Saturday, October 3, 2015

Just Show Up~

Just Show Up: The Dance of Walking through Suffering Together

"Just Show Up" is both a practical guidebook and a personal revelation, co-written by two friends, Jill and Kara. At the time of the writing, Kara was fighting cancer, and Jill was part of her supportive (and beloved) community. Shortly before publication, Kara passed away, and Jill completed this book while loving on Kara's family and friends as they all grieved this loss. 

If you've read Kara's first book "The Hardest Peace," then you'll have already absorbed pieces of her story. That book was also written during her fight with cancer, and out of her pain and sickness she gifted readers with words of life, a glimpse into her family and their Big Love. She captured, in a few short chapters, why it is so good and so hard to be human. 

If you haven't read "Hardest Peace," then perhaps you grabbed this book because of the subtitle: the dance of walking through suffering together. Perhaps you're trying to navigate the rough waters of a terrible diagnosis in your family, and you need somebody who understands how you feel as you take care of somebody else. 

Jill and Kara are good guides to turn to. The first portion of this book is intensely practical. They begin by explaining that when it comes to blessing somebody in a hard situation, Just Show Up is the most important principle. If you don't take the risk of going to them, nothing beautiful can happen between you. 

They next suggest ways to show up and meet specific needs according to your abilities, at the right time and with no expectations. 

Then they address the need for the "helper" to have their own support system, and the need to be honest about how bad you'll feel even as a supposedly "unaffected" helper. You'll probably feel guilty thinking like this, but the thoughts will come: "This is so hard for me! They're the one who's suffering, and I feel so bad! Who do I turn to?" Jill and Kara make it clear: when you have somebody you're giving comfort to, and you need somebody to dump on. 

Together, Jill and Kara go to their vulnerable places in this book. Once they move past the more advice-based parts, they return to Kara's story, as seen by Jill and other friends who walked beside her. At the end, you know this truth unshakably: The God who is God-with-us made us to be with each other, and if you choose to be with someone in the hard, then you may never know how very much your choice means, because it does.

I thank David C Cook for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my thoughts. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fire and Ice~

Fire and Ice (Wild at Heart, #3)                                                            

Alright, so I broke down and read a full-length Mary Connealy novel.
And it was really funny.
"Fire and Ice" is almost pure comedy, with a note of complex family relationship and some troubles that need to be overcome by hope.

The early interactions between Gage and Bailey had me snorting with laughter. First they do this whole "You're stealing my land/No you're stealing MY land" routine- complete with gunfire and dynamite- and then they settle into a truce. They'll work together on this one certain problem, but they won't promise be happy about it.

From there, we see them getting rather attached to each other. They're stubborn mules, both of 'em. They deserve each other. And they're gonna need each other, because ranch life isn't simple. There's danger and deception and hysterical in-laws. And of course, there's cows in need of fresh grazing and mares having a hard time foaling.

Read this book if you want a Wild West comedy, the sort that would make a great film.
Thank you Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a copy in exchange for a review.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Happiness" by Randy Alcorn.


 Pastor Alcorn isn't content just to tell us to be happy. He insists on searching Scripture and showing us the Gospel-centered reasons for a happy life. 

And if you trust him for a few hundred pages, he'll convince you that there's a lot of happiness to be found, first in God Himself, then in the gifts He gives us, and in our response to God and His world. 

I really enjoyed reading this book. (Frankly, if a book called "Happiness" wasn't a pleasure to read, wouldn't that be a major problem right there?) Randy clearly studied his subject, because this book was peppered with quotes from philosophers and scientists and preachers and artists and songwriters, all of them engaging with "happiness." 

I agree with him that for Christians, happiness has become one of those unspiritual concepts. We don't want to seem like we're obsessed with personal satisfaction or self-gratification, so we shun happiness in favor of a joyful holiness. And joyful holiness is wonderful, but Randy argues that we've devalued the concept of simple, easily recognized human happiness to our own detriment. 

For Randy, happiness (along with joy and gratitude and contentedness and peace, etc. etc.) rounds out the wholesome life. 

In this book, Randy devotes many pages to studying the most precise meanings of various words in Scripture. There's a reason for this. Often our translation of a word can give it a whole new meaning, sometimes subtle, sometimes glaring. There are a lot of really strong happy words in Scripture, and maybe you've never realized that before. If it's become easy to skim over phrases like "blessed," and "rejoicing," then spend some time with these sections, being startled by the bold, brave, bright happiness that God is fond of evoking. 

