Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review: Being everPresent in our faith

What does it mean to live out the gospel?

For Jeremy Writebol, in his book, everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present, living out the Gospel is not about a new technique. Instead, he recommends letting our relationship with God seep into every place in our life.

Writebol explores God’s attribute of omnipresence, challenging believers to live in the same way – letting the gospel and our faith touch every place in our life: home, school, office, third places and the cities. Where we are should be affected by who we are.

I appreciate the rich descriptive details he uses to begin each chapter. He grounds us with who he is as a pastor and writer and husband. He lets us see his personal surroundings and then shows us how God’s Word transforms them. Writebol comments, “The place you are right now is God’s place. This ought to be a transforming perspective for us.”

He comments on the restlessness of our souls, arguing that this sense of spiritual dislocation is really our longing for God. “Our souls send us signals of pain, frustration, anxiety, fear, and trembling because they are trying to tell us that we are not in the right place. The diagnosis is that we have acute soul dislocation.”
Writebol suggests that this is a spiritual longing. Perhaps it is God drawing us to our true home.

Each chapter in the book begins with an atmospheric description of place:

“At this very moment, my home is a bakery as well as a recreational center and office. My wife is upstairs in the kitchen, baking hundreds of cupcakes for a school event tonight. The gingerbread and espresso scents move throughout the rooms of the house.”

It is in this realistic setting, that Writebol turns our eyes to God. This from his chapter on work: “Jesus didn’t take work away from us. He redeemed us from a life of finding our identity in work.”

The chapters conclude with questions for discussion. This would work well as a group study – a launching point for discussion. How does what we believe challenge the way we live? How does it change the way we are “everPresent” in every place?

We need to be Christians at home, and at work, but also in the “third places” – clubs, coffee houses, shops, gymns, places where people live and breathe and socialize. Rather than create a secondary “Christian” version of culture, Writebol challenges us, “The ever-present gospel in the third place means that Christians need to be in these places.”

Jeremy Writebol was a former student of mine at Moody Bible Institute - and I am honored to be able to review his work. His book is available on Amazon - or here: 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Confessions of a First Time Author

I’ll admit it. I feel a bit overwhelmed by the whole “market yourself as a writer thing.”

I’ve nervously watched as my ratings on Amazon climbed up and then rocketed down again. I’ve nervously anticipated my first book reviews, hoping they would be positive or at least fair. I’ve rejoiced with each endorsement and celebrated each tweet.

As a first-time author, I've learned that launching a book requires hard work – and you put excessive amounts of time and energy into writing letters and leveraging every bit of public access you have. One author told me that the work only begins when the book is published. It’s so true. The first part is the writing, the second part is this steep-to-climb Mount Kilimanjaro of marketing.

Then it hits you. Or, at least, it hit me. I was in danger of becoming completely and utterly self-obsessed.

When I started to write this book, I was following a single story. It was the story of a woman who wanted to serve God with her life. Her desire was mine as well. I wanted to focus on these brave, historic, world-changing women. I wanted my identity to disappear in the face of God’s obedience and their examples.

And yet here I was, being thrust into the spotlight.That role is uncomfortable for me as an introvert.The hardest part of being an author is knowing when to push forward and when to sit back. You have to engage in publicity. In modern publishing, slim marketing budgets demand it.

True. But - here's the rub - it is easy to equate your self-worth, your value, with the success of the book.

So, I prayed last night. I asked God to take this pressure from me – all of it. I asked Him to keep me humble and focused on the message, not on my own glory. I asked Him to do with this book what He wants. If I have any desire, it is that my message encourages just one person, one reader, who needs to hear it.

On my afternoon walk down Michigan Avenue, I was processing all of these thoughts. Three phrases came repeatedly to my mind: For Him, About Him, Through Him. They were so clear that they became almost like a chant. For Him, About Him, Through Him. For Him, About Him, Through Him.

These three desires express what is on my heart:

FOR HIM: I want to write for God – not for myself. I want the glory to be His alone.

