Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Happiness Project: or Why I spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean my CLosets, Fight Right and Read Aristotle, and Generally have more Fun" By Gretchen Rubin

  I recently read how when reading a book you should consider three things... what is the author saying, what does the author mean and do I agree with the author.  When I think about "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin in the context of those questions, it's clear that the author is saying that we can have a direct affect on our happiness; that there are things we can do in our everyday lives to bring about more happiness and/or put us in position to experience said happiness.  She does admit, however, that we cannot change ourselves completely; that there is a level of happiness that we are prepositioned for and while we can't move out of that level, we can move up and down throughout basically, if your at the bottom, you can do things to bring you to the top of the level and if you're at the top, your actions can affect you in a way that pushes you to the bottom.  I have to admit, that while she is definitely more scientific in her studies and writing, I think she might be onto something.    I decided to read this book, because much like the author, I felt like I wasn't as happy as I could be.  However, I can't say upon completing this book, I feel any different.  I do however feel like I have some tools to work with in increasing my standing in my happiness level and maybe that's a start.
  I truly appreciated her honesty in the beginning of the book when she penned, "As I thought about happiness, I kept running up against paradoxes.  I wanted to change myself but accept myself.  I wanted to take myself less seriously, but more seriously.  I wanted to use my time well, but I also wanted to wander, to play, to read at whim.  I wanted to think about myself so I could forget about myself." . Can you not understand that struggle as well?  For me I often feel like I need to work on myself in order to stop having to think about myself so much; like I need to focus on myself for a minute in order to not have to focus on myself forever.  And so I felt a sense of connection in her words... like in this struggle I am not alone.
  I also appreciated the way she went about trying to increase her happiness.  Maybe it's my Type A personality, but I like steps and goals and action points; I like charts and check ins and having some sort of way to track progress.  I also like books that follow  a work on one thing for a year but split it into simpler goals, one for each month of the year.  I thought because of these things that I would find an enjoyment in this book like I have in others similar to it.  Sadly I didn't enjoy the set up of it like I thouhg... not in this book.  It's not to say I didn't enjoy the book at all.  As I shared above, in many ways I did, but even though in the end I came to agree with the author, for majority of the book I felt like she wasn't really making any progress and wasn't really reaching the goal she set out to do.
  I think ultimately the biggest turn off for me what this idea that she kept going back to, that if we act a certain way, then in fact we will be that.... for example, if you act happy then eventually you will just be happy.  As someone who has spent many days and many years acting the part, I am not so sure that this is how it works.  Short term I think you can convince yourself that you feel a majority of ways... but in the long run the truth always makes it back to the surface.  I would actually like to see what she has to say about this ten years from now, when it's no longer an experiment but a lifestyle for her.
  Maybe I need to give it more time to sink in though.  Maybe the mix of good and bad I find in this book will make a bigger impact on me when I actually put into practice some of those tools I picked up from it.  Maybe I will not just agree with the idea that she might be onto something, but I actually experience what she is talking about when I do that.  I guess only time will tell...but for now I leave you with this somewhat confusing, mixed review.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"It was Me All Along; A Memoir".. by Andie Mitchell

  Summer means beaches and pools and less layers/more skin showing.  And while I love the idea of being outside and enjoying the sun, there's something about this time of year that makes me start thinking about how well (or un-well) I am doing at caring for my own body.  With that in mind, I started more intensely working out and trying to be careful about how I fuel this body of mine.  It hasn't been easy.  In fact, the very process alone has brought up all sorts of issues that I forgot I had.  So continuing on with the theme I started at the beginning of this month, I decided to read another story of someone else's weight loss journey.
  Andie Mitchell basically tells her life story throughout the pages of her book, It Was Me All Along.  Reading her account of life through the lens of her food addiction, I could connect with so much of what she wrote.  She admits things like, "I struggled between wishing away all the food that collected on my body as fat, and fiercely missing every morsel.  I hated the binge I had last weekend, and I wished I could do it again.  I wanted to eat less, and I wanted to immediately eat more.  I wanted to be angry but I felt too hurt, too ashamed to thrash about.  I wanted to fit in while also wanting so badly to say a careless "****off" to all of society.  I wanted to run each ounce off but I felt more like taking up permanent residence under the covers of my bed.  I wanted to be alone while wanting desperately to be held tightly!".  I've been there....that contradicting place of wanting one thing so badly, while also longing for the opposite just as much!  It's like being caught between a rock and a hard place!
  Andie also talks a lot about her relationship with food and the realization that this relationship wasn't normal.  She shares about how much she struggled with moderation and not over eating, and admits that  "When you've never been thin, never met normal numbers on the scale, you don't know that living in moderation is possible" and that "the problem with bingeing was that although I promised myself that I would not do it again, I silently wished I could.  One the one hand, I wanted to be right on track, doing well and paying attention to what I was eating.  On the other hand, I wanted to veer off course and stay riding in the direction that wound into oblivion.  It was this dichotomy that killed me.  The wanting to be different in order to be perceived as better, yet wishing I didn't have to try so hard".
  But then she starts to make a mental shift.  After realizing "even though I'd often felt that way myself, I resented that the size of my body was correlated to my value, my worth as a person", she also began to realize "I couldn't knowingly look at food for a way out when it had so clearly led me here.  It wasn't hunger that beckoned me to eat more. It wasn't my stomach that needed to be reconciled.  It was my shame.  It was guilt.  And food can't remedy such things".  And isn't that the truth!  Binge eating is never really about a love for's about the desire to satisfy or stuff some other feeling going on inside of us...and it's not until we really address the underlying issue, that food will stop having that addiction quality for us!
  Unlike the previous story I read though, Andie's weight loss journey had a pretty much upward swing with seemingly very little physical struggle.  She talks a lot about how much heavier she was than everyone else and what her ideal weight was, but when I think about that in terms of my own life and body I find that part of her story a bit less relatable.  I am about the same height and started off heavier than her, but I've lost weight before and I know that even at my skinniest I was no where close to her ideal weight.  While I have no doubt the story is true, I know it wouldn't be the same for me and that turned me off a bit.
  However, the mental and emotional connection she has to food, that's something I truly understand.  From a young age, food is comfort for her, a constant.  When she starts to try to get healthy, she swings to the other end of the spectrum and food seems to become more of an enemy, this thing that frustrates her and pulls her away from her goals.  Food isn't just energy for her.  That I can relate to.  When you struggle with weight, food always seems to take on a personality for you.  It's not just a way to fuel your body... it becomes much, much bigger than that.  Her story was a reminder that I am not alone in that understanding!
  Ultimately Andie's conclusion is that the same girl that was overweight and comfortable in it, the girl that worked hard to lose it all and the girl that will continually fight against her addiction to food, were all her and that person is perfect.  That's a good thing to remember, for all of us!  I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to think the person I am working to become is somehow better then the person I am, but I think her point is that embracing all the parts of myself....from the person I am in this moment, to who I end up really what makes like beautiful.
  While this might not end up being my favorite book I've read this year, or even my favorite ever on this subject.  I am glad I read it and I would say for anyone who struggles with food issues and weight, this might be a good read, for no other reason than to remind you that you are not alone.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

"The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl: The Hilarious and Heartwarming Tale of a Real-life Superhero who got Happy from the Outside In" by Shauna Ried

