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Seeing Beautiful Again–encouragement

Seeing Beautiful Again

by Lysa TerKeurst

Are you going through a hard time, something that is devastating and you have no control over? Do you wonder if you’ll ever “see beautiful” again? Lysa TerKeurst experienced three of those, two physical and one relational, in a short period of time. She has written several books that describe her journey. In Seeing Beautiful Again, she has drawn from her experiences and writings to compose a devotional book to guide readers through fifty days of their struggle. The goal is to give hope and demonstrate that by clinging to God’s promises, readers can stay the course and trust God.

Seeing Beautiful Again is divided into sections and each section begins with a letter to the reader from author Lysa TerKeurst. Each devotional begins with Scripture and ends with a prayer. In between Lysa shares her thoughts on the topic. These passages sometimes include parts of her personal story and always draw the reader to God’s truth which can be applied to a personal situation.

TerKeurst’s other books like Forgiving What You Can’t Forget examine in depth our response to hurts. This devotional is a daily dose of encouragement to fight the good fight and to remember God’s love and His promises in the middle of the trauma.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to HarperCollins Christian Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Religion, Christian Life, Women’s Issues

Notes: Devotional

Publication: March 30, 2021—Harper Collins Christian Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Their victory never hinged on their ability or any of their well-thought-out plans. It was solely dependent on their unwavering obedience offered to a loving and mighty God.

My job is to be obedient to God. God’s job is everything else.

Father God, thank You for reminding me I can trust You in the waiting. I know I can entrust every season of my life into Your hands. Thank You for being present in every moment, strengthening me in the places that I feel inadequate to keep going. When I feel uncertain about what’s ahead, remind me of who You are. I know it will get me through. In Jesus’ name, amen.

You Were Made for This Moment–the God of great reversals

You Were Made for This Moment

by Max Lucado

Most of us are experiencing the “winter of our discontent” with ever-changing health orders, lockdowns, divisiveness on all fronts, inflation, shortages, and politicians who promise much and do little. Max Lucado has written a book that is very appropriate for these times, You Were Made for This Moment. It focuses on Queen Esther in the land of Persia. Her story is found in the book of Esther in the Old Testament of the Bible. The heroine has concealed her Jewish heritage, but now her people are about to be annihilated. Esther is the only Jew with access, limited as it is, to the throne room of the powerful Xerxes.

In his book, Lucado takes us through this dramatic tale, giving background to make it very understandable and including contemporary anecdotes to point out the relevancy of this situation to crises we might find ourselves in. Sometimes they are humorous, sometimes sad, but always they are pertinent. Both the short book of Esther and You Were Made for This Moment should be on a “must read” list for all as they display how God is always working behind the scenes. Our omnipotent God has power over rulers. We need to be open to what He asks us to do in our circumstances whether the situation looms large or is seemingly minor.

Through fasting and prayer, Esther came to understand that “silence is a form of acquiescence.” Although approaching the throne room uninvited was a potential invitation to death, she followed through to save her people with the famous line, “And if I perish, I perish.” Esther was indeed called for such a time as this.

Long a fan of the courageous Queen Esther, I enjoyed revisiting her story. My faith was confirmed, my attitude refreshed, and my courage bolstered. This is an inspiring book, and Lucado, as always, is a riveting storyteller.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Inspiration

Notes: 1. Take the time to read Max’s humble “Acknowledgements.” As a writer, he turns a “blah-blah” moment into one that will bring smiles to the hardest heart.
2. The book ends with “Questions for Reflection” prepared by Andrea Lucado. They are designed to accompany each chapter as you read it.
3. I also purchased the study guide, written in workbook format, with different questions from the ones in the book. The guide contains a code that gives streaming access to five videos prepared to accompany You Were Made for This Moment and the study guide. The videos feature Max Lucado as he brings the Esther story to life through a cast of characters simulating a dramatic production of the Esther story. As always, when Lucado speaks, listeners feel like the words are directed at them and for their benefit.

