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Faith, Courage, and Victory by Katy Kauffman (a review)

Over the years, I have used literally countless Bible studies, and  Faith,Courage, and Victory: The Stories, Struggles, and Triumphs of 24 Characters of the Bible by Katy Kauffman  ranks as one of the top three or four of all.

Within a few days of beginning this 40-day study, it was apparent  why it is the Selah award winner for Bible studies in 2016. Faith, Courage, and Victory stands out — and above — the rest of the crowd of Bible studies for several reasons.

First, the format of each day’s lesson is different than the vast majority of Bible studies.. Most, if not all, studies I’ve done in the past open with a Bible verse or passage, followed by the discussion of that passage (which takes up the bulk of the lesson), a shorter explanation of application, and possibly study questions to complete,

Kauffman instead opens all but a few of the readings with a real-life or true contemporary narrative before introducing the Biblical character and discussing them and the relevance of their story to life today. She brings each of the 40 lessons to a close with several questions and a short prayer.

The real-life narratives Kauffman opens with are imminently relevant and, therefore, captured my attention; in turn, I was eager each morning to see how God addresses the issues encountered  by so many of us today.

Kauffman also includes in each chapter the Bible passages that tell the story of the Biblical character (some chapters also have 1 or a few references to related Scriptures that are not included).

While this may seem like a minor benefit, it allows the reader to carry the book in his/her briefcase or purse and, when faced with a block of quiet time in their day, read one of the chapters wherever they might be. In a world in which it is simply assumed that everyone has access to an online Bible or wifi at all times, it’s wonderful to find an author who realizes that some people do not.

Another strength of “Faith, Courage, and Victory” is that while each day’s lesson is clear and easily digested, it does not lack depth. For the past 20 days, I have completed the Bible study each morning, gained valuable insight, and then gone about my day.

Each of those 20 days, at least one nugget from the lesson has come to mind as I’ve gone about my daily routine; those nuggets remind me of the lesson of that day’s chapter, cause me to contemplate them more fully and to realize yet another way the chapter and its message — and God’s Word — is relevant to life today.

Kauffman’s writing style is particularly impressive.. She uses language extremely well; she writes clearly and concisely yet still creates a flow that draws the reader from sentence to sentence smoothly, even lyrically. And in a day when ebooks and even hard-copy books with obvious grammatical and mechanical errors are commonplace, Faith, Courage, and Victory is a welcome rarity — an extremely well edited book.

At the end of the book, Kauffman provides a “Scrapbooked Bible Study” that explains (with illustrations!) how to create take-away cards. These take-away cards are a wonderful resource for memorizing Scripture and Biblical principles and for posting throughout the house, etc. to remind the reader of key points from the book.

Of course, the very-clear instructions for creating these cards have numerous applications. A great resource that I haven’t found anywhere else!

In short, if you are looking for a enlightening, engaging Bible study for either personal or group (a leader’s guide is provided in the back of the book), this is an excellent choice!

Faith, Courage, and Victory is published by Lighthouse Bible Studies (2015).

(I mentioned in a discussion group that I was planning to use this study and review it here; the author saw my post and offered me a free copy; she explained that she wanted nothing but an honest review in return, and that is what I have provided here.)

Captives, by Megan Whitson Lee (a review)

Oh how glad I am to be back on my blog. I won’t go into any detail — too long, too boring, and I don’t want to relive it all in the telling — but the past 6 weeks have been incredibly stressful and busy beyond belief. 

As I return to the blog, I’m revamping my posting schedule and my content. From here on out, I will talk about writing and my writing life each Tuesday; my plan is to share information that might be helpful and interesting. On Thursdays, I will post a review of a book.

So let’s get to my first review!

From the first line of the prologue  — “Amy’s coffin had been closed for over an hour, but Douglas Timothy still couldn’t get the image of his daughter’s dead body out of his mind.” — to the last word of the epilogue, Captives, by Megan Whitson Lee, is a captivating tale of the very-relevant issue of sex trafficking.

But Lee’s novel isn’t the grim, depressing novel you might expect; rather, it is inspiring and uplifting.

The story is told from the perspective of three individuals — the sister of a missing girl, a former sex trafficking victim who helps hunt for the missing girl, and a young man struggling with a secret sex addiction.

Each of Lee’s three narrators is realistic and complex, flawed but not without redeeming qualities. Each could be a coworker or the person who sits next to you on the bus as you commute to work or the person you chat with from time to time at the gym. They are “real”.

