Monday, April 30, 2018

Book Review: I Will Not Fear. By Melba Pattillo Beals

"You're not doing this for yourself. 
You are doing this for generations yet unborn."

These words of encouragement, spoken directly to Melba Beals by Dr. Martin Luther King, became her mantra, her guiding light for the challenges yet to come.

In 1957, Melba was a young African American student, craving a better education. She bravely volunteered to be one of the Little Rock Nine - a small group of African American students chosen to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

On the first day of school, the children were met by a mob fuelled by hatred and racism. Over the next few days, the eyes of the nation turned to Little Rock, and to the Little Rock Nine.

The Little Rock integration brought Melba's face into the limelight, but this is just one chapter in this courageous woman's extraordinary journey. I Will Not Fear chronicles her life of challenges and the faith that carried her through it all. She bravely shares her stories of racism - not just the prejudice shown to her, but her own struggles in overcoming her fear of white people.

Despite her rough years in high school, Melba was a passionate learner and earned several degrees. She built a career as an NBC television news reporter, a magazine writer, and a professor. As she narrates the story of her life, she is open and honest about her deep faith in God. Every chapter ends with a prayer or Scripture verse for inspiration. She shares the challenge of finding and trusting God, even in her darkest moments.

My one critique of I Will Not Fear is that it's actually too short! Melba has led a truly inspiring life, and it felt like many of the stories were told too quickly. I know she's written another memoir on her high school years (which I'm hoping to read next), but her adult life is also amazing. I wish she had spent more time telling these stories, and sharing those extraordinary experiences with each of us.

I loved reading Melba's story and hearing her heart for God. I'm so moved by her courage, and I love that she has shared her faith in such an intelligent and heartfelt way.

I wish we could say that the civil rights struggle was simply a chapter in history books, but every day, the news tells us otherwise. Our current North American society still struggles with racism and the ugly rise of white supremacy.

More than ever, we need to hear stories like Melba's. We need to hear about the battles that have been fought if we're ever to understand the weight of the challenges ahead. And we need leaders who are willing to be honest about their faith, and the power it has in creating social change.

As Melba's beloved Grandmother would say, 
God is always present with us, even "as close as your skin."

I received this book to review from the Nuts About Books Blogger Program and Graf-Martin Communications Inc.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Book Review: Paul: Apostle of Christ, by Angela Hunt

A few weeks ago, I shared my review of the film, 

To coincide with the release of the movie, Andrew Hyatt's screenplay has been transformed into a novel by writer, Angela Hunt.

In full disclosure, I have to admit that I've never read a novelization of a screenplay. I've read lots of novels that have been made into films, but never the other way around.

I couldn't help but wonder what it might be like to read a 
novel based on a film based on Scripture

As I started reading the novel, the first difference that struck me was Paul's prison cell. In the movie, it's a dark subterranean room, entered by a narrow staircase, and punctuated by shafts of light from above.

In the novel, the full scope of Paul's desperate situation becomes clear to us. His cell isn't a room, but hole in the ground. Instead of stairs, the only point of entry is a rope, which is raised and lowered only at the will of his guards. We're given vivid descriptions of the darkness, dankness, and sheer torture the room provides.

As with any novel, Hunt is able to investigate the details of the world in ways that film can't do. For example, we learn more about Nero, Rome, and the political tensions of the day.

At the end of the novel, Hunt provides an "interview" with some interesting behind-the-scenes info, including some of the research she poured into the book. As with any artistic interpretation of Scripture, the novel has some stretches of imagination. Hunt also addresses these in her interview, sharing her reasoning behind these choices.

I think, ultimately, there's a real value in creating novelized or filmic versions of Bible stories. Sometimes, we can get so lost in the familiar words that we forget the humanity of the stories. We can lose sight that, just like us, these people had to cook dinner, make a living, care for family, and maybe even have a laugh at the end of the day. Translating these stories through art helps to make these details vivid and real. We are able to see God working in the every day, calling ordinary people to extraordinary things.

It's hard to know whether I'd recommend the film over the novel or visa-versa? I think the advantage of having both is that it makes the story available to so many people. You can approach this story in the vividness and immediacy of a film, or you can curl up with the book and spend hours chewing over every detail.

