Book Review: “Simple Joys” by Candace Payne

Simple Joys by Candace PayneI knew Simple Joys was going to be a good read when I laughed out loud while reading the INTRODUCTION! ? The stories are genuinely hilarious and thought-provoking.

In her first book Laugh It Up! Candace Payne offered us a peek at the woman behind the mask: the Chewbacca mask. The woman who belly laughed for three minutes straight on a now-viral Facebook Live video with such contagious joy that the world laughed with her not at her. She shared the story behind her viral video and how she grew into a woman who was not only comfortable in her own skin but also undeterred by what others thought about her.

In her new book, Simple Joys: Discovering Wonder in the Everyday , the author shares even more events from her life to demonstrate how each of us can mine for joy in our own everyday experiences. From “taco sweats” and taffeta to an icy driveway and hot coffee, this gifted author will have you laughing out loud one moment and deeply reflecting on complex situations in your own life the next.

Oh, the Places She Went!

Candace is a masterful storyteller who recounts her experiences with such vivid detail, it makes you feel like you were right there with her at the roadside café in Zambia squirting ketchup onto her fries or sitting next to her in the back seat of the car as her father walked out of the house with his hot cup of coffee on a freezing cold morning.

Don’t be fooled. Simple Joys is not a book that you read, put down, and forget about. It’s one that makes you chuckle, wince, roll your eyes, examine your own life, and mine for nuggets of joy even in difficult times.

The most underrated tool we have at our disposal to shift an atmosphere of anxiety to one of joy is to speak out the good times.” page 63.

Simple Joys will help you discover wonder in the ordinary events your everyday life through fun stories, poignant reflection, and questions to spur introspection.

Chapter titles:

  • Prologue: There’s Joy in Them Hills!
  • The Year I Spent with My Head in the Clouds
  • Trash-bag Choir Dresses and the College Crush
  • The Waterbed Where I Said, “Amen”
  • The House on the Hill, the Coffee that Would Spill, and the Stories Shared Around the Table
  • The Day Inadequacy Tried to Squash My Joy
  • Run for Cover
  • Selfies with the Last White Rhinos in Zambia
  • Take the Good, Toss the Bad
  • Epilogue: Prospecting for a Heart of Gold

At the conclusion of each chapter, Candace poses one related, thought-provoking question to the reader and provides ample space for the reader to jot down their own thoughts. There are also a few blank pages at the end of the book for additional notes.

Book Review: Simple Joys by Candace Payne
Pictured above: End of chapter with question and space to journal.

Simple Joys Is Small, but Mighty!

This small, but mighty 176-page book measures only 5-1/2″ x 6-1/2″ x 0.9″ and is the perfect little gift book—but I’d totally buy this for myself, too! (Actually, I did.)

Book Review: Simple Joys by Candace Payne

Each chapter features at least one inspirational quote digitally illustrated by the author (see photo above). I’m hoping they make them into a calendar or coloring book, because they are totally cute!

Book Review: Simple Joys by Candace Payne
Simple Joys is small and mighty!

The cover is a smooth hardback with smyth-sewn and perfect-bound pages. The inside pages are printed in full-color on a heavy, matte paper stock which is perfect for highlighting, note-making, drawing, and journaling.

Over Too Soon!

MacaroonsThe book ended too soon for me. It left me wanting more. So, I sincerely hope that Candace is already working on her next book. While I wait, I will read Simple Joys again. And probably again. 

I highly recommend it. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

By the way, I had the opportunity to participate in a live video chat with the author immediately prior to release, and when she revealed the book cover she said, “Well, it’s supposed to be watercolor dots, but they remind me of macaroons…and I love macaroons! So, that’s a simple joy!”

Yes. Exactly. 

Simple. Joys. All you have to do is search for them, and you will find them.

Photo credit:  of macaroons by @holly_anewlookat on Unsplash.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. I also decided to purchase the book because I really enjoyed it. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Reconstructing the Gospel by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Book Review: Reconstructing the Gospel

As part of my ongoing effort to educate myself about the problem of systemic racism in the U.S., I followed a number of activists on Twitter who share my faith*.

North Carolina author, activist, minister, and nonprofit founder Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is relatively new on my radar thanks to retweets from author, speaker, and activist Lisa Sharon Harper. Both of them, in conjunction with a handful of other theologians, have contributed to a book published by IVP entitled “Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning.” When I saw this book cover flutter across my Twitter feed, I knew it was a book I’d want to read and review on my blog. [Review coming soon!]

When I reached out to the generous folks at IVP, they not only agreed to send a review copy of “Still Evangelical?” but offered to send a copy of Wilson-Hargrove’s new book Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion as well. Each of these books is helping me to better understand the problem of systemic racism and the moral responsibility I have as a follower of Jesus Christ advocate for essential change in our country.

Reconstructing the Gospel

Slave Bible at The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C.I ended up reading Wilson-Hartgrove’s book first thanks to an online book club opportunity, and the book rocked my world. Reconstructing the Gospel is divided in two parts: Part One details the relatively brief history of what the author describes as “slaveholder religion”; Part Two reminds the reader what the Scripture says is good news and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

“The gospel that was twisted to accommodate America’s original sin must also be reconstructed if we are to experience the healing that Jesus wants to bring. Otherwise, evangelism is violence and those of us who spend our time in church meetings are perpetuating a death-dealing culture without even realizing it” (p. 17).

