Book reviews

Book Review: Remarkable Faith

Posted by | beautiful mess, Behold, Book reviews, Hope, Identity, Inspirational, Sharing faith, Stories, writing | No Comments

 

I have always loved stories. Even from the time I was a little girl, I have been enthralled with the power of story. When I was in the throes of my elementary school years, my family attended a little neighborhood church on the south side of Chicago. I was always eager to get to Sunday School class. There were not a lot of bells and whistles. We didn’t have a fancy worship band or videos with animated Bible characters to capture our attention.

We did have two teachers who were gifted storytellers.

Every week, these teachers would take turns unfolding the details of the Bible. I was filled with wonder when I heard about the ark-builders and giant-slayers, but I was also drawn to the “quieter stories.” I was intrigued by the woman who gave her copper coins in the offering, which was a sacrifice of all she owned. I could not get enough of the stories about Jesus. I was captivated by the way he talked to the woman at the well and washed his disciples’ dirty feet.

These were not just stories to me, but examples with skin on them that eventually led me to deepen my young faith.

 

When I opened Shauna Letellier’s recently-released book, Remarkable Faith, I was filled anew with childlike wonder over the Bible stories. Like a master storyteller, Shauna draws us into eight Bible stories of “unremarkable” people who went to great lengths to get to Jesus. As a result of their faith, Jesus healed them and used them as examples of remarkable faith.

I was immediately drawn into this book because of the way Shauna reimagines these stories in such a vivid and historically accurate way. She helped me to feel the exhaustion of the father whose son was demon-possessed, to understand the wrestling in the mind of the paralyzed man, to appreciate the response of the noble centurion who counted himself not even worthy to take Jesus’ time and to see the courage of the blind beggars who called out for healing.

This is not typically the genre of book I would pursue but Shauna makes me think outside of the box. Shauna doesn’t just retell the story. She invites us to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the nuances of the culture and experience the world through the eyes of the characters.

I also appreciated her commentary after each story. Her words invite me to think about the implications of faith highlighted by each character. In her chapter on “Unworthy Faith,” I was especially challenged by these words:

“Whether you have built a synagogue, an orphanage, or a fine Christian reputation, you cannot earn God’s favor. God’s grace to us in Christ is a gift! … We cannot place God in our service by stockpiling good deeds and dangling them before him as a currency, as though we hold the carrot that makes him do our bidding.”

What a powerful reminder!

My favorite chapter in Remarkable Faith unfolds the story of the hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5 and her “suffering faith.” Readers are invited into the depths of this woman’s story. She was not only bleeding for more than 12 years, but she was also an outcast in her community because she was considered unclean. She was alienated from her family and likely taken advantage of by doctors. Shauna’s description of her healing is visceral and dramatic. We cannot help but rejoice and worship with her.

Whether you have read these stories many times in the Bible or you are new to them, I highly recommend Shauna’s Letellier’s book, Remarkable Faith. It’s a good read that offers a fresh perspective on faith through the lens of the Bible.

 

**If you love books, we need to be friends. I’d love to slip my Glorygram into your box each week with recommendations for my fave reads. You can also check out my other book reviews here. As always, leave your comments below, especially if you are interested in Shauna Letellier’s book or have your own take on it!

Book Review: At Home in the World

Posted by | Book reviews, community, Culture, family life, field trips, friendship, Identity, outreach, serve, Stories, Uncategorized, world travel | No Comments

My first real venture out of the United States was a study abroad program in Central America during my senior year of college. Our home base was San Jose, Costa Rica, but we also spent time sojourning through Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

I still remember that moment.

I was sitting around a rugged wooden table with a diverse group of Guatemalans and a group of college students from across the United States. The table was spread with billowy, soft bread, crema for dipping, sliced avocadoes, juicy steaks, rice and beans, and a pitcher of some kind of icy, hand-squeezed citrus refresco. We bowed our heads to pray before our meal, and my heart swelled a bit.

I was home.

Mind you, I don’t have any Central American blood. I had never traveled to Guatemala before. But something deep inside me felt at home. The warmth of the people, the bright colors of their woven clothing and wall hangings, the rich flavors of the food, the passion of their praise and worship, the abundant affection of the children – all of it felt like home to me.

In fact, I felt more at home there than I had ever felt back home in the U.S.

