Sunday, December 30, 2012

Book Review: An Adventure Awaits

   Bethany House Publishing provided a complimentary copy of Elizabeth Camden's Against the Tide in exchange for an honest review.  Meet Lydia Pallas, a half-Greek, half-Turk young woman who knows exactly how to order her life to protect herself from the chaotic past she has known since she became an orphan. As a language shark of multiple tongues she has landed a job as a translator for the Navy during the late 19th century that enables her to live above the poverty she knew as a young girl. While working under Admiral Fontaine, she meets Alexander Banebridge whom also has known a life of loneliness and disappointment. However, after his conversion to Christianity he leaves the world of opium trade to conquer the dark cloud that resides unbeknownst to the common American family.
    Bane recruits Lydia to help him banish the opium trade. In the process they find love and come to test where love can lead them. Bane and Lydia both come to terms with their pasts and find hope within one another. It is often when we see something of ourselves in someone else that we find ourselves at home in their arms. In the face of the dreadful Professor, an opium drug leader, Bane and Lydia find their purpose in life can be the work of a duet, rather than flying solo. Only time will tell if their will and courage can bring them through the adventure together.
    Camden has an easy way with words and a good grasp of the historical context of the subject. Not every author brings through such accuracy throughout their work. Against the Tide is more than an historical novel. It explores the depth of human emotion; the joys of love, the loneliness of self-exile, sorrow in loss, bravery in the face of adventure and determination to finish well. Even if the reader is not one to relish historical fiction one would still relate to the emotional depths that are delved into.
     I absolutely was captivated by the descriptive scenery and vivid pictures portrayed. I was transported to Boston in the late 1800s in a matter of pages. Camden created a heroine that wasn't overly macho or lost her femininity. Lydia Pallas was written with grace, eloquence and a strong spirit. She isn't the damsel in distress that needs her knight in shining armor to sweep her off her feet. Though her character has flaws and she did need some rescuing, she needed a man to come into her life to show her the way to our shining Light, Jesus Christ.
     The more I think about it, the more I realize that Against the Tide has left a lasting impression upon me. I will be quick to read Camden's next adventure. May you be carried as well into her adventures and find true North.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review: A Chronicle of Miracles

     BookSneeze on behalf of Thomas Nelson Publishing provided a complimentary book in exchange for an honest review.  Miraculous: A Fascinating History of Signs, Wonders, and Miracles by Kevin Belmonte is a nice account of God's handiwork through the ages. People throughout time have looked for signs and guideposts to indicate that a supreme being lives, is at work in their lives and to find hope life is not in vain. Miraculous first looks at the biblical record to note the more renowned miracles for the most part. Subsequently, in Part Two wondrous accounts through extra-biblical history are noted.
    Belmonte didn't fill the pages with grandiose miracles entirely, which no doubt need to be counted. However, he also included miracles that could only be deemed as such in hindsight. Some miracles are an accumulative effect of days of work such as Moody's meetings. Yet, no one should deny God's definitive signature on the work that was accomplished. The author also provided historical context to the commonly-read miracles of the Bible, so the layman can gain a deeper appreciation for exactly what God showed to his people.
     Usually, when I review books I post my review within a day or two of completing the book. However, I allowed this book to settle and simmer a couple of weeks. I enjoyed reading Miraculous, but I wasn't jumping up and down to dive in. I appreciate the acquired knowledge. Honestly, I preferred the second half, possibly due to the novel nature of the stories included. Maybe that is why I didn't know exactly how I felt overall about the book. There was a lot of ground covered, centuries worth in fact. It was a lot to digest and every morsel was worth it.
     Reading Miraculous also led me to conclude that the awesomeness and wonder of the Bible stories I read often have lost their lustre. God is still working, but my eyes aren't always looking. Belmonte wants to instill that sense of bewilderment and amazement back into our beloved Christian heritage. It is when we lose that wonder our faith suffers. We may not even realize that. So, maybe this book isn't the whirlwind of miracles I was expecting. It brought something much deeper, profound and intimate back into my spiritual life. This book is perfect for Christians in their various walks at different points. Now, I pray that we all have our eyes wide open and hearts willing to witness the Miraculous.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review: Read and Believe

     Bethany House has blessed me with a complimentary copy of Real Life, Real Miracles: True Stories That Will Help You Believe.  The news is filled with tragedy day after day. Many wonder where God is when atrocities occur. God is in the here-and-now. He didn't use up all His powers in times of old. In Real Life, Real Miracles authors James L. Garlow and Keith Wall want the reader to be encouraged as they read glimpses of God's presence in the lives of ordinary people. They introduce people who have been miraculously healed, assisted and protected. These encounters will fill you with hope and possibly open you up to divine encounters.
     The pages are filled with people facing desperate situations and trying circumstances. Many want to give up their will to live or lose their hope to heal. In their times of need, often at the crux of the unfolding drama, His light infiltrates the darkness and hope abounds. Some would say these moments are mere coincidences or chance encounters, however, these human beings will refute that and claim to know the Divine. Miracles are more than fortunate moments of chance, fate or luck, they are encounters with God, his presence and intervention. They are reason-defying, unfathomable-but-true events that only lend credence to His glory.
     At some points my analytical side wanted to investigate and calculate some of the stories. Yet, as I reminded myself of the nature of faith,  I was in awe at what God does in the midst of our current time. Every day is filled with heartache and yet, every day is filled with miracles great and small. Not all miracles are going to be world renowned, especially since many are quick to scoff at such thingsIn Real Life, Real Miracles Garlow and Wall taught me not to always pass by the little nuances of life that may hold supernatural significance. The spiritual world may not be tangible at all times, but when God does allow the supernatural to touch down on earth I want to make sure my eyes are open and my heart is engaged enough to recognize His still, small voice.
     The stories in Real Life, Real Miracles are of people who either had their eyes open to see the miracle before them or eyes that were opened in hindsight of their miracle. I couldn't count the number of times I shook my head in awe within its 257 pages. Every story kept my attention and made me wonder at the grand love, infinite grace and awesomeness of our God. This book is inspiring, enlightening and a joy to read. Garlow and Hall will reaffirm, strengthen or bring you to faith. This volume will leave the reader knowing only God can intervene and give one a real miracle.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Book Review: A Life Changer

     In exchange for an honest review Handlebar Publishing and Thomas Nelson Publishing furbished a complimentary copy of Bold as Love: What Can Happen When We See People the Way God Does.  Bob Roberts, Jr. is a pastor hailing from Texas with a heart to match. They say everything is bigger in Texas, well that includes Roberts vision for living out his faith. Jesus didn't know a stranger and called us to love as He does. Yet, in today's world of high-tech gadgets and a whirl-wind of a world many people don't even know their neighbors next door. Roberts wants you to step outside and engage with the world at hand and possibly from afar.
     In Bold as Love  the author confronts Christians with the sobering reality of our daily interactions, or lack thereof. Can anyone say that your life is different because you are a believer? Do you know no stranger? As our world becomes more integrated with the world at large and more of our neighbors come from various religious backgrounds we need to befriend them and understand them. What that requires of us may be scary or come at a cost. But, isn't that the point to live out your love boldly?
     I was surprised and excited as I stepped into Roberts life. His love is bold and takes precedence over any fear. It is inspiring to see how one man's vision can lead many others to come out of their comfort zones and develop relationships that may last a lifetime. His vision has led him across the globe and back and has helped Muslims, Jews and Christians among others, to learn it is okay for our worlds to collide and propagate an environment where questions are allowed. His focus is not for inter-faith tolerance, but for multi-faith love.
    As I read I was required to look inside at my own heart and some of it I didn't like. Bold as Love lays out a practical way to reach out to others letting go of fear, living in faith and serving from the heart. Reading Bold as Love was an eye-opener, yet a real treat to read.
     This book would be great for many Christians, if not all followers. Roberts is honest and blunt. He doesn't shy away from sharing his misgivings in certain situations. He puts his love on the line as Christ does, as should we all. Bold as Love is a book of beauty, love and great boldness.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Review: The Saga Continues to My Delight

