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 purpose...by 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!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AzuqZz4c8o


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 www.bloggingforbooks.org for review.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Book Review: Heaven, Hell, and Life After Death

 http://images.randomhouse.com/cover/9781601425607?width=1000&alt=no_cover_b4b.gif

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 www.WaterBrookMultnomah.com.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from www.BloggingForBooks.org 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
So

(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

Illumination

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


 http://images.randomhouse.com/cover/9780385347662?width=1000&alt=no_cover_b4b.gif

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 www.gentlebarn.org.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from www.bloggingforbooks.org for review.