, you are the reason I look forward to a new day. 
You’ll always be in my heart, and that’s where you’ll always stay. You light the way for me, 
the day gets hard and I think of you and how we will be together forever. 
Never apart and one day have a fresh new start with you, because you are my hope to survive.” 
– Finding Me (page 179)

Finally, after a decade of abuse, on May 6, 2013, Berry manages to get the attention of a neighbor by pushing the chain-bolted front door out as far as it would go and sticking her arm out, screaming for help.

The police came, broke down the front door and found Knight and DeJesus in the upstairs room. They were brought out to the ambulances to be checked and taken to the hospital. Castro was arrested shortly after and brought to court, where he was charged with 937 counts of kidnapping, rape and aggravated murder. He was sentenced to life in prison and was later found dead in his cell on Sept. 3, 2013.

Knight says that having her freedom back is still kind of surreal. She doesn’t downplay what she went through, but she also says that she won’t let it define her:

“The horrors I survived don’t have to define me – and with God’s help I’m not going to let them. One day at a time, one breath at a time, I am choosing to move forward. After crawling my way out of a dark bedroom and into a brand new life, that’s the best gift I can give myself.” 
– Finding Me (page 240)

After being released from the hospital and getting her own apartment, Knight is
currently working to touch other people’s lives and give back to her community. She says that she wants to be a voice for the girls who are still in captivity and wants to give them and their families hope.

“When I was on my last breath in that house, God kept me alive for some reason. I believe the reason is so I can help others who have been in my situation. When I’m feeling lost, that’s the purpose I hold onto. Becoming a voice for those who can’t speak, sharing love with other people around me – that’s the only way I’ve been able to find myself again.” 
– Finding Me (page 249 )

I personally enjoyed getting a first-hand account of what happened behind those doors and, while it was really hard to read without getting teary-eyed, it brings to light how she was able to survive that dark time.

I highly recommend this well-written, well-thought-out book to those who are looking for a real, down-to-earth account that provides all the facts and an underlying message of hope, or those who, like me, enjoy reading/hearing other people’s stories, getting into their heads and discovering how they experience things, what they think and how they choose to be defined by the circumstances they find themselves in.

I mean, everyone has a story to tell.

If you want to get a copy of the book for yourself, visit Amazon.com or any other store or online site that carries it.

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Love covers a multitude of sins!

There may be time where it feels like you’ve done something so terrible that there’s no way you can make it up to God. You’ve fallen into the trap of sin over and over again, it seems impossible to approach the throne of grace and ask for forgiveness one more time. You’re left with this feeling of being unclean and unworthy of the love that God is holding out for you.

I know that there have been many times in my life where I kept putting off asking God for forgiveness because I was afraid. Afraid of rejection, afraid of coming face to face with my sin, afraid of seeing the hurt in my Father’s eyes.

But the minute I slink into the throne room (figuratively of course), stumbling under the heavy burden of guilt, I immediately feel the power and glory of His presence. I fall to my knees in awe and shame, afraid to look up, afraid of what I might see.

Then I hear Him say “My child, I love you and nothing can ever change that. Give me your burden and let me fill you with My grace and love, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light. I’ll cast your sins as far as the east is from the west, washing you white as snow. For you are Mine and no sin can ever snatch you out of My hand.”

A feeling of peace and love overwhelms me. Tears streaming down my face, I feel the weight lift off my shoulders and am wrapped up in a huge hug by the Father who would never disown me.

Each time I enter God’s presence, I come away wondering why I hadn’t done it sooner. He’s so full of love and compassion and He understands us completely!

That’s the wonder of grace. We don’t have to earn it, per say. It’s a gift!

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves;
it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9

As it says in 1 Peter 4:8 –

“Above all, love each other deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins.”

This unconditional love was ultimately demonstrated at the cross.

