An archive of this Sojourner's Journey – Reflections, book reviews, and other random thoughts

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Book Review: You Are The Beloved

About the Book:

Seven million copies of his books in print! This daily devotional from the bestselling author of such spiritual classics as The Return of the Prodigal Son and The Wounded Healer offers deep spiritual insight into human experience, intimacy, brokeness, and mercy.

Nouwen devoted much of his later ministry to emphasizing the singular concept of our identity as the Beloved of God. In an interview, he said that he believed the central moment in Jesus’s public ministry to be his baptism in the Jordan, when Jesus heard the affirmation, “You are my beloved son on whom my favor rests.” “That is the core experience of Jesus,” Nouwen writes. “He is reminded in a deep, deep way of who he is. . . . I think his whole life is continually claiming that identity in the midst of everything.”

You Are Beloved is a daily devotional intended to empower readers to claim this truth in their own lives. Featuring the best of Nouwen’s writing from previously published works, this devotional will propel the canon forward as it draws on this rich literature in new and compelling ways. It will appeal to readers already familiar with Nouwen’s work as well as new readers looking for a devotional to guide them into a deeper awareness of their identity in Jesus.

My Thoughts:

If you know me then you probably already know that I’m a fan of Nouwen’s reflective and insightful writing.  This new devotional is good, but it is honestly much like some of the other collections of Nouwen’s writings.   I’ve only looked at a month’s worth of entries so far, but I’ve yet to come across a reading that I’m not familiar with.  So, if you are already familiar with Nouwen’s works you might enjoy this book while finding that it’s nothing particularly new.  Also, I had trouble seeing the connection of a number of the entries to a deeper awareness of our identity in Jesus.  They are all good for reflection, but maybe not as closely connected to the title as I would have hoped.

On the other hand, if you aren’t familiar with Nouwen’s writings, this book might be a reasonable choice, but honestly, it’s not where I’d recommend you start.  If I was making a recommendation for daily readings I’d say start with The Only Necessary Thing and read one quoted section a day.  That will give you a much broader and more well rounded context for Nouwen, how he thinks and how he writes.  Then if you are looking for another Nouwen devotional you might move on to this book and other books like Life of the Beloved, With Open Hands and Show Me The Way (which is a particularly excellent Lent devotional).

All in all, I’d say this book, You Are the Beloved, is a good choice for an in-between Nouwen reader.  It’s a nice collection of quotes to spark reflection.  But it isn’t my favorite collection.

I was sent a digital pre-release copy of this book for review in exchange for my honest opinion, which is written above.

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Book Review: All Things New (Part 2)

About the Book:

New York Times bestselling author John Eldredge offers readers a breathtaking look into God’s promise for a new heaven and a new earth.

This revolutionary book about our future is based on the simple idea that, according to the Bible, heaven is not our eternal home–the New Earth is. As Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew, the next chapter of our story begins with “the renewal of all things,” by which he means the earth we love in all its beauty, our own selves, and the things that make for a rich life: music, art, food, laughter and all that we hold dear. Everything shall be renewed “when the world is made new.”

More than anything else, how you envision your future shapes your current experience. If you knew that God was going to restore your life and everything you love any day; if you believed a great and glorious goodness was coming to you–not in a vague heaven but right here on this earth–you would have a hope to see you through anything, an anchor for your soul, “an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God” (Hebrews 6:19).

Most Christians (most people for that matter) fail to look forward to their future because their view of heaven is vague, religious, and frankly boring. Hope begins when we understand that for the believer nothing is lost. Heaven is not a life in the clouds; it is not endless harp-strumming or worship-singing. Rather, the life we long for, the paradise Adam and Eve knew, is precisely the life that is coming to us. And that life is coming soon.

My Thoughts:

As I mentioned in a previous post, twenty three years ago I came face to face with the truth that this book communicates and it changed my life.  I love that Eldredge has brought his skill of communication and his passion to write All Things New.  This is a book about hope.  A book that helps us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Eldredge starts us off with an amazing reminder.  “What we ache for is redemption; what our heart cries out for is restoration.  And I have some stunning, breathtaking news for you: restoration is exactly what Jesus promised.”  We lose sight of this.  I lost sight of this.  All around me I see grief and loss and despair.  I need to be reminded again and again of the “anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:9) and this is a book full of truly stunning reminders of that which is true.