Photo (left): Slave Bible on display atThe Museum of the Bible

It is the author’s conviction that we Americans inherited—and ignorantly perpetuated—a “divided gospel.” Wilson-Hartgrove is convinced that if you were to dig down to the root of our political divisions and class disparities, you would find a sick gospel that was twisted and manipulated to justify owning, using, and abusing fellow human beings created in the image of God.

Do not doubt his conviction. It is based on FACT.

When my family and I visited the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. last November, we saw first-hand a copy of a “Slave Bible.” I had never even heard of such a thing, but there it was right before my very eyes!

Around 3 minutes into this video (left) which I was live-streaming from the Museum of the Bible, you can see the display for yourself. I’m reading the description card.This was the first time I ever knew there was such a thing as an edited version of the Bible solely intended for slaves! ? 

What made the slave Bible so different from that of the slave holder? Passages that talked about freedom for the captives had been cut out.

The book of Exodus? Not there.


The slave holders did not want slaves getting any ideas about freedom from the Bible.

I can’t even imagine how someone justified this bastardization of the Holy Word of God, but they did. This was a printed and bound copy. There are more. Somewhere.

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass Portrait

In time, many men and women who had been brought to this country against their will, sold as chattel, and treated like animals regained a sense of human dignity. They learned to read and write the American language. They learned about God. And eventually, they learned the stories that had been cut out of the slave Bibles—including the story of the Hebrews being delivered out of bondage in Egypt by Moses. And these stories gave them hope and a vision for the future. 

Frederick Douglass, though born into slavery, escaped his bondage and became an accomplished orator, a gifted writer, and a political activist. He became the leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York1. He embraced the true gospel of freedom and equality and grace.

He wrote, “I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land” (quoted on page 35 of Wilson-Hartrove’s book).

Slave-Holder Religion is Alive and Well

What’s crazy to me is that, although Douglass penned his observations in the mid-1800s, slave-holder religion is still alive and well in the 21st century. In fact, it has gained a second wind thanks in part to the overtly racist comments and dehumanizing tweets about people of color from the current President of the United States who not only claims to be a Christian but also garnered 80% of the white evangelical vote in the 2016 presidential election (see one tweet below; many others can be found on his Twitter feed here).

Dehumanization is often used to groom unsuspecting people to tolerate what would otherwise be unacceptable treatment of another human being. In her May 2017 article “Dehumanizing Always Starts With Language” Dr. Brené Brown warns:

We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history. When we engage in dehumanizing rhetoric or promote dehumanizing images, we diminish our own humanity in the process.” (emphasis mine)

Wilson-Hartgrove would agree. His personal journey out of racial blindness happened over a period of time through a number of enlightening encounters with people of color.  As he recounts the time he was talking to a group of teens at a youth camp about the virtues of biblical love and faithfulness only to be called out for his ignorance:

I not only assumed that the good life I imagined as a white man in America was what God wants for everyone, but I also naively suggested that these young people had the freedom to choose biblical faithfulness in all the same ways I did. Truth was, I didn’t have a clue” (p. 43).

When the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II courageously agreed to speak at his church in Klan country, Wilson-Hartgrove was no longer examining his faith alone. He had a mentor, and this man would help lead him from racial blindness to sight, from ignorance to knowledge, and from white independence to multi-racial interdependence in the “beloved community” of Christ followers. 

Ignorant No More

Proximity, humility, and an open heart—each of these is necessary for a life free from the shackles of slave-holder religion and the bad theology of white supremacy which has wormed its way into the church.

As the author builds his case against slave-holder religion, he argues that when we accept without question the religious traditions handed down to us, we often through ignorance make things worse. In other words, there is a white American “Christian” culture that blinds us to what is happening in the world around us. When we are blinded by racism, we limit the gospel to changing individual hearts or the culture of families. Jesus came to change more than that. He came to change the world (p. 132).

Racial inequality is rampant, complex, and systemic. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called to engage politically: To change our country. To change the world. #slaveholderreligion #wilson-hartgrove Click To Tweet

Racial inequality is rampant, complex, and systemic. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called to engage politically: To change our country. To change the world.

For those not blinded by racism, Jesus came to change more than individuals’ hearts or the culture of families. Jesus came to change the world. He did it by gathering together a fusion coalition of the poor and the sick, tax collectors and zealots, religious defectors like Nicodemus, and lepers who had been written off as unclean. Preaching the good news that God’s politics made room for all of them together in a new social order…the political threat of this popular movement got Jesus arrested and killed” (pp. 132-133, emphasis mine).

To say that Reconstructing the Gospel opened my eyes would be an understatement, for that implies that only my eyes and brain were affected. The truth is that my entire body was affected by this book, because for the first time in my life, I have begun to viscerally understand what it means to live in skin. “White” skin. I get it.

Living in White Skin

Now, when I am out, I try to stay mindful of the privilege automatically afforded me and the responsibility I have as a follower of Jesus Christ to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God (cf. Micah 6:8). Not to solve problems, but to observe and listen. To “see” people for who they are and affirm the imago dei in each person.

Wilson-Hartgrove calls us back to the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, touching the untouchable, embracing the marginalized, and setting the oppressed free. It’s a social gospel, for sure. “By endeavoring to live as Christ lived in the world, the church helps everyday people see and remember that another way is possible” (p. 143). This gospel message does not neglect the soul; it touches the whole person: body, mind, and spirit.

