A Scriptural Stream of Consciousness Based on Psalm 23

19 01 2015

First, I take absolutely no credit for this; it is the work of my husband.  One night when he couldn’t sleep he got up, and in the wee hours of stillness and darkness, he wrote this.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall want for nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.

He restores my soul

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entirely, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

He restores my soul

The God of all grace, who called you by Christ Jesus to his eternal glory, will restore you, establish you, strengthen you, and support you.  (1 Peter 5:10)

He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  (Isaiah 41:10)

You are with me

“Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20)

He is with us

God raised us from death to life with Christ Jesus, and he has given us a place beside Christ in heaven.  (Ephesians 2:6)

He is with us

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.  (Ephesians 2:22)

He is with us

He says “Here I am, with the children God has given me.”  (Hebrews 2:13, Isaiah 8:18)

He is with us

The mystery which has been hidden for ages and generations but has now been manifested to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  (Colossians 1:26-27)

I will fear no evil, for you are with me
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You prepare a table before me

“And I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred a kingdom on me,  so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit down on thrones to govern the twelve tribes of Israel.”  (Luke 22:29-30)

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

You anoint my head with oil

(a sign of sanctification, dedication, coronation)

You anoint my head with oil

And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee of what is to come.  (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

You anoint my head with oil

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  (1 Peter 2:9)

You anoint my head with oil

You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  (1 Corinthians 6:11)

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever

There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going away to prepare a place for you?  (John 14:2)

I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever

We know that if the earthly tent we live in is torn down, we have a building in heaven that comes from God, an eternal house not built by human hands.  (2 Corinthians 5:1)

I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever

You, too, as living stones, are building yourselves up into a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, so that you may offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus, the Messiah.  (1 Peter 2:5)

I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever

“For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said: “I will live and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”  (2 Corinthians 6:16)

I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever

I also saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.  I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “See, the tent of God is among humans! He will make his home with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There won’t be death anymore.  There won’t be any grief, crying, or pain, because the old order of things has disappeared.”  The one sitting on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  (Revelation 21:2-5)

Lord God, restore our souls we pray, for you are with us at this table you have prepared for us.  Anoint us with your Spirit as you join us together, building your temple, your dwelling place, that will last forever.


Favorite Verses

8 09 2013

I just began my MBA program at Trevecca Nazarene University where my husband teaches. One of my first assignments was to explain my favorite Bible verse. We could only select one. The Christian Bible is comprised of 66 books, 1,189 chapters and 31,102 verses. My favorite verse really depends on the situation or occasion, but more often than not, simply what kind of mood I’m in.

For this assignment, I chose Daniel 2:21, “He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to the scholars.” I thought that applicable to this academic endeavor.

Here are some of my other favorites.

•Engraved on my wedding band: Hosea 2:19-20, “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.

•My claim for Caleb upon his birth: Psalm 22:10, “From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

•My claim for Jason upon his birth: Psalm 103:1, “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

•My mantra while I’m running or in a triathlon: Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.

•Best reminder/rebuke when I am being stubborn: Deuteronomy 29:19, “Those who hear the warning of this curse should not congratulate themselves, thinking, ‘I am safe, even though I am following the desires of my own stubborn heart.’ This would lead to utter ruin!

•My prayer for myself when I need to extend compassion, patience, and grace: Ezekiel 26:26, “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

•Reminder as a teacher: James 3:1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

•The power of team work and community: Proverbs 15:22, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers, they succeed” and Ecclesiastes 3:12, “A cord of three stands is not easily broken.

•On being content: Proverbs 30:8, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread,” and Job 1:20, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.

For a little humor . . .

Just a few weeks before we got married, Matthew sent me this reference at the end of an email as an encouragement to me: Genesis 29:20, “So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.” However, I mistakenly read verse 21 (which is also applicable to a soon-to-be-married couple, “Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.’”

I could fill up a dozen more pages on other favorite verses. What are some of your favorites?

2012 Reading List

9 01 2013

I didn’t read as much as I had hoped for in 2012. My original goal was 52 books, one per week. As a working mother, that was perhaps a bit ambitious. I only made it to 40.

The first list is the books I read listed chronologically. The second list, ordered by my rating and preference, gives a brief synopsis of each book followed by my opinion.

Overall, my favorite non-fiction read was 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker, and my favorite fiction was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I also discovered three new (as in new-to-me) authors I can’t wait read more from: Jen Hatmaker, A.J. Jacobs, and Stephen Lawhead. Leave me a comment on your favorite books. I will read just about anything as long as it’s good: fiction, non-fiction, historical, sy-fy, young adult, Christian, memoirs, mystery . . .

1. Season of Betrayal by Margaret Lowrie Robertson
2. The Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas
3. The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
4. The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs
5. The Red Leather Diary by Lily Koppel
6. Walking Ghost Phase by David Daugherty
7. Off the Deep End by W. Hodding Carter
8. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
9. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
10. Dear Stangers by Meg Mullins
11. In the Arms of Grace by LeChristine Hai
12. The Hidden Girl by Lola Rein Kaufman
13. The Girl Who Survived by Bronia Brandman
14. Swimming with Crocodiles by Will Chaffey
15. The Wedding Letters by Jason F. Wright
16. The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright
17. Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs
18. House by Frank Peretti
19. Illusion by Frank Peretti
20. The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
21. Just a Minute by Wes Stafford
22. Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson
23. The Book of Vice by Peter Sagal
24. Eve by Elissa Elliott
25. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker
26. Running for My Life by Lopepe (Lopez) Lomong
27. The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner
28. Goodbye is Not Forever by Amy George
29. Hood by Stephen Lawhead
30. The Kill Order by James Dashner
31. The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Thirteenth) by Lemony Snicket
32. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
33. Breaking Free by Beth Moore
34. Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead
35. Tuck by Stephen Lawhead
36. Ana’s Story by Jenna Bush
37. Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose
38. Radical by David Platt
39. The Paradise War by Stephen Lawhead
40. The Bible

The Bible
Yes, this book will always be at the top of my reading list. This marks year four of reading through the entire thing, and I never get tired of it. In fact, the more I read it, the more I desire to read more. It’s a wonderful circle. I continue to be challenged, rebuked, and encouraged, and I hope I always will.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker
In an attempt to simplify her life, Jen Hatmaker came up with a carefully crafted list of seven areas of her life in which to mutiny against excess: food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress.

Like Hatmaker, I deeply desire simplifying my life, getting rid of stuff, living on less, and giving more to those who really need it. I am deeply intrigued by Hatmaker’s ideas on how to accomplish this and look forward to my own mutiny against excess, though I am not sure what it looks like specifically, yet.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Randy Pausch, a former professor of virtual reality courses at Carnegie Mellon University, writes his “last lecture,” literally and figuratively. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given just a few more months to live, Pausch puts his thoughts, wisdom, and advice in this short, sweet, easy read.

His words offer such insight and understanding, they bring us back to a world in which we should respect everyone, treat others with common courtesy, and pursue your own dreams to the fullest extent. This is a book I need to read at least once a year. You can also find the actual Last Lecture Pausch gave at Carnegie Mellon on YouTube.

Breaking Free by Beth Moore
Moore takes us through a Bible study on “discovering the victory of total surrender” to God’s design for our lives.

I realize I’m probably in the minority here, but I’m normally not a Beth Moore fan. I’ve read other books/Bible studies of hers which left me unimpressed. Most of this book didn’t do much for me either. However, the reason it is this high on my list has to with the last few chapters on taking our thoughts captive. I re-read this section every few days to remind myself of the truths and promises of God’s word on this topic. The way Moore presents it was new and captivated me.

Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs
After a bout of tropical pneumonia, Jacobs felt compelled to take on another monumental task—become as healthy as possible from head to toe. Over two years, he read countless health blogs and books, consulted with dozens of doctors and health experts across the country, and tried just about everything he could to maximize his health.

Witty to the core, Jacobs presents information across the spectrum from pseudo-science health fads that probably do more danger than good to research on peer-reviewed scientific studies published in JAMA. Among the dozens of topics Jacobs covers are toxins, acupuncture, juicing, noise pollution, barefoot running, and how to go to the bathroom properly—and there is a better way than what most Americans do. This book is insightful and humorous, and I would recommend it for anyone remotely concerned about their health.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Narrated by Death, The Book Thief is a novel about Liesel Meminger, a young girl living with a foster family in Nazi Germany. This is the story of how she became the Book Thief and how her love and hatred of words saved herself and others.

