The Bookshelf: Mi Casa Uptown by Rich Perez


I have to be honest. This book has been in a partially-read state for quite some time, which may say something about the book itself in that there were parts that simply didn’t compel me forward.

I can’t argue with the premise. The tag line on the back cover reads, “What if, instead of contempt, familiarity bred love?” The idea is that the more we know people, the more we are disappointed. In this memoir, Perez sets off to cast a different vision in which we pursue love with our eyes wide open to the realities and frailties of our world.

I found the earlier chapters – the ones in which he discussed planting roots and building families – to be the strongest. These chapters brought personal stories, cultural observation, theology and Scripture into a seamless mix that explored what it means to invest in a community with humility in a spirit of partnership.

Those chapters comprise most of the book. This leaves the final two chapters on loving neighbors and trusting Jesus to be explored in much less depth than the first two chapters. This prompted the thought that what Perez really has in this memoir is two books – one on culture and community and another on hospitality and the way it intertwines with the concept of living and dying well.

That’s not to say that this isn’t a good read. Perez is an excellent storyteller, and that alone may well be worth reading the book.


Disclaimer: Thank you to B&H Publishing for providing me with a copy of Mi Casa Uptown in exchange for my unbiased review.

The Bookshelf: The Dream of You


Totally took this lovely image from a Facebook page since all my product shots looked rather lame.

Who were you before you started to listen to everyone else?

What dreams did you have before the world talked you out of them?

Who did you become to negotiate your way through the world?

These are the piercing questions trainer, speaker and author Jo Saxton explores in The Dream of You: Let Go of Broken Identities and Live the Life You Were Made For.

Jo weaves her own story with those of biblical figures who were confronted with challenges to their God-given identity. Each chapter brings depth to the biblical accounts, and pointed questions designed to push the reader to examine how she has changed her life to adapt to the world around her rather than pursue her true God-given identity.

Fortunately, Jo doesn’t leave us in this state of self-examination. Rather, she offers a way forward in community that ultimately, with a lot of work and prayer, brings us back to the women we once were.

I appreciated not only Jo’s vulnerability in sharing her story, but also the depth with which she presented the stories of the men and women of the Bible. Too often in Christian publishing these days, the stories are given surface-level treatment to back up previously drawn conclusions. I had the distinct impression throughout her book that Jo allowed the Scriptures to guide her.

Some passages will resonate with some people. Others will not.

But you will not walk away from this book without thinking about who you once were, what you once dreamed and how you went off course.

And you can’t walk away from this book without knowing that God sees you and is ready to set you back on the path to reclaim those dreams.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of The Dream of You in exchange for my unbiased review.

The Bookshelf: Christ Chronological


I’ve always wanted to read the gospels in chronological order. There are reading plans available all over the Internet and in apps that guide you in doing just that, but these never clicked for me.

Christ Chronological changes that.

Where the reading guides and apps have the reader scrolling from screen to screen or flipping through the pages of the Bible, this volume puts the passages in chronological order for you. Where only one gospel records the scene from the life of Christ, the passage stretches across the page. Where two or more depict the scene, the passages are presented in side-by-side columns.

Throughout the beautifully-designed book, there are headings to delineate between scenes as well as brief commentaries that explore the differences in the accounts and the motivation of the author in their choice of which details to include and which ones to omit from their gospel. The passages are also color coded to allow the reader to know instantly which gospel they are reading.

Another added bonus is the blank, lined pages are included at the back to allow you to write in your own notes.

Christ Chronological is an excellent resource for group study or individual reading. It would be fascinating to use it in a small group or Sunday school setting to further and more deeply explore the life of Christ.

Personally, I am planning to break the book down into daily readings for Lent which should put the pages on the last week of the life of Christ into the final week before Easter. What better way to prepare to celebrate the Resurrection!

Disclaimer: Thank you to B&H Publishing for providing me with a copy of Christ Chronological in exchange for my unbiased review.


Revisiting the land of Prydain …

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Back in fifth grade, Mrs. Campbell introduced our class to a series of books that I quickly came to love as a kid in that in-between age. I must have read them through twice in middle school, and I remember a soundtrack of my own making that went with the books. “Wayfaring Stranger” from Emmylou Harris’ 1980 album, Roses in the Snow, will always be connected to the fourth book of the series in my mind.