And here’s where we must slow down and take a good, hard look inside. Before we rush out to fix the problems of the world, we must first face the facts that—as much as we try to interpret and apply the Scriptures faithfully and accurately—most of us have inherited a broken gospel. Each of us needs to take a hard look at what we’ve been taught as right and good, and humbly hold the doctrines, attitudes, and practices of our faith up to the entirety of Scripture. Wilson-Hartgrove continues,

Reconstructing the gospel can never only be about the individual. This is why so many noble efforts at reconciliation fail. They pretend that broken people with the best of motives can simply opt out of hundreds of years of history through individual choices and relationships…But if we stop short of the personal work…then we carry the germ of white supremacy with us into our most noble efforts to rid this world’s systems of racism. Nothing is uglier than the inevitable explosion when white people try to participate in anti-racist work without addressing their own hidden wound. Each of us has to do our own soul work” (p. 156).

This is where I am right now: I’m doing my own soul work. It’s hard, and it’s taking way longer than I had hoped it would. The fact is, it might take the rest of my life to fully comprehend how hidden biases have affected my attitudes and actions, and how much damage I’ve unconsciously done thanks to ignorance and the slave-holder religion I inherited from my parents who inherited it from their parents who inherited it from theirs and so on.

Deconstruction is a Messy, but Necessary Process

Even though no one in my family tree ever owned a slave, we were still impacted by the false teachings and immoral compass of slave-holding theologians and leaders in our country. Thank God for grace, mercy, and enlightenment!!!

A dilapidated room in an abandoned house

Before the reconstruction of one’s faith comes deconstruction. Teachings based on poor hermeneutics steeped in white supremacy must be torn down. Slave-holder theology enmeshed in traditions, hymns, and “Christian” books must be must be ripped out. Ignorance and arrogance must be taken to the dumpster. Deconstruction is a time-consuming, messy process, but it is absolutely necessary for anyone who hopes to become more like Christ. 

Deconstruction is a time-consuming, messy process, but it is absolutely necessary for anyone who hopes to become more like Christ. #slaveholderreligion #reconstructingthegospel Click To Tweet

This “soul work” involves more than proximity to people who are different than me. It requires humility and compassion and a willingness to listen and learn from people who I’ve never. “For healing to begin, we must learn to listen with our hearts” (p. 166). When we listen in humility and with our hearts, we are open to hearing the message as it is given, not as we think it should be.

I highly recommend Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s 2018 book: Reconstructing the Gospel. It is eye-opening, convicting, and, most of all, extremely helpful in promoting a type of racial reconciliation that could turn this nation, and the world, toward the God who sees, hears, and loves everyone.

* BTW, I rarely use the word “Christian” to describe myself any longer because it no longer means what it used to mean. When the adjectival label “Christian” is routinely applied to people who so blatantly speak and act in a manner completely opposite of the gospel of Jesus Christ,  the term can no longer be used to describe me or my faith.

For many years now, I have preferred the term “Christ follower” or “follower of Jesus Christ” to the term “Christian.” That’s the truth. I believe what the Scriptures say about Him, and I try to follow His teachings. More than anything, I want to live like He lived: Advocating for the oppressed. Embracing the marginalized. Confronting the hypocrites. When I say someone “shares my faith,” that’s what I mean. They follow the same Jesus I do, and you can tell it by what they say and what they do. You know the tree by its fruit.

1 Wikipedia contributors. “Frederick Douglass.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Aug. 2018. Web. 22 Aug. 2018.

Photo credits:
“Frederick Douglass Portrait” is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923. See this page for further explanation.

“Cracked Cream Walls” photo by Nolan Issac (@nolanissac) on Unsplash

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: “Braving the Wilderness” by Brené Brown

Book Review: Braving the Wilderness

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone is arguably one of the most important books I have read in years. The book is timely, relevant, inspirational, challenging, and practical.

In her 2010 book The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brené Brown presented ten guideposts for wholehearted living based on the results of her research on shame and vulnerability. Over the past decade, her work has turned conventional wisdom on its head, and her conclusions have resonated as true for people all over the world.

According to Brown, vulnerability has more in common with courage than weakness, and authenticity with bravery than weakness. Her 2010 TED talk on vulnerability has been viewed over 35 million times, translated into 52 languages, and remains one of TED’s most-watched videos ever. As a result of her own vulnerability in sharing her personal journey toward authenticity, she has been catapulted into the spotlight and is impacting lives all over the world. 

10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living
Poster by Leonie Dawson (
Click image for a variety of free downloads from the artist.

Brown’s work is based in grounded theory research which means she approaches the data with curiosity, not pre-conceived conclusions or theories she’d like to prove. Her conclusions are based on hard data and her insights can be life-impacting. For example, the data shows that every human being is wired for connection and craves belonging; but Brown takes the conclusion a step further clarifying that authentic connection and true belonging will occur only in an environment where trust has been cultivated. 

Braving by Brené Brown

This poster was created by Brené Brown as a free download from COURAGEworks (now defunct). Click image to download a full-size image.

In her 2015 book Rising Strong, she introduced the acronym B.R.A.V.I.N.G.—a mnemonic device to help us remember the seven elements required for trust (see poster on the right).