One of my Facebook friends had posted an excerpt from the book “When God Weeps” by
Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes. It gives such a graphic visual of what happened at the cross that fateful day and what exactly our Savior had to go through in order to offer us the free gift of salvation:

The face that Moses had begged to see—was forbidden to see—was slapped bloody (Exodus 33:19-20).
The thorns that God had sent to curse the earth’s rebellion now twisted around his own brow…
“On your back with you!” One raises a mallet to sink in the spike.
But the soldier’s heart must continue pumping as he readies the prisoner’s wrist.
Someone must sustain the soldier’s life minute by minute, for no man has this power on his own.
Who supplies breath to his lungs? Who gives energy to his cells? Who holds his molecules together?
Only by the Son do “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
The victim wills that the solider live on—he grants the warriors continued existence.
The man swings.
As the man swings, the Son recalls how he and the Father first designed the medial nerve of the human forearm—the sensations it would be capable of.
The design proves flawless—the nerves perform exquisitely. “Up you go!”
They lift the cross.
God is on display in his underwear and can scarcely breathe.
But these pains are a mere warm-up to his other and growing dread. He begins to feel a foreign sensation. Somewhere during this day an unearthly foul odor began to waft, not around his nose, but his heart. He feels dirty. Human wickedness starts to crawl upon his spotless being—the living excrement from our souls. The apple of his Father’s eye turns brown with rot.
His Father! He must face his Father like this! From heaven the Father now rouses himself like a lion disturbed, shakes his mane, and roars against the shriveling remnant of a man hanging on a cross. Never has the Son seen the Father look at him so, never felt even the least of his hot breath. But the roar shakes the unseen world and darkens the visible sky. The Son does not recognize these eyes.
“Son of Man! Why have you behaved so? You have cheated, lusted, stolen, gossiped—murdered, envied, hated, lied. You have cursed, robbed overspent, overeaten—fornicated, disobeyed, embezzled, and blasphemed. Oh, the duties you have shirked, the children you have abandoned! Who has ever so ignored the poor, so played the coward, so belittled my name? Have you ever held your razor tongue? What a self-righteous, pitiful drunk—you, who molest young boys, peddle killer drugs, travel in cliques, and mock your parents. Who gave you the boldness to rig elections, foment revolutions, torture animals, and worship demons? Does the list never end! Splitting families, raping virgins, acting smugly, playing the pimp—buying politicians, practicing exhortation, filming pornography, accepting bribes. You have burned down buildings, perfected terrorist tactics, founded false religions, traded in slaves—relishing each morsel and bragging about it all. I hate, loathe these things in you! Disgust for everything about you consumes me! Can you not feel my wrath?”
Of course, the Son is innocent. He is blamelessness itself. The Father knows this.
But the divine pair have an agreement, and the unthinkable must now take place.
Jesus will be treated as if personally responsible for every sin ever committed.
The Father watches as his heart’s treasure, the mirror-image of himself,
sinks drowning into raw, liquid sin. Jehovah’s stored rage against humankind from every century
explodes in a single direction.
“Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?!”
But heaven stops its ears. The Son stares up at the One who cannot,
who will not,
reach down or reply.
The Trinity had planned it. The Son endured it. The Spirit enabled him.
The Father rejected the Son whom he loved. Jesus, the God-man from Nazareth, perished.
The Father accepted his sacrifice for sin and was satisfied. The Rescue was accomplished.
Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes, “When God Weeps.”

The bottom line is this. No matter what you’ve done, no matter what you’ve been through, Jesus paid it all. He went to the cross for your sins. Not just the small ones or the big, life-changing ones, but ALL sins. He took them upon Himself and paid the price so that we could be washed clean and live eternally.

Satan wants us to believe that we’re unworthy, that we’re too dirty for God to even bother with.

That’s not true at all!

Remember…

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill and to destroy.
I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10.

Praise Him!

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Let my girls be Hermiones…

“It’s about what girls want to be, what they’re told they should be and how they feel about who they are. I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin.’ And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do. Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons.”

This is a quote that was taken from J.K. Rowling’s blog where she’s venting her frustration about how this world is so look-obsessed and how it tries to convince girls that the thinner they are, the prettier they’ll be.
Now, as girls and young women, it is very flattering to get compliments from others (especially guys that we’re interested in). It can be very easy to slip into thinking that if we lost that extra 5 pounds or worked on toning our “thunder thighs” we would be even more attractive than we already are.

