Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Stories

My son and I have a tradition of reading Christmas stories each night during the month of December.  Here are a few:

 The 25 days before before Christmas are called advent.  For each week we light a particular candle on our advent wreath and read scripture from a book that we have enjoyed reading these past few years.  A Family Advent:  Keeping the Savior in the Season by Zondervan has a whole month's worth of Bible verses, history, Christmas trivia and recommended hymn singing for each day and week of advent.  Each candle (hope, love, joy and peace) are described and explained in the daily devotionals.

Another favorite book is The Legend of the Christmas Tree by Rick Osborne and Bill Dodge. This story is about a father who is concerned that his children are missing the point of Christmas.  They go to buy a Christmas tree where the proprietor tells them the origin and symbolism of the evergreen tree and how it came to be a tradition of decorating one inside our homes for Christmas.

Then there's The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg and James Bernardin.  This story takes place in the pioneer west.  A stranger comes to town and sets up shop in a deserted building.  To the children's delight he turns out to be a candy vendor.  One little girl takes courage and gets to know the stranger who shares with her the symbolism and history of the white and red striped candy that's shaped like a shepherd's hook (and also the letter, "J".)

Last but not least, one of the best Christmas stories out there was written by Ruth Bell Graham, the late wife of Billy Graham.  It's called One Wintry Night.  A young boy gets lost in the snow covered mountains and sprains his ankle to boot.  He comes across a secluded log cabin in the woods.  An elderly lady lives there who takes the boy in and cares for him while he convalesces.
   While the boy lies there, bored and frustrated, this sweet lady explains the reason for Christmas to him.  She doesn't start in Bethlehem either.  She goes all the way back to the beginning of the world, the fall of man, and God's plan for redemption which brings her and the boy not only to Bethlehem but continues on to the cross and the empty tomb.
    What makes this book so spectacular are the illustrations. Richard Jesse Watson  took four years to create them and they alone are worth the book's price.  The rich and vivid colors and impeccable detail bring each Bible story to life.  If you had to choose a book this Christmas, this would be it.
For reviews of some of our other favorite Christmas reading you can read about The Candle in the Window and The Christmas Miracle of Johnathon Toomey here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

From Strength to Strength by Carol Littleton

Carol Littleton once shared a charming story about how she had met her husband.

“Was it love at first sight?” She was asked.
“He had been a friend of my brother’s so I had known him for years. Once when they were fourteen years old, my brother and his friend went on a boy scout camp out in the woods. After dropping my brother off, I split from my family for a few minutes. I wandered around looking inside the different tents. I barged into one tent and, much to my surprise, my brother’s friend was there. Completely in the buff. He had been changing to go swimming and I’m sure he thought his tent was a safe place to change into his suit!”
“You must have been embarrassed!”
“Well, you could say that then it was love at first sight.”
After I heard this story I knew Carol was the sort of person I was going to have to get to know. When I heard she had written a book I asked to read and review it.

In Carol’s book, “From Strength to Strength,” she speaks of her marriage to “that boy scout in the buff,” Mike. As funny as the nascence of their romance was, it became less funny as the years went by. What started out as social drinking in the first few years of their marriage became everyone’s nightmare come true when they find themselves tied to an alcoholic spouse. On page one Carol writes:

“After seventeen years of marriage, my husband Mike and I were constantly at odds with one another. His drinking had become an all-day long habit; His “happy hour” often stretched from before breakfast to long after dinner…I was often harsh and cruel to the man I once loved so much. I hated his drinking, yet said nothing about his supply of booze in the house. I even agreed with his buying a liquor store because I liked the idea of making a lot of money… and I’m sorry to admit, I let him drive our kids to their activities when he had alcohol sloshing in him.”

Things got worse before they got better. The turning point came when one night, in a drunken rage, Mike tried to strangle her.

“On the brink of passing out, I cried out to a God I hardly knew: “God, please just make him quit yelling at me.” Immediately, my husband dropped his hands from my throat, stalked over to the bed and passed out until morning! To my utter astonishment, God actually came to my rescue! The Ruler of the Universe and the King of Kings reached out to save me-a nobody, a confused, cowardly, faithless little girl housed in a woman’s body.” (Pg 1)

This experience led to Carol accepting Jesus Christ into her life and soon after, her husband’s salvation as well. Still, it was not a smooth road and there were many hills and valleys. Over the course of time, however, both Mike and Carol became Addiction Specialists. For the last twenty years of their marriage, before Mike’s passing, they ministered and counseled countless families who suffered from life destructive addictions.
“From Strength to Strength” is Carol’s labor of love so she can share the strategies and solutions she and Mike came to discover as they both conquered their unhealthy addictions. In her book she takes a step by step, methodical approach to identifying an unhealthy self- image, addictive personality traits, dangerous life style choices and how to overcome them. She has done a thorough job researching her topic and has combined reliable sources with personal experience in an interesting and readable way.

The whole book is infused with Carol’s love for the Lord and at the end you will have no doubt who her Source of strength is and Who is also beckoning you to lay your burdens down at His feet as well.

I received this book free from the author.

For more links on this subject you can go here:
turn to help
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Night Sky: a Journey from Dachau to Denver and Back by Maria Sutton

    When Maria Sutton was four years old her family immigrated to America after WWII as displaced persons and settled in Colorado. One day, when Maria was thirteen, she overheard her mother and a fellow DP talking about the old country. Both had lived in labor camps in Germany during the war. From the bits and pieces of Polish Maria was able to pick up, she heard something that shocked and deeply disturbed her: for the first time in her life she came to know that the man she had believed was her father was not really her father. Another man still living in Europe was her and her sister's biological father.

