Thursday, October 31, 2013

Are you thriving?

Many people are slogging through live when instead they could Thrive: Live Like You Matter. This review is a chapter summary of this book.

Chapter 1 primarily serves as an introduction to the book explaining how the idea for the book and the title came from Proverbs 11:28 which states "Those who trust in their riches will fall but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf." Author Lisa Toney emphasizes the meaning of righteous or righteousness is "right living" and previews the topics that are covered in the remainder of the book.

Chapter 2 focuses on that little bitty three letter word which many people throw around without thought. This little bitty word "yes" is a main reason why many people are not thriving. Toney emphasizes that in order to be people of integrity we must be wise in deciding to what we will say yes. Moving on to Chapter 3, Toney emphasizes that other little bitty two letter word which many people do not use often enough. However, before encouraging readers that saying no is a necessary part of setting boundaries, Toney reminds readers that in order to thrive you must never say no to God and his desires for you. Readers are also reminded that saying no allows you the space to say yes to other opportunities.

Chapter 4 centers on spinters and the damaging effect they have on our relationships. Readers will finish this chapter ready to take some planks out of their eyes so that they can begin forgiving others and themselves. After discussing a somewhat painful and laborious process, Toney encourages readers to celebrate in chapter 5. Yet before you can celebrate, you need to set goals worthy of celebrating when they are completed. This chapter gives excellent, clear, and concise advice on goal setting. I see this as a great chapter to return to in late December.

Chapter 6 focuses on dragon-slaying. You may wonder what dragons you need to slay, but Toney gives wonderful ideas on identifying and slaying several dragons we all meet from time to time. After engaging in dragon-slaying, chapter 7 transitions to swatting flies particularly the flies of injustice. You may ask "What difference will killing flies make?" Toney reminds readers of several ways to swat flies and that numerous people acting together will make a difference.

Toney uses the familiar symbol of a rainbow to remind readers that thriving requires hope in chapter 8. A discussion explores what hope is and is not. I enjoyed her reminder that engaging in self-care demonstrates hope in tomorrow. Equally important to the concept of thriving is peace but unfortunately, peace is in short-supply when our pace of life is so harried. Chapter 9 encourages readers to reconsider their pace from the perspective of relationships and balance. In conclusion, if you are thriving on all of your cylinders, excellence is the end-product. Toney sums up her book by encouraging readers to pursue excellence in chapter 10.

Each chapter includes wonderful discussion questions. Author Lisa Toney strikes just the right balance between citing enough resources to be credible and also being forthright enough to be engaging. This book would be a great, encouraging resource for a small group study. Although women may be drawn to the book, the content is equally applicable to men and women. Toney's website indicates an eight week video-based curriculum is being produced to accompany this book. Go and Thrive!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Abingdon Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bridging the Generations

The back cover of Letters From Ruby states “Not everything a young pastor needs to now can be taught in school” which sums up the first novel by Episcopal priest Adam Thomas quite well. As I work with many young ministers during my day job, I can attest to the truth of this statement and that much of what happens in ministry as well as any job must be experienced in real life. The main character, Calvin, quickly steps on toes and identifies the congregation’s official and unofficial leaders. Shortly after his arrival, Calvin experiences both the death of a parishioner as well as the birth and baptism of a new generation. Throughout his experiences in Victory, Calvin can count on his Morning Prayer ladies to guide him.

Thomas uses a variety of techniques to share Calvin’s adventures as a young priest as well as the story of Ruby and her husband. Calvin’s story begins in the present and then via flashback tells the story of his time in Victory, West Virginia when he first meets Ruby. His flashback is prompted by a letter from Ruby which, as the title indicates, appears regularly throughout the book. The juxtaposition of Calvin’s story and the letters give the reader almost the feeling of reading two stories at once yet the two techniques work together to tell an integrated story.

Some readers may be unfamiliar with various terms used in Letters from Ruby as it is set in an Episcopal church. Author, Adam Thomas, explains some unfamiliar terms and practices in passing, yet also expects readers to have some familiarity. Reading this book just may entice you to seek out a local Episcopal congregation to visit. Letters from Ruby shows how much different generations can learn from each other. As such, this book will appeal to individuals who enjoy a warm WWII romance and those who are looking for a more contemporary story as well. I hope to see more books from Adam Thomas in the future and perhaps even more about Calvin as he continues to grow in his ministry.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Abingdon Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What I Learned While in the Hospital

Several weeks ago, I had the experience of spending five days in our local hospital. As hospital visits usually are, this was quite unplanned and unexpected. I had worked late on a Friday evening finishing up a presentation I was to give the next day. As I was finally leaving the office at 8:00 p.m., I called my husband to let him know I was driving to the local E.R. as I was having chest pains. I wanted to have it checked out as I have had previous issues.