Publication: 2021—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Seasons of struggle can be a treacherous time for the human heart. We are sitting ducks for despair and defeat. We turn away from others, turn our backs on God, and turn into fearful, cynical souls. Despair can be a dangerous season. But it can also be a developing time, a time in which we learn to trust God, to lean into his Word and rely on his ways.

God is in the details. He works in the small moments. The insignificant becomes significant because he is ever orchestrating the day-to-day details of innumerable lives through a millennia of time to do what he has foreordained to do.

In God’s hands no script is predictable, no story line is inevitable, no outcome is certain. He is ever a turn of the page from a turn-on-a-dime turnaround….He is the God of grand reversals.

Don’t tell God how big your storm is. Tell the storm how big your God is. Your problem is not that your problem is so big but that your view of God is too small.

When GOD Winks at YOU: How God Speaks Directly to You Through the Power of Coincidence

When GOD Winks at YOU: How God Speaks Directly to You Through the Power of Coincidence

by Squire Rushnell

I used to be intrigued by coincidences, seemingly chance occurrences that draw you to ponder how an event could happen at a certain time and place. As I have experienced these coincidences over the years, I have come to recognize that they do not happen by chance, but are part of the bigger plan of an omniscient, omnipotent, loving God. That idea is what When GOD Winks at YOU is all about, and its subtitle is How God Speaks Directly to You Through the Power of Coincidence.

In this short, inspirational book, Squire Bushnell shares numerous examples of how “Every time you receive what some call a coincidence or an answered prayer, it’s a direct and personal message of reassurance from God to you—what I call a godwink.” The anecdotes feature strangers, family members, friends, and celebrities. They are tales of God working in people’s lives in amazing ways.

The godwink might be an arrangement of events that lead toward a goal or it might be a “message of reassurance” that God sees you, hears you, and is there to support you. It could be an answer to prayer or a guidepost giving you direction.

Some of the stories are sad, some are happy, but all are fascinating. Rushnell, a former television president and CEO, is an excellent writer, taking what could be a long story with a confusing timeline and recording it in a clear, concise, and compelling manner. After introducing the concept of godwinks, the author follows with eight more chapters based on instances of godwinks in various scenarios such as transitions, unanswered prayer, and quests. All are interesting, and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite as each addresses a different area of concern. Rushnell adds his own brief commentary and interpretation to each chapter very unobtrusively. A feature I enjoyed is a scattering of quotes throughout the book as sidebars. They are short, closely related to the theme, and never interrupt or repeat the text. The content within each chapter flows. Although it could probably be read in one or two sittings, it could also be spaced out into a chapter or even part of a chapter per day. Any way you choose to read When God Winks at You, you will find inspiring reading that will lead you to look for the godwinks, past and present, in your own life.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Inspirational

Notes: This book is one of many “godwinks” books written by this author. There are ones that focus on specific topics like marriage and prayer and Christmas themed godwinks books. I am interested in reading Dogwinks: True Godwink Stories of Dogs and the Blessings They Bring.

Publication: 2006—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Every godwink is another reminder—another small, still message from God—that everything is going to be okay. Someday you will see everything from His perspective, and you’ll understand.

Some people have a divine desire placed into their hearts at a very early age that becomes a beacon to follow like a medieval knight’s quest. God erects signs along the way to guide us on our journey—godwinks to assure us that we are indeed on the right path.

The chain of godwinks that showered peace and forgiveness on two families on opposite sides of the globe is a remarkable tribute to God’s power in each of our lives and how He places signposts of reassurance along the paths of each of our quests.

God Will Help You–overcoming the hard times

God Will Help You

by Max Lucado

Even in the best of times, we all have troubles, difficulties to face. In this pandemic, many are overwhelmed by the chaos, the darkness, the isolation of lockdowns. For some, the depths of despair have led to suicide, but Max Lucado has a better answer for this “winter of our discontent”….God. In God Will Help You, Lucado says “No matter the challenge or the question, by God’s grace you can face it. He is up to the task. And he will help you.”

