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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.
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
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.
Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World
by Max Lucado
Written and published three years before the Corona Virus pandemic, Anxious for Nothing reads like it was penned for these desperate times. Author Max Lucado, by his own admission, is not perfect; he has experienced many of the same problems you have. You will enjoy his writing style which is simultaneously down to earth and exquisite in his turn of phrase. This book is filled with Scriptures that will encourage you during life’s difficult times. In it you will find examples from Lucado’s life and encounters with others in the form of anecdotes that illustrate Biblical principles. There are many references to the wisdom and guidance found in the book of Philippians in the New Testament, but Max’s wording makes them easy to remember. He shares them as practical steps that will lead to a life with more calm and less chaos.
If I had to choose one book I would encourage everyone to read this year, it would be Anxious for Nothing. I usually include in my blog posts three memorable lines from the books I review. Never have I had a harder time including only three. Having heard Lucado’s online video study of this book, I can mentally hear him patiently, enthusiastically, and with understanding encouraging his readers. I can see the twinkle in his eyes as he shares one of his “secrets”: “God’s anxiety therapy includes a large, delightful dollop of gratitude.” I am grateful for the opportunity to share this book with you.
Category: Christian, Nonfiction, Self-Help
Notes: Included at the end of the book are “Questions for Reflection” which could be used for individual or group study. There is also a useful guide that includes, by chapter, the Scriptures that are referenced by Lucado in the text. It would be very handy to use it to bring to mind God’s promises and truths as you are working through your personal times of chaos and daily struggles.
Publication: September 12, 2017—Thomas Nelson
The Lord is near! You are not alone. You may feel alone. You may think you are alone. But there is never a moment in which you face life without help. God is near.
Find a promise that fits your problem, and build your prayer around it. These prayers of faith touch the heart of God and activate the angels of heaven. Miracles are set into motion.
No more “if only.” It is the petri dish in which anxiety thrives. Replace your “if only” with “already.” Look what you already have. Treat each anxious thought with a grateful one, and prepare yourself for a new day of joy.
Twins for the Mountain Firefighter
by Melinda Curtis
Thea Gayle, working on her PhD in textiles, takes on a job as a nanny for ten year old twin girls. When their truck driving, widowed dad is absent for two months without paying Thea’s salary or the apartment rent, Thea finds herself and the girls literally on the sidewalk in Seattle with their belongings. When Thea latches on to the mention of Uncle Logan, a mountain Hot Shot firefighter, she packs the girls and their possessions in her yellow VW Beetle and heads to Silver Bend, Idaho.
In the little town she discovers Logan, aka Tin Man because he “has no heart,” still in deep distress over the death of his twin sister Deb, the girls’ mother. He is having trouble coping with his grief, maintaining his challenging job, and caring for his aunt Glen who has declined rapidly both physically and mentally. Thea brings light into all of their lives, but she and Logan both had serious problems in their family backgrounds and wonder if they can overcome them to find happiness.
Melinda Curtis’ Twins for the Mountain Firefighter is clean and heartwarming, but it does address serious issues including abuse, abandonment, and trust. Although the series focuses on a crew of Hot Shots, there is more emphasis in this novel on relationships than on the actual firefighting. It has characters reaching deep into themselves to find strength, courage, and caring they never knew they had.
I would like to extend my thanks to Melinda Curtis for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #2 in the Mountain Firefighter series, but works well as a standalone.
Publication: March 16, 2020—Purple Papaya
She swung her foot, causing a ripple from the bells attached to her shoes, reminding herself to believe in sunshine and happily-ever-afters, of dreams being achieved.
The distance between them and their goals suddenly seemed insurmountable. She and Logan operated on two different planes. He guarded himself from others with invisible plates of armor and wanted to be alone. She called people to her with color and sound.
His acerbic niece turned to face him. And suddenly, it wasn’t Deb’s face he saw in her scowl but his own. Here was more fallout of his actions, proving he was like a rock dropped into a pond, creating ripples where he shouldn’t.
God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road
by Tim Riter
I couldn’t imagine what a devotional with a motorcycle focus would be like. If you are a motorcycle rider or aficionado, then the answer found in Tim Riter’s God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road is fascinating, inspiring, and FUN. It could be read over the course of a year with one chapter per week, allowing the reader to absorb and apply the Biblical truths. One day I may do that, but for this reading I devoured, it not wanting to put it aside.
