Belonging By Association

I attended my first PTO meeting tonight. As I walked into the meeting after it had started, I was relieved to find an open seat next to the friend from church who had asked me to attend. The school owned several carnival games that would work well for a fall festival we were working together to organize but, the thought of asking to borrow these games made me nervous. I was not active in the PTO. In fact, I had never been to a meeting before and had declined helping with past PTO events because of family and church priorities.

Thankfully, I had a friend who was very involved in the organization. As I listened to her update members on projects she was leading, I felt proud to be sitting beside her. It was like I belonged at that meeting, not because of anything I had done, but because of who I knew.

This thought reminded me of another time I felt a similar sense of belonging. I was at the cataclysmic end of an awful business trip where nothing, not even the flight home, had gone my way. At my lowest moment, I cried out in frustration because I knew that, no matter how hard I tried, I would never get through life without help from others. At that moment, an inner voice broke through the silence to say that I mattered, not because of what I did, but because of who I was—a child of God.

We all have the opportunity to share this sense of belonging with others as we love family, friends, and even total strangers—not because of what they do for us—but because of who they are, people who matter to God. How wonderful that all roads, even those that pass through PTO meetings, lead back to God.

 

A Key Mistake

Romans 8:28 promises that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called
according to his purpose.” Click on the link below to see how God used bad for good when a problematic trip home from New York City led to my first published article.

AAA Living Article

 

For more lessons learned during this trip to New York City, check out the link below.

September 2008 Newsletter

 

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

(Romans 8:28)

Learn To Study The Bible



Before agreeing to review Learn To Study The Bible, I checked out author Andy Deane’s website and a sample chapter from his book. The site contained informative bible study articles and a well-written excerpt. Both made me want to learn more from this pastor and Christian author.

The first section of Deane’s book was everything I hoped it would be as the author described the four core components that serve as the foundation of every bible study. Deane then used the remaining chapters to share forty different bible study methods that readers can use to interpret and apply scripture to their lives.

While I felt that some of the bible study methods were too complex to commit to memory and others were similar to techniques already mentioned, there was something to be gleaned from each chapter. I especially liked the hand-written examples Deane provided to demonstrate the appropriate use of each method. 

 While there are too many to mention in this review, two of my favorite quotes from the book are found below:

“When we study the Bible, we should do so with the intention of allowing it to transform us. Our goal is not to master it, but rather, to be mastered by it.” (p. 20)

“An unwillingness to apply the Scriptures to our lives will inevitably lead to spiritual insensitivity to the Lord and to His people. If a Christian is careless in Bible reading, he will care less about Christian living.” (p. 35)

In summary, I believe that this pastor and author has a lot of knowledge to offer. He has motivated me to delve deeper into the Word and will inspire other readers to do the same.

 

Fast And Frugal Cookbook

The title of Dawn Hall’s book caught my eye. Any cookbook with a focus on being fast and frugal is sure to be a best-seller. I like how it is laid out with side bars that list the supplies needed and a grocery list (sorted by food type) to make shopping easier. I also appreciate the nutritional information printed at the bottom of every recipe.

Although there are several recipes that I plan to try (like Dawn’s Italian Mini Meatloaves, Farmer’s Breakfast Frittata, and Chocolate Mint Cookies), many of the meals are a bit fancy for the picky eaters in my family.

Even though I’m not ready to cook some of the unique entrees in Dawn’s cookbook (like stuffed french toast with sweet egg and sausage scramble, cherry chutney cocktail spread, and open-faced cranberry beef and feta sandwiches on toasted rye), I believe that more adventurous cooks (with more open-minded children) will really enjoy her recipes. Kudos to the author for making Martha Stewart like meals available to fast and frugally-minded moms.

That’s all for this review. Until next time …

The Noticer

I normally read non-fiction but, after hearing so many positive comments about this book, I decided to add a fiction title to my library. “The Noticer” proved to be a quick read and a great collection of life lessons that would take readers decades to accumulate on their own. The wisdom is dispensed by a character named Jones who shows up in the chapters at the very moment that his insight is needed (like when a married couple is headed for divorce or a business man is about to take his life to avoid facing an impending financial disaster).