Both versions remind us that, for all of his legendary reputation, 
Paul was still simply a human being, 
which makes his ministry all the more amazing. 

As the tagline for the novel reminds us, "His story will change the world..." 

"Book has been provided courtesy of 
Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Friday, March 23, 2018

Movie Review: Paul, Apostle Of Christ

There's a new tradition in Hollywood - the annual onslaught of Easter Christian movies!

It's brought mixed results artistically speaking, but as a person of faith, it's great to see movie studios recognizing the market potential for such films. In times as divisive and disturbing as these, we need as many stories of hope as we can get.

And that leads to a film opening this weekend: 

Paul, Apostle Of Christ

The story opens in dark and dangerous Rome. Nero has watched the city burn, and blames the Christians for the destruction. It's a precarious time to be a follower of Jesus. To add to the tension, Nero has arrested Paul, leader of the Christian community, and sentenced him to death. His friend, Luke the Physician, has come to Rome to help.

The film is weighted with some great and recognizable talent with James Faulkner (Downton Abbey and Game Of Thrones) as Paul and Jim Caviezel (The Passion Of The Christ) as Luke. The look of the film is beautiful, even when dark, and the locations feel visceral and grounded.

It would be easy for a story like this to fall into the trap of melodrama. And let's be honest, it's what we associate with the worst of Christian movies - the overwrought wailing and gnashing of teeth as actors in old bathrobes play out a timeworn drama.

The filmmakers instead have chosen a more subtle way of telling this story - 
through friendships. 

There's the deep brotherhood of Paul and Luke, two men who have forged a bond through years of protecting each other and growing in faith. There's the loving couple Aquila and Priscilla, who have a shared purpose, but very different ideas on how to live it out. And then there's the unlikely connection between Paul and his captor, Mauritius.

Perhaps most interesting is the relationship between Paul, the imprisoned Christ-loving martyr, and Saul, his former Christian-killing self. Paul is haunted by his past - experienced by recurring dreams and visions - and desperately seeks the forgiveness and peace promised by Jesus.

One of my favourite themes in the film is the counter-cultural nature of the early Christians. Jesus had called them to take a path of peace and forgiveness. This is a city where Christians are openly and brutally persecuted. Any day might be their last. There is no grace or justice for followers of The Way (the early name for the Christian path). As humans, their instincts tell them to respond with more violence, but as followers of Christ, they're called to turn the other cheek and love their neighbour. As Paul is in prison and life for the followers gets more dangerous, we see this struggle playing out and threatening to divide the group.

I can't think of a more pertinent theme for this day and age. As Christians in North America, we are constantly being drawn into the public debate. Are we seen as counter-cultural, or just another group with our screaming, signs, and slogans?

And so the question remains for us today: 
As we gather in the public square - be it real or online - 
will we meet violence with violence or will we respond with forgiveness and grace? 
Will they know we are Christians by our love?

If anything, I think this theme could have been explored even further and more explicitly in the firm. It's really a debate we need to be having in our churches and faith communities.

When I watch an overtly Christian film, I always ask myself two questions: 
How will Christians respond? 
How will non-Christians respond? 

I don't know how much this would resonate with a non-Christian? The film lacks obvious tension and drama; it's really more of a character piece. I feel like you need to have some sense of the story to really understand the weight of what's happening.

However, I think a person who knows the story will be deeply moved by the portrayal of Paul and his journey. Paul was subject to years of pain and suffering for his faith, yet his responses are always generous, patient, and loving.

If that's not an Easter challenge, I don't know what is...

There is also a novelization of the film, written by Angela Hunt.
I'll be reviewing this in a few weeks. Stay tuned!

"Film has been provided courtesy of Sony Entertainment Releasing Canada (Affirm Films) and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc." 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Book Review: Free Of Me by Sharon Hodde Miller

Kicking off the first post of 2018 with a book review!

This year, I've added two things to my Goals List:

I was shocked at how few books I read last year! In 2018, my goal will be to read two books a month. I won't review them all, but I'll do my best to share some of my favourites with you.

Just like with the reading, I let my writing fall by the wayside last year. Yes, it had a lot to do with the massive undertaking of recording a New CD, but there are always excuses not to write. My goal this year: one solo writing date each week. Generally in a cafe, and always with a big mug of foamy caffeine!