That’s exactly where Satan and the world step in and twists our thinking to a point where our outward appearance is all we worry about and focus on. We can get so caught up in criticizing ourselves that we assume others are looking at us and judging us in the same way..

… and then world takes it a step further.

Take a look around. There are numerous examples of the world’s handiwork: billboards with the latest fashions on display, magazine ads with the sexiest perfumes, photos of models with the perfect bodies and movies with actresses who are made to look like the perfect woman with the perfect man and the perfect happy ending… and the sad thing is that girls these days are buying it.Over the past couple years of leading small group Bible studies and helping out in youth group, I’ve seen and heard young Christian girls talk about needing to go on a diet, how much weight they need to lose or how they don’t consider themselves to be pretty… and it’s heartbreaking. So many of them seem to forget or just haven’t realized yet that they are beautiful just the way God made them.

This reminds me of the song “More Beautiful You” by Jonny Diaz (check it out!). During the chorus, he says,

“There could never be a more beautiful you. Don’t buy the lies, disguises and hoops they make you jump through. You were made to fill a purpose, that only you could do, so there could never be a more beautiful you.”

The world around us is filled with girls who are falling for the lie that they’ll be beautiful if they hardly eat anything, wear as little clothes as possible, slather on the makeup and more… all striving for that unattainable perfection.

All these girls need is love. Seriously. They want to be noticed. That’s why they’re buying into these lies that the world and media is feeding them.. and the God of love is calling out, trying to remind them that they are unique…

… an original

… a masterpiece

… BEAUTIFUL!

I have to keep telling myself this daily. It’s natural for us to compare ourselves to others. The danger is when we start looking down on ourselves and criticizing God’s masterpiece (us).

Don’t buy into the lies.

Remember…

“The king is enthralled by your beauty; honor Him, for His is your Lord.” – Psalm 45:11

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Learning to Dance in the Rain

What is the first thought that pops into your head when you wake up to a steady rain? You know the kind… large drops of water falling from the sky – not too hard, not too soft – just nice and steady all day long.

Many people consider it an interruption in their plans or a nuisance, but, for some reason, I don’t see it that way at all.

I love waking up to the sound of rain and knowing that it’s going to last for a while. Nearly everyone thinks I’m weird for enjoying it, but think about it… when it’s raining outside, it makes being inside so much more satisfying!

That feeling of getting my work done and out of the way and knowing that I have absolutely no other obligations. I mean, come on… the rain is obviously telling you to save the yard work for another day and to stay inside as much as you can! You don’t want to end up like the Wicked Witch of the West from”The Wizard of Oz,” now, do you?

Ok, that was a tad corny, but let me try to explain…

You know that scene in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast where Belle and the Beast are sitting by the fire, enjoying each others company and reading a book while the snow came down outside? Or in “Little Women” when Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy sat by the fire either working on their sewing or enjoying a book and just spending time together while the rain poured down outside their house.

Those two scenarios (and I can easily name a bunch more) are exactly what my idea of the perfect afternoon is! Hearing the constant drumming of the rain on your roof while you’re all cozy and dry in the house is what makes it so great.

Even though you’re stuck inside, the possibility are endless: you can explore new worlds between the pages of a book, watch a movie you haven’t seen in a while, play games with your family and friends (like actual board or card games), enjoy a mug of something hot, make goodies to pig out on at night while enjoying a movie/TV show marathon 🙂

When it’s gorgeously sunny, you feel almost obligated to go spend at least a little time doing something outside, whether it’s driving to the store, going for a bike ride or getting some yard work done. Don’t get me wrong, I love the warm, sunny days and I’m definitely your outdoorsy-type of girl… but not when it’s rainy and deliciously wet outside 🙂

So, the next time it rains (which might be tomorrow!) instead of complaining about how gloomy and disgusting it looks… look on the bright side. Here’s an opportunity for a guilt-free stay-
indoors day to do whatever may tickle your fancy! Read a book, watch a movie, play a game, get that project done, be a complete bum for a day….