     Bethany House Publishers provided a complimentary copy of Taming the Wind in exchange for an honest book review. Tracie Peterson has wowed me again with the third installment of the Land of the Lone Star series. The Civil War is still fresh in the minds of many folks out in the west. Tensions are high between the opposing Union and Confederate soldiers and the citizens out in Texas are on edge. This volume picks up shortly after Brandon and Laura had moved out of Corpus Cristi to establish a ranch and a family of their own.  Widowed Carissa Lowe joins her pregnant sister and brother-in-law at the ranch with her two-year-old daughter, Gloria, to help out.
     Tyler Atherton, a friend of Brandon, periodically pops up at the ranch for a visit. It soon becomes apparent Carissa has captured his heart. However, Mr. Atherton is a man of his word and doesn't want to promise a future to anyone, especially to Carissa and Gloria, if he is uncertain he can deliver. Carissa keeps a guarded heart after the abuse she suffered at the hands of  Malcolm Lowe. As she allows God's love to fill her heart, He opens her heart to new possibilities. While Tyler and Brandon are out on a months-on-end cattle drive up north both, Tyler and Carissa acknowledge their growing love for one another. Just when Tyler thinks he will be able to proclaim is heart to Carissa, she goes missing.
     It is no wonder Peterson is such an accomplished author. Her stories are complicated and intricate without losing focus on the character development and main plot line. She carries the characters from one saga to the next seamlessly while allowing Carissa's story to step into the foreground and Laura's to the back. We first met Carissa as an immature teen wanting to play in a grown up world in Touching the Sky. In this volume, the reader witnesses Carissa crossing the threshold into womanhood. The emotions are tangible and real that all can relate to in some manner. Nothing is written so fanciful or unrealistically that you know without a doubt this is a work of fiction. Rather, the reader will be captivated with each facet of the story and entangled that it is hard to put the book down.
     In fact, I read the first fifty pages in one sitting and I was so much enamored with the story, the next sitting I read through the end, page 324, closing the book at 3:30 in the morning. So, I recommend you pull out your copy of Taming the Wind before dusk. One thing is for certain, I must get my hands on the first installment of the series. If the story of the Marquardt girls continue I will definitely be following their journey.

Here is the link to the review of  book #2, Touching the Sky.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book Review: Stabilize Your World

    BookSneeze on behalf of Thomas Nelson Publishing provided a complimentary copy of Globequake: Living in the Unshakeable Kingdom While the World Falls Apart in exchange for an honest review. Author Wallace Henley provides guidance to find stability and comfort for the reader in the midst of turbulent times. Looking at the headlines of the nightly news one is submerged into insecurity, insanity and instability. Businesses are collapsing, morality is plunging into the depths of darkness and deceit and families are being ripped at the seams. The changes around us are coming so rapidly that it is hard to make heads or tails of as many current events. What can one make of this? Is there any place to find solace and refuge?
    Many people seek comfort in the material wold, turn to drugs and alcohol or other deadly vices. Henley offers the reader the only lasting  source of comfort that can be applied in every domain and sphere of life: the life of Jesus Christ. The earth can quake, the floor can slip beneath our feet, all else can crumble around us, while the Kingdom of God will stand firm and steady. Henley paints a grim picture of what is happening around the world that can lead to confusion and fear. Further into Globequake he then breaks down the problems that beset our days and then in subsequent chapters gives biblical counsel to steady our gaze and plant our feet on terra firma. People need to live intentionally and have clear cut visions, values and missions in view for various avenues of life, hopefully all of which head in the same direction.
     This book was not what I expected. It was better and more concrete.The suggestions made are biblical, wise and practical. Henley doesn't provide a list that seems impossible to implement. What is your vision? What are your values? And what is your mission as a family? a person? a church?
    As a mother, I appreciated his sage advice that stability begins in the home. It starts with the individual. Our children's schooling and training is an integral part to stabilize our changing society. Instead of feeling hopeless and desperate as we look around at the crumbling pillars of society, we gain hope as we look to our Savior. He alone can hold us up. Nothing can conquer His Kingdom. That message permeates Globequake.
     Globequake is enjoyable to read, not that the news isn't discouraging at times. The delivery of the bad news is written in such a personable manner, the impact of the punches is tolerable. That and hope is quick to follow. Whether Henley is speaking of the person, the church, the family, education, government or the business market he brings stories throughout history to back his thought process and provides clear vision throughout. In about 250 pages, one can grasp the hope we have in God alone and gather valuable input to make their world a lot more sturdy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book Review: Your New Bible Companion

     Recently I had the privilege of reading a complimentary copy of 90 Days Thru the Bible: A Devotional Journey from Walk Thru the Bible from Tyndale Momentum in exchange for a review. 90 Days Thru the Bible will guide the reader to a better, overall understanding beginning with the book of Genesis through Revelation. How would one compile the gist of the Bible within 216 pages to be read in 90 days? To begin with, very precisely. Remember your days in high school and college and you ran out of time to read the assigned reading in its entirety? A student could run to the book store and grab the book's accompanying Cliffs Notes and get the rundown of the story. Ninety Days Thru the Bible is the biblical equivalent to Cliffs Notes with heart, for the Bible. I loved it!
    Walk Thru the Bible with Chris Tiegreen has truly brought believers a book that grasps the scope and breadth of the Bible within relatively a few short pages. Every day's devotional is two to three pages in length and can be read in under ten minutes (that would be a slow, perusing pace). Some books of the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, can be hard to ingest with various foreign names and customs,whether one is a new believer or a seasoned Christian.  Not only does the day's reading bring stories to light, but 90 Days Thru the Bible lays out doctrine and personal application.
     I remember when I was a young believer and sat in the pew wondering whom some of these characters were that were new to my ears. Soon I became acquainted with my Bible, however this devotional would have been  a greatly appreciated companion to explain what I was reading and trying to learn. No doubt the learning curve may not have been so steep. For example, looking at the books of I and II Kings at first glance is like learning a foreign language and history at once between the names of kings and their reigning dates. How great it is to read a summary of the books in 90 Days as a preface to the Bible.
     Again, most believers will gain a better grasp of God's Word in this precise, concise, condensed book. Every devotion is enjoyable and informative. At the end of each day a question or two is posed to the reader to internalize what was just read and to derive practical application from the selection. Included in the back of the book is a 13-week study guide which could be used individually or in a small group setting. I would personally use it as a guide as I read my Bible to truly penetrate God's Word. No matter if you are on a short- or long-term quest 90 Days Thru the Bible  will be a welcomed companion for  your journey.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Review: Fearless if You Dare

     Chosen Books provided a complimentary copy of Fearless Daughters of the Bible in exchange for an honest review. Author J. Lee Grady wants to empower women in the church. Through the biblical accounts of women who fought for something they passionately believed in to modern day women pioneers Grady shows that women are not meant to be relegated to the corner of the room. Some of these women stood steadfast against tradition, their past or injustice. Others went on to protect their people, live with courage or worship freely. The message is: you can, too.
      Grady is discontented with nature of women's role within the church today. Whether it is due cultural mandate or religious indoctrination he feels women have been told to be passive, quiet and  timid. Miriam's worship is anything, but passive. It is passionate and uninhibited. Ruth's move onto Boaz's threshing floor was bold and risky. So, why are women told they cannot take the lead? Here is where I had a little trouble swallowing this author's theology.
     A fine line distinguishes leadership and brazen disobedience. I do not believe women should pastor, however he does as he mentioned some women who do lead churches as examples. Here's my suggestion, Read at your own discretion. There are many perfectly biblical examples that are kosher with my doctrinal views. I do think some of  Grady's empowering encouragement could be contorted in some reader's minds and be taken to an unbiblical application. Frankly, some may categorize this as feminist propaganda.
     With that said, I did enjoy some of the chapters in Fearless Daughters of the Bible. He does give some good pointers to overcome some of our past issues that may be hindering us from living fully for God's kingdom. The questions posed to the reader are thought-provoking and interesting. I appreciated that lesser known women of the Bible were included and expanded upon.
    Fearless Daughters of the Bible may be a great fit for you. This book wouldn't stand well with reformed or evangelical audiences. However, if you dare to pick this one up may you will become fearless in your faith and stand beside some other fearless female saints.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review: Read at the Feet of Jesus

