Sunday, November 30, 2014

Watch for the Light

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

Watch for the Light~ Readings for Advent and Christmas. 

I've never formally observed Advent, unless you count opening the 24 doors on the Precious Moments Advent Calendar. 
In my circles, Advent was merely the countdown to the fun of Christmas day. 

Over the past year, my family has collected a small library of Plough Publishing titles. Each one has been challenging and enjoyable, the kind of book I look forward to sharing with people. 
A Plough Advent devotional was an ideal choice. 

Watch for the Light combines material from the ancient and modern voices, from every corner of Christendom. 
We have St. Chrysostom, John Donne, T. S. Eliot, Madeleine L'Engle and Philip Yancey. 
The selections also vary greatly in length and style. 
(This seems to be turning some readers on there heads. Most devotional entries are one paragraph long, paired with a single Bible verse. The editors here did not confine themselves to that mold.)

One reading was fourteen pages long- and worth every word, because it was written by Alfred Delp before he was hanged by the Nazis in 1945. 
Another was a few scant stanzas from Sylvia Plath, reminding us that: 
"Miracles occur,
If you dare call those spasmodic 
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's 
Begun again, 
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent."

Frankly, I don't see how these selections could be uniformly reduced to one paragraph. It would compromise them. And the diversity is excellent.

There's Brennan Manning, calling us to be "Shipwrecked at the Stable," captured by the pure Love that was suddenly seen enfleshed.

There's Karl Rahner- "We roll up all our needs and yearnings into one word: Come! And yet... could you approach any nearer to us that you did when you became the Son of Man, when you adopted our ordinary little ways so thoroughly? It is said that you will come again, and this is true. But the word 'again' is misleading... because you have never really gone away. In the human existence that you made your own for all eternity, you have never left us." 

There's Evelyn Underhill- "We have got to begin by a humble recognition that human things can be holy, very full of God... that all life is engulfed in him and he can reach out to us anywhere at any level."

There's Emmy Arnold- "The true Christmas experience is to feel that this Christmas peace is the greatest power; that even now on earth it overcomes all unpeace. That this peace shall come to all, that is the expectation and the faith of Christmas!" 

There's St. Bernard of Clairvaux- "Let the Word, I pray, be to me, not as a word spoken only to pass away, but conceived and clothed in flash that he may remain with us. Let him be, not only to be heard with the ears , but to be seen with the eyes, touched with the hands and borne on the shoulders. Let the Word be to me, not as a word written and silent, but incarnate and living..." 

There's Henri Nouwen, writing about the way Mary and Elizabeth and Anna must have waited- "Active waiting is to be present fully in the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it." 

Let me put it this way: Reading Watch for the Light will enlarge your concept of Advent. 
We live in Advent, waiting and working in anticipation; the Eternal Birth takes place in us; and the tidings of Goodwill go out ahead of us into 2015. 

Thank you Plough Publishing for this fine book. My last comment will be how well-made the book itself is,  a solid hardcover that's 327 pages long and feels good in my hand. It would last for years if you re-read it over and over.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Song~ Awaken Love Devotional

"The Song: Awaken Love" is a new devotional that draws inspiration and application that finest of Hebrew love poems, The Song of Solomon.

I have heard much good about Kyle Idleman's teaching, and this was the first work of his that I've read.
It's not a full-length book, coming in at about 70 pages, yet you can tell that Kyle wants to help people to make Scripture's truth the framework of their daily lives.
In this case, he's teaching about love, marriage, and romance.

And there's a lot of material to work with. Despite the Song itself being only a few pages long- it gets lost between Proverbs and Isaiah- the verses within paint a grand and glorious picture of connubial bliss.
It's enough to remind our disillusioned generation that romance is a God-idea, and that marriage can be an increasing companionship instead of a life sentence.

I like Kyle's Biblically-grounded optimism. He thinks that marriage is "a gift from God that keeps on giving." And his view is encouraging as you read.

Listen to some of his thoughts:

"Romance is nurtured by the feeling that God has given you a treasure and that you have the rest of your life to exult in that treasure. Together you'll take on every challenge life offers. Together: a beautiful word, one that brings contentment."

"We see in our mate what our heart knows we need the most. And if it happens that both of us are seeking Christ, the effect is magnified. Our attraction to Christ enhances our attraction to each other."

"Praise wholeheartedly! Don't be afraid to fly the flag of your love for your favorite human being. Since God loves for us to encourage one another, he'll suggest little things to you as you speak, things you might not have thought of before."

"Grace is cyclical. When we give it, we get it. But in marriage it's easy to live in a cycle of 'ungrace.' This when we make it our job to fix the other person."