… or literally go dance in the rain (it’s completely worth getting soaked) 🙂

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“So many books, so little time”

Books… the smell of the pages… the feel of the paper turning in your fingers… the soft corners of the cover tucked snugly between your hand, so many lands just waiting for you to explore, adventures to be had, friends to meet and mysteries to be solved… all behind the covers of a book.

If you’re an avid reader like I am, you’ll understand when I say that there is a world of adventure between the covers of a book, just waiting for the right person to come along and lose themselves among the words. As you start reading, the story takes hold of your imagination, drawing you deeper and deeper into the pages until you lose all track of time. And if it’s a really good book, there come a point where you feel like you’re actually living it and the world around you just seems to fade away.

Each book contains an entire world full of people, animals and places you never seen before or even dreamed of. You can explore across the Western United States with Lewis and Clark, solve mysteries with Sherlock Holmes, steal from the rich and give to the poor with Robin Hood and soar through the clouds on the back of a dragon – all without leaving your room.

Honestly, I was into books since I was born. Well, ok, maybe that’s not completely true… my parents have read to me ever since I was a baby. The day I discovered that I could actually understand and read the words on the page for myself was the day my addiction officially started. The library never even stood a chance. I would take out a large pile of books (maybe 10 or more) and would finish them all that same day.DSCN2519

While I enjoyed reading on my own, having my parents read to us was (and still is) a guilty pleasure of mine. My Dad read “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis to all of us older kids at night and my Mom read “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, “Eragon” by Christopher Paolini and many other books to us as part of our school day (since we were all homeschooled).

Some of the books I would consider my “best friends” would have to be “Between the Lines” by Jodi Picoult, “Hood” by Stephen R. Lawhead, “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers and “Emma” by Jane Austen, just to name a few. Believe me… there are plenty more where they came from! I’m pretty sure I have more friends in the world of books than I do in real life.

DSCN2520My reading speed has definitely slowed down as I’ve gotten older (haha, yeah, I know, 23 isn’t THAT old, but it can feel like it at times) and my schedule has filled up with working full-time, Bible studies, friends and family-time, but I try to get in a little reading whenever I can. If you know me well enough, you know that I always have a book with me wherever I go. There are plenty of moments where you’re forced to just stop and wait for a long period of time (waiting rooms, waiting for rides… you get the picture) and it’s nice to know that there is a book just waiting for you pick it up and get away from reality for a few minutes or longer (depending on the wait).

There’s so much more I could say about books because I love them so much and I’m pretty sure I’ll be writing about them again in the near future. One of my suggestions if you’re ever stuck on what to read is this: look for authors that you know you enjoy or be brave and try something new. You can always put a book down and pick up a new one until you find the perfect fit.

Like I stated before, each book is an entire world just waiting for you behind its covers… just waiting to be discovered and explored. Go ahead… I dare you… read 🙂

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Writing is…

What does writing mean to you? Think about it. When you think of writing, what comes to mind? The countless research papers that your professors forced you to write in order to keep up your grades? Or do you see it as an outlet? A way to express yourself?

These were the questions I was asking myself as I sat at my computer at work last week, trying to find the inspiration to start blogging again. Ever since graduating from college and leaving the student newspaper, I haven’t really written anything of my own. Well, I’ve spit out numerous facts and information that I’ve gleaned from the hundreds of press releases I deal with at work from week to week…

… but that’s not me…

… that’s not the kind of writer I want to be defined as.

What some people don’t seem to realize is that words carry a lot of power. They can bring to life whole worlds that exist in between the covers of a book. They can inspire an entire nation to turn against the king and fight for their independence. Words can be the window into an author’s mind and reveal their innermost desires and dreams.

For me, there is so much more to writing than just repeating the facts. Writing is expression, thought, feeling, sensuality… freedom! It’s a doorway into strange, new lands full of adventure… and the only way we can open that door and make it available for the whole world to see, is by letting the creativity flow through our fingers and discovering where it takes us.

Whether you’re sitting at your desk staring at a blank Word document, nearly at the breaking point because you can’t figure out what to write or how to even get started; or you’re curled up in a chair with your journal trying to figure out how to put your life into words, just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, no matter how silly it may sound, and go with it. Who knows? You might just unlock that creativity that’s just waiting to spill out.

