Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way ~ A book review


Have you ever found a book that enraptured you? Grabbed your attention and wouldn’t let you go? How about an author? Have you ever been so into what the author had to say, and related so distinctly to a text that you’d swear you could have written parts of the book yourself?

That’s how I feel whenever I pick up a Shauna Niequist book. I don’t even have to review this book – I just so desperately want others to find it, that I’m going to anyway.

It could be that Niequist is a fellow Enneagram 7, and therefore the way I see the world is similar to the way she sees hers. Some of the struggles and the way she describes things feel like a breath of fresh air to me — it means I’m not alone. I don’t personally know any other 7s, or at least not any who know they’re 7s, and so to read from someone who’s aware of why she thinks how she thinks is so refreshing.

Bittersweet is a collection of essays, written in Shauna’s beautiful, lilty, almost lyrical style. She talks about change, leaning into pain, grace, living through hard (and she’s lived through lots of it), and embracing all of it. She never once uses a Scripture reference, and yet you can tell she’s doing her very best to walk life hand in hand with Jesus through it all.

“The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life. Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness. “It’s the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, audacious, earthy. “This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean that it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all long, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be. “I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts, and most useful tools. Change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us. It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways, and also in the best ways. I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and that in many cases, change is a function of God’s graciousness, not life’s cruelty.”

https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/0310335280/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1, taken from the prologue of the book

I listened to this book using my Scribd subscription while I commuted this week. I started it on Tuesday morning, and finished it Friday on the way home. The timing of this book’s arrival in my life is kind of funny, though. I’m a firm believer that God can speak to us in all kinds of ways, but I’m pretty sure He uses books a lot of the time for me. I mean, why not, when my nose spends a good chunk of time buried in one or my ears are listening to one while I drive? It won’t surprise me at all if, when I get to Heaven, I ask if He’s been using books all this time and He smiles and says “I’m glad you caught it.”

Thursday, on my way into work, something profound caught me, and I paused the book to reflect on it for a few minutes. It directly related to something I was wrestling down and needed to dig into in my own life. And if that wasn’t enough, on my drive home, a line hit me so hard that I pulled over, put the car in park, rewound the book by 30 seconds, listened to the line again twice, and then scribbled it down quickly in a note in my phone. I nearly cried, it was such a relief to know that I was not the only one who thought this way.

It was such a profound moment that I bought the book in hard copy on Amazon when I got home. I needed to have it in my hands. I need to read it again. And again. And again. In fact, I think I’ll read it out loud myself, because while it was beautiful to have Shauna read it to me (she narrated the book herself and it was wonderful), I think I will need to find the places that it makes my voice hitch and my soul hurt, and lean into them myself. I need to soak it in. I need to write all over it, and underline and highlight and flag it with stickies, as I have with Cold Tangerines and Present Over Perfect. But most importantly I need to learn to live it. I need to learn to live in Bittersweet better, because I’m not awesome at it. I find it hard, but we have to do it. Because if we can’t experience sadness, grief, and pain — then we can’t really, truly, experience joy and delight.

“When life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.” ~ Shauna Niequist

*fair warning: This book contained a good chunk toward the back half about marriage, pregnancy, miscarriages, and babies. Knowing what the author has walked through, this didn’t surprise me. I just want to be sure that I let someone know for whom that might be really hard if you’re not expecting it to be there.

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Once We Were Strangers


Oh, this book. Be still my heart. Shawn Smucker has created a work of beauty with this book, while setting out to tell the story of one Syrian family and their journey to America (Lancaster, Pennsylvania).

This memoir was written in such a way that it will draw you into the lives of Mohammad and Moradi and their children as Smucker tells the story he’s been told of what it took to get them safely to the United States. But it will also challenge you to think about how you do life with the people around you as well. The tagline of the book is What friendship with a Syrian Refugee taught me about loving my neighbor.

