Monday, January 26, 2015

Hidden Agenda~

Hidden Agenda (Southern Crimes, #3)

The whole time I was reading Dangerous Passage and Fatal Exchange, I was wondering- "Where is Michael?" 
Detective Avery and school-teacher Emily wanted to believe that their brother was still alive. 
Logic said he was gone... the building he'd been in exploded, and a medical examiner confirmed his remains. 
Why would these sisters dare to hope their brother had survived? 

I had a feeling that Michael's story would be the best of all. 

Lisa Harris's Southern series has taken us deep into the heart of Atlanta, onto troubled streets and into the lives of those sworn to serve and protect.

Hidden Agenda is Michael's story. We meet him twelve hours before his planned execution. After months of undercover work, Michael has been betrayed. 
The cartel knows that he isn't what he seems, and they plan to leave no threat alive. 

His rescuers? The grown children of the cartel leader himself, Olivia and Ivan. 

Olivia is a reporter. She wants the facts, and she knows that facts all point to Truth. And that Truth comes with a price. 
If she accepts the Truth about her father, it will shatter everything she thought she knew. Yet she can't deny the Truth... denial would kill an innocent man. So she and Ivan risk themselves in a daring rescue, and that is only the beginning. 

Just like the first two, Hidden Agenda was loaded with suspense and action. If you're searching for a mystery series, you should meet the Hunt siblings. 

Thank you to Revell for my review copy. Now I have the whole set on my shelf. :-) 

Beyond all Dreams~

Beyond All Dreams

One Sentence Review: An intense tale of friendship, loyalty and love.

Miss Anna O'Brien holds a coveted position in the Library of Congress. She's reserved, respectable, and unmarried- the picture of a librarian.
Caring for the Library's map collection is more than enough work to fill her days, and the information all around her is a wellspring of delights for her active mind.

Congressman Luke Callahan seems to think that librarians exist to be secretaries for people like himself.  When he decides that Anna will assist his latest project, he never expected to discover an intelligent co-laborer.

Now- don't be hasty. This isn't a mere Rom Com, where to people who Cannot. Stand. Each. Other. soon fall deeply in love... no, there's more to Luke and Anna than that.

As the two work together, they realize a common bond. Both have professional goals that require devotion, and neither came from a stable or safe home.
Their similar memories and driven personalities leave them each with a choice- will they view their pasts through eyes of redemption, or continue to resent what was forced upon them?

And will they be able to find individual healing- separate from each other?
She cannot be his source of peace, he cannot be her future.

These two characters- sometimes making terrible choices, sometimes choosing well, always growing- are the heart of the novel.
Yet that is not all.
There is also mystery that Anna is determined to solve, and a glimpse into the Congressional politics of the late 1800's. And there are plenty of luscious library descriptions... Anna treasures the books and maps entrusted to her hands, and we can see why.

Thank you Elizabeth Camden, Bethany House, and Litfuse for my review copy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

To Everything a Season~

To Everything a Season (Song of Blessing, #1)

The quiet, resilient people of Blessing know many seasons.
Seasons of rejoicing, and of mourning. Seasons of sowing and of reaping. Seasons of tearing and of mending.

To Everything a Season.

This book has a cast of colorful characters: salt of the earth citizenry, a band of would-be bank robbers, lady doctors with strong wills and kind hands, prayerful old Grannies, and hopeful young couples.

People live and die here in Blessing, surrounded by a place they call Home and people who care.
They make good and bad choices- they come together to help each other and they split apart.
The children play and grow, the older people tend the land that sustains them.

There's a dash of danger, a scoop of drama, much fellowship, and many home-and-hearth moments. By the end of this tale you'll agree that "This was surely a Blessing town."

This is the first book I've read by Lauraine Snelling, but I understand there is a many-volume series from years ago also set in the area of Blessing. I can see why this saga has loyal readers.

Thank you Bethany House for my review copy! 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The third Faith Morgan Mystery!

A Saintly Killing (Faith Morgan Mystery, #3)

Faith Morgan returns! Or rather, we return to her in Little Worthy. Faith is feeling much more settled now- in her calling as a vicar, her connections to the people, her role in the community, and even in the Church itself.  She is honored to help organize St. James' 900th Anniversary Celebration, even if her to-do list is ridiculously long. 

With all the bustle and new projects, Faith feels like she's constantly forgetting something, and that makes her all the more sympathetic to her mother's memory lapses. Oh yes, she was supposed to call Ruth to talk about Mum. Well, that will be after replacing the bell ropes and before visiting the elderly.

