Monday, August 2, 2010

‘Finding Jeena’ by Miralee Ferrell – Book Review

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With the economic climate we have lived in in the United States over the past few years, many people have realized that the ‘American Dream’ is not necessarily the way to happiness and joy, as we have been taught since childhood. In ‘Finding Jeena’ by Miralee Ferrell, Jeena Gregory learns this truth the hard way.

Here is the synopsis of this challenging yet compassionate novel:

          Nice job. Nice townhouse. New car. The perfect new life….right?
Jeena Gregory thought she’d made it. She had everything a woman could ask for and a budding career promises more. But when rumors around town cast her boss in a shady light, Jeena starts to question her employer’s integrity. Was she wrong to trust this man and this job?
When the boss disappears, salaries go unpaid, and Jeena overhears several hush-hush phone calls, she realizes her carefully crafted world is crumbling. Shaken to the core at the threat of losing everything, Jeena is suddenly confronted with her prejudices – and with a God she has long forgotten.

Here is the biography of the author:

Miralee Ferrell is the acclaimed author of The Other Daughter, Love Finds You in Last Chance, California, and Love Finds You in Bridal Veil, Oregon. She and her husband, Allen, live in a rural community in Washington State. She serves on a staff as a licensed minister at their local church and is actively involved in ministry to women. Miralee developed an interest in writing in high school and took honors English courses in college, but put writing on the back burner for the next thirty years while raising a family and helping her husband in their growing business.

Jeena had an impoverished childhood, and the book opens with her making decisions as an adult that are strongly influenced by her early years. Here she is getting ready for a date with her beau, Sean:

Jeena Gregory chewed on her lip as she stared at the red silk dress hanging in the closet. Would it be enough? She wiped her sweaty palms down the legs of her jeans, trying to vanquish the knot in her stomach. The same feeling she’d experienced as a ten-year-old hit her. She’d walked into her new school and tried to ignore the snickers as some of the students eyed her worn-out sneakers and hand-me-down clothes.
She refused to let fear or insecurity take control. Fear couldn’t hurt her – only men could do that. And Sean loved her.

On their dinner date, Sean presented her with some good news for him – but bad news for her/them:

“I’ve been offered a new job. It means a huge increase in pay and could lead to a partnership.”
“That sounds wonderful. I didn’t realize you were looking.”
“I didn’t mention it until I knew something would come of it. I didn’t want to worry you.”
“Why would I care?” Her palms grew clammy, but she refused to panic.
His lips set in a firm line; then he took a deep breath and plunged forward. “It’s taking me out of the States. A large construction conglomerate wants me in the Middle East.”
A small shiver of fear traveled up her back. “But that’s dangerous. Tell me you’re not going to take it.”
“I’ve said yes. I’ll be living in Kuwait and going across the border occasionally, and then only to areas that are deemed safe. I leave in two weeks.”
“Two weeks,” she whispered. “What about us?”
He shifted slightly and looked at his hands, then raised his eyes. “I’m sorry, Jeena.” (p. 17)

The other close relationship in Jeena’s life was with her Grammie, her maternal grandmother. Taking care of Grammie was one of her primary motivator in life:

After her mother’s death, Jeena had been invited by Grammie to live with her. She’d graduated from high school by then, but having a home away from college meant the world to her. The peace she’d felt those weekends at Grammie’s stood in stark contrast to the turbulent years growing up under her father’s roof. Grammie was the dearest person in the world, and she depended on Jeena’s income to keep her in a decent facility.
Keeping Grammie in comfort was one of the most important things in Jeena’s life. Landing this new job was critical. She grinned. Besides, having a nicer car and a larger home wouldn’t hurt her feelings, either. (p. 22)  

Fortunately, for both of them, Jeena was hired for the job of her dreams:

