Books That Impacted Me Most in 2013

I enjoy reading and am an avid reader, but my ability to retain what I have read is minimal.  However, every once in a while, there is one book that has a message that sticks with me, impacts me, changes me.  Scanning through the list of books I read in 2013 (somewhere around 80), I can narrow down to five books that impacted me most:

1.  Accidental Pharisees, by Larry Osborne

This book is phenomenal in that it set me free in areas that I had not even realized I had been captivated.  If I had prided myself of overcoming a legalistic upbringing, this book showed me the new traps in our culture today that I had not recognized as being equally legalistic.  Larry Osborne opened my eyes to see how readily we embrace the worst of sinners but snub the weak believers.  There is no shortage of unhealthy Christians, myself included.  He also helped me to accept that my gifts and calling may not match the flavor of the day, and that is not something I should feel guilty about.  I read this book early in 2013 and I want to read it again.

For more on this book, read my review at : "Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith - Book Review"


2.  Reclaiming Love, by Ajith Fernando

Ajith Fenando showed me how to view the love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 in a whole new way, the way God intended. Before, I had limited the application of this chapter to marriage, but he opened my eyes to see how it is meant to live the life of love as Jesus did.  He showed me how to handle the weaknesses of others so that I can get on with the business of loving them and enjoying them.  I know I could still practice this more.  I should re-read this book too.

For more on how this book impacted me, read my review at: "Reclaiming Love: Radical Relationships in a Complex World - Book Review."


3. The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, by Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight, professor of religious studies, profoundly changed my view of the Bible and the Bible's relationship to me in knowing God.  He showed me that our relationship to the Bible should actually a relationship with the God of the Bible. He challenged the "authority approach" to the Bible that I was raised with, pointing out that the Bible is far more than submitting to an authority. Anyone who describes their relationship as such is missing something.  King David in Psalm 119 declares that God's words are delightful and he delights in them (rather than saying he submits to them, which sounds much colder).  You can read more of my thoughts on the blog post inspired by this book at:  "Are You a Bible Worshiper?"


4.  Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman

I picked up this devotional in a library book sale (fill-a-bag for $5).  I had never heard of it before, but as I opened and read the first week of devotions, I realized I held a treasure to be cherished. Much to my delight, six months later I discovered my friend Faith had been reading it too, and we both found strength and hope from this woman who compiled her favorite writings in 1925 while caring for her ill husband.  I am reading it again in 2014.

My blog posts inspired by this book: Sips from Streams in the Desert


5.  Banished, by Lauren Drain with Lisa Pulitzer

Lauren Drain's memoir helped me to see people as individuals in need of Jesus and His work on the cross, even people who misrepresent Him and hate others.  As a former member of the Westboro Baptist cult, she tells of her teenage years seeking acceptance, questioning, and eventual banishment from the cult and from her family. While by far not a great work of literature, her story touched me and changed me.  

My blog post inspired by this book and the ways it changed me are at: "Loving the Haters: a Changed Perspective"



When the Wind Throws Us Off Course

"God speaks in the language you know best - not through your ears but through your circumstances." -- Oswald Chambers

Sometimes we are smoothly sailing along, when suddenly, we are knocked off course by a strong gale, taking us by surprise.  We struggle to get our bearings and recover our sense of direction as we realize it isn't letting up.  

The circumstance that slams unexpectedly into our lives demands a response.  Do we throw up our hands and let it take us wherever it wants and conquer us? Or do we fight it? Or do we let God use it to our advantage?  

Just as a skilled sailor can use a headwind to carry  him forward by using its impelling power to follow a zigzag course, it is possible for us in our spiritual life, through the victorious grace of God, to turn completely around the things that seem most unfriendly and unfavorable.  Then we will be able to say continually, "What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel." (Philippians 1:12). -- Streams in the Desert, L.B. Cowman, page 30.

God will give us what we need to not just face it, but turnaround the loss into gain if we turn to Him.




Watershed Moments - Book Review

An epiphany; that moment when faith and understanding collide; a personal “holy of holies” where insight flows and new faith beckons; that unexpected moment that moves us to new ways of thinking, relating, discerning, and accepting life’s challenges; that point in time when we sense His presence and He impacts us with a truth -- these are “watershed” moments, which alter our personal history and the course of our lives.

I didn’t know what to call these moments until I came across Gari Meacham’s Watershed Moments: Turning Points That Change the Course of our Lives.  In her book, she shows how God uses watershed moments of change, awareness, and restoration. She shows also how watershed moments can be used to loosen our needs for control and approval and how watershed moments can be used to empower us to face evil with the courage to conquer. 