ABOUT HIM: I want my words (every tweet, every email, every interview) to be about God's purpose, not about me

THROUGH HIM: I want to do this through Him, because if I do it myself, I will only be exhausted. It is too hard.

For Him, About Him, Through Him...

This applies not just my writing, but also to every goal in my life, and also to your life. Whatever you are doing, do it with all of your heart. But open it up and give it fully to God. Let him take the glory, but also take the burden. It is far too heavy to carry it alone.

"Take my life and let it be, fully consecrated unto thee."

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Most Charming Restaurant in Northwest Indiana: Asparagus

This week, we attended a special dinner at Asparagus, one of our favorite dining spots in northwest Indiana (7876 Broadway, Merrillville, IN). Asparagus has a warm, dark, classy and romantic atmosphere. The decor is a mix of French and Thai - with the most gorgeous cut bamboo wall in the entryway.

We like to go to Asparagus the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month, because they host some of the best jazz combos in the Chicagoland area - and (pssst) there's no charge for the music. We have paid quite a bit to listen to the same groups in Chicago - but they travel all the way to Merrillville just for us!

Tammy (the owner, executive chef and hostess) and her husband Sam (who oversees all the details of the business) are hard-working and dedicated to their craft. They put the ultimate amount of care into the quality of the food, inventive drinks, and warm hospitality. They always make us feel like family.

The meal was a five-course special presentation featuring the Trimbach wine family of Alsace, France, who have been producing wine since 1626. Each course was perfectly prepared to complement the selected wine tasting by Tammy Pham, the executive chef.

Seated at candlelit tables, me with my handsome husband (above), we enjoyed an appetizer of a Thai crispy beef egg roll with a wasabi ginger sesame sauce. This was followed by a white and green asparagus crabmeat soup. The broth, we learned, was reduced asparagus. It was light and delicate - you could clearly taste the asparagus (the restaurant's name sake) and the crabmeat.

My favorite course came next - a mango salad. This was shredded green mango topped by two small breaded shrimp. This salad had an unexpected combination of flavors that snapped in your taste buds, both sweet and savory, fruity and cilantro with a touch of spice. I could eat enormous bowlfuls of it and die a happy woman.

The main course was a red snapper in Tammy's homemade sweet and sour. And the finale - a scoop of flourless dense chocolate cake. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.....are you hungry yet?

Each course was paired with a wine - and we learned how some wines are prepared in steel and concrete rather than oak barrels! We also tasted a Liqueur de Framboise with the dessert which was like diving headlong into an orchard. It was intense and beautiful, but not sickeningly sweet or thick. I loved that. The wine we sampled with the main course had a funny German name - Gewurtztraminer (sounds like a sneeze). It was an unusual white with bits of spice - but I loved it.

Here we are, post dinner (and quite full and happy) snapping a few quick photos with Tammy and Sam.

Thank you, Tammy and Sam, for such a wonderful evening. We will see you soon!

Be sure to see their facebook page for more information:ASPARAGUS on FACEBOOK. They post their special "pairings" dinners as well as entertainment. And, be sure to look for their new restaurant, opening in nearby Tinley Park this April! They will offer the same quality food, a relaxing atmosphere and live music. What more could anyone want?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Happy First Day of Spring!

Okay - there were snowflakes falling as I commuted to work this morning. No flowers anywhere. 

Yes, SNOWFLAKES, on the first day of spring. Sigh... 

But, it's coming. Spring is just around the corner - I know it!