In other words, this is good stuff here.

I'll be filing this book in my "Marriage/Family" section. Thank you Flyby Promotions for my review copy!

Kyle Idleman

Kyle Idleman is the Teaching Minister at Southeast Christian Church located in Louisville, Ky with over 22,000 in attendance every weekend. He's a guest speaker for regional and national conventions around the country and regularly speaks for some of America's most influential churches. 

He's the author and presenter of the award winning video curriculum H2O: A Journey of Faith as well as The Easter Experience. Kyle's favorite thing to do is hang out with the love of his life, DesiRae. They have been married for 15 years and have four children: MacKenzie, Morgan, Macy and Kael.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fierce Convictions


Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More--Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist

I knew nothing about Hannah More before beginning "Fierce Convictions." I've followed the author- Karen Swallow Prior- on Twitter for a few years, and I've read and enjoyed some of her articles on Christianity Today. 
I knew I wanted to try her latest book, so I was excited when Booklook Bloggers offered it for review.  I was even more convinced when I saw that Eric Metaxas wrote the foreword. After reading his biography of Bonhoeffer, I'm willing to trust his endorsements. 
He goes so far as to say that although it would be wonderful to have another William Wilberforce, what we really need is a crop of Hannah More's. 
Now if that doesn't intrigue you, what will. 
Hannah More was a woman of character, who sought to capture hearts and stir them to action through her words. And she succeeded, over eighty-eight years of life. 

Let me presume that I'm writing this review to fellow laypeople, who haven't read a ton of biographies and who have never heard of Hannah More. 
Is this book readable? Oh yes. It starts with an scene of Hannah and her sisters, the five More girls, all playing in their father's schoolroom after class was dismissed. Hannah insists that they pretend they're riding up to London, to see "Bishops and booksellers." From the time she was a schoolgirl, she knew that Truth was worth seeking, literature was a vehicle for truth, and ideas made the world go round.

As she grew, these perceptions of hers would be refined, words would be her craft, and the pen would be her instrument. 
Her goal can be summed up in a phrase that is used often in Fierce Convictions, to "captivate the moral imagination."  Whether she was writing poetry, plays, novels, or "Cheap Repository Tracts," she wanted to help you see the real world, God's world, and to live in it with dignity and decency. 
As an avid reader, I was underlining all through the sections on Hannah's views of stories and songs and how they can stir up a soul. 
The kind of literature we need today won't be exactly like "The Rougish Miller," but we most definitely need something that feeds that "moral imagination" and guides us toward righteousness. 

Obviously, you're not going to absorb everything in a biography right away. There are dozens of names, dates, and places that all connect to our main character, and it becomes easier to follow as Hannah comes into her own. So many times people will say "Look at how God used so-and-so. What a life, lived for His glory!" I always find it amazing, when I read a biography about one of those great lives, how many other lives touched theirs, and how many experiences they lived through before we hailed them as heroic. I guess it reminds us that a life given over to God's glory will be composed of daily faithfulness. That's how Hannah tried to live, whether she was mingling with high society or riding horseback for miles. 

It's also clear that the seeds for her legacy were planted in her youth.
When the five More girls were between twenty and eight, with Hannah at thirteen, they began a school. At sixteen, Hannah was teaching classes of young girls. The sisters all possessed sterling character, sharp intellects, and sound fiscal sense. And they were just barely "young adults." 
As a woman, she became a dear friend to Samuel Johnson, John Newton, and William Wilberforce. 
All three would invest their talents and strength in the fight to abolish slavery. Hannah's character would be further refined by her work, as she acted with conviction and reservation, passion and temperance, kindness and plain-speaking. 

She clearly desired a holistic Christianity, and she saw the Gospel reaching into every area of conduct, and informing her response to every social issue. 
(Is this exactly what we need today?) 
Her campaign for humane treatment for animals, her work in schools for poor children,  the village insurance collectives she helped establish, and her boycott of slave-labored West Indian sugar all flowed from the same convictions. 

In the middle of all these accomplishments, Karen Swallow Prior shows the tensions that Hannah lived with as well. Some of the good work she wanted to do was prevented by the customs and class structure of the age. Do you teach a poor child to read when he's destined to stay a servant? 
Hannah did not have an answer to every question, but the amount of work she did and effort she expended in so many arenas is remarkable. 
"A woman of letters" seems like a small thing, but it wasn't. 

I especially like this description of her character, quoted in Fierce Convictions from an earlier biography: "... the most implicit faith and the most devoted zeal in Christianity could consist with the highest mental attainments; and the most devoted piety was no obstacle to cheerfulness and humor."