Their individual stories are woven together to create a plot that holds more than a few surprises without being contrived or unbelievable. As the reader follows the three narrators’ struggles to find what they are looking for — a lost girl, escape from the demon of pornography addiction, some measure of peace — they get a close-up look at the devastation wrought from the self-trafficking that plagues our culture.

At the same time, however, Lee shows that through the efforts of tireless and heroic individuals and groups, sex trafficking can be fought and individuals caught up in it in one way or another can be saved, not only physically but spiritually.

Captives is a book that will grab your attention and keep it long after you’ve read the last word. It is a book that can change lives for the better.

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After I shared with authors and editors that I was interested in reading books and posting honest, unbiased reviews on my blog, Facebook, etc., I was provided a free copy of this book to review. I have, in turn, provided my honest opinion of this novel.

 

 

Growth of a Different Kind

I’m very excited to again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is “grow“. My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set 

Shhh . . . don’t tell Kate or the rest of the Five Minute Friday ladies (they are all ladies, aren’t they?), but I’m cheating this week.

When I first saw this week’s prompt, my first thought was “uh-oh”. Growth is not something I give much thought to. Determined to write, though, I set my timer and wrote a lovely (if I may say so myself) post about the beautiful flowers that greet my eye when I look out any window of my current home.

But truth be told, the post didn’t feel authentic. It felt forced, fake. I deleted it. Every single word.

Instead, here’s the unvarnished truth about my gut response to the prompt “growth”.

I know, it’s late Spring, so for most people “growth” conjures up thoughts of Spring flowers — daffodils and lilies — and new life and babies and a myriad of cute and wonderful things.

But I’m at a point in my life where “growth” can be an ugly thing. A very ugly thing.

Take, for example, my thighs. (Yes, I was very tempted to channel Henny Youngman, but I resisted — you younger folks can google his name and “take my” to see what I’m referring to)  Back to my thighs.

Early last week, I slipped on a pair of slim capris that I hadn’t worn since last August or early September. I was shocked to see that my thighs had, without my knowledge, experienced some growth in the last 8 months. I’m not shocked because it happened — my 16-hour a week commute this past semester has resulted in my being far more sedentary than usual — but I’m surprised that I hadn’t noticed before now.

Other than shorts and capris, I wear the same type of clothing in the Fall and Winter as I do in the Spring and Summer — skirts, pants, an occasional dress — and I get dressed and undressed at least twice a day. How could my thighs have grown without my being aware of it?

I thought perhaps that particular pair of capris had shrunk the last time I washed them, so I tried on another pair. Hmmm . . . and then I tried on a pair of shorts. Oh my! Well, no need to slip into — or force myself into — one of my swimsuits. It’s not the capris. My thighs have experienced growth. Unwelcome, unwanted growth.

And here’s another thing. Just the other day I was sitting in my car at an intersection, patiently (okay, not really so patiently) for the light to change. I slid open the covering to my sun roof and my front seat was bathed in gorgeous bright sunshine.

Just then, I looked at my face in my rear view mirror and gasped. Not only have the wrinkles I already had grown in length and depth, more than a few have joined them! When in the world did that happen?

And while I’m laying it all out here for anyone to read, I’ll confess that when I was gently massaging my just-purchased coconut oil (supposedly *the* best thing for those nasty wrinkles) on my face, I felt something on my chin that I’d never felt before.

Oh my goodness! I can’t. I thought I could, but it’s too ghastly to share.

I’m thinking I shouldn’t have deleted that cute little post about Spring and flowers and babies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unite? I’d Love To!

I’m very excited to again this week (after quite an absence on my part) to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is “unite“. My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set,

I have really missed participating in the 5 Minute Friday weekly writes so I was really looking forward to participating today. Until I saw the word. Unite.

Do I write honestly? From the heart? Or do I fake it and compose a post that doesn’t at all represent what this word brings to mind?

I’m going with the honest, from-the-heart post. Warning: You may want to stop reading right now. This post may contain some (well, maybe more than that) whining, griping, and complaining.

To be united to something, I believe, a person has to have some sort of meaningful connection. Oh how I long to be united — connected in a significant way — to other people who share my interests and with whom I could spend time, go out to eat, talk about writing or books or life.

In fact, my greatest sorrow — what causes me the most pain — is that, other than my connection with my son and daughter, I’m not united with anyone or any group in any real, tangible way.

