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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Follow Me...Review

About the book:
"On a summer day in 1946, Sally Werner, the precocious daughter of hardscrabble Pennsylvania farmers, accepts her cousin Daniel's invitation to ride his new motorcycle. Like so much of what follows in Sally's life, it's a decision driven by impulse and a thirst for adventure, a decision with dramatic and far-reaching consequences." 

Soon Sally abandons her newborn baby, the result of her impetuous joyride. Shamed, confused, and filled with a yearning to have a bigger life than the one ahead of her, she finds work, she finds love, she finds people of great kindness and others whose cruelty would crush a weaker woman. Fueled in equal measure by her eternal optimism and her mercurial moods, she embarks on an odyssey of self-creation that spans six decades, the story of which she entrusts to only one person: her granddaughter and namesake. It's an uncommon legacy that young Sally believes until her father - a man she has never known - enters her life and offers another story altogether, forcing her to uncover the truth of her grandmother's secret history.

Follow Me is a beautifully written book. It is slow starting and difficult to get into, but at times the writing is almost lyrical and vivid. I've had a difficult time putting my finger on why I didn't love it, when I know that so many people did.

In 1947, 16-year old Sally Werner runs away from home, leaving her newborn son in a basket on her parent's kitchen table. Running away is what Sally does best. She runs away, lands on her feet and when things get difficult, runs away again. Fortunately, each time she runs away from a difficult situation, she finds good, caring people who help her.

The words, saga, tragic and secret come to mind when describing this novel. Sally's story is a saga full of tragic family secrets that destroy relationships.

The story is told by Sally's namesake granddaughter as Sally shared it with her. Sally's story is vivid and interesting and as soon as you get into it, the modern day granddaughter steps in, dropping hints of what is to come. Towards the end, the narration changes to become the granddaughter's father telling her his version of what happened between himself and Sally's daughter.

Occasional, unnecessary, and graphic profanity, which is the main reason it didn't get 3 stars.

Thanks to Miriam Parker at Hatchette Books and the Early Bird Blog Tour for the opportunity to review this book. For a summary of the book and a list of other book bloggers participating in this tour, go here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 4/09

* *
2/5 Stars

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Noticer...Review

About the book:
A new story of common wisdom from the bestselling author of The Traveler's Gift.

Orange Beach, Alabama is a simple town filled with simple people.  But like all humans on the planet, the good folks of Orange Beach have their share of problems - marriages teetering on the brink of divorce, young adults giving up on life, business people on the verge of bankruptcy, as well as the many other obstacles that life seems to dish out to the masses.

Fortunately, when things look the darkest - a mysterious man named Jones has a miraculous way of showing up.  An elderly man with white hair, of indiscriminate age and race, wearing blue jeans, a white T-shirt and leather flip flops carrying a battered old suitcase, Jones is a unique soul.  Communicating what he calls "a little perspective," Jones explains that he has been given a gift of noticing things that others miss.  "Your time on this earth is a gift to be used wisely," he says.  "Don't squander your words or your thoughts. Consider even the simplest action you take, for your lives matter beyond measure…and they matter forever."

Jones speaks to that part in everyone that is yearning to understand why things happen and what we can do about it.

Like The Traveler's Gift, The Noticer is a unique narrative is a blend of fiction, allegory, and inspiration.  Gifted storyteller Andy Andrews helps us see how becoming a "noticer" just might change a person's life forever.


A book that everyone, everywhere should read. Andy Andrews is a talented storyteller, and The Noticer is a terrific blend of fact, fiction and allegory. Much of the wisdom gained from reading is very familiar to the reader. But, when presented in a simple story about a kind old man and his ability to influence a community of people, that wisdom becomes new and inspiring.

"I am a noticer. I notice things that other people overlook. And you know, most of them are in plain sight...I notice things about situations and people that produce perspective. That's what most folks lack--perspective--a broader view. So I give them that broader view...and it allows them to regroup, take a breath, and begin their lives again.
" So an old man named Jones says to Andy, a young man down and out, who feels as if his life is over and his situation hopeless.

Jones is a kind old man who, through the simple act of listening and observing, shows the people of Orange Beach, Alabama, the way to changing their lives and situations. As is often the case, the situation or trial doesn't change right away, but the perspective and attitude of the person does, and that makes all the difference. Life is all about choices. Everything we do is a choice and every choice has a consequence, whether it's good or bad.

A beautiful story, easy to read and one you will return to, again and again.

Andy Andrews has started The Noticer Project, which is a worldwide movement to "notice" the five most influential people in your life, and to express appreciation for them. You can learn about The Noticer Project here. I urge you to check it out.

Special thanks to Andy Andrews and Thomas Nelson Publishers for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Andy here. You can get your own copy of this gem here.

Read 4/09

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Follow Me...Blog Tour

Follow Me, by Joanna Scott.

About the Book:
On a summer day in 1946 Sally Werner, the precocious young daughter of hardscrabble Pennsylvania farmers, secretly accepts her cousin's invitation to ride his new motorcycle. Like so much of what follows in Sally's life, it's an impulsive decision with dramatic and far-reaching consequences. Soon she abandons her home to begin a daring journey of self-creation, the truth of which she entrusts only with her granddaughter and namesake, six decades later. But when young Sally's father--a man she has never known--enters her life and offers another story altogether, she must uncover the truth of her grandmother's secret history.

Boldly rendered and beautifully told, in FOLLOW ME Joanna Scott has crafted a paean to the American tradition of re-invention and a sweeping saga of timeless and tender storytelling.

About the Author:
Joanna Scott is the author of nine books, including The Manikin, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Various Antidotes and Arrogance, which were both finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award; and the critically acclaimed Make Believe, Tourmaline, and Liberation. A recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lannan Award, she lives with her family in upstate New York.

Thanks to Miriam Parker at Hatchette Books and the Early Bird Blog Tour for the opportunity to review this book.

**My review will follow in a day or so. I'm not finished with the book and I don't want to post an incomplete review.** In the meantime, check out any of these book bloggers for other reviews of this book.