This one's going on my history shelf next to Amazing Grace by Metaxas. Thank you to Booklook Bloggers for my review copy. My review doesn't do it justice, but I hope you're encouraged to try Fierce Convictions. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

On the Shoulders of Hobbits

On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis

C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. 
There are so many books written about these men and their work, and I own a selection myself: "The A to Z of C. S. Lewis" by Colin Duriez, "If I had Lunch with C. S. Lewis" by Alister McGrath, "The Spiritual World of  the Hobbit" by James Stuart Bell, "Finding God in The Hobbit" and "Finding God in the Hobbit" by Jim Ware and Kurt Bruner.... 

If you've been to Narnia or Middle Earth, you understand that one does not simply read those stories. It's more than processing words on the page. You live them, and they mark your mind with images and phrases that return to you over and over. When you call LOTR and Narnia "unforgettable," you're stating a fact, not mouthing a cliche. 

I can see why so many modern authors want to explore the legacy and the lives of Tolkien and Lewis, and I've enjoyed each supplementary wok that I've read. They've reminded me that small moments build to grand plots and heroes come when ordinary men are brave and giving. 

The newest addition to my collection is "On the Shoulders of Hobbits~ The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis."  And that's what Louis Markos is talking about: virtue.

The excellence that we recognized in the original tales- the glories that made our hearts beat faster- they're drawn out and expounded upon in this book. 
The fidelity and justice, friendship and courage. 
The longing for your own home and hearth when you're out in the dark and the danger. 
The hope of purity and restoration, even when all circumstances shout against it.
The rightness of a King with hands of strength and healing.
The truth that terror cannot cancel out all beauty. 

Louis Markos expands on each theme, cross referencing Narnia and LOTRs and quoting theologians and philosophers. His goal isn't to read anything into the text, or transplant "religion" into the world of Middle Earth. (Save your breath if you're going to make that claim.) 
Instead, he points us to Goodness, Truth, and Beauty in those worlds and reminds us to seek those virtues in ours. 
The authors of Narnia and LOTR knew what made a good story. They knew about death and life and sacrifice and hope. They were sub-creating after the pattern of our own Author, who writes the best Stories of all. 

Thank you to MP Newsroom for my review copy. I recommend this book.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Joy to the World...

Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does)

Joy to the World. That's an apt title, because Dr. Hahn makes the case that joy is at the core of Christmas.

This is my second book by Scott Hahn. I appreciate his writing because he connects the historical facts of what it meant to "them" back then with the timeless truth of what it means for us right now.
He takes his scholarly knowledge and pores over Scripture, then puts it all together amid conversational narration.

Dr. Hahn comes to the conclusion of Christmas joy after closely examining the Gospel accounts of the Nativity, adding relevant details and broad context.
And after reading through these fourteen chapters I think you'll be eager to receive that joy.

He begins by reminding us that the Nativity was an intimate scene, protected within a tender trinity of family. At the same time, it was a conquest more decisive than any army could bring about.

Dr. Hahn takes us through all the highlights of the story, encouraging us to slow down and look deeply.

We ponder the Town of Bethlehem, the City of David and the "House of Bread." The Son of David and the Bread of Life was born here. He tells us about several theories that make sense of the census, including one suggesting that is wasn't a tax census but a public oath of allegiance to Ceasar.

We talk about the chorus of angels, heavenly messengers with proclamations of goodness. Dr. Hahn suggests that we can learn from the Holy Family that God's angels are watching over us too.
He says it like this: "We live with the angels as friends." I really like that image.

He tells us about the Magi, those foreign stargazers, mysterious men who worshipped the infant Jesus. He quotes Origen: "Gold as to a king; myrhh as to one who was mortal; and incense as to a God."

We look at the midnight flight to Egypt, land of idolatry and place of shelter. We compare the life of Moses and Jesus, and we see that Jesus is the one who delivers his people from all bondage.

Joy to the World ends with an invitation.
Dr. Hahn writes: "We evangelize when we have ourselves a merry little Christmas and invite others to share it. That's the best way to evangelize friends, family, coworkers, and everybody else. Why? Because the world offers countless pleasures but no lasting joys. What Jesus Christ gives is joy, even in the midst of hardship and sorrow- even amid persecution, flight, and exile."

So prepare your home and heart for Christmas. Cram every corner with celebration. Whether the trappings are humble or extravagant, the joy is lavish and real.

