Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

Betty Ford: First Lady, Women’s Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer (Lisa McCubbin)

Lately, I’ve found myself interested in reading more biographies. I suppose I am enjoying stories of the lives of others who have found success despite the odds. At the end of the summer, I was browsing the biographies in a local Barnes and Noble and the cover of the Betty Ford biography struck my eye. Mrs. Ford, dressed in a green pant suit, sits atop a conference table in the White House with her hands meeting just below her chin. With such an interesting pose, how could I resist reading her story?

What did I know about Betty Ford going into my reading? Very little. First lady who struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and ultimately had a recovery center named after her. That was it. McCubbin’s exploration of this remarkable woman’s life, struggles, and successes opened my eyes to all that this pioneering woman accomplished.

As a young adult, Ford was involved in the performing arts – a dancer who worked with Martha Graham in New York. After marrying her husband, she was quickly thrust into the public eye because of his political career. The Fords found themselves in the national spotlight when Jerry was appointed Vice-President after the resignation of Agnew due to scandal. Watergate would later bring down President Nixon, resulting in Jerry and Betty Ford taking up residence on Pennsylvania Avenue.

While in the White House, Betty was an advocate for women’s rights – most notably her efforts to see the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Mrs. Ford would battle breast cancer and brought the disease to the attention of the American public with dignity; her transparency and honesty about her diagnosis are credited with an immediate increase in women being regularly screened by their doctors.

The tragedy of her addiction to prescription drugs came at a time when the issue was not spoken of in polite society at all. What began as treatment for an inoperable pinched nerve that caused Betty tremendous pain, turned into a destructive force due to the fact that none of her doctors noticed the lethal combinations being prescribed to Mrs. Ford. After an intervention in their California home by her family and close friends, Betty defeated her personal demons and became clean. Rather than being satisfied with just her own personal sobriety, Mrs. Ford became an advocate for others who suffered and desperately needed help. Her efforts led to the creation of the Betty Ford Center and largely transformed the field of addiction recovery.

What do I think of Betty Ford now? I see her as a loving wife and impressive woman who spoke her mind despite the influence of others. She was incredibly compassionate and looked for opportunities to serve society before we even knew that we needed her leadership. Betty was charming and witty — always the ultimate hostess — who struggled with learning that it was okay for her to take care of herself first. After reading McCubbin’s biography of the first lady, I feel as through I know Mrs. Ford personally. I’m certain we would have enjoyed a laugh together and I would have cherished time spent with her. Our world could use another Betty right about now.

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#29: Unwrapping Christmas (Lori Copeland)

First, a word about what appears to be an error in my numbering system.  Somehow the numbers on this blog and my Goodreads challenge list for 2017 have managed to get off from each other. I still haven’t really figured out what is going on, but after repeatedly counting the books that I have read this year, I am able to confidently say that this is actually the 29th book of the year.  One more book before January arrives and I will have achieved this year’s goal of 30 books!  I’ll be more careful about the numbering in 2018, but for now….

As has become my tradition for the past few years in the week leading up to Christmas, I found some piece of fluff holiday writing to pull me back to a simpler pace and focus my thoughts on the important things of the season — family, love, and the Savior. This year’s Christmas novella was Unwrapping Christmas by Lori Copeland. The story centered around a busy mother who has become so enthralled with taking care of everything on her agenda that she has forgotten to care for the people she encounters, including her small family. When a fall on the ice threatens to foil her plans for the family’s Christmas Eve celebration, she learns how important it is to pause during the Christmas season — and throughout the year, as well — to make sure that what is most important is receiving the most attention.

This piece will not win any major literary awards. Its plot is easy to predict. Its message, however, hit me clearly between the eyes in the midst of a busy season. While I don’t recommend it be read for its literary value, it was a story that I encountered at just the right time. 

Now back to our regular programming here on Reading for Me…..

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#26: A Time to Stand (Robert Whitlow)

I’ve been trying to write this review all week, but things have been so busy that I simply haven’t been able to get around to it until now. I finished reading A Time to Stand late Sunday night on my return trip from a visit home for the Thanksgiving holiday. While I don’t read a lot of Christian fiction these days, Robert Whitlow’s novels continue to be some of my favorites in the genre because they are always engaging and thought-provoking.