Having logged more than 240,000 miles on two wheels in 46 states, Tim Riter loves short rides, long rides (including Iron Butt), hot and cold rides, solo and group trips. He loves God and sees a strong connection between motorcycling and his faith. The chapters in God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road are formatted to begin with personal anecdotes from Riter’s many motorcycle trips. Then he finds lessons in the stories and connects them to spiritual truths. He finishes each section with “Kick-Starting the Application,” encouraging readers to challenge themselves.
Come along with God and Tim on motorcycle adventures, some painfully hilarious stories by a master storyteller, and some life changing lessons. You will be glad you did.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Harvest House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Religion and Spirituality
Publication: April 2, 2019—Harvest House Publishers
Why does God sometimes rescue some of his people and not rescue others? I have no clue….But I do trust his love even more than I trust his power. I suspect that’s the key. God’s omniscience trumps our finite knowledge. I’ve seen enough of his love to have faith in it.
Honda’s engineers want to provide the best riding experience. The closer we follow their design, the better we ride. God wants to provide our best life experience. The closer we follow his design, the better we live.
Frankly, leaning on God sometimes makes no more sense to our finite minds than does leaning a bike into a curve at speed. But that lean allows us to get through the curve. And reminding ourselves that God loves us in all of our trials and failures, that he always works for good, allows us to survive the curves of life.
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
We 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.
Category: Christian, Nonfiction
Notes: Also available, a video teaching series for this book
Publication: November 13, 2018—Thomas Nelson
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.
In the last few years, a reflective approach to the New Year has risen, ditching resolutions because very few people really keep up with them all year. If you make it through January in following your resolutions, you are doing pretty good.
So what is the substitution? A word. A single word you focus on all year. Last year I chose “joy.” I thought about my choice for about a week and my mind kept coming back to joy. So throughout the year I made a point of finding songs, Bible verses, and quotes that focused on joy.
I find I like a word for the year better than resolutions. There are books written on the subject, but it really doesn’t have to be that complicated. God gave me my word for 2019, “trust,” as I was drifting off to sleep one night last week. I remembered it the next morning and will count that as affirmation of my choice. In my heart and head, it feels right.
Your word is very personal to you, and the direction you go with that word is personal. Just like a good motorcycle ride, enjoy the trip, exploring new roads, and don’t worry about the destination.
This year I plan on doing a little writing about my word—thoughts as they come to me and things I have learned. I doubt I will post much about my word as I do consider it a personal journey. On the other hand, I have a blogger friend, Wendy, who explores many subjects but whose blog, Ramblings and Musings, focuses on gratitude. I have appreciated her posts as she discovers gratitude in the big and little things in her life. Again, your word and your response to it can take a variety of pathways.
So, here is my invitation to you. Join me today in finding a word to explore in your life in 2019. Take your time in deciding on a word. If you haven’t decided on it by January 1, 2019, it’s okay. No one is going to be checking up on you, and it is not yet another item for your daily to-do list—although a few post-its around the house might be helpful at first. If you choose a word and want to share it here, I’d love to hear about it. Wishing you a very Happy New Year!
Mad Cow: A PTSD Love Story
by Meredith Shafer
Despite its subtitle, Meredith Shafer’s Mad Cow: A PTSD Love Story is not a mushy romance. It is the hard-hitting tale of a woman who has lived in the trenches and struggled to scramble out for her own survival and that of her children and her husband nicknamed Mr. Wonderful in the book. “Mad Cow” does not refer to the feared Mad Cow disease; it is the nickname Meredith has given to the struggle her husband faces every day. He is a veteran retired on a medical disability and Mad Cow is a triangle of asthma, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury and all of the associated problems that often accompany these disorders including issues with depression and sobriety.
Mad Cow is not a timeline biography, and it does not detail Mr. Wonderful’s war injuries or his specific medical issues. Instead, this memoir shares the struggles of this hot mess, circus-like, crazy family of six, led by a spunky mama and a wounded warrior as they navigate life, crises, and the VA medical system. We learn of financial struggles and family issues. We discover how survival fueled by faith, trust, and God’s love becomes more important than a perfect house, after school activities, and productivity.
