Strengths Based Marriage {by Jimmy Evans & Allan Kelsey}

A Christian marriage book designed around the StrengthsFinder tools -- pretty great stuff!If you’ve ever worked with me, you’re probably aware that I absolutely love StrengthsFinder (SF). Even after leading classes, coaching individuals and using it in the workplace for years, I still believe it to be one of the most powerful tools out there.

Summarizing a whole lot of details for the sake of keeping this review short, there is an assessment that provides a list, in order, of your specific talent themes — where your natural gifts are. The reason this is so powerful is, once you know someone else’s results and what makes them tick, you can adjust how to respond to them, you can adjust how you think about them and you can simply better understand where they are coming from.

For example, in a past job, I began requiring the SF assessment to be taken by missionary applicants I was preparing for the field. Since I worked specifically with finances, a difficult subject for some to discuss, I approached fundraising discussions drastically different from one person to the next, depending on how their brain works as shared with me by SF.

For that same organization, I maintained a very large spreadsheet detailing all sorts of data based on our SF results for over 100 employees. This enabled any person at any time to be able to see their teammates’ strengths and how best to work with them.

All that to say, my husband and I have discussed SF so many times but never so deeply in the context of our marriage until I read this book. Strengths Based Marriage helps us learn truths about each other that we may have never known, which can be incredibly healing to any marriage.

“If you can see your spouse’s actions through a strengths lens, then you can better understand your spouse’s motivations and recognize the corresponding rewards of his or her actions.” –Allan Kelsey

The book is organized into four main sections:

  1. Introduction to Strengths
  2. Stopping the Cycles of Pain
  3. Speaking Love to Your Spouse’s Heart
  4. Secrets of Successful Marriages

Within each section are several short chapters — all of which have words from each author. Jimmy Evans as the marriage expert, and Allan Kelsey as the Strengths expert, combine their teaching to bring together great points that will help anyone’s marriage improve.

One of my favorite sections — which is probably one of the most difficult — is about serving. They talk about how to meet your spouse’s needs first before even wishing your needs were being met. “To succeed in marriage you have to meet needs you don’t have. This requires a servant’s heart.” Just knowing your spouse’s SF results can help you understand what his or her needs are, without even talking to them…but of course discussing these things together on a regular basis is always recommended. 😉

But further than that, the book describes the ultimate example of this. “The strongest example of redemptive love is Jesus. He died for us before we were doing the right thing.” This makes it pretty clear to me that we are called to serve our spouses, to love and to cherish them and to focus on their strengths without ever expecting anything in return.

Strengths Based Marriage, in general, provides many tools to encourage communication, intimacy and a stronger relationship with your spouse. It was helpful to me to write out all 34 of my husband’s and my SF themes on the last blank page — I regularly referred to it.

Honestly, it’s not the best written book — probably the weakest in all the SF publications as far as grammar, fluidity and professionalism — but there were enough gems in it to easily warrant 4 out of 5 stars. Part of the choppiness was due to there being two authors, but even with that, there were several instances in which the same idea or even the same sentence was repeated. It felt like they were so passionate about applying SF to marriage (and mostly successfully!) that they rushed the book a little too much. The ending was quite abrupt. Maybe they were on a deadline, I don’t know, but that’s my only complaint. Overlook those things and you’ll get so much out of the book.

“…the reason marriage hurts us is because we do it wrong. I truly believe if we relate to our spouses properly, marriage is a healing journey that gets better over time.” –Jimmy Evans


I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


Where Does Love Hide? {by Mary Manz Simon}

A short but amazing book to teach children ways to "unhide" their love and share it with others in many types of situations.Children begin to understand what love is from a very young age, as they either receive it in abundance from loving parents or, sadly, lack it in a lesser situation. They also understand the concept of hiding as it’s often a part of play — from baby peek-a-boo to toddler blanket forts to older kids’ hide & seek activities. That is why it’s such a clever idea to combine those two things into a board book.

Each page gives an example of how our love is hidden until we do a certain gesture — like sharing toys or helping put away groceries. Our friends or family don’t get to see or benefit from our love until we let it out.

This is also a lift-the-flap book, which, not only is always enjoyed by my toddler son, it also grounds in the concept of “unhiding” one’s love, even if subconsciously.

With one of the world’s favorite holidays just around the corner on February 14, this a great book to pull out and talk more deeply about the love God wants us to show others. I most appreciate how each lesson includes a Bible verse that the parent could either incorporate into their reading or use later in another situation that is teaching that particular concept or this book could even be used as a mini devotional, studying one type of love-sharing and what God’s Word says about it.

