Category Archives: Review

Friendship for Grownups

I vividly remember the day I handed my mom’s hair stylist a picture that I had cut from a magazine and told him that I wanted him to make my hair look just like hers:

“Honey,” he said knowingly, “Lisa Whelchel has a team of people who curl and spray and tease her hair after every scene. Not even Blair has Blair’s hair.”

(Side story that has nothing to do with this book review….Fast forward a decade or so. I laughed as I told my hair stylist about how silly I was to want Blair’s hair back in the day. Then I handed her a picture of a style that I thought would work for me.

The stylist glanced at the picture for a nanosecond then said, “Let me get this straight. You get that I can’t make you look like Blair from Facts of Life, but now you think I can make you look like a 50-year-old black woman?”Well, when she put it like that…)

Well, this weekend I had the opportunity to see Lisa Whelchel way up close and my mom’s hair guy was wrong. Her hair really is that great. I have a picture to show you but apparently the earth came in contact with a sunspot right at the moment this picture was taken because the picture is….well, it’s a little wonky. (It may not be in your dictionary, but “wonky” is just the word to describe this picture.)

Trust me. Her hair looked great and she has beautiful skin. (I wonder if I found out what moisturizer she uses and then started using it if…never mind.)

In the picture, Lisa has just signed my copy of her latest book, Friendship for Grownups, a book that I recently received from BookSneeze. Insert required FTC information here: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

One of my all-time favorite TV shows was “Friends.” I felt like Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross were personal friends of mine. But they weren’t. In fact, I was sad that I didn’t have a group of friends like that in my life. I’ve had plenty of friends along the way, but I’ve realized that making and keeping friends after college, the time when I would argue that you need friends the most, becomes increasingly difficult and takes time and effort. We move a lot because of my husband’s job. I know that I need close friendships with other women, but I get tired of having to start over from scratch in a new city with people I don’t know.

Besides, sometimes I like to pretend that I am someone I am not. I’m not necessarily trying to fool anyone except myself. I just sometimes wish I were more of some things and less others. Because of that, I have a hard time letting people up close and personal with the mess that can be my life. I don’t like to ask people for favors or need them for anything. During my dad’s sickness and since his death, I’ve had to swallow my pride and accept help from my friends. They’ve seen me at my worst. I’ve served them unprocessed thoughts as conversation and later wished that I hadn’t been so transparent. But I’ve discovered that I have some friends who stick closer than a brother or sister. They’ve accepted me in my most raw, unfinished state and have loved me in spite of myself. If I hadn’t needed them so desperately this year, I could have easily missed out on seeing what friendship is supposed to look like. I want more of that in my life. That’s why I loved this book.

What I love most about Lisa Whelchel’s book about grownup friendships is the honesty of her writing. I have read two other books that Lisa wrote. While I learned a lot from those books, I didn’t feel that connection with Lisa as a person that I feel with some other writers. I felt like she certainly knew what she was talking about, but I thought that she was way too “together” to be friends with someone like me. Not that I often become friends with the authors of books that I read, but I like the feeling of connection. I certainly connected with the Lisa Whelchel who wrote this book. No, I don’t think we’re BFFs because I read her book, but I feel like I know her heart a little better. Her vulnerability is so prevalent throughout this book that at times my heart truly hurt for hers as she chronicled her struggle to learn how to be a friend and to receive friendship. I think women are most beautiful and attractive when they are vulnerable and honest.

For me, this book was not only a primer about friendship, it also led me to think a lot about my friendship with God as mirrored by my relationships with others. I’ve been thinking a lot about grace and how I receive it. From this book I learned how to choose a safe friend, but maybe more importantly, I was confronted with the idea that maybe I have not been the friend to others that I truly want to be. I’m not sure that I have always been a safe friend, but now that I know better I can do better.

Another thing that I love about this book is that in the appendices, Lisa offers questions for each chapter that helped me to think through what I had just read. She also gives very practical and doable applications that relate to the information she shared in each chapter. I enjoyed the list of conversation starter questions she includes as well. I like it when a book pushes me past assimilating thoughts and into working out those ideas in my daily life.

I think this would be a great book to read and discuss with a trusted friend. Having a true friend with whom you can completely be yourself and share your life makes each day a little richer and is certainly worth the effort.

Thank you, BookSneeze, for the opportunity to review this book. Most of all, thank you, Lisa, for writing such an honest book about friendship.



