Book Review: Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys

In 1939, the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, emptying these Baltic states of all people considered anti-Soviet. Men, women, and children (particularly the educated and their families), were murdered, imprisoned, or deported to Siberia where they were enslaved. The deportees endured unspeakable atrocities, while under Stalin, the Soviets took over their countries. As World War II raged on and the Nazis’ Holocaust drew international attention, the Baltic nations disappeared from the map, taken over.

Between Shades of Gray is an historical fiction novel written about a fifteen-year old Lithuanian girl, Lina, who is deported with her mother and brother to Siberia, where she is enslaved for several years. Though the characters of this novel are fictional, Lina’s tale is not – it is rooted in the horrific experiences had by thousands. Separated from her homeland and her father, Lina is forced to fight for her life, refusing to give up her dignity while those around her succumb to the terrors of the long journey and the deplorable conditions of starvation, cruelty, and Arctic survival. A budding artist, Lina records her experiences through her drawings, hoping that they will eventually make her way to her father, and that he will find her and her family in northern Siberia. She clings to this hope despite facing every sort of abuse imaginable, wanting to document her experiences so the world can know the horrors she and her fellow Lithuanians faced under the Soviet regime.

I first came across this book through Facebook – a friend said she was reading it, and, seeing the title, I was shocked. I assumed that it was in the same family of books as others with “Shades of Gray” in the title! I Googled the title, and after reading about the subject matter of the book, ordered it from the library. At over three hundred pages, it took me only two days to read – it is definitely a page turner, and it is written at a young adult level. Because of the nature of some of the abuse Lina faced, I would be cautious about giving it to a young teenager to read.

This book intrigued me because I had never heard of anything happening to the Baltic nations during World War II. We often read books and watch movies about the Holocaust, but Between Shades of Gray opened my eyes to other atrocities that have gone largely unnoticed by the world. It made me think of the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, and how little I know about these tragedies. It made me wonder about what other atrocities have gone on and are going on in the world. If thousands of people could be deported without the world noticing, what are we failing to notice today? I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not really one for keeping up to date on current affairs and politics, but maybe this is something that needs to change. I could be praying into situations such as that which this book is based on; I could be educating myself about what has gone on in the world and continues to have physical and psychological effects on others.

The survivors of the deportation to Siberia spent ten to fifteen years as slaves; when they finally returned to their home countries, they had been occupied. The survivors’ homes, belongings and sometimes even their identities, had been taken from them. They were treated as criminals and made to live within restricted areas of their own nations, under constant supervision. It wasn’t until 1991 that the Baltic countries regained their freedom.

I hope that you will give Between Shades of Gray a read, and that as you read, you will ask God along with me how we can be praying for the unseen atrocities that are going on in our world.

* In the writing of this post, I have relied almost entirely upon the Epilogue of Between Shades of Gray for historical information. Ruta Sepys, the author of this book (including the epilogue) did a great deal of research for her novel, interviewing survivors of the deportation, and making trips to Lithuania. I trust her historical information. For more information, take a look at this video:


Music Suggestions for My Fellow New-Music Addicts

Confession time: my biggest addiction is music. If I could have a soundtrack to my life, I would. As I sit here writing this post, I am listening to some ambient music so I can focus on what I’m doing and not be distracted by the people around me. I say I am a music-addict because it seems like I can go only so long without needing “a fix:” new music. As a result, I had one request for my wife for Christmas: an iTunes gift card. Even though she would much rather make or buy something to surprise me, she bought me the gift card, and like a kid in a candy store, I was off to find something to get my new-music fix.

Thanks to the beauty of internet sites like Grooveshark, I get a pretty regular fix of music when I am at my computer working, but what I was looking for was some good offline music, and I ended up realizing I needed some new worship tunes. This serves a double purpose: I get new music to inspire my times with God, and I also get to try out playing new songs when I have the opportunity to lead worship here at YWAM Turner Valley. This led me to searching the internet for worship bands that would give me some fresh inspiration. This turned out to be a bit of a difficult task, however, so after my search, I decided I would share some music from the bands I have found interesting – maybe I can help you spend some of the iTunes gift cards you may have received over Christmas, and add to your worship music collection. I recognize much of this music won’t be all that new to some of you, but it has been influential in my life recently, and I hope it will bless yours.