Meredith brings her background as a musician, lawyer, mom, writer and speaker, a devotee of leopard, shoes, coffee and bling, and most especially a lover of Jesus to this book. She shares openly from her heart; there is no fakeness in this book. You will find humor scattered liberally throughout. There is one particularly funny chapter called “The Casita” which describes how the family of six lived temporarily in a 150 square foot house. Under the humor though is the pain of trying to save a husband who is past being able to save himself. Under the humor is a woman’s heart as she leans into her Father relying on Him to restore her family.
Category: Memoir, Christian Nonfiction
Notes: You can find my review of Meredith Shafer’s first book, My Pink Champagne Life here
You can’t really go back, though. You can only move forward, which we are trying to do with generosity of spirit and good humor and grace, a whole truckload of grace. Wow, that’s hard.
I’ve decided that potty training a fiery redheaded she-child is kind of like training a wild tiger to dance to show tunes. It’s a delicate yet frightening process that requires infinite patience, a death wish, and multiple costume changes.
I guess thirty days off and three counseling appointments post deployment aren’t nearly enough. The military way, though it’s not written in any of their field manuals, is to soldier on. Self-medicate with alcohol if necessary as that is the acceptable method of of soldiering on.
The Fast and the Furriest
by Sophie Ryan
Looking for a cozy mystery with a good plot, interesting characters, and humorous overtones? Do you enjoy reading a story that features a cat as a supporting character? If so, then Sophie Ryan’s The Fast and the Furriest fits the bill.
This mystery will keep you guessing as Sarah, owner of Second Chance repurpose shop joins with her grandmother’s friends (Charlotte’s Angels) to help prove that her employee Mac is innocent of murder. Sarah’s sidekick is an endearing, Jeopardy-watching cat named Elvis who accompanies her almost everywhere. Sarah discovers she knows almost nothing about Mac, and Mac discovers that he does not really know his friends and family members as well as he thought he did.
I’m already looking forward to reading the next book in this series for some relaxing fun. Meanwhile there are several other books in this series purring out an enticing welcome.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Berkley Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #5 in the Second Chance Cat Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.
Publication: February 6, 2018—Berkley Publishing
I’d worked in radio after college, eventually hosting a popular evening program playing classic rock and interviewing some of the genre’s best musicians. Then one day I was replaced by a syndicated music feed out of Los Angeles and a nineteen-year-old who read the weather twice an hour and called everyone “dude.”
She made her way over to him, a tiny woman with short, white hair, warm gray eyes and a stubborn streak that made a mule look easygoing.
“He can walk, Rose,” I said. “The pavement is too hot for his feet.” She picked the cat up and Elvis meowed and wrinkled his whispers at me, cat for “nyah, nyah, nyah.”
Lies Women Believe
by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth
Lies Women Believe is a hard hitting book that encourages women to overcome problems in their lives by following Biblical principles rather than the lies of Satan as broadcast through the untrue words of others, whether family, friends, the media (both news and social), books, and movies. The author, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, has written chapters on various problem issues for women such as parenting, sexuality, and marriage. After explaining how sin began with lies that Satan told Eve in the garden of Eden, Wolgemuth starts each chapter with an imagined journal entry depicting Eve’s life experiences and the consequences of sin as it applies to that chapter’s topic. She then discusses the topic in depth including lots of Scripture to support her stance and many related examples from friends and from women who have attended her conference sessions. She ties up each chapter with the lies Satan tells about the topic and counters each lie with God’s truth and supporting Scripture references.
One of the chapters I think is excellent is “Lies Women Believe About Children.” In it Wolgemuth discusses the “Mommy Wars” where mothers engage in the comparison game considering themselves failures or better than other mothers. She clarifies that there are many choices that parents make that are simply that—choices. There is no Scriptural basis for the decision. She writes that parents need to pray about the choice as each family is different. An example would be schooling—homeschool, private, or public? Mothers should not look down on others based on their choices in areas like that.