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A Kind of Book Review? Dancing With My Father

So much for my plans to post that book review I told you about yesterday.

That’s pretty much become a recurring theme in my life lately: “So much for my plans.”

Can I just lay my cards on the table? I might as well because the only card games I can really play are Uno, Old Maid, and Go Fish, so let me just show you my hand. Honest as I know how to be, I need to tell you that my life is not much like anything I thought it would be when I used to dream about my future. The big lesson of my 40s so far has been that life is hard.

Just to be clear, when I say life is hard, I don’t mean I’m bummed because Kohl’s doesn’t have any shoes my size in their clearance sale. I’m talking calculus hard.  Like uncertainties about the future. And more people who have had their lives turned upside down by stupid cancer. How about life-long relationships (plural) that without a miracle will never be restored? How about stuff that’s not fit to blog because it’s just way too painful and way too personal?

Yep, life is hard.  Please know I’m not trying to drum up sympathy, I’m truly not.  The fact of life is that it’s not just hard in my neighborhood. Everyone reading these words has a “hurt” story.  Everyone’s family is five minutes away from being on The Jerry Springer Show. That sounds funny but sadly, I really believe it to be truth. It may not be in your immediate family, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t have to get too far removed to find a story that would curl the hair of the members of your Sunday School class. (Don’t feel like you need to share your Springer story in the comments. My flat iron already has a full-time job.)

The cold fact is that if you aren’t hurting now, you will be. Jesus said that in this world we would have trouble but to not let that trouble trouble us because He has overcome this world. So He saw that all of this was coming. And He told us we can get through it because He’s already done it. He knows what it’s like to be us and He knows what it’s like when life is hard.  And knowing what we were going to be facing, he told us to be joyful. Not in a Pollyanna-“Isn’t life wonderful?!”-rainbows and lollipops kind of way…but in a down-deep to your core knowledge that life may not be okay, but your heart and soul is more than okay. It’s an understanding that this world is broken and none of us will make it without a Savior. It’s a secure hope that one day He will make all things new and we’ll live the life we were meant to live in eternity with Him forever and with the ones we love who know Him. Until that promised day, I intend to laugh myself silly every single chance I get even on days when I have to look really hard to find something that’s funny. I will love with all my heart even though my heart might get bruised or even broken because my relationships with my God and with other people are what make living here worth the effort. I will pay close attention to the details that make up an almost spring day because I know that as beautiful as some days can be, they’re only a poor copy of the home that is being created for me even now.

The book I’m supposed to be reviewing in this post didn’t surprise me with any super revelations or blow my mind with anything new, but Dancing with My Father by Sally Clarkson did remind me that in this life, some days more than others, I have to choose joy. It doesn’t just happen automatically. The book is full of personal stories from the author’s life and each chapter ends with questions that you could discuss with a book club or small group or use for your own devotional time for further exploration.

WaterBrook Multnomah graciously gave me a copy of Dancing with My Father to review and also sent me a copy of Mother-Daughter Duet by Cheri Fuller and Ali Plum. This book is about “getting to the relationship you want with your adult daughter.” My daughter is six years old and my mother and I have a strong, healthy relationship so this book didn’t have much for me. I will gladly pass it on to one of you to either keep for yourself or pass on to someone you think may want to read it. Your comment will serve as your entry and I’ll use a random number selector to choose a winner.

This may be the strangest book review I’ve ever done. I think I’m trying to find my writing rhythm again. I have lots of thoughts in my head that want to get out and I feel like they’re pushing and shoving and not coming out in a very orderly fashion. My apologies. I’d like to promise you that tomorrow will be different, but I think I’d better not make any more promises this week just in case “the plans change” as they are wont to do. But I do promise you this: If you leave a comment that says “My life is hard right now,” I will pray for you. Because I know what that feels like. But even better, I will tell my Father who knows exactly what that feels like and He can actually do something about your hard life. He may not make life easier, but He’ll get you through the next breath you need to take. I know He will because He’s doing it for me.

Life is hard. God is good.

P.S. I truly enjoyed reading about your favorite time of day. Such sweet minutes you described! And I imagined each one of them and was a little more cognizant of the parts of my day that are so very precious to me….as are you.

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Love Your Heart: A Book Review

Thomas Nelson Publishers sent me a free copy of Tim McGraw’s (yes, that Tim McGraw!) and Tom Douglas’s latest book Love Your Heart. I know a six-year-old story lover who was gracious enough to allow me to interview her on her thoughts about the book.

