©picture by scribbles (Marye McKenney)

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Road We Must Travel

Jesus walked this lonesome valley.
He had to walk it by Himself;
O, nobody else could walk it for Him,
He had to walk it by Himself.

We must walk this lonesome valley,
We have to walk it by ourselves;
O, nobody else can walk it for us,
We have to walk it by ourselves.

You must go and stand your trial,
You have to stand it by yourself,
O, nobody else can stand it for you,
You have to stand it by yourself.

Okay, I had a bit of a mental journey with this title, but that is not to take away from the overwhelming content of this book. In so many ways, this journey we call the Christian life is one we have to walk alone, but we have others we call brothers and sisters walking their journeys beside us.

With an all-star cast like Francis Chan, Bill Hybels, Mark Buchanan, Eugene Peterson, and more, this book is a must read for all Christians, but even more so, all Christians in leadership--whether in the church, at work, or in other organizations. There is so much good here, and it's all Biblically based. I do have to say that all my favorite chapters were written by Mark Buchanan. I related so well to his chapter on living simply and the cult of the next thing. We are remodeling our home and I'm going through things to see if we can lighten our "stuff" load. I have sewing stuff, my husband has backpacking, running, and hiking stuff, we both have fitness stuff; and the thing about stuff is that you don't own it, it owns you. This past week I took a van-load of stuff to the Salvation Army thrift store. I know I have more stuff to donate. I really need to do more "stuff" eradicating.

I was invited to this blog tour, and eagerly accepted--largely because of the line up of authors. I found some authors I'd never heard of before, and this is an excellent vehicle to become introduced to them. I loved becoming reacquainted with others I've loved for a long time.

The one chapter with the most lasting impact was "Sharpen Your Sixth Sense," by Bill Hybels. This chapter alone would justify the book being required reading for those in leadership within the local churches. It's a "fish or cut bait" type chapter that urges the leadership to have a vision, make decisions with that vision in mind, and then act on the decisions made. Bill cuts no slack, nor corners, in his exhortations here.

Gordon MacDonald's chapter on taking a Sabbath rest is so important due to the fact that we don't rest, we run from one activity to another, and we consider the change in activities the rest we need, but Gordon points out that we need time to do NOTHING, to take a true rest to recharge our mental, physical, and especially our spiritual batteries. It's too important to let that slide. God commanded it for a reason, and He knows us better than we know ourselves.

I give this book five stars, two thumbs up, and a break from "stuff" and "doing."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Plots and Pans

Kelly Eileen Hake is an author who spreads humor throughout her writing that engages the reader from the very first page, when she's on. She has learned well at her mother's knee and through her own writing. She makes humorous stories an art form, just like her mother, Cathy Marie Hake, does. So, I thought reading Plots and Pans would be a lovely idea.

I will rarely give up on a book, although that used to be my habit, but this time, I gave up. Several years ago, I read a book by Cathy Marie called Fancy Pants. Several of the elements in Kelly's book reminded me of Fancy Pants, and I got to the point, I just couldn't read it anymore. I just couldn't get past the similarities. Others will love this book, and that's great, Kelly does write a good book. For me, it wasn't something that worked.

Three stars.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Willow Creek Brides

There's a small town in Iowa called Willow Creek where love happens in the most unexpected ways with the most irritating circumstances attempting to keep the couples apart.

First, Tessa gets dumped in town by her father after her mother dies. Gideon wants to take her in, but knows that she won't accept what she sees as charity. She begins working in a restaurant for his competition who is trying to buy up the town, for less than honorable purposes. Tessa makes a name for herself with her baking--something she is not only quite good at, but something she truly enjoys. When Gideon finds out Tessa is the one who has been baking all the pies and cakes, he figures out a way to better her circumstances without making her think she's receiving charity, and comes one step closer to what he really wants--marriage to Tessa.

Hubert has noticed Pearl since he first came to town, and now things are looking pretty good for the new owner of the mercantile--until his son comes to town. He feels that Pearl is not equal in social standing to his father, so he takes it upon himself to correct this matter, regardless of the love Hubert and Pearl have for each other. The turning point is a fire in the boarding house Pearl owns.

Tillie noticed Everett the day he first came to town. Even though he was condescending and patronizing, she thought he was a handsome soul. After the fire in Pearl's boarding house left Everett scarred and in his own eyes, too ugly to be seen. Tillie sees more and works especially hard to show Everett how he looks through her eyes.

Three enchanting stories that build one on top of the other, until you have a book with three satisfying novellas to while away your time as the wind blows and you can't work outside. Connie Stevens has done a magnificent job with these stories. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up....

Interview with Ivy

I've decided to take a considerably different format with this review. I want to introduce you to Ivy Clark, fashion model with a beautifully recognizable face.

Me: How did you get your start in modeling?
Ivy: My uncle Bruce Clark is an agent. My mom was spending time in rehab, so I was living with my dad. My uncle Bruce offered to get me into modeling, so I took him up on it.