Lucado is, by nature, a storyteller, and he uses stories, both from the Bible and from encounters he has had with others, to demonstrate some of the ways God can intervene in our stories. In each chapter, he addresses a different issue and then provides questions for reflection and Bible verses to remind you of God’s help. He closes each chapter with a prayer that you can pray in those circumstances, because sometimes we are so overwhelmed that we just don’t even know how to frame our petitions. Lucado has a way with words. In talking, for example, about God’s grace, he says we have been “doused” with it. What a perfect description!

So, if you’re feeling anxious, fearful, stuck in your circumstances, lonely, sick, or filled with grief, Max Lucado can’t fix those problems, but he can direct you to Jesus. You see, God already knows about your unsolved problems and your struggles to negotiate everyday life. He sees your heart and understands your needs. He is there to give you guidance. In his book God Will Help You, Lucado shows how God will come alongside you each and every day.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Self-Help, Inspirational

Notes: Having gone through a lot of changes in my life, especially in the last twelve years, I found this statement particularly meaningful: “So make friends with whatever’s next. Embrace it. Accept it. Don’t resist it. Change is not only a part of life; change is a necessary part of God’s strategy. To use us to change the world, he alters our assignments.”

Publication: December 29, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

The presence of anxiety is unavoidable, but the prison of anxiety is optional. Anxiety is not a sin; it is an emotion. (So don’t be anxious about feeling anxious.)

…celebrate his goodness, faithfulness, and forgiveness. These characteristics of God remain true no matter what you are going through.

But if you see your troubles as opportunities to trust God and his ability to multiply what you give him, then even the smallest incidents take on significance.

Had Jesus chosen to do so, he could have proclaimed a cloud of healing blessings to fall upon the crowd. But he is not a one size-fits-all Savior. He placed his hands on each one, individually, personally. Perceiving unique needs, he issued unique blessings.

Fortitude—Resilience in the Age of Outrage

Fortitude—Resilience in the Age of Outrage

by Dan Crenshaw

Fortitude is a nonfiction work that holds Dan Crenshaw’s views on strength of character and how people who have fortitude can work together for a better America. Crenshaw is a member of the House of Representatives and a former Navy SEAL. Therefore, Fortitude is colored by his time in D.C. as well as his experiences in the military.  It is, however, an inspirational book, not a political diatribe. Crenshaw references history, philosophy, psychology, SEAL training, and his personal story to explain the different components of character building as well as the deficits and issues prominent in our current society.

Crenshaw pulls the curtain back on the popular outrage displayed by both conservatives and liberals as many spew epithets without evidence to back up their position of hatred. “If you find yourself calling someone a racist, communist, traitor, RINO, or Nazi because they disagree with you, it is a good indication that your arguments are shallow and your emotions are driving your thinking.”

One of my biggest personal take-aways from this book is the importance of how I frame my own story, my personal narrative. Crenshaw explains how changing “I have to” to “I get to” is empowering, lets you take back control of your life, and removes you from the victim status.

He also speaks to suffering and hard times. Both can help you develop a strong character and confidence. Meeting challenges can actually push you to a higher level of functioning both physically and psychologically. If you voluntarily submit yourself to hardship, you are also building resilience that will help sustain you when you find yourself in trying times not of your choosing. 

A review can not begin to cover all aspects of Fortitude. Read it to be exposed to Crenshaw’s background and experiences. Reread it to incorporate some of his philosophies, beliefs, and insights into your own frame of reference.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Twelve (Hachette Book Group) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Politics, Inspiration

Notes: Contains foul language and is appropriate for adults, not children

Publication:   April 7, 2020—Twelve (Hachette Book Group)

Memorable Lines:

…a culture characterized by grit, discipline, and self-reliance is a culture that survives. A culture characterized by self-pity, indulgence, outrage, and resentment is a culture that falls apart.

