Archives For Top Pick

I have favorite books for every mood or season of life I’ve experienced. When I rate them on a scale of 1 to 5 (on Good Reads or Amazon), I give 4’s to the novels that are well-written, suspenseful, and engaging. I save the 5’s for those books that mean something more to me.

A 5 is for a novel that has helped me grow as a person, comforted me, filled up a crack or two in my heart, or bolstered my faith in God. I think Martha by Diana Wallis Taylor earned a 5 because it did all of these things. This lovely story brought to life a woman I’ve long admired. Martha was specifically mentioned in Scripture as a friend of Jesus. He felt at home in her house, visited frequently, and trusted her to make his followers comfortable as well. I loved how the author depicted Jesus speaking to Martha’s heart and making Himself a part of her life, as in this excerpt . . .

“The disciples, enjoying a respite after long hours on the road, were in a mood to celebrate. Thomas pulled a kinnor, a small harp, from his sash and began to plunk its strings, sending a simple melody through the courtyard. Mary picked up her lyre and joined in the music. Jesus seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself, his eyes dancing with the music. Martha suddenly felt like celebrating with them.

As the hour grew late, Jesus rose from the table and his disciples, ever aware of his movements, rose with him. Martha hated to see them leave. ‘Master, you are welcome to sleep here.’

Jesus at Martha’s hous

‘You are kind, Martha, and a generous hostess, but we will retire to the Mount of Olives for the night.’

‘Will you come again?’

He smiled and she was lost in the depths of his eyes. ‘I must travel a long way, but whenever we are in this area again, we will come.’

Jesus glanced to where Thomas and Mary were talking quietly. ‘I believe at least one of my disciples has good reason to return also.’ His eyes danced and Martha was filled with love for him—not the love she’d known with Thaddeus, but a holy love, deep and abiding. It didn’t matter what others said about him. She knew who he was.”

The author created a beautiful inner voice for Martha. I found myself hurting with her as she bids farewell to loved ones, struggles to release cherished dreams, and prepares to embrace a solitary life. The peace that Jesus gives Martha felt real to me. Both those who have experienced that peace—as well as those who are seeking it—will enjoy this novel.

Also, I thoroughly enjoyed the happy ending Diana Wallis Taylor imagined for her sweet main character. Did it happen that way for Martha in real life? Someday I’ll ask her!

***Available June 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Thanks to Revell for providing my review copy of this book. Don’t miss this uplifting story! Follow this link to purchase your copy.

July Giveaway Contest: At the end of July, I’ll be giving away a $10 Amazon Gift Card to one fortunate commenter. All you need to do to be entered is comment on any eligible post up until July 31st. (I will label the contest posts.) I will then submit all names to the Random Number Generator to determine a winner. I will submit your name as many times as you comment, but you also have a great chance of winning by commenting on just one post! Today’s post is the First Contest Post.

***So feel free to comment and also tell me if you’d like to be included in the drawing. Or you could just leave a comment to say hello. (We bloggers love that!)

Journey to the Well: You can order Diana’s first book from Amazon.com at this link.

About the author: Diana Wallis Taylor lives with her husband Frank in San Diego, California. Between them they have six grown children and ten grandchildren. She serves on the board of the San Diego Christian Writer’s Guild and is active in Christian Women’s Fellowship. Follow this link to visit Diana’s website.

Some days more than others, I hunger and thirst for the things that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy.” I long to soak them in and make them a part of me. Where do I find these sources of beauty? In any person, movie, story, or song that reflects the attributes of my Lord.

Without a doubt, My Foolish Heart by Susan May Warren is one of those sources. This story of healing and second chances reminded me of what God can do in the lives of hurting, damaged people . . . people just like you and me.

I loved the main characters: Isadora, who wants desperately to escape the trauma that haunts her; Caleb, a warrior who is fighting his way back from a debilitating injury; Lucy, whose bad choices have led her far away from the woman she thought she’d become; and Seb, a former athlete who is certain his best years are behind him. Oh, and I can’t forget the Coach, whose fragile body belies the powerful faith within him.

I rooted for the characters as they worked through their troubles and found some scenes incredibly touching. The sweet romance was a breath of fresh air. In fact, elements of the plot brought to mind one of my favorite old movies, The Shop Around the Corner–where two people who rub each other the wrong way in daily life are unaware that they’re secretly anonymous pen pals who are falling in love with each other.

If I had to choose one word to describe this novel, it would be Refreshing. And the key verse? Philippians 4:23: “Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves.”

I’d love to see this story turned into classic Hallmark–one of those movies that shows people at their best, living in faith, taking risks for love, and honoring one another with thought, word, and deed.

My advice? Treat yourself to this story. You can follow this link to pre-order a copy of Susan’s beautiful book!

Susan’s bio: Growing up in Minneapolis and attending the U of MN, Susan learned to love city life, although she’s a woodsy girl at heart. Or maybe she’s an adventurer–having lived and traveled all over the world, including Siberia, Russia, as a missionary for eight years. Probably that’s why her characters can’t sit still and seem to get into one scrape after another. They’re too much like her! Susan loves God, her family, her country, her church, and feels privileged every day to be able to write stories that inspire and entertain!