Faith is confident that all the work will come together in the end, and the celebration will culminate in a grand surprise. They've commissioned a commemorative painting of St. James. The artist was a controversial choice, and her work is sure to be dramatic and raw. Something powerful, that hints at 900 years of history, not a dainty postcard watercolor. 

Yet the painting will never be properly unveiled... because the artist is murdered. 

Detective work has come to Faith's village again. 

As with the first two volumes, this is a fine mystery. I enjoy watching Faith conduct an investigation. She's got keen eyes inconsistency or deception, and she's got a kind heart. She knows what human beings are capable of doing-  years on the police force made sure of that- and she knows that humans are made in the Image of God, so she treats each one with dignity. Watching the two perspectives inform her actions makes her fascinating for me. 
How can she treat people as friends and neighbors when her inner cop can't rule them out as suspects?

And of course, life doesn't take a holiday while Faith tried to solve a crime. There's still tense family dynamics between her and Ruth, an undefined relationship between her and Detective Inspector Shorter, and lots of church politics to handle. 
Over the course of these three books, Faith has begun to feel like a friend. I am hoping this isn't the last book in this series. 
There are a lot more issues to resolve in Little Worthy, and I want to read about them. 

Thank you Kregel for my review copy.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Simply Open~

Simply Open: A Guide to Experiencing God in the Everyday

When somebody endorsed this book by saying that it reads like poetry, I was skeptical. 
I think I now know what they meant. 
This book, Simply Open, is written with the same awareness that imbues poetry. 

Greg Paul says that if we open our hands, eyes, mouths, nostrils, ears, hearts and minds, we will receive a rich revelation of God's ways and His work in the world. 
Over the course of this delightful and provoking book, Greg meditates on those seven ways we can open ourselves.  

Each breath we draw, every taste we encounter, everything that touches our skin... all these impressions enter our consciousness. They get into our hearts and minds, becoming our memories, our reference points, our windows to reality.

And there are so many facets to this book. When he discusses opening our hands, he talks about touching and how much touch means, how it conveys love and healing. 
He talks about giving, how our hands reach out- literally or metaphorically- to give to others. 
He talks about receiving God's gifts in an open hands, and he talks about the ever-creating and redeeming Hands of God.  

{Greg Paul includes some great quotes too. Thomas Merton's thoughts on the speech of rain, for instance, in the section Open my Ears.} 

Worth reading. Worth keeping. Worth gifting. 
Thank you BookLook and Thomas Nelson for my review copy! 

Greg Paul

Henri Nouwen, Michael Ondaatje, Jean Vanier, Joseph Boyden, Thomas Merton, Cormac McCarthy, Frederick Beuchner, Arthur Boers, Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, Dallas Willard, Leonard Cohen, Alan Paton and hundreds more

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Waiting On God~

Waiting on God: Strength for Today and Hope for Tomorrow

Waiting. There are so many kinds of waiting. 
There's the expectant kind- when you're waiting for the joy of a birth announcement. 
There's the endurance kind- when you're waiting for somebody to be discharged from the hospital.
There's the anxious kind- when you're waiting for somebody to come home from a tour of duty overseas. 
There's the tedious kind- when you're just waiting for a routine dental appointment.
There's the kind with a definite end- April 9th, or five o'clock, or your anniversary, and there's the kind that stretches on and on with no clear destination in sight. 
There's the happy kind- when your loved one's plane is coming in.
There's the crushing kind- when you're waiting for a light, any flicker of light, in the dark. 

Charles Stanley new book Waiting On God addresses the hardest of waiting times- the ones that drain the life out of you, drop by drop. 

When you feel like the lack of movement, lack of response, and seeming lack of purpose are about to make you insane, what do you do? 

"How Long Do I Keep Waiting?" 

Charles Stanley comforts us with a call to courageous waiting. 
It takes a lot of faith to trust that God is moving when all seems still. 
To trust that God is speaking on your behalf when all is silent. 
To trust that heaven and earth are in His hands when you just want to see this problem solved.

Dr. Stanley writes about confident waiting- God has not left me alone to deal with this. 
Brave waiting- I am weak and small, but He is Almighty and Wonderful. 
Thankful waiting- negativity will fester in your spirit, but gratitude will feed your soul. 

He also speaks about how a period of waiting can actually set us free- free from the need to figure it all out, and free from the temptation to speed the plan along. 

I love the verse he returned to- "Not by might or by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord." 

