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Summer Reading Recommendation

I didn't do much blogging last week while I was speaking for 3rd and 4th graders at Arrowhead Bible Camp, but I was able to do some reading in my free time and I want to introduce you to a book I just finished reading. 
First, let me tell you about the author. Karen Young has sold over 10 million copies of her emotion- filled tales. She has penned romance, romantic suspense, and thrillers, but always keeps romance at the core of her stories.
After a nomadic lifestyle involving 25 moves, Karen has settled in Texas and fallen in love with its culture. Read Karen's full bio on her website and find out how you can be entered into her sweepstakes to win a kindle.

Book Review

When baby Max is kidnapped on the street during Mardi Gras, the Madison family doesn’t know what to do. Between guilt and blame and figuring out how to cope with the grief, this is a family in serious crisis. Teenage daughter Melanie rebels, while mom Jane buries herself in volunteer work and dad Kyle withdraws from the family.  When a new crisis with Melanie,  mysterious phone calls and a possible stalker add more turmoil to an already turbulent  situation, this family is on the verge of catastrophe.

I couldn’t put this book down. Author Karen Young writes characters that are real. They make mistakes and then have to cope with the consequences and I think readers can relate to their flaws. I found myself often in Jane’s shoes wondering what I would do if I faced such grief. The story has just enough twists and turns to keep the reader turning pages to find out what happens. The reader addresses so many topics that are relevant to our society and so many of a mother’s worst fears. She tackles kidnapping, grief, blended families, infertility, marital crisis, and much more which I won’t reveal for fear of spoiling it for those who haven’t read the book.

This is the first novel by Karen Young that I’ve read, but now I’m looking forward to reading more. I give this one 5 stars. It’s well written, timely, and original. 

I received a complimentary review copy of the book from the publicist in exchange for my fair and honest review.


Getting Organized on the Blog

I've been working on organizing the blog a little better and you might have noticed a new box in the sidebar. I'm organizing posts by theme and days of the week. This doesn't mean that I'll be posting every day of the week, but it means you'll have a better idea of what to expect on certain days.

Monday- Photo of the Week- I'll post a photo that I took. Something that speaks without words.

Tuesday- Everyday Ideas - I'll share practical thoughts, tips, and solutions for everyday concerns.

Wednesday-Creativity - Dedicated to all things artsy and creative.

Thursday- Book Reviews - Since some publicists ask me to post book reviews on specific days, there may be random book reviews on different days of the week. Otherwise, they will be on Thursdays

Friday – Faith and Inspiration - Devotional thoughts and inspiration for your faith journey.


What's Eating You?

I’m not exactly sure when it fell, but when I awoke on Easter Sunday, there was a large tree on our storage shed. Perhaps it had fallen during the night. Or maybe it had been while we were visiting family the day before.

The stump caught my attention first. Three feet of jagged wood pointed skyward where the tall shade tree used to stand. I did a double take and assessed the scene. Like a tall man on a sofa too small for his stature, the bulk of the tree rested partially on the shed roof with the rest spilling over on the other trees on the edge of our property. It had been windy all weekend, so it wouldn’t have surprised me to find branches downed all over the yard. However, I hadn’t expected this tree to fall.

This was a sturdy tree, big enough that I could barely wrap my arms all the way around. From all outside appearance, this tree was healthy, and it wasn’t until it snapped off that I could see the real condition of it. The stump was mostly hollow, except for a few sawdust remainders and later when my husband and sons began to cut up the tree with chainsaws and axes, we discovered the problem. When a large piece of log split open with the swing of the axe, hundreds of black carpenter ants scurried for shelter. With each split of another log section, more ants poured out of the wood. The splitting and cutting revealed intricate tunnels in the wood woven like a lacey sponge. But as the ants ate the wood turning its fibers into sawdust, they ate away the strength of the tree.

When the strong wind came, the tree had no power to withstand. Those little tiny ants brought down a giant oak. I imagine one little ant moved in and brought a small family at first. But as they multiplied, they grew to a number that had the ability to bring down the whole tree.

Have you ever met someone and wanted to ask, “What’s eating you?” Someone who spewed anger or negativity and carried a grudge for the world? That attitude probably started with a small larvae of bitterness. When bitterness first moves in, we might seem spiritually healthy. We continue to serve in our churches and volunteer for missions work. We love our families and friends and we care for the needs of others. We might be ministry leaders and teachers, but have a growing bitterness in our hearts. We hide it well. For a while.

