Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#27: Beyond Tuesday Morning (Karen Kingsbury)

This week, I returned to the story of Jaime and Sierra as they continued to deal with the loss of beloved husband and father, Jake, in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Three years have passed since the attacks. Jaime copes with her grief by volunteering at St. Paul’s, a small chapel near the site in Manhattan’s Financial District. Is she really dealing with her grief or simply going through the motions while memorializing the life she has lost?

While riding the Staten Island ferry, Jaime is accosted by a trio of criminals. That’s when she first meets Clay, an attractive police office from Los Angeles who is in town for training with the NYPD. Jaime’s world is turned upside down as she begins to realize that Clay’s presence in her life has reawakened feelings she has not experienced since before Jake’s death. Can anything really come of this new found friendship since Clay will return to the west coast in just a matter of weeks? Is this just infatuation or could Jaime really be falling in love with a man other than Jake? Beyond Tuesday Morning is a beautiful story of hope, healing, and “choosing life” as we search for God’s perfect plan for our life.

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#23: One Tuesday Morning (Karen Kingsbury)

This novel should come with a box of Kleenex and a warning to only read in the privacy of your own home. Tears are going to flow. You have been warned.

One Tuesday Morning and its sequel have been in my book stack for many years. I have avoided diving in because I was not ready to relive the horror of September 11, even in a fictional setting. I am so glad that overcame my fear and read this beautiful novel. Not only did I laugh and cry with the characters, I also began to experience healing that I didn’t realize was still needed. I don’t guess any of us really know the emotional impact watching the terrorist attacks in New York City had upon us.

One Tuesday Morning centers around two men and their families. Eric Michaels is a Los-Angeles based investment banker who is committed to his job and ignores his family. Jake Bryan is a member of the FDNY and a godly man who is incredibly in love with God, his wife, and his young daughter, Sierra. On a crystal clear September morning in 2001, the men’s lives and those of their families are forever changed. Eric and Jake meet briefly in the stairwell of the South Tower when Jake drops his helmet as he bends to help Eric back to his feet after a fall. Shortly after the interaction, the entire world changes as buildings and lives crumble as a result of the attacks on America.

Miraculously, Jake is found beneath a fire truck in the aftermath. He is alive, but he has no memory of his previous life. He doesn’t even know who he is. While helping Jake reclaim his memories and former life, Jake’s wife begins her own faith journey that ultimately gives her strength for the many challenges ahead.

One Tuesday Morning reminds us of the importance of hiding scripture in our heart and allowing its truth to permeate every fiber of our being. The novel emphasizes the importance of family and faith and challenges readers to re-evaluate their definition of success and the American dream. I am anxious to continue following the story of these characters in Beyond Tuesday Morning.

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#12: Destiny and Power (Jon Meacham)

Pulitzer Prize winning author Jon Meacham has written a phenomenal biography of the 41st President of the United States in Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. The book traces Bush’s life through its beginnings in New England, through his service in World War II, in the oil fields of west Texas, and throughout his political career. The final section of the biography focuses on Bush’s life post-presidency and gives special attention to his relationships with his sons George W. and Jeb.

I found the account insightful and humorous. I loved how notations from President Bush’s personal diary were scattered throughout the entire work, bringing a sense of  understanding and intimacy to the discussion. I was especially moved by the depiction of George H.W. Bush’s special relationship with his mother. The account of his final visit with Dorothy Bush before her death in the final days of his tenure as President was especially moving.

Mrs. Bush was breathing with difficulty, and Bush and his daughter [Doro] wept by her bedside. The president reached over and leafed through his mother’s “frayed Bible.” In its pages were notes that he had written her from Andover and a birthday card he had mailed her from the navy.

He held her hand, thinking of all the times she had lovingly rubbed his through the years. After a few hours he and Doro left for Washington. To Bush, the sight of his mother struggling to breathe put the rest of life in proper perspective. “I don’t know that Mum knows I’m President of the United States,” he told his diary, but “I do know that is not important anymore.” (p. 527)

As I realized that I was reaching the end of the biography, I began to wonder how I would adequately sum up the importance of this work. Bush 41 seems to be such an underrated, under appreciated leader by many. How could I possibly convey my feelings to my audience of readers? It seems as though Meacham recognized that his readers would need help in finding the right words to express the importance of George H.W. Bush. To help, he provided the following moment from an interview the author conducted with President Barack Obama reflecting upon his attitude toward the legacy of Bush 41.

. . .Bush, Obama thought, was “one of our most underrated Presidents,” and, in the middle of a late winter afternoon a quarter century after Bush left Washington, the incumbent president made the case for the Bush legacy.

“I would argue that he helped usher in the post-Cold War era in a way that gave the world its best opportunity for stability and peace and openness,” Obama said in the telephone interview from the White House. “The template he laid in a peaceful and unified Europe and in what for at least twenty-five years was a constructive relationship with Russia and the former Soviet satellites, and the trajectory away from nuclear brinksmanship at a time when things were still up in the air, was an extraordinary legacy.” As challenging as the world remained, “the one thing that we don’t have right now is any serious prospect of a great power war anywhere in the world,” Obama said. “Part of the reason for that is that I think George H.W. Bush did a really good job in managing that post-Cold War transition.” At home, Obama cited the Americans with Disabilities Act — something, Obama said, “that it’s hard to imagine a current Republican president initiating. . .So although President Bush was sometimes mocked for talking about ‘a thousand points of light,’ the fact is, even in his policies, there was a genuine conservative compassion there that manifested itself in working with Republicans and Democrats on the Hill to get some big things done.” (pp.599-600)

I highly recommend this biography for every American who is interested in the history and the challenges of the Office of the President. The men who have served and lead our nation from the Oval Office have shouldered immense burden as they attempted to make the lives of America’s citizens better. They all have had faults. Most have experienced success of some degree while in office. They all should be honored, respected, and thanked for their service — regardless of our political leanings.

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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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