In her new book Braving the Wilderness, Brown emphasizes the critical role self-trust plays in establishing true belonging. She utilizes the same B.R.A.V.I.N.G. acronym to help us assess our level of self-trust. She transforms the original statements into the following questions:

  • B – Did I respect my own boundaries? Was I clear about what’s okay and what’s not okay?
  • R – Was I reliable? Did I do what I said I was going to do?
  • A – Did I hold myself accountable?
  • V – Did I respect the vault (confidentiality) and share appropriately?
  • I – Did I act from my integrity?
  • N – Did I ask for what I needed? Was I nonjudgmental about needing help?
  • G – Was I generous toward myself? (p. 39)

Brown’s theories are founded upon the conviction that every human is innately valuable and should be treated with dignity—not necessarily because of who they are, but because of who we are and the One whose image we all bear:

If our faith asks us to find the face of God in everyone we meet, that should include the politicians, media, and strangers on Twitter with whom we most violently disagree…Challenging ourselves to live by higher standards requires constant diligence and awareness. (p. 76)

If we’re surrounded by people who look like us, talk like us, believe like us, eat like us, sing like us, and dress like us, belonging is a given—but is it conditional? Is it fake? Is our belonging constantly up for negotiation?

True belonging must begin with self-acceptance in the midst of diversity and imperfection.

Braving the Wilderness beckons readers back to their shared humanity with guideposts for establishing self-trust, leaning into vulnerability, and embracing curiosity.

The author challenges us to “reclaim human connection and true belonging in the midst of sorting and withdrawal…to choose courage over comfort…how to become the wilderness” (p. 59). Cultivating true belonging will require us to break out of our “ideological bunkers” and intentionally spend time with people who are different than us.

We’re going to have to listen hard, become curious, experience discomfort, and empathize—all without sacrificing who we are.

Foundational to Brown’s analysis is her conviction that “we are all inextricably connected with each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion” (p. 34). The author proposes that our connection to each other has been recently broken, explains why and how that happened, and suggests four paradoxical behaviors which will help us find our way back to one another.

  1. People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.
  2. Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil.
  3. Hold hands. With strangers.
  4. Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.

Each of these paradoxes is elaborated upon in its own chapter. The book is packed with stories of real people advocating for the dignity of human life and wholehearted living. 

Braving Is Advocating for Human Dignity

Braving the Wilderness was written during one of the most divisive and provocative presidential campaigns in the history of the United States. The author objectively examines how social media, news reporting, and political rhetoric exposed the underbelly of our personal dysfunctional relationships built on misperceptions, false assumptions, and manipulative control. The result? Disconnection and loneliness.

In a world as connected as ours, it’s hard to fathom how loneliness could possibly be on the rise. But it is. And the biggest culprit contributing to our social disconnect is fear. 

In the case of the United States, our three greatest fault lines—cracks that have grown and deepened due to willful neglect and a collective lack of courage—are race, gender, and class. The fear and uncertainty flowing from collective trauma of all kinds have exposed those gaping wounds in a way that’s been both profoundly polarizing and necessary. These are conversations that need to happen; this is discomfort that must be felt. (page 58)

She asserts that those who strive to sort us into one camp or another are often motivated by selfish interests, money, and/or power. Our division fuels their agenda, and their favorite tool to cause division is dehumanization. The dehumanization of any person or people group begins with language and is closely  followed by propaganda-like images. 

Dehumanization Diminishes Our Wild Heart

According to Brown, “once we see people on ‘the other side’ of a conflict as morally inferior and even dangerous, the conflict starts being framed as good versus evil” (p. 72), and we always see ourselves on the side of good. 

The problem is that most issues are not that dichotomous. Using recent social movements as an example (e.g., Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter), Brown challenges the reader to be willing to take a nuanced stance on issues when our humanity demands it. It’s not as clean-cut as choosing one side to the exclusion of all others, but it is essential to our personal integrity. Nuance is a good thing. It’s humane. And there’s no shame in having a nuanced opinion on any topic!

The author has a gift for weaving together compelling narrative with factual data in such a way as to motivate and equip the reader to trust themselves and stand strong in courageous vulnerability and empathetic compassion with no need for approval or permission. Her values are life-giving and line-up very nicely with what is taught in the Scriptures. Belief in the imago dei requires us to value human dignity. Full stop.

I highly recommend Braving the Wilderness (and, seriously, ANY of Brené Brown’s books) to anyone who is serious about being true to self and making a positive difference in this world. If you read it, I would love to hear what your favorite section(s) were and your favorite quotes!

Photo Credits:
Women’s March in California by Alex Radelich@alexradelich on Unsplash
Black Lives Matter in Northwest Washington by Vlad Tchompalov@tchompalov on Unsplash

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: “The Dream of You” by Jo Saxton

Book Review: The Dream of You by Jo Saxton

“What was the dream you had of yourself from the very beginning?
Before life interrupted, before anyone told you who you were allowed to be?”
— Jo Saxton, The Dream of You

IsisWhen I was a little girl, I wanted to be Isis. From time to time (usually after watching the “Shazam! Isis Power Hour” on Saturday mornings), I would suddenly strike a pose, speak the magical phrase, “Oh, Mighty Isis!” and transform myself—mentally, at least—into a superhero goddess ready to use all my powers to fight against evil!

I loved everything about this nerdy female archaeologist with huge glasses and a secret superhero identity. (I’ve included a video at the bottom of this review for your entertainment.)

