The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

The Remarkable Ordinary by Frederick BuechnerI have long been an admirer of Frederick Buechner’s wisdom. This book is no exception. It is based on a series of mostly unpublished lectures. The author encourages us to take a moment to see what’s really around us. With life’s hectic pace, we often don’t see what is remarkable. He talks about art (writing, painting, music) as a medium for helping us see what is meaningful. Buechner says to take time to stop, look, and listen–and we will be amazed at what we find!

“So, art is saying Stop. It helps us to stop by putting a frame around something and makes us see it in a way we would never have seen it under the normal circumstances of living, as so many of us do, on sort of automatic pilot, going through the world without really seeing much of anything…So, stop and see. Become more sensitive, more aware, more alive to our own humanness, to the humanness of each other.”

Frederick Buechner’s writing style is easy to read, conversational–like talking with a good friend. He points out that we need to pay attention–really notice what’s going on around us. As a theologian, he ties these ideas with his biblical faith. Paying attention to being alive is important. Paying attention to each other and to God, to how he’s moving and speaking or where he’s trying to take you.

Listen for God, stop and watch and wait for him. To love God means to pay attention, be mindful, be open to the possibility that God is with you in ways, that unless you have your eyes open, you may never glimpse. He speaks words that, unless you have your ears open, you may never hear. Draw near to him as best you can.

I love the story he tells about a Christmas Eve in Vermont. He had told his neighbors he would take care of their sheep while they were away. He nearly forgot that evening with all of the holiday activities, but then remembered. As late as it was, he and his brother trudged through snow to the neighbor’s barn. It struck him that there he was in a barn with sheep and a manger on Christmas Eve. With all the busyness of the Christmas season, we sometimes forget to notice what it’s really about.

Buechner encourages us to love others. He notes we would be overwhelmed if we stopped to look and listen to every person who passes by. But he says, “We can surely do more than we do!”

The Remarkable Ordinary has helped me look for God’s extraordinary work in life’s seemingly unimportant routines. What a gift!

* I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

 

A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

 A collection of essays dealing with pain and lossThis collection of essays from Frederick Buechner delve into the nature of how we deal with pain and loss. Buechner is no stranger to this topic as he has spent much of his life grappling with his father’s suicide when he was a young boy. As an adult, he faced the anguish of his daughter’s anorexia. Even though God may seem silent during  times of crushing grief, Buechner discovered God’s presence and his grace–that he truly is close to the brokenhearted.

The author, an excellent storyteller, tells about an experience at a retreat. Someone commented to Buechner that he had experienced a great deal of pain in his life, but he been a good steward of his pain. That was a new concept to Buechner–and to me as well. I like the idea that we can choose a positive way to manage the sad and puzzling events that happen in our lives. We can be good stewards of our pain.

Buechner says the tendency is to push pain away, to forget what happened, to never speak of a loved one we have lost.  Yet miracles happen when we walk through the gates of pain.

Miracles happen because of the willingness to open the door into your pain. Open your ears and your eyes to the elusive, invisible, silent presence of healing, of the power of God to heal, which moves as quietly, as undramatically, as the wind moves.

The author concludes that joy is at the end. When we enter through the gates of pain, we can encounter joy. Treasure can be found when we are willing to work through our sorrow. Buechner’s gentle, easy style draws readers in and gives hope. His compassionate, authentic wisdom make this book well worth reading.

 

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? Indignities, Compromises, and the Unexpected Grace of Midlife (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2017)

A transparent, honest, humorous memoir that looks at the challenges of midlifeAging well is a topic I’m always interested in–and Jennifer Grant’s memoir about her forties is an  honest, transparent, and humorous look at midlife. She’s an excellent story-teller and I enjoyed hearing about her aging experiences–wearing what she thought were “cool” Elton John-like glasses–only to have her teenage daughter weigh in with her more- than- honest assessment. “You look old and weird in those glasses, Mom.”

The author poignantly describes the transitions we go through with our children. Would we want to go back to those sweet early years when they willingly place their little hands in ours when we cross the street, or get excited about something as simple as finger-painting?   Grant says no, she wants to look forward to who those children will become. She doesn’t want to get stuck looking back at those “good, old days”–even though letting go isn’t easy. It seems that one day our children are sweet and innocent and the next you’re looking at college applications with them. I can relate! Even though I’m well past the middle-age years Jennifer Grant writes about, I can still remember the ache I felt when I walked past my oldest son’s empty bedroom after he left for college. Yet this book offers hope of moving past these empty-nest feelings.

