Saturday, December 13, 2014

Book Review: The 13th Gift

Title:  The 13th Gift
Subtitle:  A True Story of a Christmas Miracle
Author:  Joanne Huist Smith
Genre:  Personal Memoir
Publisher:  Crown Publishing, a division Random House
Number of Pages:  201
My Rating:  3 out of 5

This is a difficult review to write. First, it's the Christmas season, and I want to be especially charitable in all that I say and do, so writing a somewhat unfavorable book review goes against my grain. Second, this is my first Christmas without my precious father, who passed away in June, so I was already heavy-hearted during the time I read the story, and that may have colored my reaction. And third, I had a hard time making a connection with the author herself. It's hard to keep reading a book when you don't click with the main character.

Smith lost her beloved husband suddenly and unexpectedly shortly before Christmas one year, and his passing relocated her to an angry and depressed place, rightfully so. She wasn't sure how she'd be able to find joy again, let alone enough joy to carry her and their children through the upcoming holiday season.  Out of the blue, anonymous gift givers begin depositing presents on their doorstep inspired by the format of the carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas." At first, Smith was annoyed, but, touched by the excited reactions of her daughter, Megan, and her two sons, Ben and Nick, her heart gradually changed from annoyance to indifference to anticipation to delight over the course of those twelve days. Her newspaper reporter's heart was intrigued by the ongoing mystery and, along with her children, became the propeller that pushed her through on the days she was ready to give up on Christmas entirely.

I can't tell you what the 13th gift is because, of course, that would ruin the story for you, but I will say that it represents a transformation that took place in Smith's heart and life as she travelled the painful path she had been thrust upon. And that transformation redeemed the rest of the story for me.

Do not read this book hoping to be heart-warmed and cheered up (until the very end). This is an honest and raw tale of one widow's struggle to survive what is usually "the most wonderful time of the year." Smith is both vulnerable and courageous in bringing us along on her journey from crippling despair to fulfilling hope. And while, for me, this wasn't an enjoyable holiday book to read, Smith's message is worth the telling.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from for review.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Book Review: Heaven, Hell, and Life After Death

Title:  Heaven, Hell, and Life After Death
Subtitle:  A 6-Week, No-Homework Bible Study
Author:  Kay Arthur, Bob & Diane Vereen
Genre:  Christian Non-fiction
Publisher:  WaterBrook Press
Number of Pages: 111
My Rating: 4 out of 5

My purpose in reviewing this book was two-fold. I wanted to investigate it for its possible use for during my own private devotional time; and I wanted to investigate it for its possible use in a small group study through the women's ministry at my church. Because of its content and format, I know I would definitely get more out of it by reading and discussing it with others.

Kay Arthur is a prolific author of Christian books and Bible studies through Precept Ministries International. I have read several of her books in the past and always found her content, style, and approach to be detailed and thought-provoking. Bob and Diane Vereen are also affiliated with PMI as speakers and teachers, and this is one of several "40-minute Bible studies" they have co-authored.

I will start off by saying that the description "40-minute Bible studies" is subjective. This book, though it is only six lessons long, would likely take the small group of six women I'm currently involved with a good 90 minutes to tackle (per lesson). Perhaps we are overly-opinionated or starving for discussion, but we really do take our time to dig deep into whatever we are studying. So -- it says 40 minutes, but I think that would be rushing things.

There are six lessons in this study:

*Why Do We Have to Die?
*Can We Live Again After Death?
*What Can We Know About Resurrection?
*What Comes After Death for the Believer?
*What Comes After Death for the Unrepentant?
*What Can We Know for Certain About Heaven?

Each lesson consists of a healthy amount of scripture text to read (NASB and KJV), about 30 discussion questions, additional author insights, and a summary to wrap up the key teachings presented. I particularly like that ample space is provided for taking notes within the text and in the margins. There are no homework assignments to be done outside of class, but I think that I personally would benefit from at least reviewing the lessons each week ahead of time. However, this Bible study is designed for busy people who struggle with finding time outside of class to devote to advance preparation, so that isn't required or expected.

The back-cover blurb states that "we live in an age bombarded with conflicting views," so "how can we be sure of what is true?" In my opinion, this book is an excellent introduction to and review of what God tells us in His Word about heaven, hell, and life after death. I will definitely be asking my women's ministry to offer this as a group study at my church.

Learn more about this book at

Disclaimer:  I received this book from for review.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ode to a Stinkbug

There once was a stinkbug named Klaus
Who lived in the walls of my house;
When the weather got colder,
Klaus turned ever bolder

(cover your children's eyes now)

I changed his surname to Squash.

I don't care that it doesn't rhyme. Klaus did not deserve a rhyme. Klaus was a stinkbug.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Not a Hermit Crab!

Being an introvert is not a disease or a shortcoming and does not need to be healed or fixed.

I shared with a woman at Bible study today that I'm not a real fan of attending retreats. I like the idea of them, but my inner hermit twitches at the thought of being a captive participant for 2-3 days with a large group of other human beings.

She right away said, well, then, that's all the more reason you need to attend -- so you can come out of your shell and stop being so introverted!

First of all, I am not a hermit crab. Anyone who knows me in real life can tell you I have no shell to come out of -- I'm very friendly and interested and talkative and engaged. It's just that I much prefer fellowshipping with smaller groups for shorter periods of time. Larger groups for longer periods of time wear me out, and it can take me days to recover.