Several times throughout the book, Smucker encourages, sometimes overtly and sometimes just by nature of the story he’s telling, that we think about the way we live our very private Western lives. There were a number of times throughout the book that either Mohammad or Shawn would remark that there are all of these people living around us and we don’t even know them. Mohammad’s story highlighted in a few places that this was not his experience in Syria, that they would spend hours drinking coffee with their neighbours.

I’ve had that very experience myself with a Syrian family who had newly arrived to Canada. Once we’d gotten acquainted, it became very clear to me that my busy, packed to the brim life was not what they were used to. They are hospitable, loving, and welcoming people who want to be friends with those around them. Real friends. Not a quickly passing “hey how are you?” “good, thanks” kind of friends.

What I loved most about this memoir is how real it felt. It helps, I suppose, that I have experience discovering how beautiful my Syrian friends are, but that was truly brought to light in this book. I learned things I didn’t know, as well. I’m not sure who’s to blame, whether it’s our own fear, the media, or a combination of both — but I’ve always thought of the Middle East as this place that is perpetually torn apart by war. It sure feels like they’re always at war with someone over there, and our media outlets don’t lend us anything to make us believe otherwise. But Mohammad describes a time of peace. He says “I was born in 1971. In 1973, there was a war between Syria and Israel, but I do not remember it, and I never saw it. No one in my village ever saw that war. This is the first I have ever seen, the first war my village has ever seen. And now it is a war not against my enemy but against my friend. Fellow Syrians. Why is this happening? I don’t know.” (p. 140)

I can’t imagine what I would do if all of a sudden one part of Canada was at war with another, and you couldn’t trust the government anymore. I can’t imagine the fear, the terror — especially if you have a family to take care of. Mohammad tells of coming home one day to find a chunk missing out of his house that was taken out by a mortar blast. Shortly after, he knew he and his family had to leave, and this book was borne out of their story.

I’m glad I got to read this book. It made me thankful for the peace that I do have, and it opened my eyes once again to the idea that if I were in a place where I was running for my literal life, I would hope that some country somewhere would take me in and treat me kindly. That was not this family’s experience everywhere they went, but I’m sure glad they were able to find friends in Shawn Smucker and his family.

If you’re looking for a way to humanize the Syrian Refugee Crisis, this book will do that for you. It will give you fresh perspective and clearer eyes. Especially as the crisis fades into the background and becomes “old news” despite the fact that it continues to be a problem, books like this will become so fundamental in helping us remember the human side of the crisis.

One part really stuck out to me. There’s a part near the end where Smucker starts to address the feelings of fear he could see evident in those around his new friends. I’ll leave you with this quote, so that the power of it can hang around long after my writing does. He says:

“A few of my relatives and friends have no problem with a refugee ban. They believe danger lurks in the hearts of these landless, homeless people. I realize, perhaps for the first time, that they might be correct. It is possible that in the midst of 60,000 refugees entering the United States, there could be one bad apple. There could be someone who has been so bent by the pain in their life that they want to seek some kind of revenge.

It is possible.

But should our fear of that one keep us from providing refuge to thousands like Mohammad and his family? Are there enough restrictions or safeguards in the world for us to put in place that will guarantee, 100 percent, that nothing bad will happen to us? Even then, evil already lurks among us, as we have seen so many times before. In the face of real evil, should we not provide refuge for families like Mohammad’s?

Should our fear overpower our love?”

p. 174

Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Made for the Journey: One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador


This book holds some kind of funky timing for me. I’m a firm believer that sometimes books find you exactly when they need to, even if you’ve been in possession of them for a while. Sometimes you pick them up right at the right moment. I think this was one of them.

I was sent this book to review it, which always makes me happy. Further, it’s non-fiction, which tends to be what I gravitate toward most of the time. Even when I find myself on a fiction run, I always go back to my deep, thought-provoking non-fiction.

