Tuesday, May 28, 2013

‘Biking Across America: My Coast-to-Coast Adventure and the People I Met Along the Way’ by Paul Stutzman – Book Review

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I was one of the blessed people who had the opportunity to be on the blog tour for a great book by Paul Stutzman called ‘Hiking Through: One Man’s Journey to Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail.’ When I heard he had a new book on a new adventure, I knew it was time to hope on the new blog tour bus!

Discover the Heart of America on this Life-Changing, Cross-Country Bike Adventure.
After Paul Stutzman finished hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, he found himself longing for another challenge. Trading his hiking boots for a bicycle, Paul set off to discover more of America.
Starting at Neah Bay, Washington, and ending at Key West, Florida, Paul traverses the five-thousand mile distance between the two farthest points in the contiguous United States. Along the way, he encountered every kind of terrain and weather the country had to offer – as well as hundreds of fascinating people who represented the challenges and triumphs of the entire country. Through cold and heat, loneliness and exhaustion, abundance and kindness, Paul pedaled on. His reward – and yours – is a glimpse of an amazing country that inspires us all.
If you long for adventure, love to meet new people, and love this place called America, get ready for the ride of your life.

Here is the biography of the author:

Paul Stutzman is the author of Hiking Through. A former restaurant manager who left his career after his wife’s death from breast cancer, Paul hiked the Appalachian Trail in search of peace, healing, and freedom. He continues to seek out adventure in new ways every day. When he is not hiking or on a cross-country bike ride, he makes his home in Ohio. Find out more at www.paulstutzman.com.

In addition to sharing stories of his trip, Paul also imparts some wonderful nuggets of wisdom. Here is one example:

We are given many choices and pathways in life. I believe God wants the best for each of our lives, but he won’t make the decisions for us. He will give guidance, but he waits for us to make our own choices. And sometimes, I imagine, he probably wishes we would make up our minds and do something so that he can work and meet us on the path we’ve chosen. (p. 13)

Great points!

Paul believed that God had given him confirmation that he should hike the Appalachian Trail. He was looking for the same confirmation for his bike ride across America. He explained what happened next:

Not much later [after his self-imposed deadline arrived], I walked to the post office. Once again, I was reminded that God does indeed work in mysterious ways. In the few minutes I was in the post office, five people asked me when I would be starting my cross-country bike ride.
“I believe it will be this summer,” I told messenger number five, and a sense of relief filled me. The decision had been made. I would ride across America. (p. 14)

Here is another word of wisdom – one I will be implementing and taking to heart:

Our conversation [about the loss of a spouse] reminded me once again that we too often take our loved ones. If you knew you only had a limited number of days to say or do what needs to be said or done, would you change anything about how you live this day?
I will say it for you: your time is limited and the moments are trickling away. (p. 41)

Paul knows well the Way, the Truth, and the Life:

I believe the only remedy for society’s ills is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The only spirit necessary for my natural highs is the Holy Spirit dwelling within me. Some folks might question whether a Christian should indulge in the ornery sense of humor that often pops into my discourse, but my relationship with an almighty God makes it possible to look beyond pain and see humor in most situations.
I believe too that as a son of God I am heir to every part of the country that I traveled on this journey. God owns quite a piece of real estate, and I was inspecting my inheritance and talking to my Father about everything I found. This corner of the universe, I reported, needed some maintenance. There was a weed here and there that needed plucking. (p. 49)

Riding through a section of California prompted Paul to think about his life:

Pedaling through wine country and thinking about those good memories from not so long ago reminded me again how quickly life can change. Today, your family is intact and all is well; but that can all change in a heartbeat. We must cherish each day as we have with each other. We really only have today to tell our loved ones how much they mean to us. Treasure those memories you make with your families. Someday you too may be on a journey where those good memories will sustain you. (p. 62)

Paul encountered so many interesting attractions on his adventure. I was not familiar with this one:

The next day I stopped and toured the famous One-Log House. In the 1940s, a man felled a giant redwood that was supposedly 2,100 years old. Over 8 months’ time, he carved a bedroom, kitchen, and living room out of a thirty-two foot section of the tree trunk. Another enterprising fellow had purchased the one-long house and wheeled it about to fairs and festivals, charging a small admission to see the wonder. It does give a new meaning to the term tree house. (p. 45)

The bike ride across America gave Paul lots of time to contemplate the deepest thoughts in life:

Christians believe that we exist in a small amount of measured time but God exists forever, before and after our dimension. Believers talk about eternity and a world without time. But our thinking here in this world is saturated with the idea of time as a measurement. Even folks that deny God and his creation of the earth need to discover a beginning. They are compelled to come up with theories such as the big bang, evolution, and other explanations for the birth of time, space, and mankind. For unbelievers, talking about a God who has existed forever and an eternity that never end is foolishness.
Even for believers, the concept of forever is hard to comprehend. How can we live forever? How can a person not age? We have no way to grasp this, no way, to understand, because we are so rooted in time. (pp. 213-214)

This book was just as great as the first one! I love Paul’s writing style – and especially his outlook on life! This is a great book for anyone who likes adventure and learning about new places and interesting people; it would be great for grads, dads – and everyone in between! I highly recommend this book, as I did Paul’s first book! He is also working on a book of fiction tentatively titled The Wanderer. I look forward to that book, as well!  