Life is a power struggle, and the heroes we value are no longer those who gracefully overcome adversity, but those who complain the loudest about their story of injustice.

Unfortunately, these days, too many people are overcoming their knowledge deficits with passion, and too many more people are mistaking “passion” and “authenticity” for righteousness and sophistication. It is an unhealthy trend.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day in the United States is observed on the last Monday in May and honors those in the U.S. military who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our protection and freedom. In my mind it also honors the families who have lost their loved ones to that cause. Their lives will never be the same.

As I walked around our home in the mountains this weekend, I saw inspiring red, white, and blues in nature and am sharing them in honor of those heroes. Some of the reds have an orangish glow on the camera and the blues tend more toward purple, but we’ll use our imaginations and call it creative license.

Green Leaf in Drought–a missionary story

Green Leaf in Drought

by Isobel Kuhn

Arthur and Wilda Mathews and their baby spent a frustrating two years trying to discern and follow God’s will as missionaries for the China Inland Mission, a group spread widely over mainland China. Under the Communist regime, they were not allowed to witness to people about Jesus  or to help people in need. They were eventually confined to their meager and uncomfortable quarters and socially isolated. Their living situation was desperate as the authorities tried to starve them and forced them to live in unhealthy conditions. Why had God brought them to this place? Why wouldn’t the authorities allow them to leave? Having arrived with enthusiasm, they eventually suffered through round after round of seeking God’s will in the midst of despair. Their little girl was a bright note as she absorbed and repeated the songs and Scriptures that sustained her parents during the difficult times.

If you are inspired by missionary stories or want to read about God working in the hearts of His children when times are hard, then you would probably find Green Leaf in Drought to your liking. The content is very interesting. Stylistically speaking, this book is not in the excellent category. Author Isobel Kuhn had very difficult resource materials to work with, mainly the writings of Arthur and Wilda Mathews. Their compositions were letters intended for family and recordings on paper of their thoughts, prayers, and poetry, which we would refer to today as journaling, often written in tiny script on thin airmail paper. Others were involved in deciphering and organizing the events which Kuhn then transformed into a readable narrative. As Kuhn tries to translate the couple’s thoughts into dialogue, the result is somewhat stilted. The descriptions, however, are well executed. Kuhn maintains the integrity of a biography. She does not veer off into historical fiction and is to be commended for that. Readers who want a more in depth character study will not find that because it was not  provided in the source materials.

Rating: 4/5 (3/5 for writing style, 4/5 for interest and historical veracity)

Category: Christian, Biography

Publication:   January 1, 2007—OMF International (first published in 1957)

Memorable Lines:

The bamboo curtain shouts and bellows as it descends, boasts and preens itself. The Feather Curtain of God falls silently. It is soft and comforting to the sheltered one; but intangible, mysterious and baffling to the outsider.

Amazing how we plan everything so carefully and then God walks sovereignly right across the lot with something far better.

The slow wearing down of the human spirit is a species of torture which the communists delight to use and have found very productive for their purposes.

You Are Never Alone: Trust in the Miracle of God’s Presence and Power

You Are Never Alone: Trust in the Miracle of God’s Presence and Power

by Max Lucado

The focus is on Jesus. The focus is always on Jesus in Max Lucado’s writing—on how much God loves YOU, enough to send His Son Jesus to cover your sins with His shed blood. The God of the universe loves you and wants to have a relationship with you. That is the message of You Are Never Alone.

Max Lucado’s style of writing is so appealing; it’s like sitting down with an old friend who loves you and has great anecdotes and wisdom to share. He has a way with words. Even his acknowledgements section, often the boring part of a book, is a masterpiece of prose. Lucado can paint word pictures that make you feel you are right there in that hospital waiting room with a hurting mom or having a fish breakfast on the beach with Jesus, risen from the dead, and Peter who denied him. The writing can grip your heart as you see yourself as Jesus does, make you smile as you respond to the humor in a situation, and bring you to your knees as you realize the enormity of God’s love for you.