The author writes wisely about the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges of aging and the changes we face throughout our lives–celebrations, sorrows, and joys. She concludes with the wisdom of Solomon from the book of Ecclesiastes: There is a time for everything.

I enjoyed this book, but I am disappointed by the author’s interpretation of the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25) in her book’s final chapter. As a Christian, I believe it’s important to consider the full counsel of Scripture when interpreting passages such as this one.

 

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Brave Beauty: Finding the Fearless You (Grand Rapids: Zonderkidz, 2017)

Brave Beauty devotional book for girlsWhile reading Brave Beauty, a devotional for tween girls,  I couldn’t help but think of how much I would’ve appreciated a book like this when I was growing up. Those preteen years are the beginning of an awkward time for girls. I remember having so many doubts about myself and whether or not I fit in. Author Lynn Cowell does an excellent job making readers feel understood and valued.

The book is comprised of 100 mini chapters, courage-building ways for readers to find answers by growing confident in God. Topics range from family, self-worth and friends, to faith, forgiveness and loving difficult people. The author uses a simple, yet effective style to communicate godly wisdom. Each chapter includes a brief example/story followed by a “Becoming Brave” practical challenge and a “Courageous Call” to action. The bite-sized chapters will appeal to young readers–and “older” readers, too, as I find myself looking forward to what’s coming next!

The author offers this gem: It takes bravery to be a girl who thinks people are more important than things. The culture we live in makes “stuff” like clothes and the newest phone so important. A brave beauty recognizes that people are more important than things.

So true and important for girls to learn this when bombarded by a culture that values materialism.

If you have a young girl in your life, get her Brave Beauty. It could be life-changing!

 

 

The Awakening of HK Derryberry: My Unlikely Friendship with the Boy Who Remembers Everything (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017)

The Awakening of HK Derryberry: an unlikely friendship with a special needs boyIf you’ve ever wondered if one person can make a difference in someone’s life,  read The Awakening of HK Derryberry and you will know the answer is a resounding yes!

The unlikely friendship between Jim Bradford, a senior business executive, and 9-year old HK Derryberry, a boy with multiple disabilities, begins on a cold October morning in 1999 when Jim stops at Mrs. Winner’s Chicken & Biscuits in search of a cup of coffee. He almost misses the small boy sitting at a table at the back of the restaurant. When Jim sees HK, he feels an unusual emotional tug. He walks over to talk with the boy–something he almost never did. Jim writes that his encounter with HK that day revealed that he was a “pickpocket,” because he had stolen Jim’s heart.

And I would have to say they have stolen my heart as well. Jim Bradford’s story reeled me right in from the first chapter. We learn that HK was born prematurely under tragic family circumstances. It is a miracle the baby boy survived, but he is blind, has cerebral palsy, and countless other challenges. As I read about the enduring friendship (16 years!) between Jim and HK, I felt my emotions welling up inside. It is inspiring to see how Jim and his wife, Brenda, invested their time and love for HK–and how many amazing possibilities opened up for a lonely little boy who needed a dad.

This is a must-read book. The touching story between a man and a special-needs boy will have you laughing one minute and in tears the next–and learning to look for the unlikely to cross your path.

 

Love Letters from God: Bible Stories for a Girl’s Heart (Grand Rapids: Zonderkidz, 2017)

This picture book may have been written for girls, ages 4-8, but this grown-up girl (me!) finds it delightful. Stories of fourteen incredible women from the Bible fiLove Letters from God: Bible Stories for a Girl's Heartll the pages. Eve (The First Girl), Miriam (The Trusting Girl), Martha (The Busy Girl) are a few women whose inspiring stories are told. The author, Glenys Nellist, uses warm, easy-to-understand language to bring these Bible stories to life. Rachel Clowes’ illustrations are charming.

What makes this book unique is the lift-the-flap love letters from God that accompany each story. These sweet letters show a personal, tender, loving God who cares about each girl. As I read God’s love letters, I couldn’t help but mentally add my name on the blanks provided.

Dear Deb……Can you imagine how thrilled I was when I saw Eve? She was the very first girl I made, and she made creation complete. Did you know I feel the same way when I see you?

