Category Archives: Book Reviews

“The Ambition: A Novel”

It feels good to get lost in a good book every now and then. To have the story sweep you up for so long that it’s hard to remember what day it is when you finally emerge from its pages.

Some might tell you that there is no place on a Christian’s nightstand for a work of fiction. Even Amy Carmichael, pioneer missionary and rescuer of children in India, adamantly said that her children had no need of stories that weren’t true.

There is something to be said for focusing on real-world writing that encourages us in our real-world living, but we can uphold the value of nonfiction books without discrediting fiction. After all, our own real-world stories are written by a magnificent Creator, and as we mirror His creativity, our own real-world life grows richer. Continue reading “The Ambition: A Novel”

My 7 Favorite Books of 2017

There will always be another book to read—a whole list of them, more likely. As 2017 wraps up (no Christmas pun intended), here are a few books I am grateful found their way into my list this year. Their reminders and encouragement and eye-opening chapters have shaped me in new ways, and I hope you find some of them as unforgettable as I did.

From Good to Grace

Christine Hoover

As a church planter’s wife, Christine Hoover is no stranger to feeling like “not enough.” No matter how hard she tried or how much she worked, there was always another need or another problem or another failure on her own part. Why couldn’t she do this Christian life thing? Why was it so hard to just…be perfect? Eventually, she came to realize what she shares with us: grace. As Christians, we stake our eternities on grace, receiving Christ’s sacrificial death in our place to remove the bondage of sin and death in our hearts. But once we go from unbelieving to saved and believing, we often—unintentionally—leave grace behind. We try to do the rest of it on our own, scheduling our devotional times and listing our plans of good works and hoping to do better tomorrow. But no matter what, we will never be enough in ourselves, and that’s okay! We have been given grace—Jesus is enough, and He has given His “enough” to us.

Read my review here.

A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny

Amy Julia Becker

To be honest, I can’t remember how I came across this book, but I’m so glad I did. Devout Christians and theological students, Amy Becker and her husband had dreams and plans for the family they were ready to start. But they quickly realized life wasn’t going to go the way they had planned when their first daughter, Penny, was born with Down syndrome. What about the perfect life they had envisioned? What about their faith? What about all the good things they had done? What about the future? Amy shares about those first few weeks and months with beautiful honesty, writing about her internal struggles in reconciling what she knew to be true with her new reality. In a world where babies with Down syndrome are aborted at a heart-wrenching rate, where a country without them celebrates its “success,” Becker’s story is a hopeful look into the questions and doubts that a parent can have in those early moments. Through it all, she brings her Christian faith heavily into her own wrestling, providing deeper insights and encouragement to share with others in similar places.

Continue reading My 7 Favorite Books of 2017

“Hidden Christmas”

There are some things that just go without saying. Or at least, we think they do.

The world is round. Gravity makes things fall (unless you’re on a moonwalk). Never shake a soft drink container.

But we haven’t always known these things. At some point in our lives, someone told us these truths for the first time—and sometimes we didn’t believe it the first time we heard it. Like the investors of Colombus’ day, doubting the likelihood of a round earth, we question something that sounds…shocking.

However, once we have decided it is true, these facts eventually lose their wonder. It no longer shocks our socks off to think of our planet turning on its axis as it spins around a giant burning star. We take it for granted.

Just like that, we lose our amazement to things that truly are amazing. Unfortunately, this is what we do every December. Continue reading “Hidden Christmas”

“You Are Special”: A Short Review of a Short Book

We are afraid of each other. Hopefully we are walking away from that fear and into fear of God, but we know and have often felt the deep pull of worry about what other human beings think about us—perhaps even as children. Stories can be so helpful as we work through heart issues, giving us hope and encouragement for continuing on, and, in this case, showing us just how ridiculous this people-fear really is.

You Are Special, by Max Lucado, may seem like just a simple story for children. But simplicity can yield deep insights–often showing us just how uncomplicated our issues really are–and, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.”

The short book opens with a description of life for the wooden people in Wemmicksville. Day after day, the citizens mill about their town while sizing each other up and pronouncing their own verdicts: if a Wemmick seems especially worthy they give him a gold star sticker, but if he fails or flops or is generally ugly, he is shamed with a gray dot sticker.

Punchinello always has dot stickers, never stars. After trying so very hard to somehow earn a star sticker, he finally resigns himself to his lot. But then he meets Lucia.

Lucia is different. She doesn’t give other Wemmicks any dots or stars, and curiously, they can’t seem to give her any, either. Not for lack of trying—some give her dots and some give her stars, but they all fall off. They won’t stick to her. Punchinello is intrigued, and decides to visit Eli the woodcarver, who Lucia insists is the secret to her sticker-free life.

It is Eli who gives Punchinello confidence that it doesn’t matter what stickers other Wemmicks try to give him; it only matters what Eli—his maker—thinks about him. While Punchinello doesn’t immediately turn into another sticker-free Wemmick like Lucia, he is given confidence to begin walking toward that goal. And he will be sure to visit with Eli more often.

You Are Special is a sweet and freeing look at fear of people and freedom from it. The story has its drawbacks: Eli seems to be a somewhat weak and distant representation of God, and there is no mention of the gift of Jesus’ righteousness that our worth is based on.