How much sweeter would a waiting time be if I weren't viewing it as wasted time? 
What if I realized that my might, my power, my striving and attempts aren't necessary? 
What if I became resolutely convinced that God was doing what He needed to do to bring all good things to fruition? 

I think my favorite part of this book was in the last few chapters. Dr. Stanley describes how prolonged waiting can depress us, the voices in our heads c an demoralize us, and the state of our lives can cast us into despair. 
He titled this section "Fighting the Darkness with the Light of God's Word." 
There's a five page section of "Needs" such as Wisdom, Security, God's Presence, Guidance- and then Promises of His provision in each case. I think I'm going to photocopy that and put it on my wall!!! 

Thank you very much to Howard books for my review copy. This one's being added to my library. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Gospel Formed~ J. A. Medders

Gospel Formed

Robert Farrar Capon once described the Gospel as  "two-hundred proof Grace– bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.... a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started. 
Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale..." 

This book is a whack upside the head and a kind hand on the shoulder all at once. It's a shout "Hey, over here!" and it's a whisper- "Look, here it is." 
And all of it points to that Gospel, the one that will make you drunk. 

"Go back to the Gospel - again. Not for conversion, but for comfort. Jesus' death and resurrection is a one time event, but we believe it more than once- we believe it and re-believe it every day."

Ok, so you're not a "Good Christian." 
You have a Good Christ, and that's all you need. 
Look at what He did and take it to heart. Place who He is at the core of who you are. 

Ok, so it is as bad as you think it is and they are out to get you. 
You have a Christ who shall never leave you nor forsake you, so the fear may come but it will not defeat you. 

Ok, so you fail yourself over and over. (Left on my own, I produce darkness and death inside.)  
Yet you and I have Life in Him, and it's the imperishable kind. The forever kind. 

The life-blood of soul health and the heartbeat of holiness is resolutely believing Truth over and over. 
No matter what we feel like, no matter what the world looks like. 

I may think I "got" the Gospel years ago, but what if the Gospel permeates my Every Day, soaking into me and dying me bright with its colors? 

"Do you want to go deep? Center your life on the Gospel by supergluing the glories of grace to your heart, head, and hands- daily. Recover the Gospel- have a personal Reformation by preaching to yourself." ~ J. A. Medders

To that end- preaching to myself- I think I'll be keeping this book close through 2015. 
Thank you Kregel Publishing for my review copy. 

Friday, January 9, 2015


Do you remember that radio message about foster care that aired a couple years ago? 
It began with a man or a woman who sounded totally clueless and bumbling, yet their heart was in just the right place. It ended with something like "You don't have to be perfect, you just have to be there." 

This book "Ordinary" reminded me of that. 

Our world is sad, tired, suffering, enslaved, imprisoned, violent, addicted, and dying. 
And all of that can be heard echoing through our neighborhoods. 

If you're brave enough to watch the news, or to drive down a city street, or talk to a neighbor, you're going to realize that there is So Much Pain crying out for healing. So much weariness crying out for rest. So much hurt crying out for justice. So much that needs to be done! 
And you'll feel insufficient to do anything about it. 

Tony Merida had never seen a Bible study on justice before he taught one. He was supposed to teach on the poor, and he never expected it to break his heart right in half. And open his eyes. And fill his hands with work to do. 
It's overwhelming when you think about how much injustice there really is. 

The clothes I'm wearing were made overseas, likely by somebody who is overworked and under compensated- but American made items are so expensive.
Somewhere today, a girl chose abortion because she was told not to come home pregnant and my house has empty rooms in it- but taking in a stranger would disrupt my life.
In many places today, multiple people panhandled for their next meal- I'm planning next week's grocery list. 
The lady who checked out my purchases at the store is a single Mom who sees her kids for half-an-hour at night before they all fall asleep. 
There's a 90 something year-old man down the street from me who needs somebody to shovel his walk, but it's so awkward to ask him. 

With big issues or smaller ones, it's so easy to ignore them as long as possible, feel a pang of sympathy, and then continue on with my life.  

And once I see what's wrong, what do I do about it? 
What do we need to get moving, to get us acting in whatever capacity and whatever sphere we have available to us? 

Tony Merida says simply "The Gospel melts our hearts." 
Guilt may force us into a brief reaction, but it won't sustain a whole-life change. 
He argues that Grace alone will get down deep into our blood, become a fire in our bones, and lead to a life of mercy. 

He then describes a life of mercy in terms of Neighbor Love, Kingdom Hospitality, Care for the Vulnerable, Courageous Advocacy and God Centered Humility. 