Jeena set her phone down and raised her arms in the air, twirling around the room. “Yes!” Life was good. Her new job started on Monday.
She’d long coveted this position with Browning and Thayer, a high-powered construction firm that was building a multimillion-dollar townhouse complex in Portland.
The final interview had come the week after her breakup with Sean, which had helped ease her pain. During the day, she worked hard to stifle the memories, but thoughts of Sean continued to haunt her nights.
She’d arrived at her final interview wearing her new, dove gray designer suit, her confidence level high. A stab of disappointment momentarily marred her joy when she discovered neither of the two owners had chosen to conduct the interview. But the man the firm sent seemed impressed by her credentials and, before the interview concluded, had offered her a contract for the duration of the job. (p. 26)

As she moved to a new townhouse, she decided it was time to give some of her wardrobe to the less fortunate; she took a few boxes to the Haven of Hope homeless shelter. She had this encounter with Rachel, an employee:

“Why do you do it?” Jeena asked, her curiosity overcoming her desire to escape.
Rachel’s eyebrows rose, and her head tipped to the side. “Do what?”
Jeena unlocked the trunk and raised it. “Work at a place like this.”
Rachel leaned her hip against the side of the car, her face thoughtful. “I’ve been down the career path, and it didn’t bring much satisfaction. This job can be difficult at times – I won’t deny that – but it’s my true love. There’s nothing that can bring as much joy as seeing God change one of these women’s lives.”
Jeena’s curiosity changed to surprise. “God? What does God have to do with it? This is just a women’s shelter, right?”
“Not entirely. It’s also an outreach for women who need a fresh start. Some are victims of abuse, as well as addicts. We help women who need a hot mean or clean clothes, but our goal is to make a difference for women who desire true change. Only God is able to bring about that kind of transformation.” (pp. 35-36)

Unfortunately, Jeena heard this exchange between Charles Browning and his secretary, Pat, shortly after she started her new job:

“We’re getting a large deposit on the townhouses from the shareholders. I want you to follow the directions on these papers to the letter, then destroy them.”
Jeena paused. She stepped over the threshold. It was none of her business.
Pat’s voice drifted across the room. “You want the money shifted to your offshore account---“
“Don’t ever mention that again.” Charles’s voice ripped across Pat’s words and covered the short distance to Jeena, making her jump. “Just follow these directions and make sure there’s no paper trail. Don’t worry. You’ll be taken care of.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, Mr. Browning,” Pat said. (p. 53)

As an aside – I can’t for the life of me understand why people follow orders without question…

Tragedy again struck Jeena’s life, as her Grammie died suddenly. But Grammie had left a godly legacy for her granddaughter:

Jeena had often heard her grandmother mention the Lord. Many were the times she’d take meals to shut-ins when she’d still had the strength and energy to do so. She’d told Jeena that her hands were Christ’s extended to others and even the smallest need deserved a prayer. Her faith hadn’t taken root in Jeena, but not because Grammie failed to try. (p. 96)

One more setback was that she was released from her job as the company was investigated for financial improprieties. Jeena found herself, unexpectedly, having a great deal of difficulty finding a new position, due to rumors that she may have been involved in the financial chicanery:

Fear set in. Over the next five days, Jeena forced herself to face the remaining acquaintances who might hire her. The faces of one-time employers and friends were carefully neutral as they gave lame excuses about lack of work or positions filled.  (p. 103)

Her suspicions were confirmed by her acquaintance, Connie, who also served as the town gossip…:

          “…I’ve got resumes out around Portland, and I expect a call any time.”
“I wouldn’t count on it, darling. Talk around town says you’re being blackballed.”
Jeena shot up from her seat and gripped the phone. “Blackballed? What are you talking about?”
Connie’s chuckle barely disguised the sneer. “No one believes you could work for Charles Browning and not know he’s dirty. They all think you must’ve known about the money disappearing, even if you weren’t part of it.” (p. 105)

As time went on, her financial situation grew more dire: because of her lack of employment and the fact that the IRS froze her assets, her new BMW was repossessed, and she no longer was able to pay the lease on her new townhouse. She found herself without a home.