Who did you want to be? Do you remember? If so, feel free to share it in the comments below. I’d love to know!

As a little girl growing up in London, author and speaker Jo Saxton had a dream: She wanted to be Wonder Woman. And I mean, she WANTED to BE Wonder Woman—red boots and all!

Jo Saxton
Jo Saxton

In case you are unfamiliar with this wonder of a woman, Jo is a Nigerian Londoner who currently resides in Minneapolis with her husband and two daughters.

Her new book, The Dream of You: Let Go of Broken Identities and Live the Life You Were Made For, traces Jo’s lifelong transition from childhood dreamer to adult achiever.

The Dream (and Struggle) of You

What I find so striking is the parallel between Jo’s struggles and my own—we are SO different!!! For example:

  • OppositesWe have completely different cultural backgrounds (immigrant vs. born citizen);
  • We were raised on two different continents (she in the UK; me in the US);
  • We have different personality types (she’s an ENTJ; I’m an INTJ);
  • We have different enneagrams (she’s an 8, and I’m a 1);
  • We have opposite body types (probably because she doesn’t like chocolate and I do!)

We are basically opposite, and yet our struggles were/are very much the same. How is this possible?

On her quest to explore the different things that held her back or kept her from moving forward in her own life, Jo dug deep and discovered that the root causes of her brokenness, although personal, were not unique to her. They were, in fact, quite common to the human experience—especially that of women.

And like any good Bible teacher, she found biblical examples for each struggle!

The Struggle Is Real

Weaving the story of her own life’s journey together with that of Joseph, Esther, David, Naomi, Hagar, Ezekiel, and others, the author reveals thread-by-thread that God is present with us through our most difficult experiences, and how they add color, dimension, and texture to our character.

Jo Saxton Live Video ChatOver the past few months, I’ve been privileged to interact with Jo as she discussed her new book and her thoughts behind the various stories she shares in it. Reflecting on the first few chapters, she said,

There are times when we have an earthquake in our souls, habits, the way we live. We don’t simply rise up and get over it…but we also don’t want to be defined by it the rest of our lives.”

The Dream of You was never intended to be  a survival manual. It’s about wholeness and redemption and purpose.

The first part of the book not only prompts us to reflect on what (or whom) we’ve allowed to define us but also challenges us to re-imagine what life could be like moving forward mended. Whole.

It’s powerful.

Jo explains the profound impact negative and destructive comments and experiences have on us—minimizing nothing. These experiences simply underscore the reason she wrote the book: to remind us that there is wholeness to be found in relationship with a redeeming God.

When the grit and guts of your broken identity meet the grace and goodness of God, it will reveal you, but He will transform you. You’re in Him now, with all His resources available to you. You have access to His power, mercy, and grace.” (p. 21, emphasis mine)

Each chapter in the The Dream of You begins with a short, heartfelt letter from the author to the reader. In it she offers words of encouragement while setting the stage for the theme of that particular section.

Jo expounds on each theme by sharing a formative experience from her own life as well as a similar story from the Bible, and you don’t have to be familiar with the Bible to benefit from this! Jo has provided quick summaries and backstories of each character so the reader will not be lost in the explanation.

Then, without the use of a Venn Diagram, the author focuses her attention on the intersection of the stories, exposing the root of the issue. She culls out transformative biblical truths and challenges the reader to face the facts in her (or his) own life. She concludes the chapter with suggested action steps geared towards fostering personal growth and spiritual maturity.

Book Flow & Themes

The chapter titles, though creative, are pretty vague if you haven’t read the book yet; therefore, I complied a list of themes (noted in parentheses) followed by one or more of my favorite quotes from that chapter to provide a more helpful overview of the text:

  • Introduction (Dreams)
    “What was the dream you had of yourself from the very beginning? Before life interrupted, before anyone told you who you were allowed to be?” (p. 3)
  • Chapter 1: Don’t Call Me “Pleasant” (Insecurity)
    “Insecurities, if left unaddressed, can grow from momentary emotions to a definitive worldview that determines how we feel, think, and act. Insecurity becomes our identity.” (p. 12)
  • Chapter 2: What’s in a Name? (Compromise/Hiding)
    “Throughout biblical history, God transformed people…God changed the names of people and in doing so changed their stories.” (p. 35)
  • Chapter 3: The Talk (Perfectionism)
    “Many of us know what it feels like to hide our identities in order to survive. We do what it takes to fit into our family, our workplace, our friendship group. We spend our energy trying to fit into our context, into society, into what is demanded of us according to someone else’s terms.” (p. 44)
    “God wants to redeem it all. Rather than your being transformed into a broken identity by the pressures of your world, He wants to transform you to recover who you fully are. Are you ready to be led toward redemptive wholeness, even when you might still fear for your survival?” (p. 56)
  • Chapter 4: The Day I Lost My Voice (Bullying)
    “At times, women apologize for who they are. They minimize their abilities as if they’re expecting someone to tell them they’re arrogant for having talent, ability, and dreams. Some women, particularly those who reach high levels of influence in their field, are plagued by what is known as Imposter Syndrome, or the impostor experience.” (p. 66)
    “When our voice has been taken, we redirect our lives toward ‘more acceptable’ interests. We excuse the damage caused by having been silenced…we make ourselves small.” (p. 68)
  • Chapter 5: God’s Child (Redemption)
    “If we are going to embrace our full identity, know our name, and live out our vocation as we speak with our true voice, if we are going to embrace who we are and what we’re living for, we need to know whose we are.” (p. 82)
    “The things that once defined you don’t have to shape you forever. He [God] transforms your entire life.” (p. 88)