Thank you Image Books through Blogging for Books for providing me with a review copy.
The above is my opinion. :-)

Scott Hahn

Dr. Scott Hahn was born in 1957, and has been married to Kimberly since 1979. He and Kimberly have six children and are expecting their fifth grandchild. An exceptionally popular speaker and teacher, Dr. Hahn has delivered numerous talks nationally and internationally on a wide variety of topics related to Scripture and the Catholic faith. Hundreds of these talks have been produced on audio and videotapes by St. Joseph Communications. His talks have been effective in helping thousands of Protestants and fallen away Catholics to (re)embrace the Catholic faith.

He is currently a Professor of Theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he has taught since 1990, and is the founder and director of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology. In 2005, he was appointed as the Pope Benedict XVI Chair of Biblical Theology and Liturgical Proclamation at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Time of Jesus: A Lift-The-Flap Book

Look Inside: The Time of Jesus: A Lift-the-Flap Discovery Book

Oh, how we love lift-the-flap books!
Who can resist peeking behind those little cardstock doors to see surprise scenes?

The Time of Jesus is a large board-book, with eight two-page spreads, and each spread has between two and seven flaps to lift. The illustrations are busy with people and animals and daily life going on.

The first is "A Stable at Bethlehem," and this spread includes travelers and a tiny donkey and puppies- count them 1,2,3,4,5!
(When you lift a small flap here, you see a mother hen and her chicks. The text says "Perhaps there were baby animals in the stable!")

The next one is "At Home in Nazareth," with women coming from the well and children playing games. Lifting the flaps reveals the inside of a synagogue and a carpenter's shop.

There is one, "By the Shore of Lake Galilee," and we see hard-working fishermen in their boats, Roman soldiers on shore, and children splashing in the water. Can you spy the goat stealing herbs from a woman's basket and a cat making off with a fish?

Then there's "Farm Country." A vineyard with a watchtower, a sheepfold, and a man sowing seeds. Again, kids can count the animals- birds, oxen, chicken, and yet another puppy.

Then there's "A Rich Man's Feast." This one shows honored guests and servants, around a bountiful table. Life the flaps to see the kitchen!

"The Temple in Jerusalem." This one shows priests with a shofar, penitents- some humble, some boastful, and a widow offering her only coin.

Then there is "A Roman Trial," a scene that somedays seems to make no sense to anybody, children or otherwise. How could we kill the very One who brought nothing but Light and Love and Life? Yet behind the flaps we see Pilate washing his hands, a soldier readying a whip, and a crowd deciding to free Barabbas.

And the last one.... "A Garden Tomb." The flap reveals that the tomb is forever empty, except for two angels.

I think my favorite part of this book is the way the captions reference parables and Bible stories without quoting them in full or explaining them.
It gives YOU, as the read-aloud person, the chance to tell the Scriptural story naturally, in your own way.

This makes our faith much more personal and precious, when it is woven into our daily words, and it becomes part of our very rhythm. Children will appreciate hearing you tell the story about the treasure hidden in the field, or the hired men waiting for work in an orchard, because when you tell it without the Bible in front of you it says you own it, it says it's inside you.

So I like that. The kids gets to peel the flaps up and then hunt for the next one, and we get to narrate a different part each time.

Thank you Kregel/Lion publishing for my review copy of The Times of Jesus. It will be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

For Such a Time as This...

For Such a Time as This: Stories of Women from the Bible, Retold for Girls

"For Such a Time as This" is a children's books designed to serve as an everyday companion without sacrificing its keepsake qualities.  
I think it will earn worn pages and a cracked spine- it certainly would have in my house!  

First, I want to talk about the way Angie Smith writes. It's beautiful, almost like a really good women's devotional, without ever being above a girl's understanding. 
She brings each account around to the way God's heart was displayed , and she shows the character's responses to him. We his grace and mercy and patience and hope- she points out his hand in each woman's life.  

And she uses words well. She reframes what the Scriptures tell us in a way that expands our imagination. 
These aren't narrow, flat, factual retellings. They're positive, imaginative renderings of God's revelation.  
Christmas is "One night where the ordinary kissed the sacred, never to be the same again." 
In Eden, "Life together was barefoot and perfect, every moment a gift from the Giver." 
Children will get these images. 
They'll get the idea that creation and life and goodness are tangled up, and they'll look for holiness in the middle of it all.

And now, take a look at Breezy Brookshire's illustrations. The colors, the lines, the movement! 
(The details... notice the koala bear she tucked into Shem's arms as they board the ark?)
As kids, my sister and I wore out Kenneth N. Taylor's Bible story book. We loved his artwork, yet he focused mostly on the masculine figures. This book features the feminine faces. 

We see lovely Rebekah, with her pure heart shining out of her eyes. 
We see the aged Anna, waiting for the Promised One. 
And Breezy even captured some of the more obscure women like Hagar, Rahab, and Gomer. 