It doesn’t matter if you have horrendous grammar or if your DSCN2516thought process doesn’t quite seem to line up at first… the only thing that matters is that you’re creating, constructing, expressing…

… you’re writing!

That’s really all there is to it. When you’re writing on your own, there’s no pressure of grades, getting the grammar correct and all that fun stuff you had to try to keep track of in school. No. Out here, it’s just you, the pen (or computer keyboard) and the blank sheet of paper just waiting to be filled with your words.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab a pen or a laptop, your favorite drink and a snack, get comfortable and let your creative juices flow!

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Fall Into a Completely Different World

DSCN2514Anna Tielmann – No time for a vacation? Try these four trips into the realm of fantasy instead. Readers can lose themselves in the fantastical world of dragons and magic, hide in the woods with a runaway prince who is fighting to gain back his kingdom, go on a ridiculous adventure with an odd assortment of characters through the country of Florin, or tumble down a burrow with a young girl into the strange world of Wonderland. These four books all have relatable characters and plots to awaken readers’ imaginations, always leaving them wanting more.

Reviews of: 
 
Eragon, by Christopher Paolini
Hood, by Stephen R. Lawhead
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll 

Author’s Note:  You can find the full article at: World on Campus.

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Book Buyback Prices Decrease, Rentals on the Rise

While the bookstore is paying them for their textbooks, students say that they feel as if they were cheated and weren’t getting their full money’s worth.

“The price that they charge and the amount that they give back to you for your textbooks is ridiculous,” said Kayla Sexton, a senior majoring in Health and Physical Education.

Having always bought her books through the campus bookstore, Sexton says that it’s like returning a book that you paid $145 for and getting only $50 for it. “Your best bet would be renting them because you’re buying the books anyway and it’s a lot cheaper,” she explained.

Olivia Chapman, a sophomore majoring in Political Science, also said that “textbook buyback feels like a rip-off.” For example, she said that she had bought a psychology communication book and wasn’t able to sell it back.

“You never get all of your money back and it does seem kind of unfair,” agreed Brett Beshero, a senior majoring in Print Making.

“I really only need two books this semester, so it’s not too bad buying them from the bookstore, but I normally end up using Chegg or Amazon.”

Raymond Fisher, the manager at EUP’s campus bookstore, says that he understands where a lot of the confusion comes from.

“It used to be very cut and dry,” he said. If there were a book that we could re-sell for next semester, we would pay the student half of the new book price.

A factor in the process that is a major influence on the buyback cost is the wholesale companies, like Missouri Book Systems (MBS). Fisher explained that these companies take the books that the bookstore doesn’t need and distributes them to other colleges all across the country.

“The price that the wholesaler pays [for the textbooks] is flat out supply and demand,” said Fisher. “The confusing part is that a lot of people think we buy back books for $10 and then turn around and throw them on the shelf and sell them for $75. That’s not what happens.”

Fisher explained that the school does buy back a certain number of books for resale.

“You can well imagine the confusion that occurs when you as a student come in and I say, ‘I’ll give you $8 for that book,’ and you say, ‘My roommate sold that book back to you guys for $20. How come I’m only going to get $8?’ Then comes the explanation: ‘Okay, I needed 10 books and we were paying $20 for them. Once we hit the limit at 10, the book now goes wholesale [which is only paying $8 for that book],’” explained Fisher.

The money students get back for their textbooks also depends on whether or not the bookstore had purchased those books from a cheaper source online.

Verba Software, which is the new comparison tool available on the website, has two parts to it: the comparison component, which allows students to see prices from the campus bookstore as well as from Amazon, Half.com, and other sources, and a back office program, which allows Fisher to buy books from cheaper sources.

Verba Software has helped to increase Fisher’s online sales because he has been able to use it to compare prices of other online vendors and then align his prices with theirs. 

Plus, now that the bookstore is renting more books instead of selling them, buyback is a lot smaller than it used to be, said Fisher.

The influence of renting books can be seen in a comparison of book buybacks from year to year, Fisher said. 

In the most recent buyback, which was December 16, 2011, the store bought back 9,300 textbooks. In 2010, 10,000 were bought back.