Less than three years later I found myself surrounded by hundreds of Haitian children in the middle of a soccer field in the Northern mountains of Haiti. I was there with a group of young career singles from my church in California to put on a Track and Field camp. In the sweltering July tropical heat, we marked off the field like a circular track and we watched these kids race joyfully around it in bare feet. Somehow by the end of that week, I had learned enough Kreyol and cross-cultural sign language to communicate with these kids.

I felt it again. I was home. I was far from home, yet I was very much at home.

When I opened Tsh Oxenreider’s recently-released travel memoir, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. Tsh understands what it is like to feel At Home in the World. She, too, is a mama fueled by wanderlust but also longing for a sense of rootedness, a sense of community, a sense of home.

This book is unique because it takes readers on an adventure with Tsh’s family across four continents in nine months. She and her husband are not your typical world travelers. They are not trying to escape responsibility or drop out of college or avoid a withering relationship. They are happily married and have three kids in tow. They limit themselves to one backpack each and endeavor to stay in neighborhoods and homes where real people live across the globe.

This is not a fancy vacation. This is “worldschooling” at its best.

I was immediately captivated and intrigued by Tsh’s storytelling and reflections. This book whispers, “Come along” without pomp or pretense. We adventure with this family through the bustle of traffic in Beijing. We join them to snorkel the magnificent Great Barrier Reef. We linger with them over Thai food in Chiang Mai. We celebrate a summertime Christmas with them in Queensland.  We join them for a coffee ceremony in Ethiopia and mint tea at the market in Morocco. We coast the Nile River with them in Uganda and stand in awe before Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We buy bacon together at the boucherie in France and sample gelato more than once a day in Italy.

I love Tsh’s reflections on home throughout the book. She challenges me with this: “Travel has taught me the blessing of ordinariness, of rootedness and stability. It’s courageous to walk out the front door and embrace earth’s great adventures, but the real act of courage is to return to that door, turn the knob, walk through, unpack the bags, and start the kettle for a cup of tea.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book purely for fun. I savored every chapter of At Home in the World. I tucked it in my tote and took it with me to the beach in Malibu, a café in Fresno, and on a camping trip to Soledad Canyon with all my people. I devoured every delicious word. And when I got to the last page I was faced with the dilemma of either starting the book again or booking tickets for my own family of five to somewhere new.

**If you are an avid reader, I encourage you to check out some of my other book reviews. These books have carried me through seasons of tragedy and triumph.

I often serve on book launch teams as a way to get to know authors and their message better. I had the privilege of being part of Tsh Oxenreider’s team for At Home in the World.

Up next: I’ll be reviewing Remarkable Faith: When Jesus Marveled at the Faith of Unremarkable People by my friend Shauna Letellier for July. Pre-order it today!

What are your favorite summer reads for kids or adults? Comment below and let me know what you’re reading! Also, I send out a weekly Glorygram with stories, reading and podcast recommendations, and my recipes. I’d love to deliver it to your inbox. Opt in here.

Book Review: Never Unfriended

Posted by | Book reviews, community, Compassion, fierce flourishing, friendship, Inspirational, Personal Stories, Self Doubt, Stories | No Comments

 

I’ll be honest. I’ve had this book on my nightstand for a month, and I didn’t want to read it.

Don’t get me wrong: I adore Lisa-Jo Baker and her writing. When her Surprised by Motherhood book came out, I raced through it and then bought copies for all my mama friends’ birthdays that year.

I just didn’t think a book titled Never Unfriended was for me. Gratefully, I’m surrounded by an amazing circle of friends and, if anything, my issue is not lack of friends but not having enough time to spend with these women.

As I stepped into this book, I quickly realized that Lisa-Jo had some important things to say about friendship that I needed to hear. I discovered that I do have some past hurts and hang-ups from broken friendships that have been weighing me down.

Lisa-Jo offers up a healthy mix of authentic, personal anecdotes and rich biblical teaching. About three chapters in, I realized this book wasn’t just about friendships gone awry or girl drama like I thought. This book is actually about cultivating real, authentic community. There couldn’t be a topic more near and dear to my heart.

I love how Lisa-Jo is willing to go first. She admits it’s taken her a while to get there but she’s committed to stepping out of her comfort zone for friendships. “So I’m going all in,” she writes, “I’m going to keep showing up and going first and telling my embarrassing stories because I’ve learned that it’s when we let people see the un-Photoshopped parts of our lives that they’re the most comfortable.”

