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Thursday, August 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Evergreen

Are you an empty nester? If so, you may relate to the struggle John and Ingrid Christiansen experience during their first Christmas alone in Susan May Warren's Evergreen.

As Ingrid wrestles with her conflicting feelings--sadness at her empty house and gratitude for her children's independent lives--John looks forward to a trip away. When that is thwarted, and they are thrown into the role of temporary parents to Ingrid's nephew, Ingrid's long-simmering bitterness over an issue John didn't even know bothered her is stirred to a flame. Both struggle to reconnect with the love they used to feel for each other, but the Christiansen home is unusually frosty this Christmas.

Told in Warren's characteristic warm style, this novella is yet another reason to love the Christiansen family. As Warren's series on this family continues to expand, readers will find Evergreen a delightful interlude between  longer installments in the family's lives.

For more information on Warren and the Christiansen family series, go here.

I received this book for free from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my review.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: A Short Walk to the Edge of Life

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Talk about a take-your-breath-away adventure! Scott Hubbartt, in his book A Short Walk to the Edge of Life, takes the reader on a journey that changed his life--and his perspective of it--forever. Similar to an episode of "I Shouldn't Be Alive," Scott embarked on what he confidently thought would be an 8-10 hour hike in a Peruvian canyon to explore his wife's family history. A decorated Air Force veteran who had completed Survival, Evasion, Rescue and Escape training, he assumed he could handle the elements. He couldn't.

This book strikes right to the heart of what we all must admit before God: we're helpless without Him. Scott found, as he wandered for four days without food or water, that God will miraculously provide when we call to Him in admittance of our utter dependency upon Him.

Need some reminding as to Who is sovereign over your life? Take this journey with Scott and see how it changed his relationship with God..it just might change yours, too.

Read the first chapter here, and find out more about Scott Hubbartt here.

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers in exchange for this review.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Red sweatshirt days


My mom's been gone seven months now. Although the funeral is now a poignant distant memory, there are days when the loss of her hits me like a hurricane and I am immediately out-of-breath overcome with sorrow. It can be a John Denver song in the grocery store or the fragment of a poem that I hear her say in my mind. And in that moment, all the grief is fresh and I just miss her, brand new, all over again.

Going through her belongings, in her house, was the hardest thing I've ever done. It was even harder than the funeral, because the only experiences I've had in the Oregon house are--experiences with her. To walk in that house and see her place on the couch empty, forever, was devastating. To walk through the kitchen and realize I would never hear her sing while preparing a meal or doing dishes ever again on this earth, was like a sock in the gut. To go into her bedroom and open up her drawers was to ache in a way that can't be consoled.

My brother had thrown away or donated most of her clothes in the past few months, but he'd kept some items he thought my sister and I would like. When he offered me an unremarkable, rather tattered red sweatshirt, I turned him down, because not only was I trying not to take home more than I really "needed," but also because I couldn't imagine a purpose for it. Then he explained: whenever Mom felt lonely or sad, my Dad would say, "It's a red sweatshirt day." That meant she should put on one of the red sweatshirts he always made sure she had, as kind of a security blanket that meant he loved her and would be close to her in spirit all day. My brother said, you need a red sweatshirt. I took it.

It took me about three weeks to open up the boxes I brought home from Oregon. When I did, I was overwhelmed with memories of her and of my father in pictures, love letters, and tiny memorabilia. But it was when I lifted out the linens and clothes I'd brought home that I lost it, because they smelled like her...like her house..and again the grief hit me like the waves at WindanSea when I was 17 and Alan was teaching me how to body surf.

A red sweatshirt day. The only problem? Here in San Diego it was 85 degrees, and a sweatshirt wasn't called for.

But I get the point, and the red sweatshirt is easily accessible for when the weather cools. I have a feeling there will be a lot of red sweatshirt days before the Lord calls me home and my mom and I see each other again. Until then, aside from the tangibility of a piece of clothing, is the growing sense I have that, as I've said before, heaven really isn't that far away. Sometimes as I read my Bible and pray, I feel like it's really just on the other side of me--like just a shroud of unseen substance separates me from her. Like she's really actually looking over my shoulder, or my dad is sitting on the chair next to me--we just can't touch each other.

Heaven is real, and it's close, and when we get there
     "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new." Revelation 21:4, 5a

"...there shall be no more red sweatshirt days."

Monday, July 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: All for a Sister

What a delightful book!

This is the first time I have read a book by Allison Pittman, but it won't be the last. All for a Sister is a truly fun story about two women whose lives are woven together by their parents' deceitfulness...to a heartwarming end.

The book is told through a refreshing mix of viewpoints and genres (memoir, current events, and the occasional screenplay vignette) that left me unable to predict around the next turn--which is unusual in many of today's novels. It truly illustrates the truth of Romans 8:28, that "all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose." Although God is not a frequent reference in this book, the plot nonetheless highlights His goodness to those whose lives have been determined by others' sins.