With those caveats in mind, Lucado’s story is a gentle introduction for children learning to fear God rather than people. And we will find much to enjoy in it as well, perhaps reentering daily life with Eli’s words echoing in our hearts: “The more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers.”

“The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard”

It’s a question that has shipwrecked many on their way to faith. If God is good, it always starts, why is there suffering? Why do people hurt? Why do babies die and families fall apart and senseless things happen? Why is there so much sadness?

The question begs for an answer, but needs something deeper than a logical response. It needs hope. From someone who has weathered pain and hard and suffering, but still has hope.

Unexpected

Kara Tippetts’ story in The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard opens with a less-than-perfect childhood, with parents who loved her but didn’t always act with love. Jesus found her in high school, and forgiving her parents was an early step in her new life. Fumbling through her young Christianity, she met and married Jason, and they had plans for the future—their future—but it never went the way they expected. In her 30s, Kara was diagnosed with cancer. Their dreams of church-planting and ministry and doing life together changed with doctor visits and chemo and pain and weakness.

Kara Tippetts died of cancer on March 22, 2015. Her words are still here, though she isn’t, and her story of suffering and seeking God in the midst of it spurs us on to find Him in our own hard things—in our own whys.

We Don’t Write Our Stories

No one ever has time for cancer. Just when things seem to finally be falling into place or life has found that elusive equilibrium, the disease announces its presence and all those other things stop in their tracks. Jason and Kara had just moved with their four children to Colorado Springs to plant a church, and they were full of big dreams and plans—good dreams and plans—to drive a stake in the ground of their corner of the world and claim it for Jesus. They were going to do good things, big things.

“Before cancer, I would have said I was on the journey of seeking grace, but in truth I was manufacturing my own faith. If I found a need, I did my best to meet it. My going, doing, loving was my faith, not my nearness to Jesus. In my mind I knew my efforts weren’t the substance of my faith, but my practice betrayed me. Stripped of my ability, I saw Jesus in a new and profound way.” – Kara Tippetts

Jason and Kara would still do good things. Even some big things. Things like write a blog that eventually had 10,000-20,000 daily visits. Write books. Care for their children. Share their story—even when it wasn’t what they had planned. And it was through never-expected, never-chosen cancer that they stood toe-to-toe with the fact that they were not writing their story. The good things God had for them were not what they had picked, but they were still good.

“I come to you in these pages as a broken woman, realizing that my brokenness may be my greatest strength—that it may be the greatest strength of us all…My season of weakness has taught me the joy of receiving, the strength of brokenness, and the importance of looking for God in each moment.” – Kara Tippetts

Life. Is. Hard.

Some may blame Disney, and others Tootsie Pop Lollipops, but the desire to seek and find satisfying conclusions and happy endings is wired deeper in our humanity than inventions of the last few generations. We want things to turn out right. We want God’s presence to mean the hard things go away, like a child who knows their nighttime fear will evaporate if they could only be with Mommy or Daddy.

That’s what so many of us look for, even though that usually isn’t what happens.

And it’s there in that disappointment that we usually slip up, choose a Christianese answer, and flippantly explain away heartwrenching tragedy. We say “God has a plan” or “everything happens for a reason,” and go back to normal life if we can. We’re not wrong. But we’re far from completely right.

Life is hard, sometimes breathtakingly so. To baptize it with one-liners without feeling the depths of that pain is not only naïve, it’s—wrong.

“What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good? How does our story of love change when we look head-on at my absence from this life? How do you live realistically when you feel like your moments are fading, fleeting, too momentary? How do you fight for normal in the midst of the crushing daily news of more hard? How do you seek hope without forgetting reality?” – Kara Tippetts

We don’t have to deny that life hurts in order to have hope. Our hope in Jesus is firm because even when life hurts, Jesus is still there, still in control, and still good.

As Christians, we know that even if we still face our scariest scary—God is good.

“My hope is not in the absence of suffering and comfort returned. My hope is in the presence of the One who promises never to leave or forsake, the One who declares nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:39). Nothing.” – Kara Tippetts

No Easy Answers

In this world we will have trouble. All of us. Just like everyone else who has ever lived. The whys are hard, and there is no easy answer. No complete understanding.

But we do know what God has faithfully shown us before: He is good—now and through eternity, in each and every story He has written. We can bank our hope on this, that Jesus who suffered horrific pain on that cross all those years ago will never give us a trite answer or leave us in the midst of our pain.

What we see as brokenness or tragedy will one day be reintroduced to us as His glorious redemption of our pain. Kara Tippets lives that reality in its fullest glory now, and one day we will, too. Until then, we remember how she shared her life and story with the world, inviting us to follow Jesus through all the whys and pain and hard questions to a marvelous eternity we can’t begin to imagine.

“Grace; it’s all grace. Jesus will be there; He will be wooing, loving, meeting my love, my babies, my community, my family, and you long past the day my words run out that beg you to look for grace—that long for you to know Jesus. Really know His love. It’s His story, not mine. It’s His grace extended, not mine. I have only been a steward of that grace, a simple namer of His unbelievably reckless love that shows up for one broken woman every single day.” – Kara Tippetts