Gari Meacham reveals her watershed moments from vulnerable and difficult parts of her past, and she tells it in such a way that you experience both the hurts and the healings with her as she tells her story.  She weaves in Bible narratives and characters along with stories of other women she has encountered in ministry.

I had a watershed moment in my life as I finished reading the book and knew that God had timed it into my life to help me make sense of of the unexpected circumstance.  I knew I had a choice how to react, and through Gari Meacham's encouragement, she opened my eyes to intentionally reacting based on my faith in God and His sovereignty, to let Him teach me as I rounded the curve of this undesired change in my life. Suddenly I saw it as an opportunity for God to speak into this change, and as a result, this watershed moment became my personal “holy of holies”. 

At this time of my life, I really enjoyed reading this book, even though I didn’t find many new ideas, except for the concept of a “watershed moment”.  The book is easy to read and not very deep (quotes from Rick Warren and other popular authors), but is uplifting and encouraging.  I would recommend this book for women who want to find meaning in those watershed moments, especially those younger in their faith, to understand how God speaks into our lives and in our circumstances.



I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Letter to MarMar - #3, December 22, 2013

December 22, 2013


Dear MarMar,

It seems extra quiet here without you, though the ring of your laughter still echoes.  You have no idea how much I care because I cannot adequately express it without feeling dorky. 

You left for winter break a few days ago to be with your family in Texas.  I imagine it is an emotional time and that you are facing some ghosts. Remember how strong you have become.  Remember what you have found while you are here, even as hard as it has been.

Remember the vision I shared with you? You were standing on the beach, looking up at the sky, fists balled up and ready for a fight.  God then sent a hurricane-force wind and your long hair whipped around you and your hands opened up as you fought to stand your ground. But God wasn’t trying to destroy you or knock you down. The hurricane force of His love was penetrating every fiber of your being, and you finally relented. 

MarMar, when (if?) you come back for your last semester of high school, I will pray fervently for you every day that your chains will be broken, and I will know it’s not my job to do it.  I will let God do His work.

With much love,

Paula

Letter to MarMar #1


Letter to MarMar - #2, November 1, 2013

November 1, 2013

Dear MarMar,

I know you don’t need another mother, but it has not been easy trying to figure out what my relationship with you should be.  It hurts when you look me in the eye and lie.  And when you found out that it did, I think you hurt too.  You have been vague ever since, and I have let you be.

I spent hours worrying if you would come home safe, hoping you would not get behind the wheel under the influence of something that would bring harm to you or someone else. I have wrestled with what kind of life I would allow you to leave while under our roof, whether you were taking advantage of me, wanting to escape accountability.

But I also know that you probably felt hurt, hurt that I could not trust you, hurt that I assumed maybe you were acting self-destructively when perhaps you were not.  Please know that it was only because I care for you so deeply.  I want to spare you the pain and to cut the chains and set you free, but it’s really not my job.

With much love,

Paula


Letter to MarMar - #1 - August 16, 2013

August 16, 2013

Dear MarMar,

It was a month ago that you arrived at our home for a two-week summer vacation.  I remember the hugs and tears of reunion with my daughter Emily and how your suitcase exploded in the middle of her room, firing clothes in every direction. 

It had been five years since we moved away, and immeasurable amounts of water of change have flowed under the bridge.  In your eyes I could see both defiance and vulnerability, and my heart melted all over again with love for you, as it had when you were 6.

One quiet morning when no one was around, I knelt on the floor, laid hands on your suitcase, and prayed fervently for you.  A beautiful young lady of 17, you knew how smart and beautiful you were most days, but you were blind to your own strength and vitality.  You were stuck in a relationship that was dragging you through the mud, and you wanted to let go, but couldn’t.  I prayed that Jesus would set you free. 

On July 30, God showed me that I needed to be ready to go where He leads in the moment, that it may not be in my schedule or at my convenience, but that He would use our home as the place of refuge that would release you from the chains of bondage.  It didn’t hardly seem possible at the time.  I knew if it were meant for you to be here, God would do a miraculous work of shoveling away all the obstacles.

And He did. 

And now you are here. You are a part of our home, a part of our family. I pray that you will feel peace, joy, love, that you will find freedom and that you will fall in love with Jesus. I know the days ahead will be long and difficult, for both of us, but I am excited to see what will emerge from the refining fire.

With much love,

Paula 

Stripped: When God's Call Turns from "Yes!" to "Why Me?" - Book Review

Do you know the feeling of disappointment that comes with realizing that your destiny doesn’t line up with your dreams?  I know the feeling of God calling me to do something, and when I followed with obedience and passion, found myself on a totally different trajectory than where I thought He was taking me and wondering what He was doing.

