Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book Review ~ Seeing The Unseen: A 90-Day Devotional To Set Your Mind On Eternity by Randy Alcorn (Expanded Edition)

Seeing the Unseen is "A 90-Day Devotional to Set Your Mind on Eternity" by Randy Alcorn. Discussing a large variety of topics, Seeing the Unseen is designed to help you learn to live each day purposefully while keeping your mind set on eternity.

Starting with topics such as "Seeing God as the Source" and "Grasping Our Need for Grace", Randy first reminds us at to why we need to focus on eternity and God's plans for our lives. Moving into topics such as "God's Glory, Our Good" and "When It Comes to Heaven, Dream Big", we refocus on the limitless possibilities awaiting us for eternity. Finishing with suggestions for ongoing improvement and self care, such as "Steps to Greater Happiness in Christ" and "Dependence and the Heart of Prayer", Randy leaves us with attainable ways to keep pursuing God in this life, so we may enjoy His eternal presence in the next.

Two pages are devoted to each of the 90 days. Each day's main entry has a personal or Biblical story to illustrate the day's theme in a way that's easy to relate to regardless as to your current circumstances, or how far along you are in your personal pursuit of God. Following the day's entry are quotes from God's Word and additional insights from other inspirational Christians. At the very end of each day is a suggested blog post, article, or video for a more in-depth look at the selected topic.

This devotional would be a good reminder for anyone wanting to focus (or re-focus) their life on God's ultimate plan. 4/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print proof copy of this book from Blogging For Books for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author:
Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM). He is the New York Times best-selling author of more than fifty books, with over ten million copies sold. His books include The Treasure Principle, Happiness, Heaven, If God Is Good, and the award-winning novel Safely Home. The father of two married daughters and grandfather of five, Randy resides in Oregon with his wife, Nanci.
Purchase Links:
     Amazon
     ChristianBook

Prayer Time ~ Earnest Love (1 Peter 4:8)

Today's Influence:*
1 Peter 4:8:
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
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Today's Prayer:
Dear Lord, please help me to love my family earnestly and whole-heartedly. Remind me to show them love and kindness even in the midst of hardship and trials. Give me your heart to forgive their sins and help them learn to forgive themselves. I pray that you shed your love over us, so we may all love one another.
Help me to learn how to show love without conditions or limits. Teach me unfailing love as only you can.
Watch over my relationships with my children and help us to love and respect each other. Help them to follow your guidance and to ask for your mercy to forgive their sins and your grace to cover their weaknesses. 
-----

My Story:
It's easy to say "I love you" when things are going well, but I have a hard time not being sarcastic when things are not running smoothly. Having my teen yelling and screaming at me is more likely to elicit an "I love you, but..." than a straight up "I love you". Follow that "but" with anything from "it's hard to show you that while or screaming" to "it hurts me to watch you doing this to yourself"... Loving them unconditionally, no matter how much they're driving me crazy isn't hard - but showing them that love is a whole different ball game. I need help. God's help.
-----

Your Turn:
When do you find that you need God's help or reminders to love earnestly, without conditions attached to your level of care? Are there some relationships that are naturally easier for you to get along in than others? Share in the comments.
-----

*Today's scripture is from the week 1 lesson of the 2016 edition of Read Pray Love from Proverbial Homemaker. It might be obvious I'm running a year behind, but I'm new to this praying through the scriptures concept and I just printed out both the 2016 and 2017 sets last week and didn't want to "miss out" on anything while playing catch up. Instead of focusing on one verse a week, I plan on just working my way through one lesson every couple of days. With God's help, I'll catch up eventually.

Here are the links to both editions on her blog:
2016 edition of Read Pray Love - 52 Weeks Of Praying For Your Family
2017 edition of Read Pray Love (still in progress)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Book Review ~ Reading People: How Seeing The World Through The Lens Of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel

Reading People: How Seeing The World Through The Lens Of Personality Changes Everything is a simple guide to eight common personality tools, hand-picked by Anne Bogel. Based on her own experience in trying to learn more about herself and those close to her, Anne has compiled basic information to guide the reader through not only the determining factors for each of these tools, but also the importance and usefulness of having such data, so long as it's accurate.

Anne begins by telling the reader the most common mistakes made when people are trying to assess their own personalities, namely answering questions based on what you wish you were like rather than allowing the core of your being to shine through. She poses that there are no right or wrong answers, so long as you are honest and embrace the person inside that God created you to be.

Through a series of personal stories, Anne guides us through the maze of descriptions for personality traits such as introverts, extroverts, and highly sensitive people, as well as those discovered and labelled through diagnostic tools including The Five Love Languages, Keirsey's Temperaments, The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, The MBTI Cognitive Functions, the Clifton StrengthsFinder, and The Enneagram.

Anne devotes one full chapter to each tool/assessment, in order to ensure a thorough explanation of not only what the test is for and possible outcomes, but also the benefit to having the knowledge gained by each tool. While knowing that you're an ISFP and your partner or child is not can be helpful, it's only useful if you learn how to apply this information in order to help you both interact with each other on a more mutually beneficial level. That is where Anne's added insights pay off.