**Thanks to Tyndale, who sent me a copy of this book for free in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

Maybe all of us have asked the question at one time or another, “Is there more to life than this?” One of my favorite country songs says it this way, “You know I’m more and more convinced the longer that I live that this can’t be–No, this can’t be. No, this can’t be all there is!” (from Believe)

A book I read recently brought this strongly to mind. It put me through an emotional wringer (for reasons I might share in a future post) and sent me to my Bible to soak in some of God’s familiar promises. The novel is this month’s book club selection, Crossings Oceans by Gina Holmes.

Since some of you may have the same question in your heart, I’d like to focus on one aspect this significant story brought out: What happens when life on earth is through?

First, a story summary: Crossing Oceans, by Gina Holmes, is the poignant and lovely story of Jenny Lucas, who must “navigate the rough and unknown waters of the new reality in her life when she returns home with her young daughter to her stoic, distant father and her oxygen-toting grandmother.” The story speaks to some of the universal themes we all deal with—moving on from unrequited love, learning to forgive, letting go of the past, becoming a better person for those we cherish, and adjusting to whatever ‘new normal’ life throws our way.

One of the key relationships in the book is between Jenny and her dad. These two can’t even discuss the weather without throwing in digs and accusations.

 

The main source of misunderstanding between them stems from the fact that they’ve both been marked by watching beloved wife and mother, Audra, suffer the ravages of cancer. Since Jenny was a teen when her mother died, she sorely needed the comfort of her surviving parent, but her dad closed himself off behind a wall of bitterness. Only after many heartaches and wasted years, are they able to bridge the gap between them.

Look at how the following lines from the novel describe one of Jenny’s visits to her mother’s grave:

I knelt on the grass, ignoring the lumpy ground pressing into my bare knees. Though some found it sacrilegious to set foot on a grave, let alone sit atop it, to me it was as close to my mother’s lap as I’d get on this side of heaven.

Even as an adult, Jenny longs for her mother. Audra’s death has shadowed her life. We’ve probably all read about the process of grieving and the steps involved, even if we’ve never experienced them. Yet, like Jenny and her father, we’re reticent to speak of it, deal with it, or prepare for it. But we don’t need to be if we’ll simply educate ourselves from a trustworthy source. The Bible says that we were created to live forever.

 

I believe deep down inside, we all know this to be true because God has placed eternity in our hearts. We find ourselves longing for permanence. We try to build things that will last forever: pyramids filled with mementos, towers that reach the sky, unsinkable ships. Yet eternity may only be found in Christ. Through Him, we’re promised a new heaven and a new earth.

Just think of it: all that we love and none of what we detest. No more crying, sickness, death, disease, abuse, power-struggles, tsunamis, earthquakes, unemployment, poverty—you name it!

And I also believe that the more firmly convinced we are of our salvation, of Christ holding our lives in His hands, the more confident we’ll feel that there’s more to life than this. Not that we’re eager to see our happy lives on earth end any time soon! But don’t we all want to know that there’s more to come? That this life is just prologue to an incredible future?

Jenny believes it. After witnessing her mother’s experience with death, she becomes convinced that there is life everlasting for the child of God. While at the grave, she thinks of this:

I looked back down to her headstone. “Here lie the remains of Audra Ann Lucas, beloved wife, daughter, friend. Do not mourn her, for she lives.” As if I hadn’t see these words a thousand times, I stared, amazed at the profoundness of them.

Jenny’s new perspective also gives her an appreciation for the beauty of life here on earth:

I closed my eyes, letting the sun rays soak into my anemic flesh. They felt as nourishing to my soul as Isabella’s kisses or Mama Peg’s touch. The simple joy of breathing fresh air, feeling the sun and being among the green God created filled me with amazement. I scanned the trees with their heavy limbs, the grass cushion under me, and the wisps of white sailing on a sea of blue above. The simple grandeur of it all took my breath away. Placing a hand over my heart, I marveled at such beauty—so familiar and yet it felt new. I’d had all this at my disposal my entire life, but I’d never really appreciated it.

Jenny learns much from her mother’s death and comes to truly believe that she’ll see her again. Her epiphany reminded me of an old story told by Bible teacher and preacher J. Vernon McGee:

 

There is a story of sweetness and beauty which enlightens the heart of every person who has lost a loved one to death. It concerns a custom among the shepherd folk of the Alps. In the summertime when the grass in the lower valleys withers and dries up, the shepherds seek to lead their sheep up a winding, thorny, and stony pathway to the high grazing lands. The sheep, reluctant to take the difficult pathway infested with dangers and hardships, turn back and will not follow. The shepherds make repeated attempts, but the timid sheep will not follow.

Finally a shepherd reaches into the flock and takes a lamb and places it under his arm, then reaches again and takes another lamb, placing it under the other arm. Then he starts up the precipitous pathway. Soon the mother sheep start to follow and afterward the entire flock. At last they ascend the torturous trail to green pastures.