  It's been a while since my last post.  Sorry about that.  My reading pace has greatly decreased now that we've entered into the summer months, but that's not to say I haven't been doing some good reading! 
  Beach season always makes me start thinking about all those winter months I spent wrapped up in covers, eating chocolate, instead of prepping my body for summer by exercising.  This year in particular was a struggle to get up and do anything, so now with summer here I find myself behind the eight ball in the health department.  But it's better late than never and so I've jumped back on the healthy bandwagon and decided to start my journey off by reading about someone else's weight loss journey!
  Shauna Reid is an Aussie who started her journey around 350 pounds. In the beginning she shares how she's a homebody who doesn't seem to like herself very much and has let the stresses of a parental divorce get the best of her in terms of emotional eating.  Then one day she comes to the realization that "the only one who can rescue (her) from this big fat mess is (herself)" and thus she begins on her journey of weight loss and health.
  There are so many things I liked about her journaled story.  Not only was it funny and engaging, but it was very real.  The book takes you through all 5 years of weight loss.... from her heaviest to her final landing place.  There are years when the weight just falls off, but then also times of gain or nothing at all.  Sometimes she is a gym rat whose caught up in the battle of the bulge and other times you can sense her struggle to reign her eating habits back in!  And then there's her fist jump into romance and the effects that has on her weight.  It's all so relatable and really draws you, the reader, in!
  Shauna also makes some really poignant statements.  She says regarding weight loss, "You know what's funny about losing a stack of weight?  Nothing really changes.  All that you happens is that you lose the thing upon which you use to hang all your neuroses.  Fat has shape and substance; you can poke it with a stick.  It's a scapegoat and a handy excuse.  Once you start to lose it, you realize you're stuck with the same moronic core". How true is that!  It's kind of like the idea that no matter where you go in life, you're always there.  Basically you have to deal with the inner issues...not just what people see on the outside.
  Then regarding the weight loss industry, she shares, "I need to remember that the weight loss industry exists to make money, whether it's a diet book or weight watchers or slimming magazines of crazy bob's blunder busting pills.  They all could help me lose weight, but none of them is a substitute for thinking for myself".  For me, that was a reminder that I can have all the knowledge in the world, but unless I put it into practice, none of it really matters.  I have to make my own decisions.  I have to decide if I would rather veg out on the couch or workout, or if I would rather have a gallon of ice cream or fit into my skinny jeans! Really it comes down to us!  Great point!
  But of all the things Shauna shares in her 400 plus pages of writing, some of her final thoughts hit me the most.  They are things like..."I'd always been desperate for approval and validation from others, but now I know that the real pleasure comes from impressing yourself" and "The true reward is finding peace and acceptance and embracing my own skin, with all it's quirks and charms"!  So encouraging and such truth!
  So, like I said,  I went into this book looking for motivation from someone else to get me started on my own journey, and I have to say that I found that and more!  If you need a little boost in the right direction, I would consider picking up a copy of this book for yourself!  Thanks Shauna Reid... aka Diet Girl...for being brave enough to share your story with the world!

Monday, May 16, 2016

"Wild and Free: a Hope Filled Anthem for the Woman who Feels she is Both Too Much and Never Enough" by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan

  If there is ever such a thing as being overly excited about a book, that's exactly what I was the first time I came across this title.  It sat in my amazon cart for months as I waited for it's May 3rd Release date to finally come! I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into the story of someone who understood exactly how I often feel...too much and not enough!  I had high expectations...and maybe that's just not fair considering it's only a book, the story of someone else's life.  So, even though I might have been a little disappointed when I finally had the book in my hands and had read to the last page, it's no fault of the authors.  Jess and Hayley put so much love and thought into their book!  Yes, I wanted more, but I also got a lot out of it... maybe exactly what I needed.
  Over the past few weeks, God's been doing something in me.  I can't really explain it, but there's been a bit of a shift in our relationship.  I ended my time on the missions field feeling pretty broken.  Looking back now, it's almost as if during that time God "broke up the ground" in me so that something new could be planted.  I see twinklings of what it is in the here and now, and I am encouraged, but I'm not exactly sure what it's going to be.  I can say though that I keep finding myself contemplating this idea of God as "Father"....a good father... my father... in a whole new way
  The authors of this book talk a lot about God the Father.  They way they speak it seems as if they are curled up next to him, affectionately talking about their "daddy".  I've always struggled to see my relationship with God in the same light.  It's much easier for me to consider myself His servant or "in His army", but the way Hayley and Jess speak of God the Father and His love for us, the more I long to know Him in the same way.
  As a follower of Christ, I cling to the idea that "while we were still sinners... even though (God) could foresee the full weight of how much we'd sin... He paid the price to allow us into His family" but it is that much more powerful to think that "our standing has never wavered with our Father (God).  Though the world has twisted what it means to be a daughter, His stance and His position towards us has absolutely stayed resolute.  The world cannot dictate what it means to be treasured by our Father, but the love and relationships of our Heavenly Father can heal and transcend the damage done here on earth".
  The truth is, as Hayley admits and I know to be true for myself, "I still sin, and He's still rescuing me!".  However, there is such comfort in knowing that "your freedom was won the cross and secured by your Father in your Christian Life.  It is not something you have to try to do; it is something that is simply true of you.  You are seen, you are chosen and you are free".  We can rest in " knowing that  you can never break things beyond repair" and " we never need to be afraid of failure... not when God's  grace will always be there to break our fall".
  As the writer's share, "It is the very nature of this fallen earth to let us down and leave us fractured" and "we'd rather cut our losses and preemptitively put up barriers to make sure that we never get hurt again" but "those in chains are rarely able to free themselves" and it's "at the foot of the cross, (where) we are all found out.  We are all covered in the blood of Jesus.  We are all made whole again".  This is what this book reminded me of... this is how we can live wild and free.... it's because of THIS great love of the Father... the Gospel of Christ!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

"When God Doesn't Fix It: Lessons You Never Wanted To Learn, Truths You Can't Live Without" by Laura Story with Jennifer Schuchman

"We pray for blessings, we pray for peace, Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity, We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need, Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things
We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear, We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love, As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea, And long that we'd have faith to believe
What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life, The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise"
~Lyrics by Laura Story
  When this song first came out, I like many people, felt very connected to it.  It was encouraging and a reminder that even in the hardest points of life, we are not alone.  However, now after reading Laura's Story...the story of the life behind the song... I am overwhelmed with awe and have a whole new appreciation for every word and the truths behind it.
  I've been thinking a lot about suffering a trials and the darkest moments of life's night lately.  Thinking about where God is in the midst of those things and how I seem to take two different routes in response to tough situations (running to or running away from God!).  I've had questions for and arguments with God about the suckiness of life that I just don't understand (yes I know there is sin in the world, I get that... but sometimes you need more than a pat answer).  That's when I saw this book.  In the midst of my mess and the messiness of those around me, as I was wondering where is the hope and why God isn't doing anything about it all, I saw that title "When God doesn't fix it" and I knew I needed to read it!
  To be honest, in reading I was hoping for answers... at least the kind that would satisfy my longings.... and while I did find wisdom in these pages, the answers I got were not the kind I would have expected.  And the truth is, as Laura wrote, "God doesn't owe us an explanation this side of heaven.  There's nothing in scripture that tells us we're entitled to an answer.  It's not that God is secretive and doesn't want us to know, it's that we're incapable of seeing the big picture".  Not only that but "We ask God why, believing the answer will provide us with some kind of deep soul satisfaction.  But too often, we don't get the answers we want". And "even on those occasions when (we) do get an answer... it always leads to more questions"!  Ain't that the truth!
  As I was reading Laura's story, my heart broke with hers, and yet as I watched her life "fall apart" I began to understand something that I am so often blinded to.  That is, it's our world... not our God... that cheats us out of the joy of life.  It's the world that tells me that as a 30 something year old woman I am suppose to be married, with children, living in my own house and driving my own car... and since that's not my life, there must be something wrong with me... or God's failed me in some way.  But God never promises us any of that.  In fact the Bible says "In this word you will have trouble..."! Yet God also offers us the comfort to "take heart, for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  This world has convinced us that God owes us something cause we are here.  That we are good people and a good God would do nothing but bless us!  But that's not the truth, is it?  As the Bible says, "There is none righteous not even one" (Romans 3:10).  Laura puts it this way, "The righteousness scale in the bible says that no one but Jesus makes it to the top.  But despite our lack of Goodness, God is always God and is always good to us" and yet , "Even during our darkest trials God is waiting with outstretched arms for you to come into his presence."
  Now, if you're like me, then maybe you're thinking "but what about the time when...".  I was there too.  I still sit there sometimes, wondering why it felt like in my darkest moment, when I was crying out to God and begging Him with all that was within me to show up, He seemed nowhere to be found.  But then I was out walking the other day...the 7th or 8th day in a row of crappy rainy-ness... and it was like I had this small epiphany.  I hadn't seen the sun for at least 168 hours, yet I knew, behind those clouds it was still there, every day rising up and setting.  I may not see it.  I may not feel it's rays.  And for all intents and purposes I have no proof it's there... but I know it is.  And it's the same with God.  Sometimes the clouds of life get in the way and I can't seem Him or even feel Him and I wonder if we will ever meet again, but I can know that He is there and He always will be.
  "No matter what it is that we are praying for, a time will come when we bump up against what we think God should do and what He allows".  The thing is "God doesn't promise our stories will make sense in and of themselves, but He does promise they will find their greater purpose in light of his greater story of redemption".  He is there with us, because we are His and ultimately the story is about Him!
  So, like I said in the beginning, I might not have gotten the "answers" I wanted from this book, but I ended up with honest truth and wisdom from someone who has walked through the fire (and in many ways is still in it) and I stand here at the end believing God to etch those truths into my heart and help me to trust Him more and more. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