I wish people would understand that being an introvert is not a negative thing that I need to work through and move past. It's just who I am and how I operate.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Sometimes a Bible verse you've known for years enlightens you in a way you hadn't considered before.

"Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105) is such a verse for me.

I have often wondered why the same thought was repeated twice in one sentence. It seemed kind of redundant to me (although repetition does give emphasis). Today, though, I read and understood it in a new way (thank You, Holy Spirit!).

The first description -- "a lamp unto my feet" -- indicates how the Word illuminates and safely and wisely guides the individual steps I take as I deal with present concerns and challenges. The lamp casts a shorter beam (think of aiming a flashlight directly at your feet).

The second description -- "a light unto my path" -- indicates how the Word illuminates and safely and wisely guides the walk in front of me as I consider future concerns and challenges. The light casts a longer beam (think of aiming a flashlight directly at the path). 

I am reminded of the many times in my life when I was outdoors in the night and aiming a flashlight either at my feet (to avoid tripping over rocks or twisting my ankle in a hole) or at the broader area ahead of me (to be alerted to potential dangers such as a wild animal or a turn in the trail). I needed the light for both the present and the future.

Many of you have probably read and understood this particular scripture like this already, but for me, it is a new way of meditating on its meaning.

Just sharing my morning revelation. Over coffee, of course. :-)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: My Gentle Barn

Title:  My Gentle Barn
Subtitle:  Creating a Sanctuary Where Animals Heal and Children Learn to Hope
Author:  Ellie Laks, with Nomi Isak
Genre:  Personal Memoir
Publisher:  Crown Publishing, a division of Random House
Number of Pages:  266
My Rating:  4.5 out of 5

It was a no-brainer for me to choose this book from a menu of multiple choices offered by the publisher. Because I love animals and can't bear to see them mistreated, and because my husband and I adopted an older child who had already lived through a difficult and dysfunctional first eight years, it seemed like a perfect fit. I couldn't wait to get my hands on this woman's story.

The journey from the author's loving but lonely childhood in which her deep love for animals was misunderstood and under-appreciated to the eventual founding of The Gentle Barn where both abused animals and at-risk children can find physical and emotional healing is richly detailed. It is unlikely I'll forget the dogs, cows, horses, goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens, etc. who came into her life through a variety of ways. In fact, I wanted to drop everything and fly out to California just to meet the author and her four-legged family face-to-face and to participate in their daily care. And apparently many people spend their vacations doing just that.

Ms. Laks faced many challenges along the way to fulfilling her dream of providing a sanctuary for unwanted or unhealthy animals, including a troubled marriage, a devastating fire, and a nasty neighbor. But she was also blessed and assisted along the way by an ever-growing number of volunteers and celebrities who championed her cause.  Today, The Gentle Barn is a thriving venture thanks to a woman with the determination to make her dream a reality.

The only small criticism I have about this refreshing and inspiring read is the author's continued comments about her parents' lack of support throughout her life. Mentioning it once or twice is important to the story, but more than that seems unnecessary and awkward.

Learn more about the author or The Gentle Barn at

Disclaimer:  I received this book from for review.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Don't Let the Devil Do His Thing

Ever have one of those days (weeks, months, years, lives)?

You're breathing. You're blinking. Undeniable proof that you are a living being. So what's up with the overwhelming feelings that you're invisible? unimportant? unnecessary?  Those feelings may seem true, but they are not truth. The devil is lying to you.

If the devil can get you to believe that nobody -- especially God -- gives a hoot, he's done his job. You will swallow the deceit he is feeding you, and you will wallow in the misery he is piling on you.

Don't let the devil do his thing.

Cut through the clamor of his hollow hogwash with the one thing that can open your eyes, ears, mind, and heart to the truth -- God's Word. You are *not* invisible. You are *not* unimportant. You are *not* unnecessary.

Because God says so.

You were created by Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:16)
You are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14)
You are His workmanship. (Ephesians 2:10)
He calls you His child. (1 John 3:1)
He commands His angels to guard you. (Psalm 91:11)
His love for you is unfailing. (Psalm 33:18)
His love for you endures forever. (Psalm 100:5)
He gathers you in His arms and carries you close to His heart. (Isaiah 40:11)
His eyes are on you. (Psalm 33:18)
He turns His face toward you. (Numbers 6:24)
He delights in you. (Psalm 147:11)
He has a purpose for you. (Romans 8:28)
He has plans for you. (Jeremiah 29:11)
He makes your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:6)
He is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
He never lets you fall. (Psalm 55:32)
He meets all your needs. (Philippians 4:19)
His grace for you is sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
He fills you with joy and peace. (Romans 15:13)
He gives you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
He carries your burdens. (Psalm 68:19)
He renews your strength. (Isaiah 40:31)
He shelters you from the storm. (Isaiah 25:4)
He turns your darkness into light. (Psalm 18:28)

He laid down His life for you. (John 3:16)

When the devil starts to sing his tired old song, and he bends down to whisper sweet nothings in your ear (and that's just what they are -- nothings!), sound the trumpet and strike up the chorus of God's truth, and you will cast off the devil's misery and deceit and know -- *KNOW* -- that you are visible, you are important, you are necessary.

Because God says so.