Last semester, the bookstore rented out 1,440 books and those books are paid for upfront by students at the beginning of the semester and then returned at the end. 

Fisher factors in what the book will be worth by the end of the semester into the rental price, so students only have to pay one solid price.

“[Book buyback] is really waning,” Fisher explained. “It’s more about rentals now. It’s more about price comparisons. It’s more about lowering your prices and making it as close to the market price as you possibly can. By default, students are going to deal with us because we offer convenience. You can come in here and get all of your books at one time.”

 – Anna Tielmann (Taken from The Spectator Vol. 3, Issue 15, February 9, 2012)

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What Faith Can Do – Part 3

The air was filled with the sounds of bulls snorting and cowboys hollering back and forth to each other. Dust and flies filled the air as Emma, Sophia, and their parents made their way through the huge barn where all the contestants’ horses were kept. Sophia kept pointing out different horses that caught her eye, talking on and on about what breed was her favorite, what she would name each of them if she owned them, and her dreams of managing a huge farm of her own when she got older. Their mom and dad chuckled and Emma smirked as they jostled their way through the crowd.

“There’s Tobi.” Emma smiled as a cream-colored palomino horse poked its head over the stall door. She rubbed his nose and kissed his cheek. “You ready to win?” Tobi shook his head, snorted, and nibbled at her sleeve. Emma turned to her parents. “You guys don’t have to wait around anymore. I can take it from here.”

Her mom smiled and gave her a hug. “Ok, sweetie. Good luck out there.” She squeezed Emma’s shoulder. She then followed Sophia to where Pixie, her paint horse, was kept. Their dad patted Tobi on the neck and grinned at Emma.

“Now, are you sure you can handle the pressure out there?”

She cocked an eyebrow at him, “Really, Dad? I think I’ve been doing this long enough that I can handle just about anything that happens out there.”

He batted her cowgirl hat down over her eyes playfully. “Sure you can. Just be careful out there and…”

“I know, I know. Don’t tighten up on the reigns too much, let Tobi do his thing, stick close to the barrels, and all that fun stuff.”

After finally sending her dad off to join the rest of her family, she turned and lifted Tobi’s saddle off the rack. Tightening up the straps and slipping the bit into the horse’s mouth, she shook the drool off her fingers and led Tobi out to join the rest of the riders in the arena for the warm-up. Concentrating on keeping an even pace around the loop, Emma passed by the judges’ table and almost did a double take. On the second time around the arena, she looked over at the sign that was hanging off the front of the table. It read: Barrel Racing Grand Prize – $25,000. A grin spread across her face. Here was an answer to all of their problems! All she had to do was win the prize money and then her parents wouldn’t have to give up any of their horses, much less lose the farm. 

“What do you have that goofy grin on your face for?” Sophia came trotting up on her white horse that looked as if it had been splashed with large splotches of dark chocolate syrup. Pixie snorted and stretched her neck forward, trying to go faster than Sophia was letting her.

Emma slowed Tobi down to a walk and leaned close to her sister, “Did you catch that sign back there on the judge’s table? They don’t normally have big money prizes like that!”

“Yeah, just imagine all the cool things we can buy if we win it!” Sophia’s eyes sparkled like sapphires. “You know that black saddle I’ve had my eyes on? The one with the silver designs on it?” She squeaked with excitement.

Emma shook her head. “I think it would be a good idea to give it to Mom and Dad… No, hear me out,” she said when Sophia’s face darkened. “If we give them the prize money, then we won’t have to give up any of our horses or the farm. Mom only told us a small part about what’s really going on.”

“Yeah, and we know how that went.”

“You don’t understand. It’s more serious than just losing a few horses.” Emma let out her breath and the sisters made an entire loop around the arena while Emma told Sophia all that she had overheard that day she caught her parents talking in the kitchen. Sophia’s eyes widened and when Emma was done, she didn’t have a smart comment to make, which was unusual.

Emma sighed and straightened her shoulders as the sisters followed the rest of the riders into the waiting area. Sophia reached out her hand. Emma grabbed it and squeezed, trying to give her an encouraging smile. Sophia returned it with a smile of her own and turned Pixie to join her group. 