While I have read several books on personality types over the years, Anne's basic yet vivid and thorough examples and descriptions helped me to better understand the differences and hidden nuances that create such large gaps between myself and some of those people dearest to me. This book is a wonderful asset to anyone wanting to learn more about their true nature, the personality traits of those closest to them, and how to figure out ways to interact in a more peaceful and loving manner. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from the publisher, Baker Books, for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Anne Bogel is the creator of the popular blog Modern Mrs. Darcy and the podcast What Should I Read Next? Her popular book lists and reading guides have established Bogel as a tastemaker among readers, authors, and publishers. Bogel lives in Louisville, Kentucky. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Purchase Links:
     Amazon
     ChristianBook

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Prayer Time ~ Lead Us To Repent (Ezekiel 33:11, 18-20)

Today's Influence:
Ezekiel 33:11, 18-20 (NLT excerpts):
(11) ...I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?
(18-20) For again I say, when righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and turn to evil, they will die. But if wicked people turn from their wickedness and do what is just and right, they will live... ...I judge each of you according to your deeds.
-----

Today's Prayer:
Lord, your Holy Word says time and time again that if we repent and turn from our sins then you will show us mercy and we will live. That our past sins will be forgotten so long as we repent and do what is just and right. I pray to you now that you help me and those around me to see our wicked ways and to turn from them. Help us to be righteous and do what is just and good according to your laws, not those of man. Help us to show others mercy and forgiveness so they may learn of your grace through our actions toward them. Help keep us from slipping into ignorance, arrogance, and pride - so that we may continue to heed your warnings and follow your commands, acting in ways that honor and please you.
-----

My Story:
We all have problems keeping away from sin, due to our sinful nature since the fall. I find that the more I try to follow God's commands for actions that are just and right, the more I fight that part of me that wants "fairness" rather than "justice". While God demands that the wicked be punished, He also commands us to be the watchmen and warn them of their wicked ways, so they might turn back toward Him. God's Word is full of reminders of His unending pursuit of our hearts. On the days I seek fairness, I find my own pride getting in the way of God's quest to win my souls. How unfortunate that I'm fighting against God and getting in His way!
-----

Your Turn:
Do you find your own quest for fairness blocking the path to justice? How do you heed God's commands for us to help lead the wicked away from their evil ways and back towards God's open arms? Share in the comments.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Prayer Time ~ Search Me And Teach Me (Jeremiah 17:5-10)

Today's Influence:
Jeremiah 17:5-10 (NLT):
This is what the Lord says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land. But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.”
-----

Today's Prayer:
Lord, I call upon you to help me to trust in you, Lord. Help me to find my hope and my confidence in you alone. Search my heart, God. Examine my motives. Show me the darkness within my own heart and the errors in my way, so that your Holy light may shine upon them and cast out any thoughts that do not honor you. Teach me to rely on your strength rather than my own.
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My Story:
I'm a stubborn person. Anyone who knows me will testify to that, and could tell you volumes about the lengths I'll go to just to prove that I can do something on my own without any help or assistance - even if it darn near kills me! I don't like admitting when I'm in over my head until I'm in so deep that I can not find any possible way out of the mess. Then I *might* hint that I could *possibly* use a little help to get out of the jam.
 Somehow I don't think that this extreme level of stubbornness is very helpful when it comes to turning over the reins of my life to God, and trusting on Him to take control. This is something I'm sure I'll still be working on years from now. But at least I'm admitting that I need His help asking for help. That's something, isn't it?
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Your Turn:
How good are you at turning over the reins and letting God steer the wagon you call life? What about self-monitoring and keeping yourself in check when it comes to those less-than-pleasant thoughts or motives? Even the best deed can sour if it's done for the wrong reasons. Share in the comments.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Prayer Time ~ Righteousness And Repentance (Ezekiel 18:19-32)

Today's Influence:
Ezekiel 18:19-32 (NLT excerpts):
(20-22) ...The child will not be punished for the parent's sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child's sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness. But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done.
(24) However, if righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things and act like other sinners, should they be allowed to live? No, of course not! All their righteous acts will be forgotten, and they will die for their sins. 
(27-28) And if wicked people turn from their wickedness, obey the law, and do what is just and right, they will save their lives. They will live because they thought it over and decided to turn from their sins...
(30-32) Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions, says the Sovereign Lord. Repent, and turn away from your sins. Don't let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don't want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live!
-----

Today's Prayer:
Lord, I pray that you help me to become righteous in your eyes. Give me the courage to turn away from my sins, and the wisdom and strength to obey your decrees and do what is just and right. Forgive me of my sins and show me how to live so I may honor lead. 
Lead me away from my rebellious nature so I may have a new heart and a new spirit through you, dear God. Lord, I praise you for your mercy, and I repent of my wrongdoings. Show me the path you have laid out before me, that I might follow it and honor you, Lord.
God, how grateful I am that my children will not be punished for my sins. Please help me to guide them to follow your ways, so that they may do what is just and live in honor of your righteousness. I ask you to show them their rebellion and their sins, so they may repent and turn back to you if they stray. Thank you, God. 
-----

My Story:
The sins I committed in my wilderness years are far too many to count. Thank God that those things are no longer held against me. Nor are they held against my children, who are given a fresh slate upon which to write their own behaviors. While I can not keep them from rebelling and choosing the same sins that I have given in to, I can encourage them to pursue a state of righteousness and to show repentance, asking God for forgiveness when they do fall short of His teachings.
-----

Your Turn:
When was the last time you thanked God that our sins are not passed on to our children, or that we don't inherit the sins of our parents? Are you struggling with rebellion when it comes to following God in some area of your life? Share in the comments.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Prayer Time ~ Return To God (Ezekiel 11:18-21)

Today's Influence:
Ezekiel 11:18-21 (NLT):
When the people return to their homeland, they will remove every trace of their vile images and detestable idols. I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those who long for vile images and detestable idols, I will repay them fully for their sins. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!
-----