Today's book review is Free Of Me, by Sharon Hodde Miller. The premise of this book is pretty simply laid out in the subtitle: "Why Life Is Better When It's NOT ABOUT YOU."

Like many simple ideas, however, the living out of this mantra is a more challenging matter.

Miller breaks the concept down into two basic components. The first are all the things we try to make about us and in the image of us: God, church, our family, our friendships, to name a few. As she details each aspect, there will be things that will seem obvious - yes, we try to make our families about us - but others that will surprise you. How can we make our calling, our passions, or even our physical appearance not about us? There were definitely ideas in these chapters with which I didn't personally agree. However, I think just the process of evaluating these parts of your life in this light could be extremely valuable.

The last part of the book explores practical ways to take the focus off of ourselves. How can we turn our point of view outwards, towards God and towards others? This is a great section to take notes and mark down ideas to integrate into your personal life.

The structure of this book leans towards practical application, and maybe even group discussion. Each chapter ends with a focus Scripture verse, a prayer, and a series of personal questions. The prayers, in particular, are beautiful, and would be a great addition to your personal prayer journal.

In a selfie-obsessed world, we need a message like Free Of Me. 

One of my favourite themes that runs throughout these chapters is the idea that "_____" is created for us, but that doesn't mean it has to be about us. 

Imagine how that one shift alone could change everything...

I received this book to review from the Nuts About Books Blogger Program and Graf-Martin Communications Inc.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Review: Christmas: Stories & More, by Inscribe Christian Writers' Fellowship

The Christmas book reviews continue!

A few days ago, I shared with you my favourite new children's book, 
Beneath That Star, by Sally Meadows.

(Full disclosure, as revealed in my previous review: Sally and I are friends, but I also promised her an honest review. Thank you for trusting me with that, Sally!)

Sally gave me her book when we visited her as part of our latest Infinitely More Western Canada Tour. As we chatted about our recent projects, she showed me a copy of a Christmas anthology that features two of her stories. Of course, my heart leapt when I saw a whole book filled with Christmassy things, so I asked if I might review that one as well!

I know you can't judge a book by its cover, but look at that face!! 
How could I not be excited to read Christmas: Stories & More??? 

Inscribe Christian Writer's Fellowship (ICWF) exists to "stimulate, encourage and support Christians who write, advance effective Christian writing, and promote the influence of all Christians who write." It has members from all provinces, writing at all levels and in all genres.

Christmas: Stories & More features over 40 ICWF writers sharing their thoughts, memories, and dreams for the Christmas season. Because of the range of storytellers, each piece is unique in scope, subject, and voice. The "Stories" include both fiction and real life accounts, giving sweet, and sometimes bittersweet, insight into different festive moments. The "More" is what really makes this anthology special - a collection of devotions, poems, recipes, gift ideas, and even dramatized readings!

What I love most about this anthology is how it's structured and organized. This isn't a book you sit down and read in one sitting. It's a lovely collection of festive bon-bons, designed to be tasted and treasured one at a time. (Of course, if you like to indulge in a whole box of bon-bons in one sitting, be my guest! I'm certainly not the one to judge... )

Each piece is short enough to be read on your afternoon break, or as you take the subway, or just before bed. It would make a lovely book to include in your Advent devotions, or to read one story a day during the 12 Days of Christmas. Even the recipes include a bit of family history to give them a personal perspective.

Sometimes, it can be a challenge to get people excited about reading a book by unknown writers. Let me ask you to get excited! Not only is this a lovely book, but it's so refreshing to read stories about Christmas told by Canadian voices.

Christmas: Stories & More is a charming and beautiful addition to your Christmas reading list.
I hope it finds a spot under your tree this holiday season!

To learn more about ICWF and Christmas: Stories & More, please visit 

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Book Review: Beneath That Star, by Sally Meadows

Today's book review combines two of my favourite things: 
Christmas and a children's picture book!

I have a long held love of children's literature. As a child, I wore out my parents' car driving back and forth to the Arts & Culture Centre Library. As an adult, I spent many years teaching music and creative arts to young children, and I loved poring over their books to help translate the stories into songs and art projects.