http://peekingbetweenthepages.blogspot.com/
http://www.writeforareader.blogspot.com/
http://bermudaonion.wordpress.com/
http://abookbloggersdiary.blogspot.com/
http://thereviewfromhere.wordpress.com/
http://bookopolis.blogspot.com/
http://www.caribousmom.com/
http://www.frommipov.blogspot.com/
http://luanne-abookwormsworld.blogspot.com/
http://redladysreadingroom-redlady.blogspot.com/
http://mindingspot.blogspot.com/
http://thetometraveller.blogspot.com/
http://dreyslibrary.blogspot.com/
http://hiddenplace.wordpress.com/
http://stephaniesbooks.blogspot.com/
http://www.acircleofbooks.blogspot.com/
http://bananas4books.blogspot.com/
http://www.bookthoughtsbylisa.blogspot.com
http://martasmeanderings.blogspot.com/
http://grumpydan.blogspot.com/
http://cafeofdreams.blogspot.com/
http://worducopia.blogspot.com/
http://cindysloveofbooks.blogspot.com/
http://www.myspace.com/darbyscloset
http://www.myfriendamysblog.com/
http://www.skrishnasbooks.com/
http://epicrat.blogspot.com/
http://www.anovelmenagerie.com/
http://danys-san.blogspot.com
http://jennsbookshelf.blogspot.com/
http://tvandbookaddict.blogspot.com
http://literarymenagerie.blogspot.com/
http://www.chikune.com/blog
http://book-chic.blogspot.com
http://www.amberstults.com/
http://allisonsatticblog.blogspot.com
http://diaryofaneccentric.blogspot.com/
http://38thavedivareaders.blogspot.com/
http://LinussBlanket.typepad.com
http://www.morbid-romantic.net/
http://kylees2009.blogspot.com/
http://www.savvyverseandwit.blogspot.com
http://exlibrisbb.blogspot.com/
http://bookinwithbingo.blogspot.com
http://www.xanga.com/bravehsgirl
http://purplg8r-somanybooks.blogspot.com/
http://burtonreview.blogspot.com
http://donnasbookreviews.blogspot.com/
http://www.squidoo.com/readingstaycation

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Life is Tough - I Doubt I'll Make it Out Alive...Review

Welcome to another stop on the Life is Tough Virtual Tour and Life Saver Challenge, with Stacy Gooch-Anderson.

This was, quite simply, a delightful book about finding the joy in life. Stacy Gooch-Anderson, author of The Santa Letters, has written a book of humorous vignettes about the ups and downs of motherhood and life in general.

Stacy shares 28 lessons that she has learned over the course of her life, and with each lesson we see how she, not only, grew from the experience, but changed her perspective.

With lessons like, "Life is like a roller coaster. You can scream every time you hit a bump or throw up your arms and enjoy the ride" to "Sometimes it's better to leap first and then look. The view might scare you otherwise", we learn that humor is the best way to deal with life's challenges.

Stacy has taken her life is tough concept and recognized that we all need "life savers" in our lives to help us make it through. That life saver could be a person helping you out, or a thought that brightens your day and gives you something to ponder. On her blog, Stayin' Alive With Stacy, she provides a daily "life saver" or gem of wisdom. All are funny, but thought-provoking and true.

To learn more about Stacy, find the other tour stops and book reviews, and see the daily life saver, please visit Stacy's blog. You can purchase your own copy of Life is Tough from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Deseret Book or Seagull Book.

Read 4/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

So Not Happening...Review

About the book:
New York's social darling Isabella Kirkwood just woke up in a nightmare: Oklahoma.

Isabella Kirkwood had it all: popularity at a prestigious private school in Manhattan, the latest fashions, and a life of privilege and luxury. Then her father, a plastic surgeon to the stars, decided to trade her mother in for a newer model.

When her mother starts over with her new husband, Bella is forced to pack up and leave all she knows to live with her new family in Oklahoma. Before her mother can even say "I do," Bella's life becomes a major "don't."

Can Bella survive her crazy new family? Will the school survive Bella? How can a girl go on when her charmed life is gone and God gives her the total smackdown?

I don't read many teen books, but this one was a lot of fun.

Bella Kirkwood is a mini little New York socialite. Daddy is a rich, famous plastic surgeon and Bella is spoiled beyond belief. When her father has a mid-life crisis and decides to trade her mother in for new and different models, Bella has her own crisis. To make matters worse, her mother meets a man on the Internet and travels to Oklahoma to marry him. Bella not only gains a stepfather who works in a feminine products factory and lives on a farm, but his two bratty sons, and a down-home country lifestyle with no credit cards and no more Marc Jacobs purses.

Her first attempts at making new friends backfire, but she soon finds her place and a job with the school newspaper. She learns to trust a little more in God and along the way has some very funny adventures.

Jenny B. Jones has crafted a really delightful story. While the characters are a bit stereotyped, they are certainly likeable. The issues of divorce and remarriage and how they affect children are real and believable. Bella is fun, and parts of the story were laugh out loud funny.

An easy, light read, easily recommended for teenage girls. I look forward to the sequel.

Thanks to First Wild Card and Thomas Nelson for the opportunity to review this. You can read the first chapter here. You can find out more about Jenny B. Jones here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 4/09

* * *
3/5 Stars

So Not Happening...Wild Card!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


So Not Happening (The Charmed Life)

Thomas Nelson (May 5, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Jenny B. Jones writes adult and YA Christian Fiction with equal parts wit, sass, and untamed hilarity. When she's not writing, she's living it up as a high school speech teacher in Arkansas.


Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (May 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595545417
ISBN-13: 978-1595545411

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


One year ago my mom got traded in for a newer model.

And that’s when my life fell apart.

“Do you, Jillian Leigh Kirkwood . . .”

Standing by my mother’s side as she marries the man who is so not my dad, I suppress a sigh and try to wiggle my toes in these hideous shoes. The hideous shoes that match my hideous maid-of honor dress. I like to look at things on the bright side, but the only

positive thing about this frock is that I’ll never have to wear it again.

“. . . take Jacob Ralph Finley . . .”

Ralph? My new stepdad’s middle name is Ralph? Okay, do we need one more red flag here? My mom is marrying this guy, and I didn’t even know his middle name. Did she? I check her face for signs of revulsion, signs of doubt. Signs of “Hey, what am I thinking? I don’t want Jacob Ralph Finley to be my daughter’s new stepdad.”

I see none of these things twinkling in my mom’s crystal blue eyes. Only joy. Disgusting, unstoppable joy.

“Does anyone have an objection?” The pastor smiles and scans the small crowd in the Tulsa Fellowship Church. “Let him speak now or forever hold his peace.”

Oh my gosh. I totally object! I look to my right and lock eyes with Logan, the older of my two soon-to-be stepbrothers. In the six hours that I have been in Oklahoma preparing for this “blessed” event, Logan and I have not said five words to one another. Like we’ve mutually agreed to be enemies.

I stare him down.

His eyes laser into mine.

Do we dare?

He gives a slight nod, and my heart triples in beat.

“Then by the powers vested in me before God and the family and friends of—”

“No!”

The church gasps.

I throw my hands over my mouth, wishing the floor would swallow me.

I, Bella Kirkwood, just stopped my own mother’s wedding.

And I have no idea where to go from here. It’s not like I do this every day, okay? Can’t say I’ve stopped a lot of weddings in my sixteen years.

My mom swivels around, her big white dress making crunchy noises. She takes a step closer to me, still flashing her pearly veneers at the small crowd.

“What,” she hisses near my ear, “are you doing?”

I glance at Logan, whose red locks hang like a shade over his eyes. He nods again.

“Um . . . um . . . Mom, I haven’t had a chance to talk to you at all this week . . .” My voice is a tiny whisper. Sweat beads on my forehead.

“Honey, now is not exactly the best time to share our feelings and catch up.”