A Time to Stand is set in a small Georgia town that has found itself in the spotlight after a robbery of a local convenience store. When the injured worker names an African-American teen as one of his assailants, police begin searching for him. The young man is found on a white officer’s beat. The officer instructs the teen to move into the light so he can be seen clearly. Instead, the youth begins running towards the officer, hands in pocket, when a gun shot is heard. The white officer shoots — critically injuring the black teenager — and setting off a racial firestorm in the rural town.

Adisa Johnson, an African-American attorney, finds herself in the small town as she cares for her aunt. Adisa also finds herself without work after she was fired from her high-profile Atlanta law firm. When she is offered a job with a local law office, Adisa is elated until she examines the string attached to the job offer — she must assist with the legal defense of the white officer.

Whitlow’s examination of police violence and its impact on community relations is nicely presented. With impressive clarity, the author shares the anger of both races as well as their fears and doubts about the situation. To further the dialogue, the inclusion of Adisa’s aunt and a local pastor as spiritual giants allows the reader to examine both arguments from a Scriptural perspective. After reading the book, I came away with a renewed understanding of the importance to fervently pray for the peace of communities large and small throughout our Nation while hearing the call that it is “Time to Stand” for Truth at any cost — even when Truth may challenge society’s consensus on the subject. 

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#23: Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon (Scott M. Gibson)

While flying home yesterday, I decided to take a departure from my normal novels and investigate a topic that I personally find extremely important and that has arisen in several conversations this week. Scott M. Gibson’s Should We Use Some Else’s Sermon?: Preaching in a Cut-and-Paste World examines the history of plagiarism in the Church’s pulpits and focuses specifically on the responsible use of easily available sermon websites such as sermoncentral.com. 

I am not a preacher or a pastor. I do not know the pressure of attempting to prepare a weekly sermon. However, I have been a faithful church attender. I have sat under the pastorate of men who had never spent a day in seminary and did the best they could to faithfully preach the Word of God under powerful anointing. I have also had the privilege of hearing wonderfully intelligent men present a finely-crafted and carefully researched sermon that was relevant and impactful to their specific congregation for that moment in time. Both scenarios have significantly contributed to my spiritual growth. Unfortunately, I have also found myself listening to a pastor present sermons found online. While the sermons were well written, they did not seem to have the power of personal conviction. Instead, I felt as though I was listening to a book report. How did I learn that the sermon was coming from a web service? Like most young adults in our society, I turned to Google. A quick search for a specific statement turned up the entire sermon — I followed along on my browser as the speaker read the material word for word. I found myself wondering if such presentations were ethical. If such excessive use of one person’s material was used in a presentation or document in any other field, it would be severely frowned upon — even if credit was given to the original author.  Why was it now an acceptable practice that should not be questioned just because a “good man” was delivering it from a church pulpit? Are the ethics of the Church diminished in comparison to that of other professional fields?

While Gibson’s book focuses on ministers who present significant portions of their sermons — or even preach the entire sermon — without giving credit to the author they are “borrowing” from, he does address the current trend of using sermon internet services. Gibson quotes Eugene Lowry, Emeritus Professor of Preaching at the St. Paul School of Theology, who states that “While not plagiarism, using these sermons [from internet services] is thievery of another kind….When we substitute purchased sermons for that personal reflection, we betray people’s time and trust and our own integrity. It would be more honest to have the real writer tape [on audio recording] the text, and to play that tape for the congregation. For the pastor to present someone else’s sermon as if it were the result of his or her own discipleship, training, and theological commitment is to bear false witness.” (Gibson, 71-72). 

