Top 10 Books to Read in 2014 to Boost Your Marriage

Top Ten TuesdayIt’s Tuesday, so it’s time for a Top 10 list! And today I thought I’d share a list of the best Christian marriage books that will help your marriage this year.

I asked a while ago on my Facebook Page for recommendations for great marriage books, and so many of you left great suggestions. I’m sorry I couldn’t include them all! You can go over and read those suggestions here.

But I’ve included the ones that resonated the most with me. I didn’t include the “typical” marriage books, though–the ones that everyone has already heard of, like The 5 Love Languages, and Love and Respect, and Sacred Marriage. These are great books, but I talk about them enough that they’re everywhere, so I figured they’re already on your radar. I wanted to include books that likely weren’t.

Now, ladies, I’m not doing this to overwhelm you. I’m not saying, “you need to go out and read all ten of these books RIGHT NOW!”

I’m saying that we could all grow a little bit in our marriage this year, and that’s a great goal. So I’ve divided these books up into different categories, and why don’t you pick a category that you need to grow in the most, and then pick one book? Just one.

Decide to read one book this year and then actually put it into practice. That’s better than reading ten, anyway! So choose one book in an area that you know you need, and I know you’ll see some real benefits.

 10 Christian Marriage Books to Help Your Marriage Thrive

Christian Marriage Books To Grow a Healthier Marriage

1. Boundaries in MarriageBoundaries in Marriage

Drs. Cloud and Townsend open their book with a great story of two different couples. Both have been married for over thirty years. One couple is at a buffet restaurant with one of the authors, and when the husband is finished his main course, he gestures to his wife, and says, “Doris, dessert now.” He wants her to go get him dessert. She’s embarrassed but she does it. The other couple takes pains to care for each other. They don’t walk all over each other. They treat each other kindly, and marriage is a joy.

And yet both marriages started out on very similar footing. In both marriages she did most of the work, and he thought he should get the perks. But only one marriage ended up happy, because in only one marriage did the woman learn how to draw boundaries effectively so that they were each treating each other with respect, in a Christlike manner.

Most couples have no idea how to draw boundaries and how to resolve conflict. This is a really practical book, and it will open your eyes to some of the roots of conflict in your marriage. I highly recommend it!

Emotionally Healthy Woman2. The Emotionally Healthy Woman

Sometimes in order to build a great marriage we need to start saying “No”–no to overfunctioning, “no” to caring what other people think, “no” to feeling guilty. In The Emotionally Healthy Woman, Geri Scazzero tells the story of how she was way too busy. She did too much in her husband’s church. She allowed her husband to never be home because she felt that’s what a good Christian wife did. She pushed herself to her emotional and physical limits because she thought her only role was to pour herself out for everybody else.

And in the process she made herself miserable and her family miserable. Their family only started to heal and grow together in a healthy way when she started learning to say “No”. A great book for any woman who feels exhausted and wonders how to stop the frantic pace of life!

 Rocking the Roles3. Rocking the Roles

What does it really mean to submit? To love your wife as Christ loved the church? To be a leader in marriage? Robert Lewis and William Hendricks tackle that huge can of worms in this supremely practical book, filled with lots of examples.

Here’s what I really appreciated about the book: they didn’t just say “here’s what the wife should do” or “here’s what the husband should do”. They also provided a blueprint of what a spouse can do when the other ISN’T fulfilling their role. And I really appreciated the end of the book where they give some concrete examples of how church leaders should help when roles are going really unfulfilled–something I commented on in my post Are You a Spouse or an Enabler? Sometimes I think we look at roles in a vacuum–you have to submit, period. But what do you do if you’re in an impossible situation? They offer some help that is sorely needed.

Mystery of Marriage4. Mystery of Marriage

When I was compiling this list of ten books, I asked my agent, who has read every Christian marriage book under the sun, what book stood out to him. And he said, without hesitation, “Mystery of Marriage”. It’s twenty years old now, but still highly relevant. Mike Mason writes meditations on what marriage really means, and what intimacy really means. It’s highly readable, in a first person account, that will open your eyes to the deeper significance of marriage and propel you to make your marriage the best it can be!

Chip says, “It’s just really, really good.” And when he says that, it’s high praise.

Christian Marriage Books To Grow Your Sex Life

Good Girls Guide My Site5. The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex

If sex has never been that stupendous in your marriage, you need this book! We were created to enjoy sex, and to have it unite us physically, emotionally, AND spiritually. If it’s not doing that in your relationship, don’t settle for that. Embark on a really fun research project to make it wonderful in your marriage, too!

I deal in this book with why God made sex the way He did, and then I look at how we can have great sex in each of the three areas: physical, emotional, and spiritual. In a survey I did recently of my regular readers, I found that 80% had not actually purchased any of my books yet. So I know many of you reading this have heard of this book but haven’t bought it yet. There’s so much more in it than is in the blog, and I know that it will bless your marriage!

Sex Savvy Wife6. The Sex Savvy Wife

J from Hot, Holy and Humorous has just come out with this gem–The Sex Savvy Wife: A Lovemaking Guide for Christian Women. It’s great paired with The Good Girl’s Guide. J gets supremely practical, and deals with the “how-to” of everything you can imagine in the bedroom. It’s more detailed in that sense than my book. It’s even got–gasp!–some diagrams.

I love that she went where many are afraid to go, and I’m happy to carry her book in my store, too. If sex has seemed awkward, and you just don’t know if you’re “doing it right”, J helps you figure it out and make it amazing. And it’s only $4.99!

Books to Grow Your Prayer Life in Marriage

Praying Gods Word for your Husband7. Praying God’s Word for Your Husband

I just love Kathi Lipp! And in this amazing book she helps us be our husband’s best cheerleaders by showing how we can pray God’s word in specific areas of our husband’s lives to support them, encourage them, and help them thrive.

I love this approach because it gets our eyes off of what we want and it gets our eyes back where they belong–to what God wants to do in our husband’s lives. And Kathi writes so simply, and with such passion for marriages. I’ve spoken with her at MOPS conventions before, and she’s such a great, godly woman. All of that shines through in this book. If you’ve wanted to pray more deliberately, and to see great changes in your husband, pick this one up!

Little Book of Powerful Prayers8. Little Book of Powerful Prayers

It seems odd to put this gem in a list of marriage books, but I truly believe this will help your marriage!

Stormie Omartian has written a little book with prayers from each book of the Bible–and several from a few. So as you pray through it you see the story of God unfold throughout its pages.

But here’s the reason I love it for marriage: I think many of us have difficulty getting a prayer life going with our husbands. We’re not necessarily comfortable praying out loud, and we don’t know when to pray or how to pray. This book has awesome prayers that you can pray together. Just keep it by your bedside, and every night hold each other’s hands and one of you pray the prayer. Then the other can add something if they want to (but they don’t have to). I think praying together, even just for a minute or two, can add so much to a marriage. And if you don’t know how to start, this book can be your guide.

 Christian Marriage Novels to Help Your Thought Life

A Time to Dance 9. A Time to Dance

Novels can sometimes teach us truths in a way that a nonfiction book can’t, and so I’ve decided to highlight two novels (although there are many more that are uplifting for marriage!). I have to admit I don’t love ALL of Karen Kingsbury’s books, but I really loved this series. It follows a middle-aged couple who have drifted apart. Everyone thinks they have the perfect marriage, but years of not paying attention to that marriage have led to potential emotional affairs, lots of retributions, and distance.

How do you find your way back when you’re not even sure you like each other anymore? In this book the couple has decided to divorce, but they decide not to announce it until after their child’s wedding. And as the wedding approaches, they realize how much they actually do have to lose if they split up. It was uplifting, and it reminded you of the importance of working on your marriage so that drift didn’t happen. A great read!

Scarlet Thread by Francine Rivers10. The Scarlet Thread

I love Francine Rivers’ books, especially the Mark of the Lion series. Or should I say, I love MOST of Rivers’ books (more on that in a minute). Rivers started out as a romance writer, and then was saved. So her books changed. But I think she writes of marriage so realistically and beautifully. And this book shows a woman who is doubting her marriage who finds an old diary, and in it she starts to see the hand of God in her ancestor’s life and marriage, and then begins to see it in her own, too.

And her marriage changes when she gets a new attitude and starts learning to love. It’s really quite beautiful.

One caveat, though: I really didn’t like And the Shofar Blew by Rivers. In that book, a pastor grows increasingly away from God as his church grows, and he eventually falls into an affair. Yes, he’s restored at the end and yes, their marriage is saved, but I felt that the wife was a complete doormat. If she had spoken up when her husband started to fall, and taken her concerns to the elders of the church, much of the heartache could have been avoided. I’m afraid that this particular novel tells women to do absolutely nothing when your husband is in sin, and that is not the message of the Bible that I see. So while I love The Scarlet Thread, and I absolutely adore the Mark of the Lion series, I’m not as fond of all of her marriage books.

So there you go–a list of ten books to help your marriage thrive this year. Why not choose one, in an area where you know you need to grow, and read it and put it into practice!

And leave your suggestions for great Christian marriage books in the comments!

