Mark's #2 - Fearless by Eric Blehm (2012)

fearless12I will always count it as a great privilege in my life to have been able to share the gospel with the U.S. military community through the ministry of Cadence International.  Those that serve our country in the military are some of the best, selfless, and courageous people on the planet.   I spend countless hours talking to guys about the experiences they've had and missions they've been on as they have fought for our freedom.   Whenever possible, I try to read books that give me deeper insight into the lives and mission of these warriors.  Fearless is one of those books. Fearless is the biography of U.S. Navy SEAL Adam Brown.  As a toddler, Adam Brown showed almost no regard for his own safety, along with a caring and protective spirit of those he loved and those in need of protection.  Throughout his life, what most people would consider crazy, Adam considered a fun challenge.  For example, when he was in high school he jumped from a moving vehicle, off the I-70 bridge into a lake 50 feet below near his home in Arkansas.  At another time, he confronted a man with a loaded shotgun while protecting a friend of his who had been knifed in a fight.

Per Adam's request, this story also details the depth to which his life went as he delved deeply into the world of cocaine, crack and heroine addiction.  Constantly in and out of jail, lying, stealing, and cheating friends and family to get his next fix, Adam's life repeatedly hit rock-bottom.  This battle and temptation would be a constant in Adam's life for many years.  During one episode in jail, Adam confessed Christ as Lord and Savior and tried to live a life following him.  He found some success and joy in Christ, but then there would be repeated failures, and the vicious cycle would continue.

By God's grace, and the help from the father of his best childhood friend, Adam was allowed to join the Navy and try out to become a SEAL.  After becoming a SEAL, Adam took it to the next level by becoming a DEVGRU SEAL on from SEAL Team Six.  In spite of a long list of injuries that would have retired almost everyone else (a complete eye removal, a shattered hand from a humvee accident), Adam excelled at what he did, and he believed whole-heartedly in the mission and in America.

Clearly Adam loved his family, and his country, and was a passionate follower of Christ.  He paid the ultimate price of the sacrifice of his life while on a mission to kill a terrorist on March 17th, 2010. Rest in peace Adam.  Thank you for your sacrifice.


Ally's #3: "Baby Wise" by Gary Ezzo & Robert Bucknam

BabyWise I've heard the spectrum of opinions on this book and decided to check it out for myself after meeting the super happy baby of friends who adhere (for the most part) to the advice provided in this book. As a woman who values structure with a reasonable level of flexibility, the first six chapters made a lot of sense to me and had me feeling more at ease as to what kind of routine we may be able to get into as our baby transitions through the various sleeping/feeding stages of the first 12 months.

All that to say, this book is not perfect, nor will I treat it like the end-all be-all of how I care for our daughter. Here are a few of the downsides: some of the material is very repetitive, the author occasionally has a condescending tone towards his audience, at times I felt like I was reading an infomercial that was supposed to convince me that all other methods were hogwash, and the author interjected advice in various places that felt inappropriate. For example, here is what the author warns regarding breast-feeding consultants:

"If you are receiving more parenting philosophy from the consultant than breastfeeding mechanics, or if you are told to feed your baby every hour, carry him in a sling, or any other extreme-sounding advice, consider looking elsewhere for help. If you come across a consultant offering advice such as the above, share her name with other moms as a warning, especially Baby Wise moms. Let them know what you discovered. Equally, when you find a consultant that is sympathetic and helpful, share her name with your friends."

Hmmmmm...  Let's just say I skimmed over certain areas where the author got up on his high horse and poo-pooed everyone else that didn't think as intelligently as he did. In spite of taking a fair amount of the book with a grain of salt, I did feel like it offered a very logical, enticing, and healthy way to maximize the sleeping/feeding/wake times of one's child. Not only will Abigail be the healthier for it, but the rest of our family will also be able to enjoy a good night's rest. The book claims that parents who use the Baby Wise  method will have infants sleeping through the night between 7- and 10-weeks of age. I wonder if they'll give me my money back if Abby turns out to be a night owl...