"Man of Vision/Woman of Prayer" by Marilee Pierce Dunker

  A few years ago I had a bit of a falling out with World Vision.  It wasn't over what you think.  What happened was I had a sudden loss of income and could no longer send my monthly support.  I tried to make it work but eventually I had to decide to give it up.  I wrote World Vision.  I called them and explained the situation.  Yet over and over again each month they would send this bright orange envelope to my house with big, bold writing on the front exclaiming how I owed them money!  I felt horrible to begin with but even worse by this embarrassment.  Eventually I was able to get the whole thing rectified, but it really hurt my opinion of the organization.
  Over the past few weeks I have been reading the book, "Man of vision/Woman of Prayer" by Marilee Pierce Dunker, one of the daughters of Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision.  As I read the story of a family torn by humanness and yet the miraculous power of God to work through such flawed people, I was awed and reminded that nothing in life is ever perfect!
  I have a tendency to get caught up in the lie of perfection.... or more accurately my own imperfection.  Every time I fail or do something wrong, I beat myself up as if there shouldn't be a struggle.  I have a tendency to view struggles and pain as God's way of showing me His disapproval; as if it's all His punishment towards me.  I know this isn't how God works.  I know, even though there are consequences to sin, God loves us and willingly died to cover those sins.  Sometimes my mind just forgets what my heart already knows. 
  Albeit a bit scary, this book was a good reminder that “A commitment to Jesus Christ is no guarantee of immunity to the disease and pain of the world.  In fact, those who are most greatly used are often most viciously attacked.” And that "the story of greatness is not the story of a man or a woman or a family who runs and never stumbles or falls; rather, it is the story of those who dare to run and stumble and fall, and who by the grace of God pick themselves up to run again and again and again". 
  The Pierce's weren't perfect.  Bob Pierce in particular was someone who struggled with a temper and avoided his family and even had an emotional breakdown, yet God used Him greatly.  Tens of thousands of people came to Christ through his ministry.  Thousands orphans received care through his creation of World Vision.  And even more needs were met all over the world through his work with Samaritan's Purse.  It just goes to show that it's God working through us  and that our imperfections don't disqualify us from being used by Him.
  The end of the book deal with the suicide of the eldest daughter in the family, with Bob's emotional breakdown and the diagnosis of leukemia and ultimate how the family was able to reconcile before his death (a reconciliation that while certainly brought some closure, wasn't  the clean cut wrap up we see in the movies).  As I read through it all, I was overwhelmed by the faith of Lorraine Pierce, even in her loneliness and inability to understand why.  I was impressed by the forgiveness of Marilee and her ability to see God's faithfulness through all the hardship.  And I felt the longing of Robin who just wanted her father's approval.
  This isn't a new book.  It doesn't look impressive by the cover.  Yet what this story has to teach us is so much greater than my words can express.  I am sure this book will continue to speak to me as I think back of the lives of this normal family that truly gave all for an extraordinary God.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Help, Thanks, Wow." by Anne Lamott

  I keep going back and forth about my thoughts on this book, Help. Thanks. Wow.  I remember reading Plan B and Traveling Mercies and being so caught up in the pages and feeling like I and the author were one.  I connected with Anne Lamott's writing style, her personality and almost everything she was saying and I wanted more.  Now, maybe it's because of my lack of reading lately or just because I've grown into different tastes, I found that her writing style didn't seem to grab me as much.  I still related to her and what she wrote in this book, but I guess I was expecting or wanting more... of course there was still a lot that grabbed my attention!
  The past several months have been such a rollercoaster for me emotionally and spiritually.  Who I want to be, who I think people expect me to be and who I actually am, just don't seem to be lining up and digging through all the rumble of the past two years of my life has only caused me to feel like I might never get back to the person I once was.  But, what I am beginning to realize is that maybe that's a good thing.
  Years ago now, when I committed my life back to God, I cultivated a relationship with Him where I didn't want to do anything, say anything, act any certain way because I thought I "had" it was the "Christian" thing to do.  I wanted authenticity and honesty and I believed as Lamott says in this book, that "when you're telling the truth, you're close to God" (I still agree with this, by the way).  But in the back of my mind, hidden away well enough that I didn't recognize it, was still this belief that I needed to be perfect for God.
  Spoiler Alert: I am NOT perfect.  I make tons of mistakes, say and do things wrong all the time and have a tendency to make things worse by not confronting issues as they come up!  Never before have I seen the very depth of my own sin has I do now, especially as I look back at my time in Ecuador.  In fact, as I began seeing just how "human" I really am, in some ways, it began to destroy me.  I felt like it was all too much and I couldn't face God anymore... so for a bit I didn't.  Over the past few months though I've begun remembering the truth of what Anne says in the beginning chapter of this book, that "prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen and do not have to get it together before we show up"!  And that has brought me some freedom!
  Lamott says, "When we think we can do it all ourselves, it's hopeless.  We're going to screw things up.  We're going to get our tentacles wrapped around things and squirt our squiddy ink all over so that there is even less visibility and then we're going to squeeze the very life out of everything".  I've been there, done that... but then I've also had to continually remind myself that it's true, "The three things I cannot change are the past, the truth and you".  When I let that sink in...when I loosen my grip of control and stop over analyzing everything, learning to deal with things not on my own but with the help of God, I can actually walk in that freedom I mentioned above.
  Truth is, I can continue to live a life where I beat myself up continually for not living up to a perfection I cannot reach (the old me) or I can do my best, turn to God and as Lamott says, "Leave the results in God's good hands".  Anne laments that "if we stay where we are, where we are stuck, where we're comfortable and safe, we die there"  but then encourages us that "having done the right thing lift us out of the glop, the dregs of our own delusional thinking, and puts us a bit closer to being on the right track".  This is the kind of life I want to live.
  So do I recommend this book.  Yeah, of course.  Like I said there is a lot of good in here (some of which I have shared).  The writing style isn't exactly where all her previous books seemed to be and sometimes I got lost in the "poetry" that she quotes throughout the pages, but her words will speak to different people in different ways and there is certainly a lot of value in reading them!

Friday, April 8, 2016

"Carry on, Warrior; The Power of Embracing your Messy, Beautiful Life" by Glennon Doyle Melton

  So one thing I enjoy doing, is listen to and/or watching TED talks online.  I've been introduced to quite a few interesting people through doing so, and Glennon Doyle Melton is one of them.  Maybe I missed out on the whole Momastery blog and community she's created over the years because I myself and not a mom, but apparently she is pretty well known and liked...and now I get why.
  Glennon talks a lot throughout her book about how in opening herself up to being brutally honest about herself to the world, she has seen other women feel like they have permission to do the same.  Lives have been touched and hearts have been open, all because she was willing to put her real self out there and help other women know they are not alone.
  In the first few pages of the book Glennon states, "I was born a little broken, with an extra dose of sensitivity.  Growing up, I felt that I was missing the layer of protections I needed to expose myself to life's risks... risks like friendship, tender love, and rejection.  I felt awkward, unworthy, and vulnerable.  And I didn't want to walk through life's battlefield feeling that way.  I didn't think I'd survive".  Reading that, I could totally relate.  As an overly sensitive person who has spent years of my life trying to protect myself from hurts that normal people seem to be able to just roll with, I felt like....yes!  Someone gets me!
  She goes on to talk about how, "maybe the battles of life are best fought without armor and without weapons.  That maybe life gets real, good, and interesting when we remove all the layers of protection we've built around our hearts and walk out onto the battlefield of life naked".  At first I was like....uh, yeah you lost me, crazy woman....why would I ever go off to war without protecting myself!  But the more I read her story, the more I began to see how she seems to really LIVE life... in all it's gloriousness and messiness... and maybe that's really what it's suppose to be like.
  Glennon doesn't skirt around the issue either and pretend like life is easy if you just learn to put a happy spin on it.  In fact she says, "Life is equal parts brutal and beautiful.  And/both.  Life is brutiful.  Like starts in a dark sky.  Sharing life's brutiful is what makes us feel less alone and afraid.  The Truth can't be stuffed down with food or booze or exercise of work or cutting or shopping, for long.  Hiding from the truth causes it's own unique pain and it's a lonely pain.  Life is hard... not because we are doing it wrong, just because it's hard".  I needed to hear that... as I've experience the lonely painful side of what she said!  But to be reminded that in those moment of brutalness, it's not that I just can't seem to get it right and figure out this thing called life... It's that this IS life...both the good and the bad put together (which I obviously knew but often forget to remember)... brings a sense of comfort.
  She also talks about love and how "it's not something for which to search or wait or hope or dream for.  It's simply something to do" and how it's not always "warm and fuzzy or sweet and sticky. (But rather) Real love is tough as nails.  It's having your heart ripped out, putting it back together and the next day offering it back to the same world that just tore it up......resisting the overwhelming desire to quit, to save yourself for yourself".  I have a tendency to run away from SCARY love like that.  I don't want to be hurt so often times I leave before I can experience true, life affirming love.  But as Glennon also says, "Brave is not something you should wait to feel.  Brave is a decision!" and her book certainly gave me a lot to think about in terms of stepping out in bravery in this way.
  So while this is certainly not a new book and I'm probably one of the last people to get around to hearing about Glennon Melton, if you haven't read it, I certainly recommend it.   I think it would probably speak a lot to you too... not because it's perfect or because the author is (she admits herself that she is anything but), but because it's real and will make you feel less alone and more open in reading it...and I think we could all use a little more of that!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom" By Henri Nouwen