Lina Abujamram, a pediatric ER doctor, felt called to full-time ministry and had dreams of the joys of serving Him with her life, but things didn’t go according to her expectations.  When I found her book Stripped, When God’s Call Turns from “Yes!” to “Why Me”, I couldn’t wait to read it, and I wasn’t disappointed.  From the first page of her book, I felt like I was having a cup of coffee with a good friend as she shared her story and lessons learned, and she helped me understand God's transforming process and gave me some excellent thoughts to ponder.

The idea of being stripped by God means the process that every follower of Jesus Christ must go through in order to become more like Christ and better equipped for His use.  Lina - I’ll call her by her first name because she feels like my friend, though I had never heard of her before this book – tells the story of her own stripping process as well as stories of others. 

Lina doesn’t just share relatable stories about the stripping process.  She biblically explains the obstacles to hearing God’s call, reasons He makes us wait, temptations we face in the waiting, the traps of pride and how God strips us of it, the comforts that hinder us, wrong expectations, how to go on in endurance, etc. 

Lina showed me that God’s purpose for me is not to do more for Him or gain more ground for Him. That is His business. God’s goal for me has always been simply to follow Jesus, to become more Christlike, to live by faith – no matter what, no matter where.

I highly recommend this book for every Christian woman who wants to understand God’s transforming process in her life.



I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Moody Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Ministering to Problem People in Your Church - Book Review

There is always at least that one person that is extremely annoying or that hard-nosed personality that causes problems in the various arenas of our lives.  And those people for some reason often seem most obvious within the church. 

The church can be a ripe environment for people to be victimized by those who see being right as more important than being nice or by those who make absolutes out of issues that others see as negotiable.  Church leaders and members who are willing to bend in order to keep the peace tend to give leverage to stubborn individuals willing to make a public scene.  This gives space for strong personalities to grab the steering wheel of the church and alter it in their own direction.  These power-seekers may have good intentions, but their impact can be destructive. 

Marshall Shelley calls these types of people “well-intentioned dragons” in his book Ministering to Problem People in Your Church”.  He opens the book with stories of complex conflicts within the church.  He goes on to explain how to identify these types of people and helps the reader understand why they act the way they do.  The latter half of the book, he provides practical strategies for not only dealing with these types of people, but how you can effectively minister to them as well. 

Some key points that I take from this book:
  •          We learn agape love most effectively in our involuntary associations, away from the temptation of choosing to love only the attractive.
  •          Boundary setting may seem  unlovely and cold, but it can foster spiritual growth by keeping needy people from being to reliant, relying on you instead of the Holy Spirit, using you as a substitute high priest, tempting you to usurp Christ’s role in the sanctification process.
  •          Ministering to those with mental illness is difficult and may make you feel like a failure in ministry.  We cannot help everyone, but we are called to servanthood, not visible success, so don’t ignore these people.
  •          Not every problem is a spiritual problem. Not every disagreement is a clash between good and evil.
  •         The key to a discipling and reconciling ministry is to see that people change. You must not dwell on what they were but what they are becoming and what they can become.
  •          Griping is the luxury of those with small jobs. 

This book helped me to feel more compassionate toward difficult people and more patient when conflicts arise. It also gave me courage to set boundaries instead of feeling guilty for not ministering as every person wants.  Even more so, it helped me appreciate the stupid things that pastors and ministry leaders have to deal with among the difficult people and quirky personalities in a congregation. 

If you are a pastor or leader in church ministry, I highly recommend this book.  And if you are not, but find people within the church challenging to get along with, you may be encouraged by this book and better equipped to cope with them.


I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

My Grandma Gave Me a Machine Gun

Grandma L. 1924-2013
Every year on Christmas Eve as a child, we would go to my Grandma L’s house for a gift exchange and finger food.  Between my two sets of grandparents, when it came to receiving gifts, Grandma L. was totally unpredictable and a huge success.  While Grandma F. gave her hand-crafted crocheted booties, capes and purses (which I treasure to this day), my Grandma L. gave my first portable radio and a toy machine gun.  Yes, a gun.  My mother was mortified, and I was puzzled. 

Did she know me? Maybe she did.  Not that I like guns – I hate them.  But I prized that silly toy because I liked playing GI Joe with my brother, and I finally had my own gun, and when I pushed the trigger, it made cooler sounds than his.  I liked it that she didn’t stereotype me or put me in a mold of what a sweet little girl should be or have.

My Grandma L. came to my birthday parties and graduations and my out-of-state wedding.  But it seemed we were from two different worlds.  We never really knew what to say to each other.  She never really knew me. And I never really knew her.