Mark's #1 - The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom (2012)

13624688 The Time Keeper is a fable about the man who discovers how to measure time.  He becomes Father time. As he begins to discover even better ways to break down time, time becomes an obsession for him, and for many that would come after him.  As punishment for trying to measure God's great gift of time, he is banished to a cave where he does not age, and where he listens to the sounds of people's obsessions over time throughout the millennia.

Finally, in our own day, Father Time is released with a mission to help two people from different spheres of life - A 78-year-old billionaire dying of cancer and a 17-year-old girl who has become obsessed with garnering the attention and love of one of the most popular boys at school.  The billionaire is obsessed with getting "more time". The girl, after being rejected, seeks to end her life, thus cutting off her time.

This was a great book on many levels.  The story is original, engaging, and well-written.  Like all good novels, the story also provokes a certain level of introspection in the life of the reader.  Albom wants the reader to rethink our obsession with time.  There are many great quotes and thoughts throughout the book that made me stop and think.   Here are just a few:

“You marked the minutes,” the old man said. “But did you use them wisely? To be still? To cherish? To be grateful? To lift and be lifted?”

"Yet despite all they accomplished, they were never at peace. They constantly checked their devices to see what time it was..."

"Common sense would have told Sarah to steer clear of Ethan’s waters. But common sense has no place in first love and never has."

This was a great book to start off a new year of reading.  I wouldn't be surprised if it is one of the best books I read all year.

Ally's #2: "The Meaning of Marriage" by Tim & Kathy Keller

As Jim and I are off to marriage retreat this weekend, I read this in preparation for our time together. I have to say that this is one of the better--if not the best--books on marriage that I've read in a while.

Keller begins by giving a brief overview of the history of marriage and how our society has morphed into a view of marriage called "pessimistic idealism." This particular view point holds high and lofty expectations for a future "soul mate" on a variety of levels, while holding fast to the idea that there is nothing and should be nothing that we are asked to change about ourselves in a relationship. Keller says this is because we have a flawed understanding of the purpose of marriage itself and that we never marry the right person. Because marriage has the power to transform us like no other human relationship, our spouse can and should be different than the one we walked down the aisle with after months, years, and decades of being together and pushing one another towards Christ-likeness.

Keller then moves on to discuss the power for marriage and the essence of marriage. Rather than give my own summary here, I'll let the book speak for itself...

On the power of marriage: "The gospel, brought home to your heart by the Spirit, can make you happy enough to be humble [as opposed to self-centered], giving you an internal fullness that frees you to be generous with the other even when you are not getting the satisfaction you want out of the relationship. Without the help of the Spirit, without the continual refilling of your soul's tank with the glory and love of the Lord, such submission to the interests of the other is virtually impossible to accomplish for any length of time without becoming resentful."

On the essence of marriage: "In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love seem to dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of a marriage is that is is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must be tender, understanding, forgiving, and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love."

The next chapter cover the mission of marriage and how our identity in Christ is able to unite us more foundationally than any other aspect of who we are. Our mission is to seek the best for the one we call our best friend; we are to maintain an ongoing commitment to our spouse's holiness.

In the next chapter, we learn that part of pursuing holiness as a couple is understanding that marriage reveals our weaknesses and sinful tendencies. Rather than losing hope and search for "someone better" when the flaws in our spouse are uncovered, we have to realize that the future, sanctified version of our current spouse is the "someone better" that God has intended for us. Keller argues that learning to give our spouse love in the way that he/she finds most emotionally valuable and powerful is the only way to bring remaking and healing power of love into our spouse's life.

The final three chapters of the book deal with having a balanced view of singleness and marriage, sex, and the hot-button topic of gender roles. The latter chapter is written by Tim's wife, Kathy, and offers a look at the Trinity that allows for a clearer understanding of what authority, headship, and submission mean. I skipped the chapter on singleness for the sake of time, and found that the chapter on sex did not say anything particularly enlightening or different from what I have heard before in sermons or other books.