Theologically, this is all rooted in Creation:Redemption:Restoration.

Practically, it shows itself when people do the hard, unsung work of caring for orphans. Caring for sex-trafficking victims. Caring for the elderly. Caring for those with special needs. 

Ministry in prisons. Ministry to local police departments.  Ministry to cancer patients. Ministry to caregivers. 
In whatever shape the opportunity comes, when you take it, you're participating in the Restoration.

"The Samaritan cared for the person on his path. I don't think one church can do everything, nor can one person. The question is, who is the dying man in your road? Who has God made you aware of that needs mercy?Such individuals are all around us." ~ Tony Merida 

I thank B&H Publishing and Cross Focused Review for my copy of Ordinary. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Discipleship~ Living through the Daily

If somebody asked me what this book is, I'd have a short answer. 

It's a collection of writings from a man who wanted to follow his Risen Lord- plainly, simply, and always. 
The meditations and conversations preserved here all germinate from one seed- the desire to be conformed to the pattern of Christ.

He wanted to seek all things in God, to trust God for everything, to place everything in God's hands, and to fit his will to God's ways. 

As Henri Nouwen says in the introduction, this book is demanding. The words of Jesus have stood the test of time because they are the most demanding words every spoken- Come to Me, Follow Me, Take up your cross with Me- and also the most comforting- I will give you rest, I will never leave you, here is my Body broken for you. 

This book reminds us of that paradox- being a disciple is a call to lay down your life, and a call to stand up and live all at the same time. 

Here are some quotes to give you a taste of his writing~ 

"God created heaven, earth, and all the constellations of the universe. He also created something else, something very mysterious: the human spirit. God created this spirit and placed it in us because He wanted to live in us." 

"The body is the soul made visible..." 

"There is a special love between two married people, and a special joy when they are near one another. Because they love one another quite specifically, they are faithful to one another and keep their relationship pure." 

"Desecration of any sort is a sin. If I abuse a human being by treating him as a thing, I violate his dignity as an image of God." 

"Children experience things in a more real and spiritual way than we expect. Reverence for the spirit that moves between parent and child is the basic element of a true family life." 

"It is not enough to seek peace for ourselves, for our own souls. We must seek it for the whole body, and ultimately for the whole creation." 

"God calls us again and again to come to Him with our trespasses and our need, and we can always turn trustingly to Him no matter the circumstances." 

"He is much greater than man, and His love is much greater than man's. Do not live in fear. Look down across the valley and towards the mountains and think of the great God who created all things and who has you in His hand."  

I see Discipleship as a book that I will return to, perhaps selecting a chapter by topic- Family, Suffering, and Unity among others.

I thank Plough Publishing and Handlebar Media for my review copy. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Fight Back with Joy

Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears

*Fight Back with Joy* is two things at once. 

First, it's a deeply personal story of Margaret's battle with cancer. My Grammy just dealt with sarcoma cancer, and the details of hospital and chemo were terrifying to read. Cancer is such a scum-sucking disease, and I wish we could rid the world of it. It's not comfortable to read about it, and I can't imagine living it. The phrase "in the trenches" doesn't begin to do it justice. 

That what makes the second part of this story so incredible. How could a couple dealing with so much pain and devastation possibly decide that JOY was going to be their weapon of choice? When anger, bitterness, resentment, and cynicism could have choked their hearts, how did they embrace joy?

And what is this joy they speak of- that they discovered in the agony of cancer treatments, that they sought to pour out on other patients, that they want to grow ever-more aware of in their lives?  

Margaret says: "C. S Lewis described joy as serious business, yet I assumed I could take joy lightly, capturing it in my free time like fireflies in a mason jar. I learned that you need mush more to unleash the power of joy. You need chutzpah, you need backbone, you need intentionality, and sometimes you need a crisis." 

Over the course of this book, Margaret unpacks some big ideas. Listen to this bold claim: "Joy is your heritage, identity, and destiny." 
How could that not move us, not make us thirst for what she describes? 

Then she moves to lessons that she learned-
The journey to Joy begins with acceptance.
The journey to Joy advances through adaptability.
The journey to Joy leads us to greater dependence on Christ.
Joy waits for us in the morning, and comes to us through our mourning. 
Joy will rarely make sense, but as Rich Mullins might say, it will make life.  

Reading this made me want to claim her motto as my family's own- Joyful Are We! 

Thank you Worthy Publishing for my review copy. 