Anyway, I received this book at the end of December 2018. I have until February 28, 2019 to finish and review it. I didn’t take it out West with me on vacation over Christmas, and I’ve taken my sweet time getting it and my other two reviews finished. I realize it’s only February 2nd so I still have time, but I digress.

I read half of Made for the Journey while I was off work a couple weeks ago recovering from surgery, and it was a little heavy for that particular time in my life so I put it aside.

I picked it back up yesterday though, and it’s remarkable to me how perfectly the end of this book applies to what I’ve been learning about in church this week. I wish I’d read it before home church on Thursday. Whoops!

Anyway, it’s a memoir written by Elisabeth Elliot, author of a number of books. She was an American missionary to Ecuador in the 1950s as well as a speaker and author. She writes about her first year as a missionary to the Quichua people near Quito and San Salvador (in the book she refers to them as the Colorados, but I’ve learned through a bit of my own research that that’s the name this group of people was given by the Spanish and it means “coloured red….” so I think I’ll opt for the more traditional one I found. I hope it’s right!)

It is written as though you were sitting and listening to Elliot give a presentation of her time. Part of me wishes there were pictures, but she described everything in such efficient detail that even as someone who has a hard time picturing what’s happening in books, I often felt as though I could see what she’d seen.

What she’d seen was dramatically different from the life she’d left in Pennsylvania, and I can’t say that I think I’d be tough enough to handle it. I like to think that I am, but deep down I fear I’m probably not as tough as Elisabeth Elliot was. She’s a woman to be respected and admired, that is for sure! The lengths to which she and several other friends/fellow missionaries went to to bring the Bible to a people group with no written language of their own was both inspiring but also heartbreaking. The trials of every day life living in the jungle were taxing and arduous, but it seems as though they managed.

I am not doing this justice, at all, I’m afraid. But I do highly recommend this book. Where it really hit home for me was the connection I feel I can now make between how Elliot wraps up the book, talking about some of the things that just fell apart for her. It felt like a lament to me. At my church, we’ve been studying a few Psalms in a series called Honest to God about praying from the Psalms. Last week’s message was based in Psalm 89, where Ethan, the author of this Psalm, basically calls God out for seeming broken promises that he sees all over the place. We talked about how we can’t see the end of what God is doing, but if you look through the rest of the Bible, you see that every promise Ethan was upset about, God had later fulfilled. It just hadn’t happened yet. Some of the language that Elliot uses to talk about some of the things that went very terribly near the end of the book sounds like she understood that lament is not equal to rebellion, and that she could be confused and angry and hurt and upset, but still trust that God is in control and knows what He’s doing.

This book was previously published as “These Strange Ashes” and there is a reference in this version that talks about that.

Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

It’s Okay Not to be Okay


This book hit me kind of hard.  There were many, many nuggets of wisdom throughout.  Written by Sheila Walsh, this is an author who can drive very important points home in a way that sinks in, but does so without alienating the reader and making you feel judged or condemned.

Taglined “Moving forward one day at a time” this book was full of wisdom and tips to lean into our hard parts in life and really embrace who we are in God.

We’ve all experienced that moment where we wish we could start all over again. Failed marriages, lost friends, addictions, lost jobs. This is not the life we imagined. Yesterday can sometimes leave us stuck, sad, shamed, scared, and searching. Sheila Walsh encourages readers to face the pain head on and then start again, from right where they are. She shares that when she discovered “I’m not good enough and I’m good with that,” everything started to change.

In It’s Okay Not to Be Okay, Walsh helps women overcome the same old rut of struggles and pain by changing the way they think about God, themselves, and their everyday lives. She shares practical, doable, daily strategies that will help women move forward one step at a time knowing God will never let them down.

There are many quotable parts of this book, and I wish I could share them all with you, but that wouldn’t be fair to Sheila Walsh because she’d have written a book that no one who read my review will buy, haha.