After a short stay with her friend Tammy’s family, she ended up sleeping in the park. She woke up one morning to discover one of her pieces of luggage was missing. She went to the police department and encountered a sympathetic officer named Stan. He suggested she call Haven of Hope – the same shelter where she had donated some clothes. He also made her take $20. Jeena was incredulous regarding his care and generosity:

          “Why in the world would you care? You don’t owe me anything.”
“Yeah, I know. I catch a lot of flack from the guys, but I’m a Christian, and I try to live the way Christ would. If He were sitting here, I think He’d help you out of a tough spot. Just wish I could do more.” His face creased in a sheepish grin. (p. 152)

At the end of her rope, Jeena finally called Rachel at Haven of Hope, who picked her up and gave her a temporary home. They had a deep theological discussion in the car on the way to the shelter:

“You seem to think God causes bad things to happen. He doesn’t. People do. You can’t blame Him for man’s choices.”
“But if He’s all powerful like you Christians claim, He could stop it.”She leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest.
…“He gave people free will. He didn’t want robots. He created us able to choose – so if we decide to love and follow Him, we do it because we want to, not because He forces us.”
“Yeah? But that doesn’t answer the question about kids getting hurt and people doing horrible things all the time.”
“Just like He doesn’t force us to love Him, He won’t force us to obey His laws, either. He loves us and wants us to love Him in return. Evil is real and has its own ruler who is constantly working to force his will on others, unlike God who wants us to come to Him out of our own free will. We can choose to obey one or the other. There is no in-between.” (p. 166)

Spending time at the shelter and enduring all of her trials gave Jeena a different perspective on the downtrodden. She shared this new worldview with her old acquaintance, Connie, who came to donate items to the thrift store run by the homeless shelter where Jeena was working during the day:

“You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. You’ve never had to stand in that line, see the disdain on the face of a clerk when they realize you’re using food stamps, or had to stomp on your pride to accept a tray of food from a shelter. You have no idea what it does to someone’s spirit when they endure those looks after they’ve done all they could to escape. If you cared to understand, you could. But you’re like I used to be – you only care about yourself and about what money and relationships can bring. If the rest of the world goes up in flames, it’s no skin off your nose as long as you’re not burned.” (pp. 230-231)

After seeing all of the love poured on her by so many Christ followers, Jeena decided it was time for her to lose her life to Christ:

Jeena felt a tear roll her cheek. “I’d like that. God gave me such an amazing peace when I prayed earlier tonight, and I want Him to have all of my life. I don’t know what God has for me, but whatever it is, it’s got to be better than what I’ve done with my life.” (p. 281)

In the Author’s Note, Mrs. Ferrell concludes this way:

Now that you’ve finished the book, I hope you will take time to examine your own prejudices – to dig deep into the fabric of your soul and allow the Lord to soften your heart. Not everything is as it seems on the surface. As Rachel says, “I could be in your place, Jeena, but for God’s grace.” (p. 302)  

There are Discussion Questions at the back of this book, also; it would be terrific for a book club!

God certainly has a way of getting our attention. He was definitely the ‘Hound of Heaven’ with Jeena. She is certainly a more sympathetic character here than she was in ‘The Other Daughter.’ In fact, when I realized the Jeena in this book was the same Jeena that was in that book, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to read a whole book about her (I felt that way about Connie in this book)! But she grew in character and grace as she came to know Christ. I am not sure if Miralee plans to reprise this character in the future, but I certainly hope she does. I would love to see where her new faith takes her!

This is the third book by Miralee that I have read – ‘Love Finds You in Bridal Veil, Oregon’ was the first (you can read my review here) and the novel that introduced Jeena, ‘The Other Daughter,’ was second (you can read that review here).

Miralee builds her stories toward the Lord; they are always God-honoring and full of redemption, forgiveness and grace. She just sent the final manuscript of her latest novel, ‘Love Finds You in Tombstone, Arizona,’ to the publisher. The release date on that one is February, 2011. I look forward with great anticipation to that one!

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Kregel Publications and generously provided by them and by the author for review purposes.

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