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Top 10 Things I Gleaned from Happy Wives Club

Top Ten TuesdayIt’s a Tuesday, and that means it’s time for our Top 10 post! It’s a new feature I’m starting this year, and I’m so excited that one of my FIRST Top 10 posts is for my darling friend Fawn Weaver of The Happy Wives Club.

Fawn is a happy wife. But a few years ago she was just overwhelmed by all the negativity towards marriage in the media. So she told her husband Keith (my husband is Keith, too; Keiths are great!) that she was going to do something about it. She was going to start “talking up” happy wives, because she knew she wasn’t alone.

Happy Wives ClubFrom that dream started her awesome blog (where I guest post sometimes) and her fabulous Facebook Page. And now she has a book out which is hitting bookstores TODAY!

Happy Wives Club isn’t a self-help book. Instead, it’s more of a memoir, with a “Under the Tuscan Sun” flavor. She hops on a plane and circles the globe, interviewing couples who have been blissfully married 25 years or more on all the different continents, to discover the commonalities, the threads, the secrets to these happy marriages.

The book is about her travels, her discoveries, and even her introspection as she’s challenged to risk more, to love more, and to be open to change. And it will make you hungry. Seriously. She ate such great food!

I actually met Fawn two years ago when she was in the middle of all of these travels. She’s honestly a delight, and she’s so humble. And I pray that she meets her goal of changing the way our culture sees marriage!

In her book she gives away, at the end, the 12 “threads” that she found in happy marriages. Instead of trying to narrow those down to 10, to fit my Top 10 meme, I’ll just tell you to buy the book if you want to know all 12 (and you should buy the book!). I thought, though, that I’d share the 10 Best Discoveries About Marriage I found on the pages. Some of them are more minor things, but they stood out to me, and I know you’ll recognize these themes from my writings.

1. Sex is great. Why waste time by avoiding it?

Okay, Fawn would be MORTIFIED that I put that as my #1. Whenever she wants to write about sex she asks me to guest post because she’s kind of shy. But she included this little nugget in the book, and I’m so proud of her for opening up! And I think she said it brilliantly. After being away from her husband for several weeks traveling, they’re reunited in London. And they have FUN.

Making love is not equivalent to love. But not making love is most certainly a waste. We didn’t want to be wasteful.

Seriously, sex is lovely. If you look for a reason not to have sex, you will always find one. Instead, let’s just change our mindset, and not waste the time!

2. Gratitude is the Key to Happiness

Fawn writes,

Every happily married person I interviewed on my trip was grateful for his or her spouse, thanking God daily for one another.

Do you thank God for your spouse? Here’s your challenge from me for you today: before you go to sleep tonight, put your hand on your husband’s shoulder as you lie in bed and thank God for your husband. Bonus points if you do it out loud so he can hear!

3. Happy Marriages are Contagious

When I was reading Fawn’s book, my husband was sitting at the island in our kitchen, working on some corporate forms he had to submit to the government. It was seriously boring and he was aggravated. And as I was reading about these happy couples bubbling over with love for one another, I realized how happy I was to have a husband who would do the boring things so I didn’t have to. And I got up and gave him a big hug.

I did it because I was inspired by a couple from New Zealand that’s featured in Fawn’s book. Hearing about couples who love each other, and seeing how they hold hands, and finish each other’s sentences, and touch each other’s knees, is adorable. And it makes you want to reach for that, too.

Don’t be afraid to let others see your happy marriage. It will inspire them to love their spouses, too!

Happy Marriages are Contagious--10 Truths about Happy Marriages

4. A Happy Marriage Is a Key to the Fountain of Youth

Ever notice how adorable older couples are who are still in love? They look YOUNGER. And on her voyages, Fawn kept running into couples in their fifties, sixties, and seventies who looked a decade or so younger than their years. Staying happy keeps you young!

So treat each other well. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It pays such great dividends!

5. Deal with Problems When They Happen

Treating each other well and being grateful for each other doesn’t mean that you ignore problems. On the contrary: it means that you deal with them all the more, and as soon as they crop up, because you don’t want anything jeopardizing what you’ve got together.

Fawn writes,

I’ve known plenty of couples who choose to ignore budding problems or dissatisfactions because it’s easier in the moment. But too much of that for long enough, and you all of a sudden have a huge problem on your hands, or a midlife crisis, or a broken marriage.

Like I said in my post on being a Peace-Maker not a Peace-Keeper, keeping problems to yourself doesn’t help in the long run. Sometimes the route to peace lies through conflict, and that’s okay.

6. Listen to the Heart, not the Words

I’m a great listener when Keith and I argue. The only problem: I tend to be listening to the loophole, so that I can smash him over the head with it and win, rather than listening to what Keith is really feeling.

Happy marriages value the other person’s feelings. Instead of trying to “win” an argument, they try to make each feel respected and valued.

Kris, one of the women Fawn interviewed, understood this.

In that conversation with Richard, Kris did precisely what she’d done before offering her tennis quitting advice from years before. She paid attention. Instead of getting swept up in a reaction–regardless of how legitimate it would have been–she unseated herself and chose to focus on what Richard was saying. That kind of awareness is rare. It’s rare in a person and even more so with a couple.

But that awareness, when you let go of your own feelings and push them aside for now to truly listen to your husband’s heart–that makes all the difference in the world. You can always come back to your own feelings later. But if you don’t give him the right to air what he is feeling, and don’t give him the respect he needs, you’ll never come to a true feeling of intimacy or peace.

7. When You Get Into the Habit of Serving Each Other, Marriage Doesn’t Seem Like Work

Have you heard it said, “marriage takes a lot of work”?

I think that’s true–but I don’t think that’s the whole story. And so I was excited to see this echoed in Fawn’s book.

Here’s what I think happens: as you love your husband, you do nice things for him. You start to think, how can I make him smile right now? What could I do to make his load lighter, even if it’s only a small thing? Maybe it’s just getting him a cup of coffee, or giving him a kiss of the cheek as you pass by his desk. Yes, remembering to do these things takes work. But eventually it becomes so second nature that it isn’t work anymore.

That’s when things really get fun. I’m almost there in my marriage. I have a ways to go in getting my eyes off of myself and thinking more about how to show my husband love. But I am finding that marriage takes much less “work” than it used to because we’ve built good marriage habits. And now showing him love is actually fun!

8. Marriage Can Be One of the Best Healing Forces in the World

One of the things I so appreciated about Fawn’s book was her own story and struggles. She touches on some of the heartaches and problems and baggage that she brought into marriage. She felt lonely, and she felt useless, and she so needed to succeed to feel validated. And so she tends to overwork, and throw herself into business too much.

At the same time, she’s really nervous about having a child, because what if it wrecks her marriage? And what if she fails at that?

As Fawn talks to other couples, she relays how many of these fears are brought to the surface by God, as He starts to poke her in her tender places to get her to grow. But as you read the book, you realize that so much of that growth is not just between God and Fawn; it’s between Fawn and Keith, whom God is using to be a balm in her life.

I’ve had a week where baggage from my past has reared its ugly head again. I go through periods in my life where I feel paralyzed to open some emails, and the root of it is that I’m afraid people will reject me and not like me. It all stems from my childhood. But as I spoke to Keith about it, I realized that he is such a healing force in my life, and these things are slowly getting better. Marriage is a beautiful tool that God can use to heal some of our deepest wounds.

9. Life is More Fun when Experienced with Someone Else

Have you ever seen the most beautiful sunset, and then become immediately disappointed because your husband isn’t there to share it with?

Much of Fawn’s book is like that. You can feel how she enjoyed her travels and interviews so much more when her husband joined her. Yes, we need to have our own lives, and it’s important to develop hobbies outside of our husbands. But let’s never forget that life is richer when shared.

10. Happy Marriages are Alive and Well

I know many of you who come to this blog come here for help, because you’re not in a happy marriage right now. Perhaps that’s because we’ve lost that inspiration that it is possible. If more of us could sit at the feet of happy couples, we would move mountains to be able to have that for ourselves. I pray that both you AND your husband will feel that kind of urgency to create a truly happy marriage.

And let me end the way Fawn does, saying, it is totally possible! She writes,

Happy marriages are alive and well. The cries of their demise have been highly overrated, and couples happily married do indeed exist.

Happy marriages do exist--10 truths from happy marriages

Happy Wives ClubMay you one day experience that level of happiness, too.

Happy Wives Club hits bookstores today! Order your copy now, and you’ll be encouraged and inspired, too.

And now, just for your pleasure, here’s a happily married couple that will put a smile on your face:

Divergent is a Christian Novel–The Good and the Bad in YA Fiction

I am a big believer in reading novels. I read to my children every night from the time they were 6 months old (they’d still stare at baby board books). We graduated to chapter books when they were 4. And they’ve always found great pleasure in reading novels, too.

But I’ve always been really careful with what I let them read. Let’s face it: most teen fiction, and a whole lot of children’s fiction, isn’t good.