My eyes dart across the sanctuary, where one hundred and fifty people are perched on the edge of their seats. And it’s not because they’re anxious for the chicken platters coming their way after the ceremony.

“Mom, the dude’s middle name is Ralph.”

She leans in, and we’re nose to nose. “You just stopped my wedding and that’s what you wanted to tell me?”

Faint—that’s what I’ll do next time I need to halt a wedding.

“How well do you know Jake? You only met six months ago.”

Some of the heat leaves her expression. “I’ve known him long enough to know that I love him, Bella. I knew it immediately.”

“But what if you’re wrong?” I rush on, “I mean, I’ve only been around him a few times, and I’m not so sure. He could be a serial killer for all we know.” I can count on one hand the times I’ve been around Jake. My mom usually visited him when I was at my dad’s.

Her voice is low and hurried. “I understand this isn’t easy for you. But our lives have changed. It’s going to be an adventure, Bel.”

Adventure? You call meeting a man on the Internet and forcing me to move across the country to live with his family an adventure? An adventure is swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean. An adventure is touring the pyramids in Egypt. Or shopping at the Saks after-Thanksgiving sale with Dad’s credit card. This, I do believe, qualifies as a nightmare!

“You know I’ve prayed about this. Jake and I both have. We know this is God’s will for us. I need you to trust me, because I’ve never been more sure about anything in my life.”

A single tear glides down Mom’s cheek, and I feel my heart constrict. This time last year my life was so normal. So happy. Can I just hit the reverse button and go back?

Slowly I nod. “Okay, Mom.” It’s kind of hard to argue with “God says this is right.” (Though I happen to think He’s wrong.)

The preacher clears his throat and lifts a bushy black brow.

“You can continue,” I say, knowing I’ve lost the battle. “She had something in her teeth.” Yes, that’s the best I've got.

I. Am. An. Idiot.

“And now, by the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Finley. You may kiss your bride.”

Nope. Can’t watch.

I turn my head as the “Wedding March” starts. Logan walks to my side, and I link my arm in his. Though we’re both going to be juniors, he’s a head taller than me. It’s like we’re steptwins. He grabs his six-year-old brother, Robbie, with his other hand, and off we go

in time to the music. Robbie throws rose petals all around us, giggling with glee, oblivious to the fact that we just witnessed a ceremony marking the end of life as we know it.

“Good job stopping the wedding.” Logan smirks. “Very successful.”

I jab my elbow into his side. “At least I tried! You did nothing!”

“I just wanted to see if you had it in you. And you don’t.”

I snarl in his direction as the camera flashes, capturing this day for all eternity.

Last week I was living in Manhattan in a two-story apartment between Sarah Jessica Parker and Katie Couric. I could hop a train to Macy’s and Bloomie’s. My friends and I could eat dinner at Tao and see who could count the most celebs. I had Broadway in my backyard

and Daddy’s MasterCard in my wallet.

Then my mom got married.

And I got a new life.

I should’ve paid that six-year-old to pull the fire alarm.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jantsen's Gift...Review

About the book:
Nine years ago, Pam Cope owned a cozy hair salon in the tiny town of Neosho, Missouri, and her life revolved around her son's baseball games, her daughter's dance lessons, and family trips to places like Disney World. She had never been out of the country, nor had she any desire to travel far from home.

Then, on June 16th, 1999, her life changed forever with the death of her 15-year-old son from an undiagnosed heart ailment.

Needing to get as far away as possible from everything that reminded her of her loss, she accepted a friend's invitation to travel to Vietnam, and, from the moment she stepped off the plane, everything she had been feeling since her son's death began to shift. By the time she returned home, she had a new mission: to use her pain to change the world, one small step at a time, one child at a time. Today, she is the mother of two children adopted from Vietnam. More than that, she and her husband have created a foundation called "Touch A Life," dedicated to helping desperate children in countries as far-flung as Vietnam, Cambodia and Ghana.

Pam Cope's story is on one level a moving, personal account of loss and recovery, but on a deeper level, it offers inspiration to anyone who has ever suffered great personal tragedy or those of us who dream about making a difference in the world.


A deeply moving, true story. Pam Cope seemed to have the perfect life, or rather, she was obsessed with creating the perfect life. That life revolved around her husband and two children and all their activities. But, with her 15 year old son Jantsen's sudden death in 1999, her life changed forever. Pam is very open about how her grief drove her into depression and how she struggled to find meaning in her life. Her candor is refreshing as she recounts that after all the years of attending church looking like the perfect Christian family, she really didn't know God at all. But, as she finally turns toward him, her life begins to change again.

Pam and her husband Randy, started a foundation with money that had been donated in Jantsen's name after his death. Wanting a purpose and a legacy for him, they accept an invitation to travel to Vietnam to inspect an orphanage, with the intent of supporting its work. This trip changes their lives. Pam's perspective changes as she realizes how many at-risk children there are in this world. She and her husband adopted two children and have made it their mission in life to help as many others as they can.

Pam speaks of her experiences establishing homes in Vietnam and Ghana, where children who have been sold into slavery or prostitution can be rescued, sheltered and educated. The level of commitment and service that the Cope family has put into this project is amazing. They are an inspiration to people everywhere, that one or two people can truly make a difference in this world.

Thanks to Anna Balasi at Hatchette Book Group for the opportunity to review this book. You can find out more about Pam Cope and the Touch A Life foundation here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 4/09

* * * *

4/5 Stars

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What to Do on the Worst Day of Your Life...Review

About the book:
There is no question that times are tough. People are losing their jobs, losing their homes, even losing their faith. In What to Do on the Worst Day of Your Life, pastor and author Brian Zahnd looks into the life of David to bring readers strength in the hope that they can overcome. Nobody knew adversity like King David. He had a call and an anointing on his life, and yet he had to find strength from the Lord daily to keep from losing what was rightfully his. Because he didn’t quit in the time of trouble, he fulfilled his destiny. You will be delighted at the way Pastor Zahnd uses David’s story to present 10 principles that will build hope and encouragement in your heart. Let the Holy Spirit establish these 10 truths in your spirit. With these 10 principles at work in your life, you can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat—even on the worst day of your life.

I absolutely loved this book. Truly a gem.

Brian Zahnd tells David's story from the bible and makes it relevant for us today. Before David became king he had, what could be called, the worst day of his life. After having been away from home a few days, David and his men returned to Ziklag to find it ransacked, burned and their families and riches taken by the Amalekites. Brian not only retells David's story, but he relates the actions that David took, to what we should do on our own worst days.

In this beautiful little book we are reassured that while God will give us trials, there is always a purpose. Through faith and hope we can always overcome. As Brian says, "In David's story we see he beauty of God's grace and find hope for our own troubled situations."

One of the things I enjoyed about this book is that it's practical, with real life situations and suggestions and reminders. It's one that I will read again.