I unabashedly stole this blog post idea from my friend, former student, and fabulous blogger Ilene Gamboa of much love, illy

But, this is what I've been up to lately:

dreaming: about wearing a colorful, cotton skirt, sandals, and NO down coat, tights or boots
reading: young adult novels by John Green 
remembering: two years ago, when we went to the beach in March with 80-degree weather!
re-watching: Downton Abbey with my husband
thinking about: what it will be like to actually move to Florida
eating: a fabulous five-course Thai meal at our favorite NWI restaurant, Asparagus
drinking: tall Starbucks brew in a grande cup with lots of room for cream
prepping: for our pop-up vintage show at the Crown Point Hunt & Gather market - Mar. 28!
finishing: our taxes - boy, I hate that job! federal and two state forms
decorating: covering our red, green, yellow Mary Engelbreit kitchen floor with a more conservative choice
missing: my mom - sigh, I wish I could blink my eyes and be in your sunny kitchen
feeling: sad about the homegoing of a friend and emotional over the cries of those who lost loved ones on the missing jet
praying: pouring out all of those emotions to a God who always listens
smiling: seeing the sidewalk for the first time in months and the sunshine through my office window

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Easter and the Empty Egg

When my daughter was little, I purchased a set of Resurrection Eggs at the Bible bookstore to help her understand the Easter season.

The set contains twelve plastic eggs – like the ones used for Easter Egg hunts – that crack apart to reveal a prize inside. The set is unique though in that it helps visually illustrate the Easter story for young children. My daughter loved it.

Day by day we would read the Bible passage and section of the devotional. At the end, she would crack open the colorful egg to reveal what was inside. One day it was a tiny palm leaf, symbolizing Jesus’ triumphal entrance. A miniature crown of thorns made her wince as I explained that the wicked men hurt Jesus by pushing this torturous device onto his head. I saw the gospel come alive for her as we cracked open each of the eggs.

The last day – Easter Sunday – was celebrated with church and Easter baskets. But my daughter was also excited to open that last egg. That afternoon, we read the passage and the devotional as she fidgeted with the purple plastic egg in her hands. She shook it – but it didn’t sound like much. That was okay – one of the eggs had contained a piece of cloth.

Finally I nodded to her to go ahead, and she cracked open the final egg.

To her dismay, the egg was empty.

She shook it and looked into it again. There was nothing to see.

“Oh,” I explained. “It’s supposed to be empty.” I told her how the women had gone to the grave and Jesus was not in it. The tomb was empty – no body to be found. For those women that was amazing and wonderful news.

My daughter was not amazed or delighted. She angrily set down the two halves of the purple egg. “Don’t they know they’re going to disappoint kids!” she said. “At least they could have come up with something to put in it! This is supposed to be the best egg of all!”

We still laugh today about her angry reaction to the Resurrection Eggs. Yes – I suppose it is disappointing for a kid – to come to the last egg and to find nothing at all. Just empty space. For her – it was a symbol that just didn’t make sense.

Christians use a lot of symbolism to express and celebrate their faith. We drape our crosses with purple to represent the royalty of our Lord. We use a cross – a device of torture and death – to represent the sacrifice of Christ. We use an empty tomb to represent eternal life.

The empty tomb, for believers of Christ, does not really focus on a grave at all. We know that just days after Jesus hung on the cross – his body suffering and giving in to physical death-- He rose again and conquered the grave. He appeared, physically, to His disciples and hundreds of others. They touched his wounds. He spoke with them and walked with them. Then He ascended into Heaven.

For me, and for the millions around the globe who celebrate this holy day, this is not an ethereal belief, but a vivid reality. Christ is risen. He is alive! Maybe that is not something you can easily capture for a child in a plastic Easter Egg, but it is a truth that comforts my heart for those who have passed from this world and that gives me eternal security for my own future.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"I was a Girly Girl: Review of Sarah Bessey's Jesus Feminist

At five years old, I was a girly girl. I loved patent leather shoes and ruffled socks. My toys were the domestic sort – I had the cutest little pretend vacuum cleaner, a make-believe, well-stocked grocery store, and a baby doll with cradle and high chair. I was the perfect mother at 5-years-old, cleaning my messy home with a baby on my hip.

Yet, in later years I never felt that domesticity was my sole destination. My mom was my hero and my example. She worked as a teacher. She was also a leader at church and in the community, yet she cooked and decorated with flair. Even with all these responsibilities, she was a wonderful mom and homemaker. She did it all. And, I wanted that too.

