Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Winner of 'And: The Gathered and Scattered Church' is.......

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The Random Number Generator has chosen a winner for 'And: The Gathered and Scattered Church' by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.

That winner is.....


Congratulations, Joe! I have made contact with you via Twitter for your contact information.

Thanks to Andrew at Zondervan for providing this giveaway copy.

And thanks to those of you who entered. If you'd like to order this book, you can do so here.

Please come back soon for more reviews and giveaways! 

Friday, July 30, 2010

‘The Other Daughter’ by Miralee Ferrell – Book Review

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Finding out that a spouse has a secret child has to be one of the more difficult situations to deal with in life. That is the subject of the first novel by Miralee Ferrell, ‘The Other Daughter.’

Here is the synopsis of this redemptive and heartwarming novel:

The girl standing at the door took a deep breath, pulling her suitcase a little closer to her trembling legs. “My mama’s dead. He’s my daddy.”
Susanne Carson knows that she can trust the love of her life – her husband, David – until she discovers a strange, unkempt young girl on their doorstep, claiming to be David’s daughter.
Not that their marriage has ever been perfect – David’s decision to embrace the Christian faith has strained their relationship. Susanne may not agree with his beliefs, but at least she trusts him. Has David been hiding this not-so-little secret from his past? He wants Susanne to believe in God, but believing hasn’t done much to keep David out of another woman’s arms. What else could her husband be hiding?
As David confronts the truth of his past, Susanne must have her own moment of truth as her marriage is taken to the breaking point and the life of one young girl is left in her hands.

And here’s the trailer for this book:

Here is the biography of the author:

Miralee Ferrell and her husband, Allen, live in a rural community in Washington State. She serves on a staff as a licensed minister at their local church and is actively involved in ministry to women. Miralee developed an interest in writing in high school and took honors English courses in college, but put writing on the back burner for the next thirty years while raising a family and helping her husband in their growing business. Recently, she turned to the pen, publishing a number of short stories and The Other Daughter.

David was as surprised as Susanne when he learned about Brianna:

Susanne and he had started dating when he was seventeen, and he’d never had eyes for anyone since…except that once when he was nineteen. But that was a one-time thing, and he never saw her again. No, it couldn’t be.
He stared at the packet and drummed his fingers on the table. “Time to get this over with.” He slit the top of the big manila envelope and removed a paper, not realizing he was holding his breath until he suddenly let it out. What he saw on the document made him suck it back in. He stared at a birth certificate for Brianna Carsen Warren.
His unbelieving eyes searched until he found the mother’s name: Victoria Warren. Oh Lord, help me! Vicki Warren? Please, God, don’t let that episode come back to haunt me. Susanne will never forgive me. (p. 27)

Susanne had a great deal of difficulty dealing with Brianna’s appearance into their lives. She also was question the God that David served:

David continually made claims about God. God was love. God could do anything. David’s wrong this time. Let’s see You bring anything good out of this, God.
Right now, she trusted herself more than she trusted God; she probably always had. Wasn’t she a capable mother and a faithful wife? She’d never broken David’s trust, never hurt him like this. (p. 33)

In the midst of all this tumult, David’s father (they all called him Grandfather) came to visit, distraught over the recent loss of his wife and David’s mother:

Susanne tucked her hand in Grandfather’s arms and walked toward the door. Why hadn’t she insisted David delay Grandfather’s visit? There was no way she’d reveal David’s lie to the loving older man; he’d never understand. But without that explanation, would he think her unfair? She’d forgotten his intense love for children and sensed he’d champion the idea of Brianna’s remaining in their home. David got his stubbornness from him. Grandfather was one-quarter Nez Perce, and his pride and determination were 100 percent male. (p. 63)

At the same time, Susanne was getting some ungodly counsel from her friend Jeena (who happens to be the subject of Miralee’s book, ‘Finding Jeena’):

Susanne wanted someone to talk to, but dreaded being caught in the middle between her husband and her friend. Jeena was warm and caring and had gone out of her way more than once when Susanne was sick or needed help with a special project, but she didn’t agree with David’s philosophy of life, especially the religious part. Sure, Susanne felt hurt and confused and a part of her wanted to vent. But the other part wanted to be loyal and not hear anything said against David. (p. 88)