     BookSneeze on behalf of Thomas Nelson Publishing graced me with a complimentary copy of Jesus: A Theograpy in exchange for an honest review.  Authors Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola set out to bring together a look at Jesus' life as well as the theology behind the narrative. They certainly accomplished their goal. Not only does the reader see the historical figure of Jesus in a biographical frame, but also the emotions, beliefs and cultural background that drove Jesus to act.  Drawing from history and cultural insights the childhood and preceding years before His ministry are touched upon, which is rather rare.
     Most begin the Jesus narrative in the manger, however Sweet and Viola began where the story begins at Genesis, even a bit before as God has always been. From beginning to eternity the authors connect the dots for the reader and bring them into the story. The book points the reader to the First Testament archetypes and the fulfillment of them in Jesus in the Second Testament. The parallels that are drawn out in black and white are astounding and humbling. If every intricacy is brought into the scope of His truth and therefore a believer's faith no one can deny His abundant love for His creation. They also wisely chose to look at the Bible as one narrative, rather than two, adamantly proclaiming the same God is present in both Testaments. The Old Testament and New Testament are referred to as the First Testament and Second Testament respectively, to drive the point home.
     Jesus isn't a book to casually keep at the nightstand and pick up occasionally to cure insomnia. The breadth and depth contained in the book is staggering and could be read many times over. Sometimes I have a hard time engaging in my current read which at first was the case with this one. Once, I was midway into it I wanted more and more at the turn of every page. Sweet and Viola they don't simply tell a story; they walk with you through the story. I found my heart thumping in anticipation at the Cross with tears blurring my vision. I was convicted of sin as Jesus' love played out through history. 
     If you want to meet Jesus for the first time pick up this book. If you want to know Jesus better and more intimately grab this volume and dig in. If you want to study Jesus' life and see in between the lines of the Bible start here. If you want to invigorate your walk come join His journey again. Emotionally I became intertwined with Jesus more than I was before. I hope Jesus is more than you can imagine and bears witness of His story.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Book Review: Beauty from Ashes

     Tyndale Publishing provided a complimentary copy of Tangled Ashes in exchange for a review. Author Michele Phoenix transports the reader back in time to Lamorlaye, France during World War II. First the reader is introduced to two women, more like teenagers, that are hired to work at Meunier manor which has been made into a Nazi headquarters. One of them meets a soldier and love ensues. Although the two French women, Marie and Elise, only took the jobs to supplement their families meager existence,  they end up in midst of a medical experiment of Hitler's regime.
     In alternating chapters, the reader will be transported back into the 1990s and meet the reclusive architect, Marshall Becker. He is hired to restore the manor to a time of great splendor and majesty.  The owner envisions an inn of the highest quality and puts his trust into Becker to bring that vision to reality. As he begins the restoration, Becker finds himself fighting his own demons and the distant memories of a time past at the manor.
     The character development throughout Tangled Ashes is profound and palpable. Becker, whose life is but a facade, becomes a part of a personal restoration project. Due to his past hurt, he barricades his heart in anger lashing out at anyone who comes too close. Jade, the nanny of the owner's children, tries to mask her issues with a happy, joyful front. Yet, her strong will and determination to live life well enables her to confront Becker's addictions. Then, there are the elusive characters that come and go. As I read this story, the mystery that shrouds these characters is slowly lifted. Towards the end of Tangled Ashes one knows they tie the two story lines together.
     I literally could not put this book down. I read it's 371 pages in less than a day. I simply had to know what the next chapter held. I realized the past year how much I enjoy historical fiction. The story's intricacies made this one top-notch. It is gripping, engaging and enticing. It is thought-provoking and sad, hopeful and deep. Sometimes I wanted to slap Becker awake to the life in front of him that he protects himself from. At other times, I wanted to reach into the abyss and trace the footsteps of  Marie and her flight to freedom.
     Tangled Ashes is not a book you will likely forget anytime soon. The story is too riveting for that. The tragedy in it pulls you in and the hope keeps you looking forward. Something beautiful emerges from the ashes. This is a love story, but not a romance. The end is unexpected and memorable. If you are a historical fiction fan Tangled Ashes will be one to add to your collection and sit well above the rest. I cannot wait to read more from Michele Phoenix.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Book Review: What We are All Reeling For

     In exchange for an honest review WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing provided a complimentary copy of The Fourth Fisherman: How Three Mexican Fisherman Who Came Back from the Dead Changed My Life and Saved My Marriage.  One man is in the storm of life; three fisherman are literally enduring a storm. One man is trying to stay afloat in life; three fisherman are trying to stay afloat for their very lives. Author Joe Kissack seemed to have it all: a high-powered media career, a supportive wife and two little girls to cap off his success. From the outside he was no doubt the envy of many.  Inside he was a mess and eventually grabbed on to alcohol and medications when what Kissack really needed was a Lifesaver. It took years of self-destruction before he grabbed hold in faith to Jesus Christ.
     Five Mexican fisherman set sail one day only to meet a storm that changed their lives forever. Between sea turtles and sharks, God's Word and faith three of the men survived ten months lost at sea. Now, I'm sure you are wondering where in the world do these two seemingly unrelated stories intersect? By divine appointment and drive. Kissack recounts his lows and his track to a spiritual top. After committing his life to Christ, entering an outpatient rehabilitation center and counseling with his wife does he begin to see life for what it is, the inherent value within. Subsequently, he hears the story of the fisherman on the news and knows he must meet these men. He sees himself in them, in their trials and hardships, perseverance and faith. It was not to be a part of the media circus, but to uplift these men and other's through their story. Even today Kissack is still a part of this quest.
    As I read the first chapter I was wondering how arrogant is this author and what kind of book is this. As Kissack recounts his story one realizes how far he has come emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. We all build walls to protect ourselves and now he is showing what is were made of. Many can learn from him and be driven to faith or a faith of deeper content when we let our walls come down. Even in the stories of the fisherman Kissack explains what makes these men who they are.
     The Fourth Fisherman demonstrates that no matter what our circumstances are we will all face storms and have a choice. We can either reach for temporal, worldly things of insignificance or turn to our faith that will sustain us. Just as Kissack learned God has plans greater than we can fathom and plans that are beyond ourselves. Now that he sees that, he has been able to use his life experiences, talents and passions to further God's kingdom.
     I am utterly amazed by his concise writing skills. The author was able to pen a lifetime's worth of highs and lows, while retelling the story of the fisherman in a book a little over 200 pages. The chapters are short which makes it a nice and light read, yet each chapter encapsulates significant information. If you are sinking in the sea or know someone who is The Fourth Fisherman would be an ideal place to reel in some inspiration. You may just hook onto the Lifesaver.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Book Review: Another Lucado Best

    BookSneeze on behalf of Thomas Nelson Publishing has graced me with a complimentary copy of  Lucado's latest, Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine in exchange for a review. The word grace seems simple enough, yet it is God's love gift to his children that is indescribable. Through personal accounts, biblical narratives and beautiful imagery grace seems a little easier to grasp after reading Grace. Mr. Lucado captures the meaning of grace, what it looks like lived out and how to accept the greatest God-given gift ever.  So many people seem to live with their pressure guage pushing the limits trying to work their way into heaven. Lucado points the reader to a way that is by far easier and more sound. God's grace will cover you, change you and bring you a little closer to heaven.
     Author Max Lucado has penned another best-seller on a topic he has covered before. Which doesn't sound like much of a compliment, does it? I write that with the utmost respect for the author and his work as I am a fan. In fact, out of all of the authors I have read, Lucado stands out to me as a man who knows grace well. However, God's great grace cannot be contained in a few pages or even a few books. Lucado could keep delving into the depths of grace and never quite capture its magnificence. And yet, Lucado makes a beautiful go at it with words that seem to flow from his soul onto the page.
     I was surprised to see this book was a little over 150 pages long. Here's my reasoning. Grace is a great theological topic and one would assume many words could be, or even should be, devoted to such a topic. But, that is where the magic of Max Lucado, well God's inspiration, comes into play. He has a way with words that can elaborate on a topic and vividly capture the subject matter without getting too preachy or wordy. 
     Grace is a book for the new believer, the mature Christian or the searching unbeliever. Basically, the book will attract a wide audience. It would be a great volume to add to your collection, to study grace further or share with a neighbor. A nice, comprehensive study is included in the latter part of the book. May you know God's grace and experience it fully. Blessings!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Trees Lean and God Speaks