Lisa-Jo models for us all the importance of vulnerability and commitment in pursuing friendships. She talks about the power of shared stories and letting people into our awkward moments and imperfect living rooms.

When Lisa-Jo starts talking about being “un-fine” in front of her friends, my mind immediately flashes back to two years ago when my husband was dying of cancer and my people rushed in to fold laundry, wash the grimy dishes, and hold me close when I was choking back the salty tears of my new reality.

This is the messy stuff true friendship is made of.

Perhaps the most challenging part of this book for me was Chapter 6, “We Can’t Control Other People’s Stories.” Lisa-Jo spoke right into my heart about some sticky friend situations I’ve endured in the past.

She wisely writes, “Every time a relationship has been more toxic than I could possibly transform, I was either too young or too vulnerable or too unqualified to be able to make anything healthy out of that environment. Because some wounds need professional, tender counseling from those qualified to speak objectively into a raw and hurting person. In those cases, God has given the protection of being able to grant forgiveness while simultaneously opening an exit for me to leave so there was still a chance to heal.”

Mic drop.

Lisa-Jo’s book whispers, “I’ve been there” while reminding me of healthy ways to navigate the ups and downs of friendship. I’m so very grateful I kept reading.

If you have ever suffered from FOMO, been squeezed tight by the clutches of competition, or wondered how to deepen your friendships in this chaotic world, this book is for you.

 

 

**If you are an avid reader, I encourage you to check out some of my other book reviews. These books have carried me through seasons of tragedy and triumph.

I often serve on book launch teams as a way to get to know authors and their message better. I had the privilege of being part of Lisa-Jo’s launch team for Never Unfriended.

Next month I’ll be reviewing a mama travel memoir by Tsh Oxenreider called At Home in the World. Feel free to read ahead! I’m already a chapter in, and it’s fabulous!

 

Book Review: You Are Free to Be Who You Already Are

Posted by | Behold, Book reviews, community, Grief, Identity, Personal Stories, Stories, Struggle/Hardship, transitions | No Comments

I have dreamed about traveling to Italy since I was a little girl. I never imagined that I would get to experience the Sistine Chapel, run around the Colosseum, walk the steps of Trevi Fountain, and stand awestruck before the statue of David at age 38 with a new husband. I never imagined I would get to share handcrafted raviolis and tiramisu we made together in a cooking class.

I remember sitting on a train careening across the country en route from Rome to Florence. My eyes were glued to the window. The landscape was changing right before me. In a few hours, we traversed from the big city bustle to a more serene countryside with rolling hills.

On that train, God spoke to me about something more important than all the breathtaking sites and delectable food.  After so many months of deep grief following my husband’s death, after so many restless nights of crying out to Him and wondering what the future would hold for my daughters and me, God was changing the landscape. He gave me a wide-angle view of His glory.

The words of this verse breathed over me so many times in the last few years came to life: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

He had made a way. He was reminding me that I was free.

On that trip, God reminded me who I was at my very core, who He created me to be. He began rekindling some of my passions and dreams. He was giving me permission to trade my mourning for dancing, to step into a new marriage, a new family life, a new season that I was free to create.

When I first saw the title of Rebekah Lyons’ new book, You Are Free: Be Who You Already Are, I couldn’t help thinking about my trip to Italy. It’s the place where God most recently reminded me of this important biblical message – that we are all free. I was eager to read Rebekah’s book because this is a journey I was already on.

In You Are Free, I felt like Rebekah invited me to sit down for a cup of coffee to talk about freedom and all the many ways I need to walk in it. Rebekah tells her story of rescue from striving and approval, but she also invites me to reflect on my own story.

I heard Rebekah speak at the first IF:Gathering I attended in Fresno four years ago. She was one of the teachers who caught my attention with her vulnerable, personal story coupled with her passionate preaching. Rebekah overcame depression and anxiety to step into a new place of freedom in Christ.

Perhaps the most impactful chapter for me was “Free to Grieve.” Rebekah shares about the birth of her son Cade, who had a traumatic birth and was born with Down syndrome. Her words pierced me:

“Something died in me that day: the controlled plan for my ‘perfect’ life. In return, something was born that day: surrender to an unchartered and forever-changing path.

As I have navigated my own grief journey after my husband was diagnosed with cancer and died four months later, I have found this to be true. That year there was a shattering of my dreams.

Rebekah’s perspective challenged me: “But here’s the truth I’ve found: we only find that wholeness, that unity, when we allow ourselves to mourn the death of our worldly expectations.”