I think this is my new favorite work of fiction. I finished its 550 pages in just a few days—including many late nights followed by sleepy mornings. It is brilliantly written, captivating, amusing, and heart-wrenching.

The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner
Wagner explores “why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills (critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration across networks and leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurialism, effective oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination) our children need and what we can do about it.

I must admit that I did not have high hopes for this book as it was required professional development reading over the summer for my work. While the first half was rather dry and filled with “old news” by now on the state of the American school system and all its failures, the second half had me intrigued, especially the anecdotal stories about a few schools who “get it.” I remember reading about these schools thinking, “I want to teach there. I wish we could do that where I teach.” I was inspired by their innovation and deeply challenged to rethink how I teach and what I teach.

Radical by David Platt
Platt asks us to consider how our pursuit of the American dream—more, bigger, better everything—has waylaid our pursuit of the life Christ wants us to live.

I most appreciated Platt’s challenge for his readers to join the Radical Experiment, a one-year journey into authentic discipleship in which one commits to: 1) pray for the entire world, 2) read through the entirety of God’s Word, 3) sacrifice our money for a specific purpose, 4) intentionally spend time in another context, and 5) commit our lives to multiplying community. I hope to take up this challenge in 2013.

Just a Minute by Wes Stafford
CEO and President of Compassion International, a child-advocacy sponsorship group, wrote this book of stories based on his years of travel to the world’s poorest areas and coming back to America to report on what he experienced. He is convinced that if “God stands a child before you, for even just a minute, it is a divine appointment” from which we have the chance to build it up or tear it down.

Stories came from internationally known figures like Nelson Mandela and Colin Powell as well as from those children fighting to survive amidst trash piles in the slums of the world. After each little snippet, I found myself praying, “Please, God. Help me do better.” I highly recommend this book to every parent, teacher, doctor—anyone who is involved with children in any regard. Sometimes all we have is just one minute to make a profound difference in the life of a child.

The Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas
Written by the same author of The Five Love Languages, this book offered a perspective on different types of apologies and why some apologies seem sincere to the giver but not the receiver. While I felt it was mainly a collection of redundant examples on how to apologize, I did appreciate the chapter on Learning to Forgive. Personally, accepting an apology is often more difficult than giving an apology.

“Forgiveness means that you will not seek revenge, that you do not demand justice, that you will not let the offense stand between the two of you. Forgiveness results in reconciliation. That does not mean that trust is immediately restored. Reconciliation means that the two of you have put the issue behind you and are now facing the future together.”

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
Jacobs, a self-proclaimed agnostic, attempts to live according to all biblical mandates and guidelines as literally as possible for one full year. What started as an “intellectual adventure of the most influential book in the world” became much more. Jacobs’ writing reminds me of Dave Barry—humorous and yet always with a moral or lesson close at hand.

My favorite line of the book comes in the introduction. “As with most biblical journeys, my year has taken me on detours I would never have predicted . . . I didn’t expect to, as the Psalmist says, take refuge in the Bible and rejoice in it.” My own experience echoes this sentiment exactly.

Goodbye is Not Forever by Amy George
This is the true story of George’s life. Her father was arrested by the KGB when she was a baby. As WWII progressed, she and her two siblings and mother were taken by cattle car to a slave labor camp. Surviving the horrors of Nazi Germany, the family finally emigrates to America where they start life anew in every way possible, most importantly, as followers of Christ.

Like every other Holocaust and WWII survivor story I’ve ever read, this one was fascinating. Even through such tragic events, hope remains. I am always reminded to be thankful for the ridiculously blessed life I live.

House by Frank Peretti
Two couples wander into an old “inn” in the middle of nowhere Alabama after freak car “accidents.” Little did they know they were wandering into their worst nightmares, literally.

Mastermind of supernatural storytelling, Peretti does not disappoint with this one. Though it’s a classic good versus evil plot, there are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. I read the 372 pages (hard copy) in less than 24 hours. It was all the more real to me personally because of a dream I had (I Am The Light) on this same idea of dark and light just days before even hearing about this book.

Running for My Life by Lopepe (Lopez) Lomong
Lomong was kidnapped, at age 6, during a church service with his family and taken to a rebel camp in Sudan. As one of the smaller boys, he was passed over for training as a future soldier and left to fend for himself. Just a few weeks later, Lomong’s “three angels” helped him escape, and they made their way to a refugee camp in Kenya, where he spent the next 10 years of his life. He eventually makes it to America as one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, however, his story continues on through competing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics on the American track team.

Lomong’s story is incredible. How this young man never lost his faith in God taking care of him amidst some of the worst of conditions possible for a human to live in, is inspiring to say the least.

Eve by Elissa Elliott
This is a fictional account of the Genesis stories of the creation of Adam and Eve, their banishment from the Garden of Eden, and the death of Abel. Eve adheres pretty closely to the Biblical account, although Elliott takes great liberty in the details, as one would have to.

I really enjoy reading historical fiction of Biblical stories and people, especially the women. This book did not disappoint. It was well written and much more thought provoking than I initially expected.

Ana’s Story by Jenna Bush
This is a true account, told through Bush, of the story of Ana, a 17-year-old mother living with AIDS in a third world Central American country. Ana’s life was difficult on: growing up in poverty, living with her abusive grandmother and her live-in boyfriend who also molested Ana and her younger sister, living with the secret of AIDS, and becoming a young mother.

Bush met Ana while working with UNICEF after graduating from college. This is a very quick and easy read, but an intriguing story nonetheless.

Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson
Stephanie and her husband, Christian, were in a Cessna plane crash. He suffered burns over 30% of his body, she had 80%. She spent three months in a medically-induced coma as her body fought all odds to survive.

Stephanie’s story of overcoming death, fear, unimaginable pain, rejection, and judgment is inspiring to put it mildly. I appreciated her honesty as she shared her struggles throughout her recovery as well as how her faith not only saw her through the ordeal, but strengthened as a result.

Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose
Called to Indonesia as a young missionary bride, Rose sets out to serve the lost in the years leading up to WWII. Once the war began, Rose and her husband were imprisoned in different POW camps. Suffering torture, abuse, malnutrition, and other illness, Rose survived to tell of her story.

I’ve read many books of WWII holocaust survivors, but this was my first glimpse into the life of an American POW in a Japenese internment camp/prison. Rose’s faith through her ordeal is inspiring. I’ve found myself thinking some of her same prayers lately, though my trials are far less severe, intense, agonizing than hers.

In the Arms of Grace by LeChristine Hai
LeChristine Hai was a child of the Vietnam War. Taken to an orphanage with her brother because her mother couldn’t offer them a safe life amidst the war in their homeland, this is Hai’s “rags to riches” story. Along with 100 other Vietnamese orphans, she escaped to the US, was immediately adopted and her life transformed. It was a long, twisted, depraved, sad, and deeply burdened life. Hai’s story is also one of grace, forgiveness, and finding peace and strength in God.

Hai’s is a fascinating tale—disturbing, sad, and sickening at some points, but filled with grace, forgiveness and sacrificial love at others. I couldn’t put this one down once I started, and as with any good autobiography, I now want to learn more about the Vietnam War and read more stories of those affected by it.

Hood, Scarlet, and Tuck by Stephen Lawhead
A spin on the classic tale of Robin Hood takes on a new life, new characters, and new meaning in an unexpected setting. These three books comprise the “Raven King” trilogy telling this epic story.

I always enjoy a well-written piece of fiction, and Lawhead’s trilogy was a nice break from some heavier non-fiction I’ve been reading. I enjoyed this one so much, I will probably devour his other dozen or so books once I get my hands on them.

The Paradise War by Stephen Lawhead
Two Oxford students find themselves in a mystical place where two worlds meet—our present world and the “Otherworld” of the ancient Celts. Passing through a vortal, they find themselves in the ancient world and in the middle of a fight between good and evil with cosmic catastrophe in the making.

I found this Lawhead book on our book shelf, and having enjoyed his Hood trilogy, I picked this one up. I enjoy his story lines set in ancient England as well as his writing style. I imagine I will go through all of his books during 2013.

The Wedding Letters by Jason F. Wright
In this fictional love story, Noah hits Rachel with his truck, and the two later fall in love. In the style of Nicholas Sparks, their road to the altar is filled with twists and turns.

I’m not one for fictional love stories, but what made this one unique were its underlying Christian values of what true love is. This was not just a story of love but also of honor and forgiveness. Wright’s concept of “wedding letters” introduced in this book is also a marvelous gift to any newly married couple.