Yet I don’t think we should write off secular fiction as a whole, because books have the ability to transport us to other worlds and to really affect our hearts in ways that other things can’t. Books have the power to really heal and teach and challenge. I think it’s because when we read we need to create the story ourselves–we’re active participants. Because we can’t “see” the action or the characters, we need to imagine it. Unlike a movie, a book becomes a part of who we are.

And so today I thought I’d tell you about the good news and the bad news when it comes to Young Adult Fiction.

Stuff I Love: Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant (Divergent is a Christian Novel!)

Divergent is a Christian Novel (in my opinion)Oh, my goodness, what amazing Christian books without being Christian. I was introduced to the Divergent trilogy  last summer, when only the first two were out. The author, Veronica Roth, apparently started them when she was only 19, and sold them in her early twenties. She is a Christian. The books are not–outwardly. But I have never read such a good Christian allegory as these books. I truly believe Divergent is a Christian novel. The central question she is asking in the series is this:

Is it possible for humans, on their own, to overcome original sin?

And the conclusion? Nope.

They’re full of action and suspense and an amazing plot. The writing isn’t the best; I don’t think there’s very many words over two syllables. But honestly, teenagers don’t care. And we heard about these books not from other Christians but from teens we knew who were reading them. Katie started reading, and then I read, and I was hooked.

The central theme is that society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Tris is born into Abnegation, but when kids reach 16, they are given a test which shows which trait they are best suited for. And then they get to choose: do you want to stay in your faction, or switch factions? And there’s no switching back. Once you switch, you leave your family behind.

But something happens to Tris. Unlike everybody else, she ranks for three virtues, not just one. She’s a Divergent. And because of that, she finds herself embroiled in a mystifying plot to try to deal with her and get rid of her. In the process, she ends up taking the whole system down. By the end of the second book, Insurgent, we find out how these factions started: humanity had tried to deal with original sin by “genetically” modifying out the bad. And it didn’t work.

Allegiant is the new and final book in the trilogy, and I haven’t finished it yet (though Katie did and she was really upset at the end!). I guess it’s a sad ending, but I think that’s okay, and likely in keeping with what Veronica Roth was trying to do (showing that there is no redemption this side of heaven). As far as I know she hasn’t publicly talked about the theological implications of her story; she’s hoping people pick up on it and that it makes people talk about it. But I think reading these books with your teens, or talking about them with kids who aren’t Christian, is an awesome conversation starter. I’m excited to finish Allegiant!

Often Christians think we can only read Christian fiction, but there’s great stuff out there in the secular world, too. You just need to be super picky. And even though these are marketed as “young adult” books, as an adult-adult, I can tell you I loved them.

Divergent is coming out as a movie soon and we’ll definitely be seeing it. Here’s the trailer:

I’m glad people are making intelligent books and intelligent movies that make you think about deeper issues. You can read the book and watch the movie and see only the action; but if you look at what’s really underneath the plot, there’s a lot of good theology there. It’s a great allegory, and I hope people think hard about it.

What I Hate: Fan Fiction

Every parent needs to be wary of “Fan Fic” as it’s called. Basically, fans of best-selling books, like Twilight, write their own books featuring the main character or side characters. They tend to sell well because fans of the books want more. Unfortunately, these books are often high sexually explicit or overly graphic.

50 Shades of Grey, after all, started out as Fan Fiction from Twilight.

Here’s the problem: Let’s say your children like a series that is relatively harmless. they go on all the fan pages for the book series. They follow it on Facebook. And then they see links to extra stories. They download them (lots of them are free, after all, because these new authors are trying to develop a following on the back of something that has already sold). But these books that they’ve downloaded aren’t nearly as innocent as the books they’ve read. (For the record, I never thought Twilight was that innocent, but it’s much less harmful than most of its Fan Fiction!).

The moral of the story: Really watch what your kids access on the internet. Even when it’s not out-and-out porn it can still be really damaging. Most of us adults have never even heard the term “Fan Fic”, but believe me–if you have teens, chances are they know what it is. So we need to keep vigilant and talk to our kids about what they’re reading, and how they’re accessing it.
Swimming Through Clouds-OfficialWithLogo(1)

Christian YA Special Deal

My friend Rajdeep Paulus has written a moving book about abuse, friendship, and the power of connection. I reviewed it here, but she’s hosting a great giveaway right now where you can win a bunch of prizes! She writes:

Talia and Lagan, the main characters in Swimming Through Clouds, met in the fall of their senior year in high school. To celebrate their unforgettably sticky, Post-it love story, I’m declaring fall as the best time to fall in love. :) And no better way to celebrate than with a MEGA-Giveaway with lots of Fun Fall Prizes including a $50 Amazon Gift Card!

Fifteen Winners will win over $150 worth in prizes. You could be one of them! So whatcha waitin’ for? The Swimming Through Clouds family invites you to jump into our pile of prizes and find plenty of ways to rack up your chances to be a winner. See you in November when the Lucky 15 will be announced! Happy Swimming, all!

What books do you love for teens? Let me know in the comments!

Women Living Well–The Book and a Giveaway!

Three Marriage Bloggers!

Women Living Well–The Book

My friend Courtney, from Women Living Well, has her first book out! It went live this week, and she’s so excited, and I’m so proud of her! I’ve known Courtney for years, but we actually met in person at last year’s Allume bloggers’ conference. Here I am (in the middle) with Darlene, the Time Warp Wife, on the left, and Courtney on the right.

Courtney’s passion is to show women that they can find joy in embracing the “time warp wife” role–by Finding Joy in your role as wife and mom. We don’t need to listen to everything society tells us about how we need fulfillment in all kinds of ways. We need to remember that God ultimately gives us fulfillment, and that as we love those He has given us, we will find joy.

So in her book she takes us step by step into finding joy in the things that matter most–first with God, then with our husbands, then with our kids, and then with our homes. Let’s put first things first!

Courtney is really passionate about joy in service, and it shows through everything she writes. I’m sure you’ll love the book, and here’s a taste:

I talk a lot about marriage on this blog, too, and it’s something that I think a ton about. So rather than talking about what Courtney wrote about marriage, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about Courtney–and what I got from reading the book.

Courtney and Darlene roomed together at the Allume conference, along with another blogger. That takes a lot of guts. I don’t room with people when I go away. I really like my space.

But needless to say, we all hung out in their room because that’s where all the action was! It was fun, and it was loud, and they had food. At the time, Courtney was finishing up her manuscript for the book, and she was frantically writing whenever she had a chance.

One thing I vividly remember, though, is that whenever I went into their room to chat, her Bible was sitting open on her bed. That says a lot to me–she was constantly in the Word.

And that was the part of the book that spoke to me the most personally. I’ve always struggled with maintaining a meaningful devotional life. I think because I think and talk so much about Scripture, it almost seems like every time I open my Bible it has to be as part of a large, in-depth Bible study. And when I don’t have time for that, or don’t have the energy for it, I always feel a little bit guilty. What can I get out of the Bible today, then, if I don’t have 10 different coloured pencils and a notebook on hand?

But Courtney gave me a new way of looking at it. Instead of always seeing the Bible like it has to be a big study, ask yourself,

What specifically is God saying to me today?

And as you’re reading, look for that verse that you can meditate on. And I’ve started to do that. It’s such a little thing–finding a verse that speaks to you everyday. But I do it. And when I find that verse, I write it in my journal and write about it. And then I write it on a little verse card, and carry it around with me that day, and keep referring back to it. And it helps me focus.

Last week my blog was doing wonky things again, and I couldn’t edit anything. It was fine on the front end (the part you see) but not for me. And then I read a simple verse about protection:

For you, O Lord, are a shield around me, you’re my glory, and the lifter of my head. (Psalm 3:3)

I’d had my head in my hands all day, worrying, and God said, “I’ll lift your head, and I’ll fight for you.” And so I carried that verse with me–and the blog fixed all on its own, without me doing anything.

That’s what Women Living Well is like–big picture things about how to see our roles in life, but then little picture things of practical ways to put it into practice.

I love it! And Courtney is giving away two copies! Read below to enter.

31 Days to Great Sex in Paperback

31 Days to Great Sex is now available in paperback! Make your marriage sizzle.Meanwhile, I have my own “new” book out! It’s not really new; it’s just that I’ve finally put 31 Days to Great Sex in paperback as well! And I’m so excited about it.

I’ve sold thousands of copies of the ebook, and that’s still the most inexpensive way to buy it, but I know that many people wanted a book they could hold (and it makes a great stocking stuffer, too!). So here it is!

The only downside is that shipping from Canada is a little hefty. My shopping cart is actually overcharging for shipping by about $2 (it’s a glitch I can’t fix), so I’ve put the book on permanent sale from $12 to $10 to make up for it. And you can get an additional $3 off by using the coupon code “Sizzle” on checkout (because who doesn’t want their marriage to sizzle?).

And you can win a copy below by entering, too!

Rafflecopter Giveaway

I’ll be giving away 2 copies of Courtney’s book, and one paperback of 31 Days to Great Sex. The first two winners drawn will win Courtney’s book, and the third my book. These prizes are only available to those in North America, but if someone from another continent wins, I’ll substitute some ebooks for the prize.