What I didn’t like about these encounters was how quickly each one went from problem to solution, making it impossible for me to put myself in the story and learn right along with the characters in crisis. I was also dismayed when several of the life lessons presented reminded me of key points that I had heard elsewhere, yet no credit was given to the original source: like the comment made on page 102 when Jones (the main character in the book) said that “life is like a game of
Monopoly” because “in the end, it all goes back in the box” (this was the point of John Ortberg’s book “It All Goes Back In The Box”). A second example appeared on page 31 when Jones said that “all people—all lives—are either in a crisis, coming out of a crisis, or headed for a crisis.” (I heard Rick Warren say this during a message he delivered several years ago.)

Having voiced my two complaints (1. how quickly the lessons were offered up and 2. how basic some of the insight was), I must add that the very things that I disliked about the book are the characteristics that will make it popular with readers who are looking for an easy read with enough original insight to make it worthwhile. While every person will have their own, a few of my favorite quotes from the book are found below:

“Most folks figure a true friend is someone who accepts them as they are … But a true friend holds you to a higher standard. A true friend brings out the best in you.” (p. 30)

“Many people who worry too much say that they cannot focus … That is incorrect. A person consumed by worry can focus. Isn’t it obvious? Worry is focus. But it is focus on the wrong things.” (p. 56)

“it’s amazing …that a person could lose everything, chasing nothing.” (p. 49)

That’s all for this review. Until next time …

The Hole In Our Gospel


Sometimes you have to let go of something good, to make room for something great. That’s what author Richard
Stearns had to learn when he was asked to give up his dream job as a corporate CEO to become the president of World Vision. I loved reading about the many ways God worked through people and circumstances to convince Stearns to accept the assignment and God’s plan for his life. I also enjoyed the specific examples the author provided to show how World Vision is reaching out to the poorest of the poor to share God’s love.

On page 167, for example, the author wrote about a widow who lived with her children in a community perched
high up in the Andes Mountains. After meeting with this woman and hearing how she had prayed to God for help after her husband died, Stearns realized that people all across the world were crying out to God in desperation and each of us who claim to be His followers are to be His answer. (see page 167)

The Hole In Our Gospel is both an informational and inspirational read. One that challenges all of us to live out
1 John 3:18 as we love, not just with words, “but with actions and in truth.” Stearns made a compelling call to action on page 107 when he revealed that “anyone earning fifty thousand a year has an income higher than 99 percent of
the people in the world.” Knowing that the average American is wealthy by comparison serves as a statistical reminder of our ability and our responsibility to reach out to the remaining 1 percent.

This book is very well written and I recommend it to all who are looking to close the gap between what they
believe and who they reflect.

That’s all for this review. Until next time …

This Is Your Brain On Joy

I was excited to read this book because it offers help for people suffering from anger, depression, mood swings, anxiety, and addictions. Millions of people struggle with one or more of these disorders, yet few understand that the problem might lie—not with them—but within them “in a very fixable part of their brains’ anatomy.”

This Is Your Brain On Joy begins with a brief introduction to the author and how he came to write the book. Earl Henslin was raised by parents who struggled to verbalize affection, demonstrate physical love, and show open-faced, smiling joy. This background of sensory deprivation led Henslin to develop an almost insatiable curiosity, even fascination, with the subject.

This Is Your Brain On Joy is a reflection of the passion that Earl Henslin has for bringing “brain science into the average Christian home where couples are struggling to love each other.” I particularly enjoyed the real-life examples where people with a history of abusive behavior were given a brain scan that revealed a fixable condition. Like the eighty-year-old angry man who was so difficult to be with that his grandchildren never wanted to visit him. A brain scan revealed an injury in this man’s temporal lobe, caused by a childhood accident where he stood too close to
the batter and received a thud to the head that knocked him out. Dr. Henslin suggested “an antiseizure medication that is especially helpful in calming the temporal lobes” and within forty-eight hours, the man felt so relaxed and calm
that he told his son, “So is this the way other people feel?’

Dr. Henslin’s empathy for other people is evident throughout his book. I especially like this quote from chapter two where he writes: when I ponder what I would like my legacy to be, at least in part it would be for people to say, “Dr. Henslin helped me to be more compassionate to others, and toward myself, through a deeper understanding of the Bible and the brain.”