The Great Shepherd of the sheep, the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, has reached into the flock and He has picked up a lamb. He did not do it to rob you but to lead you out and upward. He has richer and greener pastures for you, and He wants you to follow. For as He promised:

“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I [Christ] go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” ~John 14:2,3

Now that’s a promise you can build your life upon!

If you haven’t read Crossing Oceans, follow this link to purchase a copy for yourself.

Follow this link to contact the author, Gina Holmes, at her website.

Lydia at The Overweight Bookshelf has written a great review of this novel and is hosting a linky list of book club reviews for you to check out here.

How about you?

  • Can you relate to Jenny’s experience?
  • What are your thoughts on eternity?
  • How should our view of eternity affect our lives today?
  • Any words of hope to share?

There will be a day . . .

And Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.” (Matthew 1:5-6)

Why would God choose to give Rahab, a former Canaanite Harlot, the honor of bearing a son whose lineage could be traced to King David and then Christ? Because He is a God of forgiveness, grace, and second chances. And Pearl in the Sand, Tessa Afshar’s version of an Old Testament story, beautifully depicts this aspect of Rahab’s life.

In the first pages of the book, the author presents Rahab as a tender young girl who becomes scarred by the customs and practices of her native Canaan. She recoils in revulsion when she witnesses her baby nephew’s sacrifice. Then Rahab’s desperate father betrays her by giving her away to a rich man for enough gold to keep his family for a year. These two events drive Rahab to despair, but they also eventually drive her to seek shelter in the arms of Israel’s God.

I read this book as part of an online Christian Fiction Book Club, and I’d love for you to join us for the next one! I’ll post more details about the November club soon. If you just want to trust me that this is a must-read, skip this section and sign up for the giveaway below! Those of us in the book club had a chance to think through the discussion questions included in the back of the book. I’ll answer a few of these here. If you’ve read this book, please add your thoughts in the comment section at the end of the post. I’d love to hear your take on the story!

1. In chapter 3, we see Rahab being drawn to the Lord. What qualities does she perceive in God that draw her to Him? I loved how the author portrayed Rahab being drawn to the Lord. First, she hears a tale of a Hebrew spy who cried at the sight of children being sacrificed in the Canaanite temple. The following lines relate her astonished thoughts:

“Rahab turned toward Debir holding her breath. A god who cherished life? A god who cared for unnamed babies? A god who could see Canaan’s iniquity and declare them beyond redemption? Again she felt that longing, stronger than before. The irony of it didn’t escape her, the pitiful irony of a prostitute of Jericho longing for the God of the Hebrews.”

Rahab views Canaanite society through new eyes as she contrasts the cruelty of her people with the compassion of the Jewish God. When she looks at her city, she says to the God of the Hebrews, “Am I seeing what You see when you look at Canaan?” Rahab then goes on to ask God’s pardon and experiences an inexplicable peace. This whole scene came alive to me as vivid picture of repentance. For I have learned that repentance is not real in me until I see my sin the way God sees it.

2. In chapter 21, Salmone calls Rachel his Jericho. What does he mean? I also thoroughly enjoyed the scenes between Rahab and Salmone. For me, the author’s spiritual insights heightened the romance and added depth to the budding relationship. Salmone refers to Rahab as his little Jericho, because he feels God has given him the job of loving Rahab enough that she will pull down her defenses and allow him into her heart.

3. In chapter 23, Salmone tries to explain the difference between shame and true guilt. Explain this in your own words: When Rahab can’t quite understand how God (or Salmone) can pour out mercy when she expects judgment, Salmone explains:

“I suppose our sins warp our expectations. I mean that the reason God seems to act in ways that make no sense to us is that our perceptions are wrong. Our expectations are subtly twisted. We long for things that harm us and run from the things that grow and heal us. We think good is bad and bad is good. God acts rightly, but to us, it seems confusing. Or sometimes plain wrong.”

His words brought to mind some of my favorite verses, II Corinthians 7:10-11: “Godly sorrow [true guilt] brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow [shame] brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.”

True guilt is produced in our hearts by the Holy Spirit for one purpose: to bring us to repentance. I John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.

So once we confess something and God forgives, it’s over—no matter what our feelings tell us.

Shame or false guilt plagues us when we doubt God’s love or fail to trust His forgiveness. We needlessly beat ourselves up again and again over the things we’ve brought to God. It’s a major victory in the story when Rahab is finally able to realize this truth.

For the story of another woman of the Bible who experienced God’s forgiveness in a person way, follow this link to A Cup or a Bucket: The Woman at the Well.

Here are some of the remaining thought questions. Even if you haven’t read the book, think about how you would answer these questions. Would your answers match what God’s Word has to say? As always, feel free to share your answers in the comment section below.

In your own life, were there ways your family failed to love and protect you?
How do you feel these circumstances have affected you?
Use three words to describe God as you understand Him.
What gives you your sense of worth?
How do you think your life shows this?
How do you think God feels about you?
What are some qualities of God discussed in this story that touched your heart?

I appreciated so many things about this story and encourage you to grab a copy of your own or sign up here to try to win mine!
I’ll hold a giveaway of my copy of Pearl in the Sand from today until Wednesday, November 3rd.

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