I’ll do the draw next Thursday at midnight EST. Just enter using the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Things That Stood Out to Me This Week

Hi everybody! On Saturdays I like to just share some links that I think make good weekend reads, and some other neat stuff I’ve seen on the web this week. So here goes!

Can You Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin?

On Tuesday I published a guest post that really resonated with so many of you–Why I Couldn’t Get Undressed on My Wedding Night. In it, Emily Wierenga challenged us women to name one body part that we actually LIKED.

One woman left this comment:

After wrestling with this all morning, I can not seem to come with an answer with regard to anything about my physical appearance.

However I know that no matter what or where I am whether it’s at home or out in public, I try to make conversation, make everyone feel welcome, and some how let them know that they matter. I try to pull people in when I see them being left out.

I just feel like I need to say something. First, this woman sounds absolutely lovely–the kind of friend that everybody would want to have, and that radiates the kindness and compassion that Jesus shows. That’s wonderful!

But I just get sad when people say that there’s nothing nice about their physical appearance, because as wonderful as it is to have a great spirit, the fact is that we are physical beings. And if we really dislike our bodies, it’s very hard to feel confident and have fun with them! And a large part of enjoying great intimacy in marriage is being able to let go and be confident!

So if you’re like her, and you’re thinking, “there really is nothing”, I’d encourage you to read this post on Loving the Skin You’re In. And my book 31 Days to Great Sex talks about this in a bit more detail, and encourages husbands to help their wives find something that they can appreciate about their bodies!

Your body is an amazing thing. It may not look like a supermodel’s, but we can appreciate it for what it can do, and for what it is, and for who made it. I think if we start to say more positive messages to ourselves about our bodies, we’ll be able to approach them with more gratitude and pleasure rather than shame–regardless of how we look.

Four Best Marriage Resources

A Tale of Two Kiddos listed their four favourite marriage blogs–and mine was there! Thank you. Head on over to see the other three.

I Love this Dairy Queen Manager! Feel Good Story of the Week

I saw this on Dr. Laura a week ago, but it’s gone viral since. Here’s the story in a nutshell:

19-year-old manager at DQ serving blind man. Gives blind man change. Blind man walks to table but a $20 bill falls off his tray and he doesn’t notice. Woman behind him picks up bill and pockets it. Manager challenges her; she refuses to give it back. He refuses to serve her. She leaves.

He serves the rest of the customers, then goes up to the blind man and gives him a $20 out of his own pocket. He doesn’t tell anyone else.

Customer, though, sees the whole thing. Emails it to manager. Manager prints out email and puts it on wall of restaurant. Other employee instagrams photo–and now it’s viral.

Now that 19-year-old who was working to pay for business college has job offers and scholarship offers. Makes me smile. He didn’t know anyone was watching. He just did the right thing. But God saw, and He arranged for that customer to see.

You can’t teach honesty; it has to be inside you to begin with. It’s something God puts there. And I’m glad people are recognizing it in him.

Neat Things To Read

Here’s a great explanation for what the generation born in the late 70s to 90s is like. NOTE: this is a big generality! Not everybody is like this! But as a CULTURE we are heading in this direction. It makes me wonder about the next generation: those born say in 1993 and since. They grew up primarily after 9/11, and their whole lives, that they can remember, have had threats looming. Terrorism, bad economy, hard to find jobs. It sounds more like the generation that grew up in the 1930s. So perhaps things will change?

And on a totally different note, J from Hot, Holy and Humorous tackles the BDSM subject: Is it okay for Christians in the bedroom? I thought she did a great job!

And on another totally different note, here’s a beautiful post: I didn’t love my wife before we got married. All about how love is an ACTION. It’s great. And that ties us into this book:

Love to Stay: Sex, Grace and Commitment

I was sent a book to review by Adam Hamilton called Love to Stay: Sex, Grace and Commitment. It’s a short read (so men will like it!), and it’s a great one to read through together. But one thing that struck me as I read it was this dichotomy that kept coming up, again and again: both parties would say that what they want most in marriage is to feel like the other person is sharing his or her heart, and yet both parties both felt like that wasn’t being done BY THE OTHER, even though they felt it was being done by THEMSELVES.

No wonder a negative cycle starts!

Let me pull just a few tidbits from the book that can help us through some of these negative cycles.

Negative Cycle of Communication

Hamilton reported on a survey that was given to men and women of various ages of the top 5 things they’re looking for in marriage. (Interestingly, sexual intimacy wasn’t on the women’s lists, but it was high on the men’s!). But what was on both was this: Sharing feelings with me.

If they both wanted that, then why were they so often upset? Hamilton writes,

It struck me that the same words must mean something different to women and men. When I followed up on Facebook, asking mena nd women what the meant, the women said, “Sharing your feelings with me is not grunting. I need you to tell me more. I want details. I want informaiton. I want you to tell me what you were thinking and what you were feeling.” For the guys, it was much simpler. “Tell me exactly what happened, and give it to me in sixty seconds or less.”

So how do you break this negative cycle? Learn more what your spouse honestly values. And then give it to them–whether or not you feel like you are getting it in return. As I’ve written about before, you have the ability to change the dynamic in your relationship. So, as Hamilton says, start investing in your marriage. It’s the most important thing you have. Why would you not work hard at it?

Feeling Like Affection Has Strings Attached

Many of you can relate to this: you want him to be affectionate towards you, but everytime he touches you you’re wondering, “does he think this is going somewhere? Is he trying to make a move on me? Does he want something from me?” So the affection seems to come with strings attached, and that makes it not real. And so every time he touches you it starts this cycle of resentment. Instead of making you feel warmly towards you, it makes you withdraw, because he doesn’t just love you.

I’ve been on this boat lots of times. I wonder if Keith is really being honest with me. Does he really WANT to give me that back rub? Does he WANT to talk to me, or is he just trying to get something? And it’s hard, because you feel like there’s this invisible wall, and you both have your own agendas, and you can’t be honest.

We’ve gotten a lot better at this, but it is a challenge, because to women and men, affection often means something very different.

Hamilton offers a solution I don’t usually suggest: scheduling sex. If you know you’re going to make love Mondays and Thursdays, for instance, then if he touches your knee on Wednesday it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just affection.

That sounds great–if you can stick to Monday and Thursday! The few times Keith and I tried that in our marriage it never worked because we both like spontanaeity, and I’d inevitably start something on a Tuesday, and that would throw everything off. If you know she MAY make love at other times, then all of a sudden touching her knee takes on those same old connontations again….

But if this has been a struggle in your marriage, perhaps his idea isn’t a bad one to try!

After spending his short and practical book (seriously, it’s short enough and easy enough to read that men will read a chapter with you at night!) talking about how to make deposits in each other’s love banks, and how to build up the marriage, he says this:

You do love until you feel love.

That’s so true.

You Do Love Until You Feel Love

UPDATE: A commenter rightly pointed out that I maligned all men by saying that husbands are more likely to read this book because it was short. I am so sorry; I didn’t mean to do that. Here’s what was going through my head: whenever I recommend a book, I get emails and comments from women saying, “is it short? Because my husband refuses to read more than a few pages at a time”, or “I can’t get him to read anything.” Industry stats say that women buy approximately 80% of Christian relationship books. So the comment was meant to reassure those women whose husbands aren’t big into reading relationship books. However, I know there are many who do read these books, and many more who will willingly read tomes on other subjects. So I’m sorry if it was offensive! That’s just where I was coming from.

Books to Help You Deal with Affairs in Your Marriage

I know many of you are in really rough places in your marriage, and you need some help.

I find myself getting lots of emails from women whose husbands are having affairs, or are heavily involved in porn, or are texting another woman. And these readers don’t know what to do.

And I also find myself recommending the same books to different people, over and over. And so I thought today that I’d put together a resource post of two of the best books I know of if your spouse is having an affair, or flirting with having an affair, or if you are trying to recover from an affair. I’ll likely add to this later, so if you have other favourites, leave them in the comments! (And I would count heavy porn use as an affair, too, as I wrote in this post on “Is Watching Porn Cheating“?)

In the meantime, in no particular order, here we go:

Love Must Be Tough by James Dobson

Love Must Be Tough

In Love Must Be Tough, Dobson asks the question, “what do you do when only one person wants to save a marriage?” As a counselor, he says, he’s used to seeing couples. Two people walk into his counseling room, and they start talking about their issues.

Yet Dobson was finding that this model wasn’t really helpful to many people, because in most cases when a marriage goes sour, only one person wants to save it. The other seems content to let it go.

So what do you do if you’re the spouse who wants to save the relationship, and your spouse is having an affair, or is heavily addicted to porn, or is doing something else that is completely destructive to the relationship?

Dobson walks you through a process of “waking the other spouse up”, showing them the consequences of their actions. Most people, he says, when confronted with a wayward spouse, panic and try to bend over backwards, thinking that if they’re just nice enough, and if they’re just forgiving enough, and if they’re just sexy enough, the spouse will return. Actually, says Dobson, the exact opposite is true. Becoming a doormat is not going to save your marriage. Allowing your spouse to experience the repercussions of their actions and be jolted into doing the right thing is a better course of action.