You can order this book by clicking here.

Available May 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This book was published by Revell Publishers and provided by them for review purposes.

Friday, May 24, 2013

‘Magnificent Malevolence: Memoirs of a Career in Hell in the Tradition of The Screwtape Letters’ by Derek Wilson – Book Review

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One of the most well-known expressions in history is ‘Know your enemy.’ It comes from the ancient Chinese military treatise ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu. As Christians, we are in a daily battle against the enemy of our soul.
Magnificent Malevolence: Memoirs of a Career in Hell in the Tradition of The Screwtape Letters’ by Derek Wilson shows us the mindset and thought processes of one of the devil’s henchmen.

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

“I was a junior tempter then, but even in those days I showed phenomenal promise…”
From the Archives of The Low Command: Ministry of Misinformation
This remarkable manuscript outlines the career of the prominent devil, Crumblewit S.O.D. (Order of the Sons of Darkness, 1st Class).
Crumblewit provides a fiendish appraisal of the struggles between good and evil which dominates human affairs in the period from 1942 (when the great Screwtape’s Letters were released to the world) to the present. Crumblewit’s energies were deployed in the religious arena, undermining the attempts of Christians to carry out the mission entrusted to them by the Unmentionable One.
The account is pleasingly distorted by its author’s truly diabolical conceit and capacity for self-delusion. It sheds a very satisfying light on the tribulations experienced by humans throughout this period.

Here is the biography of the author:

Popular historian Derek Wilson is the author of over 60 books and has written and presented numerous television and radio programs. He lives and writes in Devon [UK].

I will use this review to focus on a few of the tactics; let’s beware of how we use our time and resources, and how we need to ensure we are not deceived.

Here is how Crumblewit steered a minister off track:

By suggesting to him courses of action that any of the enemy’s agents tried to promote, I induced him to lower his guard. First of all I drew his attention to radio evangelists. These rabid spouters of the enemy’s propaganda were a nuisance to us because they were able to get their sick-making message into every home to which their networks had access. Some of our colleagues had managed to use the novel phenomenon of radio (just as they more effectively use television years later) by insinuating into the preaching slots religious charlatans, who used their air time to make appeals for money. Only I saw that the medium could be used even more effectively. I induced Little Bratt [his name for the pastor] into spending more and more time listening to the radio evangelists. I got him to analyze their techniques and then try them out in the pulpit. It was not long before he was paying more attention to the method than the message. (p. 25)

Crumblewit also explains how he and his colleagues use and abuse a gift originally given by God, but perverted for their gain:

Sex remains the most effective universal tool at our disposal. Adultery, sexual experimentation by emotionally immature young people, and the unwillingness of parents to provide a firm moral framework for their teenage children are, in every human community, being justified by the grounds of “love.” Oh, the delightful spectacles of misery, betrayal, desertion, cantankerous bitterness, and murder we have been able to enjoy as a direct result of inducing couples to claim (and, in most cases, believe) that “It’s OK because we love each other.” As if they knew the meaning of the word! It is an attribute of the enemy which remains a mystery. If we don’t understand it, the inferior human creatures can’t possibly grasp its implications. Our task is to conceal reality from them by persuading them that the enemy’s hard-and-fast rules were mere guidelines, which humans are free to adapt, apply, or not apply, according to the circumstances. (p. 136)

This passage not only uncovers the enemy’s tactics (which were successfully employed in the Garden of Eden), but also shows how lowly he esteems God’s people.

Here Crumblewit talks about technology and television in particular. This section was particularly convicting to me, as I can spend a little too much time in front of the ‘boob tube:’

Television, as I knew well and had always urged, was an excellent tool offering numerous possibilities. At the lowest end it provided an endless stream of trivia with which we could fill people’s minds and divert their attention from issues concerning their eternal well-being. Handled properly, TV could even prevent them from thinking at all; they could simply take their ideas and opinions from the screens which dominated their living spaces. (p. 150)

He goes on to explain how he sows seeds of discontent:

[W]hat we can do, and have done consistently with great success, is keep the pathetic creatures preoccupied with the mundane; working feverishly to earn money to buy those trinkets – clothes, gadgets, motor cars, jewellery. houses – which give them social status and bolster their sense of self-worth. If that leaves them craving “something more,” we offer glamour. We have schooled a whole industry to dangle before the populace images of men and women whose wealth, fame, and exciting lifestyle suggest what, with luck, ingenuity, or extra efforts, their fans, too, might achieve. We have manoeuvred them into a delightfully jumbled state of mind in which fact and fiction, reality and dreams are splendidly confused. (pp. 150-151)

Can anyone say “Kardashian”?

There are many more examples of how our enemy gets us off track; these are just a few.

It was, at times, difficult to read the book from Crumblewit’s perspective, especially when he was so disparaging of people, but especially of God. His description of God as ‘the enemy’ was hard to read. In any event, I think it is important to be aware of the devil’s tactics. So I appreciate Derek Wilson for bringing these things to his readers’ attention – distasteful as it was. But that’s how satan (small s) operates. It was particularly satisfying to see what Crumblewit’s ‘reward’ is at the end of the book.