 

But here are a few:

“Think about it for a moment. How many times do you feel like you’re not enough?  It makes me wonder were we got the idea of what “enough” is.” (p. 22)

“It’s okay not to be okay because we’re not home yet.
It’s okay not to be enough because God doesn’t ask us to be.” (p. 24 — whoa…. this is a point that was hammered home throughout the book and it has the potential to be SO freeing!)

“It might feel more ‘Christian’ not to bring our anger, pain, or disappointment to God, but I believe it’s actually the antithesis of a real relationship with Christ.  We become a little less authentic with every experience we bury.” (p. 40)

“We’re not perfect, but we are redeemed, so give yourself a break.” (p. 70)

 

I won’t quote any more, because most of the profound wisdom I have underlined and have drawn arrows to in the book are more powerful when kept in context of the stories Walsh uses to illustrate her points.

Filled with scriptures, this book will settle into your hurt places, and, if you let it, it might convince you to open yourself up to the idea that it’s ok not to be ok, and we were never meant to be enough.

I encourage you to check this book out.  It wiggled its way right into the core of me and whispered soft, comforting words to a heart that needed to hear them.

(As an aside, I read this book a little differently than I’ve read others.  I have a long commute and a subscription to unlimited audio books, so I listened to it while driving, but then to really sink in the points, every day when I got home I read through the chapters I’d listened to that day and underlined everything that stuck out.  So essentially, I read the book twice.  I actually really enjoyed doing it this way because listening to Sheila read this book was like having a deep conversation with a good friend.  Plus, her Scottish accent is great fun to listen to!)

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Book was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing Group.

Battle Ready


Train your mind to conquer challenges, defeat doubt, and live victoriously.

That’s the tagline for this book by Kelly Balarie.

I loved reading this book.  It’s so practical and gives a wonderful toolbox to help when your mind gets crowded with doubt and fear.

Too often we fail to prepare for our battles. So when challenges, troubles, or opportunities arise, we rapidly become burdened with limiting thoughts of self-doubt, fear, impossibility, and lack. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can train our minds to conquer uncertainty, beat insecurity, and step past the tragedies of yesterday.

Battle Ready is a hands-on scriptural plan that teaches you twelve easy-to-implement, confidence-building mind-sets designed to transform your thoughts and, therefore, your life. You’ll gain practical wisdom, like how to

· make new habits stick in just five steps
· disarm the seven most common attacks that plague women
· exchange self-limiting thoughts for purpose-driven, love-releasing thoughts
· implement thirty-second mind-lifters that deliver peace
· create boundaries so you live life full of what matters

You can live victoriously.

And when a couple of authors that I’ll read again and again have good things to say about a book printed right on the back cover, you know it’s one you need to pick up.

“The most difficult fights we will face in this life will be within our own hearts and minds. Battle Ready will help encourage, empower, and equip you to live in true victory.”–Holley Gerth, bestselling author of Fiercehearted

“The best time to be strengthened against the Enemy’s tactics of doubt, disappointment, and devastation is before he makes his first move toward us. We all desperately need the biblical guidance and preparation found in Battle Ready!”–Lysa TerKeurst, New York Times bestselling author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries

What I loved most about this book was its practicality.  It’s not just a bunch of words aimed at you, telling you what to do.  It’s a guide that walks you through questions, plans, and reflections to help you decide how you’re going to reorient your mind.  Balarie compares our minds to a Smart Phone, talking about how we can use it to its full potential or we can let it use us, essentially.  What’s surprising about this book, though, is that although it’s powerful and deep, it’s a well-written and accessible approach to becoming battle ready.  Usually, books that tackle these heavy topics are as equally heavy as their topic, but that is not so with this book.  Kelly Balarie manages to pack powerful, practical, important advice and learning into a light, easy read, and I really appreciate that.

