Book Review: Faithful Finance

Finance is not one of my strong points. I’m an unorganized creative type who has long been confused and intimidated by the rest of the world’s ability to understand things like investing and insurance and all things dealing with money.

I was looking for a book that would keep things simple and practical so when the offer to review this one came across my email I immediately responded. I must say that this is the first finance book I’ve ever actually finished reading, and not just because I had to.

Stroud is straightforward and practical in her advice which I appreciate. The tips that she gives seem within reach even for someone like me.
And it isn’t just a book about money. She always draws it back to faith and staying focused on what really matters in life. I love how she makes a point to say that having money is not sinful, and it is actually a way of being able to be used by God to bless others.

I wish Stroud could be my personal finance expert to turn to in real life. I’m looking forward to implementing some of the strategies she gives and finally finding some peace with my bank account.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Handlebar. The above is my honest review.

Book Review: The Remarkable Ordinary and A Crazy Holy Grace

For those like me who may be unfamiliar with the name Frederick Buechner, he is a Presbyterian minister and apparently a prolific writer with over 30 books. I agreed to read and review his books simply found myself intrigued by the titles of his latest releases: A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory and The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life.

It is no secret and you will quickly learn that at a young age Buechner’s father took his own life, and it is clear in A Crazy, Holy Grace that grappling with pain, memory, and grace are not foreign to his experience. The book is a short read of 137 pages divided into three sections: Pain and God’s Crazy, Holy Grace; The Magic of Memory; and Reflections on Secrets, Grace, and How God Speaks.

“But when it comes to putting broken lives back together–when it comes, in religious terms, to the saving of souls– the human best tends to be at odds with the holy best.” (p 41)

There were several moments throughout the book that I marked to come back to and ponder more. Buechner is very vulnerable in sharing the pain and memories of his life, and speaks of how the pain we encounter in life, because we will encounter pain, can actually be a treasure if we allow the crazy, holy grace of God to draw us closer. As hard as that is to understand and accept, I completely agree with him in this and love the concept he presents of stewarding our pain.

His writing tends to go toward the poetic language, which is beautiful, and real, and raw, but I think I approached the book with a different expectation. Maybe because I’m not in a season of being touched deeply by loss and pain, I had a hard time getting through this little book. I tracked with Buechner in the beginning, got lost somewhere in the memories, and caught back up in reflections. Nevertheless, I think he makes some points worth considering.

“Jesus is crowned again and again in the hearts of people who believe in him amidst confession and tears and great laughter.” George Arthur Buttrick

Another small work and quick read, The Remarkable Ordinary focuses on calling the reader to pay attention to your life that is happening right now. Jesus can be found in the laughter and the tears and the mundane daily tasks if we will just pay attention.

“It’s so easy to look and see what we pass through in this world, but we don’t. If you’re like me, you see so little. You see what you expect to see rather than what’s there.” (p.25)

This book, like the former, is based on a series of unpublished lectures and is in three parts: Stop, Look, and Listen for God; Listening for God in the Stories We Tell; Telling the Truth.

The first part of the book is, I would say, more practical and theological. Buechner points out the connection between art and religion is closer than many see, and how art frames life.

The latter part of the book is more of Buechner’s personal stories. While some of them overlap from A Crazy, Holy Grace, it is presented in a fresh way, and for some reason I followed them a little easier in this retelling.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Remarkable Ordinary.

The very last line of the book is my favorite of all. So if you firmly believe in not knowing how a book ends, don’t read the next paragraph, but it’s just too good to not share.

Joy is “knowing that even though you see only  through a glass darkly, even though lots of things happen–wars and peacemaking, hunger and homelessness–joy is knowing, even for a moment, that underneath everything are the everlasting arms.”

Book Review: Ordering Your Private World

“I believe that one of the great battlegrounds of our age is the private world of the individual.”
– Gordon MacDonald


Currently I’m having a lot of trouble walking. What started as a burning ache last week has become a real pain in both feet. On the outside you wouldn’t know anything is wrong, but something has happened internally and they cannot bear the weight they were created to.

I’ve been meaning to write this review for a few weeks, but life has been pretty chaotic inwardly and outwardly. Just as my feet need to be strengthened and supported and rested to heal, I am painfully aware the same is true for my inner self.

Our world is all about looks and productivity. We work endless hours and then come home to hours spent on technology. We don’t sleep well, and we certainly don’t rest well. In the Christian sphere, we also tend to fall into the false belief that those who are the busiest and most active are the most spiritual, but then we wonder why our leaders fall into great sin, turn away, or burn out.