You can order this book by clicking here.

This book was published by Lion Fiction and provided by Kregel Publications for review purposes.

‘Her Restless Heart: A Woman’s Longing for Love and Acceptance’ by Barbara Cameron – Book Review

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Being a seminary student, I thought I’d draw closer to the Lord. But head knowledge does not necessarily translate to heart knowledge. So I still look for Bible studies to share with friends as my schedule permits. The latest one that has crossed my path is ‘Her Restless Heart: A Woman’s Longing for Love and Acceptance’ by Barbara Cameron. I was particularly intrigued by this one because it has an Amish theme – and I have been an admirer of the Amish since I was a young girl.

Here is the synopsis of this book:
          Discover the Bible’s answer to the longing of  
          every woman’s heart…
Her Restless Heart, the second study in the Faith and Fiction series, offers a refreshing new approach to Bible study. Much in the way that Jesus used parables to teach important truths, this study uses the compelling story of a young Amish woman caught between two worlds as a vehicle for studying the Bible’s answer to the universe longing of every woman’s heart: to be unconditionally loved and accepted.
Through excerpts from the novel (included inside this book) and video interviews with the author (viewed in the group session), you will become acquainted with Mary Katherine and her search for unconditional love and acceptance (reading the novel is not required). As you relate to the struggles of Mary Katherine and the other characters in the story, you will explore the depths of your own heart and search to learn what God’s Word has to say about finding satisfaction for the heart’s persistent yearning. You will discover that though we tend to look to people and things to fulfill this longing, we can never know true love and acceptance – or complete freedom – until we are able to rest in God’s all-encompassing love and trust His plan for our lives. This six-week study invites you to allow God to satisfy your restlessness, offering you His love, acceptance, and peace.

Here is the biography of the author:

Barbara Cameron is the author of more than 30 fiction and nonfiction books, three nationally televised movies (HBO-Cinemax), and the winner of the first Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award. When a relative took her to visit the Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, she felt led to write about the spiritual values and simple joys she witnessed there. She lives in Edgewater, Florida. 

Here is Barbara talking about her Bible study:

In the Introduction, Barbara explains the purpose of her study:

This study invites us on a journey in which we will explore the depths of our hearts and allow God to satisfy our restlessness, offering us His love, acceptance, and peace. Together we will walk through our doubts and fears and find healing for our hearts – as well as our relationships. We will discover what it means to live a life of freedom by living in God’s love, and we will celebrate the God who is devoted to transforming us and blessing us beyond anything we ever dared to dream or imagine.
What makes this study unique is that it uses Christian fiction as a backdrop to explore biblical themes. Through the characters in Her Restless Heart and their stories, we will learn how resting in God’s great love for us frees is to experience His joy and peace. The hope is that this refreshing approach of combining Bible study with narrative storytelling not only will enrich and enhance your study of God’s Word, but also will help you to better understand and apply what you’re learning in your own life as you relate to the characters and their experiences. (p. 5)

This is a six week Bible study, with each week focusing on a different aspect of a woman’s heart:

          Week 1: The Hungry Heart
          Week 2: The Wounded Heart
          Week 3: The Insecure Heart
          Week 4: The Reluctant Heart
          Week 5: The Romantic Heart
          Week 6: The Satisfied Heart

In addition, Barbara has prepared videos – which are posted on YouTube – for each week, which complement each week’s study.

I will take a look at Week 3: The Insecure Heart. There are excerpts from the book during each week’s study. In addition, there are individual studies for five days out of the week. Each day includes an appropriate Bible verse, a ‘Reflect and Respond’ section, pertinent questions, a prayer entitled ‘Talk to God,’ plus ‘As You Go,’ which suggests a passage of Scripture to read and reflect upon. Barbara explains what this particular week will focus on:

Though we sing hymns about God’s powerful and complete love for us, and we quote Scriptures about His unending grace, if we are honest, we must admit that often our insecurities and fears overwhelm us and keep us from understanding and claiming just how much we are loved by God. So we try harder, and harder still, until we are defeated, exhausted, and hopeless. It seems that we can never do enough or be enough. The good news? God is enough.
This week we will look into our hearts (and our schedules) to see where we are misplacing our identities and our hopes in things that cannot satisfy, and we will learn how God fulfills the greatest desires of our hearts. (p. 74)

The book ends on a charming note – it features Amish recipes, including Jacob’s Macaroni and Cheese, Amish Coffee Cake, and Amish Zucchini Bread, as well as Florida Recipes – Shrimp and Grits (my husband and I both love both!), Fruity Florida Coleslaw, and Key Lime Pie. I definitely plan on trying some – or all – of them!

I have not worked through the study, because I am busy taking summer classes. But I plan on working through this study with a friend after my classes end at the end of June. I am grateful to Ms. Cameron for putting together such a wonderful study!

You can order this book by clicking here!  

This book is published by Abingdon Press and is provided by them for review purposes.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

‘The Cat That God Sent’ by Jim Kraus – Book Review

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Anyone who knows me knows that I am a dog person rather than a cat person; one is usually one or the other! So although I was (honestly) less 
than enthusiastic about reviewing ‘The Cat That God Sent’ by Jim Kraus, nonetheless I did. And I truly enjoyed it a lot!