I wanted everything: home, work, and Christian service. In that sense, I was (and still am) a feminist. While “doing it all” may be an impossible dream, I refuse to be labeled or limited by those who say I can’t or I shouldn’t. I want to be everything I can be, all that God calls me to be.

In conservative Christian circles, the word “feminist” has always had a bad rap. Attending Bible school in the 80s, I dared to wear a "Woman Will Make the Difference" button in support of Geraldine Ferraro's candidacy and was firmly rebuked for my audacity. People equate the term with Gloria Steinem, working women and abortion rights activism. But, for me, the word was always inspirational. A child of the 70s, I felt the emphasis on equality for women opened my future. It made me think of what I could be and do in ways stretching beyond the home.

Perhaps that is why I was drawn to Sarah Bessey’ book Jesus Feminist with its bright, sunny yellow cover. Was someone reclaiming this term that had become the black sheep of the church? Hallelujah! It’s about time.

From the start, I fell deeply in love with Sarah’s tone. She invites you in, like a friend, to talk and to share stories. I felt encompassed by a circle of women who would let me be me – who would listen to my story – who would not judge. I love that about this book. It creates a much-needed space for conversation in an arena where such conversations are often criticized or held in suspicion.

Sarah walks us through the biblical passages that arouse controversy, and her chapters on their interpretation were not my favorites. Perhaps I’ve heard too many arguments about this subject. I understand how Scripture can be interpreted to support our various agendas. I am nervous and skeptical about those opinions even as I hunger for answers that resonate more clearly with me.

More importantly, I agreed with her push back toward the church, urging that questions be welcomed rather than shunned. She talks about her own history of turning to the church with doubts, and feeling that her inquiries were unwelcome.

“The cracks were ricocheting and multiplying across my heart now, and when I turned to the Church for answers, I did not feel my questions were welcome. This may have been my own pride and willful blindness, but there didn’t seem to be room for me as a questioning woman within the system as a seeker.”

The strength of this book, at least for me, was in the rallying of the troops – the challenge to raise our collective voices loud and clear and to rejoice in our stories as women. Sarah pushes aside and “makes room” for us. I almost sighed with relief that I could wonder along with her and voice the deep niggling concerns of my heart. Yet, she settles on one fact that I agree with wholeheartedly. Jesus loved and respected women. He made room for them. He talked with them. He rejected societal labels and pushed through to see their heart. In that most important sense, Jesus can most certainly be called a feminist.

I grew up in a Baptist church, so I am well familiar with the term “church ladies.” The women in my church were an integral part of shaping my faith – and the church would not have been able to function without them. I adored Sarah’s chapter on “church ladies” and “women’s ministry.” She challenges and expands our antiquated notion of limiting women’s ministry to missionary circles and potluck suppers and transforms it into something glorious:

“So here is what I see when we reclaim the church ladies: a woman loved and free is beautiful. She is laughing with her sisters, and together they are telling their stories, revealing their scars and wounds, the places where they don’t have it figured out. They are nurturers, creating a haven where the young, the broken, the tender-hearted, and the at-risk can flourish.”

Most of all, in Sarah’s book, she echoes the cry of my own heart. She wants us to tell the stories of women, the biblical ones, the historic ones, and the current ones among us. She insists that we need those stories:

“We simply need to tell our stories to our daughters and sons and to our friends, to each other here, and to our communities. The world could hear us rising up and calling them blessed in the city gates; we need to make room for the telling of their stories.”

What is a Jesus feminist? It is a follower of Christ.

Sarah expands that idea clearly: “I am a biblical woman because I live and move and have my being in the daily reality of being a follower of Jesus, living in the reality of being loved, in full trust of my Abba. I am a biblical woman because I follow in the footsteps of all the biblical women who came before me.”
Her commissioning to all women in her conclusion gave me chills:

“I send you out to the spot where you are right now. You are right where you belong, you have everything you need to begin, and we will walk it out together. We are part of the redemptive movement of God in the world for his daughters and his sons.”