Arriving at the hospital, I anticipated having an EKG and other standard tests completed and then being sent home with instructions to follow up with my primary care doctor and perhaps cardiologist the following week. Soon after arriving however, I found this was not a typical visit as the nurses began an IV and informed me I was going to be admitted. My blood work showed I had rhabdomyolysis. My first reaction was "Rhabdo what? I soon learned that I had elevated CPK levels due to a combination of the statin I was taking and an overly strenuous session in the weight room earlier that week. I soon found myself texting numerous people to obtain the appropriate contact information for the individuals in charge of the faculty development day to let them know I was out of commission. I was very thankful that my student workers had their phones with them and willingly responded to random text messages from the boss on a Friday evening and had the number I needed.

After being admitted late on the Friday evening, I wasn't released until Wednesday when my blood tests showed that my CPK levels and other enzymes being monitored had dropped enough to go home but were not quite normal yet. Spending several days in the hospital gave me plenty of time for reflection and the opportunity to learn a variety of things.

1. To begin with I spent a great deal of time being thankful. I'm thankful that we have a wonderful hospital facility in our community. Being at our local hospital rather than a larger hospital in a nearby city allowed my family to visit me every day. I'm also thankful that I have access to health care and have health insurance, although I'm still not looking forward to seeing the bill.

2. I'm thankful for my husband who kept everything going in my absence. My kids were fed, had clean clothes, and arrived at church and school on time. They even attended their regular after-school activities. He also with my instruction and the promise to shred my passwords was able to load the video I had completed and send the URL to the appropriate dean so at least part of my morning presentation could take place.

3. I'm thankful for friends who looked in on me while I was in the hospital and have continued to check to make sure I'm doing fine since coming home. I purposefully only alerted people on a "need to know" basis but am very thankful for all who prayed for me, looked in on my family, and visited me. One particular friend actually visited me while doing her rounds and drawing my blood each morning. We even arranged an after-school pickup and play date.

4. I learned not to take my privacy for granted. As a mom, I'm used to a lack of privacy, but privacy was non-existent my first few days in the hospital. I even had the experience of having a student who attended an information literacy session earlier that week serve as the CNA and help me change my clothes. I'd really rather not be top less in front of a student again.

5. The above situation and needing to be waited on by all of the various staff members increased my willingness to let others serve me. I'm typically an "I'll do it myself" type of gal but being in the hospital quickly brought that to a halt.

6. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to rest and read while being in the hospital and for the next couple of days as I continued recuperating. I really needed the reminder of the importance to focus on what is most important and to cut back on non-essential activities.

7. This experience was also a wonderful reminder of my need to depend on God and draw strength from Him.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Think You're Busy?

How many times have you heard someone say or even described your own life as "crazy busy"? I know I have used that term so Kevin DeYoung's book Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem caught my attention right away! In ten brief chapters DeYoung describes the problem of busyness, three dangers, seven diagnoses, and one prescription.

I really enjoyed how DeYoung did not downplay the problem of busyness in our lives, make readers feel like they only need to manage their time better or be involved in fewer activities, or otherwise place a guilt-trip on readers. His tone was simply matter of fact that life is busy for adults in between work, parenting, keeping up with household chores, exercise, a few hobbies, some community service, and of course church work too. Instead, DeYoung describes our world as a combination of unprecedented opportunity combined with complexity(24). Although this problem is widespread, DeYoung does not hesitate to call out that all this busyness can be detrimental to our physical life but particularly to our spiritual lives. He points out "busyness does not mean you are a faithful or fruitful Christian. It only means you are busy, just like everyone else"(32).

After assuring readers that being busy is a normal state of affairs, DeYoung then explores a variety of diagnoses which contribute to this sickness which effects society. In doing so, he does not hesitate to ask hard questions to help readers work through this issue. For example, in the chapter "The Killer P's," DeYoung boils the issue down to this single question: is it about you or about them? In subsequent chapters, the questions begin to focus a bit more on the shoulds and oughts that individuals place on themselves. He specifically calls ministers and church leaders to stop preaching a gospel of "do more" but reminds us that we are not Christ(45-49). As someone who is concerned about numerous world issues and frequently feels the siren call of needing to do more for this or that issue, I greatly enjoyed DeYoung's reminder that as Christians we are all called to care about world issues, but we each have different gifts, callings, and passions(49-51).

As the book progresses, DeYoung raises further questions on issues relating to priorities, parenting, the ubiquitous screens we stare at all day, and our need for rest. The final issue addressed is the concept of suffering or actually the lack of this concept in modern day life. DeYoung indicts Western Christians for not expecting to suffer or bear burdens of any kind. He emphasizes that "busyness isn't always bad and can't always be avoided"(105).