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

Meet Petey, your not-so-average cat – on a mission from God.
Disillusioned young pastor, Jake Wilkerson, has just arrived at his new assignment in the small rural church of Coudersport, Pennsylvania. Also new on the scene is Petey, a cat of unknown origins and breed – but of great perception.
As Jake sets about doing the business of ministry, Petey’s continued interference brings chaos to the community of curiously off and eccentric people – residents like the faith-avoiding veterinarian Emma Grainger and Tassy, a young runaway with a secret. An expert at hiding his fear, Jake wonders if all this – and the cat to boot – is more than he can handle. What is Petey’s real “mission”? Perhaps something larger than Jake – or even Petey – can possibly know.

I was intrigued by the prospect of reading about a disillusioned pastor, and how that subject would be handled.

Here is the biography of the author:

Jim Kraus grew up in Western Pennsylvania and has spent the last twenty years as a vice president of a major Christian publishing house. He has written more than twenty books and novels, including the best-selling The Dog That Talked to God. He and his family live outside of Chicago with a sweet miniature Schnauzer and an ill-tempered cat named (of course) Petey.

I love how Petey described dogs:

Who would want to be a dog? Disgusting creatures. All slobbery and loose fur and burrs and snorting. Clumsy. They just don’t have enough bones, I guess, and they can’t even curl up into a ball. Stiff, they are, like boards. And they stink. Have you ever been near a wet dog? Even dry dogs stink. (p. 25)

Petey shares his view on the idea that dogs talk to God:

I know that if I talked to him – that would make my job easier. But I don’t do that. I know that some animals might. I recently heard a story about a dog that talked to its owner and told her all about God and what he wanted for her life. (p. 42)

That particular section is an allusion to another of Jim’s books, ‘The Dog That Talked to God’ (you can check it out here).  

Emma, the veterinarian who treated Petey’s paw was interested in learning about Pastor Jake’s profession. He had an interesting response:

“You know, the funny part of church and pastors is that a lot of people think all you have to do is really know the Bible. That’s important, but what’s more important is making what’s in there understandable to people in the pews. And that’s not easy. Some of it is confusing. Some of it will remain a mystery. So…making the Bible understandable – and keeping the church supplied with coffee. Those are the two most important things a pastor does.” (p. 218)

I liked the book – in fact, I enjoyed a story with a cat more than I had expected! I was a little disappointed in the ending; I did not get a good sense of completion. Nonetheless, I did enjoy the book, and would recommend it for cat and dog lovers alike!

You can order a copy of this book here.

This book was published by Abingdon Press and was provided by LitFuse Publicity Group for review purposes.

Monday, May 20, 2013

‘The Dog That Talked to God’ by Jim Kraus – Book Review

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Anyone who knows me knows that I am a dog person! We currently own two adorable and precious Cocker Spaniels. I find them to be special creations from God, so when I heard about the blog tour for ‘The Dog That Talked to God’ by Jim Kraus, I knew I wanted to read that one!

Here is the synopsis for this novel:

Sometimes the least expected can be the most amazing.
Recently widowed Mary Fassler buys a Miniature Schnauzer, Rufus, and her world is turned sideways in the midst of her grief. It seems that Rufus speaks. And not just to her. He also talks to God.
When Rufus begins sharing advice that could result in major life changes, Mary gets the feeling the pooch might not be steering her in the right direction. Or is she just afraid to take a leap and discover something she desperately needs? Only Rufus – and God – knows.

Here is the biography of the author:

Jim Kraus is a longtime writer and editor who has authored or coauthored 20 books, both fiction and nonfiction. His best-selling humor book, Bloopers, Blunders, Jokes, Quips, and Quotes,  was published by Tyndale, sold more than 40,000 copies, and inspired several spin-off books. Jim and his wife, novelist Terri Kraus, have one son and live in the Chicago area.

I loved Jim’s writing style – especially the humorous sections. Here is an example; the main character, Mary Fassler, tells about her first month of dog ownership:

Friends came over to visit that first month, after hearing I had acquired a dog. They oohed and aahhed over the puppy, picking him up, with some planting kisses on his head. I had determined not to be the sort of semi-crazy pet lady who would do that. I have to say that human-to-pet smooches simply look wrong. Weird. I am pretty sure that Rufus did not like the forced smooches either, but he had no forearm with which to wipe off an unwanted kiss after being bussed on his forehead. Worse yet was the occasional trace of lipstick that remained afterward in his white eyebrows that I had to clean off when the over-affectionate guest departed. (p. 30)

I also loved Jim’s descriptive writing style. Here’s Mary describing the first time she saw her future husband:

He [Jacob Fassler] worked in marketing – smooth-talking, glib, always with a ready smile. You know, one of those marketing types. And he was handsome, in a Bohemian sort of way. He stood a few inches taller than me – and in flats, I was an even five feet, five inches tall. He had an almost dark look about him, dark hair with waves that he sort of pushed back from his forehead with a calculated insouciance that made it look as though he had just stepped away from the beach. I would have wagered that he smelled of salt water. He had dark eyes – deep, expressive, more brown than any other color – in contrast with my Nordic-looking blue eyes, my blond hair in a limp bob. He had a dangerous look to himself, opposite from me and my gingham-and-lace apron aura. I could wear a leather jacket with leather chaps and studs in my nose and ears, and someone would ask me where the Sunday school social is being held. I have that sort of nice, nearly angelic face. I’m not that way, really. I can be bad. Seriously. I have done bad things.
Sort of. (p. 40)  