Eldredge delves deep into the teachings of Christ about the restoration of all things, teaching that have been largely lost or overlooked in the modern church, truth meant to encourage and sustain us through every hard thing.

“If you woke each morning and your heart leapt with hope, knowing that the renewal of all things was just around the corner – might even come today – you would be one happy person.  If you knew in every fiber of your being that nothing is lost, that everything will be restored to you and then some, you would be armored against discouragement and despair.   If your heart’s imagination were filled with rich expectations of all the goodness coming to you, your confidence would be contagious; you would be unstoppable, revolutionary.”

This is a book of hope.  A book of expectation.  Understanding the truth of the palingenesia (the renewal of all things) can truly be revolutionary.  I know it turned my life upside down and gave me the courage to follow Jesus along roads that I could never have trod if I wasn’t confident that truly nothing is lost.

I love this book and I hope you will consider reading it.

 

I received a free review copy of this book from the author for review, however, all opinions written here are my own (and I’ve already bought copies to give away because I really, honestly, deeply love this book).

Book Review: The Mission Walker

About the Book:

This story is not about avoiding death. It’s about living life.

Immerse yourself in the amazing story of Edie Littlefield Sundby, who, after being told she had only 3 months to live, survived 79 rounds of chemotherapy, radical liver and lung surgeries, and then walked 800 miles along the California Mission Trail, averaging 14 miles a day, and stopping at life-giving missions to revive her body and her soul.

When she finished she yearned to walk the mission trail from its start – in Mexico. But no one had traversed that trail in 250 years.

As you will learn in the pages of this book, Edie doesn’t care about what some deem impossible. It is that spirit that has allowed her to live, despite the odds.

With fading strength and only one lung, she walked another 800 miles through the rugged mountains and deserts of Baja Mexico to the California border. In a walk of triumph, of harrowing adventure, and of spiritual enlightenment, she carried her mortality in every step and in the process opened up a profound communion with God and his creation, and the true meaning of life.

And all of this with a terminal cancer that was chasing her every step of the way. It still is, and she continues to walk with it every day.

For me, walking is a transcendent physical, emotional, and spiritual experience, like dancing. “If I can move, I am not sick.” That is my alternate reality. And I believe with all my will in that reality. So when cancer strikes again and again, I walk to stay alive.

Life is the greatest adventure there is. Why stop our adventuring because someone says the end might be near?

For those who crave a spirit of adventure, who ache like Edie to know what our bodies and spirits are truly capable of, this book is a must-read. A true testament to faith, courage, and the power of hope.

My Thoughts:

I had mixed opinions about this book.  I’d have to give it an average – it’s OK – three stars.

One one hand, I liked it because it’s a story of setting out after a goal and pursuing a dream despite all odds and who doesn’t love a story about overcoming?  I also appreciated the history that I learned on Edie’s journey as she included her research and imagination about the priests and their work in all of the missions that she visited in California and Mexico.

What I struggled with in this book were the connections and the assumptions.

First, let’s talk about the connections.  The first quarter, or maybe even third, of the book was given over to the story of cancer and the struggle of treatment.  I’ve had more than my fill of medical scenarios in my own life and I don’t really enjoy reading about them so I could have skipped that part.  Yes, the cancer set the stage for the walks, but the proportion of time given made cancer as much of a theme of the book as the walks themselves, which wasn’t something I was expecting based on the book’s marketing.  And though we are often reminded even through the end of the story that another appointment is upcoming there is absolutely no wrap up to the medical aspect of the story, no report on the long awaited and much talked about appointment, no two sentences to give an update at the time of the books publishing.  Instead the theme that is such a predominate part of the book is left hanging.  As a reader I expect that if you take me along on your journey you will at least have the courtesy to not drop me off before the destination that you have been pointing me toward.