We see Hagar collapsed in the desert, crushed by despair because her son is dying of thirst. 
Then we see her reviving Ishmael with the water the Lord provides. 
We see Rahab, on the roof, arms crossed, alone and broken. 
Then we see her crack open the door to the Israelites, the moment that changes her life.
We see Gomer for sale on the salve block, dressed in tatters. 
And we see her redemption, as she's welcomed home to her children.

B&H Kids provided a review copy for my, and in return I provided my opinion. Prepare to meet a new favorite author/illustrator team. And if your girl happens to be a budding artist, then the notes from Angie and Breezy on how the book was made will be fascinating. (My sister would have pored over these pages.) 

 Angie Smith is the wife of Todd Smith (lead singer of Dove Award-winning group Selah), author of I Will Carry You,What Women FearMended, and most recently Chasing God. She lives with her husband and daughters in Nashville, TN. Her first children’s book, Audrey Bunny, was published in October 2013. 

Nurturing children with beauty, goodness and truth as it is only found in God’s Word is at the core of Breezy’s vision for her art. She is currently working on a few children’s products, and shares a home studio with her sister, Emily Rose. Breezy is a 22-year-old follower of Jesus Christ, and lives in Indiana with her sister and parents.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Soul Tattoo.... Life and Spirit bearing the marks of God

Soul Tattoo: A Life and Spirit Bearing the Marks of God

Some people hate them, considering them frivolous wastes of money at best and bodily mutilation at worst. And some people wear them proudly, as living art, drawing their hopes and history on their skin.
Or as Samuel Kee says, "Tattoos are tributes to and trophies of what it means to be human."

So what if we had tattoos not only on our skin, but on our soul?
The kind that not even Wrecking Ball Tattoo Removal could take away?
The kind that we'd never regret? (Unlike that alligator tattoo on your leg....)
What if God stamped them on us before we were born?

Samuel Kee says that we do have Soul Tattoos. He says there are four main ones, each a statement of truth, that points us back to our core identity. He says we'll never outgrow them either-  instead we'll grow up *into* them.

 You are Mine. 
(This is God's first word to us. We are his, made in his Image. 
We are his in body and soul, created and redeemed. )

I will be with you. 
(This promise makes the world less frightening, because God doesn't just claim us- he keeps us. 
He doesn't just call us, he holds us.) 

I Love You.
(The words that leave us awed and glory-dazzled. The Divine love that called the world into being is not just a cosmic force. It's personal love, coming from a Person we can know.) 

I Created you for My Glory.
(This one is promises of our purpose. It says that we human beings 
possess worth and dignity, and that our work has meaning.)

In this new book, Samuel Kee leads us to consider each of these tattoos. 
As we read, we use our holy imagination to see them on our own soul, indelible reminders of who we are and where we are headed. 
And most of all we learn to see these tattoos as revelations of the One who placed them there.

(Note- one of my favorite sections was when Pastor Kee applied Isaiah 62:12 to the individual. He said we have four new names. "The Holy People." "The Redeemed of the Lord." "Sought Out." And "A City Not Forsaken." Each one tells us something about ourselves, but ultimately it tells us about God. Our new identity finds its source in his Goodness, Mercy, Grace, and Holiness.) 

So grab Soul Tattoo. And read it slow, with a pen to make notes. And be overwhelmed with the knowledge that God really does say that stuff about us, because that's the kind of God he is. 
And because tattoos are often big and colorful and obvious- you'll be inspired to start seeing these Soul Tattoos first when you look at other people, and the way you relate to them will improve. 

Thank you David C Cook for my review copy of this provocative and comforting book.

Sam is a pastor, author, and speaker.  He is the founder of the Hope Stands Ministry.
My mission in life is to rid the world of hopelessness through the message of God’s love.  I know, I know, that’s a big dream!
I grew up in a rural part of Northeastern Ohio in a family of artists, working on wrecked cars with my dad and writing poetry with my mom.  I wrestled from my elementary years into college.  I built log homes along with the guys at Capron Construction.
I was given a BA in Psychology (Ashland University) and a Masters in Divinity (Trinity International University).  I married an amazing wife, Shante’, and we have lived and served in churches in Ohio, near Princeton in New Jersey, and in the Chicagoland area.  We have two awesome boys, who are blessings from God and a lot of fun.
I also serve as a teaching pastor at North Suburban Church, in addition to serving as a chaplain at SkyWord ministries (an interfaith ministry at O’Hare Airport and Midway Airport), when I’m not playing with my boys, jogging, reading, or dreaming up some dreams.
I continue to be humbled by the fact that God found me and has had mercy on me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Alby's Amazing Book

Alby's Amazing Book is the story of a squirrel who adores adventure. And Alby's greatest adventures come from books.