All in all, this is a really comprehensive look at happiness: how we can have more of it now, why we can be assured of it for all eternity, and why we should celebrate the fact that we want happiness to begin with.

Also, as you're sitting there holding a thick book with "Happiness" emblazoned on the cover, you may have somebody come up and ask you what you're reading. Won't it knock their socks off when you tell them?  Now that's a way to start a Christ-conversation, with happiness.  

I thank Tyndale Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my opinion.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Homemade Kitchen~

The Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure

The chief cook and bottle washer at my house had an accident this spring, and they were off their feet for eight weeks. That's means I got a crash course in cooking. And I found out that I enjoyed it. My first triumph was a chicken dish, from a recipe provided by a Mayonnaise company. Don't judge. 

Because I was learning at the height of garden season, all sorts of fresh produce was available for experimenting. Oven-roasted eggplants, Feta cheese and basil pesto, cornmeal crusted vegetable pizza, stuffed summer squash, various pasta salads- we tried it all. 

And I found that even amid the hurry of doctor's appointments and the general worry of the situation, cooking calmed me down. I liked working with the food. I enjoyed (most of the time) eating what I made. I wanted to keep it up once it was no longer my main responsibility. 

So, now I read cookbooks for fun. And "The Homemade Kitchen" is my latest choice. The author, Alana Chernila, seems like a really cool lady, and we both live in New England, so we share the same basic growing seasons and access to local ingredients. 

As you read this book, you may feel like Alana is a really good cook who wants to talk about her garden and hear about your latest kitchen adventure. I appreciate that. Some cookbooks leave you feeling like you're in the presence of a master chef, somebody very skilled and very intimidating. 

As I read her book, I didn't feel like Alana knows any secret tricks. I felt like she knows her kitchen. She knows her ingredients. She knows her family and what they want to eat. She knows her own hands and her own mind. She's got her preferred methods, and she hopes that you practice and find your own.
That, I can do. 

"The Homemade Kitchen" really is quite affirming. Alana's celebration of her kitchen can help ground you as you consider how to work in yours, and her level-headed assessment of current eating trends can help you articulate your own philosophy of food.  

As for the recipes... they're great inspirations and jumping-off points. Did you know that your own jam can really be easy to make, and you only have to make one jar at a time if that's all you need? Did you know you can make a jar of pickled vegetables with a simple brine and some spices? Have you ever craved warm cinnamon bread, or a steak-cucumber-mint salad? Now you will, once you read her recipes.

I think I want to order her first book, "The Homemade Pantry" to go with my copy of "The Homemade Kitchen." I think we need more food-people saying "You can do this, and here's a way to get started." It's a message that encourages us to heat up the oven, plant a garden, buy some fresh ingredients, sort through our pantry, and lay the plates out on the table. 

I thank BloggingforBooks for providing me with a review copy, in exchange for my opinion. Now, I've gotta go put my fresh cooked tomato sauce in a jar, and I might grab a cranberrry-walnut-cinnamon roll while I'm up. Cooking at home- who would have thought it could be so much fun? 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Last Chance Hero

Last Chance Hero (A Place to Call Home, #4)

Last Chance Hero is a fine finale for this series. It starts with a plot worthy of a Hallmark movie. She's a young doctor trying to set up a practice in a small town; he's a former NFL player come home to coach his high school team. They meet, and they seem really good together, but she hates football, and it's the center of his life. 

Now, that sounds pretty cute. But don't be fooled: just like the previous three "At Home in Last Chance" books, the story gains depth as it progresses.

Andy isn't just a fun-loving football-obsessed guy, and Jess isn't just the new-blood fighting the established order. They've both got choices to make as they confront the past and look forward to the future, and they have to decide how they'll contribute to their community, both individually and together.

Final assessment? If you've begun this series, then you've gotta take one final trip to New Mexico by reading Last Chance Hero. Andy and Jess have a good story on their own, and it's enhanced by the cameos of Ray and Lanie, Sarah and Steven, Chris and Kaityn and Grandma Elizabeth. When I read the scene of the festival, I felt like I was right there, saying "Hi" to old friends and catching up with their lives.

Such is the power of a good book. 

I thank Revell for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Gather Around the Amish Table~

Gather around the Amish Table: Treasured Recipes and Stories from Plain Communities

"Gather Around the Amish Table" would be a fabulous gift for anybody who is fascinated by the simple life of the Amish. 

This is a softcover cookbook, filled with full-color photography and engaging personal stories, and every page highlights the good food that can be found in Amish kitchens. 
When you work hard and tend the land well, your reward is the bounty of the seasons. Judging from these recipes, Amish cooks know how to use that bounty, making their meals both nourishing and enjoyable.  

