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.


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.

The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right Way {by Dr. John Townsend}

The Entitlement Cure (a book review)

Hardly could there be a more relevant book on the market right now. Dr. Townsend hits the nail so squarely on the head I wanted to go back and begin it all over again when I finished the last page. Anyone with much awareness of our culture can relate to and learn from this book.

“You have never received a winner’s trophy before playing in the championship game. You have never been offered a promotion before you excelled in your job. Your parents never instructed you to make sure you ate your dessert first and not worry about the vegetables, since they would take care of themselves.

Why did none of these things happen? Because that’s not how successful lives work. It makes no sense to earn trophies before you win games, get a promotion before you perform well, or eat sweets before you consume your dinner. An attitude of entitlement, though, tells us that it can and should be this way: ‘You can have it all. Do what is easy and comfortable first, and you’ll be rewarded with a lot of amazing things.’

It’s a lie.

The entitlement disease’s insistence that you leave the hard stuff till later (or never) results in disaster.”

The introductory chapters draw a captivating picture of the “disease” (entitlement) with funny-yet-sad examples and descriptions of the various faces of entitlement. With each subsequent section, Dr. Townsend expounds on various aspects of entitlement with intense clarity and captivation. Though each chapter had me thinking of specific people in my life that fall into a certain category or another, almost every part had me realizing issues in my own life I hadn’t fully, clearly realized existed.

“All of us exhibit some level of entitled attitudes, even highly responsible and giving people. It’s just part of the human condition.”

He repeatedly, especially in one chapter, wrote from the perspective of helping those in your life that live an entitled lifestyle and that you, in love, would like to help. At first, I thought that was all the book was going to be about and I wasn’t particularly looking to help someone specifically. However, it ended it up being much, much more than that.

“…Entitlement has become a serious problem in our society, and it’s not getting better. It is impossible to calculate its cost in lack of company productivity, family success, relational love, emotional health, and spiritual vibrancy. Our world suffers greatly from a culture that supports entitlement.”

One of the best parts of the book is that the author is a courageous Christian and doesn’t shy away from mentioning the very heart of the matter:

“Ultimately, entitlement fails us. We don’t develop the character abilities and relationships necessary to become the people God intended us to be. We won’t be able to love those who can love us well. We can’t succeed in the tasks and missions God has prepared for us.”

Dr. Townsend helps the reader understand what God intended for us, why we have (and should embrace) difficulties and how to become more Christlike in our behavior and mentalities. Entitlement is a serious issue, a mindset that is often extremely difficult to overcome. This book, if followed and listened to, provides a pathway toward success.

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.

The Argument-Free Marriage {by Fawn Weaver}

The Argument-Free Marriage (a book review)The author of this book initially declares that she and her husband have never had an argument. I assume my raised eyebrow reaction to that boast is not uncommon!

She goes on to really define what she means by argument, how it differs from a fight or a discussion and I was pleased to discover that, by her definition, I don’t believe my husband and I have had arguments either. Or else I absolutely cannot remember any. We’ve never once allowed the other to go to bed while angry (Ephesians 4:26) and somehow, by the grace of God, we’ve not had issues I know other marriages are riddled with.

That said, I still dove into the book with hope for encouragement, good advice and ways to even better improve my marriage. For the most part, that is what I found!

However, I don’t think I started out reading it with the correct mindset. There was a tad bit of misunderstanding when I began. It was sent to me to review by a Christian publisher through a Christian program I’m a part of and reviewed on the back cover by well-known Christian writers. Naturally, I assumed it would be a Christian marriage book.

That wasn’t really the case.

Every further chapter I completed I kept wondering, “Where is God?” But once I realized this was basically a secular book, I could read it as such. So just keep that in mind.

The author, Fawn Weaver, designed this book to be worked through in 28 days – each day has a short chapter with a different theme within “creating the marriage you’ve always wanted with the spouse you already have.” It’s a very easy read that truly has some good nuggets and wise advice. I think I would recommend it to the right person in the right situation.

But, for most people that even need a marriage book recommendation in the first place, I’m not sure this is where I’d start. I believe Jesus should be the center of marriages (Ecclesiastes 4:12) and that just wasn’t a component of her writing.

Most chapters said good things, granted, but a couple chapters made me uncomfortable. For example, there’s a significant section on tithing and God isn’t mentioned once. What? It was strange to say the least. What I took away from this part was the author was trying to convince the reader that giving away the first 10% of your income will make your financial woes disappear, your marriage all better and everything happy.

It didn’t matter where you gave that 10% – you just need to do it and all will improve in your life. She even quotes someone who discussed his dad: “…When he was short on money, he simply gave money to his church or to his favorite charity.” To avoid going further into the muddiness of this section, let me just say it made me uncomfortable as a Christian and that it saddens me for future readers that may not be well versed in the Bible and, specifically, God’s commands concerning tithing.

The author and her husband may very well be regular church attenders and tithe for the right reasons, but that message did not come through her writing, unfortunately. Again, I’d recommend this book to the right person. It truly was an uplifting and well-organized book.

I do believe, after reading her definition of argument and then her whole book, that she truly has an argument-free marriage. It’s awesome. I particularly appreciated the chapters entitled “Throw Out Your Plan B” and “Start a Daily Ritual.” For the most part, however, by God’s presence in my life and His gift to me in the man I married, most of the book wasn’t a lot of new concepts for my own life. I attribute that to the amount I read. I know most people don’t read as much as I do!

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.