I am thankful for voices like Gordon MacDonald pointing us toward wholeness. Ordering Your Private World is easy to read  and is filled with practicality to help you and me bring our inner lives into right alignment to support our outer lives. Don’t be fooled though. It will take commitment and making hard choices.

As an added aide to following through with the practical points of the book, there is a study guide included to help the reader think more personally. The guide could be used for just the reader or to help lead a small group study if you are so inclined.

This is a book that I’m adding to my shelf to keep, and I am looking forward to implementing some of the author’s suggestions. There’s no reason for us to wait until our entire world collapses around us to realize that we need to make changes. We don’t have to be part of the status quo. MacDonald has a lot of wisdom to offer on seeking God first practically so we can be fit to do what He calls us to do publicly. Let’s start living life from the inside out as we were created to, not just for our health, but also for those we are called to serve.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Handlebar in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The Awakening of HK Derryberry

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by stories based on true events and lives. The events and experiences that real people face and overcome never ceases to amaze me. So when I was offered the opportunity to read The Awakening of HK Derryberry, I just couldn’t pass it up. This is the inspirational account of how one man, Jim Bradford, befriended a young boy with Cerebral Palsy and blindness, HK Derryberry.

The story begins with coffee, which I personally believe most good things in life do.It is quick, easy, inspirational read, and a beautiful reminder not to discount or fear someone because of what we define as a disability.

One of my favorite conversations in the book was this:

“Mr. Bradford, what are you doing?”

“I’m trying to find my handicap placard.”

“I didn’t know you were handicapped!”

“I’m not, knucklehead; you are.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot.” (208)

HK Derryberry is a remarkable human being who clearly overcomes seemingly impossible odds, and has touched many lives. What the world sees as a disability may truly be his greatest gift.

For Jim Bradford, I think this story shows how powerful our choices are. What brought the two together was initially because he deviated from his routine one morning. But not just that, he could have pitied or even felt compassion for the HK and his situation, but gone no further; instead, he acted and gave of himself and his time.

While the book probably isn’t one I will ever read again, I’m happy to have met HK and Jim in its pages, and I think most of us could learn a thing or two from both HK and Jim.


I received a complimentary copy of this book through Handlebar in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Get Out of That Pit

10th Anniversary Edition of Get Out of That Pit by Beth Moore

I’m not sure how I happened onto a list where I can be offered books to read in exchange for a review, but it’s a list I’m happy to be on,  and we are kicking it off with a book that’s been around for a while.

Thomas Nelson just did a 10th anniversary print of Beth Moore’s Get Out of That Pit. While I don’t follow Moore closely, I have always enjoyed the snippets of talks or studies that I have come across in the past.

In the pages of Get Out of That Pit, Moore shares from her own personal journey and from studying Scripture about what a pit is, how we find ourselves in them, and how to get out. As someone else who is pretty familiar with the pits and found herself pit dwelling by all three ways described in the book, I found her words encouraging and practical. No matter how we ended up in the pit, we do NOT have to stay there. That is good news!!

The book is easy to follow and sprinkled with humor. The chapters are a manageable size and not overwhelming, and at the back of the book some daily Scripture prayers are offered if you need a little boost or springboard for figuring out what or how to pray. There are also reflection and application questions for each chapter, which is perfect for personal study or if you want to do a group study.

A few times in the book the humor felt a little forced to me, but overall I enjoyed Get Out of That Pit and think it would make a great book to tackle in a small group.

Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of Get Out of That Pit in return for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

thoughts on freedom

When I see this little canvas in the corner of my room, I am reminded again of Ukraine’s history, how they have been conquered and ruled time and again, how the people are strong and resilient.

This painting emerged one night as revolution rang in the streets and sniper bullets had rained downtown. A measure of uncertainty fell like a blanket over all our lives.

This small work isn’t fancy and would never be praised for its show of skill and mastery, but it is meaningful to me. It reminds me that freedom comes at great cost.

Over the last several years there have been times I’ve been tempted to add to this canvas and try to make it more sophisticated, not quite so I could have created this elementary school looking, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

I think most of the time the process to freedom doesn’t come out looking the way we thought it would or think it should. We want to cover up the parts that look childish or like mistakes, but the truth is that those moments are part of the freedom journey, too, and shouldn’t be discounted.

Yesterday was the celebration of our independence here in America. For most of us it was probably a day of food, friends, and fireworks. The fourth of July is also meant as a reminder of the freedoms we so often take for granted and the sacrifices that made a way for those freedoms.