Where Does Love Hide? is a solid book and one I am thankful to have on my children’s book shelves now.

I received this book free from the publisher through the Tyndale House Publishers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

A Severe Mercy {by Sheldon Vanauken}

One of those classic "must-read" books!!This “must read” Christian book was gifted to me a handful of years ago with the message “you will love it.” Perhaps that put too much pressure on me (the fact that it was a gift from a dear relative or the fact that I was supposed to love it), but it took me quite a while to get started. Eventually, though, I decided to conquer it. It may have taken several months, but I did finally finish it!

“No brief review can do justice to the human depth of Vanauken’s book.”

The Washington Post sums up my struggle in ever getting this review posted. A Severe Mercy is written most sincerely and with much intimacy, describing an exceedingly beautiful relationship between the author and his wife and their journey to finding Jesus.

We know upfront, because of the description on the back cover, that his wife is to die at some point in the book. Upon reaching that part in the story one evening, I told my husband even though I knew it was going to happen, it was still emotional. Vanauken has a remarkable talent with words and I appreciated his gift of pulling me into his life’s story.

A Severe Mercy is an almost overwhelming juxtaposition of hope and heartache. The book takes us on their personal journey of studying Christianity (with the desire to argue against it) and eventually falling headfirst into the arms of Christ, making a radical change to their life goals, their relationship with each other and their overall awareness of “the bigger picture.” Before they even became Christians, this is one of their journal entries:

The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians — when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. But, though it is just to condemn some Christians for these things, perhaps, after all, it is not just, though very easy to condemn Christianity itself for them. Indeed, there are impressive indications that the positive quality of joy is in Christianity — and possibly nowhere else. If that were certain, it would be proof of a very high order.

They knew something was up. Their struggles, conversations, experiences and examples within friend circles all helped them reach the ultimate goal: that of knowing and accepting and loving Christ Jesus as their Savior. But the book is written in such a way that it will totally affect anyone who has struggled with this — he touches on so many personal aspects of the mental struggle of surrendering to God or being bold among friends or not being jealous of his wife’s time with God and much more. For example, when he was a new Christian and momentarily worried of what his non-Christian friends would think, this is what he declared to himself:

I was half inclined to conceal my faith, and yet it seemed to me that if I were to take a stand for Christ, my lord, I must wear his colours.

One of the greater parts of this book are verbatim correspondence Vanauken had with the famous C.S. Lewis. These letters made me like Lewis even more than I already have. Granted, I don’t agree 100% on all of his theology (nor Vanauken’s, for that matter), but he said some profound things in just these simple, handwritten, personal notes to his friend. In one particular letter, he was responding to Vanauken’s announcement of his newfound Christianity and mentioned this:

There will be a counter attack on you, you know, so don’t be too alarmed when it comes. The enemy will not see you vanish into God’s company without an effort to reclaim you. Be busy learning to pray…

What better lesson for us all today? Whether we are new Christians or not.

Vanauken goes on and covers all sorts of fascinating yet familiar aspects of the Christian conversion — seeing hypocrisy rampant in churches or just struggling how to live in our world while also being as different as God calls us to be. But he soon reaches the part of his story where he loses his dear, sweet wife whom he has successful convinced the reader to fall in love with, too.

With deep introspection, he walks through his mourning process. He receives wise snippets from C.S. Lewis in various letters and continues to stay committed to Jesus through all of it. It’s difficult to summarize the final chapter, which, entitled “The Severe Mercy,” is one of the most important ones. Vanauken begins a long description of why the death of his wife was the severe mercy in his life. To truly understand why a death can be merciful and what he means by it, you really need to read the whole book. He paints the picture better than I possibly ever could. His analysis of what his faith might have been had she not died is particularly interesting.

Honestly, through much of the beginning sections, I wasn’t going to rate this book very high. I wasn’t even going to finish it (indeed, it did collect dust for a few months), but it’s the entire picture you need. The build up of their romance and relationship sets the scene for later situations. I realize that is vague, but it’s true. In the end, I would recommend this book to you, with the caveat that you don’t automatically accept his (or Lewis’s) theology or believe that I fully agree. It’s an important book to read for many reasons.