  • Chapter 6: Known and Loved (Vulnerability)
    “You are fully known. He has seen it all and He knows it all. And still you are deeply, deeply loved.” (p. 108)
  • Chapter 7: Slay Your Giants (Courage)
    “It seems that when God redeems a person’s identity and leads her to her purpose, there’s a backdrop of battle and vulnerability.” (p. 112)
    “You will battle the giants that stand in your way, but when you do, don’t even try to fight in someone else’s armor.” (p. 122)
  • Chapter 8: The Wander Years (Refinement)
    “Even with abundant examples in Scripture, when the wilderness experience makes up part of our faith journey, we may not always understand when and why it’s happening.” (p. 132)
    “Wandering in the wilderness exposed the truth that in order to be fully free, the Israelites didn’t just need to get out of Egypt. They needed to get Egypt out of them.” (pp. 136-137)

  • Chapter 9: In the Valley (Doubt and Discouragement)
    “Had I been wrong when I felt called…Or worse, was it just some fantasy idea that I’d decided was a divine calling? Who did I think I was?” (p. 153)
    “We feel too crushed to feel known and loved; we are convinced we have nothing left to offer as a voice or purpose…We’re at the end of ourselves; we are forced to face what life has done to us. It’s tempting to mute our pain rather than face it.” (p. 155)

  • Chapter 10: Breaking up with Perfection (Authenticity)
    “Survival is not the same as being whole.” (p. 168)
    “Are you ready to confront your brokenness, rather than keep hiding it underneath greater efforts to prove yourself to others?” (p. 170)
  • Chapter 11: The Song in My Heart (Community)
    “You’ll need people who see you and know you, people unafraid to remind you of the fullness of who you are. They won’t be threatened by you because they are the kind of women who celebrate who you are. You need people who want to hear your voice and don’t mind how loud it gets. People who get excited about your dreams and your unfolding purpose.” (p. 173)
    “God provides people to help us. Sometimes they’re further along in the journey, and they’ve seen more…They’ll celebrate resurrection of your name over the things that have falsely renamed you, and they’ll keep encouraging you.” (p. 185)

  • Chapter 12: Practices (Disciplines)
    “We don’t adopt practices to prove ourselves or to perform for God’s approval. We already are seen, known, and loved. Instead, the practices make room in our overscheduled lives for God to meet with us. We find that by making time for God’s engagement with us, we are changed, transformed, redeemed.” (p. 192)
  • Chapter 13: Pick up Your Keys (Stepping into Your Purpose)
    “A healthy identity opens our life to abundant purpose…There is less of me—of my self-absorption and self-protection—and there is more room for others. There’s less energy spent striving, proving, and more room for dreaming.” (p. 210)
  • Epilogue (Action)
    “Let’s not allow a sense of inadequacy to tell us we’re not ready or not enough for the task.” (p. 219)
    “Maybe we’ll remember to be tender and nonjudgmental as we remember our own stories.” (p. 220) 

It’s EASY for me to recommend The Dream of You because it is well-written, organized, funny, engaging, well-researched, insightful, empowering, and theologically accurate.

But what I would like to add is this: On every level, the teachings contained herein resonated with me. Jo’s journey mirrors my own—not on the outside, but on the inside. 

And I can testify that what Jo offers you in this book is the same thing I would offer you in my own book: Truth. God is faithful and ready to redeem the years the locusts have eaten (cf. Joel 2:25-27). He can take what was meant for evil and flip it for good. In fact, He does it all the time.

Are You Ready?

The question is, are you ready to recover the The Dream of You? If so, then you have found the right resource with which to start your journey. I highly recommend this to women of all ages, but especially those who have been waiting on God for what feels like a very long time.

Jo has also recorded an audio version which you will LOVE, if you’re into audio books. ?

With no further ado, meet my childhood superhero: Isis.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Sharing Jesus {without freaking out} by Alvin L. Reid

Sharing Jesus without Freaking Out: Evangelism the Way You Were Born to Do It

I requested Sharing Jesus {without freaking out}: Evangelism the Way You Were Born to Do It for review as soon as I saw the title and read the description. Why? Because I carry a lot of “evangelism guilt.”  Do you know what that is? It’s that nagging feeling that I’m not a good enough witness, and I’m not doing enough to tell others about Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m eternally thankful for the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross—literally. I have loved the teachings of Jesus and embraced a lifestyle of faith since I was a little girl! In fact, when I was in kindergarten, I couldn’t not tell people about Jesus. I led my friends to the Lord by having them say the “sinner’s prayer,” repeating what I said phrase by phrase.

When I got older, I would accompany my father, a local pastor, on his “door-to-door” evangelism outings. I’m not exactly sure how many times I went out with him—honestly, it probably wasn’t that often—but I have distinct memories of it.

Our church was located in a depressed, residential area of the city, and we lived only a couple blocks away from it. On Saturday mornings, we’d walk to a nearby house; knock or ring the doorbell; and then patiently wait for someone to come to the door.

Once the door was open, I’d stand there in awe as my dad charismatically introduced himself, caringly invited total strangers to Sunday services, and routinely engaged many in deep conversations about Jesus and eternity.