Today's Prayer:
Lord, help me return to you, my blessed homeland. Show me those images and idols to remove from my life and my heart, dear God. Help give me the strength to overcome their hold on my, for your power alone is enough. Give me singleness of heart and put a new spirit within me. Take away my stony, stubborn heart and give me a tender, responsive heart, so I will obey your decrees and regulations. Let me be your people, as I call on you to be my God.
Help my family to return to you as well, dear Lord. Show them the idols that are taking place in their heart and lives which should be dedicated solely to you. Give them the strength to fight these temptations in your name, and to place you first above all others. Give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. Take away their stony, stubborn hearts and give them tender, responsive hearts, so they will obey your decrees and regulations. Show us how to be your people, as we call you to be our God. 
-----

My Story:
It's been about a year and a half since I started venturing out of the wilderness and back toward God's outstretched arms. I find myself being confronted by the truth of my own idolatry and asking for God's forgiveness on a daily basis. Constantly discovering His merciful blessings within my life helps me to keep focused on His unfailing love.
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Your Turn:
Do you have favorite scriptures or prayers that you rely on when you feel the need to re-focus your life on God and His many blessings? Share in the comments.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The God-Shaped Heart: How Correctly Understanding God's Love Transforms Us by Timothy R. Jennings, MD


In The God-Shaped Heart: How Correctly Understanding God's Love Transforms Us, Timothy R. Jennings poses that "something is wrong in Christianity". He begins the book by listing statistics and examples to prove his case that Christianity, as it stands today, is not realistically more Christ-like than the rest of society.

Timothy then lays out a model for "the seven levels of moral decision making", whereby he explains that "only those operating at level five and above can be trusted." Why? Because the first four levels are based on a self-centered focal point, while the last three levels are based on an other-centered focal point.

His seven levels of moral decision making are as follows:
1 - reward and punishment
2 - marketplace exchange
3 - social conformity
4 - law and order
5 - love for others
6 - principle-based living
7 - understanding friend of god

It's pointed out that in order to mature properly, one must progress through these stages in their natural order, similar to a child being weaned to solid foods. Timothy goes on to talk about spiritual failure to thrive, where he explains that many Christians hold false beliefs which keep them from maturing into the bride of Christ they are meant to become.

A large portion of the book is devoted to explaining, through Biblical and modern-day examples, the differences between viewing God's word from the stance of a loving God stating design law for our well-being (law of gravity) versus an authoritarian God telling us His imposed laws (judicial laws and rules). In contrasting these two drastically opposite views, Timothy states:
"But children (newborn babes in Christ) are easily confused and divided because they operate at level four and below, focus on rules and get stuck on metaphor, and fail to see the reality of design law. They actually think the form of baptism, or dress, or diet, or day of worship is what matters. They fail to realize that it has always been, and always will be, about transformation of the heart!"
Thus, Timothy stresses that we must allow a loving God to change our heart, rather than focusing on what will happen if we don't. Furthermore, he continues to argue against the legalism that is rampant in modern Christianity while urging us to stop arguing over symbols and metaphors within the church as a whole. Timothy sums up this book's purpose very well at the end, when he urges readers to take action in the name of Christ and His healing love:
"What would Christianity look like if the various denominations came together and pooled their resources for one single purpose - to spread the healing love of Christ into the hearts of people on earth - and stopped working to build their institutions by membership drives, often at the expense of other Christian organizations?"
What would happen if Christians sought to mature and develop God-Shaped Hearts in order to influence and change those circumstances and people around them for the better? What if we could band together and truly love one another despite our multitude of differences?

The God-Shaped Heart reads more like a theology text than a self-help book, with key points given at the end of each chapter, and a lack of extra filler. I had a hard time getting through the first couple of chapters due to the heavy leaning on stats and background info, but the rest of the book made up for the slow start. Timothy does a good job at providing a solid basis for his reasoning at every point while giving us lots of things to think about and reassess in our own understanding of God's law and how we view His role in our lives.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who is open-minded enough to read about alternative perspectives and who is tired of thinking of God as a vengeful being that Jesus has to protect us from. Whether you end up changing your view or not, The God-Shaped Heart will definitely give you some things to ponder and help you to reason out and strengthen your own view of God's position in your life. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from the publisher, Baker Books, for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from book):
Timothy R. Jennings, MD, is a board-certified Christian psychiatrist, certified master psychopharmacologist, Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, Life Fellow of the Southern Psychiatric Association, and past president of both the Tennessee and Southern Psychiatric Associations. Dr. Jennings served in the US Army as the division psychiatrist for the 3rd Infantry Division and the chief of psychiatry at Winn Army Hospital. He has spent more than two decades researching the interface between biblical principles and modern brain science and is the founder and president of the not-for-profit Christian ministry Come and Reason Ministries. He is a highly sought after lecturer and international speaker and is the author of The God-Shaped Brain: How Changing Your View of God Transforms Your Life, Could It Be This Simple? A Biblical Model for Healing the Mind, The Journal of the Watcher, and The Remedy: A New Testament Expanded Paraphrase. Many of Dr. Jenning's materials can be found at www.comeandreason.com.
Purchase Links:
     Amazon
     ChristianBook

Prayer Time ~ Restore Me (Jeremiah 15:19)

Today's Inspiration:
Jeremiah 15:19 (NLT):
If you return to me, I will restore you so you can continue to serve me. If you speak good words rather than worthless ones, you will be my spokesman. You must influence them; do not let them influence you!
-----