     Yesterday, I realized the kids and I had not visited the park in a while. Today we capitalized upon the fall weather and drove over meeting quiet and solitude as no one else was around. This morning was slightly cool, a welcomed relief to this summer's multiple heatwaves, and beautiful. My eldest son came and sat on the bench beside me. I was afraid he had decided he was too old to play on the equipment now that he has hit the ripe-old age of 10. Much to my delight, he simply wanted to sit by his mommy.
     Then my daughter joined us on my other side. In that moment I realized my kids can enjoy peace and quiet, even if it was only to last a few minutes. Gabriel commented on the eastward lean of the trees. I asked if he knew why and of course, Mary had to have the answer. I say "of course" because she has always tried to keep pace with her older brother in wit and ability. Right then, we had a "God moment." You know those moments when it is the beautiful whisper of the Spirit gently showing you a truth. God breathed life and we had one of those!
     I began to explain that the pine trees grew with the wind, as it is easier to go with the flow, rather than stand up against it. Now that wouldn't be a useful analogy if we were talking about the conformity society likes to pressure everyone into. However, as an analogy to teach my children about the storms in life the analogy proved useful and quite profound. I wonder how many times I have tried to stand firmly against the storms that have blown into my life and have ended up in the eye of the storm, the exact place I feared and dreaded.
    When God allows a storm to blow into town, we have a choice to resist or to bend like the trees. The tree branches would snap like twigs if they fought the wind.  Today, I saw something new in those crooked pines. They had not allowed the winds to inhibit their growth, but allowed them to steer them in a certain direction. I have always been fascinated with trees. Their very presence seems to speak to me. When I think of a tree a crooked one doesn't come to mind. Instead, tall, majestic trees towering over me paint my imagination. Yet, there they stood this morning, crooked and beautiful.
     Our lives can take on many storms if we learn to blow in the wind with God and let Him steer us. As I have learned to bend my life isn't filled with as much strife and struggle. Sure there are still troublesome clouds hovering overhead and the nasty winds that bring them, but the difference is I know every storm is guiding me on the course God has planned for me. Ususally, if I am looking for His glory in the midst of the storm a beautiful rainbow graces my sky. If we are wise and learn from the past storms we can find there are many blessings as we lean into our Savior's guidance.
     My kids listened intently, thoughtfully even. Then they raced back to the playground and played joyfully. Today I am thankful for so much, for my children's delight and laughter, the trees and His truth, and for God and his brilliance.  I pray my children will lean with the wind and see His glory always.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book Review: Good Read to Find Your Way

     I would like to thank BookSneeze on behalf of Thomas Nelson Publishing for a complimentary copy of Phil Cooke's One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do. It seems simple enough, just state your big purpose in life. Do you find yourself stumbling for an anwer? Many of us find ourselves running around the world trying to make heads or tails of our day-to-day lives. Where does that leave your purpose? Often in the muck and mire of busyness. Phil Cooke sets out on a mission to lead the reader to their life's "one big thing." Since, we are not made from a cookie cutter and are unique in our own ways, it can be hard to find our purpose when the world wants to press you into its mold. However, this book allows you to discover what makes you you and what direction that can lead you in.
     In 171 pages, Cooke asks you a series of questions and manages to complete his part in this mission. Once you understand your "thing," what then? One Big Thing helps you pinpoint your purpose, explains perception and image, how to take charge and navigates you in the right direction. Please don't misunderstand, Cooke does not tell you what to do, but inspires you to set out on your own course. He also brings many examples of success and failure to the table to illustrate where good and bad choices matter. The masters of different fields did not find their callings by accident, but by understanding their hearts, recognizing their talents and having the drive to do something about it.
     Honestly, I was quick to judge. I believe I made a sound such as, "Ugh!" or that dreaded, sarcastic, "Oh, this is going to be fun." Apparently, the adage, "Don't judge a book by its cover," should also be applied to the first few pages. Usually, I know better. How wrong I was. Let me just say, by the end of the book I had admit what my "one big thing" is, in affirmation of my suspicions and trepidation. Not only that, I thoroughly enjoyed every chapter (even the first by the end).
     One Big Thing is not an easy answer to your life's mysteries. However, it may be the catalyst you need to boost your life and get it off the ground. Cooke's book brings you the questions that will help you discover who God has created you to be. As a note, I found it refreshing to see a person entwined with the entertainment industry successful, yet faithful to our God. Bravo, Mr. Cooke. My dear, fellow reader, may you discover your One Big Thing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Review: Interesting to Say the Least

     Chosen Books recently sent a complimentary copy of Help for the Fractured Soul in exchange for an honest review. Author Candyce Roberts delves into her years of experience in prayer ministry to guide others to help hurting people. Help for the Fractured Soul: Experiencing Healing and Deliverance from Deep Trauma  is geared for ministry leaders, counselors and prayer partners. When children are abused they often develop fractured souls or different personalities to endure the abuse. As adults these people are so fragmented they find it difficult to cope and function in life.
     Roberts not only provides her real-life experience helping these people to allow their personalities to integrate, she brings biblical examples into account as well. The book contains case studies of lives healed and of lives that remain broken. The author does not whitewash her painful disappointments which I found refreshing and encouraging. Not every person is willing to let go of their pain. We can only help others as much as they allow us to.
     Help for the Fractured Soul provides tools to facilitate healing in a manner that is easily understandable and pragmatic. Roberts not only includes information as to how to help others, but also how to prepare yourself and maintain a healthy relationship with the patient. I honestly was not aware of the depth of pain this book was going to look at. I would have to advise that the reader be a bit more advanced in the area of biblical counseling than I am. I learned a lot and do hope to apply the knowledge I acquired.
     This book is biblical, practical and extremely interesting. If any one is looking to further their prayer ministry or counseling Help for the Fractured Soul is definitely one to add to your library.

Check out Nick Vujicic's Latest: Unstoppable

     I am SO excited about this upcoming release from Nick Vujicic. In fact, I would say I am giddy. Nothing about Nick's message shows God's love and grace more than his radiant joy. Sure he is what we would consider handicapped, but Nick doesn't let that stop him from living out God's love, joy and peace. It is not that he dismisses his physical limitations, but embraces them and finds a new way for common everyday tasks. Mr. Vujicic understands his story is a part of His greater, larger story.
     Just a couple weeks ago my family had the honor of hearing him speak at Greg Laurie's Harvest L.A. It was truly the highlight of our day. My daughter is absolutely amazed at the life Nick leads as am I. God has used Nick to lift people up from an eight-year-old girl to a mom of three in my family alone. It is incredible to see Nick's reach across the globe.
    So, to get everyone pumped up about Unstoppable slated to release in two weeks WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing has given us a sneak peek. Check out the trailer below. I really hope you are as inspired as I find myself every time I see or hear his story. Enjoy, be inspired and live life for God's glory!