And it’s also better for you spiritually. So he shows you how to rely on God during this time, how to make wise decisions for you and the kids, and how to leave the door open so that reconciliation is not only possible, but far more probable than if you turn yourself inside out for a cheating spouse. And if reconciliation doesn’t happen, you’re still in a stronger place with God, and you’re able to move forward.

A great book if you’re the one being treated horribly in your marriage.

Surviving an Affair

Surviving an AffairHow do you end an affair? Can you rebuild after an affair? How do you learn to trust again?

Dr. Willard Harley Jr. and Dr. Jennifer Harley Chalmers tackle these sticky problems in this excellent and practical book which walks couples through the recovery process.

They start the book with analyzing affairs and how they end, and I learned something important here: 95% of affairs which are exposed die a natural death within 2 years. In contrast, if affairs remain secret they can last decades. This makes sense to me. Once an affair is public, and it has to then be a real relationship, it likely won’t last because it’s built on such a shaky foundation. But if it remains in secret, it’s really just a fantasy. It has nothing to do with real life. And you can carry on a fantasy for a long time.

So if a spouse learns of an affair, chances are that affair will end.

And that’s what the Harleys insist upon–if you want an affair to end, you MUST cut off all contact, cold turkey. They walk you through how to do that, sharing different stories that are poignant, that all readers will relate to. They talk about what to do if your spouse won’t cut off contact. And they talk about how practically to make sure that the person involved in the affair can no longer reach you–even if you have to change emails and phone numbers. And they strongly recommend switching jobs if the affair was with a co-worker.

They walk couples through how to be accountable with their time and money, so that the other spouse knows that they can trust again. And then, and only then, do they start to rebuild the relationship.

And if the offending spouse refuses to end the affair? They walk you through how to expose it–because it expose it you must. They say:

Reality has a way of bursting the bubble of illusion, and an affair is one of the biggest illusions that anyone can experience in life. It’s based almost entirely on emotions with almost no logic to support it.

That fact becomes clear when children, employers, clergy, family, and friends all hear about the affair. Because they are not in the fog, they see the affair for what it really is: the cruelest, most devastating, and selfish act anyone can ever inflict on a spouse. With so many people seeing the situation logically and not emotionally, the unfaithful spouse has an opportunity to be advised and influenced by these people. Furthermore, the betrayed spouse gains support when he or she needs it the most.

If that doesn’t work, they walk you through Plan B, showing how having the unfaithful spouse face true consequences often jars them into reality.

When the spouse does want to rebuild, they walk through the psychological drama that often accompanies it–the unfaithful spouse suffering withdrawal; the innocent spouse desperate to rebuild RIGHT NOW.

They spend the rest of the book talking about the concept of Love Banks: how we are to avoid withdrawals, and try to make as many deposits as possible during this turbulent time. And they’re really practical about it.

That’s what I like about this book–it’s super practical, and it tells you exactly what to do in each situation to rebuild your marriage and deal appropriately with a wayward spouse. And reading through it, I felt hope, even for desperate couples. It really can be done. I highly recommend Surviving an Affair.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

What I’m Reading in July

What I'm Reading in July
It’s time for the July installment of “What I’m Reading”. I get so many requests to review books, and I can’t get through them all. But I wanted to give up and coming authors a chance to get in front of my audience. So once a month I’ll be letting you know about two or three books by new authors that I think may interest you. I try to choose books that focus on marriage, parenting, or Christian women’s themes. You can be featured in the future, too!

GAPPG.A.P.P.–God’s Appointed Position in Prayer

Cheryl White wants you to know that you have been appointed to pray for your husband–and you can be that prayer warrior, even if you don’t feel equipped! In G.A.P.P, God’s Appointed Position in Prayer, she helps you to stand in the gap!

And that’s what we’re called to do. In Ezekiel 22:30, God said:

I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.

We can be the ones who stand in the gap for our husbands–and in fact, that’s exactly what Cheryl White says that we’re called to do. In this devotional book, that you can work through over 35 days, she lays out a very strong case–irrefutable even–about how only prayer changes things. And we are in a unique position to bring God’s favour, blessing, and even the rod of correction on our husbands’ lives. She says:

The husband God has given you, the man you see before you today in the natural, may not be walking in the calling and pur- pose that was established for him before the foundation of the earth. One of the assignments God has given you as this man’s wife is to pray over your husband and to speak those things that are not as though they were.

I love that! I know many of you reading this blog and writing to me are frustrated because your husbands aren’t what you want them to be. Cheryl’s book isn’t about praying so that your husband will become the man you want him to be. It’s about praying so that he becomes the man God made him to be. It helps get your focus onto God, and not you.

Why should we have to pray? Because, Cheryl says, we have a unique position in our husband’s life. We know him. We know what to pray for and how to pray. And we love him. And with that position comes an appointment.

As I was reading this, I felt very convicted that I have not been praying enough for my husband lately. I pray a ton for my kids, but not as much for him. It’s almost like, deep inside, I feel as if he should be able to handle things on his own. But that’s not true. My husband needs God, and one of the main tasks that I have, that no one else can do for me, is to lift him up in prayer.

The book first lays a strong case for why we should pray, and why we are in this unique calling, and then it proceeds with the devotionals. Each one is just a few pages, with an accompanying corporate prayer that Cheryl has written for all of us, and some Scriptures that go along with it. She deals with everything from restoring sanity to finding humility to bringing joy. And the focus of the devotional is to help us submit to God, so that we can then be effective as we pray for our husbands. She uses great Scripture stories throughout, from Zipporah who interceded for her husband Moses, to Ruth, Vashti, and Deborah. And she writes really beautifully.

One of the themes of the book is that all of this is a battle–it’s not easy to pray, it’s not easy to spend time in God’s Word when life gets busy. There are too many distractions. She says:

My prayer today is that husbands and wives crave and desire to be freely filled with God’s Word every day.

I really needed that today, because I’ve been so busy moving the blog to a different server, and dealing with all the little things that fell through the cracks. It’s been a busy few weeks. But if we don’t fill ourselves up, if we don’t really crave that time with God, we’ll be in trouble.

I like what she says here. It’s so true:

You know the old saying, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” That just goes to say, “If Momma hasn’t prayed for herself in the best fashion and taken care of herself in the best fashion, then everyone else will not be prayed for in the best fashion.”

How often do I really carve out time for myself with God? How diligent am I with praying for myself to be effective in the positions that God has appointed me–as wife and mother, friend and confidante?

Cheryl invites us to pray bold prayers for the men we love, but she also is realistic that sometimes these men are not doing what is right. She helps us walk through forgiveness, disappointment, and even valleys in our marriages that are very bleak. Quoting Isaiah, where God says “for the Maker is your husband”, she says:

There may be seasons in your marriage in which God will have to be your husband. The answer to your problems is not to go and seek another man for the physical comforts that you may be longing for during your separation from your husband. No, the answer is to seek your Maker to be everything you need.

I totally agree, and that’s one of the themes of this blog. There will be periods when we do feel distant from our husbands–even times when we have to separate. Those are rare, but I know many on this blog deal with that. She helps us through with hope from Scripture to equip us to manage this dark period.

Overall, though, this is an optimistic book, a fighting book, a motivating book. She calls us to get off of our butts and actually DO something. We have the great God who wants to hear from us, and who wants us to pray. Will we? Check out G.A.P.P.!

The Great Cover-Up

The Great Cover Up

Joy Trachsel believes that most of us are engaged in a huge cover up. God has given us wonderful treasure, but we have stuffed it down, either because of shame, or guilt, or fear, or just plain wrong priorities. And so she wants us to uncover the riches we do have, because that will change our lives.

She takes us on a journey of “uncovering”, helping us to find our authentic selves, the gifts and talents God gave us, our passion–even the truth of the gospel. But she also invites us to do the hard things, uncovering the sin, and the brokenness, and the shame. Because it’s only once we deal with all the things below the surface that the real “us”, the real person that God made to thrive for Him, can come through.

Joy got to this point because one day her life changed radically. She was the perfect Christian woman–the Church Lady, you might say. She had four kids, a husband, and a ministry at church. She was a substitute teacher. She made meals for the sick. She baked cookies. And then she had an interview for a job at a homeless shelter, and all the pretty little things in her life fell back. A new Joy was born.

So many of us are living lives on auto-pilot, trying to not rock the boat. What if there’s something bigger out there? What if there’s a passion to uncover? Joy says,

God showed me many things during those first weeks. He showed me what it means to be stretched for His purpose. He showed me what it looks like to be called and what it looks like to find your passion. More importantly, He showed me that being obedient is difficult and ugly and messy, but it’s not impossible.

Now Joy’s cause is a homeless shelter, but she didn’t write the book to get us all to march down to the nearest shelter and work there. That’s not the point. It’s not about what you do or where you do it, but about finding God’s passion inside you and releasing it. She asks,

I wonder what the world would look like if we all found our cause. What would it look like if we all took the scriptures seriously and lived out the Bible with relentless obedience?

That would be some world, wouldn’t it? And it’s easy to read that little quote and think, “oh, if only everybody would get passionate about Jesus!” But there’s no point bemoaning it, because it needs to start with us. We need to be the ones going through the great Uncovering.