(To be continued…)

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What Faith Can Do – Part 4

After a couple races, Emma was placed in the final five contestants. She cheered as Sophia came racing back through the entrance, with Pixie panting like a steam engine. Jumping off her horse, Sophia led her over to where Emma stood on the side and fell dramatically into her arms. “I just want this to be over.”

Emma chuckled, stood her up and gave her a hug. “You’re doing great! Especially for this being your first rodeo and all.”

“Yeah, well I’m not as good as you are.” Sophia grinned. “You’re fast!” Tobi snorted behind Emma and Sophia rubbed his nose, laughing. “Well, ok, you’re the fast one. Emma’s just good at steering you.”

Emma glanced up at the announcement board and groaned. “Why do I have to go second to last? I hate being ahead of anyone ‘cause then I have to worry my time getting beat. Plus, Abby Detwieler races after I do.” Abby was one of the toughest girls in the entire competition. Her father owned a 50-acre farm just down the road from where Emma lived and Abby could always be found practicing in her corral with her mocha brown thoroughbred, Star. “Her fastest time in the barrel race last year was 14.2 seconds.”

“What was your fastest time?”

“14.6 seconds.”

Just then, Abby walked past the sisters, leading Star. When she spotted them, she called “I hope you’re more ready than you were last year. I’m tired of winning year after year.” She give them a nasty grin, “Although, that prize money will be nice when I win it.”

Emma ground her teeth as she watched Abby lead Star toward the end of the line. “There’s no way I’m gonna be able to set a time that Abby can’t beat. I’ve lost to her every single year!” She twisted her gold cross necklace in between her fingers nervously.

Sophia squeezed her hand “Good luck,” she whispered. “I’ll be praying for you.”

Emma smiled weakly, “And I’ll be praying for you too. See you after the race… if I live through it.”

The next 20 minutes were a blur for Emma. She faintly remembered watching Sophia compete in the finals for her age group and finish with the third best time of 15 seconds. The next thing she knew, it was her turn to get out on the arena. The minutes seemed to drag by as she waited for the starting gun. She could see the crowd sitting in the bleachers and every single eye seemed to be focused on her and Tobi. Taking a deep breath, she started to pray silently, but jumped and nearly lost her seat when the crack of the pistol went off nearby. 

As they flew out of the entrance, Emma could feel the powerful muscles working in Tobi’s legs and sides as he surged toward the first barrel. Blocking everything else out of her mind, she focused all of her energy and attention on cutting as close as Tobi could to the barrels as they rounded the first corner. One down, four more turns to go.

At the second barrel, Tobi just barely bumped the rim with his rump. It wobbled back and forth and Emma had to resist the urge to look back. But, after they made the third turn and started on the home stretch, the barrel was still standing upright. Not having time to even breath a sigh of relief, she turned her focus onto the last two turns and then Tobi was galloping full speed back to the entrance to stop the clock. Slowing him down to a walk, Emma had him circle around near the opening to the arena to listen for her time: “14.3 seconds.”

Sophia waved from the side and Emma steered Tobi over to where she stood with Pixie, “Wow! That’s better than what you got last year!”

Emma smiled, “I know! That second barrel had me nervous there for a second, but stayed upright!” She slid off Tobi and patted his neck. “Now, lets just hope Star isn’t that fast.”

She felt as if her heart was lodged in her throat as Abby and Star shot out of the entrance into the arena. Her eyes were glued to the little screen that was available to the competitors in the waiting area. Star was in perfect form, cutting close around each barrel as Abby guided him with the expertise of a skilled rider. But then something happened that made Emma catch her breath in a short gasp. Star had bumped into a barrel as he passed and Abby’s hand had flashed out to steady it as they headed onto the next turn. At least that’s what Emma thought she had seen. Yet, the announcer didn’t seem to have seen it and the judges’ expressions hadn’t change. She turned to Sophia to get her opinion, but her sister was busy looking around at the other horses and stroking Pixie’s neck.