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2013 was to get to know my Grandma L., my last living grandparent.  Just going to her house to visit seemed awkward, especially since her dementia had gotten worse. I needed a reason to be there, so I asked my Aunt Sal if there was anything I could do to help take care of her.  She insisted that she didn’t need my help but would call when she did.

Visiting her in the hospital was easier, less awkward.  When she was there with a kidney infection, I prayed with her. I think I scared her.  I didn’t really know what she believed about God.  She didn’t go to church. I didn’t pray with her because I thought she was dying.  I wanted God to be near, to ease her pain, and bring her comfort.

She was in the hospital again a few months later, this time with a cancer diagnosis.  At 89 years old, she decided she just wanted to go home and not endure any treatments.  Again, I offered my assistance through Aunt Sal. 

The day after Thanksgiving, my mom and I were visiting with Grandma L. I don’t know why I had a hard time being more courageous to share the most important thing in the world to me, but the door just never seemed to swing open.

Until we were leaving.  “If only you could get me a…..”, she mumbled as we said our good-byes and headed to the door.  

My mom and I looked at each other. Was it worth asking her to repeat it or just continue on out the door?  I turned, leaned toward her lying in her bed, and asked her what it was she wanted.  “Get me a shotgun, so that I can end all this."
Me, my daughter, my mother, & my Grandma L


Grandma L. spent her life taking care of people who were ill and dependent on others for their basic needs, and now, it was her turn to be cared for, and the feeling of being a burden to others was overwhelming.  But with her words, the door finally swung open for me, and the words poured out, words of God’s love for her, His purpose and mysterious plan in her suffering.

Last Friday morning, I felt the pressing desire to go see my Grandma L., to read my Bible to her, to talk with her and encourage her.  Perhaps I would go that evening, or later in the weekend.  But that afternoon, I found out that she was at the hospice house for care because she wasn’t doing well.  My decision was set – I put my Bible in my purse and I courageously went to see her that night with every intention to talk about all the things that were never said.

As I sat with her, she would not wake up.  Two of my aunts were there and said she had not woken up in a couple days.  I decided not to be deterred, that perhaps even through her labored breathing, she could hear.  What passages do you read to someone who may be near death?  I opened my Bible to the latter half of Romans 8, held her hand, and read God’s words to her.  Then I turned to Psalm 23.  When I finally looked up and away from my Grandma L.’s face, Aunt Dee was still present, and tears were streaming from my Aunt Sal’s eyes.

When the nurse entered the room to turn my Grandma L. to her other side, she said that the end of this life was very near for her.  My mom was stuck in a snowstorm in the Ozark mountains, so I stayed to be her eyes and ears, wanting to be there until she took her last breath.  I stroked my Grandma L.’s hair, told her I loved her, told her Jesus loved her and was waiting for her with His arms open wide if she would just believe and go to Him.  

Grandma L. passed away at 3:05 am that night.  God gave me a vision, a vision of her arising and going to Jesus, and Jesus embracing her in His arms. 

.




Awakening Faith - Book Review

The pendulum swings from one generation to the next, and sometimes we may not even be aware to which side our own generation has swung.  Each generation may have a better grasp of one issue but completely blind to another.  By considering writings from ages past, we may see the blind spots of their age, but they also help us to see where our own blind spots are so that we can make corrections.  I was thrilled to find the book Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church by James Start Bell with Patrick J. Kelly , which includes the writing of key Christian teachers and leaders from the first eight centuries of Christianity, such as John Chrysostom, Augustine, Leo the Great, Ambrose, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, etc.

 From these first Christians who pass on the heritage of our faith through writing, the editors selected writings that are practically helpful today for spiritual growth and drawing nearer to God.  The writings selected are not dry, but spiritually insightful and are great for pondering, praying, and meditating.  The language is updated, so it is easy to understand, and the style is consistent throughout the book such that you would not even recognize it was written centuries ago. The selections are attributed to the original author, but the actual writings are not referenced. (I cannot comment on the accuracy or the extent of editing).

This little treasure of a book provides a fresh way of discussing what may be familiar topics to us without today’s lingo and clich├ęs, touching on a variety of topics such as who  Jesus is and what He has done, the significance of the cross, the character of God, enduring hardships, praising, prayer – what to pray, how to pray, how long to pray, the power of prayer, praising, serving, gifts.  I have underlined some great quotes throughout the book, like “In prayer there is no pride…” (Ambrose, 46) and “the way to rest is through toil, the way to life is through death” (Leo the Great, 2).

Each day of reading is numbered instead of dated, so you can start this devotional any day of the year. I am going to read it again, more slowly and carefully over this next year, and use it to pray over and apply in my life. 


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan Publishing in exchange for my honest review.