When we allow bitterness to take residence, it multiplies and it begins to eat away at our soul. It hollows out our joy and devours our contentment and peace. And when life brings a giant windstorm of cancer, joblessness, family crisis, or disappointment, we snap just like the hollow oak.

Bitterness robs us of the spiritual stamina we need to live for Jesus Christ. It robs us of the ability to love unconditionally. And it robs us of the joy of our salvation. When bitterness tunnels its way through our hearts and our minds, we’re left with a sad emptiness. But there is one empty place that can give us hope.

The only hollow place with any power is the tomb of Jesus Christ. It is empty because he holds the power over the grave, and if death couldn’t take him down, it means he has power over the strongholds of sin as well. Because of his power over Satan and any grip bitterness might have on us, Jesus can fill us with a power that we never had on our own. Where bitterness has eaten away our resistance and stamina, he can remove it like an expert exterminator and replace those hollow places with the fiber of his own character. He can make us able to withstand more than we ever thought possible.

What’s eating you right now? Whatever it is, don’t let it live there. Let Jesus do some work in you so you’re ready to face the stress of everyday life and the big storms that test your resistance.

This article appeared in the April issue of Wisconsin Christian News.


Embracing Your Second Calling- Review

You May Be Over the Hill, But It Isn't Over

If you’re in mid-life, have you ever wondered if everything worth doing happened in the first half of your life? In Embracing Your Second Calling, author Dale Hanson Bourke challenges the woman in midlife to find meaning. I passed my 40th birthday last year, so I was eager to read the book.

Each chapter is well-designed with sidebars and callouts for practical application of the content. There are points for action, boxes for reflection, and boxes for tips and resources. While attractive, sometimes I found it difficult to break from what I was reading on the page to read a sidebar. Still, they were more noticeable than if they were at the end of each chapter. These action points would make this a good book for small group discussion.

Throughout the book, the author uses the story of Naomi and Ruth from the Bible to illustrate an example of women in the second half of their lives who do not just shrivel up and die. By coming back to that story in each chapter, the book has continuity.

The author is genuine enough to discuss her own failures. By dealing with her own shortcomings with humility, she’s a role model for women who have let their past hurt and disappointments lead to bitterness. If there’s any message to take away from this book it’s that it is never too late to change. Instead of a midlife crisis, readers can learn how to experience significance in the second half of life. The author says it’s about developing a resume of soul work and finding peace (pg.12)

Bourke has a narrative style that comes across more like a personal conversation than a lecture, which makes the material pleasant to study. My only disappointment was with the quality of the book itself. While I was reading it, the cover started peeling. There is semitransparent layer over the cover that is separating and peeling away from the printed layer. At $17.99 cover price, this would disappoint readers.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from Thomas Nelson publishers in exchange for my honest review. 

A Book Review for Diva's

Are You a Diva?

I received a complimentary copy of a brand new Bible study for my review, and in this book, you'll discover a new, more positive application of the word Diva. If you're looking for fresh group study material, here's something new to consider.

In Divas of the Divine, life coaches Donna Mc Crary and Sherri Holbert help readers experience true success in their spiritual life and in personal relationships via and 8- week Bible study. Subtitled How to Live as a Desinger Original in a Knock-Off World, the book uses a fun theme to teach.

The book uses DIVA as an acrostic for the sections of each daily Bible study: D=Devoted (daily scripture reading). I=Individual (applying learning to one’s own life). V- Via Prayer (daily prayer). A= Accountable (accountable to a small group and an accountability partner). There are 5 daily assignments per week and the authors say it should take 30-40 minutes per day to complete the homework.

The study uses Jewel Nights (Bible study) to bring members of the group together for a weekly discussion of the material. There is a downloadable leaders guide available for this. The authors also suggest SPA (spiritually pampering activity) days as a quarterly event to bring women together to celebrate their progress. A Diva's journal is available for purchase for some of the suggested assignments.

I liked the scripture references printed out in the sidebar and in the body of the text in many places. Not that a reader would study without a Bible, but it makes it easier to refer back in group discussion and in study. The book includes stories from the authors’ own lives as illustration and practical examples for applying content to real life.

The worksheets in the study are interactive and engaging. However, I think the book could have used more fill in the blank study and more room for the participant to write and interact with the material. (Although, I have and advance reader copy and this may be different in the published study). Some sections have pages of text that might be more effective if divided up a bit.

All in all, I think this will be a good tool for anyone seeking spiritual transformation and a bond with a group of women. I'm going through a Beth Moore study right now, which makes it terribly difficult to measure another study book against the depth and quality of that material. Groups looking for something in between a Bible study and a life-coach will find this to be a perfect solution. 