The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright
This is the first of Wright’s book about the Cooper family. The three children gather together after their parents die on the same night. They discover a box of letters their father wrote to their mother, once each week on Wednesday, over the course of their marriage. Memories are shared and secrets are uncovered.

I would recommend both works of fiction by Wright, but I would read this one first as it is chronologically the first. The characters and backstory are introduced and will make reading The Wedding Letters more meaningful.

Swimming with Crocodiles by Will Chaffey
Will Chaffey had just graduated from high school and decided to travel and work in Australia before heading to college. While on the continent, Chaffey met another adventurer, and together they attempted a trek across some of the most remote and dangerous primitive land in the Australia outback.

Reminiscent of Into the Wild, Swimming with Crocodiles was a fun adventure story. Chaffey’s detail of the trek, as well as little pieces of trivia regarding the land and creatures inhabiting Australia’s outback were intriguing as well.

Off the Deep End by W. Hodding Carter
Carter tells his story of “trying to swim his way through a midlife crisis.” An NCAA Division III All American swimmer in college, Carter decided to begin swimming again and attempt to qualify for the Olympic Trials in 2008.

Having just become addicted to triathlons at age 39, and being an incredibly poor swimmer, I enjoyed reading Carter’s story of personal struggles leading to personal triumph through swimming. Not only did working on achieving physical goals help him through his crisis, it also helped strengthen his marriage and his relationship with his kids.

The Girl Who Survived by Bronia Brandman
Bronia was 11 when the Germans invaded her hometown in Poland during WWII. This is Bronia’s story of courage, luck, determination, and kindness from strangers who helped her survive the horrors of Auschwitz.

I am always fascinated by true accounts of Holocaust survivors. While this was a short story, really written for a much younger audience, I still found it fascinating and worth my time.

The Hidden Girl by Lola Rein Kaufman
Lola’s family was killed by the Gestapo, and she was left to fend for herself against the Nazi invasion in her native Poland. This is Lola’s story of having to depend on the kindness of strangers as she survived WWII hidden in a dirt hole.

Like The Girl Who Survived, this was another short account, written for a young adult audience, of how young children survived the horrors of losing their entire family, going into hiding, concentration camps, Nazi raids, and more atrocities during WWII.

The Book of Vice by Peter Sagal
Sagal takes the reader on a delightful and enlightening trip from the strip clubs on the Strip in Vegas to its gambling halls to the “Swingers Shack” to the kitchen of Alinea, the hottest molecular gastronomy restaurant in the country—all in the name of “research.” Sagal explores the vices of humankind, how we got there, what we do while we’re there, and why we continue.

Humorous and insightful, it’s fun reading this book in the manner in which Sagal speaks as he hosts NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” news quiz show. The anecdotes were amusing and the actual research and psychology behind why we do what we do when we know we shouldn’t do it was interesting.

Walking Ghost Phase by David Daugherty
A group of students take a summer trip to Washington, D.C. before starting college, only to be there during a nuclear attack. They are mortally wounded with radiation poisoning. This is the story of how they come to terms with their imminent death.

I must admit upfront, that I work with Daugherty. This was his first published book, and I really did enjoy it. The plot was interesting with enough twists and turns to keep me not wanting to put it down. I hope he continues to write.

The Red Leather Diary by Lily Koppel
Koppel, a young journalist in New York City, found a decades-old red leather diary among a dumpster of forgotten treasures from the bowels of her New York apartment building. She began reading the story of a young lady, Florence Wolfson, and her life from ages 14-19. Koppel and Wolfson became kindred spirits through their journey of retelling Wolfson’s life story.

Upon finishing the book in March, two interesting events occurred. One, I learned Wolfson had died just three days earlier, age 96. Two, I was getting ready to head to New York for a few days, chaperoning a group of high school students. I had walked many of the streets Wolfson frequented in her youth, but I saw them through a different lens on that trip. What a difference a story can make in how you see the world around you—a world you thought you knew—in a different light.

The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs
Author of The Year of Living Biblically, Jacobs challenged himself to read through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Taking a little over a year, this is a humorous compilation of random facts he learned as well as insightful look into his relationships with those who supported him—some more than others—during this process.

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
Dr. Elwin Ransom is kidnapped and transported to Mars where his captors intend to plunder the planet of its natural resources and offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the strange creatures who inhabit the planet. Ransom escapes and falls into the hands of the creatures he was trying to avoid.

As with any of Lewis’ works, Out of the Silent Planet, the first book of his Space Trilogy, offers many a unique allegory between Christianity and life on the planet of Malacandra as well as social commentary on human society.

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
Emerald Torrington prepares to celebrate her birthday with a few dear friends at Sterne, her home in remote England. A terrible train wreck brings dozens of passengers to Sterne’s doors seeking shelter for the night. During the evening that ensues, nothing goes according to plan. The birthday celebration is ruined by a wicked parlor game and the youngest Torrington decides that this was the perfect time for her Great Undertaking.

A fun, quirky novel, the setting and characters reminded me of Downton Abbey. The Great Undertaking, in particular, was quite comical, and the ending gives a surprising twist.

Season of Betrayal by Margaret Lowrie Robertson
Lara McCauley goes to Beirut in 1983, against her better judgment, with her journalist husband. Her marriage disintegrating, she becomes friends with a Polish journalist and gets a part-time job as a broadcast film editor. Naïve to the core, she unwittingly sets in a motion a deadly set of events in an already war-torn country.

I doubt I would have picked this book up had I realized it was a novel at the onset. I thought it was a true-story, but it is not. This novel was somewhat interesting, but I had a hard time getting into the main character, Lara. While a victim of circumstance, she also created plenty of her own calamities through sheer stupidity.

Illusion by Frank Peretti
Dane loses his wife of 40 years, Mandy, in a fiery car accident. Through a top-secret government project, she really doesn’t die, but comes back as her 19-year-old self in present times and must learn to adjust all the while possessing strange new “meta-physical” talents she can’t comprehend.

I normally like Peretti’s work, but this was not one of them. I found the long descriptions of magic shows and tricks dull and redundant. I skimmed over much of the book and was a little disappointed in the ending; it was almost anti-climactic in its brevity.

The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Thirteenth) by Lemony Snicket
The Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, find themselves on an island inhabited by a group of castaways and led by a mysterious man named Ishmael. Here, they discover more secrets relating to their dead parents.

I had read the first 12 books years ago and then forgot about the final one. Caleb began reading the series this summer which is what spurred me on to finally finishing this one. The first book was clever, but each one after followed the same formula, and they became a little too predictable. They may be fun reads for young adults, but it’s not a series I would read again.

The Kill Order by James Dashner
Sun flares hit the earth causing most of mankind to die. Of the few survivors, who form settlements in what is left of America, a disease of rage and lunacy takes hold.

This was definitely one of the more forgettable books I’ve read this year. I skipped much of it as it was sadly repetitive. I can only reading so many pages of how two guys ran down a hall from their would-be captors and dove through a door. This is the prequel to the New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series; though I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it through those three books.

Dear Strangers by Meg Mullins
Oliver’s father died unexpectantly and days later, the baby they were to adopt was given to another family. Oliver spends the next 21 years searching for his almost-brother, much to the chagrin of his sister and re-married mother. In a strange turn of events, Oliver finds this young man and confronts him, only to lose him to a gun-shot wound to the head from his step-father.

This work of fiction was awkward, painfully slow, and a chore to finish. It’s not one I’d recommend to anyone.

This Is Why You’re Not Getting a Christmas Card From Us This Year (or maybe ever again)

6 12 2012

No More Christmas Cards explains how we came to our decision to NOT send Christmas cards this year.

So, the winner of what would have been our Christmas money was Safe Haven Family Shelter, by almost a 3-1 vote.  I was introduced to Safe Haven almost two years ago, and since then, both Caleb and Jason have joined me on various occasions to help provide dinner for the residents.

Besides the money issue, the other reason you are not getting a Christmas card from us is because this is it!  SURPRISE dear readers!  We’re going all-digital this year.

Many of you keep up with us via Facebook anyway, so you already know our year in review.  For those who don’t, here you go:

The Huddleston 2012 Year in Review

Matthew continues to teach physics and launch high altitude balloons at Trevecca Nazarene University.  He loves his job, and even took on the challenge of hosting a national high altitude balloon conference at TNU in June.

He finished his first (and possibly, probably, hopefully last) full marathon in April.  His goal was an ambitious 4:00, but he made it around 4:25.  This is incredibly impressive considering he only “trained” once each week . . . most of the time.