Read the first chapter from Unstoppable here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review: It May Help You Find Your Fill

      I recently received a complimentary copy of A Sudden Glory: God's Lavish Response to Your Ache for Something More from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing in exchange for a review. Everyone is born with a longing for more, a hole to fill. Author Sharon Jaynes refers to that void as a "glory ache." It is our innate desire for God that sends us on a quest to fill that hole. Until we understand the "glory ache" we will continue to fill it with worldly pursuits.
     The book's premise is based upon Acts 17:28, "For in him we live and move and have our being." Jaynes guides the reader to find that holy union with God. She shows you how to live and move and have our being with God. It is an every day awareness of His presence that will help us live in the Kingdom. A Sudden Glory invites you to see God's glory in the little moments, as well as the bigger ones, the happy ones and the most difficult. When the sunset speaks to your heart that is the Spirit seeking union with you. When your loved one passes He will show you His love in the thick of the pain, if you are willing to see. God is always seeking us out as a lover courts his beloved. It is when a woman realizes that she is beautiful in His sight and sought after, she will realize she is a part of the greatest love story of all.
     I was mesmerized by the author's eloquent dance with her pen. The words glide seamlessly from one page to the next. Jaynes uses a rather ornate vocabulary to paint a vivid portrait of God's love. Her joy of writing comes to life for the reader. Every chapter flows together connecting the various parts to make a cohesive whole.
      When I began reading I had planned on seeing a one-two-three, do-this-and-find-God approach. Instead, the book is more of a guide to activate a new way of thinking rather than a manual. Some may be disappointed that A Sudden Glory does not tell you what to do. However, as I read through it I found my thinking more upon the Lord. I was more aware of His presence and enticements to draw me near. His glory truly abounds every day
     A Sudden Glory exceeded my expectations. Although I do hold low expectations, particularly with an author I am unfamiliar with, as to not be disappointed. My bar could have been raised and the book still would have surpassed those standards. In the back there is a nice study that goes chapter by correlating chapter. It would be a wonderful gift for the struggling believer or a great addition to center your attention upon our Greatest Love. This book will woo you with beautiful writing as God woos you with his glorious, infinite love.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: Introducing 20+ Religions

     Bethany House Publishers furbished a complimentary copy of  Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day by Garry R. Morgan. Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day is a small, enjoyable guide to over 20 world religions. The author introduces you to many religions from Christianity to Buddhism to animism. There are so many religions in the world today it is hard to make heads or tails of many of them. Morgan recognizes the  varying sects and beliefs within each religion, but tries to give a brief generalization of the main practices, histories and beliefs.
      Some religions are given several chapters to do the depth and prevalence in our world. It must be noted that Morgan is a Christian. However, he attempts to write with a neutral, unbiased perspective. A couple of times a Christian perspective abounds. Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day is a great reference book, particularly for the Christian who wants to evangelize others of various beliefs. It is crucial to have a grasp of other religions to show respect for unbelievers. Without this knowledge one could easily offend another person without realizing their blunder.
     Other readers will find this volume enjoyable simply because it is extremely interesting. Society has become so diverse with modern-day travel and technology we are bound to meet others of differing backgrounds and beliefs. If nothing else, the reader will close the book with a better understanding of other people and their world views. I certainly did.
     Each of the 40 chapters were short and concise. There were only a couple of chapters I found dry. Other than that I have no complaints. Do not expect to be a master of theology after reading this. Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day will inform the reader and possibly whet their appetite to further their religious studies. Whether it is picked off the bookstore shelf as another read, a beginning study or to equip oneself to evangelize this book will certainly hold your attention. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Book Review: Fell for this Fiction

     Bethany House Publishers provided a complimentary copy of Touching the Sky in exchange for an honest review.  The Civil War has just ended when Laura Marquardt finds herself in the midst of the lingering smoke in Corpus Christi. Her family was ousted with many others that supported the Union's cause who now truly want to move forward with their neighbors. Miss Marquardt wants to follow her faith and help educate the recently-freed slaves. However, some in the town want to further define those dividing lines that many men had lost their lives trying to blur.
     Laura's sister weds a man she has hardly any knowledge of and gives into her heart's enchantment. It is only after the wedding she understands Laura's numerous warnings were meant to protect her from her husband, a Confederate soldier, and not out of jealousy. When Laura foils the plans of her brother-in-law's posse she valiantly looks death in the face to save her sister and the lives of Union soldiers.  Despite the lingering heartache she meets Union Army Captain Brandon and realizes she has fallen for the handsome man faster than she thought possible. It is here Laura learns that sometimes one must follow their heart.
     Well-renowned Christian author, Tracie Peterson, manages to capture a vast array of emotions with depth and clarity. Not every author delves so well into the heart of every character. The reader will get  a real sense of the fear and anguish, as well as joy and love that is woven into one narrative. The characters are multi-faceted, particularly Miss Laura Marquardt. By the end of the book I felt as if I knew her for much longer than Touching the Sky's 331 pages.
     Peterson invokes the age of the narrative with a dusting of vintage words and phrases, though it is written with a modern pen. The mannerisms of the characters and setting of the piece also lend a hand to bring the 19th century back to life. Yet, I never was annoyed with overuse of such tools. Peterson's gift is well displayed.
      My favorite aspect of Touching the Sky was how she incorporated faith into the book. Both Laura and Brandon are close to the Lord, but not zealously so. Initially, their Union support is what drew them together. Yet, it was the natural outward extension of their faith that knits their hearts together. With that said, make sure you are a romantic at heart to pick up this book. If you are not, you will probably be disappointed. Every now and then I love a good romance without the fluff. Touching the Sky delivers just that within a historical background. The only downside was the story ended.
     Just an extra note: Apparently, this book is part of a series, Land of the Lone Star. I was well unaware of that fact and found this book to be very enjoyable without having read the first in the series. Touching the Sky stands alone as a great book itself.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book Review: A Sobering Read with a Chance for Hope

     Recently I was given  a complimentary copy of Implosion:Can America Recover from its Economic and Spiritual Challenges in Time? in exchange for an honest review. Author Joel C. Rosenberg begins to dissect the gloomy state of affairs that are currently befuddling the American climate. Rosenberg addresses both the political and economical hardships that America has endured, particularly in the last decade, with sobering clarity. Subsequently, he turns his attention to what he calls the "third lens," that of biblical Scripture. Does the Bible forecast such dissent among the people and what are the end results forecasted? Implosion encourages readers to look at the issues for themselves, while presenting very biblical-guided reason to draw conclusions.
     With that in mind, he goes on to look at Israel, as a nation and people, who have been punished and blessed by God throughout the ages. What are the reasons to support the state of Israel as a Christian? Rosenberg does not hold back and concludes that with the changing weather in America and around the world once can surmise the End Days are approaching. Different scenarios are presented and walked through including financial implosion, war and terrorism, natural disasters and the Rapture.
      Where is the hope you ask? Implosion brings in the historical accounts of the First and Second Great Awakening. This is where we can begin to see that revival among the nations is possible as it has been done before. This is where believers can choose to live in hope and let His light shine through them. Rosenberg is not naive or ignorant. He knows it will take work and a great faith to overcome the present-day challenges in the United States. Yet, if we give up now, what will carry us forward? Hope and faith have carried many people and nations great distances.
     As I read Implosion I was hit with an array of emotions. Looking back, what I remember most is the urgency I sensed. As a Christian I have hope in the Lord. However, it is not just about the individual believer nor the nation; it is about the world. It is interesting to realize the hope we need for the world begins with each person. The last few chapters give the reader applicable steps to take to help calm the impending storm.
     I enjoyed the book as it was enlightening, though it is a little heart-breaking at points. Rosenberg engages the reader with clear, understandable writing, even though the material is anything but light-hearted. Implosion is a work full of passion and depth. For every Christian believer who loves their nation and wants to witness change Implosion would be a great starting point. We can either watch the storm brew or hope to see the barometric pressure drop.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review: There Could be a Blessing