The question he was hoping to ask went something like this: “If you were to die today, do you know beyond any shadow of a doubt where you would spend eternity?”

20th Century Evangelism

Some responded by ending the conversation and going back inside. Others responded by attending a Sunday service. Some explained why they hadn’t been to church in years. Others prayed and turned their lives around.

My dad helped a lot of people find what they were looking for with that method of evangelism. Some folks’ lives were truly and forever changed for the good—they got off drugs, cleaned up, and became who they were created to be (a couple guys I remember were Mike and Mondo). Others, though, never did completely recover from their addictions (Bob) and left as fast as they joined.

This evangelistic method (marketed as “Evangelism Explosion”) was taught and used all over the world during my childhood and young adult life. Many lives were changed and the experience was legit.

Sin = Hell. Jesus Saves. Fire Insurance.

Although the method was working and the numbers looked good in the short-term, the long-term results of this type of cookie-cutter evangelism were disappointing. 

The emphasis on discipleship was promoted years later, but it was too late for most of the fire insurance buyers—they didn’t like the “upsell” of discipleship and lordship, and many of them bailed out, OR worse, continued to call themselves “Christians” while living a lifestyle completely opposite of what Jesus taught.

Evangelism Shut Down

It probably comes as no surprise to learn that as I grew into adulthood, I pretty much shut down any type of “cold call” evangelism. I’m NOT remotely comfortable starting conversations with strangers anywhere at any time about any subject, but especially not about something as important to me as my personal relationship with Christ.

Completely shut down

I will admit that in today’s post-Christian culture—which is partially the result of fire insurance sales gone bad—I’ve not knocked on a door or had the eternity conversation with anyone in a very, very long time. This has resulted in my carrying around a lot of “evangelism guilt.”

And I think it’s because for so many years, the church has approached evangelism one way. Sure there are/were different methods (e.g., Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron, Evangelism Explosion, etc.), but they all approach it from a place of power and superiority: “I know something you don’t know.”

What Did Jesus Do?

If this makes you ill, it should. That’s NOT how Jesus or the apostles or anyone in the early church did it. They never threatened an eternity in hell in exchange for a ticket to heaven. They never coerced or manipulated people into making a decision to follow Jesus. In fact, their approach was quite the opposite.

Although there were a few who traveled and shared the good news far and wide, the vast majority of Christ followers simply lived their lives according to His main teachings: Love God. Love People.

And this lifestyle was attractive. An aroma. A pleasant-smelling perfume.

These people shared resources, supported and encouraged each other, and when persecution showed up, they gave their lives for the sake of the gospel. They would rather die than renounce the relationship they had with God.

Back to Basics

Alvin L. Reid’s new book Sharing Jesus {without freaking out} was written “to help regular believers, from teenagers to senior adults, from homemakers to pastors, to have real conversations with people about Jesus” (p. xii). It’s about having real conversations in the context of healthy relationships with people we already know. 

Conversation about your relationship with God should feel natural

Tracing the recent history of evangelism in the 19th and 20th centuries, Reid explains how the church followed the world by applying mass production techniques and programmatic approaches to evangelism.

Similar to any sales tactic, the approach to evangelism began by establishing the need of the prospect. Once the need was established, the next step was to simply demonstrate how my “product” meets that need; then sell my “product”; and enroll the person in a maintenance program. Can you believe this?! 

Although he consistently and respectfully refrains from condemning these “fruitful” endeavors, the author is keenly aware that emotional manipulation and successful sales tactics did not yield true disciples in every case.

You Are Totally Unique

Reid explains that we were never meant to follow some streamlined, impersonal approach to sharing Jesus with others. Instead, he proposes eight principles which serve as touch-points to help us understand and remember our unique place in the grand story of God’s redemption.

You are unique.

By concentrating on one principle per chapter, the author is able to help the reader work through common mistakes in evangelism while at the same time fostering a sense of confidence in one’s own testimony. 

He warns against the tendency to avoid evangelism due to overcomplication and fear of rejection by reminding us that sharing our faith is not about making visits and presentations: It’s about transparent conversations within the context of existing, authentic relationships. 

If you read the book of Acts, you will find a few people were called to preach to crowds. People like Peter, Paul, and Barnabas. But ordinary believers had conversations with others, telling people they met the good news they found in Christ (see Acts 2:10-11; 4:29-31; 8:1-4; and 11:19-22).” (p. 45)

Most of us are “ordinary believers” who live “ordinary lives.” We are homemakers, entrepreneurs, and hard workers. And we are called to share our faith, but in a way uniquely suited to our own personalities, skills, and quirks—sharing our hope in Jesus with others was never meant to be a burden.

Sharing the hope we have in Jesus with others was never meant to be a burden. Click To Tweet

Assuming our relationship with the Lord is healthy, conversing about what God is doing in our lives or offering hope to the hopeless is one of the most natural things we do! 

If Jesus is the greatest thing that ever happened to us, he should come up in conversations. Not forced, not structured, but simply because he is the biggest deal in our lives.” (p. 50)

In the chapter “It’s Not in Your Power, yet You Are Vital,” Reid explains why he takes issue with the one-size-fits-all approach to evangelism with which I was trained.