Today's Prayer:
Dear Lord, help me to return to you. Restore me so that I can serve you God. Help me to speak good words and tear worthless ones from my thoughts before they dare leave my lips, O God. Have me be your spokesman. Lead me to influence others for the sake of your righteousness. and in the name of your most beloved son, Jesus Christ. Do not let those who are lost influence me, dear God - but instead show me the way to influence them on your behalf. To God goes all the glory! Amen!
-----

My Story:
Learning to return to God while raising children is not easy. Trying to teach pre-teens and teens the reason to pray and read the Bible after having spent a decade not touching God's Word doesn't make it any easier. I find myself asking for God's strength and influence daily, so that I can learn to be a better role model and teacher for those whom He has entrusted to my training.
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Your Turn:
What are some ways that God has asked you to influence others? Are there things that come to mind for you to better follow His lead and be a spokesman for Him? Share in the comments.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Prayer Time ~ Be Merciful (Jeremiah 7:23)

Today's Inspiration:
Jeremiah 7:23 (NLT):
Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!
----

Today's Prayer:
Dear Lord, help us to stop our evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice - so that you may be merciful toward us.
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My Story:
Justice is a funny thing. We tend to appreciate justice when it works to our benefit, yet we scold it when we fear it's outcome. As I've been trying to focus more on seeking justice, I find myself having to fight my own ideas of what justice is - and what it's not. I continue struggling to obey God in keeping my words under control and refraining from negative thoughts when I'm frustrated.
-----

Your Turn:
What areas of obedience toward God do you struggle with? Share in the comments.

Cherished Mercy (Heart Of The Frontier 3) by Tracie Peterson

Cherished Mercy is the final book in the Heart Of The Frontier trilogy by Tracie Peterson, which chronicles the lives of the Flanagan sisters (Grace, Hope, and Mercy) venturing to the Oregon  Territory in the mid-1800s. While the first two books focused on the older two sisters, Grace and Hope, respectively, this third book focuses one Mercy, the youngest of the three.

Having survived the Whitman Massacre as a young girl, Mercy has a renewed heart for seeking peace between the white men and the Indians of the frontier. When and opportunity presents itself for her to travel away from her sisters in order to help a family friend in the midst of hardships, and possibly aid in bringing peace to the area, she feels it as God's calling for her to do her part.

As Mercy seeks to take on chores around the Browning Mission, including teaching the locals about Christ and His enduring love for them, she finds herself falling in love with the area, the natives, and a young man who seems to want nothing to do with her.

As the government seeks to gain control of the natives in the area, war becomes eminent, and Mercy finds herself having to rely on her faith in God's divine plan in order to keep enduring the struggles that quickly approach.

Cherished Mercy is a novel about the power of faith to bind grace, hope, and mercy together for each of us. It's a potent reminder to hold faith in God alone and His divine providence and plan to see you through whatever hardships you face in this life.

While this book is the conclusion of a trilogy, Tracie is thorough in including enough back story that Cherished Mercy is a worthwhile read, even if you have not had the pleasure of reading the previous books in the set. I would recommend this book to any Christian woman who finds themselves in need of a dose of mercy and a reminder that faith in God is never wasted, and His plans are always for the best - even if we don't understand them at the time. No pain ever goes unnoticed, and no prayer is truly left unanswered. 4/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from Bethany House publishers for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Tracie Peterson's love for history and research fuels the bestselling stories she writes. She is the author of over one hundred novels and the recipient of the 2011 ACFW Lifetime Achievement Award. Tracie and her family live in Montana.
Purchase Links:
     Amazon
     ChristianBook

Other Books In This Series:
     1 - Treasured Grace - read my review here
     2 - Beloved Hope - read my review here

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Prayer Time ~ Seeking God (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

Today's Inspiration:
Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NLT):
Don't let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things.
-----

Today's Prayer:
Help us to know you, Lord, and to witness your unfailing love. Help us to seek your justice and righteousness, Dear God. Help us to bring you delight.
-----

My Story:
I have a hard time remembering to give God the credit when things are working out according to "my" plan. And yet, things going well are a confirmation of my following God's plan, not my own. I need to be more persistent in praising Him and thanking Him for the wonderful circumstances He brings into my life, as I strive to lean on Him and strengthen my understanding of His wonderful grace.
-----

Your Turn:
How often do you find yourself boasting about your own achievements rather than giving God the credit? What are you actively doing to increase your knowledge and understanding of the Lord? Share in the comments.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Prayer Time ~ Guidance And Correction (Jeremiah 10:23-24)

Today's Inspiration:
Jeremiah 10:23-24 (NLT):
I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course. So correct me, Lord, but please be gentle. Do not correct me in anger, for I would die.
-----

Today's Prayer:
Dear Lord, please help guide me along your path. Remind me to follow the course you set before me, instead of my ego trying to follow its own course. God, gently correct me and lead me the way you would have me go. 
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My Story:
Every time I look back over my years spent wandering, I find myself even my grateful for God's gentleness in correcting me. The traps I'd laid for myself through bad choices and sour relationships were always met with an open window or an escape sign that only God have placed there. And He did it over and over again, with no thanks from me. Giving me way more "second chances" than I ever dreamed possible. While I still struggle daily with following His course, I make a point of thanking Him for His gentle nudges and reminders of His unfailing love.
-----

Your Turn:
Have you ever experienced a time when you were grateful for the Lord's merciful and gentle correction? Do you present yourself each day to the path He sets before you or do you struggle to let Him have the reins and lead your course? Share in the comments.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment In Relishing The Season by Alexandra Kuykendall

Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment In Relishing The Season is a like a breath of fresh air for those women who get so caught up in trying to make Christmas "just right" that they collapse in sheer exhaustion by the time it's over. Vowing to do things differently the next year, they get caught in an endless cycle of feeling driven to do too much, never getting it all done, and completely bulldozing the entire point of Christmas in the process. Alexandra Kuykendall is one of those women. So am I.