You Are Never Alone weaves anecdotes Lucado has collected along the way with Scriptural lessons from the book of John in the New Testament. He writes in everyday language with inspiration that will keep you turning pages. Look for theological soundness that never seems pompous and scenarios that depict life as we know it in vivid language we understand. There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek that you are not meant to take literally but which elucidate the heart meaning of the passages. He jumps from Jesus cooking “fish tacos” for His disciples to earlier references of art restoration as Jesus wipes away “layers of guilt and shame” in Peter’s heart with a “cotton swab of grace.” Lucado makes these complex connections seamlessly, and the reader emerges with a new understanding of the old story of God’s redemption of man.

This inspirational book can be devoured as a whole, read chapter by chapter over several days, or studied in depth using the “Questions for Reflection” prepared by Andrea Lucado. This section occupies one quarter of the text and takes the reader through thought provoking questions that encourage you to invest yourself, including your imagination and feelings, in the study which never strays from the Scripture. This book is an examination of the themes and miracles found in the Gospel of John. It is inspirational, humorous, and insightful. You Are Never Alone is yet another of Max Lucado’s books that will encourage you to trust in God during life’s storms.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category:  Christian

Publication:   September 15, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

If you see your troubles as nothing more than isolated hassles and hurts, you’ll grow bitter. But if you see your troubles as opportunities to trust God and his ability to multiply what you give him then even the smallest incidents take on significance.

John did the math: the stone rolled away, the now-tenantless tomb, the linens in their original state. Only one explanation made sense. Jesus himself did this! He passed through the burial wrap as if it were a sunrise mist.

Call me simple, but I think God is a good Father. I think he knows something about life. And I think he invites us to take the step, to take the plunge, to jump—not into a pool but into a relationship with him that is vibrant, joyous, and, yes, fun!

A Long Walk to Water–impactful

A Long Walk to Water

by Linda Sue Park

You have probably heard of the Lost Boys of Sudan. In A Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park tells the story of one of those lost boys, Salva Dut, who even as a refugee himself, took on a leadership role for 1500 boys in their very long, dangerous, and seemingly hopeless journey for survival. Salva, as a young adult, was chosen out of a refugee camp to emigrate to the United States. This book tells how he transformed his desperate situation into a life giving project for the people of Sudan based on hope, faith, and most especially perseverance.

Told in two timelines with apparently disparate plots, this book moves back and forth with both stories progressing forward in each chapter. It begins slowly, but soon picks up the pace and the reader’s interest. The book starts with the tale of Nya, an eleven year old girl in southern Sudan in 2008 who spends her day traveling from her village to a pond to collect dirty water in a jug which she then carries home on her head. She does this twice a day in extreme heat, traversing with bare feet a thorny path to bring home enough water for her family to survive.

Salva’s story also begins in southern Sudan, but much earlier, in 1985, when his village and school are attacked by armed men during an ongoing confrontation between the Muslim government in the north and the rebels of the south. Thus begins Salva’s separation from his family and his struggle for survival.

Although this book is aimed at a younger audience, as an adult I am so glad I read this story which is based on the lives of real people, Salva and Nya and their families. It reads quickly and lays out the need for clean, accessible water for South Sudan, pointing out the many rippling effects of pure water on a community. It also shows how diverse tribes can work together for a common good. The website noted at the end of the book provides more information and gives a practical way for those of us blessed with plenty to help those without the basic necessities.

Rating:  5/5

Category: Children’s Historical Fiction

Notes: 1. The suggested ages and grade levels vary according to printed reports, but in general: Grades 5-9 and Ages 10-14. The book does a good job of recording hardships and violence without graphic details. Because of the subject matter, I would not recommend it for younger children.