I highly encourage this book.  And I highly encourage you to take the time to really reflect on what you’re learning and to fill in the various places Kelly gives you to write, or think, or stop to pray.  Doing the work will help solidify the principles you’ll learn as you read.  There are also questions for group discussion at the end of each chapter so that if you’re like me, and you’re tempted to gather a few friends to read through this together and really dig in, the work is done for you without having to buy a separate study guide.  I really appreciate that, as well.

Another thing I loved was the idea of sowing and reaping.  I’ve never thought of this concept in quite such a way as the way Kelly lays it out in this book.  The thoughts we sow reap varying outcomes.  We can train our thoughts, and therefore we can impact the outcomes of our thoughts.  Isn’t this a cool idea?  We can be freer from our inner critics and our comparisons and judgments of ourselves and others.

I particularly enjoyed the way this was framed.  This isn’t a “must-do” step-by-step process, but rather we’re offered 12 “Warrior Mindsets” to help shift the way we think so that we’re ready for anything.  I love the idea of being a warrior in the fight against the enemy that can and does wiggle into my brain.  I’m very thankful for this book.

Also check out www.iambattleready.com for even more resources to accompany this book!

Check it out here, on Amazon.ca.

battle ready

Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Fake Or Follower: Refusing to Settle for a Shallow Faith


I was asked to be a part of the Canadian Launch Team for this book, Fake or Follower, by Andi Andrew.  The description of the book sounded like exactly what’s been on my heart for my own walk with Jesus in the last little while.  Discipleship.  My church has been placing a pretty big focus on it as well — how do we walk with Jesus?  And so it’s been settling into some long-ignored places, and I like it.  Naturally then, when the chance to help get this book off its feet came into my inbox, I jumped at it.

There was a lot that I really liked about this book.  And I think it’s safe to say that anything I didn’t like was a reaction to my being deeply convicted about the words that Andi Andrew laid out on the pages.

Through this book you’ll walk through thoughts on being consumer Christians, on church hopping, on living as part of the culture around us in a way that no one would recognize that we’re different except for the occasional Sunday morning appearance inside a church.  You’ll read about community — how essential it is to a healthy Christian life, what that looks like, and what it doesn’t.  Learn and dig into where your identity is based.  Do you reflect Jesus?  This section was very challenging for me.

We love because we were loved first.  And love is more than a feeling.  I’m sure we’ve all heard this before, but it sunk in for me in a bit of a different way this time around.  What I really liked about this chapter though was the reminder that love raises the standard by which we live our lives.  Being loved doesn’t mean I have license to sin because I have grace.  This is by far the biggest argument against grace I hear from people struggling to wrap their heads and hearts and minds around the grace and goodness of God and Jesus.  “But doesn’t that mean you can just do what you want?”  No, because I’m loved in a way that makes that makes me not want to go back to what I’ve been saved from.  Andi Andrew has just given me words for an age-old question.

I was both challenged and encouraged by this book, often at exactly the same time.  Andrew uses humour and straight to the punch truth to get her point across in a way that I could really appreciate.  I highly recommend this book.  I also recommend that you take the time to dig into the reflection questions at the end of each chapter.  I’m often of the mindset that I want to “finish the book as quickly as I can,” usually because I’m pushing a review deadline, but you’ll learn about yourself as you dig into the questions.

I’m glad to know who Andi Andrew is now, and I’m thrilled to have been a part of this launch team.  The book came out October 2nd, so you can now buy it in lots of places that books are sold!  My preference is, of course, Amazon, but check your favourite book retailer to get your own copy.

 

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Book was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing Group.

Grace Like Scarlett


Hi, friends:

For this particular book review I’ve invited a dear friend into the process.  When the title and description for Grace Like Scarlett popped into my email inbox, I knew exactly who this book was meant to end up with.  My friend Rachel has experienced miscarriage, and as a result has a great deal of empathy as well as a passion for supporting grieving families by partnering with an organization called Hope Boxes.

I trust that Rachel’s words will mean far more than mine ever could, so I invite you to read a guest post by Rachel.

Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope After Miscarriage and Loss

The statistics are staggering… 1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime.

This is my story:

April 1, 2013 – A day of complete and utter joy with the phone call that we were indeed pregnant after 5.5 years. I can remember pinching myself just to be sure it was real. He is Elohim, the Lord our creator!

May 1, 2013 – Another day that I will never forget. ..that moment when, at 8 weeks, you hear your baby’s first heartbeat. Without a doubt, THE most precious sound…a sound I was beginning to think I would never hear. He is El Hanne’eman, the Lord is faithful!

May 29, 2013 – 12 week ultrasound day. The day anyone in our shoes would look forward to but yet a day that is etched in our minds forever, one where we saw our tiny precious baby….lifeless in my womb. He is El Elyon, the Lord who is sovereign over all things!

June 6, 2013 – The day our baby’s tiny, tiny body was surgically removed from my womb and discarded, yet a day that serves as such a reminder that Jaiden is with Jesus – heart beating strong, completely healed and whole. He is Jehovah-rapha, the Lord who heals!

Cautious and excited summed up how I felt about diving into this book. My cautiousness came from understanding that grief is deep and not linear. Even though five years have passed, there are elements of my grief journey that come up in unexpected ways. I knew this book would be one I couldn’t put down but needed to in order to digest the content and to let the author’s words soak deep down into my soul. I didn’t expect just how healing it would be. This book is a gift! I cannot recommend it enough.

Adriel shares a moving, personal narrative of how her family suffered pregnancy loss and how they walked their grief journey with hope.

The excited part (for me) came in how this book resource could be used as an encouragement to other women who have experienced loss. God has graciously allowed a friend of mine and I to start a ministry that reaches out to families who are walking through pregnancy and infant loss. We make Hope Boxes** that are full of book resources and personal care items to help women know they are seen during a most difficult time in their life. Though Grace Like Scarlett is primarily geared toward the grieving mother herself, Adriel has included a wonderfully written letter from her husband to grieving dads, along with ways to remember your baby, how to talk about loss to other children in the family, pregnancy after loss, and caring for a friend after a miscarriage. Each part has been written beautifully and with much grace navigating such a “taboo” grief that many women suffer with in silence.

Each chapter is so raw and real, and yet so full of the Hope of Jesus Christ and His presence during our darkest moments. She shares her faith in way that is so healing, constantly reminding the reader that God is so very grieved by their loss, and that not for a moment does He forsake us.

You don’t need to be facing loss to read this book. There’s a good chance you have walked, will walk, or are currently walking with a friend or family member through the loss of a child. That’s reason enough to take time to read through this book. One of the things Adriel shares about relationship after loss:

“Relationships after loss can feel a bit like Thistle Cove: ugly and beautiful. They hurt and they help. Sometimes you feel deserted, while other times you are spontaneously healed in their embrace.”

She shares things that were said that were hurtful to her and even includes a variety of other short paragraphs of hurt other women experienced after the loss of a child. Her challenge to the grieving mom toward those who cause hurt is “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Most often people don’t know how to respond or act around anyone who is grieving, and while that can sometimes cause us to keep grief to ourselves, Adriel reminds the reader that, “Community can hurt, but it can heal even deeper.”

Speaking from my own experience, the ministry of presence is a powerful thing for a family whose world has just turned upside down. Continuing to keep that contact and realizing that you won’t be able to take away the pain they are feeling, but to just keep close with your “I’m thinking of you”, or “You’re on my heart today” texts or call means everything. I promise.

At the end of each chapter there is a journal prompt that is designed to take the reader into working through some aspects of their own journey and truly putting words where there may be none. I didn’t take the time to do this as I read to review, but plan to go back and look at them more in-depth with my next read through.