Susanne’s main obstacle to following Christ was the idea of ceding control of her life to Him:

Why did David feel she needed more? She had her family, her home, and her health. This new problem was causing stress, but somehow she and David would deal with that without God’s help. She believed in God and believed Jesus was His Son. She’d never had a problem with that, but she didn’t like the idea of turning over her life, and all that that entailed, to God. What if His choices didn’t line up with hers? No, He wanted too much from people. Making Him the Lord of her life didn’t make sense, and she knew enough about Christianity to know that this complete submission was the ultimate goal. She didn’t believe in making half-hearted commitments, and letting anyone direct her life didn’t appeal to her. (pp. 113-114)

David’s father provided some sage advice to his son:

“…Marriage isn’t easy. You both have to work at it, and I’m sure you know that. Love is a choice, not a feeling. We choose to love our mate even when the feelings aren’t there, because it’s what we promised to do. The feelings follow the commitment.”
David nodded.
“Being a parent is much the same. There are times we almost wish we could run away and not have to deal with the problems our children bring us. But God placed them in our lives for a reason. Sometimes it’s for their growth, sometimes for ours. God brought Brianna for a reason, and you need to start praying about it.”
“You’re right. I’ve been so focused on Susanne’s reaction that I’ve forgotten about Brianna’s feelings. I’ve also been concerned about the kids. Meagan told me she was afraid I wouldn’t love her as much anymore, now that Brianna was here. I’ve been trying not to spend too much time with Brianna so Meagan wouldn’t be hurt. (pp. 149-150)

Susanne, over time, came to realize that God only had His best for her, and that a decision was long overdue:

“Oh God, this isn’t easy for me. I began to open my heart to You years ago, but it ended there. I’ve never let You into my life, and I haven’t wanted You in control. I’m changing that now. I’m sorry for being selfish and stubborn. Would You please change me and take control of my life?...Thank you, Jesus. Amen.
She stayed on her knees a few minutes more, soaking in the warm peace enveloping her spirit. Panic at being out of control no longer bound her. The fear evaporated. Could it be this easy? All these years, I’ve needed to let go and let God be in control to have this feeling of peace? If I’d listened to David years ago instead of fighting him over church and God, our marriage could have been so much better.
She got off her knees and realized this was the first moment of her new life. Looking back was worthless…it was time to look forward. (p. 239)

Susanne decided to share her decision with Brianna, which led again to angels rejoicing in heaven (Luke 15:7):

“I’m glad you came to live with us. I’ve decided that God needed to be in charge of our family. David has always felt that way, but I didn’t agree with him. I know now that God really does love us and it’s okay to trust Him.”
Brianna nodded and moved out of Susanne’s entrance. “I think I’d like to do what you did, if that’s okay. I’d like to ask God to take care of my life.”
“Of course it’s okay, Brianna! In fact, it’s wonderful.”
Meagan began bouncing on the bed again. “We can pray right now, can’t we, Mom?”
“Of course.” Susanne led Brianna in a prayer, giving her another long hug when she finished.
“Now you’re my sister for real,” Meagan exclaimed, “and we’ll go to heaven and be together forever!” (p. 275)

I will not give away the ending, but suffice to say it was happy! God did an amazing work in the life of the Carson family – all five of them!

This is the second book by Miralee that I have read – ‘Love Finds You in Bridal Veil, Oregon’ was the first (you can read my review here). That one was terrific, as well – and such a different genre (historical fiction). To me, that is the mark of a gifted writer – one that can write compellingly and compassionately in more than one genre. Miralee has accomplished that! I have also just finished reading ‘Finding Jeena’ and will be reviewing that one very shortly.

I have come away profoundly touched every time I have read a Miralee Ferrell book. I have come to consider Miralee as one of my favorite novelists, and I look forward to the next one from her fertile mind and prolific computer, as given to her by the Holy Spirit!