The book would make a wonderful Bible study or group discussion for a women’s group. It has questions at the end of each chapter that you can wrestle through, and there’s lots of material to digest–and lots of challenges along the way. You’ll find God constantly prompting you, asking, “are you paying more attention to the people who are LIKE YOU in your circles of influence, or are you actively looking for those who are hurting, who need you?” Ouch. And it’s great to talk about these things with friends! But even if you use it as a devotional for yourself, you will be changed. Journal through it. Write down what God is saying to you. We all so desperately need to catch the fire of His passion again.

The simple truth is that many of lead Christian lives very similar to Joy’s before her great Uncovering. She shares her background in the book, and shesounds remarkably like most of my friends. Saved as a child. Grew up in the church. Went on a few missions trips, but life was small, and we kind of liked it that way. Yet when did God ever say “you are called to something small?” God asks us to step out, even if it doesn’t look “big” to anyone else on the outside. And He invites us into deeper fellowship–a fellowship which is never really safe. As Lewis said, Aslan is not a tame lion, you know.

And so Joy shares what an Uncovering will look like. She’s honest about her own struggles, with anxiety, and fear. And she beautifully shares the stories of the women she’s worked with, weaving them in. They’re mesmerizing. And as she shares how sin got so many of these women into trouble, she tells us straight out: you can’t do big things for God if you have sin in your life. You have to deal with that first. And even if our addictions aren’t as glamorous as those we see on TV, they still are real to God. And they hold us back. They need to be uncovered, and dealt with.

And once we’ve uncovered the sin, and the brokenness, we can find our passion. We can start to truly hear God in new ways, and move forward in a unique calling. It won’t look like Joy’s, or like mine, or like your sister’s or neighbor’s or friend’s. It’s yours. Don’t live your whole life and miss it because you were afraid of living a big life–of truly coming alive.

The book takes you through a step-by-step journey of uncovering your passions, gifts and callings by being honest with God, humble before Him, and thirsting for authenticity. She gives practical tips where they might be necessary–how do you discover your gifts? How do you figure out who in your circle needs help? But the book is primarily a spiritual one that will leave you energized and motivated, if you have the courage to take the leap. Changing things up is never easy, but I believe that for too long the church, especially in the West, has been too quiet. We want our lives to look pretty, not messy. We want to carve out our little slice of heaven. But this is not supposed to be our heaven! This is where we learn to hear God’s voice, learn to follow God, and then bring others with us. Many of us are missing out on the great joy that serving God wholeheartedly can bring.

If you are struggling with your purpose this summer, now’s a great time to read The Great Cover-Up and wrestle with God through what He is calling you for. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to feel really alive? God has that for you, and Joy invites you on a journey to uncover it.


Great Beach Books for the Weekend

Happy 4th of July!

To all my American readers: I hope you enjoy a wonderful day with your families! And as a Canadian, I want to thank your country for ushering in political freedom across the world. That has truly been a gift, and I am thankful for it.

Today I thought I’d do some quick updates, instead of a long blog post.

Great Beach Reads

Heading out to the beach soon? Here are some books that can keep you company!

When Love Calls

whenlovecallsAt the turn of the century, Hannah Gregory is responsible for her two younger siblings, but she has no way to support them. After her parents died suddenly, this 20-year-old has to figure out a way to get by. So she drops out of law school–after being one of the only females to even try in the early 1900s–and tries to get a job as a “Hello Girl”, one of early telephone operators.

The rigidity of the rules grates at her, but she does her duty because she has to. And along the way lawyer Lincoln Cole, who is still feeling guilty about having to evict the girls from their parents farm, starts trying to woo Hannah. She’s unlike any girl he’s ever met. She’s headstrong, not given to stereotypes, and determined to make it on her own.

Certainly the book is full of Hannah’s dilemmas with Lincoln, as she has to decide whether or not to give her heart away. But the most poignant moments come as she tries to parent sisters who are so close in age to herself. When one falls for a completely inappropriate suitor, can Hannah convince her sister of her mistake?

It’s a fun read, and if you want a novel to reassure you that even in the hardest of circumstances God is looking out for us, When Love Calls definitely fits the bill.

I’ll use my traditional disclaimer with much of Christian romance fiction, though–I find books that end with a wedding difficult. My daughter sums it up well here, and I’ll let her explain why.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group

quarrymansbrideThe Quarryman’s Bride

Tracie Peterson has written another period romance that takes us inside the messy and dangerous world of rock quarries at the turn of the century. If you need an escape from the modern world, this can be it!

It’s one of those “do I follow my heart or follow my duty?” books, similar to the dilemma faced by Jane Austen’s character Anne in Persuasion. Anne decides not to marry someone at the advice of an older relative, and ends up alone. Emmalyne is told she cannot marry, because her duty is to care for her aging father. And so she breaks her own heart, and the heart of Tavis, the man who loves her.

Living in our world we likely find the plot a little implausible–why would someone throw aside love because their father is being unreasonable? But this was actually quite common until fairly recently. My grandfather, like Emmalyne, was the youngest in the family, and he was expected to care for his widowed mother, not to get married. And so he did, and he didn’t end up marrying until after his mother had died. I find it completely incomprehensible why parents would make such demands on children, but it was quite common.

And so Tavis and Emmalyne seem destined to be apart. Yet when their paths cross again, can they overcome their broken hearts and move forward? Or will the danger that Tavis faces at work separate them? Read The Quarryman’s Bride to find the answer.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group

Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series

I downloaded Dee Henderson’s book The Negotiator last week because it was free on Amazon for a day (and I announced that on my Facebook Page! I periodically announce free Kindle downloads there, so if you don’t follow me on Facebook, join me now!).

I’m not a huge fan of just plain historical Christian romances, though I do read them because I get sent them free to review. And when I’ve mentioned this, a number of you have recommended Dee Henderson, since she writes more thriller/romances.

So I read The Negotiator, and then The Guardian, the next one in the series.

I did enjoy them better than romances, but here’s what’s strange. In both cases, the male romantic characters are: mid-thirties yet not married and with no substantial romantic baggage; very athletic; very good looking; 6’3 or something like that; funny; great cooks; interested in nutrition; very romantic (they buy flowers and chocolates frequently); good at riding horses; financially well off; interested in protecting women; love children; and very Christian. In other words, they are perfect. Absolutely perfect.

I have never met anyone who meets all of those criteria. And I have never met anyone who is as good a catch as that but is 35 and single, with no baggage. I’m not entirely sure they exist.

So while the plot was good, I’m not sure it’s that realistic. What I would still like: a book where the characters are not perfect, and where the relationship is thus more realistic. I haven’t found it yet. Perhaps I’ll have to write it.

Nevertheless, if you are looking for escapes, these ones are good choices.

I’ve really enjoyed some of the more secular books I’ve read lately–The Friday Night Knitting Club; some of Kate Morton‘s works; some of Jodi Picoult’s books. If I can find similar writing in Christian books, I’ll let you know!

What I'm Reading: YA focus

Great Summer YA Reads
It’s time for our “What I’m Reading” feature for June, and this month I’m doing a YA (Young Adult) focus. I’ve got three very different but EXCELLENT books for younger readers that can help them think, process difficult things, and grow in their faith. Plus they’re really well written.

Swimming Through Clouds-OfficialWithLogo(1)

1. Swimming Through Clouds by Rajdeep Paulus

One of your main jobs as a teen is to make sense of a life over which you have very little control. You feel like an adult, but you can’t act like an adult.

In a functional home that’s easy. In a dysfunctional home that’s not.

In Swimming Through Clouds, Rajdeep weaves a poignant but realistic tale of an abused teenage girl trying to live between “what if and what is”, as main character Talia explains in her journal. She’s trying to leave the reality of the mess of her life behind and fly to a place in her mind where things are peaceful, where fear is gone, and where dreams are possible.

For senior high school student Talia life has never made sense. In fact, life has never even really been lived–it’s been tolerated and endured. She says, “Time is my enemy. I fear her more than the dark.” She lives with a cruel, controlling father. He allows her and her brother no friends, no fun, and no dreams. Their lives are lived by lists–lists of tasks they must complete, or face dire physical consequences. When Talia’s brother Jesse gives up and tries to commit suicide, he suffers horrible injuries. And now she can’t escape the house, because to do so would mean leaving Jesse behind.

And so she feels helpless. Trapped. But as a friend reaches out and patiently tries to chip through the walls that she has built up around herself, her life begins to have glimmers of hope.

As you read this book you find yourself rooting for Talia as she discovers new things about her past, and her mother’s death, and her father’s job. And we’re reminded that all around us are kids who are hurting, and who desperately need someone to reach out to them–not just once, but repeatedly. We need to be patient, and keep trying despite the rebuffs. Those who are truly hurt cannot trust easily.

It’s a gripping tale, and young people are drawn towards tales of injustice, so I know they will appreciate this one. And it opens up questions like, who do you turn to when life is difficult? How much should you divulge to a friend? And how much can you trust those in authority–like teachers, police, the courts?

