No Limits (review)

Leave a comment

No Limits: Blow the CAP Off Your CapacityNo Limits: Blow the CAP Off Your Capacity by John C. Maxwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Though he’ll be 70 this year, John C. Maxwell is still going strong. No Limits, his latest book, gives readers an understanding of what drives him with lots of how-to on staying productive themselves long after one would expect their batteries to be drained.

The book’s organization is based on Maxwell’s formula for reaching maximum capacity: “If you grow in your awareness, develop your abilities and make the right choices, you can reach your capacity” – p. 2.

The first section of only two chapters, explores awareness. The second seven-chapter block focuses on abilities. Maxwell discusses abilities in many spheres including energy, emotion, thinking, people, and leadership. The last eleven-chapter section focuses on choices. It challenges readers to increase personal capacity and the capacity of the group they’re leading by making the right choices in areas like taking responsibility, being intentional, having a positive attitude, faith, being a good partner, and more.

Though the book targets leaders in the world of work, it also has much to offer individuals who lead in informal ways.

I found this book wide-ranging, positive, encouraging, and wise, though it did leave me wondering where Maxwell gets the seemingly boundless energy he has for work, family, and friends. His recitation of the activities of only one of his days left me tired. How does he manage to live such a full and productive life? I would say by actually living his own advice.

Even as I read it, I realized, this is not me. So, though I personally will not be trying everything in this book, I did find myself underlining passages all over the place and will, in the days ahead, implement more than one of Maxwell’s suggestions to hopefully boost my own capacity and productivity.

Here are a few of my favorite bits:

From Thinking Capacity: “Writing about an idea gives your thinking intellectual weight. It creates clarity in your thinking. Talking about an idea gives it emotional weight. It connects your thinking to your heart – p. 83.

From Creative Capacity: “You will become as creative as the amount of time you set aside for it…. There is a relationship between scheduling a time to be creative and being inspired to create” – p. 129.

From Production Capacity: “Find ways to focus your time and attention and work toward eliminating from your schedule anything that doesn’t have a high return” – p. 145.

From Character Capacity: “Good character uses the same standard in every situation. It something is right, it’s always right. If it’s wrong, it’s always wrong. People with good character are consistent” p. 190.

From Discipline Capacity quoting Steven R. Covey: “Once you have a burning yes inside you about what’s truly important, it’s very easy t say no to the unimportant” – p. 214.

This would be a great book for leaders in any field, as well as young people entering the work force, middle-aged workers who are considering where they’ve been and asking where to now, and healthy, energetic seniors who want to make the most of the years remaining.

I received No Limits as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

View all my reviews

Passport Through Darkness (review)

Leave a comment

Passport through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second ChancesPassport through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances by Kimberly L. Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kimberly L. Smith and her husband Milton are introduced to the horrors of human trafficking almost by chance, when their missionary activity in Spain leads them to an orphanage in Portugal. There they come face to face with Uncle Buster, a man who is bringing in children from Africa, filming their abuse, and posting images on the internet. Passport Through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances is Smith’s first person account of this event and what happened next.

On exploring trafficking in more depth, Milton and Kimberly discover that the real hotbeds for this activity are Eastern Europe and Africa. Over time they establish Make Way Partners to help raise funds for anti-trafficking work. Then, through a chain of events, Kimberly finds herself in Sudan—a place PJ (Voice of the Martyrs’ Eastern Europe and North Africa Regional Director) identified as “… the worst place on the planet for this evil” (Kindle Location 517).

The bulk of Smith’s story happens in Sudan. She falls in love with the people, especially the orphans, returns numerous times, and ends up building an orphanage in the heart of Sudan’s most dangerous and forsaken region. The sights and events she describes are often raw and heartbreaking. Her ministry is inspiring and off-the-charts of possible, as God steps in again and again to open doors, protect, and make dreams come true.

But all is not sweetness and light. The sub-plot of this memoir involves Kimberly and Milton’s relationship. When his diabetes doesn’t allow him to be part of the Sudan trips, the couple spends long stretches of time apart. Kimberly, not wanting to burden her ill husband more, keeps many details of her Sudan experience secret from him. Their own relationship comes under threat.

The book is vividly written, both in its descriptions of life in Sudan and the life of the heart. I found it a fast, sometimes horrifying though definitely relevant read (It seems anti-human trafficking initiatives are popping up all over. In the last several months, I’ve encountered two new-to-me ministries that also focus on it.)

I recommend this book to people who love kids, those interested in human trafficking, readers with a heart for missions, or anyone who enjoys a well-written memoir. I’m not the alone in recommending it. Passport Through Darkness is also endorsed by such Christian literary luminaries as Philip Yancy, Randy Alcorn, and Ken Gire.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“On some level, praying ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done’ haunted us, though. Gradually we began to understand that God didn’t give us that prayer so much to comfort us as to mold and transform our hearts and lives.