Thanks to First Wild Card and Christian Life for the opportunity to review this. You can read the first chapter here. You can find out more about Brian Zahnd here.  You can purchase your own copy here.
Read 4/09

* * * * *

5/5 Stars

What to Do on the Worst Day of Your Life...Wild Card!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


What To Do On the Worst Day of Your Life

Christian Life (March 3, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:





Brian Zahnd is the founder and senior pastor of Word of Life Church, a congregation in St. Joseph, Missouri. He and his wife, Peri, have three sons.


Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Christian Life (March 3, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599797267
ISBN-13: 978-1599797267

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Weep

As David stood among the smoldering ruins of what had been his home, he wept. As he faced the awful fact that the Amalekites had in one day reduced him to financial ruin, he wept. As he contemplated the terrifying reality that cruel and murderous bandits had kidnapped his family, he wept. All he could do was cry. Hot tears flowed down his face, and heavy sobs made his body convulse. The only outlet David could find for the fear and the anger and the pain that seized his soul was weeping.

David was not alone in his weeping. Six hundred men, all of them strong and valiant soldiers, men who had faced death many times without a hint of fear, now wept openly and uncontrollably. Many of these men were the champions whose heroic deeds would become legendary in Israel. These weren't weak men. These weren't men prone to emotional histrionics. But they couldn't hold back the hot, salty tears, nor did they want to. The biblical narration tells us they wept until they had no more power to weep. Powerful men wept until weeping had drained their power. They cried and cried until they were too tired to cry anymore.

What do you do when trouble hits you so hard that it knocks the wind out of you and makes you feel that it must be the worst day of your life? The first thing you do is to go ahead and weep. Stoicism has nothing to do with faith. Living by faith is not living without feelings. Being strong in faith does not make us immune to emotion. Those who live by faith experience emotion like everybody else--they just don't allow emotion to have the last word. God has created us as emotional beings; it is part of our human nature. Emotions are an essential part of experiencing pleasure and joy in life. Those who deny their emotional makeup become people with bland personalities incapable of really enjoying life. To deny true sorrow is also to deny true joy. Having a flat, prosaic personality is not what it means to be a person of faith.

You cannot even worship God without involving your emotions. David, who is depicted in Scripture as a great worshiper of God, was highly demonstrative in his worship. He would sing, shout, and dance in his praise of God. We can involve the full range of our emotions when we worship God. The emotion that proceeds from a deep understanding of God's glory and goodness is filled with spiritual substance and is both vital and valid in worship. It should not be confused with empty emotionalism, which is emotion for emotion's sake.

If you can contemplate the rich salvation accomplished for you through the suffering of Jesus Christ upon the cross and be completely devoid of any emotional response, there is something wrong. God has made us to feel things. We feel joy, we feel peace, we feel excitement, we feel anger, and we feel sadness--this is how God created human beings. To deny these emotions is to deny your humanity. When the troubles of life strike us with particularly cruel blows, it's natural and perfectly acceptable--and perhaps even helpful--to respond with weeping. Weeping is not inconsistent with faith. Some of the greatest giants of faith in the Bible wept:

Abraham, the father of faith, wept at the death of his wife Sarah.

When Jacob met his future bride Rachel, he was so overwhelmed that he wept.

When Joseph was reunited with his estranged brothers, he wept.

Hezekiah wept when he received the bad report that he would die from his illlness.

Nehemiah wept over the sad state of Jerusalem.

Job wept in the midst of his trial.

The prophet Jeremiah wept over the sins of Israel.

Peter wept over his failure and betrayal of Christ.

Paul wept in the middle of his trials.

John wept during his heavenly visions.

Even Jesus wept!

The weeping of Jesus is a powerful testimony to the fullness of His humanity. There is much sorrow in this fallen world, and men and women have many reasons to weep.

One of our most beloved Christmas carols is Away in a Manger. Recently, while splitting wood on a subzero day during the Christmas season, I found myself humming the melody as the words circled through my mind:

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,

The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.

The stars in the sky looked down where He lay,

The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes,

But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes . . . 1

I stopped right there. Baby Jesus doesn't cry? Of course He does. Like every baby, Jesus cried at birth. Like every baby, Jesus cried when He was hungry. Like every child, Jesus cried when He was hurt or unhappy. The baby Jesus who doesn't cry is the halo Jesus--the Jesus depicted so often in religious art. The problem with the halo Jesus is that He is not human. A baby who doesn't cry is not human. A person who doesn't cry is lacking in humanity. Jesus cried. He cried as a baby, as a child, and as a man. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Jesus cried. He shed the tears of God.

God in Christ shed tears? This is an astounding acknowledgment. But nothing that is common to man was kept from God in Christ. Not birth, nor death; not trial, nor temptation; not sorrow, nor suffering. And not tears.

Some theologians have argued for the doctrine of divine impassibility. This doctrine, which states that God is without passion or emotion, was first developed by early theologians who were heavily influenced by Greek philosophers. It was later adopted by some of the Reformation theologians. Well, I have a bone to pick with these theologians. They have woefully underestimated the Incarnation. Christ is not God masquerading as human. The Incarnation is God made fully human--and tears are part of the human condition. Thus, in Christ we find not divine impassibility but divine suffering. We find the tears of God. These tears are integral to our salvation. For, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, Only the suffering God can help. It's interesting to note that as a direct result of the Holocaust, most theologians now reject divine impassibility. Apparently, the notion that God adopts a passive attitude toward human suffering is no longer tenable in light of the horrendous suffering of the Holocaust.

It's not the Stoic Greek philosophers who reflect the heart of God, but the weeping Hebrew prophets--not Zeno the Stoic philosopher, but Jeremiah the weeping prophet. The prophets wept because God weeps. Jesus wept because God weeps. The Word became flesh that God might join us in our tears.

Joy Comes in the Morning

Yet, the tears of God are not tears of mere commiseration. These are holy tears that lead to our liberation--liberation from the dominion of sorrow. God in Christ did not join us in sorrow merely as an experiment in empathy. He joined us in sorrow that He might lead us to the joy that comes in the morning. Jesus has entered fully into the new morning of resurrection. The rest of creation groans, eagerly awaiting the promised liberation.

In the meantime, we who suffer are comforted with the knowledge that we are not alone in our suffering. Jesus joined us in our suffering and shed the tears of God. It is in those tears that we will ultimately find joy unspeakable and full of glory.

In the first Advent two thousand years ago, God in Christ joined us in our tears. The Son of God was born in tears, like every baby that has ever been born. In His second Advent, or Second Coming, God in Christ will join us again, this time to wipe away all of our tears!

In the course of my life and ministry, I've had my own nights of weeping. When I was just a young twenty-two-year-old pastor, I wept as a disgruntled man in the church stood in a service and shouted, Ichabod, Ichabod, the glory is departed, and then led half the congregation to leave the church. Later, there were times when the pressure and stress became so severe that I was reduced to tears during a very difficult multimillion-dollar building project. I wept when I stood in a hospital room with grieving parents as their teenage son was pronounced dead. There have been times of tears still too personal to talk about. I can say with the apostle Paul that I have served the Lord with many tears.

The Bible says there is a time to weep,14 and that cannot be denied. It would be an added cruelty to deny yourself or others tears in times of tragedy or deep personal pain.