While the book's power fizzled a little for me in the final chapters, the eye-opening, question-stirring impact of the first 75% of the book made it a totally worthy read.

Ally's #1: "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens

I'm having trouble letting go of Christmas this year since I felt like it came and went too quickly. So, I opted to read this story and to see how it differed from the two movies I've seen (Scrooged and A Muppet Christmas Carol) based on Charles Dickens tale from the 1800s.

Hollywood, dancing puppets, and Bill Murray definitely give the story a different feeling, and while I enjoy watching these films, I prefer the original. I think the darkness of Ebenezer Scrooges heart appears darker when described in words; similarly, the softening of his heart during his visits with the three Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future seems all the more tender when you're not thinking about how cute Kermit the Frog is.

I like how the author progresses through the visitation of the Spirits and their impact on Scrooge. First, Scrooge sees that loneliness and isolation began in his childhood, and that being lifted out of poverty as a young adult quickly trumped all other aspects of life that were once precious, especially relationships. Second, Scrooge is given a glimpse of what he is missing out on by being such a humbug this Christmas. He also is made aware of the various impressions those who know him have about his lifestyle and sour personality. In this visitation, I especially liked how the Spirit turned Scrooges own venomous words on him and how painful it sounded to his ears once he began to feel compassion towards those he had formerly looked down on. Lastly, the Spirit of Christmas Future walks Scrooge through a number of scenes that speak so profoundly for themselves that the Spirit doesn't need to utter a word for Scrooge to be totally rocked to the core.

I loved that this book was a good reminder of how the Holy Spirit can change us both dramatically and incrementally. By the end of the story, Scrooge is completely transformed and every aspect of his life is altered as a result. While he can't undo the wrong of his entire life, he awakes Christmas morning with the determination and overwhelming joy to correct all that is within his power in the present. To awaken with determination...that is what I aspire to.

Drew's Best of 2012

Ouch!  Didn't quite make my 52 this year, but definitely got in some great ones!  Here's my top 5 plus a few of my favorites: #1  What it is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes:  A powerful and candid look at war from the perspective of a combat veteran.

#2  Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell:  This was an experience to read.  It may not be for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it!

#3  The Black Banners by Ali Soufon:  The story of the rise of Al Quieda as told by a young FBI agent who persued Bin Laden long before the Twin Towers fell.    The book provides a detailed look at the terrorist organization from it's beginning and the astounding efforts of the FBI to fight the insurgency.

#4  Steve Jobs Biography by Walter Isaacson:  Fascinating look at the extraordinary life former CEO of Apple.

#5  The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville:  A complex and dark story about an ex-IRA foot soldier's struggle with guilt following his service to the Fenian gang.


The rest are some of my favorites--tough to really strat them but if you're looking for good books, I really enjoyed these:

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester:  You wouldn't think there'd be so much to the story of the Oxford English Dictionary--until you learn that it was written by a lunatic!  Well, around 30% of the original anyway...  In fact the whole cast of characters who compiled the definitive lexicography of the English language had quite a story to tell.  Very interesting and surprisingly funny, as told by the author.

14 by Peter Clines:  If you like pulp fiction, Peter Clines owns the genre!  14 unfolds the story of a strange apartment building as a handful of it's residents dig deeper and deeper into the strange happenings in the building.  Deliciously tacky!  If you like it, check out the author's "ex" series...

Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole:  Hands down one of the funniest books I've ever read.  Apparently, this an American classic--never let it be said that I avoided the master works of western literature...

Moonwalking With Einstien by Joshua Foer:  Interesting look at the potential of human memory.  The author chronicles his 1-year shot at the world memory championship, delving into history, techniques, and greats of all-but-lost art of memory.

Empire of the Summer Moon by G.S. Gwyne:  A compelling look at the American/Indian wars through the history of Quana Parker,the last Comanche chief and son of kidnapped settler Cynthia Ann Parker--known to history as "the white squaw" .  The book takes a hard look at the loss and brutality of both sides and gives an in-depth perspective on the history of violent struggle.

Happy New Year, everyone!