Margaret Feinberg   Margaret spends most mornings with her good friends Coffee and God. Without Coffee, mornings would be difficult. Without God, life would be impossible.
You’ll often find Margaret (puppy-in-tow) adventuring outdoors—she enjoys hiking, river rafting, and scanning the night sky for the Northern Lights and shooting stars.
She boasts an exceptionally dry sense of humor that she attributes to her Jewish father. Little known secret: He was recently inducted into the Surfer's Hall of Fame, and her mom earned her captain's license for 60-ton ships. They’re pretty amazing. You'd like them. 
Married to Leif for more than a decade, Margaret’s known for losing things like her sunglasses on her head, keys in her hand, or her phone for the 12th time in the same day. Luckily, Hershey hasn’t been left anywhere… yet.
For being a writer, friends say she has a surprisingly narrow vocabulary and uses a lot of the same phrases including, “I’m game”, “Whahhooo!” and “Oooh! Let’s do it.”

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Own Your Life~ Vision for the New Year

Own Your Life: How to Grow a Legacy of Faith, Love, and Spiritual Influence 

As 2015 begins, I'm sure many of us are stocking up on new reading material, especially with an eye for the uplifting and challenging. 
There are many books that come into your year as visitors and a select few who will stay with you as companions. 
Sally Clarkson's "Own Your Life" may well fit into the latter category. 

This is a book for those moments when we long for a wise person to come along and say "This is the way, walk in it." 
Through these pages Sally becomes the God-focused woman guiding her sisters. 
She never pretends perfection, instead she affirms that maturity in Christ is a process- a long one, moving in you grace by grace. 

If the title sounds a bit commanding- "Own your Life! Stop frittering! Get out of that bathrobe! Give me twenty push-ups!"- don't be afraid. 
She doesn't come across as a drill sergeant. Yes, it is intimidating to think about stewarding our lives and forming a legacy, but Sally reassures us that great faith and great love come one small choice at a time. 

She talks about cultivating integrity, accepting the little gifts of life with celebration, gaining a clear spiritual vision, learning to respond to others without bitterness and resentment, and choosing to fill our minds with the lasting and real. Sally presents her insights with a winsome tone. 

I'd say Sally must have been influenced by Edith Schaeffer. Her pursuit of a home culture made of kindness, creativity, faith, and commitment to each other reminds me so much of Edith's "What is a Family."

If you're looking for some spiritual reading this January 2015, Own your Life is one I recommend. 

Thank you Tyndale for my review copy. This is the first book I've read by Sally, but I'll be on the look-out for others. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Thinking Theologically... Bioethics

Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families

If you're like me, you're a lay Christian who wants to think through today's big issues but you're overwhelmed by their complexity.

In the case of medical ethics, a few hours of conversation with a professional in the field would make a great difference. This book offers you a seat between theologian Ben Mitchell and physician Joy Riley. The two of them will provide basic explanations of various issues, and they'll let us "listen in" while they discuss them. 

They begin with an overview of the art of medicine, and what it means to "do no harm." 
They discuss the qualities of an excellent physician, and the rights and responsibilities of being a patient. 

Then they move into specific areas, where medical advances are increasingly difficult to understand and corral. 

Take organ donation, for example.  

Thinking theologically, life is precious and an organ transplant can save a life. After death, the physical body isn't needed anymore, so why wouldn't you want your organs harvested for another's benefit? At the same time, are human parts products? Should donor consent be presumed, because after all it is  a worthy cause? Or should donation be compelled, because we really do need organs? Once you're dead, who "owns" your organs? And what about the new definitions of "dead?" 

This book needs to be read and talked about with a group of thinkers. These issues were never meant to be wrestled with on your own. 
A fascinating and helpful conversation could be birthed from any of these chapters. 

The other topics run the gamut from bizarre- human/animal hybrids, to perplexing- clones, to tragic- euthanasia, to commonplace- fertility treatments, and disturbing- the modern anti-aging obsession.

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and B&H Publishing for my copy. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Tablet to Table

From Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found and Identity Is Formed

I've been wanting to try a book by Leonard Sweet for quite a while. His newest work "Tablet to Table" proved an ideal place to start. 
This is a straight-from-the-heart treatise on good food and the eating of it.  

When you really think about it, what did Jesus give us at the Last Supper? What was Communion? 
It was a meal together, with all the steps that meals entail-food grown, harvested, prepared, served, and eaten.
All in memory of Him.
How... ordinary. How... natural. How... simple. How... joyful. How... healing. How... perfect.
That was His idea of a sacrament. 