I was thrilled when I received the opportunity to review Beneath That Star
written by Sally Meadows and illustrated by Sarah E. Nickel.

In full disclosure, I have to confess that Sally is a good friend of mine. I offered to review her book because I believe in her talents. That said, I wouldn't have made the offer if I didn't feel I could offer an honest review!

Beneath That Star has an interesting origin story. When the idea first came to Sally, she wrote it into a song, which she recorded on her Christmas album. Sally shares, "It was when I was in the studio recording my Christmas CD, Red & White, when the idea of expanding on the song’s story through a children’s picture book came to me."

I love this idea! In song form, the story can reach the adults who bought the CD, but in book form, we have the chance to inspire young readers with a new Christmas tale.

The heroine of our tale is Saray - a young girl living in Biblical times with her loving family. Saray has big dreams, but her family sees only her limitations. A tragic accident has left her dependent on a cane, and as a girl, her path in life is firmly set.

But Saray loves God and seeks his presence in her life. One night, she hears a strange voice calling to her. Was is God or a dream? Then, she sees a star in the sky and dares to follow it. What happens next changes her life forever.

Sally's attention to detail paints a engaging portrait of what happens when the divine enters the everyday. Sarah's beautiful illustrations highlight the story, and would easily allow even the non-reading child to follow along.

There are two added bonuses at the end of the book. One is a set of questions, designed to spark conversation and allow you apply the themes of the book to real life. The second is a Sally's behind-the-scenes account of creating Saray and Beneath That Star. (The keen reader will also notice that she includes the inspiration behind our Infinitely More name!)

Beneath That Star is an uplifting and inspiring story for any child (or adult) who has felt invisible to God. I hope you'll consider sharing it with a child you love this Christmas!

To learn more about Sally Meadows' books and music, please visit

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Say Goodbye, Say Hello - a World Vision story...

Five years ago, Gerald and I decided to start something new - we wanted to sponsor a child.

We'd fallen in love with Costa Rica on our honeymoon, so we picked a little girl from there named Keilyn. I knew most people would probably pick the cute little babies, so I decided to pick an older child. At 11 years old, Keilyn would be entering those always challenging preteen years. I thought it would be wonderful to offer her friendship and support during this phase of her life.

Keilyn came from a small family - just her and her Mom, Maria. In a way, it felt like we weren't just sponsoring a little girl, we were sponsoring a whole family.

Over the years, we exchanged letters and photos. At Christmas, I would send her a package of small gifts. Through words and images, we watched our little girl grow up.

Then, this summer, we got amazing news from World Vision. Keilyn's community no longer needed outside support! They had become fully self-sufficient. They could raise their own food, educate their children, and create their own jobs.

Our little girl didn't need us anymore.

It was time to say goodbye.

This summer, we exchanged our final letters with Keilyn, sharing how much we'd come to mean to one another, and how we would keep praying for one another.

She told us that this year, she'll graduate from high school! I beamed when I read that. And then, I started to tear up:

"Because of the programs, my Mother, Maria, was able to go to school. This year, we're going to graduate from high school together."

We'd read all the updates about the work World Vision had done in the community, but there was something about this image that made it all seem so realistic and powerful.

A mother and daughter, accomplishing this great feat together, ready to change the world.

So this fall, we're starting something new: we're sponsoring a new child.

This time, we're sponsoring Carlos, a 4-year-old boy from Columbia.

Many years ago, I was on a cruise with my parents. It was a glorious week of entertainment, midnight buffets, and exotic day trips.

On one of those day excursions, we stopped in Cartagena, Columbia. In the midst of this gorgeous day, we turned a corner to come face to face with a child soldier. He was in a line up with all the adult soldiers. He wore full military regalia, had bullets draped across his chest, and carried a gun the size of my arm. His face was like stone.

It's one thing to read about child soldiers, but to see one in the flesh was shocking. Fifteen years later and I can still see his face.

It broke my heart because I couldn't help him.

But we can help Carlos.

We can give one child a different chance in life.

This fall, I hope you'll consider starting something new, and sponsoring a child with us.

As Gerald's favourite quote confirms:

Want to save a life?
Please contact us to sponsor a child today!