Amen and amen.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Few Things I've Learned After 20-Something Years of Marriage

My husband and I have been married for almost 22 years - not a huge stretch of road - but enough to know that we are in this for the long haul. I honestly can't imagine being married to anybody else but him. 

I work with college students. I see a lot of oohing and aaahhhing over engagement rings. I also see the worried glances of those who are not "in love" by spring. And, I can't help thinking how little they know. I wish I knew then, in my 20s, what I know now. 

So, here's my short list of advice for couples just saying, "I do":

1. You sometimes should go to bed angry

When we were first married, I remembered the Bible verse that said the sun should not go down upon our wrath. I worried about that one. You see, we were wrathful. Actually, sometimes we were furious. I don't know about those couples who never fight. My husband and I can get stubborn and vengeful and exchange words we don't mean; words meant to hurt. Throughout the years, we've gotten better about fighting fair and about not fighting in front of our daughter, but the fact remains that we have moments where the temperature rises and we are engaged in a fast and furious battle.

Because I am a resolver, I want to fix our fights on the spot. And, I've found that the more I try to fix them, the angrier he gets. In my resolve to make things right - and to get to sleep - my husband feels I am chasing him down and pushing my own agenda. I've learned to back down, to walk away, to go to our corners. For him, it's usually the garage. For me, I take a walk or sulk or even cry.

There are times we go to bed angry only to wake up and talk. We are more reasonable after a break. We see things differently. We've had time to realize we aren't perfect. We've let the blood pressure sink back to normal levels.

Should you always go to bed without resolution? Probably not. But I've found that hard and fast rule does not work for all couples.

2. You don't need to do everything together, but find a few things you can share.

Milt loves cars-I mean he really loves them. He loves going to car shows, car races, car anything. I go along because I love him. One year we went to a drag race on our anniversary. True, but then we did go to a French restaurant (my choice) later that evening.

But, despite our differences, we also have some things in common. We love 50s music and vintage everything. He'll happily walk through antique shops with me, and we learned to swing dance together by watching a video tape in our basement. This commonality bonds us - we have fun going to rockabilly events together. We made new friends - as a couple. Those experiences have grown and solidified our marriage.

Some married couples I know don't do much together. They have separate checkbook, separate friends, and take separate vacations. They have individual passions and rarely spend time doing something they both love. I would urge you, early in your marriage, to find a common interest and cultivate it. I think there is health in alone time, but your marriage will be stronger if you find something you can both engage in. For my parents, their home church became that thing - and camping. They really loved being together - I wanted that for my marriage as well.

3. Keep the love alive - physical attraction needs nurturing.

My teenage daughter is a bit mortified if she walks in on us kissing. But, I do know she likes to see her parents hold hands. Milt and I need to be physical together. He can tell something's wrong if I cling to my edge of the bed and put my back to him. He can tell I'm happy if I reach out and hold his hand across the front car seat. Our physical actions are a gauge for our emotional status.

I recently told a friend that my physical attraction to my husband helps us get over fights. It's true! I might be angry with him when he's awake and frowning furiously at me, but when I wake up and he's asleep, I still think he's adorable. I love him, and I'm attracted to him. That physical attraction is different than when we first dated, but it is still there.

Some people think physical attraction should not be on the list of "why" you marry. Perhaps it shouldn't be a priority- but it is a part of what brought you together. Don't let that die. Make an effort to look good for one another. Speak a kind word to each other every day. Give him a compliment. Hold her hand. Sit on one couch when you watch television. Nurture the spark that drew you together.

4. Go on dates, and they don't have to be at night

I always hear about couples who have a requisite "date night." They are right - you should go out. It is fine to sit in front of the television. It is fine to enjoy just "being together" at home. But you need to leave the house and go somewhere, anywhere, intentionally, alone. It is not easy to do that when you have kids. You have to get a babysitter and make plans. But try to sneak away and spend time alone together...even if it means taking a walk in the afternoon.

