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The Prayer Box–rebuilding after the storm

The Prayer Box

by Lisa Wingate

Decorated boxes and boxes of letters were stacked high in the closet of the old woman who had passed away. The letters told the story of a lifetime of racism, hardship, and misunderstanding contrasted with faith, generosity, and love. Tandi was at the end of her rope when she read these letters written by Iola to her Heavenly Father. They were a lifeline to this single mother trying to escape her past and build a new and better life in a tiny North Carolina coastal town where no one knew her or her dark secrets.

Befriended by kind townsfolk and absorbing the lessons of the letters, she learns how to trust others, herself, and God. The way is not easy, however, as she has always made poor relationship choices with men. She also needs to find a way to financially support herself and her children and establish a good mother-daughter relationship with a teenager who has been left in charge for much too long. Drug addiction born of a painful accident constitutes another hurdle for Tandi.

The sisterhood that welcomes Tandi at Sandy’s Seashell Shop is a delightful group of creative, caring, and wise women. Paul is an unlikely romantic interest, but extremely kind, likable, and reliable. Ross, Tandi’s boyfriend, is very self-centered and manipulative; he assigns Tandi’s children a low place on his metaphorical totem pole.  Tandi’s sister, Gina, shows up unexpectedly to do what she does best—stir up trouble. As we get to know all of these characters, we are also watching the character of Iola unfold through the letters in her prayer boxes.

There are forces who want to destroy Iola’s old Victorian home. Some investors in the area are looking at profiting financially. Other locals feel like Iola had no right to the house. No one is aware of Iola’s generosity. In the midst of her own troubles, Tandi makes it her mission to save the house and and honor Iola’s memory. This is a big undertaking, but Tandi is learning to rely on an even bigger God. 

Filled with images of water bubbling and flowing and lighthouses standing steadfast and firm, Lisa Wingate’s The Prayer Box tells a cross-generational tale. It is beautifully crafted both in the carefully selected words and in the plot that, through prayer letters of the past, weaves Tandi’s story with that of Iola; both are entrancing. This is a book I didn’t want to put aside to finish another I was reading. The Prayer Box won as I was quickly and thoroughly immersed in the plot, language, and characters.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction, Romance, Christian

Notes: 1. This is the first book in the Carolina Heirlooms Collection which is a series of three books united by setting, not characters.

  2. The end of the book includes “A Note from the Author” and “Discussion Questions.”

Publication:   August 16, 2013—Tyndale

Memorable Lines:

He was wearing orange tennis shoes and red-flowered swim shorts, topped off with a lime-green Windbreaker with palm trees and lizards on it….All in all, he looked like he’d raided Jimmy Buffett’s closet and then gotten dressed in the dark.

It felt good to do something good for someone else. To add a few deep-fried droplets of kindness to the world. A little act of service. Is it possible that all service is worship? The words were still in my head.

After so many years of dysfunctional relationships that masqueraded as love, having someone offer real love and ask nothing for it in return was startling, sometimes too much to handle. I wasn’t sure I could trust it or was worthy of it.

The Healing Jar–challenges that require patience

The Healing Jar

by Wanda E. Brunstetter 

The Healing JarExamples of difficult situations and decisions abound in Wanda E. Brunstetter’s The Healing Jar along with positive, Godly responses to those circumstances. Frequently the characters pray and then continue with their daily activities as they wait on God to answer their prayers by changing their circumstances or their hearts. Often He acts in surprising ways.

The main characters in these stories are all connected to the Amish Lapp family, and they all independently stumble on prayer jars hidden on the Lapp property. What remains a mystery to the young ladies, until a discovery in this book, is who accumulated Scriptures and heartfelt petitions to God on slips of paper in old canning jars.

The matriarch of the Lapp family is Mary Ruth. The other main character in The Healing Jar is her granddaughter Lenore Lapp who longs to be a wife and mother. The story of Sara, a granddaughter who was not raised Amish, continues in this book as she tries to discover the identity of her biological father. Michelle, who in an earlier book pretends to be Sara, finds happiness in her conversion to the Amish way but faces challenges when her husband wants to move away from her new family and friends.