There are recipes for any day of the year and almost any skill level, because the contributors ranged from young Amish girls to their kitchen-wise grandmothers. 

As with any cookbook, you'll likely never make some of these dishes (you'd have to butcher your own hog to get the ingredients!) but if you're a fan of the Amish life, then you'll find the more obscure recipes interesting all the same. 

And there is plenty for the average cook to work with, such as cauliflower bacon salad, "Party Potatoes," "Broccoli Bonanza," "Best-Ever Meatloaf," "Lisa's Lasagna," and various delectable brownies and cookies and pies and granola bars and puddings.  There are muffins and breads for breakfast, one-dish dinners, lots of noodle recipes, and many desserts. 

So next time you need a present for your favorite Amish-wanna-be, consider this cookbook. 

I thank Litfuse Publicity for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Friday, September 11, 2015

"The Atheist who Didn't Exist."

  The Atheist Who Didn't Exist 

"The Atheist Who Didn't Exist," by Andy Bannister. Bannister is the Canadian Director for RZIM, which is Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. A book by one of Ravi's associates is a book for me. 

I've often heard my father-in-law refer to God as the "Man Upstairs." I've also done it myself. Its can be an affectionate colloquialism for God, or, as Andy Bannister points out, it can be linguistic laziness and theological ineptitude. Banner points out that according to 2,000 years of thoughtful Christian tradition, built upon several more thousand years of Hebrew scholarship, God is no "man upstairs." He is instead the ground of all being, the One who creates and sustains all things, the reason than anything exists. To argue about God is, perhaps, to tacitly admit that He exists, and that He demands your attention. 

RZIM is a ministry with a focus on apologetics- the rational, logical, personally relevant defense of the faith. Ravi teaches that behind every question stands a questioner, to be treated with respect and never dismissed or ridiculed with insult. 

Today, we have a movement (New Atheism?) with a few leaders suggesting that skepticism is the ideal way of life. Atheism is well-dressed these days, polished and educated and urbane. We need coherent thinkers and civil voices to present the alternative- the message of Christ. RZIM has provided quite a few such people. 

As you try to wrap your head around the arguments presented in this book, keep a few facts of Christian history in mind. The Gospels, especially when investigated, stand up as eyewitness accounts. Eleven of the twelve apostles were sentenced to death for their faith, and not one sold themselves out to save their own flesh. 

I recommend this book with the disclaimer that I like what RZIM is all about, and that includes Mr. Bannister's work. I thank Kregel Publications for providing me with a review copy. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Encountering Truth

Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Everyday

 As I read "Encountering Truth," I kept trying to decide how to describe Pope Francis' words. The closest I can come is to say that his homilies read like a conversation with a very devout neighbor, somebody who talks about God and life with both feet planted firmly on the ground. 

He makes his theology immediate- the Gospel demands action. The Christ was flesh and blood, and so is his Church. Doctrine and practice move through life hand in hand. Truth is more than pretty ideas, and grace is not a hollow word. 

Pope Francis is preaching a faith in which the presence of God is expected in the everyday. Prayer, confession, justice, tribulation, renewal, moralism, courage, wisdom, peace... he addresses all of these aspects of life, and  grounds them in his understanding of being human in this world. 

Here are some of his thoughts. 

"Hope changes our attitude; we are ourselves, but we are not ourselves; we are ourselves, seeking the other side, anchored in the other side." 

"The power of man is prayer, and the prayer of a humble man is God's weakness. The Lord is weak only in this: he is weak in the face of the prayers of his people." 

"There (in the hands of God) we are safe. It is the greatest safety, because it is the safety of our Father who loves us." 

My best endorsement would be to say that when the cares of life narrow our eyes and reduce our view of God, this book will help wake us up again, and open our eyes to see him more clearly.

And Pope Francis isn't telling us anything "new and exciting." He's not marketing something he's manufactured to get our attention. He's re-presenting the timeless message of God's invitation and God's redemption and God's victory, and in every age, that story compels us and converts us and changes our direction. 

I thank Image publishers for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my opinion.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Girl Meets Change...

Girl Meets Change: Truths to Carry You through Life's Transitions

Kristen Strong had me when she admitted that change she didn't orchestrate was about as welcome as chewing off her own right arm.
Um, absolutely. 
Is there a secret handshake for this club of change-averse people? Maybe I should come up with one. Heck, I even view the change of seasons with suspicion, until the new charms of nature woo me into Spring, or Summer, or Fall. 