I enjoyed the movie Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carell - theirs was a date night gone disastrously wrong. But, it did illustrate a point. When they got out of the house, out of their routine, they rediscovered each other. They had an adventure, and the date wasn't what they had planned, but it was good.

Even walking through the aisles of Menards or stopping at McDonald's for a burger can count. As parents, there is the divine joy of uninterrupted conversation. There is looking into each other's eyes and being able to finishing complete thoughts. Sometimes there's laughter and holding hands. Other times you just remember all the little things you wanted to tell him or her. It is about time together. It is about making new memories. It is about remembering that once, not so long ago, it was just the two of you.

5. Selfishness will kill your relationship

Today, I didn't really want to help my husband figure out how to modify a convertible top for the corvette he's been tinkering with for the past 15 years of our marriage. It was cold in the garage, and I had other things to do. But, he'd been asking me to help all week. He had done other things for me. I had to get over myself. It was my turn. I did it because I value him.

Marriage isn't always fun. And, more importantly, it isn't always about me. It can't be. Resist the urge to focus on what you aren't getting out of the relationship or what the other person isn't doing for you.

Do the things the other person wants to do. Do them willingly. He watches Downton Abbey with me - and I watch Miami Vice reruns with him. It works out. I usually find that when we both engage in doing things the other person wants or needs, we both become so much happier.

I can say - even after 22 years of living alongside one person - that I love being married. But I don't think I think the same way today that I thought 20 years ago. I've learned, sometimes the hard way, that marriage isn't about perfection. It is about really loving one person and acting as if I do. It means going to car shows and watching Miami Vice. It means fighting and getting really angry, and then forgiving, admitting my mistakes, and making up.

Marriage is choosing to be unselfish even when it's hard. It means putting the other person ahead of yourself, even when you really want that last piece of chocolate.

Marriage is more than just romance - but, a good marriage creates its own kind of romance.

Marriage is work . . . it's true, but you are in it together.

I'm hoping the next 20 years are even better than the first.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Things We Carry

Our families, in part, make us who we are. We have good characteristics, positive traits that our moms, dads, grandparents, and aunts left pressed upon us. And we have some not-so-great traits that we may wish had been left behind.

From my grandma, "Honey," and my mom, I received my thin body type. In my grandma's wedding picture, she stands in a 1940's era suit, tall and willowy. My daughter complains, sometimes, that she received the "not-so-great" parts of her parents. From me, I'm afraid, she received awkwardness - my complete lack of athletic ability. She and I cannot run a mile to save our lives.

From our families, we also inherit good and bad stories. When we would write narratives in my college writing class, I urge students to think through both the positive and the negative stories of their life. Both types of stories, I tell them, are your inheritance. All of it - the good and the bad.

Both types of stories have shaped who you are today. They have influenced your story. They have contributed to your beliefs, your hopes and your prejudices about family, love, life, and God. They have molded what you'd like your life to be like - and influenced your opinions on how you don't want to be or think or act.

Kathleen Norris, in her lovely, thoughtful book on faith, Amazing Grace, expresses this so well,

It's far less pleasant--it can feel like a curse--to include in my welcome the difficult ancestors: the insane, the suicides, the alcoholics, the religiously self-righteous who literally scared the bejesus out of me when I was little, or who murdered my spirit with words of condemnation. Abel is welcome in my family tree, but I'd just as soon leave Cain out. yet, God has given me both reminding me that the line in Psalm 16 "welcome indeed the heritage that falls to me," can be a tough one to live with. If, as Paul says, "all things work together for Good for those who love God" (Rom. 8:28), then in giving me a mixed inheritance, both blessing an curse, God expects me to make something of it. Redeem the bad, and turn it into something good.

Norris suggests that we are to redeem the bad. We are to tell all of our stories, the good, the bad, the hilarious and the heartbreaking.