“The more we prayed ‘Thy Kingdom come …’ the more it convicted us that God chose to use mankind—His incarnational presence in this world—to usher His Kingdom in, one fractured attempt at a time.

“But who of us wants to give up our notion of what we think our lives should look like so that we are available for Him to use?” – Kindle Location 501.

Passport Through Darkness is part of my own Kindle collection.

View all my reviews

Scary Close (review)

Leave a comment

Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Acquiring a Taste for True IntimacyScary Close: Dropping the Act and Acquiring a Taste for True Intimacy by Donald Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“These are snapshots of the year I spent learning to perform less, be myself more, and overcome a complicated fear of being known,” writes Donald Miller in the first chapter of Scary Close, his latest memoir (Kindle Location 173).

The learning includes listening to the input of trusted friends and counselors, making mistakes that almost cost him his relationship with Betsy, giving up control, finding compromises, and finally understanding and embracing the new relationship paradigm he is entering: “Applause is a quick fix. And love is an acquired taste” (K.L. 118).

The journey is easy to take, delivered as it is in Miller’s personable voice. Some of his stories are funny, some poignant, some instructive, some inspirational, and a couple even made me squirm in embarrassment. For this sometimes-bumbling man is nothing if not transparent.

Though God doesn’t play an out-front role in Miller’s story, He is there in its presuppositions and moral underpinnings. The one significant God-lesson that stuck with me Miller relates near the end of the book where he writes about how his whole life has been a search to fill a hole of longing and loneliness inside. When Jesus didn’t fill that hole early in his Christian life, Miller says he nearly abandoned his faith. But now, through reading the Bible he realizes that the incompleteness he is feeling will never be satisfied on earth—not even by the most compatible partner. He says:

“What differentiates true Christianity from the pulp many people buy into is that Jesus never offers that completion here on earth. He only asks us to trust him and follow him to the metaphorical wedding we will experience in heaven” (K.L.2281).

However, he sees his marriage as key in helping him endure that longing. Instead of expecting the lover to fill that hole: “… we will comfort each other in the longing and even love it for what it is, a promise that God will someday fulfill us” (K.L.2299).

I would recommend Scary Close to anyone who loves a good memoir—but especially to singles who have had many relationships but still never found the one. The man who says he was “… rescued from my fear and insecurity that made me so frighteningly poor at relationships, rescued from isolation and from fairy-tale illusions about what love really is” (K.L.2397) might just have some clues for you.

I received Scary Close as a gift from the publisher for writing a review.

View all my reviews

Consider the Sunflowers (review)

3 Comments

Consider the Sunflowers - Elma SchemenauerTina Janz feels torn between her parents’ wishes that she marry an upstanding (but boring) Mennonite boy and her desire for the man she loves—Frank Warkentin, the son of a Mennonite father and Gypsy mother. But the tug-of-war in Elma Schemenauer’s novel Consider the Sunflowers is more than between just Tina and her parents. For handsome, dashing, funny Frank doesn’t share Tina’s Mennonite faith. She soon discovers he has a violent temper. And his farm is far from town—something that doesn’t suit Tina well at all.

Schemenauer takes us on a literary journey that spans the years from 1940-1947 in the lives of Tina and Frank. The place is Coyote, Saskatchewan—a fictional town near Outlook, populated by a Mennonite and non-Mennonite mix. Frank is attracted to other Mennonite outcasts like Dorrie Harms and hangs out with Scandinavian friends Thor and Leif while Tina feels torn between both worlds.

Schemenauer’s familiarity with the Mennonite lifestyle, ways of thinking, and speech mannerisms is evident throughout the book (she is of Mennonite extraction). Thus from the opening words I felt I was in an authentic world. All the Na yo’s (p. 28), sentences ending in yet (“In Saskatoon yet” – p. 128), already, and nicht (“We should have your wedding on Saturday nicht?” p. 153) rang true for me, as someone who grew up in the same people group.

The story, told through Tina and Frank’s points of view, follows the ups and downs of their relationship all the while exploring many themes: how we’re molded by early experiences, what comprises love, aspects of marriage including the importance of honesty and transparency, how choices we make have consequences, what it’s like to be a Mennonite, what it’s like to be a Mennonite on the fringes, how religion and faith differ, and the overarching importance of forgiveness and trust in God no matter what the fine points of one’s creed might be.

Tina’s realization of this comes after a long crisis of faith. Told in Schemenauer’s understated yet picturesque style, it is one of my favorite passages in the book:

“Can you hear me?” she asked.

A coyote howled in the pasture. A gust of wind ruffled Slim’s coat. As it lifted Tina’s hair off her forehead, Jesus seemed to speak to her. Not in words. More like flowers opening in her heart. I love you, he said. Do you believe that?