After the Boxes Are Unpacked {by Susan Miller)

I'm about to go read this again it's so good. An absolute must for those thinking of moving or have moved...or even know someone who's moved. So, basically everyone. :)

“I had to choose to move forward. Notice I always use the word choose. It is my choice to be open or closed to change and to what God is teaching me through it. I realized it was time to take the focus off myself, embrace where I now lived, and invest in new relationships. It was time to come full circle by being content in my circumstances and choosing to move to a place of peace, joy, hope and trust, with God as my focus.” — Susan Miller


The sheer amount of wisdom in this book is so large that it actually took me a long time to get through! It couldn’t have arrived in my life at a better time — I had recently moved with my family from South America back to the USA and then, while reading it, we moved for my husband’s job to another state.

Unless you have moved yourself, it’s pretty hard to understand the challenges one goes through in transitions like this — be it from another continent or just over the state line. After the Boxes Are Unpacked is an extremely comprehensive book written mostly for the “mover” but it would definitely benefit those movers if “receivers” read it, too. If you know someone who has moved to your area — a new neighbor, a new co-worker or a new church member — this book could give you an intimate understanding of what they are going through and how you can help in their transition.

“Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

The author, Susan Miller, has decades of experience full of moves and, later, ministering to those who have moved. Her book is overflowing with true, relatable stories and savvy suggestions and tips. Steeped in biblical scripture, After the Boxes Are Unpacked successfully empathizes with the reader, providing encouragement and nudges for getting through transitions more quickly with the right heart.

Separated into three sections (Let Go, Start Over and Move Forward), Miller dives into every possible aspect of moves. It’s directed toward women, which was my only disappointment in the book — I was hoping it would be a good book for my husband, too, but that wasn’t a big deal. Some of the main topics she covers include:

  • How to manage the emotional stress of leaving family & friends
  • How to support your spouse through a relocation
  • How to build new relationships in a new city
  • How to help children adjust to new surroundings and make friends
  • How to find a new church home
  • How to navigate financial challenges related to moving
  • How to discover God’s will for you and your family in a new city

“Being uprooted by any life change can leave you feeling like you’ve hit rock bottom. You can either stay there or see God as the rock and foundation upon which to rebuild your life.” — Susan

“But we must keep trusting God for something that hasn’t happened yet, it teaches us to wait patiently and confidently.” (Romans 8:25, TLB)

The ends of each chapter were my favorite parts. Called Unpack Your Survival Box, these sections provided practical lists. The lists gave ideas for connecting better with one’s new community, suggestions for making the reader’s new house a home and relative Bible verses packed with encouragement.

This book truly is a treasure. I have already shared it with multiple “moving friends” and pray it impacted them as much as it did for me. It’s one I will surely reference from time to time as it was impossible to absorb all the wisdom the first time through.

“He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)

Have you read it? If you’ve moved or have a new transition in your future, I can’t recommend it enough!

I received this book free from the publisher through the Tyndale House Publishers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Book Review: Giant Killers: Overcoming Obstacles and Seizing Opportunities {by Steve Lawson}

A short but solid read for anyone looking to conquer giants in their own life.

“The story of David and Goliath has become an almost universal underdog story; but in reality, Goliath never stood a chance.”

In his book, Giant Killers, Steve Lawson paints a picture easy for anyone to recognize. We each have giants in our lives — certain roadblocks or fears or challenges — that are seemingly too large to overcome. They are Goliaths.

“Too many times it is fear that incapacitates us and keeps us from realizing our full potential—not lack of skill, not lack of opportunity, not lack of money or influence. It is fear and its paralyzing grip that threatens to keep people from trusting and obeying God.”

But then there is David. Lawson lays out five characteristics of David that helped him overcome his giant (Goliath). Interweaving personal stories between clear Biblical teaching, he discusses:

  1. Identity
  2. Discipline
  3. Graciousness
  4. Action
  5. Hope

Mastering these elements (plus, of course, God’s power) enabled David to conquer and get past his huge, fearful situation. He obeyed God and succeeded.

Initially, I didn’t have much confidence in the wisdom of this book — solely because of the tone the beginning of the book took. It almost seemed he was writing it in retaliation of those who hurt him (see “Haters Gonna Hate” section in Chapter 1). However, I was able to get past that, give the benefit of the doubt and not be biased toward the rest of the book.

I appreciate how Lawson consistently references scripture within each section. This helped give validity to his teaching as well as gave me reference points to return to in my future studies.

Giant Killers is a short book, but it’s chock full of thought-provoking ideas which give the reader a foundation on which to stand and conquer his or her giants.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


Messy Grace {by Caleb Kaltenbach}

A must-read. Christianity meets LGBT.

Messy Grace Book Review

If churches are going to have conversations concerning the LGBT community (and they should), this book should be required reading. Coming from an extremely uncommon perspective, Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach describes what it was like to be raised by two gay parents and his personal experience of finding Jesus.