And who hasn't experienced change, with a capital C?  
Somebody you care about goes away and your heart walks on out of your body and goes with them.
Something you depend on- steady employment or educational opportunities- shifts under your feet and you're left trying to decide on our next move. 
Life's fragility becomes intensely personal... there's an illness or a death, and you just want "the way things used to be," to be the way they are again.

Change doesn't look the same for any two people, but we likely feel the same when we meet it. Kristen compares change to her 6' 5" cousin. Despite the fact that he was a gentle giant, people stepped aside to clear his path. Change is that big guy... we want to hunker down in a corner and hope he doesn't see us. We're concerned just looking at him.

Today was one of those days. Recently, someone I love has been trying to make an important move in their life. Everything seemed to come together, and then it derailed again, with more stress added to the mix. I'm hurting just watching them. 

Kristen's book challenged me to believe: there is a God-for-me story, and a God-for-my-friend story. And that change that I want to fight off and run from and dig out from underneath as fast as I can? Well, that change is ON our way, not IN our way. 

So, how does the Gospel illuminate change, transition, and the unknown?  How do we keep moving when the wanted-change doesn't happen, and the change-we-didn't-choose is breathing in our ears? 

Kristen turns our faces towards the God who never runs short of grace or glory. 
She writes, "He loves me through all ancient and future time, so whatever circumstances are a part of my story are a part of his everlasting love for me too.... When I sit in times of change, I remember I also sit in his everlasting love." 

Somehow, Kristen managed to spread the truth of Scripture onto my heart with each page she penned. She's asking me to take a risk, to believe God in the changes. Yes, I desire the changes I think would be good for me. Yes, I dread the changes that cause me trouble and worry. 

I know there's the kind of change where wonderful things come into your life, and there's the kind of change that is synonymous with loss. Yet I have the same God at all times, the God who came for me and made me whole, and he has restoration in mind and not ruin. 

"Girl Meets Change" is TNT inside the cute cover. Join me and give a read, will you? 
I thank Revell Publishers for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Why Holiness Matters~

Why Holiness Matters: We've Lost our Way--But We Can Find it Again

This book is a great way to start the holiness conversation, because it's centered around a couple of questions: what is holiness, and why does it matter? 

Ideally, we recognize that holiness is about waaaay more than following the modern Evangelical modes of approved behavior, but sometimes we forget, and we make holiness about us. 
Think about the way we categorize things- 
Gambling in Vegas? Unholy use of money. 
Donation to Billy Graham? Holy, of course. 
Various peculiar body piercings? Unholy! 
True Love Waits ring? Very holy. 

Why do we come to these conclusions? Are conservative choices automatically more holy than progressive ones? 
Does holiness accumulate like dust does, guaranteeing that older traditions have more of it? 
How do we steer toward holiness, if we don't know where it stems from?

Tyler Braun's book points us to this truth: holiness is the nature and ways of God himself. He is Holy, and he showed us his holiness on earth in his Son. So, if we're talking about personal holiness for you and I, then we're talking about drawing close to Christ. 

When we say that a person has the quality of holiness, we're (hopefully) speaking about the way they seem to reflect the heart of God. 
We're speaking about the way that grace upholds that person, and the way that they work that grace out in fidelity and self-giving. 

What does this "holiness-is-given-from-God-as-he-brings-you-near-to-him" approach mean for us, practically? 
It means that when we make choices, we're saying as much about God as we are about ourselves. 
That's how holiness comes into every arena. There's always something to say about God.

So after walking us through chapters titled Innocence, Shame, and Love, Tyler takes us to the out-working of holiness, in Community and Artistry, and Mission. 

This book's only 176 pages, but it's got big concepts to think about. And it's worth reading more than once.

I thank Moody Press Newsroom for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Thursday, September 3, 2015



Perhaps you've heard of Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts." Her book challenged us all to find the ordinary glory, and to name each glimpse of it that we see in our days.

When I read Eileen Spinelli's "Thankful," I thought to myself that it was "One Thousand Gifts" for children. Both Ann's and Eileen's books have the same heart-beat, and both women have a way with words.

Sure, this is a book of simple, rhyming sentences. But listen to some of them...
"The artist is thankful for color and light.
The clown for her costume, silly and bright.
The doctor is thankful when patients get well.
The traveler, for a cozy hotel."

Don't the rhymes just dance right off of your tongue? And Eileen comes up with some unexpected gifts- everything from comfortable shoes for a waitress to a mayor who's thankful for every vote.