At work, my colleagues and I are either in the classroom or in our offices (meeting with students, grading papers, or preparing for class) or attending this or that meeting. I occasionally go out for a quick lunch or tea/coffee with one of two ladies I teach with, but other than that — nada. They live in various parts of the city, spread out and busy with their own families and friends, and even when I lived just across the river, my female colleagues and I gathered outside work only one evening every month or two.

I attend church, but because of my current work schedule, I can’t attend a small group. I walk into our large sanctuary every weekend, alone, past families and groups of people I don’t know, groups busy chatting and laughing. I sit alone, I worship alone, I leave alone.

Don’t get me wrong. I have acquaintances. But they’re busy with their jobs, husbands, children, grandchildren. All of the connections I had — the friendships I had — faded away with my own personal “perfect storm” — a move 50 minutes away from “home” just as my youngest began her Junior year in high school (hard to make new friends in a rural area when I was commuting elsewhere to work), 2 job changes in 10 years, connections to parents through our son’s sports activities evaporated when he left for college, my husband’s passing, my move to the city — 2 hours away from home.

I’ve sought connections with other writers. No luck. I’ve attended conferences and met some fantastic ladies —— from North Carolina and South Caroline and . . . well, 1/2-way across the country.

Oh, I’ve made new acquaintances. But every person I’ve met or who I’ve reconnected with is busy . . busy with their already-friends, their husbands and children and grandchildren, their lives.

United? Connected? I’d love to be. I’m not.

Home Sweet to-be Remodeled Home

I’m feeling very decadent. Through a set of fairly complicated circumstances, I currently have two homes.

It’s not a case of purchasing a new home before selling the old one.

For the past 14 months, I have been living in the adorable home my son bought last January in preparation for moving back home this June to practice medicine.

Knowing I needed to be out of this house by mid-June and not wanting to rent, I began looking for a house of my own almost a year ago because I knew that finding what I wanted was going to prove difficult. And I was right.

You see, I was looking for a small — as in only 1 or, at the most, 2-bedroom — home in a “good” neighborhood. My dear realtor-friend Connie agreed with me that my search might be a long and fruitless one, but I was hopeful.

Last March, I approached a woman who I knew owned a vacant and very small, very cute house that I’ve always admired. She explained that the house is part of her company’s property and that it is highly unlikely that she and her sons would ever take that house out of the corporation and sell it. She took my name and number, though, and said she’d keep me in mind if the situation ever changed.

In February, she contacted me. When she identified herself, my heart began to race. I just knew she was calling me about the little house I wanted so badly. She quickly took care of that notion by informing me that she had recently inherited a 2-bedroom house and that she was giving me first dibs on purchasing it.

Located just where I want to live — within walking distance of the city library, both city parks, the University, and the downtown area with its eclectic shops and restaurants, the house sounded intriguing, so we arranged for her to show it to me the next day.

I liked the house very much and saw potential in it, and the current owner and I quickly came to an agreement.

Fortunately, nothing needs to be done to the house; the roof is 18 months old, and the siding was put on just 2 years ago. A new high-efficiency furnace was installed 3 years ago, and the A/C unit is also fairly new. The previous owner, a 94-year old widow with an active lifestyle to the day she passed away, took excellent care of her home.

That said, I created a list of things I want to do: tear out the wall between the living room and one bedroom to create an open living & dining room; convert the tub to a tub with shower and put in a new bathroom vanity; move the washer and dryer upstairs to the kitchen and “hide” them behind cabinet doors; tear out the cabinets and use open shelving above the new cabinets; put in a new electric box and convert from a gas stove to electric; and paint the walls, remove the carpet, and have the hardwood floor “repaired” to fix the spot where the to-be-removed wall now stands.

I’ve had so much fun! Super-planner that I am, I measured the rooms and all my furniture a month go. I drew out the house plan on graph paper (1 sq = 1’), cut appropriately-sized graph paper rectangles and squares to represent my furniture, and color-coded them by room with hi-liters.

I happily “removed the wall” between the living room and bedroom and “rearranged furniture” time and again.

I created a “New Home Wants” board on Pinterest and have been pinning paint colors and kitchen cabinet ideas and other small-home ideas.

The more I’ve played around with the layout and collected specific ideas, the more confident I’ve become that this house will fit my needs and can almost-perfectly satisfy my wants.

Now it’s time to schedule the electrician and handyman for walk-throughs and estimates of schedules and costs. An exciting time ahead, to be sure, as I create my perfect little home.