Me: What's it like being a model?
Ivy: you have to watch everything you eat, your looks are your ticket to advancement, and you have to "rent out your body" to get ahead.

Me: "Rent out your body?"
Ivy: yeah, it goes with the territory, men expect things, ya know? It's what you have to do, sometimes just to get a modeling job. And the industry expects their models to look sexy.

Me: Okay, well, let me ask you this: Who is your favorite photographer to work with?
Ivy: Hands down, Davis Grant. His mother is my step-mother's sister. I just wish he hadn't given up his camera. Right now, he's a maintenance guy for a church. He won't say why he gave up his camera, just that it's what God expects of him.

Me: Does he give a clue WHY God expects this of him?
Ivy: Something about his sister's accident, and how he feels it's his fault she's blind.

Me: So why have you come back to Greenbrier, South Carolina?
Ivy: Marilyn, my step-mom, owns a bridal boutique and she wants me to do a photo-shoot for her wedding dress designs.

Me: What's the most frustrating thing about modeling?
Ivy: No one sees you, no one fights for you, no one cares. It's a heartless world, really.

Me: Can you explain?
Ivy: Well, to the photographer, you are just something to get on film, so to speak. To the designer, you are just a dress-form that walks; to the agent, you are just another commodity to push. No one takes the time to see the real you, there's no connection; it's all really a waste, but . . . it's all I know. So I guess I'll keep on going with modeling as long as my looks hold out.

In A Broken Kind of Beautiful, Katie Ganshert has taken a rough world, and given the readers a small peek into it. She portrays society's desire for beauty, regardless of consequences, and some of the consequences she portrays are dire. Death, hollowness, losing oneself, eating disorders, and a certain kind of invisibility are just a few of the things that inhabit the world of modeling.

While the book doesn't fit my favored genre, I found many connections in the book that made it a worthwhile read. I understood what Ivy went through just trying to be liked, I understood Davis' guilt that kept him a prisoner when God had already freed him. Definitely a Five Star book, two thumbs up, and a trip down the runway.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Child of the Cloth

Occasionally, a book comes along that challenges my thoughts. A Child of the Cloth challenged me in ways I never expected. The style of writing was to me more of a conversational memoir. This book isn't very long, nor does it take long to read. Amelia is telling her story to the author, especially the story of her one true love. Amelia is the daughter of the Rector of the church and she meets Arthur Halfpenny when he comes to repair the church's organ. They are of totally different social classes and she fears her parents won't approve of their love.

I love the memoir style of the novel and the story flows like a meandering stream as an elderly lady tells of her great love. Her memories are not disjointed, and the story demands to be told. It's a story of love lost and then found again, of happiness and sadness, of subterfuge and light, and it is a story that once the reader starts, it never causes loss of interest. It is a short novel, and a quick read, but one that will bring to mind similar stories of great loves. For me, it was my parents, in a way, in that Mama and Daddy came from totally different socio-economic classes, but their love held them together for nearly sixty years. James Probetts has definitely written a winner here.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a nice afternoon to take in a story.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Peace, Sweet Peace

A little over ten years ago, I was privileged to sit under Ken Gire's teaching on prayer at a conference in Colorado. The setting was idyllic and the content was life-changing. Three weeks later, I was told there was a mass on my liver and then I played the testing/waiting game. When your doctor tells you that it's okay to cry, you know it is serious. There was a week between finding the mass and the biopsy to tell me what it was. In the middle of that week, I woke up in the middle of the night unable to sleep, my eyes banged open and refused to close again. When I find myself trying to sleep and having a hard time getting there, I will do a deep-breathing relaxation technique I taught myself. Even that didn't work. Finally I heard a voice whisper in my head that I would be kept in perfect peace if my mind stayed on the Lord. That phrase ran over and over again through my mind until I drifted back to sleep. When I woke next, rested and refreshed, I got out my Strong's Exhausting Concordance (have you ever carried one around?) and looked up perfect peace, and there it was, right in the middle of Isaiah; in fact, it was in chapter 26, verse three:
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you,because he trusts in you.
This is my word and my verse. I am spending this year resting in God's perfect peace, so when the opportunity to read and review Ken's book At Peace in the Storm became available, I jumped at the chance. I have never read anything by Ken that didn't move me in some way, and this book is no different.

Ken has a very conversational style of writing that makes the reader feel they could be discussing his topic over a cup of tea in his living room. His passion about allowing God's peace to change and inhabit us is clear throughout the book. And it's more than a matter of finding peace, it's a matter of looking for peace where God has placed it, and Ken has no lack of examples. One thing that became clear to me that even though this is a very popular understanding of how God works, this particular picture is wrong. Always God calms his child first and then sometimes He will calm the storm.