He has also completed several mud runs, the latest rage in running races around the country.  Now that he’s in a new age bracket, he will probably start placing and winning some nice prizes.

On a heavier note, Matthew’s dad, Mark, was diagnosed with colon cancer in October.  He had surgery just a few days after.  The doctors thought they got all of the cancer, but subsequent tests showed a spot on a lymph node.  He is currently undergoing chemo therapy once every two weeks for six months.  His doctors remain very optimistic, but we’d still appreciate your prayers for complete healing and for strength and endurance for Mark and Martha during this time.

Kelly (me) continues to teach technology and journalism/graphic design at Franklin Road Academy.  I also love my job.  I did NOT do a ½ (or full) marathon this year, and I feel great!  Triathlons are my new thing (My First Triathlon).  Having successfully finished three of them, I can no longer qualify for placings in the Beginner category.  However, being really a really weak swimmer, mediocre bicyclist, and slow runner, I wouldn’t qualify for placings in any category anyway.  Maybe when I’m 80 and still doing triathlons will I win something.

Gourmet cupcakes are my newest indulgence so if you are ever looking for a gift . . .  (I also love chocolate and a good extra sharp cheddar cheese.)  However, I really need to be eating more fruit and vegetables, so a membership in some sort of fruit-of-the-month club would be a better gift.

Matthew and Kelly’s (our) international trip this year took us to Nicaragua in July.  We met another one of the kids we sponsor through Compassion International.  Always an eye-opening, life-changing event, you can read about it here:  Open My Eyes.  You can also read about the amazing amount of fun hell we had as we hiked a volcano on Ometepe Island.

Next year’s trip is another once-in-a-lifetime trip:  india!  For three weeks we will traverse a good chunk of the country in June.  The first 10 days or so will be spent in Chennai and traveling up the Indian Ocean coast of south eastern India, mainly to visit two more kids they sponsor through Compassion International (link) as well as spend some time with a friend who pastors a church in a small village there.  During the second half of the trip, we will get to play tourist:  visit the Taj Mahal, ride elephants and camels in the dessert, visit Agra, Jaipur, New Delhi, and take a boat tour along the Ganges River in Varanasi, the heart of the Hindu culture.  Expect great blog posts to come from this adventure.

Other big news for 2012 included placing membership in a new church, Priest Lake Christian Fellowship.  Our former home church group, the Gathering, fizzled out as families found new churches around the Nashville area, so we started looking, too.  Being less than a mile from our home was a great benefit, but the people were the main draw.  We have never been to a more humble church where the Holy Spirit is so alive and thriving among its members.  It’s inspiring and challenging and moving each week.

Caleb is in fourth grade at Franklin Road Academy and continues to love school and excel in his academics.  To brag on this child for a moment, he has yet to receive a B in any term grade since he started PK.  He’s got his Daddy’s brains and aptitude for math and building things.  Caleb continues to love all things Star Wars, but his Pokemon obsession (thank goodness!) has come to an end.  If you know of anyone interested in buying a 700+ card Pokemon collection, please let us know.

Caleb’s newest obsession is legos.  The kid lives and breathes legos, which we are fine with.  He actually builds some really cool things, like a working flashlight—complete with an on/off lever and working bulb.

Caleb is also learning to play the recorder and trumpet, and we (as in Kelly) are trying desperately (and futilely) to get him to sing “This Song is Just Six Words Long” by Weird Al Yankovic in the Fourth Grade Variety Show in January.  Weird Al is another recent obsession of Caleb’s, and being the cool parents we are, for his birthday we bought him tickets to see Weird Al in concert in April when he comes to Nashville.

Caleb is a Webelo scout this year, and is a popcorn selling machine!  He sold over $1500 to win first place again in his cub scout pack.  He won an archery set, 8% of his total sales in cash, a $50 Walmart gift card, an LED head lamp, a patch, Predators’ tickets, and a trophy.  (Don’t get me started on winning trophies for something like selling popcorn.  Let’s just say, I’m not a fan of the practice.)

Caleb’s most exciting adventure this year, though, was his ER trip that led to a hospital stay for a couple of days at the end of August for pneumonia.  Despite this bump in the road, we are still tremendously blessed.  His asthma and allergies have plagued him something fierce this fall, much worse than normal.  We have an appointment with an asthma/allergy specialist next week so we are praying for something to help manage this better.

Jason started preK at FRA this year, and is loving it.  Being the second child, we did not work with him on things like the alphabet, drawing, writing, or reading much (hardly at all) before he started school.  Thankfully, the kid has a mind like a sponge and is taking off in the writing and reading department.  He also loves to draw.

Jason, too, is obsessed with Star Wars and legos.  At three he could recite entire scenes from Star Wars.  I’m not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed by this.  Did I mention he was three at the time?  The kid can build lego creations with the best of them . . . well, maybe not a working flashlight yet, but he can build really cool spaceships, race cars, jails, mouse traps, and monsters.

Jason and Caleb took their first official swimming lessons this summer.  Lesson 1 involved Jason crying and screaming for the full 45 minute session.  He had snot running out of both nostrils to his belly button when I picked him up.  He only cried for about 15 minutes of lesson 2, and by lesson 3 he was actually excited to go.  Now, of course, the kid is terrified to put his head in the water, which reminds Kelly of herself as a child forced to take swimming lessons.

Packer, our dog, continues to love to eat anything that falls on the floor including baby spit-up (true story) as well as grass to later make herself throw-up said baby spit-up.  She loves to sleep during the day and wake us up around 4:00 a.m. to pee and play.

Finley Bubbles the VIII, our beta fish, didn’t last the year.  At this time, we are uncertain if we will buy Finley Bubbles the IX.

Hopes and prayers for 2013:

  • Good health for everyone
  • A safe and amazing trip to India
  • Jobs we love
  • Caleb and Jason would continue to grow and mature in their faith, following Christ
  • Matthew and Kelly possibly beginning a new Marriage Builders home church group
  • Kelly hopes to begin working on her MBA at Trevecca in the fall

As we reflect back and look forward, may we always remember WHY we celebrate.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
-John 1:14

Love and prayers to all,
the Huddleston Family

PS.  If any of you find yourselves in Nashville and need a place to stay, we’ve got plenty of room and love house guests.

Remembering Hosea

5 06 2012

My husband and I celebrate 14 years of marriage today.  We were married during a candle-light ceremony on a Friday night in San Antonio.  It had been over 100 degrees that day (the whole week) and the air conditioning stopped working in the fellowship hall where our reception was held.  Matthew sang to me during the ceremony, and we had a bagpiper during the reception.  Oh the memories of that day. . .

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My favorite memories, when I reflect on our wedding, come from two scriptures.  The first was one Matthew sent me at the end of an email shortly before our wedding.  It was Genesis 29:20 which reads, “So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.”

Loving, sweet, tender man of mine sent me that.

In my haste to look up this reference in my Bible, I actually read one verse later, Genesis 29:21, which reads, “Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife.  My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.

I remember thinking, “Well, I know what’s on his mind.”  Of course we all had a good laugh when I realized my error.

On a more serious note, the most important verse that summarizes our wedding and the entirety of our marriage is one that is inscribed on our wedding bands, Hosea 2:19-20.  (Because my wedding band is so narrow, it looks more like Hoser than Hosea.)

“I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.”

When Matthew first suggested this verse for us, I thought it was an amazing description of the type of love God desires for a husband and wife to share in the covenant marriage relationship.  It was several years later that I realized this was first and foremost God’s love for us.

God can love us perfectly this way, and it is completely independent of anything we say or do or believe.  I cannot love this way on my own.  It is only through Christ that even after 14 years, my husband and I still desire this kind of love for one another and seek to make it our own with such passion.

Ninakupenda Mapenzi!  I am blown away when I think about what our future together will be like!

2012 Resolutions

5 01 2012

Being the list-maker, goal-setter, and all-around do-er that I am, I LOVE coming up with New Years Resolutions.  I actually began thinking about my list in November.  My focus verse for the year is from James 3:17-18.  I want to be the kind of woman that embodies this type of wisdom, and yet I struggle greatly in so many of these areas.