Since I haven't studied the material in a group setting, it's difficult to give it a full review. I think the group is the main part of the experience!


Before And After

I love before and after pictures. Whenever I start a new home project, I take pictures of the whole process. I go back many times and look at my pictures. I love to post them online, and I keep a scrapbook of all the changes we’ve made on our home since we purchased it. But it wouldn’t be the same without the before pictures.

What is it about before and after pictures that we love? We like seeing a dramatic transformation. The poorer the project is to begin with, and the better it turns out, the more we marvel at the change. I have a blog dedicated to showing trash to treasure decorating projects where I show something that many people wouldn’t want, and I transform it into something useful. But this blog wouldn’t be the same if all I ever posted were pictures of the finished projects. What people really want to see is the contrast between what something used to be and what it is now. The before adds to the wonder of the after.

As I think about how much we favor the transformation in furniture makeovers and home renovation, I can’t help but wonder why it doesn’t always work that way with people. Have you ever noticed that when we talk about someone who needs a spiritual makeover, we don’t talk much about what Jesus can do? We don’t talk about the fantastic potential within them as people created by a loving God. Instead, we tend to gossip about their depravity and how hopelessly sinful they are. We see the before picture, and we fixate on it.

I’ve also noticed that even when people have been transformed by the grace of Jesus, we don’t always embrace the before and after as a magnificent work of God. We’re skeptical. We assume they’ll backslide. Or we fixate on the before, and we still see the sinner and not a child of God saved by grace. I’m guilty too. Not long ago, I saw a testimony of a rock star who was famous for his very dark stage antics. He told of how Jesus had changed him. I admit, all I could see was the before picture until I started looking at some of the things he has done since giving his life to Christ. He was a stark contrast to the rest of the rock ‘n roll world, but I still labeled him according to how he once was.

When God changes a life, there is no need for shame or hiding the past. No reason to fixate on what used to be. No need to gossip. Instead, we can look at the before and after and say, “Praise God! His power transforms people.” That’s the power that scripture talks about in 2 Corinthians 5:16-19. “So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (NLT).

For the same reason I love to post before and after pictures on my blog to inspire people to try their own home projects, our stories of spiritual renovation can inspire others to let God transform them. When those who struggle see what God can do, they hear a powerful message about reconciliation, a story of how they can be restored to a right relationship with God through grace. Most of all, we give them hope, an anticipation that if God worked a miracle in us, he can do it in them too. By seeing the before, they can see the miracle in the after. Have you shared your story with someone lately?

This article appeared in the May issue of Wisconsin Christian News.

Love creative inspiration? Check out my latest before and after pictures of a chandelier makeover at Trash to Treasure Decorating


They Almost Always Come Home- Giveaway

Recently, I featured a review of "They Almost Always Come Home by Cynthia Ruchti. This week, her book goes on tour at many blogs and I have several fun features to share with you. Right now, you can get the Kindle edition of the book free at this link: They Almost Always Come Home

Cynthia's Story
by Cynthia Ruchti

Ten years ago, my husband almost didn’t come home. His canoe adventure with our son Matt soured on Day Two when Bill grew violently ill from what we presume was either pancreatitis or a gall bladder attack. He’s an insulin-dependent diabetic, so any grave illness is a threat. One in the middle of the Canadian wilderness is morgue material.

With no satellite phone with which to call for help, Matt took turns caring for his father and watching the shore for other canoeists happening past their hastily constructed campsite. The few other canoes were headed deeper into the remote areas of the park, not on their way out. None had a satellite phone. And none of them were doctors.

As my husband grew sicker, his diabetes went nuclear. He couldn’t eat, yet needed insulin because his liver thought it should help out by dumping vast quantities of sugar into his system. Even in a hospital setting, the situation would have been difficult to control, and the nearest hospital was light years away across vast stretches of water and woodland, through peopleless, roadless wilderness.
Our son stretched a yellow tarp across the rocks on shore and wrote S.O.S. with charcoal from a dead fire. He scratched out countless notes on pieces of notebook paper torn from their trip journal:

Send rescue! My dad is deathly ill.

Read the rest of the story at the KCWC BLOG


Book Winner

Congratulations to Diane who won a copy of "5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them" in my May drawing. Diane, I'll get your copy to you ASAP. 

If you didn't win this time, watch for a post in a few days with instructions on how you can get your name entered into a drawing for a fabulous gift from the author of "They Almost Always Come Home."


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