There’s so much more I want to say about this book, because it exposed the Light of Christ again to some spaces that are still dark for me, but I shall stop writing and just wholeheartedly encourage you to get a copy for yourself (or give one to a friend who is grieving)! I finished the book almost a month ago but have found it hard to sit down and write because I feel as though I’ve felt much of what Adril shared but literally didn’t have the eloquent and raw writing ability to put it all together as beautifully as Adriel has.

This book is one that I know I will read over and over, because there’s just that much soul food to digest!

Thank you to my friend Laura (and Baker Books) for connecting me with a copy of Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker in exchange for a guest review on her blog.  Book was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing Group.

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https://www.gracelikescarlett.com/

**To learn more about Oxford Brant Hope Box or to request a Hope Box, please connect with me here: http://www.facebook.com/oxfordbranthopebox

Click here to buy the book on Amazon

I Will Not Fear


Fear has been a topic that’s been following me around lately.

We’ve done sermons on it at church.
I’ve read a book about it (Fierce Faith by Alli Worthington ~ fantastic book!).
I’ve had conversations with friends about it because lately it seems my life is a wee bit characterized by it.

I was given the opportunity to read and review a book called “I Will Not Fear” ~ A book written by a lady named Melba Patillo Beals.  She was one of the nine African American students chosen to integrate into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.  I can’t imagine what life would have been like — to have felt so unwanted, so other, so less than… and such fear!  I have studied American history, and I am aware of the records of what it was like in the 50s and 60s, leading to the Civil Rights movement.  I’ve read of the Klan, of the death threats….. but what I hadn’t read, until now, was someone’s first hand account.

This book will grab you and make you hold on tight.  The story this woman tells of how she was a “first” at so many things in her life — trying to integrate into a society that thought segregation was the only way to live, going to university, going to grad school, being a single mom, getting jobs where she felt “other” not only because of her skin colour but also because of her gender — it’ll grip you.

I know I’ve experienced a great deal of fear in my life, but as I read this I realized I’ve really had very little to actually be afraid of.  That’s not the point of the book, however, because Melba offers the wisdom she learned from her Grandmother throughout, and with every story of some sort of atrocious experience that would surely knock my foundation down at the knees, she tells of how she trusted God, trusted Jesus, and lived as though the protection of God were real (and it is)!

One of my favourite parts of the book, and what I found most encouraging, were the little nuggets of summary that she included at the end of each chapter.  My story may not resemble that of Melba Patillo Beals’ in any way.  I’ll never know what it’s like to live her story.  But I do know what it’s like to live mine, and fear has no place here either.  I can take just as much encouragement from her words, and from how she did not bow to fear, as anyone else can.

“… no matter what threatening evidence appears to be true, we need not fear because God is always beside us.” (p. 165)

“As complex and dangerous as a predicament may be, God is as close as our skin.  Although peril feels like forever, God is here now.  He will guide us through the jungle of fear, if we only listen and obey.” (p. 189)

I highly recommend this book.  It’s not long, only 200 pages, so it’s a short read.  And it’s written in a way that leaves you wanting to hear more of Melba’s story, to know that it comes to a happy ending just like we always wish.  Melba Patillo Beals is a remarkable woman of faith, and we would all do well to stand in the face of adversity and fear like she did and declare “not today.”

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Free of Me


It’s not about you.

And how often do I make EVERYTHING about me?

“What about me?”  “Why didn’t I get…?” “Do they not like me?”  “Are they talking about me?”

So much of our insecurity is rooted in self-focus, in holding a mirror up to ourselves and trying to measure our circumstances around us in that light.

But what if it weren’t about you….

This book is about so much more than insecurity, though for me, that’s a big takeaway.  The idea that so much of my own insecurity could evaporate by focusing on God, and God’s plan in any given situation, is both comforting and incredibly challenging all at once.  I haven’t fully digested it yet, as I just finished the book, however, I’m sure there’s life application in it somewhere!