And the assumptions…I found myself concerned with many of Edie’s viewpoints. I struggled with the viewpoint that being at home and hanging out with family and enjoying the simple things isn’t really living life.  I love a grand story or an epic experience as much as anyone, but I don’t think they are the measure of whether you are really living. I also struggled with her desire to push through, overcome and fulfill a dream in contrast to the lack of honor she gave to her body including not stopping for days of rest.  I recognize that she made choices that were all her own, but I  personally had a hard time enjoying aspects of her journey when they seemed so contrary to values that I hold.  I love stories of pilgrimage, but I guess this book showed me that I really do have my own opinions about good and not as good ways to go about a pilgrimage.

But all in all, I’m glad I read the book.  A tale of pursuing something you are passionate about no matter the cost is one worth reading.  And Edie’s story is certainly one of passion.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

 

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All Things New

I’m halfway through my review copy of John Eldredge’s book: All Things New.  I’ve sprinkled nearly every page with my tears, not tears of sorrow, but the tears of deep longing that rise to the surface when someone mentions the thing that you most want.  If there was ever a book that I wish that I’d written this is it.  This is a topic that captured my heart twenty three years ago and utterly transformed my life.

Imagine, just imagine, what the impact would be to all of your choices in this life if you really, deeply and truly believed that nothing is ever lost.

It all started for me twenty three years ago in a class at Multnomah University when the professor stunned his entire classroom of students by turning our shallow concept of heaven upside down.  In a single sentence, where he mentioned that in heaven we would still be waiting on this, the palingenesia – the restoration of all things, almost every hand in the room went into the air.  And as I listened to these concepts unraveled and opened the word of God I discovered that almost everything I’d ever understood about eternity was wrong.  And thus began my love affair with the Kingdom of God.

And this theme, these truths, became the catalyst for my life with God.  What can’t I sacrifice in this life if I KNOW that I will get it all back and even more? In fact, I’ll get back a completely restored version of the broken beautiful that I so deeply love now.  And is it a sacrifice at all to make an investment that guarantees hundred fold returns?

Even more impacting, this theme has helped me learn how to grieve well in this broken world.  Not that many years ago I sat with God on a balcony in Slovenia wrestling over a grief that I just couldn’t shake.  And God whispered to me, “Beloved daughter, you don’t understand.  You believe that in this the curse has won.  But that’s not true.  I am making all things new.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that will not be redeemed.  Restoration isn’t lost, it is just waiting.”  Oh, glorious hope!

I’ll write more about the book later, but I can tell you now that I’d love to send a copy to everyone that I know.  Because everyone I know needs hope and Eldredge is holding out a banner of hope, unfurling a truth that has been grievously lost by the people of God, a hope that is meant to empower our lives.  And it’s a beautiful and moving thing to open this book and the Word of God and breathe in hope.

Take the time to watch the video above if you haven’t already.  Pre-order the book here if you like.  And receive the gift of God in the confidence of the restoration of everything you love.

Book Review: Love Held Captive

About the Book:

 

Book Review: A Noble Servant

About the Book:

New York Times bestselling author Melanie Dickerson beautifully re-imagines “The Goose Girl” by the Brothers Grimm into a medieval tale of adventure, loss, and love.

“When it comes to happily-ever-afters, Melanie Dickerson is the undisputed queen of fairy-tale romance, and all I can say is—long live the queen!” —JULIE LESSMAN, award-winning author of The Daughters of Boston, Winds of Change, and Heart of San Francisco series

She lost everything to the scheme of an evil servant.

But she might just gain what she’s always wanted . . . if she makes it in time.

The impossible was happening. She, Magdalen of Mallin, was to marry the Duke of Wolfberg. Magdalen had dreamed about receiving a proposal ever since she met the duke two years ago. Such a marriage was the only way she could save her people from starvation. But why would a handsome, wealthy duke want to marry her, a poor baron’s daughter? It seemed too good to be true.