 “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure;
then peace-loving, considerate, submissive,
full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

Spiritual/Relationship Goals

  • Have a dynamic marriage.
    • Stop what I’m doing and greet my husband with a hug as soon as he/I get home from work each day
    • Pray together every night
    • Monthly dates
  • Read through the Bible
  • Fast 1x/week
  • Give at least 16.5% of our pre-tax income to charitable organizations (hopefully more)
  • Volunteer somewhere at least 1x/month

 Exercise/Activity Goals

  • Participate in an average of 1 race/event each month (I actually have 13 on my radar for next year and am looking for more!)
  • Run/walk 2-3x/week (6-9 miles)
    • Get back to a sub-10-minute mile
    • Do a sub-30-minute 5K
  • Bike 1x/week (6-10 miles)
  • Swim 1x/week (.25-.5 miles) 
    • Learn to swim freestyle (Out of everything on my list–this one is the most daunting to me.)
  • P90X Ab Ripper 3x/week
  • 40 perfect pushups by my 40th birthday

Nutrition Goals

  • Eat 2 servings of fruit
  • Eat 1 serving of vegetables (not counting potatoes)
  • Consume less sugar
  • Drink more water

What are your goals for 2012?

2011 Reading List

31 12 2011

I read a record-breaking (for me) 45 books/novels in 2011.  The first, numbered, list is the order in which I read the books.  The second list is in order of my favorites to least favorites.  I’m always on the lookout for a good book–fiction or non-fiction, almost any genre (except hokey Harlequin romance types)–so pass on your favorites to me.

1.  Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
2.  Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
3.  What Difference do it Make? by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
4.  For One More Day by Mitch Albom
5.  Her Daughter’s Dream by Francine Rivers
6.  Fasting by Jetezen Franklin
7.  Machete Season by Jean Hatzfeld
8.  We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
9.  This I Believe:  The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women ed. Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
10.   Mission-Based Advisory:  A Professional Development Manual by ISM (Independent School Management)
11.   An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina
12.   Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
13.   Unplanned by Abby Johnson
14.   Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo
15.   Switched (Trylle Trilogy #1) by Amanda Hawking
Torn (Trylle Trilogy #2) by Amanda Hawking
17.   Ascend (Trylle Trilogy #3) by Amanda Hawking
18.   Heat Wave by “Richard Castle”
19.   Led by Faith by Imaculee Ilibagiza
20.   Lovely by Allison Liddelle (short story)
21.   Cain’s Apple by Bryan Lee (short story)
22.   A Very Special Delivery by Linda Goodnight
23.   The Princess and the Penis by RJ Silver (short story)
24.   Serial by Jack Kilborn (short story)
25.   The Labyrinth by Kenneth McDonald
26.   Reality is Broken:  Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal
27.   Misconception by Paul and Shannon Morell
28.   Married to Africa by G. Pascal Zachary
29.   Craving God by Lysa TerKeurst
30.   Now the Hell Will Start by Brendan I. Koerner
31.   A Thousand Sisters:  My Journey into the Worse Place on Earth to be a Woman by Lisa Shannon
32.   In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham
33.   The Help by Kathryn Stockett
34.   50/50:  Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days by Dean Karnazes
35.   Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov
36.   A Long Way Gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
37.   Teammates Matter:  Fighting for Something Greater Than Self by Alan Williams
38.   Prisoners of Hope by Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer
39.   Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis
40.   Rachel’s Tears by Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott
41.   The Bible
42.   Letters to God by Patrick Doughtie and John Perry
43.   The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson
44.   The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher by Rob Stennett
45.   The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs

The Bible
This is my third full read-through in as many years, and I never cease to be amazed by what I learn and am reminded of.  There is not enough space to write how this one book has changed my life and how it will continue to change my life as long as I am alive.

Fasting by Jetezen Franklin
Synopsis:  “When you fast, your spirit becomes uncluttered by the things of this world and amazingly sensitive to the things of God.  Once you’ve experienced a glimpse of this and the countless rewards and blessings that follow, it changes your entire perspective.”  In this short, but life-changing book, Franklin talks about the different types of Biblical fasts, the connection between fasting and prayer, as well as what to expect physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Evaluation:  Once I began reading this book, I felt God was deeply convicting me that I have been missing out on some huge blessings by not having made fasting a part of my regular walk with Christ.  Both my husband and I got on board and began a 24-hour fast once a week.  Life changing is all I can say. 

Led by Faith by Imaculee Ilibagiza
Synopsis:  This is a sequel to Ilibagiza’s first book, Left to Tell, which chronicles her life hiding in a 4’x3’ bathroom with 6 other women during the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis.  Left to Tell is on this list as I read it in 2010, but it was one of the most powerful stories I’ve ever read.  In Led by Faith, Ilibagiza picks up where her first story left off and chronicles her challenges living in the aftermath of the genocide.  She shares her struggles and her heartaches as she fights to survive.  Most importantly, she shares her journey of faith, healing, and forgiveness that only come through a relationship with God.

Evaluation:  If you have ever struggled with forgiveness, and I daresay we all have, you must read this book.  I am reminded of the trivial things I complain about and the petty grudges I hold on to, and how they can eat at my soul.  Forgiveness is often the only road to healing and peace.

What Difference Do it Make?  By Ron Hall and Denver Moore
Synopsis:  This book continues the incredible story of how Moore, a homeless man, and Hall, a millionaire art dealer, came to be friends through the unwavering faith and vision of Hall’s late wife, Deborah.  What Difference Do it Make? includes untold anecdotes from the time in which their first book, Same Kind of Different as Me was written as well as the story of how the first book even came to be and snippets of how the first book has changed lives.

Evaluation:  Before reading the first book, everyone I knew who read it told me to have my Kleenex nearby, and their advice was spot on.  I recommend the same for the second book.  My perspective on homelessness and especially how to help the homeless has changed dramatically after reading these two books.  We’ve all been taught not to give the homeless money because they may buy drugs or alcohol.  As Denver wrote, “When you give a homeless man a dollar, what you really sayin is ‘I see you.  You ain’t invisible.  You is a person.’  I tells folks to look at what’s written on all the money they be givin away:  it says ‘In God We Trust.’  You just be the blessin.  Let God worry about the rest.”

Rachel’s Tears by Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott
Synopsis:  Rachel Scott was an ordinary girl with an extraordinary faith as well as premonitions of her tragic death in the Columbine massacre in 1999.  Written by her mother and father, this book details Rachel’s faith and how she decided to “walk the talk” as well as excerpts from her private journals.

Evaluation:  I read 2/3 of this book in the first sitting, and I cried for much of it.  Throughout, my main thought was, “I want a faith like hers.”  This has become one of my main prayers for myself since reading her story—that my relationship with Christ would be so intimate, so deep, so real, that I feel His presence in every breath, every word, and every action.

Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis
Synopsis:  Davis was 18 when she made the decision to move to Uganda for just one year to serve the poorest of the poor.  Years later, she is still there, now the “mother” of 14 orphaned or abandoned girls.  This is the story of her struggles and desires to live the life God wanted for her.

Evaluation:  I had the good fortune to hear Katie share her story at my high school in the spring of 2011.  I wish I had Davis’ courage.  Her perspective on what it means to serve, to really serve, others has changed my own.  If you are struggling with living God’s desire for your life, this is a must-read.

Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov
Synopsis:  The subtitle explains this book best—49 techniques that put students on the path to college. 

Evaluation:  If you are a teacher of any level, any subject, this is a must-read.  The techniques Lemov offers are common-sense, practical, and easy/quick to put into practice.  While I won’t be using many of them in my own teaching (e.g. I don’t need to worry about the most efficient way to line up students to walk to the bathroom), there are enough that have changed the dynamic in my classroom and student performance for the better.

Unplanned by Abby Johnson
Synopsis:  Unplanned tells the remarkable true story of Abby Johnson, once a Planned Parenthood clinic director, leader and pro-choice champion who, after eight years in the industry had a life-changing moment as she assisted with an ultrasound-assisted abortion.  Through that experience, God opened her eyes to the truth of the matter and brought her around to the “other side of the fence” where she began working with Coalition for Life.

Evaluation:  This was such a gripping tale, I finished the 216 pages within 30 hours of staring it.  I found myself intrigued, repulsed, grief-stricken, and completely amazed as I read Abby’s story of complete transformation from pro-choice to pro-life.  Her description of witnessing the abortion still haunts me, but has served only to strengthen my resolve that life begins at conception, and that abortion ends a human life.

Craving God by Lysa TerKeurst
Synopsis:   This is a 21-day devotional encouraging us to crave God rather than crave food.  She relates how our struggles with or victories over food often reflect our relationship with God.  This devotional is really just snippets from her more comprehensive book on the same topic, Made to Crave

Evaluation:  TerKeust had some wonderful gems throughout the book such as, “No food will ever taste as sweet as lasting victory.”  Even though I don’t struggle with my weight, I struggle with eating as healthy as I should.  I definitely plan to read Made to Crave.