After reading This Is Your Brain On Joy, I feel that I have a deeper understanding of both. I learned, for example, that Jesus’ command to “Be perfect” in Matthew 5:48 is, in fact, a call to be more compassionate.  I felt this compassion when a friend told me that her daughter was struggling to overcome her fears and I told her about Henslin’s book and how he referred to the Basal Ganglia part of the brain as the “basement of giant fears”.

While the author is at times a bit academic and the suggestions offered for each mood disorder can be a bit overwhelming, I recommend This Is Your Brain On Joy to anyone who is struggling to find more joy in life. It is definitely a worthwhile read.

 

Something Easy

Hosting nine girls for a sleepover requires a lot of bedding.

“What can I do to help?” Bill asked after I called him downstairs to help me clean up.

“There are sleeping bags to roll up, an air mattress to deflate, bedding to take upstairs—”

“Don’t you have something easy?” he interrupted.

I wasn’t surprised by his question. It’s human nature to look for the simplest way out. I know this because, despite all that Jesus has done for us, many of us still complain or try to get out of the work that God is calling us to do.

I could have reminded Bill that I was the one who lugged everything downstairs the night before.  And that I had stayed up until 2 a.m. to make sure the girls were taken care of. I could have said those things … but I didn’t. Instead, I gave my husband of fifteen years an understanding look and said, “Why don’t you carry the black throw up to the living room?”

Bill quickly accepted my offer and retrieved it from the floor. A short while later, as I carried yet another load of blankets upstairs, I heard him vacuuming the bedroom floors. Seeing my spouse motivated by his momentary momentum made me wonder if God works in the same way.

We may act like we want life to move at the speed of light but the reality is: When the opportunity to take a giant leap forward comes along, most of us balk at the challenge. Thankfully, God understands and gives us just enough light for the step we’re on as he reveals, one easy task at a time, that we are capable of so much more.

 

Too Tired To Go On

Watching Barack Obama’s inauguration on television in January of 2009 reminded me of the year that my daughters and I stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Actually, I and Hollie stood on the steps as we watched Katie lie down in protest because she couldn’t take another step. I find it interesting that, at the same place where my daughter decided she was too tired to go on, another person now stood ready to take over.

How many times have we forgotten that we have someone to turn to when we’re exhausted? That when our life is spinning out of control because we have too much to do in very little time, there’s someone much more qualified than us to manage our To Do list? My prayer for President Obama’s years in office is that he (and all of us) will remember that, with God on the throne, we are never alone: He is with us every step of the way.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28

If Yes Then Press

While attending a women’s conference one weekend, speaker and event founder Jill Savage shared a parenting
technique she used when deciding which battles to pick with her kids.

Jill first explained that, whenever she had to decide whether to stand firm on an issue, she would
ask herself: “Will this matter in fifteen years?”

“If the answer is yes then fight,” she told the 5,061 women in attendance through clenched fists that
made her look like a boxer ready to face an opponent.

“If the answer is no, then let it go,” she added while relaxing her hands and moving them in the same
way that an umpire does when he announces that a batter is safe.

Little did I know that I would be applying Jill’s technique when I arrived home to find that the custom curtains installed in our living room while I was away did not look like the ones I had ordered.

“The panels are supposed to have a strip of lighter-colored fabric along the edge to match the cornice,” I told my husband.

“I wish you’d have scheduled the installers to come on a day you were going to be here,” Bill replied.

I do too, I thought to myself as I stared at the curtains and wondered what to do next.

“God promises to use bad for good,” I said after calling on Romans 8:28 for comfort, “since the curtains are covering more of the window than we thought they would, maybe this means we should order tie backs in the lighter-colored fabric instead.”

Bill agreed with my assessment and headed upstairs as I checked the doors and turned out the lights. Knowing that “God works for the good of those who love him” should have been all that I needed for a good night’s sleep. Instead, I tossed and turned as I thought about how someone else’s mistake was now mine to correct.

The more I thought about this newest item on my To Do list, the more irritated I became. To calm myself down, I remembered what Jill Savage said at the conference and asked myself: “Will this matter in fifteen years?”

Knowing that the answer was no, I took her advice and let it go. The technique worked so well to clear the mental air  that I decided to turn it into a rhyme that I teach to my children. I offer it to you in the hope that it will help you while parenting yours:

 

To reduce stress and minimize tears,

ask will this matter in fifteen years.

If yes, then press. If no, let it go.