I believe that dogs are wonderful creatures! Here, Mary asks Rufus if all dogs know God:

“I think so. I think all dogs know God. But not all dogs are good dogs. If a dog is a good dog, that means they know who God is and do good things. Some dogs that do bad things do bad things because they have bad people around them. But, deep down, all dogs know what is good and bad. Good dogs do good things. Bad dogs…they do bad things, even if they know better. But all dogs know what they’re doing. I’m pretty sure of that.” (p. 274)

I really LOVED this book! I was so touched that I cried at the end; they were happy tears for the ending! I would love to see a sequel! I thank Mr. Kraus for sharing the wonders of dogs and the privilege we have to have them as companions. I cannot imagine life without a furry canine creative in our home!

You can order this book by clicking here.

This book was published by Abingdon Press and provided by the LitFuse Publicity Group for review purposes.

Monday, May 13, 2013

‘Permission Granted – And Other Thoughts on Living Graciously Among Sinners and Saints’ by Margot Starbuck – Book Review

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Over the last several years, the Lord has been working on my heart to help me be more loving and less judgmental. I always feel that I need more help in that area. So when I heard about the blog tour for ‘Permission Granted – And Other Thoughts on Living Graciously Among Sinners and Saints’ by Margot
Starbuck, I was intrigued by the title and wanted to be involved.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

·       Would Jesus stand on a street corner waving a sign that condemned a particular kind of sinner?
·         Would he deliver diatribes on TV news shows against them?
·         Would he support religious leaders who use their positions to marginalize the less-than-holy?
When she got the feeling that authentic love for those identified by the church as “Special Sinners” looked diametrically different than Christians in the media spotlight made it appear, Margot Starbuck went looking for the truth. Scouring the Gospels for the Jesus who felt as uncomfortable as she did around disreputable sinners, Margot was surprised to find no record of him there. Instead, she found the kind of grace that would actually be received by those in bars, in strip clubs, and at drag queen bingo.
Permission Granted is her passionate and liberating call to all of us to truly love others as Jesus does. With wit and clarity of insight, Starbuck shows that there are no “Special Sinners” who are worse or more deserving of contempt and judgment than others, and challenges us to a radical acceptance of the ones God loves and receives.

Here is the biography of this author:

Margot Starbuck is the confessions editor of Geez Magazine’s Sinner’s Corner
and blogs at Red Letter Christians, Her.meneutics, Gifted for Leadership, and Fullfill. She also writes for Relevant, Neue, MomSense, Mutuality, and Prism, as well as other print and online publications. She is an award-winning writer and speaker who is convinced that Jesus is wild about Sinners just like her. She lives with her husband and three children in North Carolina.

Here is Margot explaining the purpose of her book:

In the Introduction, Margot points out the disparity between the behavior of the ‘Religious’ and that of Jesus:

Most of us recognize that the posture of “Christians” in some of the outrageous snapshots touted by the media – spewing vitriol at military funerals, threatening to burn Korans, demeaning gay people from Sunday morning pulpits – are alarmingly dissimilar from the ones we’ve been given of Jesus in the Gospels. It does not require any sophisticated theological training to recognize the discrepancies.
The Gospel examples of Jesus looked very different from anything I’d seen practiced by the Religious. Instead of backing away cautiously, the way I like to do, Jesus moved toward those who’d been identified as disreputable Sinners. Righteous, the way I’d been groomed to do, he actually went to a lot of trouble to insist that these Sinners were worth so much that his Father spared no expense in his dogged pursuit of them. His unexpected behavior both surprised his closest friends and outraged the Religious.
Sadly, the passing of centuries has made this distinctly Christian form of love no more prevalent and no less scandalous. (p. 10)

Margot shared the thoughts of a writer named Bryon Katie, who uses an approach called Loving What Is. I was reading this book during a trip to Florida to visit my in-laws. My husband, Fred, and I, had the opportunity to visit the four parks of Disney World in one day. I used this approach while I was waiting in line for one hour for one ride…..:

“Loving what is” just means that instead of desperately wanting some situation to be different than it actually is – which, since I usually can’t control it, only causes me distress, anyway – I accept it for what it is. As I do that, when I stop the relentless thoughts that insist This has to stop, or I can’t bear this, or Why are they trying to destroy me?, I don’t have to be distressed by it. What causes my upset, apparently, is me wanting a situation to be different than it really is. When I accept what is, as I just notice what’s happening, I don’t have to get freaked out by it…..
If you’re a highly evolved, emotionally mature person, this is probably how you behave all the time. You don’t let yourself get ticked off and unglued by small inconsequential things. Because I do, however, the difference between the groovy, psychologically sound, and spiritually healthy response and me blowing up and screaming at [someone] everyone is really quite striking. (pp. 226-227)

In my situation, we took on a big task by wanting to hit all four parks at Walt Disney World – Epcot Center, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and the Magic Kingdom – in one day. So when we got stuck in a long line, it was hard for me to be patient….. So I simply accepted the fact that ‘it is what it is.’