But there is also a time to dry your tears and stop weeping. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

There is a night of weeping, but there is also a dawn of faith. When the morning comes, it is time to stop weeping and start rejoicing in God. If you continue to weep . . . if you continue to hold on to your grief and sorrow, it will turn into self-pity, which can destroy your faith and prevent you from coming out of your pain and into a place of victory.

It's important to realize there is a perverse weeping that is founded in self-pity and sinful unbelief. Such weeping arouses the anger of God. When the wilderness generation of Israelites were filled with cravings for the meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic they used to eat as slaves in Egypt and complained and wept because all they had to eat in the wilderness was the manna God supernaturally supplied to them, Òthe anger of the Lord was greatly aroused

Sinful unbelief led the wilderness generation of Israelites to weep in fear and self-pity. This kind of weeping aroused the anger of God. You will never move out of a place of personal misery into a better and healthier place if you become locked into perpetual self-pity--it's one of the most destructive emotional states a human being can indulge in, and it must be resisted. Even when you have encountered the worst day of your life, there comes a time when you have cried enough. Eventually you must tell yourself, Enough is enough, and make up your mind to cry no more. Never forget that self-pity is deadly. It has the capacity to destroy your faith and lock you in a self-imposed exile that is difficult to escape. The bottom line is you will never change your life by feeling sorry for yourself.

Listen for the Sound of Marching

There is an interesting story in 2 Samuel 5 about the time when David and his army were in the Valley of Rephaim (rephaim means giants). They were camped under a grove of mulberry trees. In the Hebrew language, the mulberry tree is called the baka tree or, literally, Òthe weeping tree. In other words, when the army of Israel was in the valley of giant trouble, they sat under the weeping trees. That is what we often do when we find ourselves in the valley of big-time trouble--we sit under the weeping tree. But God gave David a strategy to defeat the Philistines in the Valley of Giants. He told David, ÒWhen you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly. If David would follow these instructions, the promise was, Òthe Lord will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines.

I like that! God instructed David to listen for a sound that could be heard above the mulberry trees--a sound that could be heard above the weeping. It was the sound of marching. What was it? I think it must have been the sound of the angels, the armies of heaven, going forth into battle! When all you can hear is the sound of your own weeping, listen with your spiritual ears for the sound of the angels of God marching into your battle to defeat your adversaries. If you will dry your tears and rise up from under your weeping tree, you can march forward into the battle with the angels. There is a way to move from weeping into victory.

I have seen people who have allowed their grief to conquer them. It's sad and tragic. Their faith atrophies as they languish under the weeping trees. They become so absorbed in their own sorrow that they take it on as their new identity. Instead of passing through the valley of weeping--they make a decision to take up residence there. Natural sorrow, when indulged for too long, will cause you to develop a dark and morose personality that will attract demon spirits of depression. No matter what tragedy has visited your life, you still have a divine destiny and an eternal purpose in God that have the potential to bring you joy and satisfaction. Don't allow grief to conquer you! You don't have to stay in the sad place where you find yourself right now. It is possible to rise up and take the steps of faith that will carry you toward a better tomorrow.

The Book of 2 Kings tells an amazing story of four lepers outside the gate of Samaria who had suffered more than their share of hard times. They all had an incurable disease. They were separated from their families and friends, and now they were besieged by famine. They could have easily allowed themselves to be conquered by their grief, and few would have blamed them. But instead, they asked themselves one simple question: Why sit we here until we die?

These four men weren't just lepers; they were philosophers of a sort. In their miserable plight, they posed a philosophical question to themselves: Why should we just sit here until we're dead? People who have been overwhelmed with sorrow often ask all the wrong questions--questions like: Why me? What did I do to deserve this? How much more will I have to endure? But this was not the question that the four lepers outside the gate of Samaria asked. They simply asked themselves, ÒWhy sit we here until we die? Of course, this is a rhetorical question designed to reveal the absurdity of inaction and thus spur them to some kind of positive action. They chose to shake off their depression and to rise up from the miserable place where they had been sitting. With hope renewed, they took faltering steps of faith and marched into a better tomorrow. By rising up and moving forward in faith, they not only found a better tomorrow for themselves, but they also brought salvation to a dying city.19 You can do the same thing. You can rise up out of your miserable situation and begin to move toward a better tomorrow.

On the worst day of your life you will weep. This is inevitable and understandable. David did, and you will too. It's all right to release the poison of pent-up emotional pain through weeping. But remember, although weeping may last for a night, there will come a dawn of faith when you need to stop weeping and start believing. To turn your tragedy into triumph, you will have to go beyond weeping.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Musing Monday

This week's Musing Monday asks:

How do you respond to the comments on your blog? Do you try to email individually or comment on post yourself answering the comments above? What do you think is the best way to respond to comments and do you respond to all of them? Do you feel slighted if you don't receive a response back from the blog owner? (question courtesy of Jenn)

This was a great musing. I have and will, but I don't respond to every single commenter on my blog. Depending on the type of response, I will respond to the commenter via email, if they have their email visible (people not having their email visible is a big pet peeve of mine). If it's answering a question or a response that I want future commenters to see, then I will also comment to the original post. I received a negative author comment in response to my negative review, and I responded by commenting on the post myself.

I don't have time to go back and read every post I comment on, nor do I have time to follow every thread via email, hoping that someone will respond to a comment. If I comment on a post and I know that the blogger responds to each commenter, I will sometimes subscribe to that feed. But, rarely. If someone wants to talk to me or respond to a comment I make, my email is visible and I'm more than happy to chat. I don't feel slighted if someone doesn't respond. I figure that most bloggers are as busy as I am.

Go here for more Musing Mondays.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Never Say Diet...Review

About the book:
Chantel Hobbs lost two hundred pounds without the help of surgery, pills, point systems, or a trendy diet. And just as important, she kept the weight off.

Her dramatic turnaround began with five decisions–personal, no-excuses commitments that kept her from losing sight of her goals. It worked for Chantel and it will work for you. Once you unconditionally change your mind your body will follow, and your life will never be the same.

In this book you will discover:

·How to move beyond past failures and get over your old excuses
·How changing your eating patterns can break food’s hold over you
·Why winning the weight-loss battle must come from the inside out
·The simple workouts that deliver lasting results and are fun to do
·How to overcome the naysayers, the diet police, and your own nagging doubts
·How to prioritize your health, juggle family and career, and stay motivated when life takes unexpected turns
·Why the diet industry wants you to keep coming back
·And much more!

You will find straight talk on developing the determination, commitment, and personal responsibility it takes to achieve weight loss that lasts. It’s time to stop getting ready for the event and start getting ready for life!


I'd like to tell you that after reading this book I lost 60 lbs. I haven't. It's my fault, no one else's.

While not offering a great deal of new health/diet information, Chantel does offer an inspiring story. She lost 200 lbs and has kept it off, now becoming a personal trainer. How she did it is chronicled in the book. Diets aren't the key, changing yourself and how you view food and exercise is.