  This has been a really slow reading month for me, which kind of came as a surprise considering I thought I would find plenty of time to read while recovering from surgery. But, as it turns out, major surgery takes a lot out of you and being on medication makes it hard for me personally to concentrate for long periods of time.  So it actually ended up being a pretty great thing that I picked up Henri Nouwen's book, "The Inner Voice of Love" at the beginning of the month, to carry me through the past several weeks!
  Now to be honest, when purchasing this book, I flipped through it and thought I'd finish it in a day; two days tops.  However as I began reading the introduction the author explained that this isn't that type of book.  Sure it's possible to read it in a few hours, but it's suppose to be more of a meditation type thing, a devotional, that you read little by little and soak in over an extended period of time!  That ended up fitting perfectly for me.
  Now, I originally heard of Nouwen 13 or so years ago when I was living in California doing a missions program in the inner-city.  I really hadn't thought about him much since then, until the beginning of this month when Jamie Torkowski (the founder of To Write Love On Her Arms.... whom I follow on instagram and twitter) kept posting quotes from another one of Henri's books and my pastor had mentioned him to me.  Not being one to turn down a suggestion, I checked him out again and while I must admit, sometimes I got lost in the sage of advice of it all, I could connect with a lot of what he writes and the story behind his writing (this book in particular was taken from his own journal entries that he wrote for/to himself during a really dark period of his life).
  While there were many quotes that stood out to me throughout my weeks of reading, there where two thoughts in particular that stuck out to me and that I continue to meditate on today....possibly because they fit together in many ways.  First, he writes, "When you really believe that you are loved by God, you can allow your friends the freedom to respond to your love in their way.  They have their own histories, their own characters, their own way of receiving lobe.  They may be slower, more hesitant or more cautious than you.  They may want to be with you in ways that are real and authentic for them but unusual for you.  Trust that those who love you want to show you their love in a real way, even when their choices of time, place and form are different from yours".  I needed to hear that, especially at a time when I have needed to rely on other people, ask them for help, have them come to me, and accept whatever of "themselves" they were willing to give.  To be honest, I often have a tendency to want to be more of a doer in my relationships.  I think I must do for you in order for us to be friends and that if I don't our relationship won't last.  Because of that I tend to not really focus on what others are doing for me, and sadly, in the moments I do focus on what others are giving to me, I often have trouble accepting it as is.  I, as many of us, like to be loved in certain ways and I expect people to see those ways and give me what I want/need as I want/need it.  But life's not like that...and it's helped a lot to truly meditate on this passage and allow it to teach me to begin to accept not only God's love but the love of those around me in whatever random ways they are able to show it.
  The other quote Henri shares that has definitely stuck out to me is that "No one person can fufill all your needs. But the community can truly hold you.  The community can let you experience the fact that, beyond your anguish, there are human hands that hold you and show you God's faithfulness".  I have only just begun to experience my first true sense of real community in the past few months through a life group I joined at my friends house.  It's amazing and scary, fun and embarrassing, open and vulnerable in more ways then I can even begin to explain to myself, yet it's also exactly what this quote suggests.... the human hands of God linked together to hold and to show God's faithfulness.  I am lucky to have this group. And I am also lucky to have other things in my life, like friends, my family, my church.  For me, over the last few months in particular, church has been a hard place for me.  I have been dealing with so much and in so many ways I don't want to disappoint any of the people I care so desperately about there, that it's almost been easier to stay away and not let them see my struggle.  But I guess I am realizing that this isn't what God calls us to.  The church, His body, is His hands and feet and while yes, individually we will all disappoint and hurt each other, as a whole we can and do hold each other and carry each other to Jesus.  Instead of shying away when things get hard, I need to trust the God in the people of the Church will be there even when things aren't so pretty.
  So, while I guess this isn't much of a book review as it is a personal sharing, I would recommend this book and I would also suggest that you take the author seriously in reading it little by little, letting each thought and phrase soak into you and begin to change your heart.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"The Ragamuffin Gospel" by Brennan Manning

  "If Jesus appeared at your dining room table tonight with knowledge of everything you are and are not, total comprehension of your life story and every skeleton hidden in your closet; If He laid out the real state of your present discipleship with the hidden agendas, the mixed motives and the dark desires buried in your psyche, would you feel his acceptance and forgiveness?". Could you imagine... Jesus sitting there at the head of the table... looking straight at you.  Would you feel his love?  Would you sense His acceptance?  Or would you cower in fear?
  As Brennan Manning says in his decades old book The Ragamuffin Gospel, "sooner or later we are all confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency.  Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut.  Once the  fervor has passed, weakness and infidelity appear.  (And) we discover our inability to add even a single inch to our spiritual stature".  And it's in those moments...when we seemingly hit our spiritual rock bottom... that we hopefully encounter God and in turn can say along with Manning, "my deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it".
  Maybe it's just my misinterpretation of the world, but it seems to me in our day and age there is this sense that if I believe God exists, I'm good.  There is nothing more to it.  There's no life change... no moment of realization of the amazing grace of God.  We just have this head knowledge of some big guy in the sky whose watching over us, but it has no real meaning for our day to day lives... there's no hope, no freedom, no gratitude or sense of rejoicing.  Manning explains how "in earlier times it did not take faith to believe that God existed... almost everybody took that for granted.  Rather, faith had to do with one's relationship to God... whether one trusted in God.  The difference between faith as belief in something that may or may not exist and faith as trusting in God is enormous.  The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart.  The first can leave us unchanged, the second intrinsically brings change".
  I think it's that moment "When we accept ownership of our powerlessness and helplessness, when we acknowledge that we are paupers at the door of God's mercy, (that) God can make something beautiful out of us".  That's when God moves from something out there, to the center of our lives.  We so badly...or maybe I should just speak for myself and admit that I so badly... want to feel like I am in control and like I can do good and make myself acceptable to God.  I try to cover up and hide my faults and wrong doings and perform for God.  But even the Bible says that "We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in God's sight" (Isaiah 64:6).
  It's the moment though when you recognize the truth of that verse, but then allow "the focus of your life (to) shift from your badness to His goodness and the question to become not what have I done, but what can He do, (that) release from remorse can happen;  (and) miracle of miracles, you can forgive yourself because you are forgiven, accept yourself because you are accepted and begin to start building up the very places you once tore down".   It's the moment when true faith comes into being. As Manning says, "Christianity happens when men and women accept with unwavering trust that their sins have not only been forgiven, but forgotten".
  I am not making much sense am I? And I am in no way doing this book justice.  Brennan talks so honestly and eloquently in his book about grace and what God truly accomplished on the cross, and none of this even begins to touch the surface on that. 
  For me, I needed to read this book again to be reminded of hard truths like "if in our hearts we really don't believe that God loves us as we are, if we are still tainted by the lie that we can do something to make God love us more, we are rejecting the message of the cross". But also I needed to hear comforting knowledge that "it is this risk bring the truth of ourselves just as we are, to God just as He is, ... is the most dignified thing we can do in life" and that "we may not be the kind of people we want to be, we may be a long way from our goals, we may have more failures than achievements, we may not be wealthy or powerful or spiritual, we may not even be happy, but we are nonetheless accepted by God (and) held in His Hands".   And maybe you need to hear that too. 
  Maybe you, like me need to read and re-read this book until it makes sense an engrains itself into your heart.  Because ultimately the Ragamuffin Gospel is the Gospel of God... the story of His grace... and that's the only thing we can truly place our hope in! So, don't let my rambling and lack on congruency distract you.  Take the time, read Brennan's words for yourself and allow God to speak to you through them!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"One Thousand Gifts: a Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are" by Ann Voskamp