And the illustrations! This is Archie Preston's first published book, and it's fabulous. There's a wry, comic note to many of them that both little people and big people will appreciate. His work reminds me of Arthur Howard's illustrations in the well-known "Mr. Putter and Tabby" series.

So, again, "Thankful" is a treat. It reminds us that practicing gratitude is ultimately celebration, celebration of God's good care and recognition of all the gifts we have.  I'm thankful for my copy, provided free in exchange for an honest opinion from Booklook Bloggers.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Staying is the New Going


"Staying is the New Going"  asks this question- where does your life happen? 
Where do you sleep at night, where do you hang out, where do you eat your dinner and go to church and go to work and walk your dog? Why did you choose this place, and why do you stay? 

Do you even intend to stay? 
   What if you decided that you would stay, and stay well?  

   What if we could reveal the hidden power of staying? What if we could stay in a way that's so compelling that staying would be the new going? 
Alan Brigg's thinks that we can. He's tried it. He's gone from a mover-and-shaker out to see the world to a man growing roots, trying to faithfully inhabit his corner of God's earth. 

Barring the necessary moves to meet your work and family needs, Alan challenges you to hold your ground in one place for a while. He casts a vision of Christians who move into any "ordinary" place and get busy right there with the people of that area. 

This book explores several aspects of what it takes to encourage a "staying culture."  Some of these points really got my attention.

First, we'd need to begin recognizing God's glory and good opportunities in our own zip code. Ministry and mission happen right here, Alan argues. God is at work and you can join in, on a dirt road or in a city block. 

Second, we'd need to understand this place we're trying to serve and flourish in. As Stephen King said, "A place is yours when you know where all the roads go."  So, go explore. What's the culture? What's the lingo? How do the people here roll? Where do you fit in seamlessly and where do you struggle to find a toehold? What do you enjoy about this patch of the map, and what drives you crazy? 

Third, watch your mindset. As you explore, be a pilgrim, Alan suggests, not a tourist. To simplify the definitions, a pilgrim moves with an eye for Christ's presence in all places, and accepts the hard things as well as the lovely ones as part of the journey. A tourist might eagerly find all the best spots in town, but by nature they can't stay long or get deeply involved.

Fourth, you need to neighbor. No, you didn't choose them. No, you don't live anything like they do. No, you don't know them yet. 
But if you're going to stay and stay well, you're gonna have to meet the neighbors.  

"You know your neighbors are beginning to trust you when they begin to inconvenience you."  
This is a statement that is so true, yet I'd never thought of it this way before. 
If somebody is a stranger to me, do I call them to ask for help during the dinner hour? 
No. I don't. 
But if I ever did, if I took that risk, they might become a friend. 
And actually, I've seen this happen. 
Maybe you have too. 
Maybe you've been really blessed by the people around you, and maybe you've blessed them back. 

If so, you know what Alan is talking about. If it's never happened yet, keep the faith. It can happen. 

"Staying is the New Going" would be a really great book to read along with Hugh Halter's "Flesh." Both of them revolve around the same thing- Jesus does his awesome work through common men in common places. 
(And perhaps you'll find that no place and no person is common, if you borrow God's eyes to look with.)

I thank Tyndale and NavPress for my review copy.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

God Speaks~ Dr. Craig Evans

God Speaks: What He Says, What He Means

If I had the privilege of helping a new Christian begin to seek the Scriptures, I might be inclined to give them this book.

"God Speaks" is a high altitude survey of the Bible- why it's reliable, why it's valuable, the claims it makes for humanity, and the character of the God who gave it- and occasionally it touches down on particular points, such as what Jesus taught, and how to interpret a passage in context and informed by church wisdom through the ages. 

If you're new to your Bible, this book could help orient you as you start out, and whet your appetite for further reading. 
As a basic introduction, it has plenty of helpful resources. There's a timeline of events, spanning from the call of Abraham to the writings of Augustine, a giving you a glance at those who lived the Hebrew history and those who articulated the new-born faith. 
And here's a chapter about biblical archeology- the study of textual data and material evidence. He includes brief descriptions of discoveries, and explains where those artifacts fit into the scope of history recorded in the Testaments. 

If the reader were ready for more after finishing "God Speaks," then I'd begin adding in other books. 
I think I'd give them Norman Giesler's "How we Got our Bible" if they wanted to know about the inspiration of the text and collection of the manuscripts and recognition of the canon. 