Most people I know would never dream of entering a Church and receiving Communion. 
It turns them off for many reasons, some legitimate and some petty. 
Yet these same heretics instinctively understand the beauty of meals eaten with their people. 
(We've made sacraments much more obscure and obtuse than they need to be. It doesn't diminish the holy if you have vegetable lasagna, chocolate chip cookies and strawberries as your bread and wine.)

Imagine how many more people would come to the Lord's Table if they experienced it as a meal with friends in the presence of God?
I think, like Len suggests, that if we preached a Table Gospel, these same folks would respond. 
They'd find their cravings satisfied with His food.

The title of this book interests me, because it can have two meanings. 
We picture the Word of God coming down from heaven on the stone tablets, and for Moses it did. 
Yet once the Word was given, how did they make it their own? 
That happened around tables, where human beings refreshed themselves and thought about what God had done so far. 

And today, we can get the Word again on tablets, the electronic kind, with Bible studies and sermons and products designed for Christians. 
Yet how do we invite our friends into His Word? 
It's probably done best through our tables, where mystery and revelation go together with steak and mushrooms. 

This short little book will get you inspired to be a Table Christian.
Len helps us see food as Divine provision *and* loving human handiwork, resulting in communal benefits of nutrition, pleasure, and fellowship. 
(There's no bias against take-out here either, so don't fear a unwarranted cooking burden on your back.)

You'll be encouraged to make dining a sacred thing, not by being formal but by being conscious of God's place with you at the table. 
Arguments and bitter words should have no place at a meal... especially with kids around. 
Let's serve each other grace with our salads and pizzas. 

You'll be amazed at the power of Table Talk- the stories that slip out when people grow comfortable, the way we want to share our hearts in safety. 
Ruth and Boaz shared food in the barley field, Abraham and Sarah made dinner for the Angel of the Lord. Great things happen, then and now, when we get people around a table. 

As far as I'm concerned, Tablet to Table could be three times longer, and it would have been fascinating. As it is, it's a more succinct read, but quite enjoyable. 

Thank you Tyndale and NavPress for my review copy. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Dignity in a Young Woman's Choices~

I was so ready to read this book. 
The concept fascinated me- a book about dignity in young women's lives. 
An understanding of dignity was probably basic about a hundred years ago, yet it's all but lost today. 

When was the last time you heard about dignity? 
If you asked me what I see when you say the word, I'd say "The Queen of England. Excessively formal, quite old, but nice in a fancy-hat kind of way." 
In other words, I don't think of dignity in connection with my own life. 
What is it? Where is it? Do I possess it inside, or do I act it out? 

In this book Rosalie de Rosset, Linda Haines, Stacie Parlee-Johnson, and Pam Macrae come together to point us towards dignity. 

I'd say dignity is our state of being, born from knowing ourselves as God's creation. 
We have a high and holy calling, and we're clothed in Christ. That comes down through our actions and words, and instead of being Queen-of-England formal, we're confidently free. 
We use our discernment to chose the best and our compassion to heal the hurting. 
Instead of being torn in multiple directions, we're whole again in Him, and we can rest in that wholeness. 

They talk about dignity of the mind- using our intellect and powers of reasoning. 
I was eager to reach the chapter Reading as A Spiritual Exercise. If it encourages you to read for soul nurture, check out Gladys Hunt's "Honey for a Woman's Heart." It's a fabulous anthology of titles, from mysteries to theology. It's a pleasure to read all by itself, as you plan your library trips. 

They talk about dignity in leisure, which they define as "time for self-cultivation." I like that. Instead of apologizing for your down-time, learn to steward it well and reap the benefits. 
Books, music, conversation, artwork... all of those fit well into leisure. 

And dignity of the heart- letting the bitter and the sweet draw us toward God. This may have been my favorite chapter... Linda Haines' Longing: From Disparity to Desire. 

They also talk about dignity of the body. I'm glad to see Christians reclaiming modesty and chastity as part of holistic reverence for life. We won't need to make bullet-pointed lists of rules to restrain people when we've captured them with a grand vision and invited them to make it their own. 

Thank you MPNewsroom for my review copy. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

God's Greatest Gift...


What is God's greatest gift? The people we love.

This book, perfect for reading with children snuggled around you, tells those little ones that they are your greatest gifts.

The art-work grabs your eyes, and your imagination.
Rich, golden sun pouring down on green hills.
Running horses in a herd.
The earth, turning in space.
Hot cocoa with marshmallows swimming in a mug, red ladybugs and pink butterflies.
All of these dance across the pages, each one a gift.