I enjoyed this gentle book and recommend this trilogy to those who are interested in learning more about Amish life and customs and to readers looking for romance with a Christian focus. I do think this series should be read in its entirety and in sequence as it is very character based. Perhaps because of the way the series builds and the closure this book provides, it is my favorite of the three books.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Literary Fiction

Notes: #3 in the Prayer Jar Trilogy. I recommend it, but not as a standalone.

Publication:  August 1, 2019— Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines:

“We must learn to trust the Lord, even with things we don’t understand. As we go through troubled waters, it should strengthen, not weaken, our faith. And remember, dear one, prayer is not a business transaction. We don’t give something to get something in return.”

It was frustrating how a person could think they had worked through a situation, even felt peace about it, and then out of the blue, the pain of it all came right back to haunt them.

“It just goes to show that even when people make terrible mistakes, God can take a negative situation and turn it into something good.”

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered

by Lysa Terkeurst

It's Not Supposed to be This WayWe all have had or will have painful, disconcerting times in our lives—times when we feel that life is not supposed to be the way it is. Lysa Terkeurst, in It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, shares three major struggles she has been through over the course of a three year period. This book was written in the midst of these extremely hard times when the pain, both physical and emotional were still raw. She talks of her profound agony and grief in hopes that others will benefit from what she has learned and from having a friend walk alongside them through dark times. The despair we feel comes from disappointment which Lysa defines as the difference between our expectations of what life should be like and our reality.

Lisa had to face life-shattering, life-altering and potentially life-ending events with all of the usual questions. Why me? Why now? Regardless of the reader’s circumstances, they will be able to identify with the depth of Lysa’s pain even if the source is different.

This book is not a Hollywood style “tell all.” Lisa only shares enough of the details of her trials for the reader to understand that any one of these events could be more than a person could bear, and Lysa experiences three of them in a short timespan. She tells how she struggled against attacks from within and without and how leaning into God’s word and truth and love sustained her.

Lysa’s writing style is honest and accessible. She is a Bible teacher who has applied the truths of the Bible to her unique circumstances but is also able to show how they apply to anyone who feels that life is not supposed to be the way they are experiencing it. With chapter titles like “But How Do I Get Through the Next 86,400 Seconds,” you know that Lysa “gets it.” She understands just how making it through the tiny portions of one day can constitute a huge struggle.

Each chapter concludes with a “Going to the Well” section that summarizes the major points, provides related Scripture references, and offers questions to reflect on. She ends it with a heartfelt, from-the-soul prayer as she continues reaching out to and trusting in God, the source of her strength for the ache in her soul.

Rating:  5/5

Category: Christian, Nonfiction

Notes: Also available, a video teaching series for this book

Publication:   November 13, 2018—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Humans are very attached to outcomes. We say we trust God but behind the scenes we work our fingers to the bone and our emotions into a tangled fray trying to control our outcomes.

No, I believe it took every bit of holy restraint within Him to not step in and remove my pain. He loved me too much to do the very thing I was begging Him to do. He knew things I didn’t know. He saw a bigger picture I couldn’t see. His mercy was too great. His love too deep.

The thrashing winds of the storm are gone, but the consequences make it impossible to return to something that feels normal. We make brief visits to normal, but there’s a lot of emotional debris to which we must tend. Little by little, we make progress in the two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of way.

Love Life Again: Finding Joy When Life is Hard

Love Life Again: Finding Joy When Life is Hard

by Tracie Miles

Love Life AgainI can’t think of anyone who hasn’t encountered some difficult circumstance or season in their life. In Love Life Again: Finding Joy When Life is Hard, Tracie Miles offers a different perspective on life for the person struggling. She walks the reader through many aspects of looking to enjoy the life you have even if it is not the life you hoped for. This is not a list of tips and tricks, although each chapter does end with a challenge, questions to reflect on, an action item, a prayer, and an invitation to smile.