Reality is Broken:  Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal
Synopsis:  McGonigal, who I had the privilege of hearing speak at the Microsoft Innovative Education Forum in July, outlines 14 reasons why games are “better” than reality including:

  1. Games help to increase motivation, provoke interest and creativity and help us work at the edge of our abilities.
  2. Gameplay is the direct opposite of depression:  it’s an invigorating rush of activity, combined with an optimistic sense of our own capability.
  3. Games can help us achieve a state of blissful productivity with clear, actionable goals and vivid results.
  4. Games make failure fun and non-threatening and train us to focus our time and energy on attainable goals.
  5. Games help build up our social stamina and provoke us to act in ways that make us more likeable.
  6. Games make our hardest efforts feel truly meaningful by putting them in a much bigger context.
  7. Games can help us enjoy our real lives more, instead of feeling like we want to escape from them.
  8. Using points, rewards, levels, and achievements can motivate us to press through difficult situations and inspire us to work harder to excel at things we already love.
  9. Games can be a springboard for community and can help build our own capacity for social participation.
  10. Large crowd games can help us adopt scientific advice for living a good life; for example, thinking about death in non-threatening ways or dancing more.
  11. Crowdsourcing games can engage thousands of players around the globe to tackle real-world problems.
  12. Social participation games can help save real lives and grant real wishes by creating real-world tasks that can help volunteers feel heroic and satisfied.
  13. Expert gamers, those who have spent around 10,000 hours gaming by the age of 21, are extraordinary at cooperating, coordinating, and creating something new together.  (Experts in most any arena—arts, music, athletics, etc.—spend 10,000 hours actively engaged in their activity.)
  14. Forecasting games can train us to think globally and outside the box in tackling real-world, large scale global problems.

Evaluation:  This was a very thought-provoking book for me as an educator who teaches technology skills to high school students.  Of course, McGonigal really only highlights the advantages of gaming, but now I feel like I need to read a book on the disadvantages—just for balance’ sake.   I do agree with many of her overall assessments, though, and I am highly intrigued to participate in several of the games she detailed, especially the Tombstone Hold’ Em—a take on Texas Hold’ Em played in a graveyard with a group of people.

The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs
Synopsis:  Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically, puts his life to the test by submitting himself as a “guinea pig” for a month for different experiments:  being a celebrity, being a beautiful woman entering the world of online dating, doing everything his wife asks of him, and much more.

Evaluation:  Jacobs’ memoir, of sorts, was as hilarious as it was enlightening, and I am definitely hooked.  Amidst the humor, Jacob’s reflections on his self-inflicted experiments into the human psyche were incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking.   I am pretty sure one of my next books will be either The Year of Living of Biblically or The Know-it-All, both by Jacobs.

50/50:  Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days by Dean Karnazes
Synopsis:  As the title implies, Karnazes chronicles his life on the road during the Endurance 50—a first ever test of human endurance in which he ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days.  Karnazes shares his running wisdom, for both the mental and physical aspects of the sport:  learning to recover quicker, adapting to extreme conditions, preventing muscle cramps and overheating, pacing yourself when you “hit the wall” and staying motivated.

Evaluation:  Much like Karnazes’ first book, Ultramarathon Man, this was an enjoyable, quick read.  Especially if you are a runner of any level, this book offers a treasure trove of information, methods and techniques all geared toward making you “achieve your own amazing feats of endurance, however you define them.”  Both of Karnazes’ books are must-reads for runners and endurance athletes.

In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham
Synopsis:  This is a true story detailing the year that Gracia and her husband, Martin, spent trekking through the jungles of the Philippine islands after having been kidnapped while on vacation.  While others who were kidnapped with the Burnhams made ransom quickly, Gracia and Martin had no such luck.

Evaluation:  This was a very gripping story of survival amidst terror and uncertainty.  The Burnham’s struggles—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—were vivid.  Their faith journey through it all was inspiring, though

A Thousand Sisters:  My Journey into the Worse Place on Earth to be a Woman by Lisa Shannon
Synopsis:  Lisa Shannon chronicles her journey into Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) in the years following the Rwandan genocide.  Shannon began a non-profit, Run for Congo Women, and visited the country to meet the women her group sponsored.  Shannon tells the stories of women who survived rape, kidnapping, the murder of their husbands and children, and other atrocities most Western women cannot fathom.

Evaluation:  After having read so many stories of the Rwandan genocide, I was still amazed how the events of that country affected so many, women in particular, in neighboring countries, namely Zaire.  While many non-profits are attempting to help women become independent and make honest livings, there is only so much money can do.  True healing will not come from money.  I admire Shannon for her desire and drive to make a difference in the lives of these women.

A Long Way Gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
Synopsis:  At age 12, Beah was forced from his home and family in Sierra Leone after rebels attacked his village.  He and other boys wandered the forests, stealing food, for months.  At 13, he was chosen by the government army to become a soldier.  Quickly advancing in the ranks to junior sergeant and nicknamed “Green Snake” for his deception, Beah lost sight of who he was as a gentle, intelligent young boy and became a cold-hearted killing machine, always high on cocaine or marijuana.  At 16, he was picked up by UNICEF and rehabilitated.

Evaluation:  Like many of the other non-fiction books on my list, this one was a fascinating window into a world I will never experience.  War.  My entire family killed.  Killing in return.  Drug addiction.  Beah’s stories made me shake my head and wonder how evil can so completely transform a young child—and an entire country.  His accounts of the loving and always-smiling-no-matter staff at his rehabilitation center in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, also reinforced the fact that good can triumph over evil.

This I Believe:  The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women ed. Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
Synopsis:  Based o n the NPR series by the same name, this book features 80 essayists—some famous, some previously unknown—completing the thought that begins the book’s title.

Evaluation:  I enjoyed this book tremendously and received some amazing bits of wisdom that I am not likely to forget.  One of my favorites was an essay titled “Always Go to the Funeral” and was written by Deirdre Sullivan, a freelance attorney in Brooklyn, who wrote about the values her father instilled in her by making her always attend funerals of people she knew.  Sullivan writes, “In my humdrum life, the battle hasn’t been good versus evil.  It’s hardly so epic.  Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.”  I certainly took to heart the purpose of the book as I pondered what I believe in many aspects of life—spiritually, academically, socially, politically, humorously, seriously.

Teammates Matter:  Fighting for Something Greater Than Self by Alan Williams
Synopsis:  Alan Williams was a walk-on player for Wake Forest during his college career.  He played on 59 minutes in 120 games, scoring 28 points.  A reporter once asked him, “Why was it worth it?  What kept you coming back?”  This book is William’s attempt at answering those questions.

Evaluation:  I had the privilege of hearing Williams speak at a school conference prior to reading the book.  His presentation was superb—uplifting, enlightening, and encouraging.  Williams’ view of NCAA basketball from the end of the bench offers a unique perspective on what it really means to be on a team, to be a teammate.  His message is one that any coach of any sport, especially coaches of youth leagues, needs to hear:  there are more important things than winning.  If that is your focus, something is missing.  Not everyone on the team is or can be a star.  If that is your focus, something is missing.  Being a teammate transcends wins and losses and someone’s 15 minutes of fame.  Those worldly accomplishments will fade, but being a real teammate will stand firm through the ages.  View more information at www.teammatesmatter.com

An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina
Synopsis:  This is the story of Paul Rusesabagina and his courageous efforts to save over 1,200 Rwandans during 1994 genocide.  The movie Hotel Rwanda was based on this story of Rusesbagina’s refusal to succumb to the horrors overtaking his country.  He risked his and his family’s lives daily to confront the killers and appease them through flattery, deception, and diplomacy in order to save the thousands of lives he felt responsibility for in the Hotel Milles Collines in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali.

Evaluation:  I am fascinated by any survivor’s account of living through the hell on earth of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.  If you are intrigued by stories/movies such as Schindler’s List, you will find this story no less mesmerizing and inspiring. 

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Synopsis:  Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in 1969 in Somalia, was raised Muslim, and spent her childhood and young adulthood in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  She was excised (female genital mutilation) at the age of five.  She survived brutal beatings by her mother.  After being forced into an arranged marriage by her father to a distant cousin, she fled to the Netherlands where she sought asylum.  Ali went on to earn a college degree in political science, and eventually won a seat in the Dutch Parliament.  After producing a short 10-minute film, Submission:  Part 1, Hirsi Ali lived a life under constant threat of death.  She was demonized by the Islamic community world-wide, disowned by her father, and shunned by the rest of her family and clan.  Yet she refused to remain silent.