On the journey to Wolfberg Castle, Magdalen’s servant forces her to trade places and become her servant, threatening not only Magdalen’s life, but the lives of those she holds dear. Stripped of her identity and title in Wolfberg, where no one knows her, Magdalen is sentenced to tend geese while she watches her former handmaiden gain all Magdalen had ever dreamed of.

When a handsome shepherd befriends her, Magdalen begins to suspect he carries secrets of his own. Together, Magdalen and the shepherd uncover a sinister plot against Wolfberg and the duke. But with no resources, will they be able to find the answers, the hiding places, and the forces they need in time to save both Mallin and Wolfberg?

My Thoughts:

Melanie Dickerson writes creative, light and wholesome re-imagined fairy tales.  This series and this novel, The Noble Servant, follows her general pattern of telling an easily read and yet satisfying tale of a hero and heroine overcoming all odds and finding that integrity of character is foundational for discovering and realizing a life of love.

 I review for BookLook Bloggers

Book Review: An Unhurried Leader

About the Book:

What does grace-paced leadership look like? Spiritual mentor. Pastor. Executive director. Parent. Professor. Spouse. We have many roles and relationships. And in the midst of all we do, we’re tempted to frantically take control of situations in hopes of making good things happen. Alan Fadling, author of An Unhurried Life, writes: “That kind of unholy hurry may make me look busy, but too often it keeps me from actually being fruitful in the ways Jesus wants me to be. Jesus modeled grace-paced leadership. To learn that we begin not with leading, but with following.”

In these pages Alan Fadling unfolds what it means for leaders to let Jesus set the pace. Through biblical illustrations, personal examples, and on-the-ground leadership wisdom, this book will guide you into a new view of kingdom leadership. Along the way you just might find that the whole of your life has been transformed into a more livable and more fruitful pace.

Advance Praise

I received a free pre-release digital galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Book Review: A Name Unknown

Releases on July 4, 2017

About the Book:

Edwardian Romance and History Gains a Twist of Suspense

Rosemary Gresham has no family beyond the band of former urchins that helped her survive as a girl in the mean streets of London. Grown now, they concentrate on stealing high-value items and have learned how to blend into upper-class society. But when Rosemary must determine whether a certain wealthy gentleman is loyal to Britain or to Germany, she is in for the challenge of a lifetime. How does one steal a family’s history, their very name?

Peter Holstein, given his family’s German blood, writes his popular series of adventure novels under a pen name. With European politics boiling and his own neighbors suspicious of him, Peter debates whether it might be best to change his name for good. When Rosemary shows up at his door pretending to be a librarian and offering to help him trace his family history, his question might be answered.

But as the two work together and Rosemary sees his gracious reaction to his neighbors’ scornful attacks, she wonders if her assignment is going down the wrong path. Is it too late to help him prove that he’s more than his name?

My Thoughts:

I couldn’t put it down.  From the first page to the last I was intrigued by both plot and characters.  There were several interesting twists and turns to the story and I found myself feeling quite attached to the characters all the while hoping for a happy resolution to their varied dilemmas.  My only regret is that I read it too quickly.

I would fully recommend A Name Unknown.  I thought it was a delightful novel and I hope there will be more to follow.

I received a free digital galley of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: With You Always

About the Book:

A Riveting Look at the Orphan Train from Historical Novelist Jody Hedlund

When a financial crisis in 1850s New York leaves three orphaned sisters nearly destitute, the oldest, Elise Neumann, knows she must take action. She’s had experience as a seamstress, and the New York Children’s Aid Society has established a special service: placing out seamstresses and trade girls. Even though Elise doesn’t want to leave her sisters for a job in Illinois, she realizes this may be their last chance.

The son of one of New York City’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, Thornton Quincy faces a dilemma. His father is dying, and in order to decide which of his sons will inherit everything, he is requiring them to do two things in six months: build a sustainable town along the Illinois Central Railroad, and get married. Thornton is tired of standing in his twin brother’s shadow and is determined to win his father’s challenge. He doesn’t plan on meeting a feisty young woman on his way west, though.