So if that type of behavior is more common than we care to admit, what are we supposed to do about it? That's where this book comes in. In Loving My Actual Christmas, Alexandra proposes an experiment in her own life to change things up - to get away from the frantic rush of the season and get back to the roots behind it.

Breaking the holiday season into the four weeks of advent (hope, love, joy, and peace), and the twelve days of Christmastide, Alexandra journals her weekly focus and goals, as well as the daily reality as to how she managed the proper focus during such a hectic and stressful time of year. We see her struggles (both internal and external), her victories, and her shortcomings. She opens the door to her actual Christmas in order to help us better come to terms with our own - no matter how much we're struggling to just "get through" one more year of this holiday that seems to have lost so much of its brightness as the time has dragged on.

As someone who struggles with "doing it differently" every year and always ends up feeling like an epic failure by the end of it all, I found Alexandra's approach to give me hope that maybe my Christmas doesn't have to follow the traditional chaos this year. Maybe I can refocus and relearn how to celebrate Christmas, while showing my kids that sometimes better also means simpler, slower, and more Christ-centered (something that's always been lacking in this humble abode).

I love that Alexandra approaches this experiment with complete openness and a blank slate, letting us see the less than perfect atmosphere of her own reality. She admits to her own shortcomings with brutal honesty so that we can see that whatever challenges we face, we're never truly alone in this struggle.

For each section of the Christmas season, Alexandra tells us her goals, scripture reading, what she learned, practices she'll continue, and suggested questions for how we can apply her experiment to our own life. She also includes a section of practical tips and strategies at the back of the book, full of mini-essays to help you better manage your holiday season. This includes things like scheduling principles, limiting commitments, navigating extended family relationships, and so much more.

I recommend this book for any woman who finds herself struggling year after year to just push through the holiday season, or for those women who find themselves burnt out on what they've always done and looking for a new perspective on how to make the holidays work - without losing the focus of what the holidays are all about. This book will help anyone to remember to slow down, breathe, and just enjoy the wonderful blessings that this holiday season represents, as well as learning how to bring those blessings into our modern and overbooked world. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Alexandra Kuykendall is the author of Loving My Actual Life and The Artist's Daughter and is the cohost of The Open Door Sisterhood podcast. A popular writer and speaker, Alexandra has been featured on Good Morning America and Focus on the Family's daily broadcast. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband, Derek, and their four daughters.
Purchase Links:
     Amazon
     ChristianBook

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Journey To Victorious Praying: Finding Discipline And Delight In Your Prayer Life by Bill Thrasher

A Journey To Victorious Praying: Finding Discipline And Delight In Your Prayer Life by Bill Thrasher was first published in 2003, with a preface added for this 2017 edition. Bill Thrasher has divided this journey into nine sections, designed as a sort of roadmap to help us move from praying strictly out of weakness and fear into prayer as a supreme means of joyful worship.

Whether your prayer life is simply in need of a rejuvenation and revival or if it is more of a sense of dreary obligation rather than delightful praise, this book is for you. Here, you will find both Biblical and modern stories that will help you overcome whatever barriers you find keeping you from pursuing a life attuned to God's plans through the communion of prayer. In a well structured ordering, Bill skillfully approaches topics such as fears and unworthiness, strength to believe in God, praying Scripture, fasting, waiting in peace instead of anxiety, and how to cultivate a lifestyle of worship.

Spread out over the course of thirty chapters, this book could easily be read as a 30-day devotional study to help bring you more into alignment with God's purpose for your life. The back of the book also contains a "Personal Journal" section with questions and focus thoughts for each chapter, Selected Prayers from Scripture, and Ideas to Stimulate Prayer - which are especially useful in a church or more formal group setting.

You should have your Bible handy while reading this book, because it's full of little scripture references to look up if you want to fully appreciate the point being made. It's also worth noting that this book utilizes a very direct and intellectual approach without any "filler" or "fluff" to bog a reader down or detract from the overall point being made. If you're looking for a rather simply "self-help" book with just a few pointer to make you feel better about your prayer life, this isn't it. However, if you're sincerely ready to make a priority of achieving a more meaningful and deliberate life of prayer, then this is the book to read. 4/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author:
Bill Thrasher teaches at Moody Theological Seminary, where he oversees the master's program in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship. He is a frequent speaker in churches and retreats across the country and is the author of numerous books and articles related to Christian living. He also contributed commentary on Jonah for The Moody Bible Commentary
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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Christian Graces: God's Blueprint For The Development Of Complete Christians by Adam Cozort

Christian Graces: God's Blueprint For The Development Of Complete Christians is a relatively short (65 pages) study of the Christian Graces as presented in 2 Peter 1:5-7 (diligence, faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, charity). Divided into one chapter per grace, this book would be ideal for a weekly group study using the included in-depth discussion questions found at the end of each chapter.

Adam starts this study be explaining the importance of building these graces one upon another in order to develop a life etched in Christian character. He explains why it is pertinent to pay attention  to their ordering and not try to strengthen your patience before focusing on temperance, or the problem with pursuing godliness before virtue.

For each grace, we learn it's Biblical importance, other uses of the original Greek term (including other translations), Biblical and modern examples, and why this grace is still relevant and pertinent to building a life of character in today's world.