Chantel's core is the power of what she calls, "the brain change". She has 5 non-negotiable decisions: be truthful, be forgiving, be committed, be interested and, surrender. She wants you to come to understand that God is on your side, that you can't give up, and that a lifestyle change begins with small, baby steps.

Chantel outlines a fitness and diet program which looks great. This is one books that I will go back to.

Thanks to First Wild Card and WaterBrook Press for the opportunity to review this. You can read the first chapter here. You can find out more about Chantel Hobbs here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 4/09

* * *

3/5 Stars

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Real Solutions for Busy Moms...Review

About the book:
Kathy Ireland communicates with moms every day: online, at the grocery store, at church, at speaking engagements, and on her company website. She is grateful that her conversations don't center around beauty tips or requests for autographs or advice on how to dress. Rather, she has the honor of hearing from real women who struggle with balancing the responsibilities of marriage, raising children, managing a household or career or both, and finding any time left to take care of themselves.
 

As the involved mom of three very active children, the supportive wife of an emergency room doctor, and a dynamic businesswoman, Kathy knows of these struggles firsthand. She credits her strong faith in God and her parents' love and support for any success she has today and dedicates her days to finding the solutions that can make life easier for busy moms in all phases of life. As she tackles the tough financial concerns families feel today and many other issues, Kathy offers empathy and encouragement. She shares stories from her own life and wisdom she has gained through her years from teenager with a paper route to successful supermodel to mom to entrepreneur with a dream for big business.

Real Solutions for Busy Moms supports one of Kathy's favorite sayings: "You can do it all, just not all at once."


After her modeling career, Kathy Ireland focused on her family and building a business. Here she shares some simple ideas for balancing your life. Based on Christian principles she offers up a casual, easy to read book about being the best wife and mom you can.

For the most part, there is nothing new or groundbreaking here. But, as I read, I found myself being reminded of those obvious things we sometimes forget: better ways to manage money, communicating with our children, making our home a place of happiness. I loved her thought of "every home needs happiness".

Kathy talks as if she's your good friend, dispensing advice and offering comfort. Each chapter has sections on real life, with solutions to problems. It's a book that offers hope and help together. It's easily read in one or two sittings and it's a book you could go back to again and again.

An honest, practical book about being a mom.

Thanks to First Wild Card and Howard Books for the opportunity to review this. You can read the first chapter here. You can find out more about Kathy Ireland here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 4/09

* * *

3/5 Stars

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

To finish a book, or not...

Lisa at Books on the Brain posed an interesting question. One that is common to many readers. If a book doesn't interest you after a period of time, do you finish it?

I struggle with this one too, but only when it comes to books I've agreed to review, not books I simply wanted to read. For example, I've got four books that I received to review for different blog tours. In several cases, the required blog tour posts went up, but I've never posted my reviews, since I really don't care to finish a couple of them. Some I will review, I just haven't gotten them posted yet. So, I'm torn: do I post a review that says why I didn't finish it, or do I just set them aside and let it go?

I have no problem posting a negative review for a book that I've agreed to review or where I've received the ARC or a new copy. I know that some reviewers don't like posting negative reviews when they've been asked to read a particular book. But, I think that negative reviews are part of the deal.

Does an unfinished book fall into that category? Obviously I didn't like it enough to finish it. Or perhaps I didn't exactly not like it, it just didn't like it. Does that make sense?

I think there are too many good books out there to waste time on ones you don't like. I haven't finished books for that reason. It's when I've committed to review it that I wonder... What do you think? Share. Discuss. Bring me your wisdom.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Real Solutions for Busy Moms

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Real Solutions for Busy Moms

Howard Books (April 7, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Kathy Ireland is a former supermodel and the Chief Designer and CEO of Kathy Ireland Worldwide. Kathy is also a busy mom who raises her three children with her husband.


Visit the author's website.


Product Details:

List Price: $23.99
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (April 7, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416563180
ISBN-13: 978-1416563181

AND NOW...An excerpt:


Chapter 2: Every Home Needs Happiness


Lately, it seems like our family time at home is depressing and tense, just one frustration after another. What's a better way?

Recently, during a furniture convention at the World Market Center in Las Vegas, our team was having a pretty exciting evening. We were surrounded by friends, family, our manufacturers, and retailers. My friend Erik Estrada was master of ceremonies for the party. My friend Anita Pointer was headlining a concert for us. You can imagine my surprise when she dedicated one of the Pointer Sisters' most exciting songs, "Happiness," to Kathy Ireland Home. My jaw dropped, and it got me to thinking: every home needs happiness.

When you and the rest of your family are happy, your day goes more smoothly, your problems are resolved more quickly, and your life flows like a fresh and beautiful spring. As world champion boxer and entrepreneur George Foreman has said, "You just can't beat ol' happy." Happiness is something we all desperately want and need. In childhood we learn about the Declaration of Independence and the phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." We Americans consider happiness an inalienable right, and we pursue it with passion -- but often, sadly, without success.

Happiness seems elusive for many of today's families. We're overwhelmed, underpaid, and under pressure, and the results in many homes are tension and conflict. Too many parents and their kids turn to destructive habits to get through their days: alcohol, drugs, inappropriate sexual activity, overspending, and more. In these as well as less dysfunctional families, bickering is a standard mode of communication. Families turn to counselors, therapists, and church leaders to mediate disputes between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, yet frequently the conflicts remain unresolved. Divorce, to a staggering degree, has become commonplace: more than half of today's marriages break up. In extreme cases, parents physically abuse their children, a terrible tragedy. But are we aware of our kids' vulnerability to emotional abuse? A thoughtless, cruel, or sarcastic comment at an unguarded moment can cripple a young life forever. Both forms of abuse take place every day.

Some time ago I heard a story I will never forget. A woman was describing how miserable her life was with her husband. When asked what she could do to change her circumstances for the better, the woman answered, "I'll never leave, and we'll never be happy, because my revenge on my husband is not complete." This bitter attitude toward life is scary, and it's likely more common than we realize.

What's wrong with us? We may be pursuing happiness, but we're not catching it. Are we sacrificing happiness today because of hurts from yesterday? Are we going to be discontented, or, worse, miserable for the rest of our lives? Do we have to live this way? The answer to that, of course, is no. In fact, you may be surprised how easy it is, after a little strategic thinking, to bring real happiness into your life and home. Keep reading, and I'll explain what I mean.


Defining Happy

By now you've probably asked yourself, "Am I happy?" Before you answer, I suggest you ask yourself another, far more important question: "How do I define 'happy'?" Go ahead, pull out a piece of paper or open up your laptop and record what comes to mind. What does your happiness look like? Feel like? How do you touch it? How do you experience it? Your answers to these questions will be more profound than you might think.