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Kregel Publications and generously provided by them and by the author for review purposes.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

‘The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond’ by Bill Hybels – Book Review

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One of the most influential and well-known pastors in the United States is Bill Hybels, whose latest book is entitled ‘The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond.’

Here is the synopsis of this book:

“Without a hint of exaggeration,” says pastor author Bill Hybels in his new book, The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond, “the ability to discern divine direction has saved me from a life of sure boredom and self-destruction. God’s well-timed words have redirected my path, rescued me from temptation, and reenergized me during some of my deepest moments of despair.”
In The Power of a Whisper, vision is cast for what life can look like when God’s followers choose to hear from heaven as they navigate life on earth. Whispers that arbitrate key decisions, nudges that rescue from dark nights of the soul, prompting that spur on growth, urgings that come by way of another person, inspiration that opens once-glazed-over eyes to the terrible plight people face in this world – through firsthand accounts spanning fifty-seven years of life, more than thirty of which have been spent in the trenches of ministry, Hybels promotes passion in Christ-followers’ hearts for being wide open to hearing from God, and for getting gutsier about doing exactly what he says to do.

Here is the biography of this author:

Bill Hybels is the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. He has authored or coauthored over twenty books, including Holy Discontent, Just Walk Across the Room, and Courageous Leadership, and has written numerous Bible Studies in the Walking with God, InterActions, and New Communities series

And here is Pastor Hybels talking about his latest book:

In the Foreword by Wayne Cordeiro (a pastor in Hawaii), he states that we are supposed to be attuned to the voice of God:

There is a frequency that your life was designed to be tuned to, and that frequency is the unique voice of God. Once you learn to hear it – and you actually can get better at picking it out – you will find that your craving for it intensifies as your soul cranes to hear more from him. I experienced it first as a twelve-year-old and have known it consistently since; the ability to absorb heaven-sent input fills the sails of your life like nothing or no one else can. (p. 12)

In the Introduction, entitled ‘A Fifty-Year Whisper-Filled Odyssey,’ Pastor Hybels asserts this:

Still, I’ve come to believe that hearing the quiet whisper of the transcendent God is one of the most extraordinary privileges in all of life – and potentially the most transforming dynamic in the Christian faith. When people hear from heaven, they are rarely the same again. When the sovereign God chooses to communicate with someone – whether eight, eighteen or eighty years old – that person’s world is rocked. Without a hint of exaggeration, I can boldly declare that God’s low-volume whispers have saved me from a life of sure boredom and self-destruction. They have redirected my path, rescued me from temptation and reenergized me during some of my deepest moments of despair. They inspire me to live my life at what boaters call “wide-open throttle” – full on! (p. 17)

That certainly sounds to me like that is the way God wants us to live our lives!

Early in Bill’s life, he realized that working in the business world was not where God wanted him – and was not going to be fulfilling in any way:

Hearing my thoughts, God responded with a whisper. “Bill, almost everyone you know is living for additional income, and yet you have not spent the last two bonus checks that are still tucked inside your wallet. How many checks will you need to pile up before you get it? If money fired you up, you would have used your last two bullets by now. Paychecks are never going to energize you, Bill. That is not who I wired you to be.”
…Inside my room, I sat with my palms upturned on my lap. With the most sincere words I knew how to say, I prayed, “God, guide my life toward a purpose that really will count. I am wide open to how you would choose to lead my life!”
I heard no audible response. Nothing. Instead, an odd feeling swept over me – the kind of feeling that race car drivers must feel when they’re barreling into a turn at high speed and they start to lost control of their cars – a feeling of pure adrenaline mixed with terror.
Within months of that monumental evening, I would walk away from my family’s business, live the comfortable life I had known in Kalamazoo and move to Chicago where I would help a friend lead the youth ministry that eventually gave birth to Willow Creek Community Church. I was finally beginning to grasp that whispers matter. They matter a lot. (p. 30)

Pastor Hybels points out that there can be a high cost to listening to the whispers:

Whispers can be dangerous things. They can come with high price tags. God’s whisper to his Son, Jesus – to make a redemptive visit to planet Earth – was a costly one…. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a certain number of whispers that come our way will drive us to our knees and stretch our faith like nothing else can. So be it. We only live once, and I much prefer the idea of standing before God one day, having done his bidding to the best of my understanding than to face him knowing full well that I ignored his voice and sidestepped the tougher promptings I received. What started for me with the reciting of a poem to Miss Van Solen is what I cling to still, to this day:
          Oh! Give me Samuel’s ear,
          An open ear, O Lord,
          Alive and quick to hear
          Each whisper of Thy Word;
          Like him to answer to Thy call
          And to obey Thee first of all. (pp. 36-37)  

Scriptures shows us how God uses whispers:

If there is a pattern in Scripture regarding whispers, it is that we serve a communicating God – a God of words. He created with a word, he healing with a word, he encouraged with a word, he rebuked with a word, he guided with a word, he prophesied with a word, he assured with a word, he loved with a word, he served with a word, and he comforted with a word. Throughout all of history, God has communicated, and he still is at it today. The issue isn’t whether or not God is speaking; it’s whether we will have ears to hear what he says. (p. 50)

One way that God speaks to us is to give us correction; often, we are likely to want to ignore those whispers:

If there’s ever a time when you and I employ “selective listening,” its’ when we’re on the receiving end of a dressing-down, courtesy of God himself. Have you noticed this dynamic along the way? God suggests that you stop doing something or start doing something, or, for once in your life, act your age, and instantly, God gets tuned out. “Surely that piece of insight wasn’t from God,” you think. “I was probably just making that up.”
You go on your pre-planned way, thinking everything is copacetic once more, until minutes or days or a few weeks later, when you careen face-first into the brick wall known as God’s wisdom, and realize it was his voice you actually ignored. (p. 71)

Pastor Hybels had sent out a request via email for examples of people from Willow Creek and elsewhere hearing God’s whisper. Here’s once from the other side of the world:

A woman in Australia named Liz recounted the experience of hearing God’s admonishing whisper after visiting the brand-new home of her sister-in-law. “After I left,” Liz wrote, “I sat in my car outside and felt deep pangs of jealousy and self-pity welling up. I wanted the beautiful home and perfect furnishings that my sister-in-law now enjoyed, but as soon as I let myself entertain those thoughts, God broke in with a simple request: ‘Liz, make me your treasure,’ he said. ‘I am everything you need.’” (p. 73)

Pastor Hybels commented:

I received other stories of admonishment – how God corrected a course, reversed a deadly habit, asked for fuller commitment from one of his kids – and each time I’d get to the end of the story, I would think of the power of going God’ way in life instead of insisting on following our own path. Before you get to the final story, please carefully read this next phrase: There is no more critical goal in life than to keep a pliable heart before God.
God cannot be seen by spiritual eyes that are shut.
God cannot be heard by spiritual ears that are plugged.
And God cannot be followed by a heart that stubbornly stays hard. (p. 78)

I loved this insight:

The goal of the Christ-following life is to grow to the point that we live in God’s reality – that we love like he loves, serve like he serves, give like he gives, show compassion like he shows it. And that’s a way of life we’ll only maintain consistently by hearing from heaven on a regular basis. Take to heart the stories you’ve just read. Tell God you want to live wide open to his whispers of assurance, his words of admonition and his promptings to take kingdom-building action in your world. I promise he will deliver on his commitment to guide your steps. (p. 89)

We need to be careful that we are clearly hearing and understanding God’s whisper:

Hearing from God is not like receiving a text message or reading an email. We humans can get in the way. Believe me, I am more than capable of hearing what I wish God were saying rather than what he is actually telling me – and perhaps you are too. Discerning God’s direction is somewhat subjective, but it’s not arbitrary. Even though God’s whispers are rarely tangible, there are concrete steps we can take to help us discern if we’re hearing from God or hearing from the bad sushi we had last night. (p. 91)

This is an interesting observation on what Pastor Hybels has learned from people who claim to have never heard God’s whisper:

In the course of ministry life, I meet many people who claim to have never heard the promptings or whispers of God. Not even once. Sometimes when I probe a little deeper, I discover that their lives are so full of noise that they can’t possibly hear the Holy Spirit when he speaks. Cell phone calls during their commute, boisterous restaurant gatherings with friends, a houseful of excitable toddlers or countless hours of reality TV provide a constant roar of distraction that drowns out any whisper that might be sent their way. (p. 94)

Being a media hound – and an avid reader… - I can attest to the fact that distractions are everywhere, and we need to make a conscious effort to make sure quiet time is available. It is of utmost importance!