(Illustrations show Alby tottering toward the Acorn Library, weighed down with a stack of books.) 

And one Book is the best of all. (We see Alby curled up in a tent with a lantern, reading his Book and snacking on milk and a cookie!)

That book is bursting with adventure! The illustrations show spear wielding giants advancing on Alby, Alby scaling a wall on a red cord with flames and rubble all around him, and Alby flying over the Tower of Babel, just for starters. We also see Alby in the boat with the fishermen as they haul in a rainbow colored catch, and Alby in a verdant green garden of Eden, and a massive blue-and-yellow whale with a gaping mouth trying to swallow Alby.

(You may have guessed what the book is....) 

I think a little person tucked into a parent's lap would enjoy this book. It's energetic, and bright, and the squirrel characters are terribly cute. 
The short statements that the text makes- "With his special story book there's NOTHING Alby can't do!"-  can be full of suspense if the reader speaks in a dramatic voice. And as you read you can point to the pictures and say "What Bible story does the giant come from? And the whale? And the beautiful garden?"  Yep. You can have a lot of fun with Alby's Amazing Book. 

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews for my copy. It's going in my children's book collection.

Catalina Echeverri is originally from Bogota, Colombia, and she speaks English, Spanish and Italian. She studied graphic design in Milan, Italy and completed an MA in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Arts (ARU). She loves to draw all of the time, and takes her sketchbook everywhere with her.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Small Talk- What Children Teach Us.

 Small Talk: Learning from My Children about What Matters Most

Small Talk- humor and reverence, insights and outbursts- it's all here.

Amy Julia Becker has written a book that I will be returning to. As she tells us, this isn't a parenting book filled with how-to advice. It's a collection of observations and conversations, scenes and stories inspired by her three kids.

And she's sharing them with us, divided by topic. We get musings on Easter, Friendship, Baptism, Church, Prayer, and a dozen other topics.

We get to hear about Penny, the eldest Becker child, who shows her Mom how to celebrate Christmas with all her heart. (As we move toward Christmas 2014, this was one of my favorite chapters. I'd say most Christians have wondered whether we need to shun the American abundance to get the focus back on Jesus. Penny leads the way in redeeming the celebration- giving, receiving, and delighting in the lights, songs, and wonder.)

We get the funny story about William accidentally eating a pear slice with Balsamic vinegar and saying "Quick! Yuck in my mouth! Pray for me!"
(Nothing like a child to remind us- Pray whenever something bothers you, right away.)

We get the tender moment between Amy Julia and the baby, Marilee, as they bond on a car ride to a doctor's office. Together they turned a difficult day- with double ear infections- into a time of sharing and loving.

All the way, as we laugh and groan and grow with the Beckers, we're encouraged to really look at the kids of all ages around us.
What are they trying to tell us? What do they see that they want to share?
We're reminded to engage with the "little ones"- and at the end of day we're all "little ones."

And we're encouraged to lean into the Love that surrounds us, the Love that flows through our family and finds its source in our Heavenly Father.

Thank you to Flyby Promotions and Zondervan for my review copy.

A word from Amy Julia's website...

I’ve wondered in the past if there is a thread that connects all the different topics I write about. Even to me, they sometimes seem unrelated: hope, grief, cancer, disability, theology, child-raising, education, Jesus, family. But what I have come to understand is that I am writing about what it means to be human. Moreover, I am writing about human perfection.
I used to think that human perfection meant human exceptionalism. Being more than capable. Through the experience of caring for my mother-in-law as she battled cancer, and through the experience of welcoming my daughter into this world after she was born and after she was diagnosed with Down syndrome, I realized that my understanding of what it means to be fully human was flawed.
 Jesus teaches that we should “be perfect” as our heavenly father is perfect, but the word translated “perfect” is actually the Greek word telos. Telos is a word that means, “that for which you were intended.” 
 The telos of human life is to discover who we are in God’s image. When Jesus says, “be perfect,” he could just as well have been saying, “Be who you were created to be.” 

And when we come to recognize one another as gifts-when the dividing lines of secular/religious, liberal/conservative, evangelical/mainline, gay/straight, disabled/able-bodied, rich/poor, black/white, are bridged-we get a glimpse of the kingdom of God among us. These moments and spaces, these points of connections, are “thin” places. The title of my blog, “Thin Places,” comes from a Celtic Christian idea that there are physical spaces where heaven and earth touch, where God seems more readily present, more easily accessed. 