Talk about heart-warming! I’m excited to give this book to my granddaughter who celebrates her 5th birthday soon. I’ve written “Lucy” as the recipient of  each letter. She’ll be delighted to see the letters addressed to her.

If you have a little girl in your life, this book is perfect to show her how much God loves her. You might even enjoy reading it to yourself first!

You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir (Walden, New York: Plough Publishing House, 2017)

I saw my graMelissa Ohden memoir about being an abortion survivornddaughter Lucy’s face for the first time on an ultrasound when her mom was about 20 weeks pregnant. The clarity of her facial features took my breath away. I fell in love at first sight!

I couldn’t help but think of my experience with baby Lucy when I read Melissa Ohden’s powerful memoir, You Carried Me. Her birth mother was farther along in her pregnancy than when my daughter-in-law had her ultrasound. The circumstances were tragic. Melissa’s mother had a failed abortion. Instead of dying from the poisonous saline solution administered to abort her, baby Melissa was born alive, weighing in at 2 lbs. 14.5 oz. She was adopted by a loving couple who were willing to take on the special needs Melissa might have as a result of the botched abortion. Miraculously, Melissa had no long-term medical complications. 

She discovered at age fourteen that she was an abortion survivor. Melissa had known from an early age that she had been adopted. Finding out that she was aborted and then survived, threw her into an emotional tailspin. Her courage to persevere in the midst of heartbreaking circumstances is inspiring. As a young adult, Melissa began a decade-long search for the truth about her birth and her birth parents. The outcome is nothing short of miraculous. At times while I was reading this book (which I could hardly put down), I had to remind myself “this is a true story.”

Melissa is honest and straight-forward as she tells her story, yet she’s careful to protect the identity of her birth parents. The level of healing and forgiveness the author has experienced in dealing with circumstances clearly out of her control, is a testimony to her faith. It seems Melissa’s life was spared for a greater purpose–to become a voice for the unborn and an advocate for women, men, and children impacted by abortion.

A Spectacle of Glory (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016)

I’m always excited about receiving a new devotional book, and this book by Joni Eareckson Tada is no exception. In my opinion, she is one of the most qualified individuals to write about showcasing God’s glory. Joni Eareckson Tada devotional bookShe has done this beautifully as she has learned, by God’s grace, how to live with the chronic pain and suffering of quadriplegia for nearly 50 years. I can’t imagine…

Her inspiration touched my life profoundly when I read her book, Joni, in the late 1970s. She wrote about the diving accident that left her paralyzed as a teen and how she wrestled to accept that God could use her life more  to impact others from a wheelchair than if she could walk. Her faith and wisdom has only matured through the years. Her latest book, A Spectacle of Glory, is a 365-day devotional that offers comfort and hope to anyone who is struggling with difficult circumstances.

Each devotional focuses on a Bible verse, followed by a short reading that encourages readers to allow God’s light to shine through them, no matter what they’re going through. The daily offering ends with a heartfelt prayer.

In one reading, Joni refers to Psalm 46:1. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” She writes: When you are in trouble, God doesn’t just send help; He is your help. And this help is ever-present.

Joni’s writing is transparent, real, and encouraging. There’s a calmness and simplicity in what she shares, yet a gentle authority. Her daily insights will help you discover how to put God’s glory on display–how to say “no” to complaining and “yes” to following God as you walk the most difficult paths. I like this book because I feel like I have a friend accompanying me on the journey–someone who really knows the ropes when it comes to dealing with pain and suffering.

Handlebar Media provided a free copy of this book for my honest review.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014)

Product DetailsThis book is an excellent read for someone like me who can hardly imagine pursuing less. Somehow that goes against the grain. It seems like we’re a culture that encourages more–cramming our schedules so there’s no down-time, congratulating ourselves on our abilities to multi-task, to keep all the balls in the air at the same time. Is it any wonder we don’t accomplish what we want to–what’s most important and where we can make the highest contribution toward the things that really matter?

Author Greg McKeown says: “Essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done. The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default.”

I’m beginning to re-evaluate what I consider important. As a “non-essentialist,” I’ve often tried to please everyone, taken on more than is reasonably possible, and bought into the lie that you really can “do it all.” Then I’ve felt exhausted and frustrated. I’m committed to becoming an “Essentialist.” I highly recommend Greg McKeown’s book to help us find our way.