One of the most important points in Margot’s book is that Jesus never avoided sinners the way we are often told to do ourselves. She makes this great point:

If it actually were the case that my acceptance of the riff-raff, my presence among them, was an implicit endorsement of their behavior, then Jesus is not the man a lot of us think he is. According to this line of thinking, he’s proprostitution, proextortion, proadultery, progluttony, prohypocrisy, prodrunkenness, and prosyncretism. The twisty logic say that if you “accept” something, you necessarily condone it. Even if you don’t.
Whether or not Jesus condoned or condemned the behavior of Sinners, he did accept it. He recognized what it was, without sign of anxiety or distress when other failed to behave the way he thought maybe they should. (p. 231)

I have to be honest and admit that some of the truths shared in this book are difficult for me to accept. I have been a Christian for over twenty years, and my early teaching involved lots of legalism and judgmentalism. So learn to love as Jesus loved seems foreign to me. But it is clear to me that Jesus was more accepting of sinner than most of us. And if He can accept them, what gives us the right to not do the same?!

You can order this book by clicking here.

This book is published by Baker Books and is provided by them for review purposes.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Guest Blog Post - 'The Mom Who Gives Freedom' by Christy Fitzwater

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Pearl Girls McSweeney

Welcome to Pearl Girls™ Mother of Pearl Mother’s Day blog series—a nine-day celebration of moms and mothering. Each day will feature a new post by some of today’s best writers (Tricia Goyer, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, Beth Vogt, Lesli Westfall, and more). I hope you’ll join us each day for another unique perspective on Mother’s Day.

AND . . . do enter the contest for a chance to win a beautiful handcrafted pearl necklace and a JOYN India bag. Enter at the bottom of this post. The contest runs 5/4-5/13, and the winner will be announced on 5/14. Contest is only open to U.S. residents. If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info, subscribe to our blog, and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Mother of Pearl: Luminous Lessons and Iridescent Faith to help support Pearl Girls™.

And to all you MOMS out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

The Mom Who Gives Freedom by Christy Fitzwater

My mom is a reserved, quiet homebody who has lived in the same house for forty years. She has no ambitious career goals or desire for adventure.

She gave birth to me, an outgoing adventure-lover who has lived to take risks and put myself out into the world, in ways my mother would never dream of doing herself.

Yet my mother has always given me the great gift of freedom. She has never cast onto me her own fears of limelight or reservations about risk but has only encouraged me to do the outrageous things I have attempted to do.

When I received an award in high school that required me to fly, for the first time and by myself, from Wyoming to Atlanta, Georgia (only having talked once by telephone to the person who would pick me up), she sent me off with enthusiasm. (But her heart must have trembled to allow me to get on that plane.)

When that award landed me a full scholarship to a school in Texas I had never heard of (the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor), she rejoiced with me and did not hesitate to allow me to accept the scholarship. She then drove away from me in Texas, leaving me at a school where I knew no one, and only years later told me that was the hardest thing she had ever done.

When I called from Texas, at the end of my freshman year, and excitedly announced I had gotten a job and would be staying in Texas for the summer, she said it was wonderful and gave her approval.

Mom never filled me with doubt about what I could do. She never cast guilt on me for going on adventures that took me far away from her. She never poured her anxiety on my head but spoke only happiness and cheerleader words for me.

But now that I’m a mom, I know.

I know my risk-taking journey has always cost her something. I know every wild ride I chose required her to choose—either to build me up or to press me down. My mom handed me the scissors and, with a smile, allowed me to cut the apron strings and go far beyond what was comfortable for her.

This last week my son got his driver’s license, and now it is my turn to choose. Worry or a hearty smile—which will I give to him?

Let us stand in ovation to the mothers who give their children the ability to live freely.
christyfitzwaterChristy Fitzwater is a writer and pastor’s wife in Kalispell, Montana. She is also the mother of a daughter in college and a son in high school. She has an English degree from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Visit her at http://www.christyfitzwater.com.

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Mother's Day Guest Blog Post - 'Mizpah' by Margaret McSweeney

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Pearl Girls McSweeney

Welcome to Pearl Girls™ Mother of Pearl Mother’s Day blog series—a celebration of moms and mothering. Each day will feature a new post by some of today’s best writers (Tricia Goyer, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, Beth Vogt, Lesli Westfall, and more). I hope you’ll join us each day for another unique perspective on Mother’s Day.

AND . . . do enter the contest for a chance to win a beautiful handcrafted pearl necklace and a JOYN India bag. Enter at the bottom of this post. The contest runs 5/4-5/13, and the winner will be announced on 5/14. Contest is only open to U.S. residents. If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info, subscribe to our blog, and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Mother of Pearl: Luminous Lessons and Iridescent Faith to help support Pearl Girls™.

And to all you MOMS out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

Mizpah by Margaret McSweeney

On April 14, our family’s precious Pongo passed away. This beloved Chihuahua was with our family for nearly fourteen years. He played with my daughters during their childhood and comforted them during the challenges of adolescence. He rested by my side during breast cancer treatment and worked alongside Dave in his home office.