And a Giveaway for one copy of Small Talk! To enter, comment and share a funny moment between you and a child. 

"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

 Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Fifth Gospel

The Fifth Gospel

The Fifth Gospel presents a vision of whole-life Christianity, the kind that spreads and deepens as it ages. 
Who doesn't want that? We have a generation of young people coming along, who want to follow Jesus closely. 
They will determine the face of the Church in coming years, and they need to find a solid footing for their faith. 

They need a foundation based on the consistent grace of God, not on "spiritual highs." 
They need to know the One who remains when everything else falls down.
And they need a way to share Him with the world that breaks the stereotype.
Unfortunately, most older people I know think of Christianity in terms of the ornate, ritualistic church of their youth, or the private-jet-owning celebrity preacher. 
Most young people I know couldn't picture a real world, working class, genuine believer. For the young people, daily life has nothing to do with "religion."

What both the old and the young need are some Fifth Gospel Christians in their lives. A Fifth Gospel Christian believes that life is itself a testimony, and that everyone around them is reading their testimony all day long. 

"Wait a minute," you may be asking. "Is this about selling Jesus by our lint-free clothes and our big coffee hour smiles? Are the card-carrying Ragamuffins going to be asked to shape up?" 
No. Fear not. How would hiding brokenness and weakness make us better witnesses? If the God we serve is a Healer and Redeemer, then how can we be afraid of our own sickness and wandering hearts? 

Bobby Conway describes a Fifth Gospel Christian as one who practices relational living, one who oozes joy, one who cuts down the idols that steal their love away from God and other people, one who is glad to be a fool for Christ, and one who knows that the fruit they produce is a work of the Holy Spirit. 

Doesn't that sound good? Consider this book your primer. 
To be a Fifth Gospel Christian will be a life time work. It will require sustainable spiritual practices, dedication to the ones around us, and an intentional abiding in Jesus. 

Thank you Harvest House for my review copy. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Lean on Me~ a Memoir of Community

Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Committed and Consistent Community

"Oh no," you may be thinking, "Not another book about that ubiquitous buzzword: community!"

Oh yes. And we need this book precisely because the author admits that community is a buzzword, the kind that sizzles a lot and promises a juicy steak.  You smack into the idea of ideal community everywhere, but the genuine article is rarer than rubies.  

We want community- we long to be seen, heard, loved, guided and included. 
But then again, what if community turned out to be stifling, oppressive, intrusive, and demanding? 

As Anne Marie knows, the desire to be embraced and the need for independence wage war within us. 
So how do we integrate? How do we share ourselves with others, how do we trust our hearts to others? 

"Talk with your doctor today, and see if community is right for you." Only, you can't prescribe a daily dose of it. 
Community doesn't come in a bottle, even if it is part of our cure. 

Lean on Me approaches the idea of community in a unique way, through memoir. 
Anne Marie tells us about the darkest months in her own life, when desperation drove her to make an SOS call- for community. 
She sought to build a team of friends because she knew she needed them, and she got far more than she ever imagined. 

She found people who reminded her over and over that her identity is in Christ. 
She found people who based their unity with her on that same identity. 
She found people who understood her current circumstances and helped her look toward hope. 
She found people who spoke the truth and encouraged her own bold honesty. 
She learned about giving and receiving love and care. 

And by telling us her story, the particulars of times and places and people, she hopes we'll begin to call out for our own community. 

And because it's a memoir, it's good reading. You'll cheer when you get to the last few chapters. :-)

Anne Marie Miller

Anne hasn't always been just a writer. For three years in the late 90s, she managed a profitable bookstore. She then took a year to learn the ins-and-outs of non-profit budget analysis. When she realized math was her arch-nemesis, she jumped into the world of communication, first as a marketing and business development associate for a top-50 and then as a graphic communications designer and ad copywriter. In 2003, she took her first ministry position and spent six years on staff at various churches in communication, technology and project management roles. In 2009, Anne left her steady paycheck and health insurance behind and currently desires to help as many people as possible as a freelance writer, strategy consultant, and all-around Jill of Most Trades. Anne has helped raise over $2 million dollars for various non-profit organizations.

Anne is an advocate for many great organizations. She was a cyclist on the 2010 Ride:Well Tour, a cross-country cycling tour in Summer 2010. The two-month long, 3000 mile trip from San Diego to Myrtle Beach raised awareness and funds for water projects in Africa. She's also a big fan of The Mentoring Project and To Write Love on Her Arms.

Anne Marie and her husband Tim, a youth pastor, live in Lubbock, Texas

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Sisters The Saints, a Memoir.