2. The reader will find links to lots of videos about Salva and his project at www.waterforsouthsudan.org

Publication:  October 4, 2011—HMH Books for Young Readers

Memorable Lines:

No one in the group had eaten anything for two days. Their water was nearly gone. Only the vision of leaving the desert kept them moving through the heat and the dust.

It did not seem as if the camp could possibly hold any more, but still they kept coming: long lines of people, some emaciated, some hurt or sick, all exhausted.

He felt as though he were standing on the edge of a giant hole—a hole filled with the black despair of nothingness. I am alone now.

It was hard to keep hope alive when there was so little to feed it.

In the Land of Blue Burqas–eye opening view of the women behind the blue veils

In the Land of Blue Burqas

by Kate McCord

What would it be like to live in a country where the language, religion, and culture are extremely different from your own, a country like Afghanistan? Kate McCord raised support from friends and embarked on what was destined to be a five year adventure as a project manager, arranging for and supervising programs to help the local people. In the process, she found ways to interact within the cultural norms which, if violated, could result in penalties including physical abuse, expulsion, or execution. 

Although she could not openly evangelize, she spent much time there having tea with women, and sometimes men, sharing stories to illustrate the teachings of the Honorable Jesus who is regarded as a prophet in Islam. Those stories included parables Jesus himself shared with His followers. In recounting tales they could relate to and by the way she lived her life, Kate was able to show her Muslim neighbors and friends a God who loves them, unlike Allah, who is never associated with love. Allah’s followers obey him according to the interpretations of the local mullah in a most legalistic fashion.

Kate spent time learning the language and culture. Led by the Holy Spirit, she developed culturally sensitive ways to share difficult concepts like the Trinity. She lived as an Afghan woman, learning clothing requirements and social rules such as where to sit on a bus and when to make eye contact. Clearly a foreigner with her own religion, she adapted their customs to her own in a way that respected both traditions. Kate faced challenges in deciding whom to help in the most culturally appropriate way and looked to the locals to ascertain their attitudes toward individuals seeking aid. Knowing she could not revolutionize a society in which none of her many female friends said their husband had never beaten them, she nevertheless planted seeds of generosity, good attitudes, and kindness which helped the women in their relationships as well as showed them a side of the Honorable Jesus that they did not know thus drawing them to Him.

In the Land of Blue Burqas is the canvas on which Kate McCord paints a remarkably positive picture of Afghanistan and its citizens in spite of their dislike of most foreigners and regardless of the many brutal aspects of their culture.  I came away with a clearer understanding of why the country vehemently resists change and is so hostile to non-Muslims. I also emerge from this enlightening book grateful that I live in a country where I am free to choose to worship a loving God.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Evangelism, Christian Missions

Notes: I had a difficult time choosing the memorable lines I wanted to share. Sound bites and even longer quotes don’t do this story justice. I urge you to read the book to get a more complete understanding. It is a fascinating read. It also stimulates me to want to read about how Islam plays out in other countries.

Publication:   May 1, 2012—Moody Publishing

Memorable Lines:

Still, my greatest fear in the country has always been that I would be kidnapped and sold to some warlord as a fourth or fifth wife, relegated to household and sexual slavery behind a twelve-foot, mud-brick wall and locked gate. Even the mildest stories of Afghan women’s lives haunt me.

Our very presence challenges the power of the mullahs and the worldview of our neighbors. It’s one thing to hate and reject the voiceless, faceless masses of pig-eating, alcohol-drinking sons of Satan from the other side of the world—mythic caricatures interpreted by the mullahs through history and religion. 

But we Christian foreigners are flesh and blood with eyes and voices, laughter and tears, stories and faith. When Afghans meet us, see our lives, hear our stories, and recognize our humanness, conflicting worldviews collide. The safe box of well-defined ideological fortress-orthodoxy trembles, walls collapse, and doors open.

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