Yet we'll all agree... the best gift is having children to explore this wondrous world with us. :-)

Thank you BookCrash for my review copy!

Friday, December 26, 2014

In this House, we will Giggle~ Virtue and Laughter with Littles

In This House, We Will Giggle: Making Virtues, Love, and Laughter a Daily Part of Your Family Life

Courtney DeFeo is convinced that children should be happy. 
She's also convinced that happiness mingles well with responsibility, gratitude, and patience. 
She believes that kids can laugh and parents can love as they learn together about forgiveness, service, perseverance and joy. 

(She also says this don't require sainthood, a degree in early childhood education, or a lavish budget!) 
If you think about it, that's all kind of radical. (And doesn't it intrigue you?) 

I read a childrearing book earlier in the year that taught that shame was discipline. It was negative about all elements of the modern world, and harsh toward children. It was basically "how to use the Bible to get good behavior out of young people," and it left me wondering how the kids were going to find the mystery, beauty, and grandeur of the Christian story. (The temptation was shoot, gut, and mount faith as a trophy on the wall. Nicely arranged, but stiff and dead.) 

Courtney is more along the lines of "lets turn the kids loose with Jesus!" 
(An idea I think Jesus encourages. There was this scene when He blessed some kids...) 

I love her perspective. She knows what a grabby, fussy, whiny, malcontent child is like. She also knows that screaming in a kid's face might momentarily frighten them out of bad behavior, but it won't turn their heart toward sharing, giving, or loving. 
And the opposite of screaming can't be bribery, either, because that just leads toward performing for personal reward.

So over the course of this highly readable book, Courtney made me laugh and provided ideas for living so that kids can imitate us. 
The great thing is, these virtues shine on grown-ups or children alike, and we've never done practicing them. It's not a course you graduate from, it's a road you keep walking. 

So "Pack your Patience." Realize that "You are enough, God is enough, we have enough." 
Follow up apologies with an act of affection. Find grace in the middle of a mess- because kids remember the messy-day-turned-good for a long time. Don't stress so much about whether the kids say or do the wrong thing, and don't beat yourself up when you say and do the wrong things either. 
Ask the kids "What made you say WOW today?" Make much out of the little gifts of life. 

If us adults live these virtues out- imperfectly and honestly- and we invite kids to join the party, and we provide healthy and fun ways to be virtuous, the kids will enjoy the process and embody the goodness soon enough. 

I like this book, I really do. My family was a little too reserved and quiet for some of the 60 Giggle Activities included here, but I think most of the under seven crowd would love them. 

Thank you to Courtney and Blogging for Books for my review copy. This one is going to be shelved next to Amy Julia Becker's Small Talk. Packed together, those would be neat gifts for a Mom of preschoolers. Both books say "Your kids aren't perfect, and you don't need to be." 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Longing for More~ Timothy Willard

Longing for More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life

I think most of us unconsciously divide things up between sacred and secular, Christian and non, holy and worldly, Church time and workday, things God cares about and things we think He has no use for - and we often fail to really enjoy or appreciate any of it. 

In the midst of this splintering and disconnection a few quiet, persistent voices are calling us to wholeness. 
They're fellow pilgrims, and they're simply sharing their experiences of Jesus. 

Timothy Willard is one of those voices. *  
Last Spring, I read the book he co-wrote with Jason Locy, Home Behind the Sun. It was a glimpse into the minds of two men striving to recognize Christ at the heart of everything. 

All their experiences were downright earthy- apologizing to your wife after bitter words were spoken, hiking in a wood filled with mist, repairing the family car while your tiny daughters look on. 
Yet Tim and Jason brought everything- from deep sorrow and hard trials to the pleasure of home and the steady love found there- back to resolution in Christ. 
After I finished the book, I gave it to my 60 year old father, who read it twice in a row. 
Their words resonated with a working man who wants to have a stable faith. 

I was delighted (see Home Behind the Sun, chapter ten for a definition of delight) to think that I could now share this new book with my Dad too. Longing for More is a devotional, which usually doesn't go over well with me. I always end up reading it like a normal book, in big pieces. The entries here give you enough to think about that one a day would be just fine, but if you want to read more I won't try to dissuade you. 

There are 52 different themes, one for each week, and five smaller readings within each. The themes include Unity, Silence, Imagination, Trust, Gentleness, Surrender, Holy, Confession, Disappointment and Kindness. 
Timothy keeps his eyes, heart, and hands open to receive God within the routines of life. 