Her reaction after she senses her brief conversation with Jesus is over is similarly subtle but full of wisdom that resonates with truth:

“…she expected to feel something like holy fireworks in her heart. Instead she felt only a new orderliness, like her thoughts were sorting themselves into new file folders. She crossed the silent kitchen, climbed the stairs, and eased herself into bed” – p. 157.

“Consider the lilies…” Jesus said, as He pointed out the necessity of a simple day-to-day faith in God to counter the fears and anxieties of life. In Consider the Sunflowers Schemenauer draws our attention, through Tina and Frank, to the God who still longs to be trusted with the minutiae of ordinary existence.

The story is supplemented by a Mennonite timeline explaining the origin and migrations of this ethnic and religious minority. Study questions at the end of the book will be helpful for reading clubs and home school study.

Author Elma Schemenauer

Author Elma Schemenauer

Title: Consider the Sunflowers
Author: Elma Schemenauer
Publisher: Borealis Press, November 10, 2014, Paperback 299 pages
ISBN 978-0-88887-575-4,

 

AVAILABLE FROM THE PUBLISHER, Borealis Press – $19.95

Also available online at Chapters Indigo  by about November 15.

E-book coming in 2015.

For more information, please visit http://elmams.wix.com/sflwrs

Loveology (review)

1 Comment

Loveology: God. Love. Marriage. Sex. and the Never-Ending Story of Male and Female.Loveology: God. Love. Marriage. Sex. and the Never-Ending Story of Male and Female. by John Mark Comer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just in time for Valentine’s Day another book about love: Loveology: God. Love. Marriage. Sex. And the Never-Ending Story of Male and Female by Portland (Oregon) pastor John Mark Comer. It’s a theology of love written “… for singles, engaged couples, and the newly married who want to learn what the Scriptures have to say about sexuality and relationships” –from the back of my hardcover copy.

Loveology quote - J. M. Comer

The book addresses the gamut. It begins with the creation of the first couple. It talks about four purposes of marriage. It explains why sex is tov (good) at least if it follows the Song of Solomon pattern. It explores romance, the obstacle course of dating, the differences between male and female, how to enjoy the state of singleness, and the biblical attitude toward homosexuality. The book ends with a hefty Q&A section of real-life questions encountered when the author presented the book’s content as an event.

Comer’s writing style is savvy and casual with enough vernacular to give the sense that he knows the demographic he’s addressing. As a work of theology it’s easy to read. Comer has the instincts of a good teacher and presents his ideas logically and in an order that makes sense. His use of Hebrew and Greek word studies along with illustrations from the lives of Bible characters helps him get to the nub of what the Bible teaches.

Loveology quote - J. M. Comer

I like the way he examines 21st century ideas and assumptions about love, courtship and marriage, contrasting how the culture of Bible times differed from ours.  He goes into the history of some of our customs showing how practices like dating and choosing one’s own marriage partner are recent with a dubious track record for creating long-lasting marriages (though he doesn’t advocate arranged marriages). While he does trip all over himself trying not to give offense on socially tricky topics like men taking the leadership role in marriage and a Christian stance toward homosexuality, he does end up sticking with the orthodox biblical position (despite its current unpopularity amongst the general population).

Loveology design

Loveology design features.

My one objection to the book is its physical design (I read the hardcover edition). The beginning page of each section is hot pink with white print. Talk about hard to read in any but bright daylight! I found myself dreading another pink page—a distraction from the book’s message for sure. As well, the footnote numbers are in hot pink, making them almost invisible. Also, long quotes from the Bible (Genesis 2:15-25 and Proverbs 8) serve as front and back bookends for the body of the book. These are in huge font (pink on white) with no spacing for verses or paragraphs. Again my eyes say NO!

Loveology quote - J.M. ComerOther than those design quibbles Loveology is an excellent book for anyone who wants to understand what the Bible teaches about love, marriage, courtship, sex, and singleness. For a generation of Christian youth bombarded by messages and images saturated with sex, it’s a timely and needed book. It would make a great study for youth groups and an appropriate addition to the reading list of premarital counselors and their counselees.

I received Loveology as a gift from the publisher (Zondervan) for the purpose of writing a review.

View all my reviews

A Garden to Keep (review)

1 Comment

A Garden to KeepA Garden to Keep by Jamie Langston Turner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elizabeth Landis makes the decision to become a Christian on a Sunday just hours before she discovers her husband is having an affair. Jamie Langston Turner’s novel A Garden to Keep is the story of the next four months.