What Not to Expect From This Book

Just because I recommend this being required reading doesn’t mean it should be the only thing read. Definitely not. Don’t expect this book to cover every single aspect of LGBT lifestyles that possibly could be touched on. Don’t expect the author to analyze multiple interpretations of Biblical text on sexual immorality and just “let the cards fall where they may.” He regularly brings us back to Scripture and makes it abundantly clear where he stands.

What to Expect From This Book

Prepare to be challenged. Prepare to be uncomfortable. Prepare to be humbled (if you’re honest). And prepare to be transformed. Whether you’re a Christ follower or not, this book will be enlightening as you read such a unique story from someone who obviously has the delicate ability to write a book on such a sensitive topic. This book is going to rock your boat.

Love Your Neighbor

Christians have made an extremely awful name for themselves with their treatment to those living lifestyles with which they don’t agree. Kaltenbach describes heartbreaking situations he personally witnessed growing up in the LGBT community. It is clear that we, Christ followers, have not been loving our neighbors as Jesus would.

Did you just breeze by that last sentence? Think it doesn’t apply to you?

Think again.

“Followers of Jesus have got to learn how to treat people in the LGBT community with love that has no limits and makes no compromises. We have to love people as Jesus does.” — Caleb Kaltenbach

The Tension

The common theme throughout is the tension between grace and truth. So many of us fall on one side or the other. It’s easy to be 100% grace and just let friends and family live their lives. Who are we to say anything? It also can be easy to be 100% truth by so strongly declaring Biblical truths to friends and family and subsequently destroying any relationship you could possibly have.

But how do you balance the two? That’s where the tension happens. And it’s messy because anytime you’re dealing with humanity (sinners), it’s messy. There’s always going to be tension as you hold fast to what you believe but also express love and give grace. Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach eloquently describes scenarios and gives tangible encouragement to his readers for managing this tension.

“There are times when Christians can be so concerned about holiness that they end up keeping away those who are less than perfect.” — Caleb Kaltenbach

The Bigger Picture

If I may be so bold, I’d like to say this is not just a book about loving people who choose a different sexual preference or lifestyle than I do. This is a book about loving anyone who is different from me. Kaltenbach draws examples and tells stories from his own experience, which happens to be heavily influenced by the LGBT community, but the lessons he teaches and the Scripture proof he bases them on absolutely compel the reader to become a better lover in Jesus’ name.

It’s entirely possibly to live graciously and lovingly while also holding fast to the truth God declares concerning sexuality. Use this book as a tool to equip you for these conversations and these relationships.

“The gospel isn’t about who God is against. It’s about who God is for.” — Caleb Kaltenbach

I received this book free from the publisher through the Blogging for Books book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Woman Who Outran the Devil {by Shirley Baskett}

A true story of a lesbian who struggled through alcoholism, a rape and more...and eventually found Jesus.The main reason I am reviewing this book (besides the fact that it is Christian and I review Christian books!) is to get the word out of this type of story. Our world is very skewed, when it comes to understanding and respecting all beliefs and lifestyles. This book brings a new aspect to the discussion.

The Woman Who Outran the Devil is a true story of a woman’s journey through alcoholism, lesbianism and violence — and eventually discovering Jesus. The back cover reads as follows:

Shirley Baskett’s life was a mess. Drinking heavily, partying most weekends, she moved from one messy relationship to another in a search for permanence and fulfilment.

Her mother had been a believer, but was emotionally disturbed. Her father had rejected the faith when Shirley was young. Her autistic brother had commanded the family’s time and attention. In a search for meaning and identity Shirley attended Bible college. Her first lesbian encounter, with another Christian, occurred the night of her graduation.

Increasingly she found herself torn between the world of sex, violence and alcohol, and a Christian past she had rejected but could not shake off. One fight left her with a broken nose. She was raped.

Contemplating suicide, she offered up one last, unhopeful prayer; it was answered. She began to grow in faith. Then she met Peter…

This powerful account of a life utterly changed will prove an encouragement to all who have lost hope.

Shirley Baskett is not a gifted writer. The writing style and grammar were actually pretty bad, but the reader should look past it to soak in the miraculous story of a lesbian coming to Christ. It is a true example of someone deep in homosexuality realizing she needs Jesus as her Lord. This book helps the reader understand only what I can imagine to be a portion of the difficulties there are to make a transition like that.

I recommend this book to those who desire to expand their worldview and encounter a true story of God’s faithfulness.