I think that any God-seeker would connect with this book. I can imagine a young college student or a elderly person being challenged and refreshed by it.

Here are a few snippets to give you a taste of his writing. 

"How like the Pin Oak am I? Clinging to the old season until shaken by the Wind of God, thrashing me toward His glory. We must, throughout life, embrace the storm of Christ. All of us live forever in a state of release and reaching- shedding the brittle-brown within us, clothing our bones in God's finest: the way everlasting." 

"That is who I want to be: the devoted farmer of the spiritual and heavenly, allowing my love for you to grow in the cool soil, compelled to climb into the air by the warmth of your brilliance." 

"I love knowing that God Almighty possesses me. This truth comforts me, it encourages me, it fuels my ideas and creative agency. I feel a sense of pre-accomplishment, like I can do anything because, regardless of the outcome, God possesses me. What peace!"

"The new day does not promise to deliver me from my trial or my failings. It acts as the refresher: another day to decide to love, another day to decide to surrender." 

"In an increasingly fragmented world, let us allow faith to draw us close to one another. Let us struggle, together, and learn of God's glory through the mending cracks of our toil." 

"Serving engenders gentleness, for it is a genteel posture. I subvert my own pride, which flares into rough action, gruff talking, and coarse thinking." 

"We sing and hold hands, pray and cry with those we love. For what are we if not givers of love... daily for those we hold dear?" 

"In all its glory and infamy, today will turn to tomorrow and can do nothing to stop the churning. It wastes us at our core, and yet we do not lose heart. For the God of time guides us into eternity- the timeless place of ceaseless glory and grace." 

"What can we compare to everlasting? Certainly the heavens come close. The age of the stars, and their light, feels ancient and new. They are like a newborn child, at once a picture of innocence, freshness, and beginnings, and also representing the history of life itself- ancient and enduring." 

I thank Bethany House for providing me with a review copy. 
Timothy Willard uses words like a poet. 

* Other such voices include Leigh McLeroy, author of The Beautiful Ache, Sharon Jaynes- A Sudden Glory, Ann Voskamp- 1,000 Gifts, Matt Heard- Life with a Capital L, and Michael Yankoski- The Sacred Year. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Homemade Decadence~ Joy-The-Baker

Joy the Baker Homemade Decadence: Irresistibly Sweet, Salty, Gooey, Sticky, Fluffy, Creamy, Crunchy Treats

When it comes to cooking, I'm capable of wiping counters and fetching ingredients. 
I'm kitchen help, not the head chef, and I'm cool with that.
So I enjoy looking at a cookbook and dreaming of eating the completed dishes, but I can't tell you whether the recipes have any intrinsic merit.  

However... here's the happy ending.... I have a good cook in my family. In particular, a Baker. 
So I requested this cookbook for them, and they're at my side right now helping me craft this review. 

By happy coincidence, my Baker already visits Joy-the-Baker's blog, so we pretty much knew that Homemade Decadence would be a delight.

And it is. One is rarely motivated by a recipe composed only of text on the page. There should always be stunning photographs to get you inspired. 
This whole book is a foodie's definition of visually beautiful. Everything from ice-creams to skillet cookies looks ready to for us to dig in. 

The recipe instructions are straightforward, and most recipes have between four and eight steps. 
Each recipe is introduced by a very fun paragraph which usually made me laugh. 
(The introduction for lavendar palmiers was a fantasy about eating a plateful of them as an old lady sitting in a rocking chair. )

And we take delicious to the next level here. 
There's cheddar-bacon crust on an apple pie, that makes me think of October evenings. 
And there's blackberry "picnic pie" cookies that make me long for the blazing August days when blackberries grow wild.

So what recipes am I going to be encouraging/begging my Baker to make?
The "everyday chocolate cake," for one. It's made in a loaf pan and glazed with even more chocolate on top. Tender and crumbly. 
The sour cream scones, which would go with either breakfast or a bowl of venison stew. 
That amazing, sticky cinnamon pull apart cake with lemon glaze.... *gets far away look in my eyes.* 
The banana bread biscotti- double baked and dipped in chocolate. (Sorry Grammy, I'm updating your beloved banana bread.)
The raspberry cream cheese brownies, because bites of raspberry in a brownie would be so tangy and amazing. 

Thank you Blogging for Books, Potter Publishing, and Joy the Baker for my review copy. I think you'll be inspiring some serious desserts and snacks around my house.