Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

A lot of people in our area woke up with great anticipation yesterday morning.  A local Christian radio station began playing Christmas music. Every year they jumpstart the season with carols and holiday songs, drawing attention to Jesus’ momentous birth.



Actually, 93.3 FM Cincinnati is not the only entity to begin the celebration in November. Have you seen the first Christmas commercial yet? The first store decorations? The eggnog in the grocery dairy section?

Even as Thanksgiving barely comes into view we welcome this season of well-loved customs, heightened joy, and delightful anticipation. But many of us will also experience exhaustion and frustration. We overextend ourselves in order to provide…what? A Norman Rockwell Christmas presented by Martha Stewart?  (I’ve certainly been guilty of striving for that.)



Author and friend, Jody Collins, has a better idea.

In her book, Living the Season Well, she suggests: simplify and savor.



Simplify the to-do list; savor the wonder.

And then she offers creative, common sense ideas for doing just that.

Her book is not a prescription, as in, “Here’s what you need to do in order to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way.” Instead, Jody presents a buffet of possibilities and recommends we start small, start now with those ideas that stir our interest and seem doable.

For example, call a family meeting to discuss setting limits this year.  You might decide to:

  • Hang fewer lights–maybe even no lights–on the front of the house.
  • Purchase a pre-cut Christmas tree nearby instead of at the U-Cut lot miles out-of-town.
  • Brainstorm ways the children can help, such as stuffing and stamping the Christmas cards.



Such changes will make more room for “Finding the Heart of Christmas” (the title of Jody’s introduction).

Possibilities include:

  • Adjust our views (and the views of our children) about giving and receiving presents.  After all, she reminds us, “it’s not the presents but his presence that matters (p. 109).”
  • Turn off the screens—phones, tablets, televisions, and computers–for an hour each day in December. Savor the quiet; cuddle up with a good Christmas book to enjoy as a family. Jody lists worthy titles to choose from.
  • Mark the weeks before Christmas with an Advent wreath. Jody gives basic instructions, but also includes a list of resources, especially helpful if this custom is not part of your tradition.



Another of Jody’s recommendations: Slow down the celebration. Instead of the huge climax of December 25, followed by an equally huge let-down the next day, ease through the descent by observing Twelvetide—from December 25 to January 5. Jody offers delightful ideas for “savoring the moments” as the Christmas season wanes.

In just over one hundred pages, Jody takes us from Thanksgiving to Epiphany, showing us how to “tune our hearts to look for Jesus throughout the Christmas season, as we intentionally hold a space for him to come” (pp. 29-30).

Her suggestions lead the way to a Christmas of more joy and less busyness, more delight and less stress.

Sounds awfully good to me.


(Living the Season Well is available at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.  Check out Jody’s blog, too, at www.jodyleecollins.com for more of her faith/life discoveries. You won’t be disappointed!)


Art & photo credits:  http://www.pexels.com; http://www.flickr.com;  http://www.amazon.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.geograph.org.uk.


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Last year in mid-December I purchased the book, Christmas on Pleasant Hill, Twelve Stories for the Season, by Colleen Scheid. My plan was to enjoy a few pages each day during the remainder of Advent. Little did I know how compelling Colleen’s stories would be—stories that included:

  • A preschooler who figures out a way to give Jesus a gift for his birthday.
  • A young boy who ingeniously, all by himself and with great excitement, delivers presents to a less-fortunate neighbor.
  • A teenager who unknowingly brings about a Christmas miracle.
  • A grandmother who carefully plans her legacy to transform the lives of her two granddaughters.
  • A little girl who learns that all things are possible with God.




As soon as I finished each story, my curiosity would start to pester me. What delights might the next story include? So last year, the Christmas cards and gift-wrapping had to wait until all 171 pages had been read. I was still baking cookies on Christmas Eve, but it was worth it!

Colleen’s gift of story includes the compelling characters she creates—“people we care about, people we want to know,” as reviewer, Mitch Teemley (President of Moriah Media) described them. I couldn’t agree more.

A page or two into each story, and the reader wants to know what will happen to: the young boy secretly living in a low-income retirement building, the rebellious teenager assigned as personal helper for a special needs child, and a distraught mother whose self-centered, twenty-something daughter is anxious to move out on her own.

Colleen also holds the reader’s attention by the way she writes. Perhaps you’re like me and enjoy best those stories that not only include an intriguing plot line and interesting characters, but also inventive language, an occasional, clever metaphor or simile, and delicious description to savor. Colleen does not disappoint.