I received a free copy of this book for review purposes from Tyndale Publishing.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Strangers at My Door

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"I was a stranger, and you invited Me into your home." Matthew 25:35, NLT

Have you ever wondered what it would like if you truly welcomed into your home anyone who happened to knock? That's exactly what Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove did, and Strangers at My Door is the book that tells about his experiences in doing so.

Organized thematically rather than chronologically, Wilson-Hartgrove takes us through what it looks like to "Open the Door," "Lean(ing) In," and experience "Gifts From Beyond." We are reminded that when we look into the face of those who have been cast out by society, we have to confront our own part in that as members of society. Are we willing to truly look into the eyes of those who are homeless...truly get involved and be Jesus' hands and feet? Or do we simply walk up the steps to our homes and close the doors behind us?

I appreciate Wilson-Hartgrove's honesty. He reminds us that the knock at the door is "always an interruption," and that he doesn't always answer it when he should. He quotes Dostoevsky: "Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams." Yet he has opened his door hundreds of times over the years and has been Jesus to those who needed to eat, or drink, or be given clothing, or receive friendship.

The knock at the door also brings us into a shared experience of hurt with hurting people. He says, "Prayer isn't the power to stand down the waves of suffering that crash over all of us. Prayer is holding the hands of those who will stay with you, being present. It's learning to trust that a way will open." As the leader of an intercessory prayer team, sometimes I want to pray a solution into someone's life when really, I'm supposed to sit beside them and pray with them, waiting together for the answer.

However, in two other roles of my life I have to push back a bit against Wilson-Hartgrove's book. First, as a wife and mom I find myself wanting to know more about his wife and children's experiences as he has run Rutba House over the years. As the protector of my children, I do have reservations about the wisdom of taking in men right from prison into the home where my kids sleep. I would like to know if there were ever adverse events that arose through the years of this ministry.

Second, as someone who worked for years with the homeless in my big city, I am perhaps a bit calloused to the approach that those without homes simply need unconditional love to set them back on their feet. I know that sometimes the homeless really need to show an investment in rehabilitation to make it valuable to them. While I don't think Wilson-Hartgrove is naive--I do hear wisdom in his words--I would have liked to hear more about ways he holds his houseguests to a certain degree of accountability; where are the checks and balances?

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It challenges me to remember those who are hurting and hungry when I walk along the street or around my neighborhood. It challenges me to remember that Jesus wants us to remember to care for strangers, because sometimes they are angels. And it challenges me to remember that whenever we do these things to the least of these, we do them to Jesus.

I received this book for free for review purposes from Waterbrook Multnomah books. This is the author's website, and if you are interested in reading the first chapter of the book, go here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Stand Strong

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Nick Vujicic knows a bit about bullying.

Born without arms or legs, Vujicic endured taunts and teasing from bullies as he was growing up. In his new book, Stand Strong, he reaches out to young people who are going through similarly difficult times. Drawing from his faith and writing in an easy conversational tone, Vujicic challenges kids to deal with their bullies firmly but without retaliation. He emphasizes internal confidence over external action.

With chapters such as "Owning It," "Create Your Safety Zone,"  and "Rise Above," young people are given strategic suggestions for increasing their confidence in Christ and handling unkind behavior from bullies. He encourages kids to create a "bully defense strategy" that they will use if threatened with violence by a bully. He takes on the perennial question: do I fight back?

Vujicic is kind and friendly, and isn't afraid to poke a bit of fun at himself. I believe this will help young people identify with him and therefore take his advice to heart.

To see Vujicic's video introducing the book, go here, and for more information about the author himself, go here.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.


Friday, May 16, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Waiting

This is the most beautiful book I've read this year.

The Waiting, by Cathy LaGrow (with Cindy Coloma), is the story of a 17 year old girl, Minka, who gave her daughter, conceived in an assault by a stranger, up for adoption. It is the story of how Minka wrote countless letters over many years to the girls' home that facilitated the adoption, asking the staff to pass on her love to that baby--which, because it was a closed adoption, they could not. It is the story of Minka growing into a young woman, a wife, a mother, a widow, a senior citizen...and never forgetting to pray for that daughter, trusting God to watch over her. It is the story of a heart's desire that, after nearly 80 years, seemed about to go into the ground with Minka as she neared 100 years of age.

But then, Minka prayed an impossible prayer.

And, because this is also a story about God's faithfulness...He answered.

If you have ever found yourself having to trust God for something over which you have absolutely no control, you need to read this book.  If you have ever doubted that God can put impossible circumstances together for your good, you will find hope in these pages.  If you have ever wondered whether God really does answer impossible prayers, you will wonder no more. This story testifies to the fact that God knows where His kids are at all times, and that when we delight ourselves in Him, He gives us the desires of our hearts.

I received a copy of this book for free from Tyndale Publishing company for review purposes.