Whether we are looking for freedom in our nation, in our relationships, in our bodies, or in our spiritual lives, there is a price. There is always a price. There are choices that must be made, there are difficult actions that must be taken, and we must be aware that freedom comes with great responsibility. Freedom is never passive.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 NIV

Though battles rage all around us, hope remains, love conquers fear, and we have a promise of true freedom in Jesus Christ. It is through Him alone that hope remains alive and active in our world. We can find ourselves not enslaved to the whim of tyranny, but able to live free of fear. And if we find ourselves free, then we have an obligation to share that freedom with others.

Contempt for the Miraculous (or When God’s Provision Isn’t What You Want)

A few years ago I was part of a team that traveled around the world. One of the first things we were asked to do as a group was pick a name, and in all our great wisdom we chose Manna.

It sounds all biblical and really great when you think about manna being food from Heaven described as tasting like a delightful honey wafer delicacy (Exodus 16:31) and being provided by God. BUT…
Our first clue should have been that the name manna itself came from people asking, “Man-hu?” or “What is it?” (Exodus 16:15), and from the very beginning I think it is fair to say we looked at our team of seven and felt very much like, “What in the world?”

There were no automatic bestie statuses happening or celebration for this provision; it was more akin to groaning and gnashing of teeth. More than one of us tried to get out, me included. Surely the leadership and God had made some mistake in this Manna.

Recently, I re-read the account of manna in Numbers and just haven’t been able to get away from it. The Israelites seemed to think God had messed up with their manna, too, and didn’t approve of God’s choices in provision.

Listening to the Riffraff

“The riffraff among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining, “Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt – and got it free! – to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.” (Numbers 11:4-6 MSG)

It was “the riffraff among the people” that started this grumbling. This mixed group was comprised of Egyptians and others that had joined with the Israelites, and God’s people faltered when they began listening to and complaining along with them.

Instead of standing in thankfulness and faith from all they had already experienced of God’s goodness and provision, the Israelites lifted their voices up with the rabble, thereby declaring that what God had given wasn’t good enough. They began to take a rose-colored journey back through the past and suddenly Egypt looked oh so good.

Remembering what God has done for us and where He brought us out of from a place of thankfulness is wisdom, but touring memory lane with a fondness for our place of former bondage leads back to more bondage.

Trading Freedom

“We ate fish in Egypt – and got it free!” How quickly the Israelites forgot the enslavement of that former land and that nothing there was truly free, because they themselves had no freedom.

Would they really be willing to trade freedom for food? It seems crazy. It is crazy! BUT this isn’t the first time we encounter a trade driven by a food craving.

Remember in Genesis 25:19-34 when Esau gave up his birthright for a bowl of stew? Or back all the way up to Adam and Eve and the fruit off the tree. It seems we have been making decisions with eternal weight based on the cravings of our bellies and the whisperings of discontent since the Garden of Eden.

Cravings can cause us to view even miraculous provision from God as inadequate, and can bring us to a place where we willingly trade our inheritance for a fleeting feeling!

Familiarity and Entitlement

I think the people of Israel began to view their miraculous provision as something they were entitled to. This sustaining bread from Heaven showed up every single day and as the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.”

When I traveled overseas in 2009, I ate so many forms of rice and beans that when I returned home I wouldn’t touch them,  and that was just after 11 months. It wasn’t even what I ate every day for every meal, although it sometimes felt that way.

Can you imagine day after day eating the same thing? Manna, manna, manna.

I’m sure I would be there saying, “Give us something different! Come on God, we know you’re more creative than this. How about a buffet of choices that will appeal to everyone? If you truly loved us, God, you would give us more than just this manna.”

With my travel companions, Team Manna, we got to know each other really well over those 11 months. Teammates were always around, even when you didn’t want them to be. It was great sometimes, but other times I wanted something different. It was uncomfortable and simply maddening. Other teams seemed to have it better, and why shouldn’t we get a say in this matter?

I mean, if we believe we are entitled to something, then we also expect it to be what we want, don’t we? It is this entitlement mentality that breeds contempt.

The focus turns to ourselves and our cravings, rather than to God and His best. We reduce the miraculous to just another entitlement, and we treat it as contemptible because it isn’t fulfilling our selfish wants and desires.

The point of the miraculous is never simply just about the miracle and it isn’t about us. Those awe inspiring acts are meant to point us to our amazing, all-powerful, creative, and loving God.

So what keeps us from snubbing our noses at the ways of God?

Giving Thanks Even In The Wilderness

It can be easy to listen to and join with the riffraff. Their doubts and fears about the goodness and trustworthiness of God can often be loud and hard to push past, especially when they echo our own unspoken doubts and fears.

Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. (Hebrews 13:15–16)

Giving thanks can be hard, a sacrifice even.  1 Thessalonians 5:8 tells us we are to “give thanks in all circumstances.” That’s every single circumstance.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some points where it didn’t look like there was a lot to be thankful for and my melancholy Eeyore natural disposition doesn’t make it any easier. That still does not change the fact that we are called to give thanks no matter what.