She encourages all of us that we not only need to give ourselves permission to cry and mourn, but there is actually freedom and comfort to be found in grief. Jesus meets us there. This was a profound reminder. My own story serves as a testimony this is true.

I highly recommend You Are Free as a great Spring Break read or even a book to work through more reflectively with a journal in hand to answer the “Becoming Free” prompts at the end of each chapter.

 

**If you are an avid reader, I encourage you to check out some of my other book reviews. These books have carried me through seasons of tragedy and triumph. I often serve on book launch teams as a way to get to know authors and their message better. Next month I’ll be reviewing Never Unfriended by Lisa-Jo Baker.

**Do you have a favorite book you are reading right now? Please let me know about it in the comments! I love to share recommendations. Sign up here for my Glorygram – a weekly(ish) gift of encouragement just for close friends, including lots of book and recipe recommendations.

A Book Review: Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen

Posted by | Book reviews, community, margin, Stories, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

 

I am a recovering achiever. I was raised in a family of Filipino-Italian immigrants of the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps variety. I attended a college prep school from elementary through high school. As I was growing up, I raced from piano lessons to dance lessons to theater productions to year-round sports events. I was the editor of the yearbook in high school and the newspaper in college. In short, my schedule was always packed, my homework list long, and my dreams and goals list was even longer.

This was my foundation.

None of these things is bad, of course. In fact, I am thankful for my family, my education and the way God wired me. I am also a person who thrives on words of encouragement and affirmation. Today I recognize that this combination of life experiences and personality traits can be dangerous. All that striving. All that reaching can be a perfect storm for breakdown.

In recent years, my brokenness covered by God’s amazing grace has far outweighed my appetite for achieving but I still have to be cautious about a natural tendency to strive. When I opened the pages of Jennie Allen’s newly-released book, Nothing to Prove: Why We can Stop Trying So Hard, I felt like she was speaking right into my recovering achiever’s heart.

“My prayer is for you to start enjoying the freedom that comes when we quit trying to prove ourselves, when we surrender what is out of control to the One who is control,” she writes. “We strive to be seen, to be known, to matter….We are not enough. We are not God.”

Nothing to Prove is written for the weary traveler, the woman who is overwhelmed by expectations and pressures, as well as the hidden belief that she is not good enough, talented enough or spiritual enough. Jennie shares real-life stories of her own struggle with inadequacy and insecurity, and then invites readers into a more spacious, grace-filled place.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One tells Jennie’s story of striving and invites readers “to start enjoying the freedom that comes when we quit trying to prove ourselves, when we surrender what is out of control to the One who is in control.”

Part Two focuses on the following feelings and insecurities that plague women: thirsty, lonely, tired, passive, afraid, ashamed and empty. Jennie unpacks how God is enough for each one of us in those places. Jennie uniquely starts each chapter with the retelling of a Bible story in first person. Her words make these familiar stories come alive in a new way.

I especially resonated with her retelling of one of my favorite passages, John 11, when Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus is deathly ill. Jennie writes from Mary’s perspective running through all the doubts and emotions she must have felt as she waited for Jesus to come. I’ve studied and even taught this story many times but Jennie helped me see it with new eyes.

What I appreciate is that Jennie writes the way she speaks. I have had the privilege of hearing Jennie speak live several times at conferences. I have also joined her at the dinner table with a small group of leaders. In real life and her book, I love her vulnerability, authenticity and passion. She is at once an honest storyteller and a passionate preacher.

This weekend she will be leading the IF:Gathering in Austin, Texas while thousands around the globe will watch through simulcast. I have the privilege of helping host our own IF:Fresno gathering here in Fresno, California at The Bridge Church starting at 5:30 p.m. today and 9a.m.-4:30  p.m. Saturday. This event brings women leaders and preachers from all over the globe to gather and share with an eager audience of women. I’m grateful for Jennie’s vision to disciple a generation of women.

Jennie always challenges me and calls me up as a leader. She writes, “The degree to which we believe and embrace our identity as a Spirit-filled child of God will be the degree to which His light shines through us. We are God’s and He is ours. He is in us and through us and with us. That is our identity and it changes everything.”

The lesson is not lost on me: If I am secure in my identity in Christ, I have nothing to prove.