What about you? What would be your dream home? Tiny, small, huge? Old or new? How would the rooms be arranged? How would you decorate? I hope you’ll share details via a comment.

The Scarecrow and I

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I’ve always sympathized with The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz; like him, I’ve sometimes had a hard time making a decision. And hearing Dorothy and The Scarecrow’s voices in my head . . . “If I only had a brain” . . . certainly doesn’t help.

When I was married, decision-making was much easier. Well, except for the occasional “Where do you want to eat?” discussion that could last for hours — until one of us gave in and chose a place or until one of us passed out from hunger.

If both of us, or the entire family, would be affected by the decision, we discussed the options and possible outcomes as a couple before coming to a decision.

Even when only I would be affected by the option chosen, as part of a couple, I had someone to bounce my ideas and options off of, someone who would eventually (if I pestered him enough) proffer an opinion or two. Usually, though, just talking through the decision to be made and the various options with my husband helped me arrive at a decision on my own.

But like so many others who have experienced a major life upheaval and are then faced with the challenge of creating a “new normal”, I’m now making decisions on my own. My children are happy to listen, but they are busy with their own lives; additionally, sometimes the details I would need to share would only remind them of their own terrible loss and would burden them. Even when I feel comfortable sharing the situation with them, they often lack the life experiences (both are in their 20’s) to truly understand what I’m facing.

In the past month, I’ve faced a major life decision, and as I’ve prayed about it and waited much more patiently than I would have imagined possible for the answer to make itself known, I’ve come to realize that indecisiveness is not caused by a lack of critical thinking skills; rather, several very specific factors are what make the process difficult.

The first factor is thinking skills that are too sharply honed. When I was first faced with this most recent decision, for example, I followed the textbook-advice and brainstormed options.I wrote every single option on my list, not prejudging and dismissing out of hand a single one of them. I set the list aside for a day or two, jotting down additional options as they occurred to me until, finally, I couldn’t think of another one.

That’s when I recognized the second factor that makes decision-making difficult: too many options to choose from. Because I’d thought through the situation and possibilities so diligently, I ended up with far more options than I’d anticipated.

But I didn’t give up; instead, I culled out those that, with closer thought, I could see just weren’t reasonable. My list slightly shorter, I began listing the pros and cons of each of the remaining choices.

It was that process that brought to light the third factor that those of us who are redesigning our lives often run into. The proverbial “clean slate” that so many wish for often brings with it very few limitations. With a clean slate and the ability to start over, a person can go almost anywhere, do almost anything.

Too good thinking skills + too many options + too clean a slate == the perfect storm for decision-making.

Finally, it came down to one last, quite simple activity. On a piece of notebook paper, I made a grid: 3 squares across the top and, down the side, one square for each of the remaining options. Above the 3 horizontal columns, I listed my 3 top values or priorities: God, family, and my own physical & emotional health. For each option that had made the not-so-aptly-named “short list”, I put a plus, check, or minus to indicate how well that option honored each priority.

Within minutes, my choice was clear.

Decision-making is hard in the best of situations. When a person is redesigning their life or reinventing themselves, the process becomes much more daunting. In the end, it comes down to a person’s values and priorities. When measured against them, the decision will be the right one.

I’ve discovered it’s not our thinking skills — or lack thereof — that cause indecisiveness. .

It’s Never too Late . . . But

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Fitzgerald is right. It’s never too late to start over.

He’s also right in implying that it takes strength to do so. More specifically, a person must be strong in all aspects of his or her life — physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally — to make such a sweeping change.

To wipe the slate clean and draw a new picture.

Even, sometimes, to gather the broken pieces of the slate and glue it back together before wiping it clean and picking up a fresh piece of chalk.

But it can be done. You . . . and I  . . . can start over.

Because we want to. Maybe because we have to.

I hope that you’ll join me each Tuesday, as I share . . .

* stories of those, including myself, who have started over

* information and resources that can help you draw a new picture on the slate of your life

* inspiration for your own journey through the process of redesigning your life

I hope, too, that you will share with other “redesigners” you know or encounter how they can join us here.

Lastly, when you feel inspired to chime in, to share your own experiences, your own successes and failures, your own thoughts, your own fears . . . whatever you might feel led to share . . . it is my fervent and heartfelt hope that you will share either through a comment here or by email (pattimiinch@yahoo.com).

So join me . . . let’s start over together.

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