Yes, Pongo was always a source of surprises. Before he was one, he somehow swallowed a brownie patch attached to a string of beads and a safety pin. That was his first stomach surgery. Then, the following year he bit off the sharp edge of Mr. Potato Head’s ear. That was the second stomach surgery. Throughout the fourteen years, we were in and out of the ER for dogs. He ate a bag of cough drops in the pantry. He jumped on the table and ate the kids’ chewable vitamins. And the list goes on. . . .

House guests would always have to place their purses on a table without chairs. Otherwise, Pongo would rummage through the bags in search of his addiction: chewing gum! But above all, Pongo’s greatest gift and lesson to us was unconditional love. Yes, Pongo brought such joy to the family for so many years. No one could believe that he actually smiled! He knew how loved he was. I think that is why he outlived his life expectancy by three years after being diagnosed with a heart condition. It was his kidneys and stomach cancer that ultimately claimed his precious life. He passed away peacefully in his sleep at home.


The day after Pongo died, I read a beautiful Bible verse: Genesis 31:49

And Mizpah; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.

Isn’t that beautiful! Mizpah signifies an emotional bond between people who are separated by death or circumstance.

Perhaps, instead we can say:“Mizpaw” to express this same emotional bond between people and their precious pets. Pongo, I love you and miss you so very much. Thank you for being a blessing in our home. You have left a “fur-ever” heartprint in our lives. Mizpaw!


Margaret lives with her husband and two daughters in a Chicago suburb. She is the author of Aftermath: Growing in Grace Through Grief, Mother of Pearl, Pearl GirlsA Mother's Heart Knows  and the co-author of Go Back and Be Happy. She is the founder and collaborator of Pearl Girls. All the proceeds of books sales from Mother of Pearl (2012) and Pearl Girls (2009) to go support the work of two charities, WINGS AND HANDS OF HOPE. Margaret would love to meet you too. Follow her on twitter (@McSweeney) or friend her on facebook. You can also keep up with Margaret at Kitchen Chat, her weekly radio show.Visit her website.   a Rafflecopter giveaway

Mother's Day Guest Blog Post - 'Mother Ship' by Melody Murray

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Pearl Girls McSweeney

Welcome to Pearl Girls™ Mother of Pearl Mother’s Day blog series— a celebration of moms and mothering. Each day will feature a new post by some of today’s best writers (Tricia Goyer, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, Beth Vogt, Lesli Westfall, and more). I hope you’ll join us each day for another unique perspective on Mother’s Day.

AND . . . do enter the contest for a chance to win a beautiful handcrafted pearl necklace and a JOYN India bag. Enter at the bottom of this post. The contest runs 5/4-5/13, and the winner will be announced on 5/14. Contest is only open to U.S. residents.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info, subscribe to our blog, and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Mother of Pearl: Luminous Lessons and Iridescent Faith to help support Pearl Girls™.

And to all you MOMS out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother Ship by Melody Murray

Mother Ship (N.) - a ship that serves or carries one or more smaller ships.

Raising two boys in India is quite nice, really. We have monkeys, scooters, plenty of dirt, and mountains. The challenges are comical. I found very quickly on that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. It’s been an excellent motto for our three years thus far, one I learned shortly after our arrival here in June of 2010.

We’d been in India for just three days when I had my first major meltdown. Our two boys, ages three and four, were sitting in big plastic buckets in our smelly bathroom, covered with mosquito bites, jetlagged as can be. I was frantically pouring cold water over them, trying to scrub off the India grime that had caked on their scrawny little bodies. I was having to hold them like puppy dogs so they wouldn’t scurry out from underneath the cold water. It was a far cry from the sweet, warm, bubbly, happy bath time we’d experienced together for the past four years in the States! Talk about culture shock. They were in shock. I was in shock. I’m sure the neighbors were in shock, too. I’m not sure my boys have ever seen me scream, cry, and stomp that much. Thank God it is just a memory now.

Somehow, by God’s grace, we’ve figured out life here. It looks much different than I had ever thought it would look, especially as a mother. We don’t go to the library, make elaborate crafts, play T-ball, shop at Target, sing in church choir, or take family bike rides. I have had to redefine my ideal upbringing for my children and have had to let go of many expectations. But I’ve managed to grasp hold of a new set of dreams.

My children are global kids. They have an incredible adventure every day. They see the “majority world” firsthand. I think they are some of the most privileged kids I know. I’ve stopped feeling sorry for myself that my kids don’t get to go to ballgames or have a huge tree house or wear cute clothes. Why focus on what I think they’ve lost, only to lose sight of what they’re gaining?

My attitude shift didn’t come easily. I can be quite stubborn. I clung to what I knew and what I thought was “normal” and “right,” as all of us moms do. I’d cry after phone conversations with friends back home who had their children signed up for karate, soccer, and swim lessons, with loads of choices for good schools, churches, and neighborhoods. I had nothing of the sort available for my kids, and I felt bitter and resentful.

But then I slowly began to change. Slowly, after months of getting over culture shock and cold baths, we began to love this place and the people we were with. We began to know them, understand them, become like them. Our community here became our family. Just this week, I’ve been sick with an awful kidney infection, and my living room has been full of my Tibetan, Nepali, and Indian friends, bringing me food, rubbing my feet, playing with my children, washing my dishes. I’ve never experienced community in this way before. My boys are loved so well by so many. And they are learning how to love back, even when it’s not easy.