  "Sometimes you don't know when you're taking the first step through a door until you're already inside", that's what Ann Voskamp says in one of the opening chapters of her book One Thousand Gifts.  To be honest, in some ways my own life feels like a series of stepping into new doors and new rooms that I've never knew existed, or was to afraid to peer inside because of who or what I thought it would make me, not realizing in the moment I was even doing so.  Lately, I've been a little less afraid... or rather a little braver in the midst of my fears.  For the first time ever I find myself realizing that maybe the way I've looked at the world has been wrong.  Maybe the reason why I think things are a certain way, isn't because they are that way, but because I've blinded myself to the truth... afraid of what that truth might be.  This kind of living though, has come at a cost.  Over the years I've become quite pessimistic.  I always see how things can/will go wrong.  I dwell on the brokenness and the hurt of myself, others and the world around me.  I question everything... even God.  But I'm silent about it all... keeping all those things wrapped up tightly in the caves of my heart.  I don't want anyone to know, anyone to see.  But maybe... just maybe... I am the one who needs to have her eyes opened... and maybe in the opening of my eyes I will release me grip and become more real with myself and the world around me.
  I think Ann Voskamp does a great job of showcasing how to do just that in this book.  Sewn throughout the chapters and pages you can see her very person journey not only from depression to joy and ingratitude to gratitude, but also from hidden doubt to firmly planted faith.  She asks in the very beginning of the book, "Can there be a good God? A God who graces with good gifts when a crib lies empty through long nights, and bugs burrow through coffins?  Where is God really?  How can He be good when babies die, and marriages implode, and dreams blow away, dust in the wind?  Where is grace bestowed when cancer gnaws and loneliness aches and nameless places in us soundlessly die off without reason, erode away?  Where hides this joy of the Lord, this God who fills the earth with good things, and how do I fully live when life is full of hurt?  How do I wake up to joy and grace and beauty and all that is the fullest life when I must stay numb to losses and crushed dreams and all the empties me out?".  We've all been there haven't we?  At least I have... in the dark quiet nights of loneliness or the pain of suffering loss.  We sit there in these moments and we wonder, "where is God? Does He even care?" and if we are lucky, if we listen closely enough, we might actually hear His answer....or we might not.
  It's in these moments of not that we start to doubt...walking ever so slightly away from faith.  But, as Voskamp says, "Perhaps the opposite of faith is not doubt.  Perhaps the opposite of faith is fear.  To lack faith perhaps isn't so much as intellectual disbelief in the existence of God as fear and distrust that there is a GOOD God".  She follows that up with the idea that maybe "that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond.  To Him.  To God whom we endlessly crave".  What a thought...albeit not new... to think that maybe the brokenness of our lives are the cracks not only through which God can shine through us, but also through which we can see Him!  Maybe it's like Ann says, "When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows".  I want to see life grow in me again, don't you?!
  This whole book is the story of Ann Voskamp's dead things coming back to life... of her finding God in the midst of looking for His blessings.  After writing down, day after day, week after week, month after month, a list of over 1000 ways God has shown His love and blessing and love towards her... His gifts".. she reflects that "the secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is", advice that we all need to hear, because it's so easy to close up and shut down in those moments when He seems most absent.  But as Ann learns in all her listing and her noticing of God in the mundane and holy moments of life, "Nothing I am counts for anything, but all that I count of Him counts for everything"!.  She says,  "While I may not always feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things, because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving" and that "it's impossible to give thanks and simultaneously feel fear".  I have so much to learn!  And yet maybe this... the seeing and giving thanks for the blessing that Voskamp talks about again and again in her book... actually is the key.  Maybe in doing so we discover, as she did, that the answer to the question can God be trusted is found only when we take the time to "count blessing and find out how many of His bridges have already held".  I guess it's time to start my own gift list!  How about you?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

"Coming Clean: A Story of Faith" by Seth Haines

  "Be honest: in moments of clarity, of stone cold sobriety, do you ask how a good God could allow so much pain?  Do you wonder whether Jesus is a figment of your imagination, whether God is real? you love and do you forgive yourself the way God loves and forgives you?  Do you wonder whether God will ever speak again, and whether He ever spoke in the first place?  Do you wonder whether it's just your noggin talking to you?  Do you wonder whether God likes you?  Do you hear your accusers casting aspersions, telling you that you're unloved, unworthy, a thing to be discarded?"  These are the words tucked away in the second to the last entry of Seth Haines new book "Coming Clean".  It seems only appropriate that they would be hidden in the last few pages of a two-hundred some odd page book.  Not that the author is trying to hide fact he's insanely honest and vulnerable from the very first line, of the first entry, on the first day... but rather, it's ironic that it resembles the human heart... particularly the heart of this follower of Jesus.  These are the types of questions that I keep tucked away deep in the recesses of my brain.  These are the types of questions and wonderments that I have sometimes, but that I don't want anyone to know... because these aren't the questions of the super-powerful, awe-inspiring Christian....or are they?!  Maybe these are actually the types of questions that when faced, lead us to the deepest truths of our faith!
  Anyway, I think there's something about pure honesty that really draws people in.  When someone takes off their mask, stops pretending, and is just real...even when it might not be acceptable, even when it might not be understood, even when it may cost them something... it captivates us (or at least me).  Probably because it's so rare!  But this is exactly what it was like reading this book.  There were no false pretenses, no sense of trying to please the crowd and say/do what's right.  It's just a man sharing his struggle, his pain, and his journey back to God...and it is POWERFUL!
  Seth Haines is a man, a husband and a father...he's also a Christian, a true follower of Jesus, just trying to figure it all out.  The story written in the pages of his book are wrapped around the two flagpoles of his youngest son's illness and his own struggle with alcohol... but there's so much more in-between, basically a whole lifetime.  Haines states in the beginning of the book, "If faith starts as a mustard seed, maybe doubt does too" and throughout these pages he learns where those doubts of faith began in his life and how to begin to overcome them. 
  There's a culminating incident that leads him to make the decision to stop drinking (what that actually is, I will leave up to your reading pleasure to find out) but reading the story I felt myself cringing for him, because had it been me I would have been so embarrassed.. I would have felt like I had lost all control and respect and wouldn't want to show my face again.  But he doesn't do that.  Instead it becomes his opportunity, his moment of change.  So even though, as he appropriately mentions, "our ghosts always seem to surface at the most inopportune times", maybe that's exactly what we need... to be thrown off balance at the worst possible moment to get us to the place of reaching for the help we need.
  As Seth begins to walk into and through his own pain, he shares some of the most insightful things I have heard on the topic... and maybe it's just because here's a man not just spewing advice at something he's not even affected by, but rather he's talking from his very own walk.  He says, "If pain took an organized, namable, tangible, physical shape it'd be an easy thing to put to death.  It turns out, though, that to beat the shame out of you, you have to give the pain in your life contours".  Basically you have to give shape to it... you have to figure out what it is.  Then he follows that up with the comforting truth he received from his therapist, that "if you deal with the pain, you won't need the numbness"... which is the straight up honesty we all need to hear whether we go looking for comfort in alcohol, like the author, or food, power/success, men/women, etc. (something the author points back to many times throughout the book).
  He even admits, "I am a Christian who has used systems and liquor to numb the pain that God might not answer my prayers, that he might not heal, that ultimately, he might not be present in my life.  The pain is evidence of this idea of non-conformity, I have used these vices to kill the pain". Then he ever so inspiringly connects this pain to the story of Jesus in the garden of gethsemane and meditates on the idea that, "to ask for relief from God... this is human.  To pray through the pain, to live in it instead of numbing yourself to it, to subjugate your will to the will of God, even in the face of potential suffering.. this is what it means to be like Jesus.  This is what it means to yield to the mystery".  Again, these aren't words of a pastor trying to convince a congregation, these aren't words of salesman trying to make a few bucks, these are the words of a man in the midst of the muck and the mire, crying out to a God he's not even sure cares to listen, and finding that God is closer than he ever imagined.  And maybe that's what makes his thoughts that much more meaningful.
  I am not one to be so open with my struggles.  It's very hard for me to open up with even the closest of my friends, when it comes to the deep down, nitty gritty, messes of my heart.  Yet in reading Haines story I was convicted by the idea that maybe it really does "take a village to break through to freedom". And I was reminded of a conversation I recently had with a friend where she said, "Maybe in being honest with your struggles and with who you are some people will walk away from your life and reject you for it, but those who stay, the ones that really matter, will get to know the real you and be able to love you in a more deeper, intimate way".  Maybe this is why God places us in community... so we can share our stories and our struggles with one another, and that maybe in sharing what we've learned in them we can help one another through this  journey of life (and maybe that's exactly why the devil works so hard to convince us me need our masks).
  Seth Haines book is more than just words written on a page.  It's life, and hope, and a hand reaching out to you in the darkness saying, "I know, I've been there, let me show you the way" and I am more than grateful that he put it out there for all of us to read (even if this is only the beginning of your journey)!  Thank you Mr. Haines for your honesty... for being real... and for showing that in even in our darkest moments, we are never to far beyond the reach of God!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"Jesus > Religion: Why He is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More and Being Good Enough" by Jefferson Bethke