For example:

  • A chatty young boy “monologued all the way home.”
  • The town of Pleasant Hill “was a mixture of ghetto and fairy tale.”
  • A mother says of her quiet son: “Raising an introvert was like playing darts in the dark. You never knew if you were anywhere near the target.”
  • Pleasant Hill “Yards [were] busy with statuary…Santas fraternizing with shepherds and wise men.”




  • The emotional state of one character is creatively revealed:  “When she breathed in, Janice whispered, ‘God is my refuge and strength…’ When she breathed out—‘an ever present help in trouble.’ This had become a habit. It was not working very well for her today.”

‘See what I mean?

Granted, we haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving yet. But I wanted you to be able to enjoy these heart-touching stories as Advent unfolds—if you’re so inclined. Begin now and you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate each one, while still getting your Christmas cards and gifts mailed on time. Oh—and the cookies baked, too.

I can promise you: Christmas on Pleasant Hill will augment your journey through the season to come, inspiring hope, refreshing your spirit, and reaffirming in your heart the sacred truths of Christmas.




P.S. Colleen just happens to be in my writers’ group. Not only does she write delightful stories, she’s a delightful person as well. Visit her blog at www.colleenscheid.com.


(Art & photo credits:  www.amazon.com; http://www.holidappy.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.colleenscheid.com.)


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the time to listen for footsteps –

you can’t hear footsteps

 you’re running yourself.”

Bill McKibben


Are you caught up in the Holiday Hurry yet? I’m talking about the decorating–baking– card-writing—shopping—wrapping—parties—rehearsals—event-participation and attendance. No doubt I omitted a few items on your list.

Perhaps you’re craving a bit of quiet this Christmas. Time to enjoy the presence of your Savior. Time to reflect on Bethlehem blessings—those gifts we enjoy as a result of Christ’s advent into the world.

But how can we stop running long enough to hear our Savior’s footsteps? How can we avail ourselves of his peace and strength when our days are doubly-busy?

May I recommend the devotional book, Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room (Barbour Publishing, 2014), by my good blogger-friend, Jean Wise?

First, the soft, leather-like cover is a pleasure to hold. The thick, gilded pages are a delight to turn. And the subtle, star-studded border on each page adds beauty to the text.

Jean has provided four weeks of quieting devotionals, offering a perfect start for each day. Each week has its own theme: 1) Preparation, 2) Pause, 3) Ponder, and 4) Promise.

Each reading includes a brief devotional, appropriate scriptures, well-chosen quotes, suggestions for a more meaningful Advent season, and a closing prayer.

I’ve just begun reading and internalizing this book myself. But already my spirit has been calmed by Jean’s soothing words. For example:

“We drink in His presence and linger in His light for warmth and nourishment. We quench our thirst at His well” (p. 27).

Doesn’t that sound refreshing and rejuvenating? So “take a deep breath and enjoy the journey,” Jean recommends. Embrace moments of stillness, thank God for the gift of His Son, express gratitude, and rest.

Jean also provides gentle challenge. She well knows the tyranny of the to-do list at this time of year. A pointed question steers our focus in the right direction:

“What are we clinging to so tightly we can’t reach out to God” (p. 16)?

And then there are those readings where God’s wisdom flows through Jean’s words.

In the devotional entitled, “Advent Assignments,” she reminds us that our role in the Christmas season is not to be the perfect hostess or flawless decorator, and not to portray the ideal family.

“Preparing our hearts for the Lord implies knowing our boundaries and acknowledging our limitations…Focus on the manger in the center of the stage of our hearts (p. 32).”

Each day Jean encourages me to “reduce the clutter.” Her words bring me to the center of the stage of my heart, to “spend less time on busy work and more time with God” (p. 12).

Time to reflect. Time to listen. Time to savor the presence of my Savior.

Won’t you join me?

(You may order the book on http://www.barnesandnoble.com or purchase at a Family Christian bookstore and at Christian Book Distributors.) 



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Those words, “Life, Faith, and Finishing Well,” are actually the subtitle of Nearing Home (2011), by Billy Graham.

Most Americans recognize that name immediately.  In fact, people around the world know of the famous preacher.  For nearly fifty years, he held mass meetings in numerous large cities, and introduced millions to Jesus.  His radio program, television broadcasts, and writings have further expanded his renown.

After such a long, fruitful ministry, Dr. Graham has earned the right to tell us how to live well during our remaining days.

He includes practical advice, to answer such questions as:  When should I retire? What should I keep in mind as I plan for the golden years?  What legal issues should I settle so my children won’t have to?