So this series was a natural place to start in my weird quest to read all the books on my favorite reading teacher’s book list. It’s fascinating how different the books are now. I see them from an adult’s perspective and can clearly see them as the coming of age story they are. It’s easier to see how brilliantly Lloyd Alexander crafted the series, leaving tiny hints and clues throughout the books to lead to its epic conclusion.

What I didn’t expect was that as I was listening to them as audiobooks, I would remember certain key lines word for word after more than 30 years. It was wonderful to visit Prydain again, and I suspect I won’t wait another 30 years to visit again. #MissGrovesBookList

A 17-page list of books to read {a #TBT post}

Michał Grosicki

I read a lot when I was a kid.

By a lot, I mean I read in the car even when it was getting dark. I can’t remember how many times Mom told me I’d ruin my eyes – never mind the fact that I already wore glasses and was begging her for contacts.

When we’d go shopping, she’d tell me that if I behaved while she shopped then I would be allowed to buy a book for a treat. I was a model of politeness and decorum most every time.

I tried to get a library card on my own one day. My grammy only lived half a block away and back then kids walked anywhere without a second thought. So I walked up one day and asked for a library card. They told me to come back with my Mom.

My love for reading didn’t change in middle school. I had the same reading teacher for grades 6-8 – Miss Grove. Miss Grove required book reports, and the books had to be selected from her painstakingly curated book list. It contained classics and award winners along side popular – but well written – novels for teens.

Miss Grove never would have considered adding Twilight to the list. Of this, I am certain.

Over the course of three years in her reading class, I had to write a total of 12 book reports, if memory serves. Part of me remembers that it was one per marking period, but I almost think it might have been two. If the latter is the case, then I wrote 24.

And I still didn’t scratch the surface of the massive list.

For some reason, I decided at some point in my adulthood that it would be fun to go back and see how many of the books I could read. It definitely would provide a diversion to all the heavy reading I’m doing for my seminary classes.

About a year and a half ago*, I received an email from my former high school librarian who had seen my writing in the local newspaper. I asked her if she had a copy of the old book list. She promised to dig around for it, and a few weeks later I received the list – now weighing in at 17 pages, front and back.

No time frame. Just me and a list of hundreds of books. As I read, I post. (2018 note: Most posts will be on Instagram using the hashtag #MissGrovesBookList.)

Feel free to join in with your thoughts, memories and comments on the books as I post short thoughts on each one.

*This post appeared on a previous blog, and I dusted it off for Throwback Thursday this week since I’ve picked up reading from the list again.

Wednesday Selah: Facedown by Matt Redman

By the time this post goes live, I will be wrapping up my service as a door holder at Passion 2018 in Washington, D.C.

I’ve lost track of how many times I have volunteered. I know for certain I was in Nashville at Passion 2006 and Atlanta in 2007, 2008 and 2010. Somewhere along the line after that I get a little confused about which ones I attended and which ones I missed. By looking at the albums, I finally figured out that I also volunteered in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017.

Yet, with all that time, there has never been a moment in worship that struck me quite as much as Passion 2007 in the lower level of the Georgia World Congress Center when Matt Redman led the students in the second venue in this song.

At the time, I had recently started seminary and was looking for direction in ministry. Through the messages of the week, I came to understand that I didn’t have to have a solid action plan. I needed only to trust in God, and to worship him.

Welcomed in to the courts of the King
I’ve been ushered in to Your presence
Lord, I stand on Your merciful ground
Yet with every step tread with reverence

And I’ll fall facedown as
Your glory shines around
Yes, I’ll fall facedown as
Your glory shines around

Who is there in the heavens like You
And upon the earth, who’s Your equal
You are far above, You’re the highest of heights
We are bowing down to exalt You

So let Your glory shine around
Let Your glory shine around
King of glory, here be found, King of glory


The Bookshelf: I Want to Live These Days with You

I Want to Live These Days with You: A Year of Daily DevotionsI Want to Live These Days with You: A Year of Daily Devotions by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good Introduction

The daily readings in this year-long devotional form a good introduction to the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The writings are classic and well-suited to the different seasons of the year, but the book would have been improved greatly by identifying the source of the material in each daily reading and by putting dates or day numbers on each entry.

View all my reviews

A gift of divine grace (a #TBT post)

Rembrandt’s “Adoration of the Shepherds”

It doesn’t look promising for the people of Judah.

From Isaiah 7:18 through the end of chapter 8, it’s a message of despair. Armies will march. People will be humiliated. The population will be diminished to the point that just a couple of animals can provide enough food. They will find themselves oppressed by the nation to whom they turned for help. Spiritually, they will turn from God seeking the advice of spiritualists and the occult.