This spurred a deep unrest in Maria that propelled her to undertake a long and arduous journey into her and her mother's past. “Night Sky” is Sutton's account of this journey. It takes place over several years and leads her to the labor camps of Germany as well as to Poland and the Ukraine where her mother and biological father's family still resides.

Maria is a good story teller. Her descriptions of her feelings, her near-obsession with finding her “real” father, plus the events and people she meets- either in person or through second hand testimony are painted in rich, colorful detail and plenty of suspense. Maria's faithful rendition of her mother's harrowing experience-being snatched from her family while still a young girl, being forced to work on the farm of a German family where she meets and falls in love with Maria's birth father- a tall, handsome, blue-eyed and blonde Pole, Jozef Kurek, adds yet another poignant personal picture of what so many endured in Europe in the 1930's and 40's.

As Maria travels through the past while investigating in the present she makes many discoveries about her family, some wonderful, some horrific, some that unites her to long lost relatives and others that shatter cherished dreams.

Anyone interested in world history would enjoy this book but I believe all citizens of a free world should read “Night Sky” as a reminder of a nightmare that happened not too long ago. As Maria quotes in her book, I also quote:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana)

I received this book for free by the author.

For more information about Maria you can visit Tattered Cover Bookstore
For another review of Night Sky you can visit Lesa's Book Critiques or Lavender Dreams Too

or the Kindle Edition $7.99:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Grace Effect by Larry Alex Taunton

   Simply defined, the 'grace effect' is an observable phenomenon-that life is demonstrably better where authentic Christianity flourishes. (From the author's web site )

“Does she want a bribe,Viktor?” He looked startled and uncomfortable.
“Uh, a 'gift' might be helpful.” Viktor shifted nervously in his seat.
“Then do it,” I ordered.
 Viktor sprang from the car and went back inside. Upon his return, Viktor appeared anxious.    Getting into the car, he turned to me.
“Did she accept it?” I asked impatiently.
“Yes, she did.”
“Excellent! How much?”
“ hundred dollars.”
 Why wasn't Viktor pleased? That seemed like a bargain.
“Well done!” I congratulated him.
“Well, not exactly,” he began. “She accepted the gift but still will not give us the document we need. She says that if she expedites our papers, (her superiors) will think that she has taken a bribe.”
“Let me get this straight." I could feel a rising anger. “We have 'gifted' her to expedite this adoption-that is, to give us a paper that sits on her desk even now. But she isn't going to do it; is that right?” Viktor nodded, averting his eyes. (pg. 53,54)

The Grace Effect begins with a dinner with atheist Christopher Hitchens, Christian apologetist John Lennox, and the author. The crux is that Hitchens believes that religious beliefs are evil and cause people to do evil things. What Tuanton provides in his book, The Grace Effect, is a personal testimony of how our most basic human rights in America and Europe are based on Judeo-Christian tenets and when you take away this belief system you end up with countries like the Ukraine.

Taunton takes us on a depressing, extremely frustrating, and ultimately rewarding journey as he and his family attempt to adopt a ten year old girl, Sasha, from a Ukrainian orphanage.

His descriptions of the harrowing conditions in theses orphangages are only a little more horrifying than the government and populace that could care less. Why should these children be treated with respect? Why should they have other than rotten food to eat? Why do they need toilet paper?

What little accommodations that have been done to make these children's lives a little more bearable have all been done by short term missionaries from the U.S. For that matter most of the people trying to adopt these children are American citizens. The Ukrainians don't understand why anyone would.

“Learning that I was in their country, a small group of academics asked me to come and speak on the religious climate in America. A hand went up and a woman asked, “Why are you in Ukraine?”

“My wife and I are here finalizing the adoption of a ten year-old girl.” 

A man asked, “Why would you want to adopt?” Frankly, this seemed a silly question. Aren't the reasons for adoption self-evident? A couple loves children; a child needs a home and a family and so on. I then realized that his question was shared by the whole room. 'Why adopt? Who would want to do that?'

The rest of the question-and-answer period became a referendum on adoption and my party did not win. The whole concept was anathema to most of them. This is because the concept is anathema to a culture not heavily influenced by a Christian worldview. Atheists don't do benevolence.

Adoption facilitators will tell you that very few Ukrainians or Russians adopt or volunteer their time for these abandoned children. And there is little help being offered from the Islamic world, countries where the slave trade continues to thrive. No, as with most aid, most adoptions are to parents from Western countries, overwhelmingly, to those from the United States.” (pg.117,118)

After going through this interminable process and finally adopting Sasha, Taunton lets us know that this little girl has AIDS. In spite of this they were allowed to return to the States with her. So much of what is described in this book makes me very angry. Like the twenty-something judge with bleached blonde hair, tight mini-skirt and stilletos who after finally showing up (after many last minute cancellations-one because she was watching a movie on TV) signed the papers then gets back in her Lexus and zooms off.

An irony is how Taunton and his family were treated by all the officials involved. They were rebuked by the orphanage director for feeding Sasha McDonalds because it's bad for her then rebuked again when she didn't eat much of the subsequent healthy meal they got her. All the while knowing that the food served to the children in the orphanage was so bad that if anything edible is offered, the first child near it will spit on it so no one else will get it.

Then there were the adoption officials who kept asking them over and over again how big their house was, what kind of room Sasha was going to sleep in etc..When they were well aware that even living in a shack would be an improvement to where she was currently living.

As Taunton points out, anyone who thinks that Christianity is a fake or even evil, they need to go visit countries lacking Christian values and make an objective comparison.

Or at least read The Grace Effect.

I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson Publishers