Adam explains even the most theological aspects on a personal level that most people should be able to relate to. He simplifies complex ideas without making you feel as though it's been over diluted. I would recommend Christian Graces to teens and adults who want to gain a better understanding and perspective of the Biblical character we should all aspire to possess. 4/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from the publisher via BookCrash for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
The son of a preacher, Adam has been around preaching and the Bible his entire life. He began doing fill-in preaching for small congregations at the age of 16. After graduating, high school he attended the Tri-Cities School of Preaching and Christian Development, where he was part of their first graduating class in 2005. Over the past 10 years, he has preached full-time for congregations in Virginia, Georgia, and Mississippi.
He and his wife, Shearisa, have five sons whose lives take up the overwhelming majority of his "free" time.
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Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Whole Bible Story: Everything That Happens In The Bible In Plain English (Illustrated Edition) by Dr William H Marty

The Whole Bible Story: Everything That Happens In The Bible In Plain English (Illustrated Edition) by Dr. William H. Marty is a running narrative story of (you guessed it) everything that happens in the Bible - almost. Dr. William Marty leaves out things like the Psalms, long genealogical records, and other things which bog down the flow of the Bible for people who would like to just read the main storyline and the bigger picture.

The Whole Bible Story is a chronological record of the main events which take place, simplified, and written in today's language with the layman in mind. While there are some facts which could be debated among scholars, the overall approach is very friendly for those who either have little or no experience with the Bible, or for those who have read the Bible but would like a refresher course on the basics of what really happens within its many pages.

The basic format is like a cross between a textbook and a reading book, with chapters, sections, and chapter summaries. This new illustrated edition includes over 85 photographs, maps, and charts (averaging one every 4 pages) designed to help you see specific details about the times, people, and places in question.

I think this would be a perfect gift for adult Christians (new and old alike) who struggle with sorted through the complexities of the Bible in every day reading, and would like a simpler way (and chronological format) to study the important details for a solid foundation in their beliefs. Think of it as a Bible story book - written for adults. 4/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Dr. William H. Marty has taught at Moody Bible Institute for thirty-seven years. His main emphasis has been teaching an Old and New Testament survey to freshman at the Chicago campus, and the fruit of his focus on teaching the story line of the Bible has been published in The Whole Bible Story. Dr. Marty has also written The World of Jesus and The Jesus Story and coauthored A Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Linda, and is an active triathlete.
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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Family: How To Love Yours (And Help Them Like You Back) by Jessie Minassian

Family: How To Love Yours (And Help Them Like You Back!) is A Life, Love & God Book from Jessie Minassian, in which Jessie helps teenage girls learn how to get along better with (you guessed it) their families. This is the first book of Jessie's that I have had the privilege of reading, and it came straight on the heels of my teenage daughter announcing that she hates us and taking a "vacation" at my mom's house to take a break from us, her dreadful family.

When I first signed up to review this book, I was hoping that maybe it would somehow get through to my daughter and help her learn a few tips to get along better with herself (and the rest of us), so that maybe (just maybe) things would be a little calmer around here. I'll be the first to testify that I am not, by any means, a wonderful mom. I've made more mistakes and epic fails than could be sanely stored on the memory card in my cell phone. I'm human, it's what we do.

What I was not expecting, however, was a book that pulls the reader into a whole new line of thinking: parents are people too! Jessie starts by explaining a little about her own teenage years, in the hopes of your daughter realizing that maybe Jessie actually knows what she's going through. And, even more important, maybe she can be a trusted ally in the journey to getting along with the rest of the world just a little bit more.

Through her witty sense of humor and candid honesty, Jessie shows our girls that they're not alone, and that they will (eventually) get through whatever troubles they're going through right now. She also makes sure to point out that maybe the self-focused world our girls are used to isn't the world they should be focusing on after all. Getting closer to God and His plans for their lives also means getting closer to us, their imperfect (and sometimes annoyingly screwed up) families.

Filled with wonderful suggestions and tips to improve communication and repair relationships, as well as quizzes and application questions to encourage our girls to take an honest inventory of their own little worlds, Family is a precious gem for our daughters who feel like they should be trying harder or doing better, but don't have a clue as to where to start.

Jessie tackles not only your family as a whole, but she also has chapter devoted to improving personal relationships with moms, dads, older siblings, and younger siblings. The chapters on how to be a better big sister and how to be a better little sister are a must-read, even for the only child. Jessie also encourages our girls to look past the current obstacles and imagine what their future will be like, both with their current families and the families they choose to create when they grow up to be self-reliant and fully responsible adults.

As for my own daughter, she has yet to read this book. But I'm confident that if she works through it and sincerely gives the tips, questions and quizzes a thorough chance to settle in and help her understand herself more, then we'll all be better for it in the end. Highly recommended for anyone raising a teenage girl and, of course, for your daughters to read as well. If you're not having problems, think of this book as a good premarital counseling workbook (for our girls to tackle on their own or for families to go through together), in order to help everyone relate to each other better before problems arise. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Jessie Minassian loves Jesus, sunshine, and sand between her toes. She's a speaker at churches and events across the country, an author of twelve books, including Unashamed: Overcoming the Sins No Girl Wants to Talk About, and the resident "big sis" at LifeLoveandGod.com, a popular website that helps teen girls find their identity, pleasure, and purpose in God. She lives in California with her husband and two daughters.
Purchase Links:
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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Here's Some Happy: A Coloring Journal To Lift The Soul by Gina Graham

Here's Some Happy: A Coloring Journal To Lift The Soul by Gina Graham is a unique combination of scripture (taken from various translations) and original artwork designed to brighten your mood and lift your spirits as you reflect upon your day. Like most coloring journals, the artwork and line format utilizes both sides of the page. However, Gina has done a wonderful job at alternating between full page drawings and journaling pages. This means that every place you open the book you'll find one full page drawing accompanied by a lined page with a smaller complimentary image skillfully placed along an edge or corner so as to add embellishment to your writing, rather than interfering with it.