The dismal news comes to a climax in Isaiah 8:22: “And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.”

But … (don’t you love it when God says, “but.”) … into the darkness comes a great light. Continue reading

The Bookshelf: CSB Notetaking Bible

With Bible art journaling being all the rage, this may be an unpopular opinion.

I don’t like it.

It might be more accurate to say that I don’t like much of what I see posted online. It’s not the art itself. Much of what I have seen online is beautiful. I just don’t like that the words – the Word of God – is obscured by watercolors and markers that must bleed through to the opposite side of the page to create rather a mess of the text on the other side.

Bibles like the CSB Notetaking Bible may be one way to avoid this pet peeve of mine.

The Bible comes with a cloth over board cover featuring a flowery design that is repeated on the inside front and back covers. It is also available in a brown color with a diamond pattern and in genuine leather.

Inside, wide margins are lined at intervals that may be too small for people with larger handwriting. An additional lined page is included at the end of each book to allow for more space on which to write notes.

The text itself  is in a small font, but is clear and easy to read on cream-colored pages.

I particularly liked the reading plan included in the CSB Notetaking Bible. The plan includes a reading from the Psalms each Sunday with daily readings from the Old and New Testaments and special readings for the days prior to Easter and Christmas. It’s a plan designed to take the reader through the entire Bible in a year.

The concordance seems sizeable for a Bible of this size, and the colorful maps illustrate significant episodes including the travels of Abraham, the Exodus, the journeys of Paul and more.

Overall, this is a beautifully designed Bible, but it’s impractical for me, however, since I take copious notes during sermons and study times and would quickly run out of space in the lined margins.

If, however, you are interested in a Bible with wide margins to give you the space you need to be able to do artwork or to take notes during devotions or sermons, the CSB Notetaking Bible is an excellent choice.


Disclaimer: Thank you to B&H Publishing for providing me with a copy of the CSB Notetaking Bible in exchange for my unbiased review.



Advent Encounters: Mary, Part One (a #TBT post)

The Annunciation by Matthias Stomer (early 17th century Dutch artist)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

(Luke 1:26-38 ESV)

Oh, Mary. This is just the beginning of your story.

And I have questions, questions, questions … and not like the ones in the song. I’m guessing you pretty much had no idea that your baby boy would bring sight to the blind man or calm a storm with his hand. Maybe you did, but that would make you one of the very few who understood who your son was and what he would do as the promised Messiah.

All that aside.

Did you scream when the angel appeared? I mean, a mouse running across the floor is likely to make me yelp and this is an ANGEL!

Just how old were you? Folks who follow your son centuries later are all out of whack. Scholars tell us you were pretty young, but we insist on portraying you as a 20-something (or older) in various art forms. You could really help us maintain continuity if you could let us know.

Were your parents at home when the angel popped in? Did they freak out when they heard a man’s voice in your room?

And about Joseph. I know what the book of Matthew tells us, but what was it like, one-on-one when you told him about the angel’s visit?

I know this comes later, but why visit Elizabeth? I guess the angel’s mention of her prompted thoughts of her which might logically lead to a visit, but you had just received some seriously life-changing news and you decided to go off for a visit.

Speaking of that visit, please tell me someone went with you that the Bible never names. I’d hate to think of a young woman making such a long, dangerous trip alone.

Did you have anyone you could turn to during your pregnancy? Anyone who would listen when you were flat-out scared about the immense responsibility that comes with a newborn? Anyone who could offer words of comfort when you were worried that something would be wrong with the baby? Or, did the whole town simply sit in judgment on you and make you face the whole experience alone?

That’s enough of the questions for now.

But, before I go, I have to tell you one thing.

I love how you expected the miracle.

The angel showed up and started talking about having a son and how great he would be and how his kingdom would never end. You simply ask how it would happen since you were a virgin.

You didn’t make the logical assumption that the angel was talking about a child you would have with Joseph at a future time.

You expected a miracle.

And you expected it to happen immediately.

That doesn’t happen today. It’s too easy to be cynical and pessimistic. We’re clinical, scientific and prone to over-rationalizing. It’s too easy not to expect a miracle.

This Advent, let me live in expectation of miracles.

These Throwback Thursday (#TBT) posts are some of my favorites from previous blogs presented here with only the slightest editing. This post originally appeared on an older blog on December 3, 2010.