I'd hand out J. Warner Wallace's "Cold Case Christianity" if they wanted to think specifically about the New Testament, and what (if any) evidence suggests its authenticity. 

I'd hand out a small library of Ravi Zacharias if they wanted to explore the questions of the human heart *and* look at the Man who claims to be the Bread of Life and Living Water. "Jesus Among Other Gods," "Why Jesus?" and "Can Man Live without God?" would be good ones to begin with.

I'd probably slide Randy Alcorn's challenging-yet-ultimately-comforting "If God is Good..." into the pile if they wanted to read more about suffering and evil in a God-made world. 

So yes, "God Speaks" could be an ideal jumping-off point for all sorts of Christian studies. 

I would also like to explore more of Dr. Craig Evans books myself. "God Speaks" is the first one of his that I've read. I'll be keeping an eye out for "Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels" and "Jesus and His World" and "From Jesus to the Church: The First Generation."  

I thank Worthy Publishing for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an opinion. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Argument-Free Relationships. Really?

The Argument-Free Marriage: 28 Days to Creating the Marriage You've Always Wanted with the Spouse You Already Have

Is this possible? An argument-free relationship?
I've personally thought that it could happen, and in this book Fawn Weaver explains why she thinks so to.

First, a definition is necessary. Argument-free does not mean disagreement-free. It does not mean a relationship without differences of opinion, conflicts of interest, and personal preferences that tend to clash. (You'd have to marry a programmed robot to achieve this! And Fawn has no interest is being a robot, or wedding one.) It means you handle your disagreements without argument. 
That blows your mind, don't it? So simple. 

(Let's define argument as an exchange of words, designed to cut somebody up and run them down, said in anger, ostensibly revolving around an issue that needs dealing with. From what I know, these exchanges aren't problem-solving study sessions. Nope, they're torture to live with and usually get swept under the rug until they happen again over some other issue.) 

She has a 230 page book, formed around a 28 day challenge, that all boils down to the most basic of concepts. 

First, unless it's a full-on emergency, choose a sensible time to discuss a problem. Why court a fight by bringing up inflammatory things when everyone's out of patience and suffering from low blood sugar? 
And if there is a real problem, find a way to solve it together. Resolve to speak to that end- uncovering a solution.
If there's no resolution on the horizon, then find a way to bear the trouble together.  
(Wait- what if you're the only one who sees the problem? Yep. That's always a challenge. Persistent, honest communication about why you're so troubled may bring the other person to a place of concern over the issue as well.) 

Focus on your original emotion- what lies deeper than the anger? Anger is easy, because it comes with a surge of power and justification, and the force of it can beat somebody into responding. Vulnerability is not easy. When you want to argue, and choose to find your original emotion instead, you're choosing to open a hurting heart up and explain yourself. That takes courage, but it can foster trust.

One idea that I really liked was found in the "Get a clue, get a cue" section. The clue comes from deciding to evaluate yourself before you diagnose your partner. "There's tension here- am I contributing to it, even if I'm in the right?" That's strong medicine to take, whether you're married or not! 
The cue section is more fun. Fawn says that many couples she's interviewed have developed cues over the years- when they recognize their spouse becoming nervous or upset, they signal to them subtly. It's a secret code that says "I can tell there's something wrong- let me help. Let's talk this out." 
Personally, I've done this with my siblings over the years. I imagine it would be useful in a marriage.

Remember- if this relationship is a marriage, then you've got a lifetime to work this stuff out. A bad moment is a moment, and it can get better. Ultimately, the relationship is what matters. How can you best keep that going strong amid stupidity and struggle? 
Presume innocence when you go into a disagreement. They may not have intended to misunderstand you/neglect you/set you off. If you're assuming the best in them, you'll be less likely to attack and more likely to seek understanding.

Cultivate gratitude. You chose this person. Why? It's possible those wonderful qualities are still there, and it's your vision that's changed. Can you recover the ability to see them through the eyes of love? Not delusion- just a gracious acceptance that finds the best amid the flaws.

I came away from this book with a renewed desire to replace arguing, unproductive unkindness, and manipulative shunning with discussion, grace, and honest explanations of why I feel the way I do. Will it always "work"- always elicit the perfect response? Hell no. Will trying it grow me as a person? Probably yes. 

And if Fawn wants to reignite a generation's hope for good marriages, then this book will further that goal. Who would want to lock themselves into a decades-long argument? Nobody. But if we can rescue marriage from the gladiator pit, and replace fights with partnership through life's problems, maybe marriage can earn high esteem again. 