The pages are thick and just slightly textured, so that I was able to use my Crayola adult fine line markers with no smearing, shadowing, or other adverse side effects. The journaling lines are spaced only slightly smaller than wide-ruled notebook paper, so there's little worry about writing too big or using wide tipped instruments.

I greatly appreciate the size of the book itself (10"x10") - making it too big to carry in a purse, but perfect for a lap desk or simply resting on your lap due to it being a very sturdy hardback design. I found the artwork itself to be very creative while still being realistic, giving me the option of sticking to realism or using colors appropriate to the mood or feelings I wished to convey. I also found it helpful that, unlike some coloring books, the picture on the front cover is a very good indicator of the artwork style found inside.


I would recommend this coloring journal to anyone looking to add a bit of coloring inspiration to their journaling time, or a bit of journaling to their coloring time. The scripture references are well chosen and suited to each picture, and each page will leave you with something positive to reflect on. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Purchase Links:
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Monday, September 18, 2017

Every Piece Of Me by Jerusha Clark

Every Piece Of Me: Shattering Toxic Beliefs And Discovering The Real You by Jerusha Clark is written for women who find themselves so caught up in their identity within society that they forget their identity within Christ. Yes, you are a mother or a daughter or a sister or a wife - but who are you under that mask that the rest of the world sees? Who are you behind closed doors, when it's just you and God left in the room?

Jerusha helps women come to terms with their feelings of not living up to society's expectations, so that they can enjoy the freedom of living under God's vision for their lives. Filled with personal anecdotes, scriptural lessons, and scientific research, Every Piece Of Me will help you to learn to let go of your own expectations for your life so that you can embrace God's purpose for your presence.

With lots of clear section breaks, questions for personal reflection or group discussion, and recommended reading at the end of every chapter - this book would serve well as an inspirational beginning for any woman starting on the journey to finding (or rediscovering) who she is in Christ. For those needing a deeper investigation, this book may leave you lacking. But for new Christians or those who feel as though they have strayed and would like to find their way back to Christ's warm embrace; It's perfect. 4/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from Baker Books for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Jerusha Clark is the author or coauthor of several books, including the best-selling Every Thought Captive and Your Teenager Is Not Crazy (coauthored with her husband, Dr. Jeramy Clark). She also enjoys teaching at churches, retreats, schools, and conferences. She lives near San Diego, California.
Purchase Links:
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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Fatal Trust by Todd M Johnson

In Fatal Trust, a new legal suspense novel by Todd M. Johnson, we follow Ian Wells as he tries to unravel the origin of a wealthy trust, the truth behind a decades old art heist, and his family's own buried secrets.

Ian is an up-and-coming Minneapolis lawyer who reluctantly inherited his father's law practice, and has since been trying to get out of the trusts and wills business in order to move into criminal defense. Business is slow, bills are piling up, and he's stuck at a crossroad - until a new client shows up wanting him to do a seemingly quick investigation for a trust dispersal, with a hefty fee for Ian already written into the contract. The one condition for him to get the fee is that he has to determine which of the three potential heirs have been involved in any sort of criminal activity for the last twenty years.

What starts out as a quick gamble to get a small fortune soon plunges Ian headfirst into the world of mobsters and unsolved crime. He finds himself becoming a target for both the potential heirs and the legal system, who are trying to solve the very crime that he's digging into and unraveling. Will Ian be able to keep his own conscience clean while discovering buried secrets about everyone he holds dear? Will he be able to clear his own name and avoid persecution for crimes he didn't commit?

This is definitely not a fast-paced thriller for those who like a quickly moving storyline. But the plot is solid, the characters are well established, and Todd has built a vivid image of the underground Minneapolis crime world of the '80s and '90s. A good read for anyone looking for a legal suspense that doesn't mind a slower unraveling to get to the finish line. It also has plenty of breakpoints, so it's great for those who don't have a lot of spare time to sit and invest in reading large sections at a time. 4/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from inside book):
Todd M. Johnson, author of Critical Reaction and The Deposit Slip, has practiced as an attorney for over thirty years, specializing as a trial lawyer. A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Minnesota Law School, he also taught for two years as adjunct professor of International Law and served as a U. S. diplomat in Hong Kong. He lives near Minneapolis with his wife, his son, Ian, and his daughter, Libby. Learn more at authortoddmjohnson.com.
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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Whole by Steve Wiens

Whole: Restoring What Is Broken In Me, You, And The Entire World by Steve Wiens is more than just a book on the topic of spiritual wholeness. Steve has crafted a portrait of what it means to be whole, using both personal anecdotes and classic Bible stories.

He starts the journey to wholeness by carefully plotting out five questions for us to consider on this quest. Where are you? Am I my brother's keeper? What are you seeking? Where are you going? What will you bring? Posed from the Bible itself, these questions will open your eyes to a new understanding of what it means to be whole, as well as why it's so important for us to find that place of wholeness.

After careful consideration of these questions being asked of us, we move on to ponder the scenarios laid out in the exodus, the wilderness, and the promised land. Steve guides us through the implications of each, as he reveals how these stories relate to our current lives and what we can do in order to get through the exodus to the wilderness and, in turn, lean on God while in the wilderness so that we may find the promised land.

With questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter, this book is a wonderful tool for individual or group study. I would suggest Whole for anyone who feels the singe of brokenness within themselves or questions their place in this world and how they can help restore the brokenness of the world around them. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Steve Wiens is the founding pastor of Genesis Covenant Church. He, his wife, Mary, and their three young boys live in Maple Grove, Minnesota. He blogs at SteveWiens.com and podcasts at This Good Word.
Purchase Links:
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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Included In Christ by Heather Holleman

Included In Christ: Living A New Story From Ephesians is an 8-week Bible study of Ephesians by Heather Holleman. During the course of this study, Heather guides us through the book of Ephesians, one chapter at a time, while learning to write our own Savior Stories and use them to replace the Shadow Narratives that we so often tell about our lives.

What exactly are Savior Stories and Shadow Narratives? A Shadow Narrative is "a story that you tell yourself over and over again that keeps you in the darkness of exclusion and loneliness, weariness, and toxic patterns of jealousy, comparison, and despair." To contrast, a Savior Story (also called a Signature Story) is "a classic story that best represents who you are." Heather also describes Savior Stories as "healing stories, hopeful stories, and harmonizing stories about your life."

Now, you're probably reading this and trying to figure out what all of this has to do with the book of Ephesians. Here's the simple answer: verbs. Heather has broken down the book of Ephesians into seven main verbs that are studied one at a time and applied to our own stories as she helps us learn to tell "the right story" about our life.

This Bible study is so much more than just reviewing the book of Ephesians and it's various hidden implications. It's also a journey of personal discovery as you learn exactly what it means to be Included, Chosen, Seated, Strengthened, Renewed, Filled, and Proclaiming within your Savior Story - the story that no one but you can take hold of and claim.

Written by Heather Holleman, a teacher of composition and advanced writing at Penn State, this study is not just for those people who "like to write". As long as you're willing to follow her simple suggestions and seek out honest answers to her heart-felt questions, this book will help you discover the real you hidden beneath the Shadow Narrative of the everyday hustle. Now is the time to rewrite the story you tell others - and yourself - about your life and God's place in it. This is the tool to help you begin that journey. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from Moody Publishers for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Heather Holleman, PhD, is the author of Seated with Christ and Guarded by Christ. She teaches composition and advances writing at Penn State and has received numerous awards for excellence in teaching and mentorship during her career. She also serves alongside her husband, Ashley, in graduate student ministry with Cru's Faculty Commons. They live in Pennsylvania with their two daughters, and Heather writes daily at heatherholleman.com.
Purchase Links:
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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Beloved Hope by Tracie Peterson

Beloved Hope is the story of learning forgiveness and letting go of the past, trusting in God's plan for healing amongst the aftermath of betrayal, and believing in the strength and courage of looking toward a brighter future.

In this second book of the Heart Of The Frontier series by Tracie Peterson, we focus on Hope Flanagan, the middle of three closely bonded sisters in 1850s Oregon City. Tracie has done a good job at knitting important details from the first book throughout this one, so as to not confuse the reader if this book is their first exposure to the series.

Having survived the massacre at the Whitman Mission two years earlier, Hope finds herself now having to stand as a witness in a trial against the Indians that robbed her of so much more than just her innocence. While she had spent the last two years "moving on" and attempting to make the best of life, she now has to face everything that happened and admit to the pain she stills grips so tightly.

With the help of her sisters and a few close friends, Hope learns that not only is there a greater power in forgiveness than in revenge, but also that God can turn even the most dire of pasts into blessings of a hopeful future.

While I did not find the story and dialogue to be quite as gripping as the first book in the series, Treasured Grace, I still found this to be a wonderful gem and a novel testimony to God's power to help us overcome the past and let go of the bitterness that can grab hold of us so tightly at times. 4/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from Bethany House publishers for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Tracie Peterson's love for history and research fuels the bestselling stories she writes. She is the author of over one hundred novels and the recipient of the 2011 ACFW Lifetime Achievement Award. Tracie and her family live in Montana.
Purchase Links:
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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

We Stood Upon Stars by Roger W. Thompson

We Stood Upon Stars: Finding God In Lost Places by Roger W. Thompson is a series of 31 short stories of various travels Roger has been on throughout his life. Most of these recollected journeys focus on the detours, wrong turns, and other mishaps that happen when things don't go quite as you anticipate. But, as Roger demonstrates, those wrong turns often lead us on the greatest adventures and hold the secrets to life's biggest mysteries.

Most of the stories tend to wander and get off topic themselves, which lends to the overall flow that life doesn't follow a set map or order when it comes to how we learn the lessons it has to teach us. And for those of you who want a definitive purpose or moral behind each of these mini road trips, Roger has made a point to show us what he's come to learn from the experience.

While I found some of the stories to be things I could relate to, I had a hard time getting on the same page as the author for most of this book. I think it would be a great gift for the outdoorsy man who enjoys mini road trips and summer camping ventures and fishing with his family. Or, the guy that remembers having done all of those things in his childhood and would be able to reminisce about those days of seemingly carefree wonder while reading the ventures enclosed. 3/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Roger W. Thompson is a successful entrepreneur, collaborator, adventurer, and writer. He's spent his career building innovative businesses and nonprofit organizations. In addition to creating the first mission tourism resort in Haiti with the Hand and Feet Project, he's produced surf films, built skate parks, and outfitted adventure trips. Alongside his wife, he travels, surfs, snowboards, and fly-fishes - and is teaching his two young sons to do the same.
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