It is a literary tome that delves into Elizabeth’s past and present. She probes her marriage, her mothering, her friendships, and her relationship with her parents and in-laws. In this she is often comforted by her ‘friends,’ the poems that are her companions, teachers, seers and the lenses through which she views life. As she becomes familiar with her new-found faith, Bible passages join their ranks.

The story is told in first person with our narrator anticipating the objections we’ll have to the way she’s telling the story. She says in the first paragraph:

“Let me warn you from the start that this story might make you angry.”

In another place after playing fast-and-loose with verb tenses she informs:

“In case anybody is wondering, I know my verb tenses are wildly erratic. I know all about verbs …. But verb tense is one of the most irrelevant parts of reviewing your life” Kindle Location 329.

And several times she asks for our patience as she spins out this lengthy tale:

“I’ve got something to say to anybody who’s grumbling about the slow pace of the story. And to anyone who wants to lay it aside because it’s disjointed. Don’t. A story goes forth in its own way. It takes its own sweet time to do whatever it’s going to do …” KL 4645.

I enjoyed the writing, though. Turner writes with lots of wisdom and perception:

“Every minute of every day is dragged down and held back by the heavy anchor of my broken marriage” KL 4657.

I also loved all the many references to poets and specific poems. I have highlighted a host of poem titles that I intend to check out. There are also some good insights about poetry:

“That’s what poetry does. You read it once and feel the quake, and then, as time goes on, you feel the aftershock” KL 7369.

But the slow, rambling, tangential storytelling style did tax my patience, despite the narrator’s pleas. And the longer I read, the less I liked Elizabeth herself. For someone who prided herself on how “Aware” she was (she haughtily classified people as “Aware” and “Unaware”), she was pathetically unaware and lacking in social graces (though she remarked early on about what a burden her ever-present politeness was in that it had her doing things that she would rather not just to be nice). Her possessive ways with her son while she ignored her husband and her rudeness to her mother-in-law (for which she justified herself at every turn) had me wanting to shake some common sense into her little poetic head.

Maybe I’ve prejudiced you against reading. I hope not. Because Christian literary novels are rare, this one was a prize-winner (2002 Christy Award for Contemporary Novel), and it does contain a lot of wisdom about relationships and how life with Christ makes forgiveness and extending grace (to oneself and others) possible. Of course for poetry lovers a work of fiction that incorporates poetry into its very essence is a rare find indeed and worth reading for that content alone.

View all my reviews

The Good Fight by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot (review)

Leave a comment

The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Lead to Greater Intimacy in MarriageThe Good Fight: How Conflict Can Lead to Greater Intimacy in Marriage by Les Parrott III

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Fighting is as intrinsic to marriage as sex. The goal for both is to do them well. That’s why we’ve dedicated this book to helping you fight a good fight” write Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot, husband-and-wife-team authors of The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Lead to Greater Intimacy in Marriage.

A quick overview of the table of contents gives an idea of the scope of the book. The nine chapters include How can a fight be good?; What a good fight will do for you; Rules of the Fight Club; Uncovering your personal fight style; and Fighting through the Big Five.

The Parrots name four elements that keep a fight healthy: Cooperation, Ownership, Respect, and Empathy (CORE). They show how differing perceptions of a situation can cause friction, give insight on how you can tell whether an issue is likely to turn into a fight, and how to habitually consider points of view other than your own to head off a fight at the pass.

They suggest rules for fighting fair based on the CORE elements, describe different kinds of fight types, provide tests to help you and your spouse determine what fight type you both are, and predict how fights between the different fight types will turn out.

Of course, all this is done using lots of story illustrations from the authors’ lives and practice as well as how-to instruction. Don’t let the easy read fool you though. There’s a lot of information and wisdom packed in this practical volume.

An especially useful chapter is Fighting through the Big Five which gives couples a heads-up on hot-button topics (money, sex, work, parenting and housework) that are the most likely to cause dissension.

A major component of the book is the interactive app for smart phones and tablets, downloadable for free with the purchase of each book. It would seem to be both helpful and fun. I say ‘seem to be’ because I didn’t get  it through my review copy. However, the activities (which the book describes) range from self-tests and quizzes to setting an alarm to alert the reader to perform a daily activity suggested in the book. I can see how the app would take the book’s application off its pages and onto platforms (smart phones and tablets) where people do a lot of living these days.

Even without the app, I highly recommend this book. Much of its wisdom about the physiology of anger, the elements of a healthy fight, and fighting fair could be applied not only to couples but to a variety of people who find themselves in disagreement: parents and kids, extended family members, friends, and colleagues.

A wealth of quotes included in each chapter along with an illuminating back-of-the-book essay on anger and its management round out the offering.

The Good Fight would be an especially helpful book to give newlyweds. But married couples of any age will find much that is useful and practical in its pages.

I received The Good Fight as a free e-book for the purpose of writing a review.

View all my reviews