I once was a guest panelist at a speaking event with Barbara Walters and Dr. Maya Angelou, both women I greatly respect. We were speaking at the conference at different times. Ms. Walters made the statement that women can't "have it all." Later, when it was my turn to communicate, I politely disagreed with her. I said that women can have it all but that we may not be able to have it all at the same time. Marriage, career, motherhood, household CEO, commitments to church and other nonprofit organizations, and other life responsibilities are enormous challenges that can drain even the mosthighly skilled and motivated among us. Trying to fill all of these roles successfully as well as simultaneously is like juggling three balls while riding a bicycle across a tightrope over Niagara Falls. Sure, you might be able to pull it off, but it's far more likely that sooner or later, something will be going over the edge -- and it will probably be you!

My point is that you don't need to have it all at the same moment, with the pressures that go along with that. What does having it all really mean, anyway? Your "all" needs to be just that -- yours. You need to define it. Don't allow your perception of someone's fantasy to become your blueprint for living. Your life, like your fingerprints, will be different from someone else's. It's your unique gift from God. For me, that means following the path I believe God has set me on. That path is a wonderful place, where we can be happy.

If you're a mom who's trying to be everything to everyone, are you doing it because it brings you happiness or because it's part of someone else's agenda? As moms we aim to please. We want to meet and exceed the expectations of others, whether they are our children, spouse, friend, neighbor, or our own mother. We may buy into someone else's idea of a successful, happy life without ever really thinking about how it will impact our own. Be careful that you don't let another person's definition of happiness substitute for yours.

Letting go of others' expectations can be extremely freeing. Suddenly you don't have to work crazy hours each week to make payments on a car you don't really need. You don't have to prepare the perfect meal every night -- your family will survive the occasional tuna sandwiches and vegetable sticks. You don't have to have every item of clothing washed, folded, and put away at the end of the day. It'll wait until tomorrow. If taking off some pressure gives you greater peace in your heart -- and more happiness -- then allow yourself the freedom to be less than your image of perfection.

Knowing What's Truly Important

Let's take a look at what you wrote for your personal definition of happiness. Does it match up with the way you're living your life? When can you make changes to move closer to your definition of happiness? Don't put it off until tomorrow -- let's start today. If you aren't quite sure how to answer these questions or are simply feeling overwhelmed, make a list of your priorities. What is most important to you? What people and activities and attitudes bring you the greatest joy? Are you thinking "big thoughts" about your life and your future? Do you have a vision for fulfilling your goals? It's tough to be happy if your daily life and priorities aren't aligned. If you spend most of your time focusing on your priorities and passions, you'll probably be much happier.

When I write out my own priorities, my faith in Jesus Christ tops the list. He is my foundation. He is my daily source of purpose and joy. The Bible says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds" ( James 1:2). We can find joy even when the state of our lives isn't all we're wishing for. Since God wants us to find joy even in our trials and tribulations, I believe He expects us to celebrate the good times even more. That's a great encouragement to me.

One of the little things I do to remind myself about my priorities is to take a sheet of paper and write, in big capital letters, JOY. After each letter, I fill in a word: Jesus, Others, You. I keep one of these JOY signs on my bathroom mirror and another in my kitchen. On days when I'm feeling more stressed than joyful, those signs stop me in mid-step. I'll think, Okay, wait a second...maybe I need to rearrange my priorities at this moment. And when I do that, the joy returns. It's a simple technique, one anyone can use to help remind him or her of what's important. Your list will be different from mine. Whatever it is, keep it in front of you so that your eyes are focused on the prize. The key is to stay attuned to what matters most to you so you can maintain a joyful atmosphere in your life and home.

What matters most to the moms I talk with is time with their families. Kids, especially, change quickly and move into new phases of life. We don't want to miss anything. Our sons and daughters need our guidance and steady presence. They also need us to be happy so we can bring happiness into their lives. Yet unless we are vigilant in protecting our family time, it disappears. It's easy for seemingly important events to intrude on this precious resource.

I remember a wonderful offer that came to me several years ago. I was invited to participate in a short-term project that would pay three times the annual salary I was earning at that point. My advisers thought it was a great opportunity and strongly encouraged me to say yes. The problem was that it was scheduled on the same day as my wedding anniversary, it couldn't be changed, and I'd already made plans with my husband. I'd decided early in my marriage that celebrations on special days such as anniversaries and my husband's and children's birthdays were too important to postpone. I do admit that I have worked on my own birthday, and that's probably not the best boundary. When I considered what to do about the conflict with our anniversary, it was no contest. I turned down the project and enjoyed my time with Greg instead.

Husbands and, even more so, your children, will intuitively sense if they are cherished and if they are your priority. When you set aside other important and pressing issues to make time for them, it sends a message that they are first in your life. You may miss out on a business opportunity, a fun time with a girlfriend, or that haircut you really need. Sometimes you'll even miss out on your daily shower (we moms know that perfume is shower in a bottle). Yet by letting go of other priorities, you'll be honoring your family and cultivating a happy home. In the long run, it will be more than worth the sacrifice of any other opportunity.


The Power of Place

Another key to a happy home is maximizing the impact of our physical environment. For most moms, even if we work outside the home, our house or apartment is our primary "office." For better and worse, it is the space that communicates how we're feeling about ourselves and our lives. Never underestimate the power of place to either lift your spirits or take a toll on your emotional well-being. I urge you to step back and consider how your home is making you feel. Years of living in the same spot can have a numbing effect on your senses. You may not even realize that the atmosphere of your living space is making you tense, anxious, and depressed when it should be leaving you relaxed, at peace, encouraged, and happy.

You may sense that your physical surroundings are draining your energy but aren't sure why. It could be that your furniture feels hemmed in and out of balance. It's possible that the colors on the walls, which once felt exciting and enlivened your decor, now appear out-of-date, stuck in the past. If your life has changed, why haven't your colors? Or are you overwhelmed by one of the most common culprits of all -- clutter? With tons of clutter, you may not be able to even see the colors of your walls.

Is your home filled with things you no longer want or need? Are you hoarding to compensate for or cover up some emotion? Are your tables and floors covered with toys, clothes, dishes, and unread magazines? These are signs that clutter is taking over your life. It's easy to get weighed down by possessions. In some cases, the desire to acquire becomes a disease. People have closets and rooms full of things that weigh them down. If that's your situation, don't hesitate -- it's time to act. Attack your home one room at a time. As you come to each item, either put it to use or get rid of it. If it's a ticket from a movie with your kids that evokes a special memory, put it in a scrapbook to preserve the memory, design a Christmas craft with it, or throw it away. Learn to let go. As you do, you'll rediscover the inviting home you once knew and loved.

I don't mean that every item and scrap of paper in your home has to be out of sight. That's certainly not the case in our home. My desk, which used to be my kitchen table, is covered with paperwork. You might call it a mess. Yet I know what each piece of paper is and where it goes. It's an organized mess! So I'm not suggesting that your home has to pass a white-glove inspection. On the other hand, if your bedroom doorway is blocked by boxes of Christmas cards from people you haven't talked to in ten years, it's time to step in and "clutter bust."