Jesus was a perfect example of what we should do:

Jesus himself adopted this practice during his ministry here on earth. The biblical record shows that Jesus wove into the fabric of his everyday life the disciplines of prayer, solitude, reflection, fasting, and worship. He had favorite places to be alone with his Father and favorite places to pray in private. When he faced major decisions, his pattern was to withdraw from the crowds around him and to devote time to solitude and prayer. Not surprisingly, the net effect of a lifestyle was the increasing likelihood of hearing from his Father. (p. 95)

Here are five filters to help test every whisper (pp. 99-106):

1.   Is the Prompting Truly from God?
2.   Is It Scriptural?
3.   Is It Wise?
4.   Is It in Tune with Your Own Character?
5.   What Do the People You Most Trust Think about It?

The Bible is a great way to hear God’s whisper:

The most predictable way to hear from heaven is to read and apply God’s Word. When you increase your biblical engagement, you increase the odds that you’ll hear from God – that’s as complicated as it gets. After all, God already has written down his advice on the most common dilemmas we will face in this world – things like relationships, communication and money management – wouldn’t we do well to take advantage of that? Psalm 119:105 says that God’s Word is “a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” For more than four decades, whenever I’ve needed illumination in life, the Word of God has never disappointed. (p. 117)

God often speaks to us through others; Pastor Hybels offers this advice:

The next time a trusted friend calls us and asks, “Hey, do you think we could talk about something I’m seeing in your life?” I challenge you to lay down your defenses and to pick up humility instead. Tell your friend you’d love to meet – and mean it – trusting that God might have better days in store for you through the wisdom found in their words. One of the ways both you and I will experience a better, more righteous life is to heed those whispers. Open your ears to the in-the-flesh counsel your Father wants to communicate to you today. You’ll never regret the surges of wisdom those interactions might bring. (p. 206)

The world has been changed by people who heed the whispers of God; here’s one example:

Then there is Gary Haugen, the founder and president of International Justice Mission (IJM). In the late 1990s, life was going just fine for Gary, a Harvard-trained lawyer – until one day when God whispered a plea into his ear. “Gary,” the Holy Spirit said, “it’s time you use your legal background to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.”  Today, IJM has field offices in fourteen countries and a staff of hundreds, all of whom are laying down their lives to secure justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and the violent oppression that wreaks havoc in our world. (p. 211)

Pastor Hybels closes out this practical book this way:

You can choose today to be a just-say-the-word kind of follower, someone who jumps at the chance to obey the divine whispers sent straight from heaven to your upturned ear. You can choose to live with an increased awareness of those whispers, an expanded heart to follow through, and an enhanced eternity because of it. You can choose to take God at his word – that he has spiritual goodness and blessing in store for you, when you surrender to all of his ways.
It we were to boil down Christianity to its core, we’d be left with simply this: Relationship with God. The living, loving God of the universe has spoken throughout history, and still speaks today- not just to pastors or priest, but to anyone who will listen. God will speak to you. No matter what spiritual condition you find yourself in, if you train your ear to be open to heaven, God will speak.
A grand adventure with your name on it is on his lips. Tune your ears toward heaven, and he will direct your steps, accompany your path and celebrate your faithfulness one day, in the “flourishing finish” the apostle Paul describes in Philippians 1:6. “There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind,” that verse says, “that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears” (MSG). (p. 259)

This is the first book of Pastor Hybels that I have read – and I was pleasantly surprised.  I loved the truths in this book; it is clear to me that he has a heart for God and for people.

It is wonderful that Pastor Hybels took the time to study about this important topic. Many pastors in his position perhaps might be too busy to seek after God (funny as that may sound). I am grateful that he took the time to explore these truths in depth and to impart them to his readers.