Tracie comes alongside you as a friend, one who has experienced the depths of desperation herself. She encourages you to recognize Satan as the enemy and to fight back by drawing closer to God. She shares the importance of loving and valuing yourself and reaching out to help others. She advocates forgiving yourself, if needed, and forgiving those who have wronged you. As you work through the book, Tracie will help you focus on God and the people God puts in your path. She will show you how to turn complaining into praising and convert stressful thinking into thankfulness. Tracie Miles is not offering an instant remedy, but she is sharing a road to contentment through faith in Christ and by drawing close to his sheltering love.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Nonfiction

Notes: written primarily for women

Publication:   August 1, 2018—David C. Cooke

Memorable Lines:

Sweet friend, you don’t have to search for a different life in order to enjoy life; you simply have to embrace the one you have by putting Christ at the center and asking Him to help you enjoy life, despite life.

There came a time I had to accept that my life had not turned out the way I thought it would and no amount of wishing it were different was going to change it.

All too often we think our enemy is society, people, circumstances, or hardships. But the reality is that Satan is our enemy, not people or circumstances. While he is not in control of this world and what happens, he can wage war on our hearts and minds. He can convince us that we have a right to be grumpy and no reason to be joyful. He can feed us nagging lies to keep us discouraged, angry, unforgiving, or without hope.

Who Do You Say That I AM?: A Fresh Encounter for a Deeper Faith

Who Do You Say That I AM?

by Becky Harling

Who Do You Say That I AM?Welcome to Who Do You Say That I AM?, an eight week Bible study by Becky Harling. I knew this was a study I wanted to experience as soon as I read the title. Jesus’ question to His disciples “Who do you say that I am?” has always made me pause. He was giving them an opportunity to think through what they knew about Him and make a declaration of faith. This Bible study gives us a chance to do the same thing. It examines what Jesus said about Himself in eight I AM statements, all recorded by His disciple John in the New Testament of the Bible.

Harling has a comfortable style of writing as she sets up her lessons (5/week) in a way that encourages the reader to delve into Scriptures looking for meaning based on the original Hebrew words. She guides the reader in the process so it is a facet of the study: it is not overwhelming or overly pedantic. The reader is always encouraged to apply the truths to her own life. There are practical tips as well, such as compiling an emergency Scripture kit for the tough times. She also emphasizes praise songs and prayer in each lesson. Each lesson is put in a cultural context including a Bible story or a recounting of personal experiences in contemporary settings.

Who Do You Say That I AM? will get you involved in really examining what Jesus says about Himself. If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus yet, this could be the book that helps you understand the claims of the Bible (God’s Word) and make a decision. If you are already a follower of Jesus, this book is a great way to learn more about Him and turn your focus on Him moment by moment as you make your way through each day.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Moody Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian

Notes: Bible study

Publication:  February 6, 2018—Moody Publishing

Memorable Lines:

In a culture that devalued women, Jesus makes His first I AM statement to a woman! While religious systems often devalue women, Jesus honors women.

The two best weapons I know for fighting Satan when he tries to throw guilt and shame at you are: Praise and Scripture.

Human love, wonderful as it is, will at some level disappoint us and let us down. It is only Christ’s perfect, infinite, complete love that comes with the promise of satisfaction.

As I began to be intentional about worshipping Jesus Christ every morning, the Holy Spirit began to radically change my life. Fear turned to courage, worry turned to calm, and doubt turned to faith. I now believe that becoming intentional in the realm of praise is essential for every believer.

Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children

Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children

by Jodie Berndt

Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult ChildrenWhat better way to start off the new year than with a book on prayer? Parenting doesn’t end where the empty nest begins, but the whole approach changes when our children become adults.

Jodie Berndt has written several books on “praying the Scriptures.” What she means by that is the very simple concept of taking scriptural promises and turning them into requests inserting a  name. For example, in praying for a child who has a job loss or financial difficulty, Berndt turns II Chronicles 15:7 (“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”) into a petition: “Help _______ be strong and not give up. Reward her for her work.” Praying the Scriptures is certainly a powerful way of approaching the throne of God with the pleadings of our hearts.