Toward the end of the book, Ken sums it all up like this:

Today, you may be aching to see God's marvelous miracle in the midst of circumstances you cannot control. . . . And it may be that God's miracle will be witnessed as God changes the outward circumstances you face. The miracle God guarantees, however, is not that He'll calm the storm. It's that He'll calm his child. God's promise is that the peace of Christ, a peace we cannot fathom, descends upon us when everything else is falling apart.

Ken's descriptions of peace in the presence of God through our reading, movies, scripture, nature, solitude, silence, or friends make so much sense. He's writing from his own experiences, but those are not so personal that the reader will not be able to empathize. I understood so clearly what he was trying to say, because I've been there too. I can't wait to give my copy of the book to a friend whose circumstances are stormy at best. I want to share with my friend how to find that peace, too. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a peace beyond all understanding.

Bethany House provided me with this book in exchange for my honest review and it's been my privilege to do so.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lone Star Romance Collection

For a long time I have loved Cathy Marie Hake and her comic twists to Western romances, and I had read this series of novellas before and wanted to read them again, so when this collection became available for review, I jumped at the chance! The bonus is that there were two more additions to the collection written by Kimberley Comeaux.

All five of these novellas were written with a light touch and a wink. The first two novellas encountered are by Kimberley: One More Chance, and Courtin' Patience. Both are tied together with many of the same characters, but could stand alone as wonderful stories on their own. With girls like Rachel Branigan and Patience Primrose as the stars of the books, the reader can find strong women who overcome some pretty harsh circumstances to make their way in the world and find men to love them in the process.

The other three stories were written by Cathy Marie and while they could stand alone, it's so much better to read them all together. Three brothers are the mainliners in the stories, and the foibles they overcome to find their brides is comical, to say the least. Cathy Marie has taken a verse out of Micah in the Old Testament to wrap the stories together. To Love Mercy, To Walk Humbly, and To Do Justice relates the stories of the three Gregor brothers who have been gifted with amazing blessings by their father who dies on the way from Scotland to the States. Cathy Marie then tells how each brother fulfilled his own blessing in and through the woman who becomes his bride.

This will not be the last time I will read these stories. Even amid the humor, great spiritual truths can be found in these stories. Rachel was the object of gossip and felt herself unworthy of the attentions of Caleb Stone, the new pastor of the church. Caleb was able to find the cause of Rachel's reluctance to be courted by him and in the process end the gossip about her.

Patience was the daughter of the prudest woman in town, and had to make her own way before Sheriff Lee Curtis could see her worth as wife material.

Rob Gregor came to Texas to be a doctor, and unfortunately one of his first patients was Mercy Stein, the victim of a vicious attack. He had more to heal than just her physical injuries.

Duncan was a cobbler with a tender heart and he had to find a way to walk into Carmen Rodriguez' heart and life and to prove his love for her sincere.

Chris felt that his duty was to find the man who killed their friend Connant, who was sheriff when they arrived in Texas. In meeting Wren, he had to overcome his desire for vengeance and to do the just thing instead. In the process, he does get wounded and has to give up being a Texas Ranger for being the sheriff in Connant's place.

Twenty-five stars, ten thumbs up, and a field of Texas Bluebonnets for the Lone Star Romance Collection.

A Plain Man

Caleb has lived in two worlds, both the Amish and the Englisch, and to some degree he feels he doesn't fit in either one. His father is the bishop of the local Amish congregation and when Caleb comes home, he is distrusting of Caleb's motives.

Caleb's life was a parable--he lived happily at home until he finished school and with his rumspringe years, he decided to see what the Englisch world had to offer. For five years, he lived and worked as an Englisch person, denying all he'd been brought up to believe and all the ways he'd been taught to behave. He came home with an ugly tattoo, a contrite heart, and guilt for his actions.

There is one person in his community who believes in him, and that's Josie. She's loved Caleb since she was a young school girl, but Caleb's guilt keeps him from allowing himself to love her back. He feels so unworthy of her.

I've been where Caleb is in the book--so bent down with guilt that I couldn't see what God did for me through His Son. I've let the guilt tear me up inside, and it all comes to the realization that my guilt held me hostage to an unforgiving heart. Once I was able to let it go, I realized I was holding myself to be more righteous than God by not forgiving myself, AND, I was rejecting God by rejecting His forgiveness--piling sin upon sin.

Mary Ellis has written a book that resonated with me in ways I never anticipated, and for that reason alone, I'd give A Plain Man five stars and two thumbs up! But, she has put together a story with warts: Josie has a sister who fights with her out of jealousy, Caleb has a father who watches for any misstep and rides Caleb like a horse, the two of them can't make a meeting of the minds for anything. Mary's writing flows naturally along the journey Caleb and Josie are taking, and just as naturally brings them together in a way that satisfies the reader's desire for the both of them. It's hard not to become connected to both Caleb and Josie and it's hard not to root for them all the way through the book. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a delicious serving of Josie's four-bean salad.