I thank Thomas Nelson for providing me with a review copy through BookLook. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Road to Becoming~

The Road to Becoming: Rediscovering Your Life in the Not-How-I-Planned-It Moments

"The Road to Becoming." What a catchy title. Yet think about if for a minute- becoming is an action verb. It describes a process, not a destination. 
And when you start reading Jenny's thoughts, you see that that's the point. The destination is the process. 
We're traveling the road of life not just to get somewhere, or to find something, but to become. 

Jenny Simmons tells one heck of a story in this book. The craziest thing is, it's true. It's her story. I won't even try to catalog her experiences. Just know that you'll be shaking your head, laughing at her sense of humor, empathizing with her troubles, and encouraged to look for the glory all around.

Yeah, this book has a catchy title. It's got a cute cover. The author has a fresh voice and an ear for language and how to use it best. And she delves down inside herself to find the treasures that God hides there, to show them to her fellow travelers. This is a story of not knowing where to go or what to do, and of the God who woos us in the wilderness of that not-knowing. It's a story of learning to listen to the moment you're in, and of learning to grieve and bury what feels so lost.

"Where there is life, the Divine is at work." ~Jenny Simmons

I thank Baker Books for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Monday, August 17, 2015

"Christ in You"

Christ in You: Why God Trusts You More Than You Trust Yourself

Sometimes, I don't feel up to the challenges of life. 
My strength seems insufficient, my efforts inefficient, and my level of hope is deficient. 
In short, I feel desperate. I think that I "need" things that I don't have. 

As Eric Johnson says, "It is tough to experience the vastness of the Kingdom when we are desperate. When we act desperate for the things we already have access to, we are choosing to live in a state of unbelief."  

Eric Johnson has one core message in this book, and the title makes it rather clear: Christ in you. 
The hope of glory, yes, and the source of whatever we need to live well today. Our job is to realize that our desperation can be hunger- hunger for the nourishment found in Christ. "Hunger is based on an awareness of abundance," says Eric. And Christ is our abundance. 

That's the point of this book. And Eric makes it well, telling stories and exploring Scripture. Yes, he is a Charismatic. He wants to keep his eyes peeled for all the works of God that are actively happening in the world. He believes that there is no end to the fullness of God, and he believes that God delights in caring for us, and providing for us, out of that fullness. 

This is a short and valuable read. After all, what is it that makes Christianity distinct from every other attempt at religion? 
Christ in us. 

I thank Chosen books for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Brimstone: Why Jesus's Final Word on Judgment Is Good News for You

Hugh Halter's "Flesh" was one of my favorite reads in 2014. The heart of that book was the age-old question "How do we live like Jesus?" 
Hugh gave us not only a challenge, but a reassurance too. He made the argument that our humanity doesn't stand in the way of our holiness. Instead, holiness grows out of our full humanity, when we learn to be human like Jesus. Hugh called this phenomena "whimsical holiness." 

When I saw "Brimstone" in the catalog, I knew I wanted a copy. And now it's here, and it was worth the wait. While enlarging the portrait of whimsical holiness, this book tackles some serious questions.
What is judgement? 
Does Jesus judge? 
Am I equipped to judge? 

This is not a unique observation, but "Christianity" and "judgement" have become linked in a lot of people's minds. And they're not thinking about the Day of Judgement, either, when God shall destroy all evil and Christ shall reign over a Kingdom made whole. Nope, they're thinking about the critical, unkind, unbending, arrogant, strident, self-righteous judgements made by professing Christians. 

Now, we Christians mostly don't mean to wreak havoc.
We hope to save our culture by protesting the "moral slide." 
We hope to make converts by critiquing lifestyles- warning people away from the edge, as it were. 

And that all works well in theory. 
If we're preaching to a choir of folks just like us, we can rail against other people's choices all day long, and finish up with a round of "Worthy is the Lamb." 
This just doesn't work so good when we're dealing with our family, neighbors, and co-workers. Somehow, we repel them when we start railing. Especially when our depiction of "biblical convictions" suspiciously meshes with our personal preferences, and we denounce all that we disagree with.   

So, we need a new way to be. We need the art and the act of holy nonjudgement. And that's what Hugh talks about. 

Now- don't jump down the author's throat. He's already got enough people doing that. He's not a Universalist. He does believe in sin. He does have convictions. Feeling better? 

He just thinks that we need to get back to the Gospel, take our sainthood to the streets, and discuss real issues without being a judgmental jerk. 