In case you didn’t get all that Vanna our sweet reviewer said, this is a book about a little girl who is trying to decide what she should do for the upcoming talent show.  In the end, the girl chooses to make a sacrifice to help a friend and her father tells her that of all her many talents and abilities, he loves her heart most of all. It’s a sweet book with pretty pictures and a positive message. It isn’t the Velveteen Rabbit by a long stretch, but it’s a good book all the same. The forty-year-old reading the book struggled a little with the logic flow of the story, but the six-year-old who was more likely a member of the target reading audience than her mother didn’t seem to see the same problems. I guess this would be one of those instances where my husband would need to remind me, “It’s just a book/movie/TV show/Geico commercial. It’s supposed to be fun.” From that perspective, I enjoyed the satisfaction my daughter received from the book. I like that the book features a strong father who loves and is supportive of his daughter. My daughter is blessed to have a dad like that in her life and I like to find books that portray men as strong and loving.

For the record, when I said “boy friends,” the space between those two words was not emphasized as much as I would have liked. We have friends who are boys. We will not be having any “boyfriends” in this family for many, many years.

My thanks to my lovely book reviewer. And to the Coney Dog wearing his Cone of Shame.

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Book Review: Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain

Thomas Nelson Publishers sent me the book Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain by Paul Meier and David Henderson for review purposes. I actually received this book about a month before my dad died. It has taken me awhile to read it because I haven’t felt like reading books with weighty themes lately. However, I specifically chose this book to review because I was interested to see what the authors had to say about pain and its influence on our lives.

The authors, both psychiatrists, divided the book into seven sections, detailing what they deem to be the “seven universal struggles”: injustice, rejection, loneliness, loss, discipline, failure, and death. I had never thought about subdividing pain into specific categories, but those headings seem to be pretty all-encompassing. On the one hand, a reader looking for answers about a specific life circumstance could readily turn to the section that most applied to him or her. Conversely, a book divided into seven situation-specific categories gives a broad summation of the subject rather than a detailed treatise.

The authors use anecdotes from their own psychiatric practices and biblical examples throughout the book to serve as examples. The book gives sound, grounded advice, but again, it was written in very general terms. Rather than gleaning new insight or different ideas from this book I was reminded of the sound truth that comes from the foundation of  my faith. It isn’t harmful to be reminded of what I know but don’t always put into practice; however, I was  hoping for a different perspective and deeper discussion.

This book would be helpful for anyone looking for a general overview of pain. Someone who wants a quick answer about a specific painful circumstance would also appreciate this book. For those looking for a more detailed examination, Randy Alcorn’s If God is Good is more research-driven and weightier. Certainly, anyone wrestling with this subject would also  be advised to read C.S. Lewis’s classics The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed. I think I’ll be revisiting those books in the next few months.

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Theology and Doctrine aka Easy, Breezy, Weekend Chitchat

Waterbrook Multnomah sent me a copy of Joshua Harris’s newest book to review. I’d heard of Josh Harris and know plenty of people who have read his other books, but this was my first time to read one of his works. I asked to participate in this blog book tour because I was interested in the subject matter. It’s a book about theology and doctrine, which at first blush sounds like dry reading, but I’m at a place in my spiritual walk where I’m not satisfied with shallow, surface facts. I need and want more.

What better book than one titled Dug Down Deep to help me “dig deeper” into the meat of what Christianity is truly about. Don’t let the words scare you. Theology? Harris explains that’s ” the study of God.” Doctrine is “the meaning of the story God is writing in the world, the explanation. It’s the explanation of what He’s done and why He’s done it and why it matters to you and me.” Chapter by chapter, Josh Harris writes a clear, easy-to-understand explanation of the basic tenets of the Christian belief. I love some of the chapter titles: “Near But Not in My Pocket” is about the doctrine of God, who He is and what He’s like. “Ripping, Burning, Eating” is about the Bible. “God with a Bellybutton” (that’s my favorite one) is about Jesus.

This is book is great for new Christians, but it’s also great for those of us who have been in a relationship with Christ for awhile but haven’t thought about the “whats” and “whys” of our faith in a long time, if ever.  I love that Josh gives his story of his quest for a deeper knowledge and understanding of theology and doctrine. He even discusses specific books he read that helped him understand difficult concepts. This book would be a great starting point and a reader who wanted to dig even deeper could continue with some of the classic works that he mentions.