     Worthy Publishing allowed me to review a complimentary copy of John Hagee's latest work, The Power of the Prophetic Blessing: An Astonishing Revelation for a New Generation. In The Power of the Prophetic Blessing Hagee sets out to share with the reader the blessings they may be missing out on from God due to a lack of spiritual ignorance. What is the Prophetic Blessing? It is the proclaiming of God's Word over a fellow believer. These blessings can be in the form of faith, growth, healing, prosperity and beyond. God wants to bless every follower according to their faith and belief therein.
     The  word prosperity put my mind on guard as I am completely opposed to the "prosperity gospel." Hagee quickly abated my fears as he dug into the Bible laying out the groundwork for the Prophetic Blessing. Pastor Hagee defines the Prophetic Blessing, gives a lengthy historical account of the blessings upon Israel and then, finally, gets to the pragmatics. Frankly, I was a little lost from the beginning as he was discerning the Priestly Blessing, Numbers 6:22-27, from the Prophetic Blessing. It was not necessarily because it did not make sense, but it all seemed a bit blurred. It could be I just needed a concrete definition a little sooner and the following content would have followed more cogently.
     I did enjoy some of the presented history and value of Israel to Christians. Hagee does expound their cause and purpose as God's chosen people. He eventually looks at the Beatitudes in the New Testament asserting God's blessings are intended for His people in all times. The chapter containing the Beatitudes was my favorite by far as it brought Jesus' earthly life into the picture.  By the last third of the book Hagee then shows how to give the blessings and to receive them. Abraham did not receive his blessing with disobedience brewing in his heart neither should we.
     The Power of the Prophetic Blessing left me ambiguous and uneasy. There were aspects I enjoyed and I rather give an outstanding review than a mediocre review. I realize John Hagee puts his heart into his work as any author does. However, I found this book in many ways just that, mediocre. I would have preferred a more extensive section on the application of the Prophetic Blessing. With that said, in every book I read I try to find the very best of it and apply it to my life and/or thought process. So, it isn't entirely impossible that I have gained something from this volume. Maybe it is in ways yet unseen. Who knows I may just reread it to find another glimmer of His light someday. It very well could be in this case that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To every reader (and author), to each his own.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review: Faith Found

     BookSneeze on behalf of Thomas Nelson Publishing recently sent  a complimentary copy of The Searchers in exchange for a book review. Joseph Loconte leads the reader into the heart of two disciples' journey in The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt. The journey begins at  a sort of crossroads, so to speak. Only days before were these followers upbeat waiting in great anticipation to be liberated from Roman rule.  Yet, these two followers of Jesus are on the road to Emmaus distraught as they have just lost their leader at Golgotha. It is here Jesus meets them incognito and later reveals the depths of His grace.
      Everyone upon this earth is almost wired to search for something, sometimes anything that will fill that longing. The world's luxuries are often sought to fill the void, though the fills are temporary. Loconte peers into the void these travellers must have felt and engages those pressing questions and doubts that plague many people at some point in their spiritual lives. He plays the devil's advocate, yet always allows God's goodness to prevail. Along the way, the author brings ancient history full circle and envelops the reader into the story as well. At the end of this road, the travellers found their fill in faith in the One, as can the reader.
     It was in the historical accounts, both ancient and modern, that really enraptured me. This is where Loconte, an associate professor of history, pens his true genius. There are tons of books out there that help define God's grace and infinite love for His creatures, but not all can hold the history buff's attention. I absolutely enjoyed reading the fascinating accounts of D-Day, World War II and Communism. That alone makes The Searchers unique. Sometimes I wondered where Loconte was going with such an account and yet every time he managed to tie it together into a cohesive narrative.
     In a little under 200 pages The Searchers will display God's grace, help the reader overcome or at least work through doubts and possibly, enlighten them with historical facts. Loconte has an easy-to-read, engaging style to his pen that will draw you in quickly. He mentions his Italian heritage and the ease of meaningful conversation at the dinner table growing up. I think that ease of meaningful conversation has been well extended to his work here. This is definitely a volume to peruse at your table.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Review: A Book with Class

     Crown Publishing recently furbished a complementary copy of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray in exchange for an honest book review. Murray takes a look using statistics at what has become of new upper class and the new lower class. It is not our imaginations that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; I am not referring just to economics. The new class divisions are shaping American culture without a shadow of a doubt. The striking polarity between the new upper class and new lower class is blatantly clear and increasingly further apart.
     Before the 1960s class distinction was not a matter of life. Sure there were classes, but the lifestyle of those classes was not nearly so different as in modern times. Unless you were part of the old wealth, your next door neighbor though they may have earned a more handsome annual salary was not going to live a life that different from yours. So, why the change? What has been the catalyst to widening polarity? According to Murray, the upper new class has been born out of four factors: demand for brain power, wealth, the college sorting machine and homogamy- think "like attracts like" and then they breed.
     The new lower class is suffering as more children are born out of wedlock, raised in single-parent homes and live in areas where the collapse of the American way of life is most predominantly seen. Murray then goes onto show how at the heart of the American way lies marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity. With a plethora of charts and graphs the readers will find the numbers disheartening and unfortunately a fairly clear picture of what is occurring in America will emerge. In the last part of Coming Apart he surmises what our future may hold as a nation.
     Let me point out that the title Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 may be a tad misleading. It is not a racist or biased look at the American population. However, Murray looks at the statistics of the white population, as they are used as the reference point in other studies that compare white rates to those of other people groups. Later, he does add in other ethnicities and the numbers are startlingly almost identical in the charts.
     From the very first page Murray had my attention. Every chapter stood alone as interesting and readable, piquing my curiosity and stimulating many questions. It is a rather long book in the sense that you cannot and should not gloss over the pages quickly. All  300-plus pages are chock full of information that is necessary to digest the gist of the book. With that said, my review certainly cannot do this volume justice. I realized there is a certain dichotomy we live with every day, though in our own bubbles it is easy and may be best to overlook it. Coming Apart points out the dichotomy and dissects it into understandable bits. Coming Apart is a book that can open your eyes to the divergence of the American population so that you may have a better understanding of what is happening in your own country and community at large.

Purchase your own copy of Coming Apart from Amazon.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Seeing Glory in Tragedy

     The images of the aftermath of the Colorado shootings are running rampant across the media. I will not use the killer's name, as the media as given him enough notoriety. Besides, in the coming weeks and months, he will get more fame than he deserves. He is the epitome of evil and displayed the darkest of hearts. The absolute terrifying aspect is knowing we are all capable of evil being born sinners. But, I keep asking myself what keeps our hearts in check?  The answer only points to Jesus Christ. Even in this tragedy I have to believe His glory will some how manage to shine through this  miserable darkness.
      Right now, it is still difficult to know exactly what to think or feel, but sadness and grief. Many are angry, as they have the right to be and then I see images of the communtiy trying to stand together. The mood is somber penetrating right through the screen. Their hurt runs deep to the core and I wonder how long those people are going to hurt. The holes that monster made will never be completely filled. No one can ever take someone else's place as we are all uniquely created. Yet, time doesn't stand still. Monday morning people are going to go to their jobs. How can it be business as usual when your world just stopped? That is where people will continue to uphold each other throughout Aurora and the nation will be honored to witness what our hearts can accomplish together.
    The faces that need to be remembered are not shown enough. And when they are it is hard to fathom the utter distress their loved ones are enduring. Two days ago, this evening, those that were murdered  were living their lives as they had every other day. Their eyes sparkled with vitality and every smile brought radiance. Hearing that those that have now departed "tweeted" or blogged recently, some minutes before they died, brings their humanity to the forefront. For all I know my thoughts here could be some of my last. I don't want to dwell on the thought to live my life in fear, but to come to terms of mortality and live my life in freedom.  The only light I can barely glimpse is that it will bring together a community and lead us to all appreciate every breath that much more.
     I want to cry out to God and ask, "Why?" "What are You thinking?" Yet, that is my flesh. My faith that carries my soul through this life buoys up within and assures me there is something much bigger and better always at work.Nothing is better than His very Word to rescue my heart. I am reminded of Isaiah 55:8-9,  “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways,” says the Lord.   “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."  I don't know why those people were called to go home. I doubt any of us will this lifetime. After every tragedy we must be thankful for the moments shared with the victims if we knew them or thankful for their contribution to the world at large if we did not.
     The victims are in the heavens where there is no sorrow nor pain. I pray the faith of the hurting hearts in Colorado and across our land are comforted by Our God. May we all be the hands and feet of God, extending our hands to help, opening our arms to hug, praying for healing and our hearts to one another. At the very least, let us hug our loved ones a little more, a little closer and a little tighter.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Review: Compelling Argument to Read Your Bible