Just click on the album art below, and through the magic of the internet, you’ll be taken to iTunes or Amazon where you can listen to samples of my new favourite tunes. If you want to listen to full songs/albums before you buy, check out my “New Worship” playlist at


Book Review: Love Does, by Bob Goff

I have a few New Year’s resolutions. I like to make resolutions, whether at New Year’s or at other times in the year, but on January 1st, I typically like to make non-life-changing, “fun” resolutions. This year’s resolutions?

  1. Knit a pair of socks.
  2. Drink more water.
  3. Sew a dress.
  4. Read 25 books.

The first of the 25 books I’ve read this year is Love Does by Bob Goff. (Actually, I started it on December 24th, but I say it counts because I finished it a couple of days ago). If ever there was a book to kick off your New Year, this is the one. Encouraging, inspiring, and challenging, Bob Goff and his book will get you thinking about love in a way that isn’t meant to stop at the thinking stage – it’s meant to get you doing.

No, Love Does is not a step-by-step guide to how to love better. It’s not a program or instructions on what Jesus would do. It’s a collection of stories from Goff’s own life – a life that has been filled by great love that does. Bob Goff is a Christian, but he doesn’t write a theological treatise about love. He writes about the various ways he’s had the opportunity to “get some skin in the game,” as he would say, and love in practical ways. Some of these ways including taking his kids to 29 different nations to speak to the leaders of those nations about their hopes for the world following the tragic events of 9/11; when he decided he wanted to become a lawyer (so he could make a positive difference in the world) and his grades weren’t good enough to get into law school, he sat outside the dean’s office for over a week until he was allowed to enrol; one of his law offices is on Tom Sawyer’s island at Disney, as he reasons that people are out of their element there, and can get more done rather than simply yelling at one another; because of his work in Uganda, where he has seen hundreds of young people set free from prisons after he was able to bring their unheard cases to trial, he is so well-liked in that nation that he was made the Ugandan consul. Each chapter of Love Does is a different story of a caper that Goff jumped into without a plan or a program; he simply walked in love as opportunities presented themselves.

I’m teaching 1 John tomorrow, so I’ve read that book a few (dozen) times. Preparing to teach a book that repeats the word “love” 44 times, while reading Love Does, has made for a really challenging start to 2013. 1 John 3:18 says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Goff concludes his book by anticipating the question the reader is asking after reading story after story of love; “what do I do?” His advice? “I usually just try to figure out what the next step is and then do that. I know it sounds too simple, too formulaic; it seems like there must be more to it. But there isn’t. For most of us, that next step is as easy as picking up the phone, sending an e-mail, writing a letter, buying a plane ticket, or just showing up. After that, things start happening. Things that perhaps have God’s fingerprints on them. You’ll know which ones do and which ones don’t. Pick the ones that do.”

I think I have a new resolution to add to my list. Do love. I’m praying about what the first step to doing this is; will you join me? Will you ask God how you can do love in 2013? If you need some inspiration, check out Bob Goff’s book, and give 1 John a read. Guess my resolutions list isn’t so non-life-changing anymore after all.

Our Christmas in Pictures

Helen’s sister, Jill, and her daughter (our niece!) McKenna.

Jill opening McKenna’s Christmas present, a quilt made by Auntie Helen.

Miss McKenna on her new quilt!

Helen got the chance to bake over the break with her friend Heather, a cake-baking connoisseur.

Heather shows off our “Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake!”

We had a cute, if not totally effective, dishwasher on hand – congratulations on your blogosphere debut, Luke!

Ticket to Ride – Heather was the reigning champion.

Snowshoeing with the Boonstras in Elk Island National Park.

What an amazing way to experience God’s creation!

Munchkin with the Boonstras on New Year’s Eve.

Thank you to everyone who made our Christmas so amazing! Thanks to the Roberts, Langdales and Boonstras for blessing us by extending your homes to us, and to the Rachars, Speedy Spiers, and deJongs for their hospitality and kindness in various ways.

Happy 2013 to all!