The chapter that affected me the most was the one that discussed the sovereignty of God. Josh talked about looking out the windows of the coffee shop where he goes to write. The people outside the window have to focus intently to see inside. With just a cursory glance, they only see their own reflections and the window is more like a mirror. Josh explained that many people view themselves as “the starting point of life and reality.” This man-centered view makes their own thoughts and goals supreme. The work of the Cross becomes more about them than God. A biblical mind-set is completely opposite. God’s “rights and goals define reality.” The Cross is about God’s glory and His perfect love.

Why is this important? Well, for me, it helped me to realize that I’ve viewed the events of the last year through a self-centered mind-set. When I don’t like the events of my life, I feel hurt and betrayed. I haven’t spent much time thinking about my life from God’s perspective. It seems like a small adjustment, but it’s given me a lot to think about.

Is this the most detailed and in-depth book about theology and doctrine available? No.  Could Josh have dug even deeper in his subject matter? Certainly.  But this is a great book to get the conversations and questions started. It would be an excellent resource for Christian teenagers. I think it would be fun to read as a family and discuss together. So many people go to church week after week and leave without a real knowledge of what they truly believe. This book is an introduction to theology that even the newest Christian could understand.

If you’d like more information about how to purchase this book, you can click this link.  For more information about Josh Harris, check out his blog.

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PRIMAL by Mark Batterson: A Book Review

“Our generation needs a reformation. Bu a single person won’t lead it. A single event won’t define it. Our reformation will be a movement of reformers living compassionately, creatively, courageously for the cause of Christ. This reformation will not be born of a new discovery, It will be the rediscovery of something old, something ancient. Something primal.”…..Mark Batterson

A couple of months ago, my blogger friend Stephanie emailed me to tell me about an opportunity to read and review Mark Batterson’s newest book Primal before it was released to the public. Those of you who have been here for awhile know that Mark’s book In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day is special to me because gave it to my dad to read three days before we found out about his first brain tumor. God used Mark’s words to encourage my dad and he drew great strength from that book in the initial days of his fight against cancer.

Initially I was excited about the opportunity to preview Primal. However, I agreed to read the book before Dad died. By the time I received the book, I quite honestly didn’t really want to hear much about what anyone had to say about anything. The book sat unread on my desk for a few weeks. But I’d made a commitment to review the book, so I finally picked it up a couple of days ago. From the outside, it doesn’t look like a very big book, but it’s very big on the inside. As always, Mark’s conversational writing style makes for an easy read even though the challenges he makes are anything but.

Once again, I am moved by the fact that not only does God see and know the state of my heart, He continues to send me what I need for where I am. I’ve talked often over the past few months about how my Dad’s illness turned my faith upside down and shook out all the extraneous pieces. I’ve told you how I felt like my faith had become a big, empty board and that in a lot of ways I felt like I was starting over as I sifted through what I truly believed. This book is like a primer that took me back to the very basics of what Christianity was meant to be. The subtitle of the book declares it to be “a quest for the lost soul of Christianity” and it truly is. This book struck a chord with me because the past few months have shaken me to my core as a Christian. More than ever, I’ve wanted to know what and who I am at that core.

Mark Batterson takes us back to what Jesus Himself told us was the greatest commandment: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He builds on this theme by breaking that verse into specific pictures of what that kind of love really looks like. Sometimes the most basic tenets of our belief become so familiar to us that they lose their meaning. The Bible verses on which we hang our stated understanding of our faith become words that might as well be written in a foreign language. In Primal, Mark Batterson reminds us to heed words that we know but then details how we actually should be living those verses in our lives.

The beginning of a new year seems to always cause us to look inward and backward in hopes that we will be more than we have been in the past. I would certainly recommend Primal as a first read of the year to help focus on what really matters about what Christians say they believe. I rushed through the book last week in order to finish it on time and I feel cheated. This book is a sit-down, gourmet, multi-course meal to be enjoyed with intimate conversation among close friends, not a choke-it-down-over-the-kitchen-sink-on-your-way-to-pick-up-the-kids-at-school junk food snack. That’s why I’m taking Primal with me on my road trip next week when I’ll have time to read it slowly and completely.

Primal was published by WaterBrook Multnomah and they graciously provided a copy for me to review (but I would have bought it anyway) and they didn’t tell me I had to like it (but I do). They did ask me to tell you that you can purchase  the book by clicking here.

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