I am a firm believer that we are influenced by our environment, usually more than we realize. You may be reluctant to put much energy into transforming your home into a more welcoming place. I understand. However, once you acknowledge the far-reaching impact a positive living space has on your spirit, you can begin making changes for the better. We'll talk in this chapter about how relatively small steps, such as adding a touch of aromatherapy or setting out candles, can make an enormous difference in the atmosphere of your home (it's hard to have arguments by candlelight). We'll discuss fun ideas for displaying personal items that celebrate your unique personality and make you feel comfortable and honored. We'll also explore ways to establish a cozy little nook in your home that is just for you, a private place you can turn to for tranquility.

If you're anything like me, you'll need help -- expert help -- to make all the changes needed to transform your house into a happy home. I freely admit that cooking and gardening are not among my strengths. That's why I often turn to my good friend Chef André Carthen of ACafe and renowned landscape designer Nicholas Walker of J du J for advice. In this chapter Chef André and Nicholas will offer you solutions for entertaining and for developing a refreshing physical environment outside your home -- as well as enabling some of that outdoor refreshment to come inside.

You may not be an expert on kitchen, garden, and living spaces. You are, however, an expert on you and what your family needs. Even if you have limited time and financial resources, with a little bit of help, you can develop a style for your home that reflects who you are and what makes you happy. We'll talk more about that, too. What is crucial is looking for opportunities to allow your surroundings to flourish. It can be the magnet that attracts the joy hidden inside your heart.


Looking for Joy in All the Right Places

We've talked about how many families are pursuing but not finding happiness. Some moms, though, are tired of the chase. They've tried for so long and have become so discouraged that they've given up. They're waiting for someone or something to come along and rescue them. They feel empty. They have a void in their hearts that desperately needs to be filled.

I remember the day one of our children wanted to run away from home. I'd read all the manuals and instruction books that said parents should question the decision but then allow their child to pack. The key was to never let the child see you panic or allow him to think he could intimidate you. Yet when my child was the one announcing plans to run away, my response was the complete opposite of what I'd read. As soon as I heard the words, I dissolved into tears. Not a good example of parenting! So believe me, I do understand how overwhelming, intimidating, and even frightening it can be to have mom responsibilities, and how that can leave mothers with an empty feeling that cries out to be filled.

For me, that void is filled by the Lord. When I take my troubles to Him, I find comfort and strength that give me an inner joy and allow me to keep going even when I'm discouraged by my circumstances. I appreciate that you may not share my faith. If you don't, you won't find your support in the same way I do. I will tell you this, though: if we wait for happiness, we are likely to find ourselves paralyzed by the waiting.

A mother once wrote to me and said, "I want to be happy. I'm waiting for something to happen to help me be happy." I wrote back and encouraged her to begin moving toward joy that day. We corresponded further, and I urged her to start with simple steps: Organize a junk drawer. Discard things she didn't need. Visit her children at school. Decide that rather than argue with her husband over their differences, she could realize that they each had their own visions for their lives, and she could focus on what they had in common. Today this mom leads a much happier life. She has stopped waiting for happiness to come to her and is starting to look for joy in the right places.

I don't mean to imply that discovering happiness is easy, especially for anyone struggling with genuine depression. Without doubt, there are circumstances and medical conditions that require professional help, including prescription medication. Emotional illness is as real as any physical illness. If you find yourself in a place of depression that you can't break through, or if you're overwhelmed to the point of danger to yourself or another human being, please put this book down immediately and get help. Too often, however, people turn to chemical substitutes -- even from our own physicians, who may be quick to prescribe them -- rather than attempt to solve the core problem. If you're unhappy, there is much you can do to change your situation. Life is too precious to go through it without joy.

One of the best ways to discover joy is to reach out to others. When we see beyond ourselves and observe the needs of the people around us, we open ourselves and our children up to all kinds of opportunities for joy. Years ago I worked in a convalescent home. It was a pleasure for me to deliver meals to the elderly patients, many of whom had no one else to visit them. Many were not happy. Their health was poor, and they were lonely. Yet the simple act of giving them a smile and hug and of serving them a meal brought heartfelt smiles to their faces. When my shift was done, I felt joy over the fact that basic acts of kindness could cause someone to feel a small difference in their life.

When you reach out to others, the impact goes beyond you and the person you're helping. Imagine the lessons your children will learn if, from an early age, they see you volunteering once a month to read to the blind or serve in a soup kitchen. Better yet, if your kids are old enough, encourage them to volunteer with you. In Santa Barbara we have a program in which we bring flowers to people who otherwise don't have access to them, so that they can experience one of God's wondrous creations. The program serves women and men who have limited mobility or are confined to their living space, including those in convalescent homes. Even people at our local mission, who may be temporarily homeless, benefit from the program and can enjoy the scent and beauty of a flower. This is something we've participated in as a family. I believe our children have learned powerful lessons from seeing firsthand the impact of kindness. No matter how much joy they give out, they receive even more.

I'm not suggesting that you should volunteer at the expense of your family time or your own overwhelmed schedule. It's important to set boundaries and establish what you can and cannot do. Still, when you make it a priority to focus on others, you may find that other, more trivial concerns will begin to fall away.

If you're reading this and thinking that you have very little time or money to give to others right now, I understand that. If you are a person of faith, however, you always have the option to pray. I'm reminded of a time when I learned that two boys at school were bothering one of our children. My first reaction wasn't very loving. I was upset. Later that evening, though, when I calmed down, our child and I prayed for those two boys. Just leaving the matter in God's hands was a blessing. Knowing that He hears and answers every prayer created a sense of peace and happiness for both of us. And the next day I found out that the situation had indeed improved.

Put simply, compassion leads to joy. In the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote, "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love...then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love" (Philippians 2:1-2). Any time that we follow the example of Jesus, we radiate joy. Everyone around us will see it, receive it, and most often, reflect it back.


Beginning Today

You can be happy today. Remember when I said that some people have a void they want someone or something to fill? It's as if they're stuck in an "if, then" mode. If I can just have a baby girl, then I'll be happy. If we can make enough to afford a new house, then I'll be happy. If my boss gives me that transfer I want, then I'll be happy. They're always waiting for some external event to bring joy into their lives.

You don't have to wait. You can choose happiness right now. God tells us to be patient in our trials and in waiting for the return of Jesus (see Romans 12:12 and James 5:7), but He doesn't say we have to wait for joy. On the contrary, He wants us to always celebrate our lives and faith: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4). Remember Paul and Silas, who were severely flogged and chained to a prison wall (Acts 16:23-24)? They seemed out of options, yet they raised their own spirits and those of their fellow prisoners by offering prayers and hymns to God.

Yes, we will have moments of sorrow in our lives; but real joy isn't based on circumstances. Real joy is something that cannot be taken away. Even in the midst of crisis or grief, deep in our hearts, we have the joy of knowing that we're not alone. We have God, the people we love, and the precious gift of life. No matter what else is going on around us, those are blessings we should never take for granted.

Real Solutions for Busy Moms © 2009 by Kathy Ireland Worldwide