The main questions it leaves for kids, though, whether those kids come from healthy homes or not, is “are you going to make choices and control your future, or are you going to give up and just let life happen?” That’s a question that confronts every young person. It’s scary to step out in the unknown. It’s scary to make yourself vulnerable. And it’s tempting, alluring, to feel as if we have no choice. It’s tempting to feel as if we’re just trapped in the place that we grow up, and our future isn’t something that we can expand. Even when our present is lousy, choice is intimidating for many. And as Talia is forced to make a choice that will forever change the course of her life and her brother’s life, we see the world opening up to her.

Whether a teen grows up abused or not, most teens feel misunderstood, alone, and scared. And to kids, as they wrestle through these issues, Rajdeep shows us gently that God does give us choices, and we can escape the past. We don’t have to live in that fairytale world so many teens create in their heads, where they go to escape from the fear of rejection. We can reach out, ask for help, and make choices that carve our own lives, rather than leave us defined by parents, or by impossible cliques at school, or by adults who don’t understand.

Swimming Through Clouds is a great story (I had to read it all in one sitting!), and your teens will enjoy it.

Rajdeep Paulus has guest posted several times on this blog! Come hang out with her at:

Cut_The_Strings_Web_Cover2. Cut The Strings–A Story of a Prodigal

Do you have a prodigal in your life? Someone who has wandered from you, and from God, and is just breaking your heart? Mom Sharon Cavers and daughter Amy Jackson have teamed up to the write Cut the Strings, the true story of a prodigal daughter–and the mother who had to let her go and find her own way.

Sharon and her husband Bill raised three daughters. Amy is the youngest. The older two never rebelled and always loved God. But Amy starting wandering in her high school days. In trying to explain the allure of a drug/alcohol lifestyle, Amy says, “If you’re going to do something you may as well do it all the way, right? Nobody likes a faker.” She had such a fear of being a hypocrite, that she decided to pounce all in to a dangerous life.

And it was dangerous. The book describes her foray into alcohol, drugs, and eventually an abortion. It describes how she was living, and the physical toll it was taking on her. But it’s not lurid–it’s just enough to help you to see that her rebellion was not something minor. And it helps those reading it to get a clear picture of how lonely and destructive it is to get high and drunk all the time.

The majority of the struggle of the book, though, is not Amy’s but Sharon’s. What do you do when you raised your child to love God, and that child is choosing things that you can see are hurting her terribly? And so she prays, and tries to let go, and tries to keep the lines of communication open by not lecturing, even when she sees the alcohol bottles in Amy’s apartment. And through it all, over the course of the years of Amy’s wandering, God whispers to Sharon. He says, “You have a rebellious daughter. But in her rebellion she does not walk outside the circle of my love.”

Over the years Sharon struggles with what to pray and how to pray. And often she struggles alone. She says, “My pride kept me from sharing.” And so she didn’t always tell those in church and in her Bible study what she was going through. Sometimes her fear was justified–there were those who seemed to take glee in seeing a child fail. And she was scared of the advice that other Christians would give, because as the problems with Amy became more complex, she realized, “God does not give out cookie cutter solutions.” If there were cookie cutter solutions, we wouldn’t need God. We would do X followed by Y and it would always work. Instead, God just calls us to pray.

But many Christians, including her pastor, did rally around her. They supported her and her husband through this multiple-year journey into the darkest places of fear for your child.

And as Sharon prays, and lets a few others into her prayer life, she slowly but surely sees God work in amazing ways. Sometimes those ways are through an arrest, or a car accident, or a break up. But even those things that look scary God can ultimately use for good.

One of the things I appreciated most about this story was that Amy’s conversion was not the end of the battle, but the start of a new one. And isn’t that what life is like? It’s messy. And when we are called to “cut the strings” to our old life, it’s hard. My 18-year-old daughter wrote a blog post last week on “why I hate Christian fiction“, and one thing she said was that so often the tension ends once the person accepts Christ. It’s just unrealistic.

In Amy’s story, you see the reality of it. It is after she becomes a Christian that she is hit with her drunk driving charge. After her conversion she’s still drinking. She doesn’t know what to do with her old friends. She still struggles.

And God slowly does a work in her heart. Sharon wants it all at once, but God reminds her that He is working, and that it’s in His time.

This is a hope-filled book to read if you are the parent, or the sister, or the grandmother or aunt of a prodigal. It helps you pray, helps you have faith, and helps you see that you are not responsible for what they do–you are only responsible for praying for them and being there for them.

But I think it’s also a great book for teens to read before they rebel–or when they’re starting to. The realistic picture it paints of a party lifestyle is not pretty. As Amy explains, looking back on her rebellion, “It’s when we think we have the answers. It’s when we are tired of hearing about the right way. It’s when we are sure that we’ve done enough good things.”–that’s when it’s so easy for us to fall. She says, “I thought I was happy. I thought just believing what my parents believed was enough. I thought I knew who I was and what I wanted.”

For our teens who have grown up in a Christian home, but have never really “owned” their own faith, Cut the Strings is a wonderful book to show them that you can’t lead two lives. And choosing to go down the road to rebellion is not a good choice to make.

dream-big3. Dream Big–a 31 Day Devotional for Teens/Twenty-Somethings

Choices. We’ve looked at two books so far about choices–in both cases, the young person had to take a step of faith and make the choice to get on the right road. Living as you’ve always lived isn’t enough. We have to take the initiative and make that choice. And that’s something every young person has to understand–and then live out.

I have never read a devotional that is so in tune with this message as Heather Boersma’s Dream Big. It’s a 30 Day Challenge for young people to work through to understand that God WANTS them to make big choices, and to dream big dreams. He is a creative God, and He calls for us to be creative, too. And as people work through this devotional, they’ll dream more. Believe more. And find themselves getting really excited about where God is taking them.

Each day has a Bible passage to read, and a 1-3 page thought from Heather. Then she leaves the reader with roughly 10 questions to pray through, journal, or think about throughout the day.

The book helps kids “own” the Christian message in a coherent, logical way–something that Amy, from Cut the Strings, didn’t figure out how to do in her teen years. Heather spends a week working through God’s Dream for Humanity; about a week working through God’s Dream for the church; and then she turns to God’s dream for you individually. She first looks at God’s Dream for you to know Him, and then in the last week she helps teens dream big dreams for God. It’s awesome.

We make a mistake when we think kids are shallow–on Facebook all the time, not able to communicate except in texts, not worried about the outside world. In reality, kids leave deeply passionate lives. They care about relationships, about injustice (and that’s why Swimming Among Clouds resonates). They hate hypocrites. They want their lives to mean something.

But just because they have these passions does not mean that they will live these out in a constructive way. Heather helps young people fuel their passions in the right direction–towards God. And she shows them that God is not boring. God is not like the sermons you snooze through, or the lectures you hear from church leaders. God is big, and He wants you to do something exciting. He’s dreamed a dream in you; and you can live that out.

The hardest part of living that dream out, of course, is the waiting. That’s a theme in all three books. Talia found time to be her enemy; she was always worried about what was coming next and what she would have to endure from her father. In Cut The Strings, Sharon found the waiting for God to work in her daughter’s life almost unbearable.

Heather, too, understands the difficulty of waiting. Many teens will have to wait for their dreams to come to fruition. And as she says, “God takes a long time to work suddenly.” He puts all these things in place, but when He is ready to move, you had better be ready.

Do you want your teens to have a meaningful summer? I’d challenge them to work through this 30-day devotional. It is life-changing to catch a glimpse of the real Dream Giver. And it will get them on the right road to always Dream Big.

Find Heather at

What I'm Reading in May

Welcome readers from! A great place to start to find all my marriage thoughts is at my Marriage FAQ! Feel free to look around a bit.
What I'm Reading in April
It’s time for the May installment of “What I’m Reading”. I get so many requests to review books, and I can’t get through them all. But I wanted to give up and coming authors a chance to get in front of my audience. So once a month I’ll be letting you know about three books by new authors that I think may interest you. I try to choose books that focus on marriage, parenting, or Christian women’s themes. You can be featured in the future, too!

31 Days to Lovely: A Journey of Forgiveness

Sarah Valente knows a lot about forgiveness. A single mother of two sets of twins and one singleton, she has seen her marriage fall apart–twice–because her husband  succumbed to the lure of sexual addiction. And while she prays for full reconciliation, she has walked a journey of forgiveness that she wants to invite others to.

Sarah holds that most of what we believe about forgiveness isn’t true. She asks,

May I boldly suggest to you that time heals nothing? Healing does not have to take time nor does time itself promise healing.

And then she invites us to join her through her 31 Day process of study, prayer, and journalling that will help you not just forgive the one person who has been haunting you, but help you begin a whole new way of approaching the world.

It’s a beautiful book.

In her depths of despair, when she struggled with incredulity that yet another husband could succumb to this, she said, “I simply knew that forgiveness trumped bitterness and brought about a peace that I desperately needed.

This book is very rooted in Scripture, and it’s beautifully written. It’s clear. And it promises hope. She talks about the difficult issues: how to confront someone (rebuke, repent, receive forgiveness). How and when to reconcile. How to have righteous anger, and not self-righteous anger. And she admits that she does not have it all figured out–that she is on a journey, too.