The wilderness can be tough. The very definition of a wilderness means it’s an uncultivated and inhospitable region. We may have to pass through the wilderness, but we were never supposed to remain in it. We can be thankful because if God is leading us through the wilderness, He will most certainly provide.

The nature of the wilderness requires leaning into God and I dare say even expecting His miraculous provision to make it through. We must remember this provision is never because of our entitlement; it is because of His love and care and what He knows is for the best to glorify Him.

A Choice to Make

With Team Manna, we had to learn to lay down our wants and entitlements. It wasn’t easy and some days were certainly better than others. It definitely doesn’t rank high on my fun scale, but God knew exactly what each of us on that team really needed and He is after our hearts, not our comfort.

After a long struggle, we came together and repented and began to thank God for each other instead of wishing and longing for something or someone different. We learned to choose to love, to be thankful, and to trust God and each other. Team Manna truly became family, and all these years later I find that I miss them and am truly thankful for them.

If we choose to focus on what we perceive is lacking, then we follow the footsteps of those complaining about the manna. And if you read Numbers 11:33-34 you’ll see that didn’t turn out so well.

“But while they were still chewing the quail and had hardly swallowed the first bites, God’s anger blazed out against the people. He hit them with a terrible plague.They ended up calling the place Kibroth Hattaavah (Graves-of-the-Craving). There they buried the people who craved meat.”

I don’t think anyone of us want to treat God or His provision with disdain. Cultivating a thankful heart helps to keep us from doing that.


Instead of letting the riffraff sway people into a place of destruction, let us be the ones who point people to the goodness of God. Just as complaining tends to spread, so does an attitude of gratitude.

Words kill, words give life;
    they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.
Proverbs 18:21 (MSG)

Despite what we see, despite what we feel, despite what we think we desire or believe is best, God knows what is up ahead and His provision is never the wrong provision and it is always on time.

We don’t have to be people who live and die by cravings. We can be ones who stand and say, “Thank you God for this provision. I don’t understand, and I don’t have to. I know You are faithful and we can put our trust in You.”

Our God is still a God of miracles. His answer to our needs may not be what we desire. We may look at it and say, “But what is it?!” and that’s okay.

May we choose to look back on the places God has brought us from, the places He parted seas and impossible situations in our life already, and look at this place and if necessary say, “I don’t understand, but thank you for providing. Not my will, but yours be done.”

Bezalel Got Skill

The process of creating, expressing, and courageously hoping and sharing with the world, isn’t that what art is?

It comes in forms such  as painting, poetry, movies, theatre, dance, but also many others. It touches our hearts, minds, and souls.

It makes us question. It causes us to move. It brings us to see beauty in places we wouldn’t have otherwise.

I love to consider God as the Creator, dreaming up and forming all that we see that is beautiful and daily creating masterpieces small and great.

One of my favorite spots in the Bible is Exodus for so many reasons, but here is one of them:

Then the Lord said to Moses,  “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—  to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6 NIV)

It’s like the first artistic commissioning. The Spirit of God gave those artists the wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and skills they needed to create what He desired for the Tabernacle.

When I read this I hear God saying there is room for artistic skill in the place of worship and that artists are needed to use those skills in glorifying Him!

“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.”  Schumann

Sometimes the arts seem like a less than job or calling. That whole starving artist persona doesn’t exactly scream, “What I do matters and is appreciated.” But the arts can be powerful, and work formed by someone gifted by God and with a desire to use their skills for Him can change perspectives and lives and culture.

When I think of my Ukrainian friends, one of the characteristics that always stands out is how creatively minded and skilled they are. It is something I deeply appreciate about the culture and I believe God wants to use that creativity to show Ukrainians and the world His love.

Creating, expressing, and courageously hoping and sharing God’s love with the world

The arts is not a less than job or calling. The arts are powerful and godly artists are needed to speak for those who have no voice, to paint the possibilities for those who feel hopeless, to dance the chains off the enslaved, and remind us all that God cannot be contained in boxes. 


The Days I Hate

The rain falls heavy outside and seeps through the roof into my haven,  the dripping reminding me that what I try to keep out is always coming for me. The dark grey matches my mood as the whisperings of anxiety hurl their accusations into my ear. My face burns and my heart breaks at the realization that these days always seem to find me.

One foot in front of the other seems like trudging through quicksand. Each movement of attempted escape only feels like a weight pulling me under.

The fear, the old fear, raises its serpent head and lunges at me, and though it misses I wonder for just how long. Continue reading “The Days I Hate”