My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir

My Sisters The Saints~  

Once I began this book, I couldn't set it down any longer than was necessary. 
Colleen Carroll Campbell writes like she's talking to friends- she gives us the gift of her story and she tells it with intensity.

She asks a lot of questions- what does it mean to be a woman? 
What do I do about work and goals and choices? 
And how do I live through waiting and suffering and falling in love? 

Colleen begins with the day she realized that she wanted- needed- something more. She was a bright young college student with a promising future. And on that October morning all she felt was an ache. 
Something was lost and needed finding, or dislocated and needed healing, and she wasn't sure what it all meant. 

She never imagined that a dead saint, encountered through a old book, would speak words that soothed the ache. 
Theresa of Avila's life in the 16th century helped made sense of Colleen's 21st century experience. One may think that career ambitions, relationship struggles, and personal identity questions would have no reference in the life of a saint. Yet they do. 

And over the next decade of Colleen's life- when she publishes a book and becomes a White House speech writer, and lives with her dad's Alzheimer's diagnosis, and meets the man she one day marries, and then copes with infertility- she keeps finding strength and solace in the words of saints.

One by one, various female saints come into her life in the season she most needed them. 
Somehow these women address her reality, and point to their Jesus who redeemed them and guided them, offering Him to her. 

Therese of Lisieux- one of her father's favorite saints- lived the "Little Way" of completely trusting faith. 
That seems too simple in our intellectual age, but it was just what Colleen needed as she watched her father's faith become more childlike. 
Therese reminded her that great love in ordinary actions would sustain them. 

Edith Stein's writing came along when Colleen wondered why God would give her the longing for children *and* the burden of infertility. 
Edith affirmed these desires as holy and good, saying that every woman is called to nurture and bring forth life, whether or not she ever bears children. 
This spiritual maternity is not a second-place prize after biological motherhood, rather it's the heart of all motherhood. 

Theresa of Calcutta's private letters, published posthumously, met Colleen in the darkness after her father's death. The fact that this saint who lived with a "smile for Jesus" could feel absolutely bereft of God was a revelation. Her vulnerability taught Colleen "the promise of joy." 

This is a really good read, very much worth the time it takes. (And I also think you'll want to find some of the saints original writing when you're done.)

Thank you to Image Books and Blogging for Books for my review copy.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A lady at Willowgrove Hall...

A Lady at Willowgrove Hall (Whispers on the Moors, #3)

A Lady at Willowgrove Hall- book three in the Whispers on the Moors saga. 
What a lovely series this has been! 
I had never cared for the Regency period- the gowns, the hair, the courtly manners- but I truly enjoyed these books. 

In some ways, I liked this last one best of all. Cecily Faire is a winsome heroine, the kind who doesn't recognize her own worth. 
At sixteen this blacksmith's daughter was desperate for someone to love her. She chose Andrew Moreton, and they planned to meet and run away. When their secret romance was discovered, Cecily's father disowned her, separating her from her twin sister and leaving her at Rosemere girl's school. 

(Remember Patience Creighton, Headmistress of Rosemere from Book Two? Although she isn't a large character in this book, we see Patience's gentle influence mold Cecily into a fine, upstanding woman. The kind who would be hired as a companion for an elderly lady... a lady at Willowgrove Hall)

Cecily is about to meet Nathaniel Stanton, house and land steward of Willowgrove. Nathaniel is alert to any kind of duplicity or half-truth, because he's spent years living under a lie. Granted, it was a lie orchestrated to protect multiple parties, but it's a lie that cripples his future and restricts his hopes. 

Can these two become friends when they both have so much to hide? And will they come to love each other enough as human beings to risk sharing their pasts and embracing the future together? 

The joy of this book is watching it all play out, step by faltering, dancing, trembling step. You invest your emotions in Cecily's tale. 

Thank you Litfuse for my review copy. I'm delighted to have all three volumes on my Historical Shelf!

Sarah E. Ladd

 Every word has a melody.
Every sentence has a rhythm.
This truth has intrigued me since my early years. Even before I fully understood the meaning behind many of the words, I devoured literature and consumed poetry.
Austen, Alcott, Wordsworth: I left no piece of literature untouched, left no author unexamined. I continue to see magic in how a word is transformed by the word next to it and how written thoughts can incite emotion and evoke change.
In addition to a lifetime of writing and exploring fiction, I have more than ten years of strategic marketing and brand management experience, including five years of marketing non-fiction books and three years of marketing the musical arts. I live in Indiana and am blessed to share my life with my amazing husband, sweet daughter, and very lovable Golden Retriever.