In one of my favorite movies based on Amy Tan's novel, The Joy Luck Club, four Chinese mothers avoid telling their American-born Chinese daughters their stories. They want their offspring to have only the very best, good, positive, hopeful lives. They think the dark moments of their past should remain forever hidden in their past.

What they discover is that in telling those stories, they end up setting their daughters free. They teach them from those experiences. They become real and authentic in their relationships. The daughters, even when having to hear hard truths, are better for it.

Tan writes: "So this is what I will do. I will gather together my past and look. I will see a thing that has already happened, the pain that cut my spirit loose. I will hold that pain in my hand until it becomes hard and shiny, more clear. And then my fierceness can come back..."

This is our inheritance. It is real and fierce. It is not just the pretty, shiny moment, but the gritty stuff too.

Sifting our treasure, our inheritance, through our fingers, we learn.

We carry both the good and the bad. They made us who we are today.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Hammering On Our Souls

It is surprising to hear quotes by author C.S. Lewis and comedian Louie C.K. in the same book. Perhaps this is why I found Mark Eckel’s new book, I Just Need Time to Think, so provocative.

Mark was a colleague of mine on the faculty of Moody Bible Institute. He is an avid film-buff, a reader, and an insightful commentator on culture. He values words and abhors unthinking censorship. A provocative line in the book states: “Kill the words. Kill the words’ meanings. Kill the wordsmiths...Why are authors, playwrights, cartoonists, and intellectuals the first to be killed in totalitarian takeovers? Because words are power.”

His book is divided into sections on the intellectual and spiritual disciplines, exploring concepts like: study, retreat, discipline, holiday, reading, reflection, obstacles, walking, path, and place. Each chapter provides an opportunity to sink in and ponder these ideas. As I read, it pushed me to think about the way I live. Am I rushing headlong into life with a heavily charted list of “to do” objectives (yes – perhaps too often), or am I willing to step out of my frenetic lifestyle, to slow down, and to think?

As I read each morning on my commuter train to Chicago, I found myself taking time to pause and reflect. His book was working. It made me consider the way I consume information and the way I adapt to the frantic pace of my culture.

He tackles the impact of social media on our culture. I, too, have noted that at business meetings almost every person has a smartphone lying within reach. It is too easy to be distracted. How do we regain a sense of place – placing an importance on where we are and who we are with? Mark suggests this pull toward social media is reflective of our desire to be like God – to be omnipresent.

He writes, “We want to be all things to all people. We want to control all situations. We want to be everywhere at once.”

As a writer and avid reader, I appreciate his deep love of books and literature. He urges us to make books an integrated part of our life, to take time to absorb the words of others, to let words sink into us and take a “hammer” to our minds and hearts.

In the chapter on Reading, Eckel talks about the profound impact books can have upon our lives. He quotes, Louis L’Amour, the prolific western novelist, who said, “A book is less important for what it says than for what it makes you think.” He pushes us to read and to let what we read “knock” on our hearts and minds.

“My life has no transformation without hammering on my soul,” writes Eckel.

I like this as well:
“Books worth our attention should be pickaxes to the frozen sea, our internal sin. But books that move us are impossible without God’s book, His Word.”

Mark’s appreciation of the arts encompasses movies, television, and music – his chapter on music and the blues is one of my favorites, titled, “Reflection: Out of Your Horn.” He writes:

“There is humanness in the blues, where pain and praise are partners. Life is messy. How we reflect about life necessitates rough ground, a friction so we can walk, not slip. Slogging through the swamp gets us to the other side... And if one does not know what trouble is, then the spiritual cannot be understood.”

While the cover of the book depicts college-age students in a classroom setting, I think Mark Eckel’s book can be helpful to people of all ages. We all can benefit greatly from this reminder to pause, to read, to reflect, to think – to appreciate the life of the mind and the heart in a society that places a premium on being busy and distracted. Share it with your students, with your teenagers, and keep a copy for yourself. Read a chapter each day. Absorb his challenge: to pause, to read, and to think.

Read more from Mark here: or order your own copy of his book on Amazon.