My attitude shift didn’t come quickly, but when it happened, it took a 180°. I realized how wrong I’d been. These people I live with—their kids don’t have organized sports, church choirs, or fancy vacations either. Their kids aren’t signed up for after-school activities and aren’t becoming multi-skilled elementary school prodigies. Yet, in spite of this, they are content. Like none I’ve ever seen. They love each other. Like none I’ve ever seen. They have very little, yet they have so very much.

In the western world of comparisons and endless striving, I believe we sometimes lose touch of the things we actually care most about. I know most of us moms actually don’t care whether our children are the best at T-ball or whether their crafts look better than the next kid’s. But I think we all care deeply that our kids are loved, and that they know how to love. We all have a common dream that our kids will grow up to be world-changers, to strive for what is right, to love the unloved, to see the world in a different way. These are the deepest dreams of moms. So let’s not forget that the most important things we can give our kids are not the things we can buy them or sign them up for. One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is to give them sails, let them explore new things, meet new people, and learn to make lasting change in this world.

So join me this Mother’s Day. Let’s all be “mother ships,” leading our kids to new adventures, new beginnings, new relationships. Let’s serve and carry our little ones to places they can only dream of, whether it be making dinner for a neighbor, smiling at the homeless man in front of the grocery store, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or moving to India. Let’s take them with us and teach them how to sail.

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” —Grace Murray Hopper


068In June 2010, an opportunity arose to work with a small needy community in the Himalayas, so David and Melody Murray and their two young boys packed their bags and moved to Rajpur, North India. Mel has grown JOYN, fulfilling her passion to connect artisans with western markets. They now have a diverse and growing team of Americans, Australians, Indians, Tibetans and Nepalis working together to create a community that strives to take care of each other and bring opportunity to as many as they can. Visit her website for more information.

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Mother's Day Guest Blog Post - 'How I Learned to Give Up Control' by Sue Edwards

Buzz this
Pearl Girls McSweeney

Welcome to Pearl Girls™ Mother of Pearl Mother’s Day blog series—a nine-day celebration of moms and mothering. Each day will feature a new post by some of today’s best writers (Tricia Goyer, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, Beth Vogt, Lesli Westfall, and more). I hope you’ll join us each day for another unique perspective on Mother’s Day.

AND . . . do enter the contest for a chance to win a beautiful handcrafted pearl necklace and a JOYN India bag. Enter at the bottom of this post. The contest runs 5/4-5/13, and the winner will be announced on 5/14. Contest is only open to U.S. residents. If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info, subscribe to our blog, and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Mother of Pearl: Luminous Lessons and Iridescent Faith to help support Pearl Girls™.

And to all you MOMS out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

How I Learned to Give Up Control by Sue Edwards

I'm one of those mothers who would like to control everything in my children's lives. You may be too, all out of the best intentions. I tried frantically to do that for many years until God grabbed my attention and wrestled my control issues from my clenched fists. It happened this way.

My youngest daughter attended a large university where campus housing was at a premium. Her second year she was accepted into one of the nicest dorms on campus, but the rule was that you could either choose the room or the roommate of your choice but not both. Well, I had heard horror stories of what happened when you roomed with some girls--like men in the room, and I turned into mother bear. I was not going to allow my child to take pot luck in roommates, nor were we willing to give up that choice room.

I had heard that if your child had a learning disability they would ditch the rule. So I decided to make my case with the administrator who could fix this unfair situation. All week, I was on the phone long distance climbing my way up the ladder to the gentleman who could give my daughter the room and roommate she deserved.

And finally, I was on the phone with him. We talked for a few minutes, and then he asked me, "Does your daughter have a learning disability?" I answered rather indignantly, "Well, I prefer not to label people." That did it. He bought it. I had done the impossible. I called my daughter, she turned cart wheels on the other end of the phone, and we rejoiced together.

Only the roommate she had chosen, the dear Christian girl from her church, did not turn out to be the roommate she expected. In fact, she did have men in the room, a lot. And she went home at Christmas under suspicious circumstances. All fall I had to endure calls from my daughter who was trying to figure out how to navigate this awkward situation. And it was my fault. Some of us are stubborn and God needs a two by four to get our attention, and break us of our control issues. This was that time for me, and for my daughter. Now, when we are tempted to take control instead of trusting God, we look at each other, remember, smile, and let go.

God knows what he is doing in your life, my life, and the lives of our children. And he loves our children more than we do, as impossible as that may sound. So trust him, follow him. Two by fours are rather painful. You won't regret trusting your Sovereign Father who has your, and your children's, best interest at heart.

sueedwardsDr. Sue Edwards has over thirty-five years experience as a Bible teacher, overseer of ministries to women, and author. Now, as a full-time professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, she equip men and women for future ministry all over the world. And women everywhere enjoy learning the Scriptures in face to face groups as well as an online community using her Bible studies, the Discover Together Series. To join the online Bible study community or to converse with Sue, go to Facebook.com/discovertogetherseries. She is currently working on a book with Barbara Neumann on mentoring millennials. Married for forty years, she and David are the parents of two married daughters and the grandparents of five. a Rafflecopter giveaway
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