My Thoughts:

I find Jody Hedlund to be an engaging author.  Though this book could likely stand alone I would recommend reading it after reading the prequel: An Awakened Heart (which at the time of this posting is free on Amazon kindle).

Though this book is part of an “Orphan Train” series it is far less about the life of orphans sent out on trains as it is about the life of the men and women of the time.  It looks at the question of what kind of life situations resulted in so many children being given up to the trains as well as the ordinary and extraordinary actions of those who wanted to bless families, hold them together and offer love and assistance to those who were caught in the devastation of the times.

With You Always is an engaging work of historical fiction that is well worth reading.

I received a free digital pre-release of this book to read in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Book Review: Wendell Berry and the Given Life

About the Book:

We drive to work on the stored energy of ten thousand years of sunlight. Our daily bread seems to generate miraculously from store shelves. And our communities can be connected with a billion ones and zeros over fiber optic cables. For us, the idea of being a creature can seem passé. Yet in this lonely world of mastery, in a time so dominated by human desire and design that it has been dubbed the “anthropocene,” the human age, many of us feel that we are missing some essential truth about who we are.

The glimpses of this truth come when we lose cell reception on a long hike in the forest and our eyes are lifted to the simple marvel of trees. We feel this truth when we take up a shovel and sense the satisfying heave of dirt as we plant a modest garden. We hear this truth when we tune out the traffic and listen to the song sparrow’s melody, eavesdropping on a beauty that serves no human economy. In all this we hear a whisper of the truth that we are creatures—and we long to live in this reality. But how can we, when we have moved so far from our life source in the soil?

For the past 50 years, Wendell Berry has been helping seekers chart a return to the practice of being creatures. Through his essays, poetry and fiction, Berry has repeatedly drawn our attention to the ways in which our lives are gifts in a whole economy of gifts.

Berry presents us with the sort of coherent vision for the lived moral and spiritual life that we need now.  His work helps us remember our givenness and embrace our life as creatures. His insights flow from a life and practices, and so it is a vision that can be practiced and lived—it is a vision that is grounded in the art of being a creature.

Wendell Berry and the Given Life  articulates his vision for the creaturely life and the Christian understandings of humility and creation that underpin it.

My Thoughts:

In some ways I loved this book and in other ways I found myself frustrated with it.

To begin, the author sought to cover a great deal of ground.  Each one of the chapter themes could have spanned many books and so we are given a very brief look at what the Sutterfield considers the core of Berry’s thoughts on a topic.  In some cases this was perfect, giving a glimpse into an idea that you can then go and explore for yourself across Berry’s writings.  In other cases I found that it made the topics seem somewhat idealistic and that there simply wasn’t enough space to fully round out the discussion, particularly as it comes to application to the world in which we live.

I deeply appreciated the theme of the given life: what it means to receive and what it looks like to be given in return.  I also loved the reflection on what it means to be creatures, living within the limitations placed upon us by the Creator.

As I always do with Berry’s work, I struggled with the emphasis on place and roots.  While so much of it appeals to my soul, that’s not the life I’ve been called to as an emissary of the gospel to foreign lands.  I do love the idea of place and roots and living within my “watershed,” however I always wish more discussion was given to the reality that not all “wander” because they are discontent or irresponsible, but because God calls.

The places where I found myself frustrated within this work is where we were presented with a beautiful ideal without enough space to really flush out what that can look like in the wide world.  Without that discussion I found my thoughts to easily drawn to how short we fall of even our most preciously held ideals about how to live, which opened a doorway to guilt rather than hope.  Perhaps that was just me, but I did find that such a brief overview of so many lofty topics wasn’t as beneficial as I had hoped in answering the question, “What does it look like for me to live the given life?”  Perhaps that wasn’t the question that the author was seeking to answer.  Perhaps the book was intended to be simply informational.

Is it a good book?  Yes.  I think it is especially helpful if you know very little about Wendell Berry and his vision.   But for myself, I suppose I was hoping for a bit more depth wrestling with integration and application of the given or “creaturely” life.

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I was given a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which is given in the review above.