As a reviewer I read this book over the course of several days, and I must admit to being overwhelmed about three-fourths of the way through. The book is Scripturally based, well written, and has great organization. The problem is that as I read each section, I found myself second-guessing past decisions and choices that I feel sure were made with God’s leadership. I suspect this kind of condemnation and doubt is not what Wolgemuth intended. I think God wants us to step out in confidence based on trust in Him. I do not think the unease in my heart is God moving in my life, but Satan using a good book to sow seeds of doubt. I understand the importance of thinking and praying about our choices in the light of God’s Word and because of this book I will be more aware in the future of the way Satan uses lies and half-truths to change our thinking.
I found the last part of Lies Women Believe to be especially helpful; so if you are having a hard time with some of the issues, I suggest you keep reading. The chapter “Lies About Circumstances” addresses this all encompassing part of life, which we all go through in various ways, in a very practical manner. Suddenly I didn’t feel like I was reading about condemnation and perfection, but about how real women survive real circumstances with the help of a very real God. I also found the last two chapters “Countering Lies with the Truth” and “The Truth that Sets us Free” to be very practical and an offering of hope for the future.
In conclusion, my “take away” from Lies Women Believe is to be more aware of the many subtle forms of attack by Satan. At the same time I will keep Isaiah 26:3 in remembrance: “ You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You!”
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.
Notes: This is a major update and expansion of the original version.
Publication: February 6, 2018—Moody Publishing
What we read or hear may sound right, may feel right, may seem right—but if it’s contrary to the Word of God, it isn’t right.
Like a rock thrown into a pond, the ripples caused by sin go on and on. If only we could see that every single sin is a big deal, that every sin is an act of rebellion and cosmic treason, that every time we choose our way instead of God’s way, we are revolting against the God and King of the universe.
Through His sinless life, His death on Calvary as the sinner’s substitute, and His victorious resurrection, we can be fully forgiven for all our sin, we can be reconciled to the God we have offended, and we can have the power to live holy lives.
This I Know
by Laura Dingman
In This I Know, Laura Dingman invites the reader to participate in a Bible study where “our unknown future doesn’t look so daunting” as we “know and experience God.” It is a six week investigation into the “truths of God’s nature.” Each week has five lessons followed by a day of contemplation.
I am not a theologian or even an aspiring theologian, but I am a Christian and I enjoy Christian literature and Bible studies. I found This I Know to be a little esoteric in its beginnings. Week 1, Day 4 held a turnaround for me. Up until this point, Dingman’s writing only seemed “real” to me in her prayers and in some of her journaling prompts. She comes down to earth for me as she examines Mary’s response to the angel who told her she would be the mother of Jesus. This is a discussion I can relate to. This makes clear the kind of experiential knowledge of God that Dingman has previously expounded on.
Dingman challenges her readers to examine what they really believe about God. Her Week 3 focus on Jesus as the Cornerstone is really well thought out and well written. In Week 4 Dingman devotes the introduction to the lengthy but fascinating story of Jehoshaphat and encourages the reader to keep her eyes on God. In Week 5 we look at the goodness of God in times of trouble and joy. Week 6 explores the importance of remembering what God has done for us.
I recommend this book for people who are looking for a structure to their Bible study or are devotees of the “Listen and Linger” method of Bible study or the “S.O.A.P.” method. If you want an introduction to these methods, this would be appropriate for you as well. Dingman uses a type of guided reading with questions to direct your attention as she alternates by day through the two methods.
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.
Category: Christian, Bible Study
Disclosure: Normally I would review a Bible study book by following the prescribed timings. In this case I did for two weeks. The Bible study methods employed did not appeal to me. I know they are quite popular with a lot of people; it is a personal preference. I continued on and read Week 3 and skimmed weeks 4-6 so I could write a review that hopefully is helpful to others. If you are not familiar with these methods, an Internet search can provide information.
Publication: January 2, 2018—Moody Publishing
When we know and experience God, our unknown future doesn’t look so daunting. And that’s the kind of peace everyone craves.
Sometimes in church circles, people will say your anxiety and depression will disappear if you pray more or spend more time in the Word or if you just trust God more. While these are wonderful disciplines and can lift a person’s spirits, sometimes medical intervention is necessary to alleviate anxiety and depression.
Knowing facts about God is important, but data doesn’t necessarily grow our faith in God when we are facing difficult circumstances. This sort of knowledge is where we begin when we are starting our journey with Jesus. We are to grow our cognitive knowledge because it leads us to an experiential knowledge.