Gibson follows this discussion with a observation from Ken Garfield, a reporter with the Charlotte Observer. In his 2002 article entitled “Internet Inspiration for Preachers,” Mr. Garfield concludes that “If all this leaves you nervous, you’re not alone. Preachers surfing for inspiration worries me too. There’s a risk of outright plagiarism, of course. But a subtler danger is at work — pastors choosing to take a shortcut to a sermon rather than putting in the effort that a congregation has a right to expect of its spiritual guide.” (Gibson, 72). Gibson finally summarizes his feelings about the use of internet sermon services with this statement. “What is the bottom line when it comes to these and other resources? A responsible preacher does the majority of his or her own work, possibly stimulated by various preaching resources [emphasis added], and prays to God for wisdom, guidance, and discernment.” (Gibson, 72) Personally, I fully agree with Gibson’s summary. Using resources is not the problem; actually, it should be applauded. The problem is when a minister fails to use the resources responsibly and puts all of their confidence in one man’s interpretation rather than faithfully doing the research on his own and then applying it to the Word as he understands it. I would much rather hear a less eloquent sermon that has come from a pastor’s wrestling with the text than reading what someone else has written. You see, I would rather know that you had spent more time reading the Word and listening to the direction of the Holy Spirit, Mr. Minister, than reading the thoughts of another man. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16)……not all sermons crafted by fallible men.

Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon? is certainly not the final authority on this topic. However, it does begin to raise an important question for the modern Church that must be addressed by ministers, lay leadership, and congregants alike and no longer swept under the carpet.

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#2: Return (Karen Kingsbury)

The third book in the Redemption series was my favorite thus far. Return shifts our focus to Luke, the lone son of the Baxter family. Luke’s poor choices and resulting guilt leads him to leave everything behind — his home, his faith, and his family — in order to escape his past. Luke quickly learns that outrunning unconditional love is impossible. This modern telling of the parable of the Prodigal Son will leave readers thinking about their own relationships while coming to a new understanding of the relentless pursuit our Heavenly Father in spite of our failures.

The more I get to know the Baxter family, the more I understand why these books are so highly recommended in the Christian community. I’m already looking forward to continuing the saga and plan to share the books with my family very soon.

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#20: Redemption (Karen Kingsbury)

I needed a break from crime stories, so I decided to head back into the realm of Christian family sagas. I have had several people recommend the novels of Karen Kingsbury to me over the years, but I have not read one of them before now. I decided that the Redemption series sounded like a good place to start with her works and was pleased to find a novel that engaged me while providing encouragement at the same time.

The first novel in the series focuses on the marriage of Kari and Tim. Over the years, they have become complacent with their relationship; ultimately, Tim enters an extra-marital affair with a student as a result of Kari’s perceived neglect and lack of interest. When Tim asks for a divorce, Kari refuses to sign the papers, citing her desire to fight for her marriage.

Tim turns to alcohol as he deals with his guilt. Kari learns that she is pregnant. The situation is further complicated by the return of Kari’s high school boyfriend, Ryan. Through prayer, determination, and lots of forgiveness, Kari and Tim’s marriage survives….until the unthinkable happens.

Redemption is certainly not a book that I would normally pick up to read. Now that I’ve finished the novel, I must admit that I have been charmed by the characters and look forward to following their story in the subsequent books in the series. So far, it is a beautiful story of faith, love, and hope in a perilous situation.

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#1: Seven Things That Steal Your Joy (Joyce Meyer)

January is almost over and I’ve gotten behind in posting here. That will explain why two posts will appear in two consecutive days. (I wish I would finish a book in less than 24 hours!)

The year began with reading Joyce Meyer’s Seven Things That Steal Your Joy. In this Biblically based book, Meyer explores those things in our lives that steal the joy that comes from our relationship with Christ. Thankfully, Meyer doesn’t stop there; after each joy-stealer, she presents a chapter on how to reclaim the stolen joy. This isn’t a book that I would normally gravitate to, but thought it would be a good reminder to start the year off on the right foot. I’m glad I read it and plan to be on the lookout for Joy-stealers lurking around my life in the coming months.

In case you are curious, here are the Seven Joy-Stealers that Meyer identifies.

  1. Works of the Flesh
  2. Religious Legalism
  3. Complicating Simple Issues
  4. Excessive Reasoning
  5. Ungodly Anger
  6. Jealousy and Envy
  7. Habitual Discontentment

 

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#44: Life Everlasting (Robert Whitlow)

Life Everlasting is the second volume of Whitlow’s Santee series and shares many of the characteristics of the first novel.  For my thoughts on that book, check out last week’s post. There’s really not a lot that I need to add that I have not already mentioned there.