Just then, Abby came flying back in through the entrance. Star was breathing hard and his rider looked flushed, but happy. She flashed an unfriendly smile at Emma, who forced a smile in return. As her numbers were called out, Emma’s heart sunk: “14.1 seconds.” She started to walk away, but then was nearly jerked off her feet when Sophia grabbed her arm and dragged her back to where they had been standing.

“Look!”

There on the screen, the replay of Abby’s hand stretching out to steady the barrel as Star went past was playing over and over again as the announcer’s voice came over the loud speakers.

“It appears that while Abby Detwiler has entered a winning time for the barrel race, she has been disqualified for steadying the barrel with her hand as she rode by it.”

Sophia’s wide eyes looked up at Emma, who couldn’t seem to believe what she was hearing. “Does that mean…?”

Emma gulped. “I had the second fastest time…”

Then the announcer said: “So, since Ms. Detwiler was disqualified, that means that Emma and her horse Tobi are the winners of this years barrel race and the grand prize of $25,000!”

Sophia squealed and threw her arms around her sister. Suddenly her friends and the other contestants were surrounding Emma, patting her on the back and congratulating her on the win. Emma looked around and spotted Abby glaring at her from where she stood by the entrance. Shrugging and sending a smile her way, Emma swung back up on Tobi and fell in line with the winners of other events. Abby couldn’t seem to form words, and the last Emma saw of her that day was as she yanked on Star’s reins and made a beeline for the barn.

Emma rode Tobi around the arena, with a smile that just wouldn’t go away. She spotted her parents near the fence and waved at them excitedly. Her dad motioned that they would meet her back at the stall and she nodded. Arriving at the judges’ table, she shook the head judge’s hand and took the check that he handed her. She held it in her hands as if it made of glass and stared at it in unbelief. She had done it. Tobi had done it. They both had actually won!

The next few minutes were a blur of activity and people. As she made her way to the stall where Tobi’s things were, it seemed like everyone was reaching out to either shake her hand or give her a hug, congratulating her on doing such a good job in her race. She managed to get Tobi’s reins and saddle off before her parents and Sophia finally made their way through the sea of people in the barn. The next thing she knew, she was swept up in a big bear hug by her dad and he spun her around while she held onto his arms and laughed. When he set her down, her mom smiled at her and gave her a long hug, “You did a really good job, sweetie! I’m so proud of you.”

Emma grinned at her and then caught Sophia looking pointedly at her behind her mom’s back. Reaching into her pocket, Emma pulled out the check and held it out to her dad. “Here, Dad. I won this for you.”

He shook his head, “No, this is your money. You don’t have to give it to me. Keep it and save it for something for yourself. Or better yet, add it to your future college fund,” he added with a wink.

Emma kept holding it out to him. “No, take it. Sophia and I talked about it beforehand and decided that we would rather keep all of our horses and the farm more than we could want anything else right now. It’s yours.”

Her dad’s eyes misted over and he finally took the check from her hands. Their mom put her arm around Sophia and smiled at Emma. As he pocketed the check, Emma watched as her dad took out a familiar looking piece of paper. When he held it up, she could easily read the names of over half of their horses on the “to sell” list and she looked up at her dad, wondering why in the world would he bring it out now. She glanced over at Sophia and saw a confused expression on her face that mirrored her own. Then they heard the tearing sound and their eyes sparkled as they saw him tearing the list up. He smiled and held out his hands to them. Despite the dust clogging the air, riders of all ages getting their horses ready for the trip home, and the loud hum of hundreds of voices, Emma, Sophia and their parents joined hands and stood in a small circle just outside of Tobi’s stall. Bowing their heads, they listened as their dad prayed.

“Father, you know our thoughts and our dreams far better than any of us do. We acknowledge that You are the head of this world and You have a plan laid out for each and every one of us. I just want to thank You for showing us once again that we can completely trust in You for all things. Even when it seems like things aren’t going according to our plan, help us to remember that everything always goes according to Your plan. You alone are God and in You alone we put our trust.”

At that moment, a ray of sunlight shone through one of the upper windows in the barn and settled on the little family. Emma’s heart lifted when she heard her dad quote the final words from Psalm 139 at the end of his prayer:

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Written by Anna Tielmann

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