Dr. Graham also inspires us with his wisdom:

  • ” Look for the Lord’s purpose in every circumstance and in every face or voice you encounter daily, for the time He has given you is not without purpose” (p. 38).
  • “Whatever you do, keep your mind and your body occupied; don’t give laziness or boredom a chance to take root in your soul” (p. 47).
  • “God designs transitions and provides the grace to embrace what follows” (p. 165).

M-m-m.  Such advice would be helpful for the high school graduate heading off to college or the workplace, just as much as the senior citizen!

Billy also offers up much encouragement.  He names numerous senior citizens of the Bible and draws attention to the work God gave them to do.

The record of some we know well:

  • Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born, and the foundation for the Israelite nation was finally established.
  • Moses was 80 when he led the Israelites out of Egypt.
  • Daniel was still serving as prime minister of the Medo-Persian empire, at age 80.

Others are not so familiar:

  •  Barzillai,  age 80, helped to save the life of King David and his men (2 Samuel 17:28-29).
  • Jeremiah remained faithful to his prophet-calling, probably into his nineties
  • Haggai wrote his book of prophecy at age 70.

These men had probably slowed down a bit, compared to their energetic youth.  (Moses is the only exception.  Deuteronomy 34:7 tells us that, when he died at age 120, “his strength was not gone.”)  All of us, sooner or later, experience that life-shift from speed to sputter!

But slowing down is not the same as stopping.  “Retirement should not put us on a shelf,” says Dr. Graham (p. 28).  One option:  lift up others who are carrying heavy loads.  We can pray, encourage, and offer help as we’re able.

What else contributes to aging gracefully?  Age gratefully.   Follow Paul’s instruction, Philippians 4:8:

“You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious–the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise not things to curse” (The Message).

Again, just as applicable to a teenager as an octogenarian–and all of us in between.

Because no matter how old each of us might be, our foundations of faith can always use reinforcing.

(photo credit: http://www.homecomingmagazine.com.)

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Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith  -             By: Jon Bloom, John Piper


…the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11), walking home after her encounter with Jesus.  What must she have been thinking?

…Zacchaeus, the despised tax collector, coming to your door to return the money he owed you—plus four times more (Luke 19:1-10).  What would have been your reaction?

…how it felt to be Joseph Barsabbas, the candidate not chosen to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:26). How might he have responded?

These are just three out of thirty-five scenarios Jon Bloom explores in his book, Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith (Crossway Books, 2013).    Indeed, they are fresh, creative takes on familiar Bible stories.

And although quite short, just three pages or so in length, each vignette still gives plenty of food for thought. I found them to be compelling, insightful, and instructive—encouraging my walk of faith.

One of my favorites is “Staying Faithful When Things Get Worse.”  Jon imagines what Joseph must have been thinking as a falsely accused prisoner in Egypt.  For at least twelve years he endured the hellish conditions and tormenting hopelessness.  Those should have been the best years of Joseph’s life—his youth.  Many would have said, “What a waste.”


Imagine year nine, Jon suggests.  Surely Joseph fought against depression and discouragement, even as he recited to himself the promises of God.  No doubt he reviewed in his mind the stories of his ancestors—Abraham, Isaac, and even those of his own father, Jacob.

Jon Bloom imagines Joseph affirming repeatedly that, just as God had been faithful to them, he would be faithful to Joseph.  Each patriarch had faced situations that seemed impossible.

Abraham and Sarah were much too old to have a child.

The older brother, Esau, would never serve his younger brother, Jacob–even if the age difference between twins was slight. That promise of God went against all tradition and logic.

Jacob was a poor runaway.  He couldn’t possibly become a wealthy herdsman.

But each man and his family had been blessed, just as God had promised.  Why?  They remained faithful.  Yes, they made mistakes and failed to obey God on occasion.  But they never turned their backs on him, even when circumstances turned bleak.

Jon Bloom also imagines Joseph reaffirming his faith in God and his willingness to wait for him to act.  Meanwhile, he would continue to honor God, even within prison walls.

As Jon brings the vignette to a close, he shares fresh application:

Even in the care of Almighty God, circumstances may get worse, not better.  “Faith in God’s future grace for us is what sustains us in those desperate moments,” Jon says.  Our hope is best placed in God, in his promises, and especially the assurance of eternal bliss in heaven yet to come.

Jon Bloom perfectly fulfills the role of a writer, as defined by Anais Nin, American author of the twentieth century:  “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.”

Page after page, this is what Jon Bloom did for me.  No doubt he will do the same for you.

(Art Credits:  www.angieblattner.theworldrace.org ; www.illustrationartgallery.com )

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Christian Lifestyle Blogger

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I'm Patty, and my husband and I are living with our adult son who has autism and epilepsy. I love sharing lessons learned from life around me, especially life with Aaron.

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