Evaluation:  This is one of the most remarkable stories of triumph over adversity I have yet to read.  This was also my first glimpse into the reality of what Muslim life is like for women in this day and age.  What I learned about Islam from Hirsi Ali’s account of her life is disturbing, to say the least.  With Islam as the world’s fastest growing religion, I applaud Hirsi Ali for her honest testimony and sincere attempt to bring to light the alarming condition in which millions of Muslim women live today.

Prisoners of Hope by Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer
Synopsis:  Curry and Mercer were missionaries in Afghanistan.  After having been in the country, living with the poorest of the poor, they were arrested by the Taliban for telling people about Jesus, a “crime” punishable by death.  In the middle of their trial, 9/11 occurred, and the US declared war on Afghanistan shortly after.  This is the story of the Curry’s and Mercer’s work with the poor, their captivity, and their eventual rescue.

Evaluation:  Another very engaging story, both Curry and Mercer share their personal experiences.  Their world rocked by the events of international terrorism, they manage to not just endure their imprisonment, but to maintain their faith, write songs praising God, and always reached out to the women confined with them.  While reading this book, I often wondered how I would fair in such a situation.  Would I be selfless as these women were, or selfish wondering, “why me?”

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Synopsis:  This work of fiction follows three ordinary woman in the 1960s, one white society and two black maids.  Their lives become entwined when “Skeeter,” the white woman, decides to write a story of black women’s experiences being domestic help for the white society woman in Jackson, Mississippi.  Racial tensions are brewing across America as these women and others work under the cover of night and secrecy to tell their stories that they hope will lead to change.

Evaluation:  Intriguing and interesting, The Help, was a nice break from the string of non-fiction stories I had been reading.  I would definitely recommend it, and I can’t wait to see the movie.  But like any other novel-turned-Hollywood, read the book first.

Now the Hell Will Start by Brendan I. Koerner
Synopsis:  Part history lesson, part biography, Koerner narrates the true events of the life of Herman Perry.  As an African American draftee in WWII, Herman Perry wanted to see combat.  The Army felt colored men were considerably inferior in every way—they were bigger cowards, less intelligent, and only good for manual labor.  And so Perry found himself in the jungles of Burma working on the colossal failure known as the Ledo Road.  Under constant mental and borderline physical abuse by his white commanding officers, Perry became a drug addict and in one fateful moment, shot and killed a white officer.  Minutes later, he disappeared into the Burmese jungle which teemed with tigers and foot-long leeches.  Able to “secure” military food and weapons, Perry became a bigwig with a Naga tribe (headhunters and cannibals) and married the leader’s 14-year-old daughter by whom he fathered a son he never met.  He eluded the MPs on more than one occasion, was finally caught, but then escaped from the Army stockade once again—this time after being court-marshaled and sentenced to death by hanging.  Eventually caught a second time, Perry, who was near death, readily surrendered.

Evaluation:  Perry’s story of mental anguish, drug addiction, escape and survival among a tribe of primitive Naga headhunters is engrossing to say the least.  However, the history of the US Armed Forces treatment of African Americans, even during WWII, is also eye-opening, in an appalling way.  Koerner expertly weaves together history and a meticulous narrative to produce an amazing read.

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo
Synopsis:  This book tells the true story of young Colton Burpo’s close brush with death after his appendix ruptured and his extraordinary visit to heaven while in surgery.  In the months following Colton’s hospital visit, he casually recounts his memories of meeting his miscarried sister, whom no one ever told him about, meeting his grandfather who died decades before Colton was born, as well as his discussions with Jesus.

Evaluation:  Colton’s experience, as retold by his father Todd, definitely makes you consider what heaven is like.  For those who believe in heaven and hell, this is an incredible story that will only strengthen our faith.  For those who don’t share a Christian faith, I imagine many will simply hold Colton’s story as the result of a great imagination.

Letters to God by Patrick Doughtie and John Perry
Synopsis:  Maddy loses her husband to a drunk driver.  A few years later, her youngest son, Tyler, is diagnosed with a rare brain cancer.  Through it all, Tyler writes letters to God, just as his father had.  The letters end up in the hands of a down-and-out postman, Brady, whose life is forever changed by the simple words to God from a seven-year-old boy dying from cancer.

Evaluation:  Though this novel was a quick, easy read, I was on the brink of tears quite a few times.  To have the faith of a child—pure, innocent, uncomplicated, always accepting—is something I strive for.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Synopsis:  One apartment, two lives, 60 years apart.  Sarah’s Key tells the story of Sarah, a 10-year-old Jewish girl whose family, living in Paris, was arrested and eventually herded off to Auschwitz in July 1942.  Before leaving their apartment, Sarah hides her younger brother and vows to return.  She manages to escape a French containment camp and makes it back to her apartment to find another family has already moved in.  Jump ahead 60 years, and that same apartment is now being renovated by a family whose lives crossed with Sarah’s decades ago.  This fictional story reveals the long-held secrets that have bound the two families together for six decades.

Evaluation:  This was a haunting fictional story that I could not put down.  I knew the outcome long before I read the words, but I was still stunned nonetheless when I got there in the story.  While the characters are fictional, the major events of the French roundup of Parisian Jews and their demise are true and heartbreaking.

The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson
Synopsis:  This is book 3 of 4 in the Wingfeather Saga, a young-adult series written by award-winning Christian singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson.  The Wingfeathers reach their mother’s ancestral home of the Green Hollows where they hope to begin a new life—free of fear from Gnag the Nameless and his army of Grey Fangs.  But things don’t always happen as hoped for.

Evaluation:  If you haven’t read books 1 and 2, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and  North! Or Be Eaten, there is no point in reading this book.  This book, however, has been my favorite so far, and I can’t wait to learn how it will end in book 4, not set for publication until the spring of 2013.  My recommendation:  if you haven’t read any of the books, wait till the fourth one comes out and then you can go through them all in a week.  These are great books to read to school-age kids; they are action-packed, appropriate, not too scary, and best of all—the chapters are short enough for a bedtime reading that won’t take an obnoxiously long time.

Her Daughter’s Dream by Francine Rivers
Synopsis:  This is the sequel to “Her Mother’s Hope.”  The story relates the mother-daughter relationships through four generations.

Evaluation:  I automatically love anything by Francine Rivers, and this two-part series was no exception.  In print, it’s so easy to see how generational curses are passed down through the decades.  You want to shout at these women who are so blind to the damage they are doing to their daughters.  In the end, however, we are reminded that God can redeem any situation through any circumstances and bring healing, peace, and joy.

The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher, a novel by Rob Stennett
Synopsis:  Ryan Fisher, a confident real-estate agent not satisfied with his lot in life, takes out an ad in a Christian Business directory and is flooded with new business.  After visiting a real church, Ryan changes course, moves to Oklahoma with his wife, and decides to start a church of his own—not just any church, but an empire.  And he does.

Evaluation:  Stennett’s style is a witty, hilarious to the point of absurdity, and maddening satire—half Kurt Vonnegut, half Douglas Adams.  The principle thought going through my head while reading this was, how could people be so blind to the egotistical, maniacal, fantasizes of Ryan and his delusion that he is a Christian, much less a pastor, who wants to change the world with his brand of “new Christianity?”  The sad realization was, we have been here before:  David Koresh, Jim Jones—it doesn’t take much to sway some people, all in the name of Christianity.

Machete Season by Jean Hatzfeld
Synopsis:  Hatzfeld interviews a gang of about a dozen friends who participated at various levels with the killings during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  This book alternates between Hatzfeld’s observations and the direct words of the men on such topics as their first kill, life in prison, forgiveness, remorse, regrets, and where is God in all of this?

Evaluation:  This was one of the most difficult books I’ve read in the past many years; not because it was grammatically challenging like Shakespeare of Austen, but because of the candid, honest replies of the killers.  Their descriptions were vivid and brutal, but their detachment from the massacres they participated in was especially chilling.  I could only read a few pages at a time, and then I’d have to take a break for a few days.  For anyone interested in learning about the Rwandan genocide, this is a must read, albeit a very challenging one.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
Synopsis:  Gourevitch provides a haunting anatomy of 1994 Rwandan genocide.  He provides a detailed account of the psychological, political, and socio-economic history of the country that led to the deaths of almost 1,000,000 Tutsis in a three month period.  Gourevitch had enviable access to the major political powers at the time (Kagame and Mobutu) which provided incredible personal insight into the inner-workings of the genocide, how the international community responded, and the aftermath of the survivors.