  Jefferson Bethke broke out on my scene several years ago now, when I and about 23 million other people watched his YouTube video "Why I hate Religion, but Love Jesus" (you can watch it here ).  I remember watching that video and just thinking, "Wow, this kid gets it!".  He was speaking truth, hard truths that we religious folk don't often like to hear and amazing truths that those who have been hurt by the church need to listen to.  It's the truth behind that statement, "It's a relationship not a religion" and it was something I needed to hear then and I still need to hear now.
  I remember also, when this book came out.  I was still working at a chain bookstore and I remember seeing it and thinking, I need to read that.  But I didn't... at least not in the moment.  Instead I recommended it to several people.  I purchased copies and gave them away.  I even put it on a "to-read" wish-list, even though it took me until now to actually read it.  I guess what I knew then and can attest to now, is that the book would be full of the same kind of truths as the YouTube video (after all one is based on the other) and those truths are things we all need to hear... again and again.
  I think Jefferson does a good job of pointing out or at least putting his finger on things we in the church really need to think about... and not just think, but allow what we discover from it, to change us...or in more religious terms, to allow God to change us through it.  He says, "No wonder the world hates us (meaning Christians).  Most of the time we're persecuted not because we love Jesus, but because we're prideful, arrogant, jerks who don't love the real Jesus.  We're often judgmental, Hypocritical and Legalistic while claiming to follow a Jesus who is forgiving, authentic and loving".  It hurts to hear, but it's true.... this in many ways, is how we act.
  He also talks about how, "In a postmodern world where all religious activity is seen as what we do for God, we need to proclaim that Christianity is about what God has done for us.  This would take people's focus off their behavior and put it on Jesus".  Again, truth!  Think about it.  How many of us get so completely shocked and turned off to the gospel when yet again another Christian in leadership "falls from grace" (if that's even possible....maybe they actually fall into grace!).  If those leaders were just honest all along, if they admitted where they struggled and where they see pitfalls in their own faith journey, would we even be astonished when one of those issues tripped them up.  Maybe instead we would take our leaders of their pedal stools and realize that we're all in the together...on the same playing field.
  I like also how Jefferson turns this all around and addresses the flip side as well.  He suggests that, "the minute you think you've gotten on God's good side by your own behavior, you are naturally prone to demonize those who haven't" and opens the readers eyes up to the fact that "no one is more religious than the Christian who gives grace to everyone except the religious older-brother types" (relating to the story of the prodigal son, whose older brother whose always done everything right, comes home from working in the fields to find his father is throwing a party for his wayward brother who has returned.. a brother who has squandered his entire inheritance.  The older brother is angry and refuses to come in to the party).  Following that up with the realization that "the biggest difference between religious people and gospel-loving people is that religious people see certain people as the enemy, when Jesus followers see sin as the enemy".
Then he finished up with idea that "the paradox of the scriptures is that it calls us way more sinful than we think we are, and it calls us way more loved than we think we are".  And addresses how "there is no security in being an employee.  The contract can be breached.  When you're an employee and something goes wrong you can be fired.  But when you are a child who is having a season of struggle and waywardness, parents become more intimately involved in your life" and that's what Jesus did for us. Jesus came to us. Jesus comes to us.  And as the author states, "the most dangerous thing about the human heart is that we want to reverse the roles by making God the responder and us the initiators".  But God is love and "that's what love is... it stays, it pursues, it pushes in.  And that's why Jesus is > than religion.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

"Have a Little Faith: A True Story" by Mitch Albom

  Growing up I didn't do a whole lot of exploring of other faiths.  Actually, to be completely honest, I had some weird belief that even in talking to someone of a different faith I would somehow be forced to "convert" and lose my spot in heaven (crazy!  I know!).  However, over the years, especially over recent years, I've come to enjoy learning about other religions and why people believe what they do.  I don't spend my time trying to defend what I believe or convince others that what they believe is wrong.  Instead I listen and I share and I let God do the rest.  It's not up to us to "save" anyone anyway... I'm pretty sure God accomplished that on the cross (and it's really His work in our hearts that truly leads any of us to Him, we are just helpers along the way). 
  Anyway, I picked up "Have a Little Faith" at the library the other week and started reading it mostly because I remember enjoying "Tuesday's with Morrie" and I thought, "same author, same type of writing style, I'll probably like it" and I did.  In reality I enjoyed the interaction between Mitch and the "Reb" way more than the story of Henry, but I saw value in them both... even though they only really intersected in one way in my mind.
  From the Reb, I think I was reminded that we aren't called to judge, we are just called to love (I've proven time and time again that I am a horrible judge, yet I still catch myself assuming I have the right to do so and that my judgments are always correct, even though they aren't).  Through out the book the Reb is shown as this man of faith who is completely confident in what he believes and isn't afraid of the hard questions.  He is loving and compassionate and everything a good "Christian" should be, even though He's a Jewish Rabbi (To think how much we miss out on my shunning people of other religions). 
  Then There is Henry, this former drug dealer/user and convict who gave his life to Jesus and turned into a pastor.  You can sense the skepticism of the author as he first meets Henry and I guess that's really why the story of their relationship and interaction truly shows that you can't judge a book by a cover.  While I am not sure I completely agree with everything Henry believes... he talks a bit about how he's not sure he's given enough "payback" for all the wrong he's done in his life for God to let him into heaven... In his story I see the truly redemptive work of God and the proof that nobody is ever too far gone for God to reach!
  I'm glad I found this book, and this author, again.  I'm glad that I have become open enough to realize that a Jewish Rabbi can teach me just as much about the God I serve and how to truly walk out my faith, than my Christian friends and pastors.  It's a simple read... more story then in depth commentary of faith, but still totally worth the time it take to read.  So whether your Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Agnostic, ect.  I would say give "Have a Little Faith" a try... it might surprise you what you take away!

Monday, February 15, 2016

"Monkey Mind: A Memior of Anxiety" by Daniel Smith

  This was another book that took me a really long time to get through...even though it's not very long.  A friend of mine recommended it to me, saying that it had helped him to not feel so alone in his struggles with anxiety.  In fact, reading the "episodes" of the author helped him to see himself in new light, which in turn helped him to seek help.  That's great for my friend.  For me, I didn't have the same reaction.
  Even though I read the entire book, I couldn't really enjoy the story when it seemed so much of it flowed out of sex or sexual circumstances.  Not only that, but the book seemed to flow in a way that shared all the issues (or most of them) but not really how they resolved... just that they did (His therapist helped with that by giving him tools to overcome, but what those tools are, how they helped, that wasn't really explored).  Maybe that wasn't meant to be the point of the book, maybe instead it was suppose to just be a lament of how things had been and other books are about how they got better, but the simplistic overturn of once I struggled, then I didn't, kind of turned me off.
  So why continue reading a book that I didn't really enjoy?  Partly it's my personality... I like to finish what I start, plus I had promised a friend I would check it out so I needed to give it a fair shake.  But, to be honest, it was also because it wasn't all bad.  There actually were parts I could relate to and moments that made me laugh, like when he proved he could get from diagnosing himself with anxiety to dying disgraced and alone in just eight steps in his mind or how he used feminine period pads to try and cover up his sweat stains/ sweat issue as an adult.  In that sense I found the book enjoyable.  I just wish there was more of that and less of the drug and sex content (although I get that's an important part of the story).  I also wish that the author would have written in a way that made you feel like he was inviting you into his story and not just proving how smart and awesome he could be with his words (which is totally judgmental on my part, but sometimes his choice of words took away from what he was trying to least for me).
  Anyway, as if you couldn't tell, I probably wouldn't recommend this book to anyone.  I'm not even sure outside of this blog that I would mention to anyone I read it.  I am glad it helped my friend and spoke to him...which proves it does have it's audience... but it didn't really do anything for me and I'm actually pretty glad it's over with.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

"Stronger" by Jeff Bauman (with Bret Witter)