The format of the book is equally simple. The reader is encouraged to study the whole book, but can also go directly to sections that are of particular concern. Each chapter has an appropriate title and starts with a summary Bible verse. For example, “Praying for Protection from Harm” opens with Psalm 34:7: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him.” Next the author shares a real life story from her own family or from parents she has interviewed who have had this particular struggle. She inserts “prayer principles” in the story to add focus and for easy reference. One in this example chapter is “Asking God to put his angels in charge of your child’s safety encompasses more than just physical protection. We can trust Him to stand guard over their hearts and minds too.” The next section, “Poised for Prayer,” expands more on the parental attitude to prayer in this specific case. Most importantly, the chapter ends with “Prayers You Can Use” which holds two sections. The first holds a few Scriptures turned into prayers for parents to use for themselves as they turn to God by supporting their child through prayer asking for  wisdom and understanding while releasing the adult child to God’s care. The second is a longer section containing about a dozen prayers asking God to intercede in their child’s life.

Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children acknowledges that parents are just people searching for answers and help. It does not play a guilt game over past parenting faults (real or imagined). It just  leads the parent to find appropriate ways to pray without interfering. The book does not claim cookie cutter solutions to the many very difficult issues we all encounter as God works differently in each person’s life.

The challenge and help of this book can easily be extended to anyone praying for any other adult and even for oneself as you seek God’s will and help through a tough season. The personal accounts show how differently God works in each situation and are comforting as they show that you are not alone in your struggles. The verses that are aptly chosen give a quick and focused path to prayer, but certainly, anyone could use the same approach on their own in searching out Scriptures that apply to their situations.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Zondervan for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian

Notes: This book can be a bit overwhelming when read in one fell swoop, but having done that and with the bigger picture in mind, the reader can then zoom in on a particular chapter and apply its principles.

Publication:   December 5, 2017—Zondervan

Memorable Lines:

The things you give to God in prayer—your worries, concerns, and needs—are the ties that bind your heart to his. Our struggles are his entry points.

The more we allow the Bible to shape our prayers, the more our requests will line up with God’s plans.

“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” I realized that it didn’t matter whose plan we were following; the outcome was up to the Lord. My job was to get out of his way.

God is not just interested in results; he wants relationship.

Your Dream. God’s Plan.–Are You Longing for Something More?

Your Dream. God’s Plan.

by Tiffany Smiling

with Margot Starbuck

Your Dream God's PlanWhat were you like in fourth grade? How about when you were sixteen? Those are the ages at which Tiffany Smiling had major, life-changing medical events. She shares those stories in her book Your Dream. God’s Plan. Although these were pivotal points in Tiffany’s life, she was rescued by God to later do amazing things for His kingdom.

Your Dream. God’s Plan. is really focused on an audience of young women, but others can derive inspiration and guidance as well. She challenges young women to devote themselves to drawing close to God and then listening to the call He has for them. Her fascinating story relates miracles of how God used her and many amazing people she met to give out of their abundance and find that God always supplies enough.

Tiffany will draw you into worlds of poverty of body and spirit as she describes orphans, women rescued from sexual trafficking, extreme poverty, disease, and demons. But she also shares the many ways God answers prayers when the people of God make themselves available to be used by Him.

The book includes a section appropriate for study by groups or individuals for each chapter. There is a summarizing sentence followed by questions to help the reader personalize the content to her own life. The questions are followed by a “Dream Challenge” which focuses on how you can implement the concepts to find a closer relationship to God and thus discover His plan for your life. She finishes with a sentence or two “tip,” an additional quick take-away to help you make changes in your life to align your dream with God’s plan.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian

Notes: I had so many “memorable lines” highlighted that I just pulled out the first 3/4 for use below. I am not a thirty-something or a new Christian, but there was still so much to ponder and so many possibilities for spiritual growth to attend to.

Publication:  November 1, 2017 — Barbour Publishing

Memorable Lines:

At the moment the “good life” was just within reach, I discovered that lasting satisfaction wasn’t found where I thought it might be. In fact, as God revealed to me that scrambling after the dream I’d bought into would never satisfy, I tasted something even more fulfilling.

As you release the barren pursuit of earthly pleasures, exchanging it for the surprising way of Jesus, you will experience lasting satisfaction as you embrace what matters most.

You were made for so much more. If you are a student or a single working woman or a missionary or a full-time mommy, there is a calling over your life that involves bringing light to the dark places—in university hallways, in work cubicles, in overseas villages, and in the rooms of your home. If you are willing to release your grip on the plans you’ve been holding for your life, God is waiting to show you His plan that is even better for you and for the people He loves.

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