The more you see how God wired you uniquely, the more you can learn how to live for him—including talking to others about him—in the way he created you to, uniquely for his glory and your good…speak about Jesus out of your personality with the strengths and the limitations with which God has blessed you.” (p. 57)

He had me at personality and strengths

Reid goes on to say, “as you continue to learn who you are in Christ and how God made you, you will become more comfortable sharing Christ in your own unique, uncontrived way.” (p. 63) In other words, sharing our authentic faith is natural. Organic. AND low calorie. ?  (I’m just checking to see if you’re still awake.)

Quality vs. Quantity

The bottom line is that we were never meant to follow some cookie-cutter approach to sharing our faith with others—especially people we don’t know and may never see again.

Nothing substitutes for a personal relationship with JesusPlease note: I’m not denying the existence of rare God-appointments or trying to discourage you from sharing your faith when the Holy Spirit is prompting you to do it. I simply am sounding a warning for you to make sure the evangelistic nudge is coming from the Lord and not guilt-induced or pride-filled motives.

Reid offers a sobering reminder that when we share our faith, “we are not seeking to simply ‘close the deal’ and get people to respond; we want them to meet Christ.” (p. 102) We’re sharing with them because our own personal relationship with the Lord is so fulfilling, we can’t not share. 

Make a Plan

The final chapter of the book is dedicated to helping you “develop a specific, practical, and personal plan for your daily life, focusing on sharing Jesus.” (p. 110) Using Acts 1:8 as the outline, Reid reminds us that Jesus presented the perfect evangelism plan to his disciples and challenges us to follow it as well: start where you are with those you know and grow from there. 

Your plan needs to be rooted in the gospel and focused on Jesus, not on you, your church, or your method. Just as one plan for diet and exercise does not work for every person, you need to tailor your plan to the person God created you to be.” (p. 110, emphasis mine)

(I don’t know why he had to bring diet and exercise into it, but whatever. ?) The author visually demonstrates each person’s approach to sharing faith will be in our very own sweet spot—where our individual giftedness, calling, and deep satisfaction intersect. 

The 8-Week Challenge

Following the close of the book, the author provides an “Eight Week Challenge,” so you can put into practice what you’ve been learning—one baby step at a time.

eight week evangelism challengeEach week’s challenge is based on one of the eight principles expounded upon in the book. The reader is presented with the principle, Scriptures upon which to meditate, questions for reflection and application, as well as a few practical tips for how to pray that week. 

This book is like a ‘how to’ manual for sharing your faith with others—but what you get out of it is going to be completely different than what I got out of it or what your partner might get out of it. Why? Because we’re all DIFFERENT. 

Finally! Somebody gets the fact that I’m not wired for knocking on doors or talking to strangers on airplanes. There’s nothing wrong with those practices, if that’s how you’re wired. There’s also nothing wrong with my avoidance of such conversations, because it’s NOT how I’m wired. 

We all need to be open to the nudges of the Holy Spirit and willing to step out of our comfort zones when necessary, but to assume that witnessing ALWAYS takes place outside our comfort zone is just plain wrong.

We need to be open to the nudges of the Holy Spirit and willing to step out of our comfort zones when necessary, but to assume that witnessing ALWAYS takes place outside our comfort zone is just plain wrong. #evangelism #sharingjesus Click To Tweet

If you’re interested in learning more about how to comfortably share your faith without freaking out, let me recommend Sharing Jesus without Freaking Out: Evangelism the Way You Were Born to Do It. It’s short, funny, full of truth, and highly practical.

Anyone who grew up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s needs to read this book—that’s just a no-brainer in my opinion. I also think that this book would be fantastic for youth ministers to use with their high school students and/or young adults. And, well, if you’re reading this, you’d probably benefit from reading it as well. It’s that good and relevant. 

Download this book for free with a trial Audible Membership

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: “Here’s Some Happy” by Gina Graham

Here's Some Happy Coloring Journal Book Review

Here’s Some Happy!

What are you in the mood for? Coloring? Journaling? Meditating on Scripture? All of the above? Well, guess what?! I found a beautiful, sturdy coloring journal that’s filled with frilly drawings, inspiring verses, and lots of lined space for journaling. ?

Here's Some Happy Coloring Journal Book Review
? Click to enlarge

It Passed the Test!

I gave this book my standard test using a variety of media, and it passed with flying colors (no pun intended). The ink did not bleed through—which is super important when you consider that one side of every page is lined for your writing pleasure. 

Here's Some Happy Coloring Journal Book Review
? Click to enlarge

This 128-page, 10×10-inch, hard-cover book is perfect-bound with a soft, colorful cover that opens flat and stays open while you color and/or journal. Yasss!!! 

Here's Some Happy Coloring Journal Book Review
? Click to enlarge

The pages are thick and slightly textured (you can see some of the texture in the orange block, bottom right); the pictures are beautiful, light-hearted, and fun!

Add Textures and Patterns

There is plenty of white space within the drawings where you can add your own patterns and textures—you can customize it to your own tastes. They really thought of everything when they pulled the Here’s Some Happy coloring journal together. 

If you click the picture below, you can see the texture I added to the gray loops on the umbrella (with a silver gel pen). 

Here's Some Happy Coloring Journal Book Review
? Click to enlarge

Here’s Some Happy: A Coloring Journal to Lift the Soul by Gina Graham would make a wonderful addition to your own collection, and I also think it would make a great gift for the thoughtful creatives in your life. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”