So after describing all of these diagnoses about why we are busy and that to some extent busyness is to be expected, readers may be asking "so, what do we do about this?" DeYoung has an answer to that question as well. He wraps up by reminding readers that although prone to be squeezed out of our crazy busy lives, the one thing that will help us as we combat the previously mentioned diagnoses is to spend time in the Word and prayer. While it may seem to be the pat answer you expect from a minister, DeYoung emphasizes how this choice will help us to re-order our lives and is the only thing that can help us choose to be less busy.

Crazy Busy is highly recommended for everyone and as a brief book is one that even the busiest person has time to read. Ministers will enjoy it as DeYoung is a busy pastor of a large church. At the same time, the message of this book applies to all Christian employed in any field. The free study guide available at makes this resource appropriate for Sunday School and small group study as well.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Crossway. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Is this the end for Gideon and Lonnie?

My Hope Is Found,the third book in Joanne Bischof's series The Cadence of Grace, did not disappoint. Continuing with the story of Gideon and Lonnie, a love triangle emerges in the Appalachian mountains which is not resolved until the end.

Picking up at the end of Though My Heart Is Torn, Gideon is heading back to his beloved Lonnie and Jacob. Unfortunately, several setbacks keep him from arriving at his destination quickly and even once he has arrived the paperwork indicating his freedom to marry Lonnie has not been completed. While Gideon is gone, Lonnie struggles to begin a new life for herself, her son Jacob, and young sister Addie. An eligible bachelor introduced in the previous book finds himself smitten with Lonnie and declares his intentions. When Gideon re-appears, the two young men find themselves both vying for Lonnie's hand and tangling with each other as well. Fortunately , Jedediah Bennett intervenes forcing them to resolve their differences.

Bischof does a good job of developing all three of characters in this triangle. Each one struggles with a variety of self-doubts and concerns over past choices and future decisions as they seek to both follow God and find everlasting love. Gideon in particular experiences difficulty resolving his feelings of love for Lonnie and his knowledge of the respectability and good name her other suitor would provide for his young family.

My Hope Is Found is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys gentle frontier romances. Libraries will definitely want to stock this series and the included reader's guide makes it perfect for book groups. I would highly recommend reading all three of these books in sequence as the story line develops in each book. I hope that Bischof continues this story. I would be interested in knowing what the future holds in store for Cassie and Toby as well as enjoying more tales of Lonnie and Gideon's sure to be growing family. Readers may learn more about this book and others in the series by listening to a podcast with author Joanne Bischof and by reading the first chapter of each title.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Blogging for Books ( I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, October 3, 2013

When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together

Undone: When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together, as the title indicates, focuses on stripping ourselves of masks and facades, or literally becoming undone, in order to allow ourselves to be what God wants us to be. Laura Sumner Truax, pastor at Chicago's LaSalle Street Church, opens by sharing the experience when she became undone and continues with complete transparency. So often, regardless of how long someone has been a Christian, individuals have broken relationships and unfulfilled expectations, a list of "shoulds" that need to be completed in order to present the image of having life all together, hide behind a variety of masks, and fear having their true self discovered. By combining a variety of anecdotes from her own life, as well as from literature and movies, with insightful depictions from a variety of Bible characters, Truax encourages readers to remove these masks of being good and busy we use to deceive ourselves and others. She then reminds readers we do not have to earn God's love and it is okay to be ordinary rather than perfect. The first step of accepting ourselves as ordinary begins by acknowledging our reality and fears.

After laying this groundwork, Truax reminds readers to have a child-like trust that God is working for us. Each success is precipitated by a failure which urges us to begin again to love others and show God's love as a community of believers. This love begins with the small, daily choices we make to show God's love to others. Truax emphasizes the importance of surrounding yourself with a community of believers who will both encourage and sharpen you. Reflecting on Undone by Laura Sumner Truax, two items which stand out in my mind is her complete transparency and the skillful manner in which she interweaves a variety of Bible stories into this book. I particularly enjoyed her reminder that while we are all called to be activists, we "are not all called to meet all the needs and pray all the prayers, but we are called to meet and pray for some" (p. 189). We are all called to champion different issues and need not feel badly that we are not as passionate about some issues as other people. The larger Christian community needs and benefits from the multitude of prayers and concerns.

Undone has a great discussion guide making it ideal for use in a Sunday School class or small group for a weekly study or as a one time book club discussion. It is a book to be read slowly and to mull over the concepts rather than to gobble quickly. While the target audience seems to be college age and young professionals, any one who has ever wondered if this is all there is to life will benefit from reading this book. I hope to visit LaSalle Street Church on my next jaunt to Chicago.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from InterVarsity Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”