     Bethany House provided a complimentary copy of Unstuck: Your Life. God's Design. Real Change. in exchange for an honest review. What is the difference between a Christian who delves into God's Word four or more times a week compared to one that hardly dusts their Bible off? A lot, according to Arnie Cole and Michael Ross, the authors of Unstuck.What takes a believer from a humdrum stroll to an invigorating journey? Collaborating with researchers, they set out to survey over 70,000 people to determine what made for a vibrant Christian walk.
     Believers may claim to know the Lord, but feel stuck in the spiritual growth arena. Repeatedly, the strongest link to growth was the amount of time people engaged God's Word. The first part of the book confronts and explains a lot of the hang-ups that stunt our growth and make us want to throw in the towel. The next third of Unstuck presents the "Powered by Four Solution."  Finally, the last third helps the reader apply the solution to get free from life's entanglements.
     I will say I am not a fan of a 1-2-3 solution approach. However, this is not a one-size-fits-all deal, but begins with the Bible as the starting point. The main point is that if we choose to engage in the Word we will begin to perceive the Bible as much more than words, but the Word. We will hear God speaking to us now and not just to the people of old. The Word will become a part of us in a deeper way. I do want to point out that this book can be used for the seasoned Bible reader. There very well could be points that will help enliven your encounter with God.
     The way each chapter was set up was nice. Instead of having a study in the back of the book, Cole and Ross include points to ponder: what research demonstrated, an encouraging bit and then Scripture and correlating questions, at the end of each chapter. The 15 chapters are easy to read and interesting. The research and personal accounts are what captivated my attention. Whether, you feel stuck, are new to Christianity or want to encourage others in their walk I would advise you to pick up a copy of Unstuck. It may be that you are not feeling "stuck" in any way, I still would imagine this volume could bring a deeper appreciation for the power of the Word and strengthen your faith.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: Delightful, Interesting Historical Fiction Read

     In exchange for an honest review Bethany House Publishers sent a complimentary copy of Siri Mitchell's The Messenger. Beginning on the first page the reader will meet the young, Quaker lady, Hannah Sunderland as the book is narrated in firt person. Hannah must decide whether to engage the enemy as a spy or patronize her father's wishes and adhere to their strict Quaker stance of peace at all times. In the midst of the Revolutionary War Hannah is beginning to form her own opinions of morality and decides to follow her heart's unrest and quest for justice.
      Jeremiah seizes upon Hannah's discontent and enlists her as his partner in crime. Mr. Jones runs a pub that many of the Redcoats frequent, though his loyalties are purely for the Colonial people and land he calls home. Hannah's twin brother was captured as a rebel and is being starved along with rest of the captives. In order to assist an escape between the captives in Walnut Street Jail and General George Washington's men, Hannah puts her very own life on the line to become a messenger. The heartbreaking injustice is what moves the story from beginning to end and the hope of freedom the Colonials pray will come. In the beginning Hannah only knows what she has been taught by her family and Quaker Meeting elders. There she has learned to listen for the still, small voice of God which she finds later on prompting her to act far from her charted course. Jeremiah, though often irritated with this young lady, helps Hannah to see she is more than just her beliefs. She learns along the way, that questioning one's beliefs can lead to growth and finds herself as she ministers to those behind jail walls.
    Of the little fiction I do read, The Messenger is by far my favorite. Mitchell wisely focuses on a handful of characters, though she mentions many.  Often, there are so many characters to follow it takes half the book to keep them straight. Here the characters are complex and so well written one feels they know them personally. Hannah and Jeremiah alternate chapters narrating which says a lot for  Siri Mitchell's personal writing skills. Their personalities are very different and shine through each page.
     The historical nuances can be felt throughout demonstrating Mitchell's research and incorporating such into her writing. I have to say though, a glossary of some of the uncommon words would have been helpful. It was only through the context I was able to discern any clue as to what she was speaking of. I would also recommend reading the author's note in the back first. It would have been a better preface. I was delighted though when I read it to learn of how much of this book was based on historical fact. It made the book all that more wonderful and meaningful.
     If any reader is a fan of historical fiction, particularly of Colonial times, The Messenger is one to grab hold of. Do not let the 360 pages deter you from this one. The pages fly by, sometimes to my disappointment. I was a bit disappointed at the ending, not because it wasn't well-written, but because I wanted more. I want to know what became of Hannah Sunderland and Jeremiah Jones. I do hope for a sequel.

Purchase here from Amazon.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Review: A Book to Hold

     In exchange for a review, BookSneeze on behalf of Thomas Nelson Publishing sent a complimentary copy of Catherine Hickem's latest Heaven in Her Arms: Why God Chose Mary to Raise His Son and What It Means for You. There have been many books written about Mary and motherhood. However, Hickem has a knack many authors don't for this subject. Verse by verse, she leads the reader not only into the journey of motherhood, but into its heart. The reader will learn how to apply Mary's virtues and insightful reflection to her very own mothering journey.
     In 17 chapters, Catherine Hickem peers into Mary's heart and unleashes a bigger picture than what one normally may gather from reading one verse in the Bible. I don't believe she reads too much into the Nativity Story, but that often we read in haste and are not equipped to delve into the emotions the characters of the Bible portray. Hickem who is a licensed family therapist, validates a mother's questions and also assures us that we will not always have the answers. Just as Mary did not know exactly what her role as Jesus' mother would entail, we must place our faith in God and rely on His sovereign purposes. Guiding from Gabriel's visit to the beginning of Acts, Hickem is a treasure trove of godly wisdom and guidance for every mother no matter what season of life she finds herself in. Most of all, she points women to seize the relationship they have with God. We were never meant to parent alone.
     As I read Heaven in Her Arms I found myself convicted, yet assured I am headed down the right path. The way in which Hickem writes is calming, yet clear. Even if it is a convicting thought, she pens it in such a way that is unobtrusive. It is never hostile. The greatest thing about her writing in general is her heart. One can sense her passion for encouraging and leading other mothers down the uncertain path of motherhood. She addresses the harder questions and validates some of the ambiguous feelings mothers do have.
     For some women the ideas presented may not be novel or new. However, we all need gentle reminders sometimes, so even the seasoned mother can gain a lot from this volume. If every younger mother could be handed  a copy of Heaven in Her Arms I would surmise it would save them many heart-wrenching, soul-questioning days. This book would be great for any woman who is either a mother or has influence on a younger person.  May you enjoy the journey of motherhood and reap all of its blessings!

Monday, June 11, 2012

What Three Ladies Taught Me in a Few Minutes

     The other day as I sat with my family eating lunch I had the pleasure of watching three elderly women enjoying one another's company. It was beautiful to see them. I left wondering what made these three women full of youth at such an elderly age.
      Imagine three women chatting with one another. That isn't so hard I am sure. However, what made these women different in my eyes were two things: 1) their age and 2) their comfort with each other. These three were beautiful and lovely in their curly gray-white hair smiling and just being. They weren't chatting and laughing their entire lunch. I noticed one made a joke to the server and the other two laughed on queue. It was a laughter of knowing each other. I am not talking of pure acquaintance, but of that intimate knowledge of one another that only years could bring them. They weren't there to impress eah other either.
     I whispered to my husband during lunch that I wanted to be like them someday. He asked quizzically, "What, old?" No, that is inevitable, of course. I want that type of friendship with other women where we can sit in the silence and savor each other's company nonetheless.    
     Something in me wanted to get up and talk to these endearing ladies. I wanted to know their stories. If I could have, I think I may have been comfortable occupying that empty fourth chair. As I contemplated making conversation before we left, I realized I might come off as a little bizarre, maybe peculiar. People will comment once in a while on our kids. Why couldn't I tell these women that I saw something between them I admired? To my delight, they were there celebrating a birthday. Perfect. Now, I had a better way to strike up a conversation. As you can see, I think things through with purpose and intention.
     My family exited and I walked over to wish this lady a very happy birthday. Well, the surprise was on me! One of the other two announced that Mary was celebrating her 90th birthday. "What," I asked incredulously. There was no way these vibrant women were that, dare I say it, old. In fact, as I learned, they were all that wise in age: 90, 92 and 97. They called Mary the "baby" of the three.
      Let me pause here to clarify. I absolutely love older people. I have always been drawn to their wisdom and their stories. When I say old, I use it not in a derogatory way, but as an honest observation. Quite frankly, often the elderly are much more interesting to me than people my own age. I can only hope I gain wisdom from them now and am able to depart wisdom to others in the future.
     Here these three lovely ladies were there sitting together, sharp and gregarious, supporting and encouraging one another. I doubt their husbands were alive. My guess is that is why they fit together so well; they needed each other. Maybe they grew even closer during grief and loss. They mentioned they had known each other many years. 10? 20? 50? Who knows? But, however long it was, they possessed love for each other. That was loud and clear.
     As my family was no doubt in the car by this time, I had to pull myself away from our brief encounter. I wished them all well and made my exit. I jumped into the truck understanding a little better how far friendship can go. I also had more questions than answers. I still want to know how they met. How often to they see each other? What keeps all of them so young at heart? I am certain friendship is key.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Woman is Never Invisible