When I reached the end of Life Everlasting, I found myself with several questions remaining. While the situation between Rena and Baxter has been partially resolved, the door is wide open for another volume in the series. Alexia’s relationship with Ted has reached a new plateau despite unexpected tragedy for the music minister. I really enjoyed these characters. Mr. Whitlow, if you happen to stumble across my humble blog, this fan (as well as many others based on the comments I found on your website) would welcome the opportunity to return to Santee to check in on our favorite divorce lawyer and those that surround her.

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#43: Life Support (Robert Whitlow)

The end of the semester was extremely busy this term and my reading life had to take a back seat. I’m happy to fall back into my routine and share with you the marvelous story by Robert Whitlow.

Life Support is the first of Whitlow’s novels featuring Alexia Lindale, an attorney in South Carolina. Alexia specializes in divorce cases, but finds herself in a new situation with her latest client, Rena Richardson. While on a hike, Rena’s newlywed husband, Baxter, plummets over a cliff to the rocks below. Rena immediately assumes her husband died in the accident; when medical personnel arrive, they discover that Baxter is severely injured and comatose. A legal battle ensues between Rena and her powerful father-in-law over whether or not to terminate life-sustaining medical assistance. The novel thrills with intrigue, deception, and legal twists throughout. As in Whitlow’s other novels, spiritual truths are finely woven into the book’s fabric. I found myself pausing in the midst of my reading to meditate on the insights Whitlow expresses.

As a pianist, I am especially fond of the character of Ted Morgan. Ted is a music minister at the church Alexia has begun attending. A gifted pianist, Ted’s improvisations are musical expressions based on Scripture that give birth to Alexia’s faith journey as well as music therapy to the comatose Baxter. With expressive description, Whitlow vividly captures the connection between music and the holy presence of Almighty God that can only be fully understood through first-hand experience.

Life Support ends with the ultimate cliffhanger that (I hope) will be resolved in the second book of the series, Life Everlasting. I see a trip to the library in my immediate future to continue the story of Rena, Baxter, Alexia, and Ted.

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#40: Grace – More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine (Max Lucado)

Grace is central to the Christian faith. We invoke it daily and its name peppers our songs. But sometimes I wonder if we REALLY know what it is. We’ve learned that grace is “the unmerited favor of God,” yet do we truly understand what that means to our daily lives. In his book on the subject, Max Lucado explores grace from lots of angles in a practical and approachable way.

Over the years, I have read most of Lucado’s books and have had the privilege to hear him speak. I always find that several passages virtually jump off the page and into my heart. Grace was no different. I’ve decided to limit myself to sharing only one passage with you here (after all, you need to read this book for yourself).

In Genesis 32, we read the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. After fighting all night and suffering a dislocated hip, Jacob realizes that he is struggling with God and declares that he will not give up until Jacob receives a blessing. Here’s Lucado’s portrait of grace based on this passage.

What are we to make of this? God in the mud. A tooth-and-nail fight to the finish. Jacob clinging, them limping. Sounds more like a bootlegger brawl than a Bible story. Bizarre. But the blessing request? I get that part. Distill it down to our language, and Jacob was asking, “God, do I matter to you?”

I would ask the same question. Given a face-to-face encounter with the Man [God], I’d venture, “Do you know who I am? In the great scheme of things, do I count for anything?”

So many messages tell us we don’t. We get laid off at work, turned away by the school. Everything from acne to Alzheimer’s leaves us feeling like the girl with no date to the prom.

We react. We validate our existence with a flurry of activity. We do more, buy more, achieve more. Like Jacob, we wrestle. All our wrestlings, I suppose, are merely asking this question: “Do I matter?”

All of grace, I believe is God’s definitive reply:  “Be blessed, my child. I accept you. I have adopted you into my family.”

Adopted children are chosen children.

. . . . .

God saw our lives from beginning to end, birth to hearse, and in spite of what he saw, he was still convinced ‘to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.’ (Eph. 1:5, NLT)

(Lucado, Grace – More Than We Deserve, 119-120)

Encouraging stuff, huh? Do yourself a favor. Accept the fact that most of us don’t fully understand grace. Then with an open heart and open Bible, dive into this wonderful book from Max Lucado. You’ll be glad that you did.

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