You can order this book here.

The Advance Reading Copy of this book was provided by Zondervan for review purposes.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

‘In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving’ by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy with Sally Jenkins – Book Review

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One of my favorite movies in recent years is ‘The Blind Side,’ the movie starring Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw as Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, the couple who mentored – and ultimately adopted – Michael Oher, who will be playing his second season for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens this coming season. Leigh Anne and Sean have just released their story in ‘In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving.’

Here is the synopsis of this wonderful memoir:

For the first time, the remarkable couple featured in The Blind Side tell their own deeply inspiring story.
First came the bestselling book, then the Oscar-nominated movie – the story of Michael Oher and the family who adopted him has become one of the most talked-about true stories of our time. But, until now, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy have never told this astonishing tale in their own way with their own words.
For Leigh Anne and Sean, it all begins with family. Leigh Anne, the daughter of a tough-as-nails U.S. marshal, decided early on that her mission was to raise children who would become “cheerful givers.” Sean, who grew up poor, believed that one day he would provide a home that would be “a place of miracles.” Together, they raised two high-spirited children, Collins and Sean Jr. – who shared their deep Christian faith and their commitment to making a difference. And then one day Leigh Anne met a homeless African American boy named Michael and decided that her family could be his. She and her husband taught Michael what this book teaches all of us: everyone has a blind side, but a loving heart always sees a path toward true charity.
Michael Oher’s improbably transformation could never have happened if Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy had not opened their hearts to him. In this touching, funny, and profoundly inspiring book, the Tuohys take us on an extraordinary journey of faith and love – and teach us unforgettable lessons about the power of cheerful giving.

Here is the biography of these authors:

Leigh Anne Tuohy grew up in Memphis and graduated from the University of Mississippi, where she met her future husband; she now owns an interior design company.

Sean Tuohy grew up in New Orleans and plated professional basketball for a summer after college; he now owns more than seventy restaurant franchises.

The Tuohys lives in Memphis but travel all over the country speaking about their family, their faith, and how each of us can make a difference in the world.

Sally Jenkins, an award-winning columnist for The Washington Post, is the author or co-author of several books, including Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About the Bike and The State of Jones (written with John Stauffer). She lives in New York City.

In the Prologue, the Tuohys explain a theory that they hold dear – the Popcorn Theory:

After many years of getting and spending, of being broke, then rich, then almost broke again, of cashing in and paying up, and – let’s face it – hoping to die with the most toys, we’re convinced that it’s better to give than to receive. Some folks call that philanthropy. But we aren’t the fancy types. We don’t always have enough starch in our shirts and our household is about as formal as a sandbox. Instead, we live by a more informal notion, which we call the Popcorn Theory.
It goes like this: “You can’t help everyone. But you can try to help the hot ones who pop right up in front of your face.”
The Popcorn Theory is about noticing others. It starts with recognizing a fellow soul by the roadside as kindred, even if he doesn’t seem to belong in your gated community and, at six foot five and over three hundred pounds, is the biggest piece of popcorn you ever saw. It’s about acknowledging that person’s potential and value. It’s about seeing him, instead of looking past him. (pp. 1-2)

They explain that Michael gave them far more than they ever gave him:

It’s a message about giving. We often say that our son Michael gave us much more than we gave him. That confuses people; how is it possible that a homeless kid could give anything to wealthy parents who already had two perfect children? It’s possible because in every exchange with Michael, we came out on the better end. We gave him a home – and he gave us back a stronger and more centered family. We gave him advice and support – and he gave us back a deeper awareness of the world. We gave him love as a boy – and he gave us back a man to be proud of. Each thing we gave to him has been returned to us multiplied.
But before any of that could happen, something else had to happen first. A fundamental precondition had to be met.
We had to notice him. We had to see him. (p. 4)

They explain there is a misconception about Michael:

But if there is a fundamental misapprehension about Michael, it’s that he needed saving. As we got to know him during those first few weeks, we discovered that underneath his shyness, his foot shuffling, and his head ducking, he had a tremendous will to determine the course of his own life. If he initially seemed forlorn, and searching, that was because he felt guarded and out of place because of what he’d been through. But buried under his skin, like rock under soil, was a deep confidence, a sense of his own capacities. You saw flashes of it when he would cut his eyes up at you and smile. In that instant, you could see all that he had inside of him, as if the landscape of his mind had just been lit up by lightning. (p. 13)

They learned the sweetness of cheerful giving at the church they attend:

One of our deepest beliefs is beautifully captured in the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, or 2 Corinthians. The seventh verse of the ninth chapter of 2 Corinthians reads: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” After many years of attending church together, and helping to found one of the fastest-growing congregations in Memphis, Grace Evangelical, we came to believe that a cheerful, spontaneous offering, no matter how small, could be increased and made powerful by God. Our faith helped us understand that it was up to us to be generous and make ourselves available to be used by others.
We also became convinced that in order to really give, we had to get our hearts right. We had to learn that it was important to let go of any particular agenda. What were we hoping to achieve when we gave? We knew that it couldn’t be “We’re looking to go out and help a fourteen-year old Hispanic boy today.” (p. 21)

The book alternates between Sean and Leigh Anne writing chapters together, each writing their own chapters, as well as chapters from their three children, plus Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw. In one of Sean’s chapters, he describes how he first met Leigh Anne at Mississippi State:

I stepped through the fraternity’s front door into a roaring, liquor-soaked, underwear-clad mob. The minute I crossed the threshold, I saw a girl coming at me like a blaze. She had waist-length blonde hair with four colors of sunshine in it. She was wearing Mickey Mouse sunglasses and boxers. She jumped into my arms and kissed me. The kiss held for a second and then she was gone. She disappeared into the boisterous, damp crowd like a flash….
We moved deeper into the crowd, and as soon as I caught sight of the blonde girl again, I turned to one of my buddies and asked, “Who is that?” The answer came back that she was Leigh Anne Roberts, a varsity cheerleader and a prominent member of the Kappa Delta sorority house. Though she was only a sophomore, she was one of the prettiest and most sought after coeds on campus. And she was already known as a go-getter who was so organized and overscheduled with sorority campaigns that she kept an agenda planner. In those days, nobody kept a planner in college. (pp. 52-53)

That’s quite an introduction!

And Leigh Anne also shares her memories of their first encounters:

Then came Sean. I’d made varsity cheerleader as a sophomore and I was doing the Hotty Toddy and climbing on human pyramids – I was in the middle row – when I noticed him. It was during our big upset of Alabama, when he went to the free throw line with a second left to hit the game-winning shot. While he was shooting I thought, “That boy sure does have good-looking legs.”
That night at the Kappa Alpha party, I introduced myself in my rather high-spirited way. Shortly afterward, I sent him an invitation to a KD “crush” party, an affair in which we all invited someone we liked from afar. The invitees didn’t know who summoned them and wandered around the room waiting to be flirted with. Sean, Mr. Phi Delta Theta, figured out pretty quickly who had invited him, and it wasn’t long before he also figured out I liked him for himself, not because he was a big-shot ballplayer. (p. 90)

After they married, they realized they had a similar worldview:

Life was a test, Sean and I agreed. God wanted to see how we would deal with various circumstances. That was why He gave us problems, pleasures, assets, and deficits. It was why He made people black, white, Latino, and Asian; why people were wealthy, poor, and middle class.
It was all part of the Big Test, and one of the questions on the test was, “What do you do with difference?”
God gave us problems to see how we would handle them. And He gave us difference to see if we could learn to live with one another. (p. 95)

Here’s Sandra Bullock explaining the difference that the Tuohys are making in the world:

I constantly tell her [Leigh Anne], “This is your story, it’s not my story.” She has no idea the path she’s begun in terms of adoption and fostering. I don’t think the Tuohy realize the profound effect that they are going to have, what they are going to do for our country in terms of making people aware of this problem. It’s not been on the forefront of people’s minds, but it is now. It is on the forefront of my mind now, every day, when I get up. I look around and I go, “Is he? Is she? What is their situation?” And it’s because of this family.