Evaluation:  Like Machete Season, this was another very difficult book to read—not so much because the personal stories were so chilling, but because the subject matter was just more difficult.  This is an incredible book to read if you want a complete history of the events that led to the genocide from the late 1800’s to its aftermath in 1997.  The most disturbing and eye-opening element to me was learning about the pitiful response of the international community.  Our initial denial of what was going on, our lack of humanitarian aid to the refugees who really needed it, and our (perhaps unintentional) support of the Hutu Power camps in Zaire were extraordinarily shameful on the part of those countries who were in a position to provide aid.

Misconception by Paul and Shannon Morell
Synopsis:  This book tells the story of the Morell’s journey from infertility to in-vitro resulting in twin daughters.  Several years later they were ready to thaw their remaining embryos to try for another child (or two) only to learn right before their scheduled appointment that their eggs had been thawed and implanted in another woman resulting in a single pregnancy. 

Evaluation:  This is a very interesting story of the Morell’s struggles knowing their last hope for a biological child in completely out of their control and completely in the hands of a woman they’ve never met.  While their story is one of hope and ultimate joy, there was one thing that troubled me throughout.  Shannon and Paul kept their first in-vitro and subsequent problems a complete secret from most family and friends.  They profess to be followers of Christ, and they share of their faith journey throughout the ordeal, but their lack of trusting in a community of believers, family and friends to help them through this difficult time saddened me.  Christ did not live in isolation, nor should we.

Married to Africa by G. Pascal Zachary
Synopsis:  The author describes how he came to marry a Ghanaian woman, Chizo, as well as the struggles and victories that ensued from their cross-racial, cross-cultural marriage.

Evaluation:  I’m not one for romance books in general, but thankfully this book wasn’t heavy on the romance.  I did find entertaining and intriguing Zachary’s accounts of his travels in Africa as well as life with his African bride after they moved to America and settled in California.  Chizo professes a Christian faith, while Zachary is a non-practicing, borderline Atheist Jew.  Chizo’s display of her faith in her marriage is destructive at times, followed by incredibly insightful words and behaviors. 

Switched, Torn, Ascend (Trylle Trilogy) by Amanda Hawking
Synopsis:  Throughout the trilogy, Wendy learns her life is not what she thought it was, nor is she who she thought she was.  She becomes the subject of a major battle between two warring factions, and to the victor goes one of the most powerful queens their kingdoms have seen.

Evaluation:  This was a quick, easy, engaging, young adult trilogy.  I think I finished all three books within one week.  If you enjoyed the Twilight series, you will probably enjoy this series.

For One More Day by Mitch Albom
Synopsis:  Charles “Chick” Benetto flings himself off a water tower in his hometown attempting to commit suicide.  He hits the ground, alive, and sees his dead mother.  He goes on to spend a very other-worldly day with her.  Somewhere between this life and the next, Charley learns the things he never knew about his mother and her sacrifices throughout his life.  Through her unconditional love and tender guidance, he tries to put the pieces of his broken life back together.

Evaluation:  This was a short, easy read with a somewhat interesting story line.  I had quite a few flashbacks of The Shack as I was reading.  If you liked The Shack, you will enjoy this book.

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
Synopsis:  At the end of Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert and her Brazilian lover, Felipe, promise to never wed, both having experienced brutal divorces.  They settle in America, however Felipe does not have a green card, and the Department of Homeland Security decides one day that Felipe has worn out his welcome.  He is arrested and deported, and the couple are essentially “sentenced to wed” if they want to ever live together in the U.S. again.  This is Gilbert’s true story of her and Felipe’s journey across Southeast Asia as they juggle the bureaucratic jungle of obtaining a green card for Felipe and as Gilbert attempts to make peace with marriage.

Evaluation:  You need to read Eat, Pray, Love before attempting this book or a lot of the context will be lost.  Overall her personal story is interesting—her travels throughout Southeast Asia, her experiences with Felipe, her attempts at learning about marriage in different cultures.  However, my one hang-up is her treatment of the Christian ideal of marriage.  In Chapter 3, “Marriage and History,” Gilbert’s assessment of what the Bible has to say on marriage is sadly misconstrued.  Of course that’s easy to do when you only take a few scriptures without reading the whole in context.  She also quotes several early Christian leaders from centuries ago, leaders whose own views on marriage were disturbing and very ungodly.  Combine her extremely limited knowledge of scripture and misguided quotes from misguided leaders from 1,000 years ago, and you have the makings of a ruinous ideology, one she portrays as what the masses believed.  Gilbert does a great injustice to the biblical, Christian idea of marriage.

A Very Special Delivery by Linda  Goodnight
Synopsis:  In the midst of a blizzard, a strange man, Ethan, carrying an infant shows up at her farm house door and asks her to care for his daughter while he attempts to make a life-and-death delivery to a neighbor living up the mountain.  She tentatively agrees, despite her irrational fear of caring for children (her 6-month old nephew died of SIDS while in her care, and her sister has never forgiven her).  As Molly and Ethan share their stories, their fears, their shame and guilt, they learn the power of forgiveness and how God can redeem any situation.

Evaluation:  Though not my usual reading fair, this Love Inspired story, a Christian Harlequin romance series, was a sweet story.  I actually found myself a little teary-eyed at times, especially when the discussions centered on forgiveness–God’s forgiveness, forgiving ourselves, forgiving others—and the peace and healing it can bring.

The Princess and the Penis by RJ Silver
Synopsis:  This is a modern, adult version (rated R, but not X) of The Princess and the Pea

Evaluation:  This was a fun, humorous take on the classic children’s fairy tale, but it is not meant for children.  The dialog among the queen and the princess’s two aunts are particularly entertaining.

The Labyrinth by Kenneth McDonald
Synopsis:  Keric, a wizarding student known as a mage, is asked to fill in for another student in the upcoming Labyrinth contest which pits mage against mage to see who has mastered their wizarding skills the best.  Upon entering the Labyrinth with three other students, Keric quickly realizes something is dangerously amiss.  The usually benign contest becomes a struggle between life and death for the mages, and not all make it out alive.

Evaluation:  If you like Harry Potter, especially book four detailing the Triwizard Tournament, you would enjoy this book.

Heat Wave by “Richard Castle”
Synopsis:  Detective Nikki Heat investigates the murder of one of New York’s top real estate moguls as reporter Jameson Rooks rides along under the guise of research for his next book.

Evaluation:  This was another quick, fun book that reads just like an episode of ABC’s hit series, Castle.  If you are a fan of the show, you will enjoy the book.  My only criticism is that it could have been proofed and edited more carefully as there were lots of minor grammar typos.  It is not a literary masterpiece by any means, but it has an interesting twist at the end.

Lovely by Allison Liddelle
Synopsis:  Alice is a severely depressed teenager living with abusive parents who relives the night of death/suicide 10 different times.

Evaluation:  This was a quick, slightly confusing read until you figure out what is going on.  I only read it because it was a free Nook book, otherwise, I doubt I’d ever read a book like this.

Cain’s Apple by Bryan Lee (short story)
Synopsis:   Thinking of his overbearing boss on the drive home, Joe Johnson stops at a road-side stand to by some apples, aptly named after his boss who dies that night.  The next night, the same fate awaits his un-neighborly neighbor.  The third stop to this mysterious apple seller does not yield the apples Joe was hoping for.

 Evaluation:  This short story was rather predictable from the beginning, but a fun quick read nonetheless.

Serial by Jack Kilborn (short story)
Synopsis:  Psycho, serial killer driver picks up psycho, serial killer rider.

Evaluation:  You need a strong stomach to read this short story.  I enjoy blood and guts, but this was almost too disturbing for me.

Mission-Based Advisory:  A Professional Development Manual by ISM (Independent School Management)
Synopsis:  Written for administrators and educators in K-12 American private school, this manual details how to begin an advisory program for students or how to strengthen a program already in place.

Evaluation:  Never would I read this book if I didn’t have to for work.  While the school I teach at has had an advisory program for years, I received very little useful information on how to improve our program.  I would love to see some real empirical research to prove that advisory programs actually benefit students.  Instead, this manual impresses upon its reader that advisory programs are necessary because we say they are and because everyone is doing it.