Saturday, April 11, 2015

Always on His Mind

Have you ever noticed how once in a while, when you least expect it, the Lord surprises and delights you? When it happens, you just know it's His way of saying "I love you, and you're on my mind."

About thirty years ago or so, I read a book that was so strange and fascinating that I still remember bits and pieces of it. When this book was mentioned recently by a Twitter poster, I decided to put it on my TBR list of books to borrow from the library and read it again (after I managed to read the dozens of books ahead of it first).

Well, yesterday I decided to go to the thrift shop just to browse. I never know what little treasure I'll unearth, but I usually do end up buying a few articles of clothing for our granddaughter. The last section I peruse is the books, since it's the far side of the store, and being the methodical little creature that I am, I always start my browsing at the entry side of the store.

Just as I was about to leave the books section and head to the register to check out, a pretty cover on the bottom shelf caught my eye. Sure enough, I pulled out a hardcover copy in nearly perfect condition of the book I had read all those years ago and that I had just added to my TBR list. The book cost only $1.75, but the feeling that the Lord did this just for me was priceless.

I love how once in a while, when I least expect it, the Lord surprises and delights me. When it happens, I just know it's His way of saying, "I love you, and you're on my mind."

(In case you're interested, the book is titled "Little, Big" by John Crowley, and it won the World Fantasy Award in 1982.)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Book Review: The Girl in the Road

Title:  The Girl in the Road
Author:  Monica Byrne
Genre:  Futuristic Fiction
Publisher:  Broadway Books, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group
Number of Pages:  319
My Rating:  2.5 out of 5

How do I review a book that tells a skillfully-written fascinating story but that is littered with foul language and sexual scenes that leave a bad taste in my brain?

When I chose this book to read and review, it was because I was intrigued by the tale of two women, continents and years apart, who embark on journeys of discovery that lead them toward one another in a surprising way. I found their cross-cultural experiences to be richly detailed and their struggles, both inner and outer, to be transparent and moving. The author did an excellent job of transporting me to other lands through her colorful descriptions of the sights, sounds, and scents that dwelled there.

However, I also found the liberal use of foul language and the sexual scenes a turn-off. I don't knowingly read books with this type of content, and my level of discomfort was detrimental to my enjoyment of the story.  I persevered, since the publisher had sent me this book in good faith, and I wanted to honor my commitment.

So here we are. I wish I could give a glowing review (and certainly many other readers have done so), but I can't. I can only give an honest review and hope that it helps others to make an informed decision.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from for review.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Book Review: Be the Message Devotional

Title:  Be the Message Devotional
Subtitle:  A 30-Day Adventure in Changing the World Around You
Author:  Kerry and Chris Shook
Genre:  Devotional
Publisher:  WaterBrook Multnomah, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group
Number of Pages:  120
My Rating:  4 out of 5

I am an ardent fan of devotional books. Perhaps it's the fact that I can digest some theology and inspiration in bite-size pieces, thus accommodating my self-diagnosed adult-onset attention deficit, or perhaps it's because there just happen to be a wonderful variety of good, solid devotional books available to readers these days. Probably both.

Kerry and Chris Shook are the married founders of Woodlands Church near Houston, Texas, where Kerry is the pastor. He also offers a weekly televised broadcast to over two hundred countries and, with his wife, is the author of two additional books, One Month to Live and One Month to Love.

The back-of-the-book blurb states that "using scripture, illustrations, and practical action steps, the Be the Message Devotional can bring you to a deeper understanding of how your life can make a difference and be the gospel to the world." This excited me! Many devotionals enrich our personal and private lives, but leave us to determine how to put into practice what we learn. Sometimes that's hard to figure out. This book goes a step further and actually prompts you to get specific by making the thirty daily messages an interactive pursuit. This is not just a book to read; it is also a book to do.

Each day you are called to "open yourself to a dynamic encounter with God," "open God's Word to hear God's message," "open your mind to understand God's message then and now," "open your heart to the divine whisper," "open your life to God's transforming power," and "open your arms to a world that needs to receive God's incarnate message through you."

If you are looking for something different in a devotional and want to be challenged to put what you read into action in your life so that others are blessed and ministered to, give this book a try.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from for review.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Pileated Delight

I am a bird lover, and when we moved to our house 25 years ago, I was able to hang a feeder and erect a bird bath. Since that humble beginning, I have recorded 40 different birds that I've seen in the yard or neighboring yards (yay for binoculars!).

One bird I had not been able to spot was a pileated woodpecker. Though I've seen many red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, this giant one has never showed up. Until today.

I was perusing Pinterest this morning and pinned a photo of a pileated woodpecker feeding its babies poking out of a tree hole. About 30 minutes later, while sitting at my desk gazing out the window at my bird zone, lo and behold, a pileated woodpecker was banging away with its ginormous beak in a nearby tree and then flapped on over to hang onto and feed from the suet basket. First time in 25 years. I was thrilled!

Coincidence? No ~ The Lord delights in delighting us!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Good Medicine

Happy New Year, everyone! It is my hope that 2015 brings bright and beautiful moments and memories to you and your loved ones. Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.

Speaking of 2015, I again decided to join that group of humans who endeavor to choose One Word as a focus for the new year. For me, it is always a spiritual focus, and because I am human, there is much room for improvement, unending opportunity for learning and for growth. How could I possibly choose just one word to represent my heart's desire when there is so much my heart desires?

I struggled greatly over the last several weeks to narrow down all the words vying for the title. The list ebbed and flowed with meaningful words, significant words, worthy words, but none of them fully satisfied. I began to grow anxious, wondering if I would ever find what I was seeking. As January 1 neared, I even began to feel frantic. This was not supposed to be so hard. Choosing a word for 2014 was incredibly easy, so why was choosing a word for 2015 filled with angst?

I pondered. I prayed. Others prayed for me. In frustration, I called out to the Lord to show me, to knock me over the head, to impress upon my heart what He desired for my life in the coming year, because I had not been able to find the word that expressed what I was yearning for. And...well...He did.

While I was waiting in an exam room at a doctor's office on Tuesday, I decided to stand and move around rather than just sit there. As I paced back and forth, a song popped into my head (actually, I believe it was placed there...on the Holy Spirit), and I just started quietly singing it, over and over and over. The more I sang, the more excited I became.

"A joyful heart
is good medicine,
good medicine,
a joyful heart;
A joyful heart
is good medicine,
a joyful heart is good.

But a broken spirit
dries up the bones;
A broken spirit
dries up the bones..."

Thanks to Steve Green's scripture memory song for children that my now 27 year-old daughter had listened to many times as a youngster, I was able to latch onto the lyrics again without missing a beat. The more I sang, the more I realized this song, this scripture -- these words -- were meant for me. "Broken spirit" accurately described my journey for the last several years, but especially in 2014. I had resided in a rather dark and dismal place for too long, and I realized in that exam room that what my heart was yearning for in the new year was a new wardrobe. I longed to cast off the clothes of sadness and put on the clothes of a joyful heart. I had worn those clothes before and was way overdue in wearing them again.

I gazed out the window for a moment and was stunned by what I saw: a brilliant blue sky adorned with just one small cloud in the undeniable shape of a heart. I was transfixed. I was delighted. I knew that cloud was a gift from God to me, creative confirmation that His desire and my focus should be the restoration of joy in my heart and in my life.

Therefore, my One Word for 2015 is, without a doubt, "joyful." As the Lord tells us in Proverbs 17:22 ~ "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones."

Farewell, broken spirit. Welcome, joyful heart. Good medicine, indeed!

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.