Interestingly, earlier this year, Sandra adopted a little baby boy of her own.

I was interested to see the Tuohy’s parenting philosophy:

We also didn’t believe that kids should have idle time. There was no coming         home in the afternoon and getting on the computer and obsessing about video games. Whether it was playing in the band or appearing in a school play, our children were going to do as many things as we could enroll them in. The one thing they weren’t going to do was to be a slug.
We piled after-school activities on their plates until they hardly had a free moment. Collins was in gymnastics by age four, and then she added piano, swimming, track, and cheering. S.J. played basketball, baseball, and golf, studies piano, served as a volunteer basketball coach for a group of younger boys, and wrote for the school paper. (p. 119)

Hard work began to pay off for them in the late 1990s:

By the late 1990s, Sean and his partners in RGT Management were on their way to acquiring more than eighty Taco Bells, Long John Silver’s, Pizza Huts, and Kentucky Fried Chickens spread across Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri. At the same time, Leigh Anne’s design business was thriving, thanks to athlete clients from the Southeast who had made it big in the NBA and NFL and had called her to decorate their new home. It didn’t hurt to have a good friend in Memphis named Jimmy Sexton, one of the most powerful sports agents in the country, who represented a vast array of coaches and athletes. (p. 125)

It was interesting to read that they learned about the different ways people learn and transfer information:

Most experts now agree that our traditional understanding of the word “intelligence” is too limited. It doesn’t describe or measure the wide varieties of capacities that people, especially kids, display in classrooms. Harvard University’s Howard Gardner suggest that a child who learns multiplication easily is not necessarily smarter overall that a child who struggles. The second child may simply have a different brand of intelligence that needs to be accessed with an alternate approach. In fact, the second kid may even be smarter. One of the multiple intelligences that Gardner identifies is “bodily-kinesthetic,” which describes people who learn better through movement and demonstration. They tend to be good at sports, dance, acting, or performing and they learn best by doing something with their bodies rather than by sitting and reading. They have great capacities for verbal and image retention and they do best with oral exams. (p. 149)

In his chapter, Michael sees the reason for his success:

The Lord kept his hand on me by finding the Tuohy family, my family, and bringing me to them. That was nothing but the man above. I was blessed to be taken in by a family that showed me a lot, taught me a lot. It was one of the best feelings I ever had. I just needed that chance. It’s interesting because people had the opportunity to help me. Sean and Leigh Anne weren’t the only ones who knew my situation. But they were the two who stepped in and reached out. (p. 182)

Here’s how the Tuohys interpret their role in the life of Michael, and the success of the movie version of ‘The Blind Side:’

Whatever we do next, we believe God will be in charge of the entire project. Looking back, we believe that Michael became a part of our family because we stayed open to the opportunities God put before us. He had plans for Michael’s life, and we just happened to be facilitators of that plan. We like to think of ourselves a merely vessels He used to accomplish His purpose.
It’s also crystal clear to us that we are supposed to use the success of The Blind Side to help others, and to pass on the sure knowledge we’ve acquired that each of us has the ability to make a difference. Our feelings are summed up by a saying of Billy Graham’s, which Leigh Anne carries around on a card: “The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. The greatest waste in all our earth, which can not be recycled or reclaimed is our waste of time that God has given us each day.” (p. 254)

The Tuohys end their story this way:

Love, we’ve learned, can come into your life in a heartbeat. But the people who are your family aren’t always the people who are blood related to you, and loving someone unconditionally is a lot easier than we make it out to be.
Give love and you will always get it back. That’s our story, that’s our message. (p. 264)

I have long been interested in hearing the Tuohy’s version of their life directly from them, and they are even more inspiring that I’d imagined! They are clearly the hands and feet of Christ on this earth, and they are making a tremendous impact for good wherever they go. I am so excited to see a ‘secular’ publisher such as Henry Holt publish this book in which the main characters exemplify Christ in so many ways. I look forward to seeing where the Lord leads the Tuohys in the future, and thank them for their warm and generous hearts.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Henry Holt and provided by the B&B Media Group for review purposes. 

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