Sharon Hodde Miller talks about seven mirrors we use to reflect our lives, when we shouldn’t be using mirrors at all.  I promise the analogy will make piles of sense if you read the book for yourself, and for now you’ll just have to trust me.  But I was convicted and challenged about making church about me, making my friendships about me, making my appearance about me… and more.

Culminating in how loving God sets us free, and why we were designed to love and serve others… this book was so refreshing.

It’s no wonder Ann Voskamp has said that this book “may be one of the most important truths of our time.” (according to the front cover of the book… I don’t know Ann personally, though I wish I did, and I don’t think we live too terribly far from each other……. but I am not a stalker lol.)

I digress.  A lot, actually…. back on track here.

Our me-centered culture affects every area of our lives–our relationships, calling, self-image, even our faith–and it negatively impacts each one. The self-focused life robs our joy, shrinks our souls, and is the reason we get stuck in insecurity.

In Free of Me, Sharon Hodde Miller invites us into a bigger, Jesus-centered vision–one that restores our freedom and inspires us to live for more. Drawing from personal experience and Scriptural insight, Sharon helps readers

· understand how self-focus sabotages seven areas of our lives
· learn four practical steps for focusing on God and others
· experience freedom from the burden of self-focus

If you’ve been yearning for more than a self-help faith, then this paradigm-shifting message of true fulfillment is for you.

 

What others say about Free of Me:

“One of the best things for a healthy marriage, workplace, parent situation, or any calling is to realize the world is not orbiting around our axis. True joy is found when we realize there is a bigger story to tell. In Free of Me, Sharon paints this picture more beautifully than anyone I know.”–Jefferson Bethke, author of Love That Lasts

“Sharon spotlights the crippling disease of self-focus and shows us how to break free from its entanglements. If you want to walk in God’s life-giving truth, this book will help you do just that!”–Lysa TerKeurstNew York Times bestselling author; president of Proverbs 31 Ministries

“In a culture captivated by self, this book is a must-read.”–Christine Caine, founder of A21 and Propel Women

Sources:  All quotes came from the covers of the book.

Book was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing Group.

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Fierce Hearted


I listened to this book as an Audio Book using my Audible membership, because I can knock them off in 3 days in the car.  It was a real treat to do it this way, actually, because Holley Gerth narrated the audio book and when you listen to a book narrated by the author, you get a real sense of the passion they had for what they wanted to communicate.  I’d started to read it in real life before bed, but then I also started doing an Advent devotional and I was finding I’d fall asleep before I got a chance to keep reading Fierce Hearted, so I got it in Audio Book format.

It was delightful.  It was a mix of personal anecdotes and stories, blended with Biblical truth, and infused (a nod to the Tea chapter — chapter 18) with humour, all aimed at helping women be fierce, brave, and exactly who God designed you to be.

Every day we struggle to find more freedom, joy and purpose. What if the solution isn’t trying harder or being better but embracing the fiercehearted woman already inside us?

A fiercehearted woman looks life in the face and says, “You can’t beat me.” She lives fully and loves bravely. She never gives in, never gives up, and never lets go. She dares to be who she is—imperfect and beloved.

In her most powerful and personal book yet, bestselling author, counselor and life coach Holley Gerth empowers and encourages women not simply through “how to” but by life-changing, heart-freeing “me too.” Join Holley on this journey to becoming a fiercehearted woman and discover what she did: the freedom and courage to embrace life, love, and faith to the fullest because your struggles can no longer hold you back.

You can tell that Holley Gerth has been involved in counseling and life coaching by the way she writes, asks questions, and invites her readers to dig deeper into what’s holding us back from being fierce and brave.  Since that’s one of the things I’m delving into in 2018 — becoming fierce, becoming brave — I highly recommend this book.  It’s an easy read with the personal stories Holley infuses into the Biblical truth and sage advice.

Are you ready to live fully and love bravely?  Start 2018 off with this book and be inspired to make a plan to do so.

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.