  There are certain days in every persons life that stand out on a national or global scale.  For my parent's generation is was things like D-day and the shooting of JFK.  For my generation (or at least in my case) it's September 11th, the Sandy Hook shooting and the Boston Marathon Bombing.  I can tell you where I was and what I was doing when each of those things happened.  I can tell you who broke the news to me and all the feelings that went through my body as I listened to reports.  I wasn't even "there" (like in the situation) for any of those moments, yet I carry them with me.  How much more those who were there.
  To be honest, this wasn't exactly my next book of the year.  I actually started another book, which was quite interesting but might of been one of those bite off more than you can chew books for me, and I probably wouldn't have finished it for months.  So when reading that book turned more into homework than enjoyment, I returned it to the library and just started skimming the shelves.  I had a list with me (I always have a list), but this book... Stronger... wasn't on my list. I saw the title out of the corner of my eye and once I looked at the cover I immediately knew what it was about.  I hadn't intended to check it out, but a few pages in I was hooked...not just cause of the story or the writer, but more so because of his writing style. 
  I don't know Jeff Bauman as the celebrity that many other people do.  I didn't recognize his name, although I did recognize him by the photo I saw in the book (and in the newspapers at the time of the bombing), but beyond that I knew nothing of him.  In fact, it wasn't until about halfway through reading his story that I googled his name and realized there was a whole world of people out there who had all sorts of opinions of this guy and who he is or might be (think conspiracy theorist).  People are entitled to their own thoughts and opinions, but for me, reading this book, I have nothing but respect for this man.  I can't even imagine what he's been through... even after watching it on TV and reading his thoughts.  Then being able to put it all on paper and to connect with people in writing it...balancing the reality of what happened with your own thoughts and feelings, while still recovering from it all (if you can ever fully recover from such a thing).  He's right, He is strong!
  The story in the book talks about the day of the bombing (and a little before), the aftermath, the recovery and the "new normal" Bauman now faces.  There's such a good balance of showing both the good moments and the bad moments of the journey.  Jeff doesn't make himself out to be this perfect saint who just passed through it all with ease and flying colors...perfect A's all the way.  Sure he shares highlights of getting visits from celebrities and moments he was a symbol of inspiration to people, but he also shares about the hard times and the pain and the frustration of it all.  He tells about fights he had and things he said and did wrong.  He writes about his feelings and even how hard it is for him talk about those feeling or even think about that day (ironically since that's what the book is about).  I applaud him for putting it all out there, for not shying away and for not letting anyone take away from HIS story (naysayers, media or even terrorists).
  I will say that for me, the hero of the story isn't just Bauman.... actually pretty much everyone in the story is a hero in someway... but for me, it was actually his girlfriend who stood out to me the most.  What a firm foundation she is... what an inspiration.  Again, she's not made out to be perfect.... her struggles through out are very apparent... but she's there and she's strong and she doesn't let the world (or anyone in it) change their story.  This tragedy happened, but together these two people... Jeff and Erin... made their life through it.  That should be celebrated!
  Again, this isn't really one of those books that can be rated.  I can say it's a super easy read and you get sucked in pretty quickly (although maybe that's cause it happened just a few years ago), but  ultimately I think it's a story of triumph and over coming odds and seeing the good in the midst of the bad... and who doesn't want to read something like that!  But more than that, there's a spirit in this book that goes beyond just the "Boston  Strong" slogan mentioned time and time again.  It's a spirit of love and community and humanity at it's best (and worst!). I will leave you with one of my favorite things that Jeff Bauman said about the whole situation.  He said, "I'm coming out of this experience with damage.  I guess you'd call it suspicion.  I know how evil humans can be, and I'm watchful, because the bad guys are out there. But I know something else too; Bad people are rare.  But Good people are everywhere"!  Here's to the good people!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

"To Heaven and Back: A Doctor's Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels and Life Again (A True Story)" by Mary C. Neal, MD

  Several years ago an acquaintance of mine, that I have a lot of respect for, recommended this book to me.  The book had really spoken to her and captivated her by the fact that here was a DOCTOR... a real M.D. with a background in science and had every reason to be skeptical... who was talking about her experience of momentary death and visiting heaven.  For my friend, this helped confirm her belief in heaven and in God, and she wanted to share that with others.  I totally get that.
  I on the other hand was pretty skeptical.  So skeptical in fact that it's been over three years since my friend made the recommendation and it's taken me until now to crack the pages of this book.  I can't deny it's an interesting story.  Is it hard to believe visits to heaven and post-visit conversations with angels and/or Jesus himself?  Yes.  But who am I to say it can't/didn't happen.  What do I know.  Plus there are so many things in the story that seem like divine intervention (especially during the author's accident in Chile when she drowned and died... which is the focal point of the book).  It's hard not to see the hand of God or at least acknowledge the miracle of it all.
  The author talks a lot about how we can view much of life as coincidence or miracles, quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson in saying that people only see what they are prepared to see. While I agree that we can choose how we view things, and as Albert Einstein said live as if nothing is a miracle or that everything is, as I read this account of near death, I tended to see both.
  I believe God divinely intervenes in our lives sometimes.  The author  shares multiple stories in this book of what seems to be His intervention in her life.  She talks about the time she and a group were stuck in mud and stranded on a deserted road in Mexico and out of the blue rescue showed up after they prayed.  She talks about a scuba diving incident where she and another man should have in many ways died, but seemingly were directed to safety by fish after turning it to God.  Then of course how when she was dying on the banks of the rapids of  a river in Chile, random strangers came to carry her out through a forest to the exact road a ambulance and her husband all happen to meet up on.  Things like that can't be explained and with a lack of explanation I tend to believe it was God.
  Yet, from my own personal experiences and stories of other peoples lives, I also know that sometimes God chooses not to intervene... case in point in this book, when the authors son was killed.  So it was in some instances hard for me to really breathe into what the author was saying about everything being God directed. On top of that, while she has been in the medical world for majority of her life, much more of her life seemed to have been bundled under the tapestry of religion and faith.  While there is nothing wrong with that and it doesn't change the details of the stories she shares, it does give her a different perspective on it all, one that I makes me wonder if it would produce the same outcome from someone who hadn't grown up under the cloak of some kind of faith.  I guess what I am trying to say is I  think I would have been more captivated by the "heaven" moments, had these things happened to someone with no understanding, no-background, no prior-propensity to believe in it.  But that's really more my issue than anything having to do with the book.
  The author states herself in the Q&A section at the back of the book that many of the things that she shares she probably would not have believed herself if they had not happened to her and that she wrote the story not for fame or for notoriety, but rather just to share her experience, which is what she feels God has called her to do...and that I think is what keeps me from tossing out this book with the many other "heaven is for real" stories that have come out (not to say that I don't believe in heaven, because as skeptical as I come across, I do).  I genuinely believe that the author isn't trying to sell anyone faith or trying to convince people of heaven.... although those things could happen... I think she's just trying to be faithful to God.  For that I would recommend this book.

Monday, January 25, 2016

"Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith" by Michelle DeRusha

  This book took me a while to get through...not long by normal people standards, but much longer than other books normally take me... and I have such mixed feelings about it.  First of all,  I just couldn't seem to catch the flow or connect with the author has I was reading it.  I'd read a few pages, put it down, return hour later and repeat the process. But  I never seemed to hit that moment when it all clicked and I just couldn't (or didn't want to) escape from the authors world.  Yet, after I finally finished it,  as I looked back over the things I underlined or the parts that seemingly stood out to me,  I realized that there were in fact so many moments throughout the story where for at least a moment I did connect and where I felt like I could have written similar words myself. 
   I found myself clinging to the authors ideas that the beauty of faith is that "when all else fails, when you lose control and hit the bottom, when everything you thought was true vanishes, when everything you depended on evaporates, you still have God" and also that "God condones wrestling, even encourages it, because the struggle is a catalyst for transformation".
  I took comfort in her reminder that "many of the people in the Bible, including the disciples themselves, turned out to be ordinary humans... flawed, fallible, and struggling.  Yet through those ordinary people and despite their many imperfections, God accomplished great things", which is something I know (or at least have heard before), but need to be reminded of constantly.
  I stood there beside her taking in an deep breath of awe as I began once again to relax into the belief that "I (don't) need to impress God with perfect words, fully articulated thoughts and catchy phrases.  God (doesn't) need me to come to him as someone else.  He (doesn't) need me to dress up my prayers in poetry or lace them with special sacred words.  He (wants) me, the rambling, bumbling, awkward me.  the misfit me".
  And I even felt the relief oozing out of the Rilke quote towards the end of the story that said to "live in the questions now (because) perhaps you will then without noticing it, one distant day, live right into the answers".  Which offers me some much needed relief at a time when I want order and understanding and seem to only be stumbling on more questions.
  How a book can offer so much connection only in retrospect makes no sense to me.  How I seemed to miss and yet still in some way grasp these nuggets of gold during my reading but really only find that true sense of encouragement from them after the fact, seems so strange.  But nonetheless those moments were there and no matter how slowly it seemed to take for them to move from my head to my heart, they did.  And thus, I am grateful to have found this story and to be able to stand, heart connected to a sister in Christ who  isn't afraid to show the good and bad, the ups and downs, the failures and successes of her faith journey.  I have so much to learn from that! 