      I have a confession. Lately, I have felt completely, utterly invisible. I know I am not, yet that is what is being whispered into my ear. It isn't just one area of my life, just a general all-over sense. A mother can have polite kids, but not always feel things are appreciated. A wife can have an attentive husband and not feel loved. I wonder, can a daughter of the Almighty feel worthless?
      Every relationship has its lows. Sometimes, your husband may have his head wrapped up in his work. Or your child is going through a phase yet again. But, one thing that can never change is God's unfailing love. Psalm 26:3, "for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness." That is the one constant in the world we can count on. So, if I find myself having a low in my relationship with God I can only put the blame upon myself. I alone can turn my heart towards Him and seek Him out where I abide in His love.
      I understand God may not be actively working in my life where I can see it. He is working however, simply in a behind-the-scenes-kind-of way. There is certainly no reason I should feel He is pulling away, simply working for my good. Romans 8:28," And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
     I realize then that God cares deeply for me even when He is quiet. Just as I get some of my best ideas in the still of my head, maybe that is where God is working right now, in the still. Psalm 46:10 reminds us, "He says, 'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'" God is so good, mighty and sovereign. Yet, He loves us. Even after numerous failings and short-comings every day my Lord, our Lord is there loving.
     As a woman, as a human being, I know I am loved more than I can fathom whether I am feeling it or not. Love never fails. God never fails. So tomorrow when I arise to His new mercies I will meditate upon Colossians 3:23. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters..." When I don't think my kid meant that thank you in my own self-indulgent pity I can remember I served that cup of milk for the Lord God Almighty. If I question my husband's intonation I will recall that every effort to be the Titus 2 woman is for Him alone and will obediently hold my tongue.
     How could I feel worthless when God keeps loving me? I have a choice to make. I can listen to the father of lies or I can listen to my Heavenly Father who can tell no lies. He loves me. And He is crazy about you too!

Book Review: Go, Buy and then "Go and Do"

    I am honored to have received a complementary copy of Jay Milbrandt's Go and Do: Daring to Change the World One Story at a Time from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for a review. I really am honored to have read of Mr. Milbrandt's journey that led him from his desert to a life-giving oasis. Sometimes God brings us to a desert to challenge us, to question ourselves, whether we are living out the purpose He created us for. It can be in the fear of uncertainty we find ourselves in that can propel us to leap into action, finding life and the face of God.
     Milbrandt gives a tour of his journey from his base camp of Pepperdine University to the streets of Thailand to the Mae La Refugee Camp. It was as a law student he found himself wondering what his purpose in life was. What great contribution was he going to make? He dared himself to go on a mission trip stepping outside of his comfort zone in Malibu to the unknown, Thailand in this case. The dire circumstances of humanity, the voiceless faces of the young shook him to his core changing his life course forever.
     The one thing that this book proved is that one man's story can inspire others to align their story with the Creator's. According to Milbrandt, anyone and everyone ought to "go and do."   As I read I began wondering if Mr. Milbrandt's idea was feasible for all. I certainly do not have the money to book a flight to Uganda as he has or fly down to Peru. Going does not need to lead us to the other side of the world, although it very well could. We can go into our neighborhoods or inner-cities. Going can be the hardest part not knowing what it is that you are going to do.
     Doing can take an array of forms from advocating for the voiceless to being present in the moment with a child. Every person in this world has a name they want to be called by and a heart to love.  Love does not have a monetary value for it is priceless. I can love as Jesus commanded, though that may cost me more greatly than I can now fathom. Where will I go? What will I do? Will it cost me my pride and dignity? All questions that I can either allow to hinder me or challenge me. I do hope it is the latter.
     Go and Do is not a book to pick up for a weekend read. It is more than a book. It can become a dare, a challenge, a lifestyle. There are 202 fascinating pages of heartbreaking and imagination-gripping stories that will transform your way of thinking and possibly your way of doing. If there has ever been a book, besides the Bible, that I want to influence my life for the greater good of our global community, this is it. May this be the beginning of new explorations.

Jay Milbrandt, author of Go and Do

Friday, June 1, 2012

Banishing the Summer Boredom Blues

     “Mooooommm, I’m bored.”

     “There’s nothing to do.”

     I am sure you get the idea. We all at one time or another have been serenaded by the ear-piercing sopranos of complaint or the nothing’-to-do summer blues. Maybe, your family has just finished their school year. The novelty of a break will wear off before you know it and Mom may end up finding herself at a loss for ideas after the regular suggestions. And yet, summer is almost here!

      Of course, there is the option of schooling year-round. We are that family, but I still find there are days I am scratching my head without having that a-ha moment. There are times when the creativity flows. However, more often than not, I have to search for ideas. So, here are a few suggestions I have found helpful to cure the children’s boredom.

     First and foremost, when I feel closer to our Creator, ideas seem to come out of nowhere. It is all about being in tune with God and understanding how He does work through you. I begin to see things from a different perspective and think outside the box. Coinciding with that idea is to realize if you are in a creative rut, do not dwell on it. Be prepared for those ruts with the following possibilities.

      Keep an idea journal. Whether it is a hard-bound notebook or a folder in your computer, jot down ideas from activities to crafts. That way if creativity is being elusive you have an idea book to assist you in that department. There are plenty of ideas in magazines and the internet. You can tweak them to your child’s age and ability level to make the activity fitting.

      Create a boredom-busting box of potential craft items: oatmeal containers, cereal boxes, construction paper, empty milk jugs, toilet paper rolls, buttons, etc. When your child comes to you wanting to do something, anything at all, hand them the box and let their creativity flow. Plus, at the end of the day you can go to bed knowing you fostered your child’s creativity. Don’t forget the scissors, glue, tape and newspaper to layout to make for easy clean up. This is an instant here-is-something-to-do-for-the-moment in a box.

      In the coolness of the morning send them outside. Get out there with them and go on a nature treasure hunt. Observe God’s goodness up close. David reminds us, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands,” in Psalm 19:1. Grab some art supplies before you head out the door and journal bits of Creation. Through out the summer the kids can observe changes in plants and flowers and changes in animal patterns as the weather fluctuates.

      One of my favorite ideas is to have a jar of activities the kids can do alone or together. If I hear, “I’m bored,” I reply, “Grab the jar.” The boredom-buster jar that is. They grab one folded piece of paper out and open to see what activity they can go do. This is a great one to begin as a family. Everyone can contribute a few ideas and write them down- reading, volunteering, help a neighbor, draw, play a board game, walk the dog. Decorate the jar or canister to allow the kids to bring a sense of ownership to the project. Add the ideas and you will have another weapon in your boredom-fighting arsenal.

      Although, these can help combat those moments, there is an issue much deeper that needs to be addressed. In every circumstance one can find a lesson to be learned. When we are not on guard we call allow our feelings to dictate our perspective of the circumstances that are surrounding us. This is a good time to explain why we cannot let our feelings run our lives. God has given us each day as a gift to be opened with anticipation and surprise. We never know what the day will behold. If we allow emotions to get in the way, we have made an obstacle and block what God has planned for us.

     When there is nothing to do, as older, wiser people, we realize there is no truth to that thought. There is always something to do. We must remember to take the time to love our children with grace and patience pointing out to them the error of their fallacious statement and more importantly, guiding them to the Truth.

      Proverbs 15:19-20, “The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway. A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother.”