Book Review: How The Broken Way leads to abundance

Posted by | Book reviews, gifts, Grief, Hope, passion, Social Justice, Stories, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

 

I remember that day so vividly. We were at a luncheon as part of the Justice Conference in Chicago. She was on a panel sharing about her experiences on a recent trip visiting women in crisis in the Middle East. The place cleared out pretty quickly after lunch as people rushed off to the next workshops. I spotted her near the stage with a few other panelists. Only a few other women were mulling about waiting to see Ann. This was a rare moment that the New York Times best-selling author was not being mobbed by faithful fans.

I knew I had to meet her. I had to tell her about how her words had changed my life.

I forced myself to walk awkwardly to the front of the room. My hands trembled as I waited: What could I say? How could I possibly squeeze my story of tragedy and triumph into a few quick minutes? How could I sufficiently tell her that her words had changed me and trained me for the most difficult season of my life?

She turned to me and looked straight into me with those piercing blue eyes full of deep compassion. She clasped my shaking hands in hers. The tears welled up in my eyes as I introduced myself and quickly spilled out my gratitude. I thanked her for teaching me the art of eucharisteo – giving thanks in all circumstances.  I told her how her practice of counting gifts had prepared me for horror of walking my husband through cancer and navigating his death with my three young daughters. Tears of sympathy glistened in her eyes as somehow I managed to talk about the secondary losses – walking away from our heart work in Haiti and stumbling forward into a new life as a widow.

I apologized for taking too much of her time. She called me by name and shook her head no. She said, “I hear you, Dorina, and I’m going to remember you.”

In that moment, I realized Ann Voskamp was the real deal. Authentic. Vulnerable. Compassionate. Broken. She took time to enter into the brokenness with me. She wasn’t rushing me along. She wasn’t some celebrity with perfect makeup and a precision haircut signing books with an agenda. She listened. She cried with me. She poured herself out.

broken_way

It was no surprise to me when I opened the pages of Ann’s new book, The Broken Way, that the book is about exactly what God has been asking me to do over the last two years: to find purpose in my pain.

Her words mentor me once again: “Not one thing in your life is more important than figuring out how to live in the face of unspoken pain.”

The theme of this book is identifying our brokenness and stepping into the brokenness of others as the path to a more abundant life.

I read each sentence slowly, really let the words sink in. This is not what you call a “quick read.” In fact, all of Ann’s writing is like that for me. I am forced to slow down, to drink in the words deliberately like a steaming cup of chai on a fall day, like reading a poem aloud and savoring every word. Sometimes I circle back and reread a line or two because I don’t want to miss a thing. She makes me think.

These words pierce me, “Jesus always moves into places moved with grief. Jesus always seeks out where the suffering is, and that’s where Jesus stays. The wound in His side proves that Jesus is always on the side of suffering, the wounded, the busted, the broken.”

I am reminded that as we endure suffering we can experience the greatest intimacy with our Maker. When we give ourselves permission to grieve and invite others to share with us in that space, there is communion. In the grief, there is healing. Grace abounds.

The Broken Way is the perfect sequel to One Thousand Gifts. Ann teaches us to go beyond counting gifts to being the gift to others. The acronym she uses is G.I.F.T. – Give It Forward Today. She dares us to let our brokenness be made into abundance. In her signature, turn of phrase, Ann proposes a challenge: “Maybe the only abundant way forward is always to give forward.”

I have experienced the truth of these words so profoundly over the last two years. I have learned the power of vulnerability. I have felt the healing balm of grieving with others. I have learned how to receive from community and give out of my brokenness. And I’m still learning.

In a world plagued by brokenness, this book is timely. The headlines scream about hurricanes in Haiti and human lives sacrificed in Syria, about shootings across our homeland and wars raging across the world. The Broken Way calls us out and calls us up. We don’t need bucket lists; We need to empty our own buckets again and again on behalf of others. Ann shows us that in that sacrifice we will experience abundant joy.

thebrokenway_godsees

“Wounds can be openings to the beauty in us. And our weaknesses can be a container for God’s glory… God does great things through the greatly wounded. God sees the broken as the best and He sees the best in the broken and He called the wounded to be world changers.”

If you feel broken and bruised, if you are wondering whether there could possibly be a way forward through grief, if you are burdened by the suffering in our world, you must read The Broken Way. It may just be your path to the abundant life.

 

 

 

AND THE WINNER IS….

Janna Olson!

Thanks to everyone who entered the Giveaway for a copy of The Broken Way! Stay tuned for more giveaways in the future!

 

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