Monday, January 18, 2016

"The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard" by Kara Tippetts

  This book was really interesting as well as a little hard for me to read... but possibly for one of the most selfish, self-centered reasons that I would be willing to admit to.  Sitting there taking in page after page of wisdom and faithfulness from a women who faced a battle much greater than any or all issues I face in my own life... yet she does so with such vulnerability and brokenness... I kept having to stop myself from listening to the self-condemning voice asking me, "what is your problem?!" in order to keep reading.
  Kara's story, however, is beautifully written.  Sharing both the good and the hard with such elegance, that as a reader I couldn't help but want to champion her on and believe for her healing, since the world needs more people like her (unfortunately, through the wonders of google, I discovered Kara passed away last year in March).  I also felt the sweetness of a mother, the caring heart of a mentor, the wisdom of someone who has been schooled by the game of life, in her words and for those reasons  I couldn't help but keep pressing forward.
  From the beginning of the book and right through to the end where Kara lists page after page of 'thank you's" to those people who have made her life's community, I found myself drawn to this idea of unconditional love and acceptance even in our brokenness.  She shares of her conversion to faith and the youth pastor who opened her eyes to the gospel, showing her that "his weakness was his strength, and there was love to be known in brokenness".  She goes on to say, "He was inviting me to open wide my hands and admit my fault, make things right, love honestly, and be loved in return.  Loved not for how I performed but for who I was, exactly where I was...".   Then she followed it up with a Brennan Manning quote from the Ragamuffin Gospel that "To be alive is to be broken.  And to be broken is to stand in need of grace.  Honesty keeps us in touch with our neediness and the truth that we are saved sinners.  There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are".
  Then there is the theme that maybe our struggles are God's blessings in disguise (as the Laura Story song goes).  Kara questions, "what if our journey was intimately planned to be hard, and that story is the good story?  What if the glow of prosperity isn't a glow at all but a unique stink?  What if suffering isn't to be avoided but received and embraced?".  That's such a hard truth to try to come to grasps with... especially someone who is suffering in some way.  And yet here's the author, right in the midst of struggle saying she is "fighting to believe in the goodness of our story that seemed anything but good".  She follows that thought up with a quote from Nancy Guthrie's book Holding on to Hope that, "Trusting God when the miracle does not come, when the urgent prayer gets no answer, when there is only darkness... this is the kind of faith God values perhaps most of all.  This is the kind of faith that can be developed and displayed only in the midst of difficult circumstances.  This is the kind of faith that cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken".  And is that not the kind of faith we all want to cultivate...
  One of the last things Kara shares in her book (before all the touching letters she leaves for her husband and children, and then her husband for all) is a heart-wrenching moment between her and one of her younger daughters who is struggling to cope with the reality that her mom may not be around until she is old and gray.  The two have this sacred moment together, one that I would take away from if I tried to re-share it here (so you'll just have to read the book and get to it for yourself) and in the end, Kara concludes that even "if the hardest is asked of us, we believe grace will be there".  Just let that soak in for a's a women who has every reason to be angry and upset and frustrated (not to say she doesn't feel those things)... and yet in the midst of cancer and facing death she has the confidence to say "Grace... will... be... there". Powerful.
  It seems weird to now say whether or not I would recommend this book to anyone... cause honestly, it seems like much more than a book, it's a life... and how can you put your own judgment on someone else's writing of their life.  It just doesn't seem right.  But for those of you interested in hearing more of this story or hearing more from this woman who still has so much to teach us from the words she left behind, check out this book and also check out her blog (mundane faithfulness).

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Found: A Story of Questions, Grace and Everyday Prayer" by Micha Boyett

  Can I make a confession right off the bat?  I kind of picked this book up by accident...well sort of.  I was actually looking for a book by Jason Boyett (who by the way, turns out to be the brother of this author), but while at the library, I could only seem to come up with this title and thought, "well maybe I just got the authors name wrong".  Sadly, it wasn't until I actually started reading  the book that I realized, "hey wait a minute, this is a girl writing!", and turned the book over and realized I had the wrong author. Thankfully though, the mistake ended up being a good one since for the most part I really enjoyed this book.
  Prayer is such an interesting thing.. something I think most people see as important but rarely truly understand.  I myself have gone through my own ups and downs, and moments of confusions and understandings when it comes to prayer in the past few years and thus found Micha's book pretty comforting in that "you are not alone" kind of way.
  In the very beginning of the book, Micha states, "I am a sometimes believer, in love with Jesus.  I am a mystic who can't grip tight enough to the mystical.   I long for order but can hardly make a list.  I need something ancient, not ruled by the culture that rules me, to tell me what to do... I need to know how to love God when all I have to offer is my daily chaos.  Mostly, I long to know a quietness in my soul, true contentment, despite my spiritual unimpressiveness.  I need to believe that my simple life really is a gift and really can be holy".  Reading that alone, I knew I was going to like this girl and this book.
  Micha talks through out the book about how she once was involved in ministry, leading high school students and investing in their lives, and how she had grown up with dreams of serving as a missionary overseas in Africa, holding babies in Orphanages.  Then she shares the conflict of her heart and soul when instead she took other opportunities, going to college, meeting her husband and having her son.  Having just come off the missions field myself, I could totally relate to this side of her story and the many questions she had and guilt she carried because of this.  Often times in this faith journey I sense there is this "goal line", this way in which things are suppose to go, and when my life doesn't hold up to that, I can become pretty self-condemning and distant from God.  Micha's book reminded me that "prayer is not an act I preform, words I recite, a behavior I strive to maintain.  Its a returning.  It's a broken life finding healing, a misplaced soul recognizing home". 
  I also was reminded once again that God can handle my tough questions....or the questions I have about Him and our relationship that I wouldn't normally voice to anyone else because they aren't Christian P.C. (Politically correct)!.  Micha says, "I figure if God didn't want us asking questions, he wouldn't have made everything so mysterious" and that "even in His darkest moment, Jesus had faith enough to offer God his hard question" ("my god, my god, why have you forsaken me?! ~ Matthew 27:46).
  I do have to admit though, that at first, all the talk of monks and St. Benedict kind of turned me off and made me think that maybe I would not enjoy this book as much as I did.   But the more I read and opened myself up to the wisdom and knowledge of their ancient practices, I really felt like I had grown though it.  Like in hearing how the Benedictines did things and why, I was able to see more of God from a different angle that I never took the time to look at him from before.  Which was both humbling and awesome.
 So would I recommend this book?  Yeah I would, especially to a specific audience of women who are just at the start of their family oriented life (newly married, newborn baby).  I think the author has a lot to offer, especially to those in the same place she found herself at the time of the writing.  And to those, like me, who maybe aren't in the exact same place, I think there are still things to take away from this book as well.  So I say, give the book a chance... it's worth the possible connection.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

"Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

  The night before last I finished Viktor Frankl's book "Man's Search for Meaning".  I read it in like 2 days, but not because I particularly enjoyed it... in fact in many ways I struggled with it... but rather I kept reading and reading hoping for some sort of resolve, some sense of "ah yes!  This is what it's all about!  This is the answer!".  I never got that.
  Frankl's book boasts that it has sold over 12 million copies and helped countless people find that elusive "meaning" in their life.  Thus I went into the book with high expectations.  Apparently though, I am not most people.  While I was certainly drawn in by the narrative of what happened in the concentration camps during Frankl's time there, I couldn't quite grasp my head around the clinical way in which he approached it all.  Maybe it was his own form of coping (in fact he admits to that at some point in the book), but my mind does not work that way, and thus the detached way in which he wrote was hard for me to take in (although I was impressed by the ability of the author to share both the good and bad of the situation and of himself so fully, unashamed and unhindered by how it might come across...which was probably only possible because of his seeming detachment).
  My best summary, of which of course I could be wrong, is that Frankl concludes that meaning of life is basically finding and doing whatever it is we were meant to do.  Yes I know how that sounds, and I guess that's why I walked away from this book a bit disappointed and still filled with so many questions without answers. 
  Frankl repeatedly says things like "Man should not ask what the meaning of life is, but rather recognize that it is he who is asked", thus implying that that we make our life have meaning based on what we do with it.... something I am not sure I fully agree with. He also says that "man is ultimately self determining (and) what he becomes, he has made out of himself", which only seems to solidify his point that our lives matter only to the extent that we make them matter...something again that I don't know that I agree with.
  Finally, I also found it confusing how Frankl could say that could say "Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which  demands fulfillment" and then turn around and admit "the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day, and from hour to hour".  How can man discover the "concrete assignment" which is meant to give his life meaning, if that assignment can change from day to day, or hour to hour?  And how can he even begin to discover something he seemingly should already know (based on Frankl's reasoning that we should not be asking what is life's meaning but rather showing that meaning by our lives).
  I have no doubts that my understanding of this book is limited and that my very own black-and-white nature probably stands in the way of me being able to really connect and accept all that the author is trying to lay out.  I will also admit that my mind was not all that interested in the scientific meanderings of logos-therapy and thus my mind tended to wander quite a bit through out the reading of this book.  However, despite those admissions, I can't honestly say that I would recommend this book.  I am sure other people have found it helpful and probably would suggest it's reading to others, but for me...I just can't and thus I give my regards to the late Viktor Frankl.