A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life

A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life by Tony Agnesi on Amazon

Tony Agnesi’s 70-plus stories and reflections from his Italian Catholic upbringing are the kind of gift that just keeps giving. In this month of St. Valentine, I wanted to recommend this delightful book as a present from the heart. It is perfect for grandparents to give their children and grandchildren, and vice versa: a learned but light tome for any older person who needs a reminder that they are loved.   

Agnesi is a wonderful storyteller. His words flow effortlessly off the page, radiating empathy and connection, and imparting wisdom in a fun way.  Each tale is a brief two to three pages. From The Lone Ranger to the power of forgiveness, Agnesi covers it all with aplomb and a call to live your best life, walking with Jesus.

I read this over the course of a year in the few minutes each day away from my toddlers, and I’m recommending it for Valentine’s Day, or an early start to Christmas shopping for next year.

In light of Covid, I’m sure we all know someone in a nursing home or hospice, or simply in the hospital who could use a daily dose of encouragement. The Bible verses in each of Agnesi’s stories are well-chosen, and the chapters are divided into sections based on different graces: God’s grace in the family, the virtues, at the holidays, in daily life, and in prayer. It doesn’t get much better than that. Oh wait, it does! Agnesi just released book 2.  Grazie!

Hope Eternal

Hope Eternal by Rebecca Lynn on Amazon

This is one of the few books that I would ever list as a MUST read, as in “You must read this right now. Drop what you are doing. Order it. Pronto.” It is a difficult journey story to be sure; the work of a mom with her 13-year-old son who has cancer is never going to be an easy read.  One of my own dear friends died this month, and as I ponder all the ramifications of death, I find it necessary to recommend Hope Eternal to everyone.

Rebecca tells us the story of her son, Kyle, who was diagnosed with DSRCT cancer. This is the worst news that any parent can hear, and she recounts the days, weeks, and sometimes even minutes of struggle with all of the various treatments that Kyle received.  In between, both Rebecca and Kyle grow enormously in their faith, always believing that “God has a plan, and He is in control.” 

Raw power is enormously riveting, even when it is acquired at such a high cost, and Kyle was a powerful force for love in this world. Rebecca recounts all of the nurses they met, the doctors, the specialists, and the people with hospice, and all of them were touched by Kyle’s smile, determination, and inner peace even while he was so ill and dying. Kyle was also very, very funny and he brought his own family to a better understanding of the nature of life and death through humor.

I was privileged to know his older sister, Heather. She and I were born on the same day in the same hospital, and attended the same high school. As I got to know her better later in life, I can say that Heather loved her little brother Kyle fiercely, and spent most of her life wrestling with God, who took Kyle way too soon. I was impressed with the story even before I got to read the book about his life, and it is my gift to grieving families to recommend Hope Eternal as a type of catharsis.

Rebecca is a talented storyteller, and though her book was not professionally edited, it is immensely readable and relatable. I understand the need to get the words down, and into people’s hands as though the Holy Spirit himself was waiting for you to hurry up and get it done. Her journals during her time at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan helped Rebecca remember this journey with Kyle and with God. Refreshingly self-effacing and honest in her assessment of her actions and those of the other people who tried to help Kyle, Rebecca notes that her son’s “final days’ goal was to bring the glory of the Lord to all who could hear and witness his love for Jesus.” 

I love reading about miracles that happen during, and after someone’s death, and this book does not disappoint. That this cancer happened to a family from my hometown is astonishing and heart-rending, awful and wonderful in that Kyle’s message of hope can live on in the words of his mother, who loved and loves him with all of her heart.         

8 Notes to a Nobody

8 Notes to a Nobody by Cynthia T. Toney on Amazon

This is a book for teens that will make your heart grow larger. The main character, Wendy is a regular girl who struggles with many tough issues. Her parents divorced, and she does not like the woman her dad marries. School is tough, with a particular bully she names John-Monster always lurking around, teasing her mercilessly. Wendy’s only relief is her friend, Jennifer, and a cute puppy they watch together. Jennifer’s life seems perfect, with riches and parents who care about her. 

Wendy is an artist, a talent that goes unappreciated by most people in her life. Then, a mysterious person starts leaving her notes. Are these notes from a bully, or a friend? Wendy has no idea, and neither does Jennifer. When Oklahoma comes along, the school play is an opportunity for Wendy to display her artistic talent on the sets. She has a typical teenage crush on a nice boy but keeps messing up around him.

Wendy and her friends face tragedy in their school year.  Will it tear them apart? Will it bring new reserves of strength, and help from unexpected quarters? This book would be good for teens who struggle in public school, or with some of the hard things that Wendy goes through.  Without spoiling the ending, I will say that 8 Notes to a Nobody deserves this trigger warning to parents: it contains characters who struggle with anorexia and suicide. Tough material, but necessary for kids to read. This book will open their hearts and their minds to the struggles of others, as well as provide insight into their own lives.  Wendy battles herself, her jealousy of her best friend, sadness, and depression about many things. In light of the year 2020, it is necessary to spark more conversations about depression and feeling alone, and the very real consequences to young and old alike.