One of the things I most appreciated was her emphasis that we are all in a battle, and in this battle, we need to make sure we’re fighting the right enemy. When our spouses hurt us, it’s so easy to get caught up in all the things they do wrong. “Why can’t he just be a man? Why can’t he just stop? Why can’t he put the family first, like I do?” Yet Sarah shows us that the real enemy is just our fallen nature; we are tempted towards evil, and it’s only natural that we follow it. So let’s get mad at the person doing the tempting (the devil). It’s okay to hate him; it’s not okay to hate our spouse.

Another question she asked which God has greatly convicted me of lately is “Do you trust God to defend you?” When you are wronged, do you rush in to defend yourself, weapons held high (Sheila says: You betcha!). And yet so often that backfires. So often if we just sit back, draw appropriate but calm boundaries, and remain at peace, God goes to battle for us and turns the situation around. When we rush in to try to prove our innocence, we often make everything worse.

Sarah didn’t really delve into her own journey that much, except in passing. I admit to wishing she would spill more details about how her marriage fell apart, but I believe she made the right choice by leaving so much out, and leaving us to read between the lines, because in that way she was honoring those in her life. So do not think you will read this book to learn all her dirty secrets. She tells just enough so that you can be assured that she knows what she is talking about, and then shares other people’s stories as illustrations as well.

I thought this was a great Bible study to work through. Sarah includes lots of places for journalling, and for prayer. My assistant, Holly, who takes 10 minutes to preview everything I review, said, “I would read this cover to cover if I had time!”.

I know many of you are walking through difficult marriages. He’s using porn. He’s not spending time with the kids. He’s disappointing you in so many ways, and your heart is broken. I think this book would be so useful as you figure out how to approach your husband and how to see the situation with God’s eyes. I highly recommend 31 Days to Lovely.

The Irresistible Husband

While Sarah Valente’s book deals with broken relationships, Jason Gratehouse, a pastor, has written a wonderful little book to help men turn their marriages around and heal relationships. If more people read this book, there’d be a lot less need for forgiveness!

Gratehouse’s book is meant for men. He’s walking men through the process of being an irresistible husband.  And at the beginning of The Irresistible Husband, he asks that basic question, What makes someone irresistible?

What makes one irresistible is simply the way they make you feel about yourself. We love people who make us feel special.

And, he says, if 85% of our happiness is directly attributable to our relationships, then it’s worth putting in effort there.

The key to change, to raising the quality of your relationships, is found in you. This isn’t about changing your wife, we all know that’s virtually impossible. This is about changing you.

That’s a theme I touch on lots on this blog, and it pertains as much to women as it does to men. We can’t expect change in our relationships until we’re first willing to change ourselves.

And how should men change themselves? Gratehouse walks through twelve basic principles on how to treat your wife, and then four on how to restore passion. None of the twelve is earth-shattering; they’re all basic. And yet they’re all too often neglected. So Gratehouse puts a new spin on simple things, like “just Be kind to her!” and shows men how you can live that out.  He gives lots of practical tips, and lots of Scriptural backing for everything he says. I love how he weaves in Old Testament stories to teach basic principles and bring them to life.

One of the aspects I loved the most was chivalry. And I laughed when I saw him using the same aanalogy I did when I wrote about it–the movie Kate and Leopold. Women want to be treated as women. We want to be honoured for being women. And he lists 12 rules for chivalry, in case we’ve forgotten them (and I had forgotten some of them!). Honestly, a man who did these things would be irresistible. I think that’s one of the reasons I find my husband so irresistible–he is chivalrous.

Here’s another basic but often overlooked key to irresistibility: Communicate with her. Women need to speak 20,000 words a day; men 7,000. The answer to being a good husband, though, is not ONLY in letting her speak (though that is important). It’s also in sharing your heart. She wants to feel connected, and while being heard is a big part of that, it’s only half the equation. If you want to be an irresistible husband, you have to learn to actually speak.

From the practical–help lighten her load–to the more spiritual–to having integrity, he covers all the things a wife would like. And they’re not the things you would necessarily expect. They’re not things like, “earn a good living”, or “maintain a six pack”. They’re the basic things that speak to a woman’s heart.

I especially loved his chapter on investing in your wife. He says that God has given your wife gifts, too, and you are to nourish her. That means helping her reach her fullest potential in her gifts, just as you try to reach your fullest potential. I wish more couples got that–that marriage is not a competition to see who can do the best, but is a partnership where you spur each other on and bring out the best in each other.

Of course, any marriage book has to spend some time talking about sex, and I have to admit, Gratehouse gets sex! When a wife loses sexual interest, it’s often because the husband has stopped pursuing her. He says, “I am responsible to set the tone for this environment in my marriage.” That’s the way we are designed; he is the initiator, and she the responder (this does not mean women should never initiate; just that our drives are really wired that way. Women want to be pursued!).

One thing I’d say about these twelve principles: They need to be read, and practiced, one at a time. You can’t read a book like this in one sitting and think it will change your marriage. Read each short chapter, and then take a week and put the principle into practice (because it will take practice). Practice being kind. Then practice speaking good words over her. Then practice pursing her.

He ends with four chapters on how to restore passion, because really, that’s the central issue for so many people. Why do we gravitate to marriage books, he asks? Because we’ve lost something.

How do you get it back? You remember–actively. What you had once can be had again. You don’t look just at the present; you see what is also past, and you learn from it. You see your wife through that lens.

And remembering is a mental discipline, as are the next steps in restoring passion. You learn to think differently. You turn away from unhelpful attitudes. You control your thoughts (and he gets very practical here telling men to be careful with computers). And you keep doing what works. Gratehouse writes,

The biggest reason why we stopped feeling that passion for our wife is because we stopped doing those little things that created the passion in the beginning. As men, we are infamous for having the mentality of conquerors. Once we have conquered and won our prize, we relax our efforts. We lessen the pursuit. We stop chasing. When we stopped pursuing, we stopped feeling. But the good news is that what got us there once will get us there again.

I love his emphasis on passion, because that’s the root of a successful marriage. Our God is a passionate God, and marriage is supposed to reflect what He feels for us. When I read the comments on this blog, day after day, it seems so often that it is passion that is missing. So many are walking through life just tolerating. And it’s not good.

The Irresistible Husband is written for men to read and live out. And any man who does so WILL be irresistible; I guarantee it. Rooted in Scripture and showing principles from God’s Word, Gratehouse shows the simple things that it takes to be irresistible. So for all you guys reading this blog, I highly recommend getting this book!

Shaded Light

And now for something completely different!

For novel people, I like to include at least one novel in each of my “What I’m Reading” features, and this month’s is a great one: Shaded Light, by J.A. Menzies. I read a lot of Christian romance because I’m sent them, and my daughter likes them, and I like to keep track of what she’s reading. But honestly, I find most of them rather boring and a little predictable. I don’t know why so much Christian fiction has to focus on 18-20-year-old girls in the 19th century. What about 40-something women in the 21st century trying to navigate the pressures of modern life?

And so the Christian fiction I tend to enjoy the most are thrillers. And yet most of those are written by men, and most are courtroom dramas. I like a good courtroom drama, but often it gets a little, well, repetitive.

That’s why I loved Shaded Light. Think Agatha Christie with a modern twist. Just like P.D. James, too, It’s a true detective novel, focusing on relationships and characters rather than blood and gore, and it leaves you guessing until the final page.

Ellen Brodie is a lot like me. She has a great marriage, and she wants to make sure everyone around her is matched up, too. So she’s eager to welcome Lorry Preston, the daughter of a favourite cousin, into her home for the weekend, knowing that she can match this girl up! The house party has all been planned; everything is perfect.

But her plans go awry as more guests are added to the mix. A blacksheep nephew; a friend of her son’s; a sister of one of her husband’s law partners; and even more, forming rather strange ensemble just as a body is discovered in the garden.

As two detectives at odds with each other arrive to investigate, the group gets deeper into accusations, cover ups, and insecurities.

This book works because of the relationships between the characters. The two detectives–one gruff, older white guy whose exterior matches a really sensitive side that hates everything about the evil that he sees on a daily basis; and one a younger black woman with a lot to prove–form a great team. The people at the party, now unable to leave as the murder investigation widens, discover new things in common and new allegiances, even among people you wouldn’t think would hit it off.

The relationship between George and Ellen, the owners of the home and the hosts of the house party, is interesting. George has a strong need to succeed, and he has, by taking business risks and building a fortune. One of the things he takes most pride in is the fact that Ellen has never had to work (hence why she has time to worry about house parties and matchmaking). And yet what does George do when he can’t control everything, including his son? And will Ellen have more strength than they thought?

I just love books like this because, unlike those 19th century romances, they aren’t predictable. The characters are real, and varied, and modern. They aren’t stereotypes. And as they all try to seek truth, and try to find their way out of the darkness that surrounds them, they find out more about themselves, too.

If you’re looking for something fun to read this Memorial Day Weekend, pick up Shaded Light!

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