And this book is your conversation-starter, your jumper-cables to the brain, your spoonful of truth, your whack upside the head... 
Try it. It'll give you a lot to wrestle with, and it will give you a new idea to rest in: We don't have to fight everything wrong all the time. 
(Sex trafficking? Fight it. Tattoos? Let it be. The health of your own marriage? Fight for it. Speculating about the divorce down the street? Let it be.) 

Sometimes, we can just make friends and take care of people, working out whimsical holiness, shaking up people's preconceived notions of how Christians are. 

I thank David C Cook for giving me a copy in exchange for my opinion.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Legend by Eric Blehm

Legend: A Harrowing Story from the Vietnam War of One Green Beret's Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines

History we need to know, told in an utterly riveting way. 
That's how I'd describe "Legend."

If you read James Bradley's "Flags of our Fathers" and "Flyboys" for World War II, then you should read "Legend" for the Vietnam War... and Karl Marlantes novel "Matterhorn" also.

This book focuses on Special Forces staff sergeant Roy Benavidez, who willingly placed himself in grave danger on behalf of his fellow soldiers, and who saved multiple lives while sustaining terrible injuries. Ultimately, he was recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor. 

Eric Blehm mined never-before-released documents and made use of extensive personal testimonies to create as full a picture as possible of the May 2, 1968 Special Forces mission and all what led up to it. As an author, he puts the facts together coherently, but he also tells compelling personal stories. 

We get to read excerpts of letters and transcripts of audio tapes sent home by these these soldiers to their families. We see their character, their fortitude, their fidelity. We see young men (ordinary young men- who never expected to be called heroes) who knew what it was like to stare death in the face daily, to eat and drink war, and who did what was necessary to protect their brothers in arms. They made the hard choices. They spent themselves in the name of serving their country. We see "greater love has no man than this- to lay down his life for his friends" in all its original rawness. 

I'd put this book on a required-reading for high school students.  
Now I'm off to wrap and mail my copy down to a college age cousin who's minoring in Military History. 

I thank Crown Publishers for providing me with a review copy through Blogging for Books. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

"Questions Jesus Asks"


As much as we all think we'd prefer answers, sometimes what we really need is a question. 
A question can cut us right in half, pare us down to our deepest secrets, reveal the truth we already knew.

Jesus asked a lot of question. 
"Who you you think I am?"
"Has no one condemned you?"
"Why have you forsaken me?" 
"What are you seeking?" 

Just a few words apiece, these questions continue to echo through our universe. Yes, they meant something the moment they were uttered, and they still mean something today. In this book, Israel Wayne looks at 20 questions from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. From these questions, Israel draws lessons about the lordship of Christ, the forgiveness of sin, the hope of the resurrection, and the sovereignty of God. 

The questions that Jesus asked can move you from just "knowing another thing" about some facet of Christianity to realizing what it means for you. (And I think He knew that when He asked them.)

Each chapter is short and to the point, making this ideal for a Bible study (one chapter per question) or as a faith-enriching read. 

I'll be shelving Israel Wayne's "Questions Jesus Asks: Where Divinity meets Humanity" near another similar book, "Dare to Answer: Eight Questions to Awaken your Faith" by John Busacker. 

I thank the author and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest opinion. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Wild in the Hollow~

Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home

I can read most books- even really good ones- without becoming viscerally involved in the reading experience. I can enjoy them, pick up wisdom from them, highlight and underline, and then place them on my keeper shelf, all without feeling like my chest is being cut open. 

Not so this book: "Wild in the Hollow," by Amber Haines. As I read the words of her story, my own wondering and wanting and worshipping was all brought to mind, and I had to stop reading and remind myself to breathe. I eventually took this book and went outside, and read in the green light of a summer dusk with the crickets calling. This was a book that, for me, begged to be read in nature. 

A word fitly spoken is magic and mystery. It is a gift to write that word and send it out to the world. 
I had Amber's words, sliding into my heart, slicing through me, resonating with what I know about being human. I had her story, lived somewhere else and begun a while before mine, reaching me here in my particular place. 

I could point to some of the many themes that come through Amber's story:
The God who gets low and who loves first and last and always.... 
The way we humans are small, and that smallness is poverty of spirit, richness in God... 
The times you're so aware of God that it feels like you're walking in "clumsy prayer"...
The recognition of goodness and glory all around. 

Ultimately, as I read, I heard Amber inviting me to listen: The Spirit and the Bride say "Come!" and the Kingdom is at hand. 

Do yourself a favor and make time to read this book. 

Thank you to Revell Publishers for providing me with a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest opinion.