Living a Redeemed Life — A Conversation with Michele Morin

I don’t usually share a post on Fridays, but I couldn’t resist sharing this podcast (yes, Michele has entered the 21st century) of a conversation with Holly Barrett.  

Last fall, Holly Barrett invited me to be a guest on her weekly show, Living a Redeemed Life.  By the time we worked out the details of scheduling (and using Skype . . . ), it was nearly Christmas time, but it is my pleasure today to introduce to you my friend Holly and to urge you to check out her blog, Reclaiming a Redeemed Life,  where you will find that she is not only a skilled interviewer, but also a fine writer and a student of Scripture.

Holly asked me about my family, how I got started with blogging, and, of course, we talked about books.  Click here to listen in on our visit!

capture

Living a Redeemed Life is a podcast dedicated to encouraging all who listen to live in the redemption found in Jesus every day. Each week Holly enjoys a conversation with a friend—some old friends, some new—and they talk about all the things. Jobs and friends, spouses and kids, the writing life, the struggles they’ve overcome, the ones they’re still struggling with, and much more. And along the way, we see how God is redeeming each circumstance to bring us closer to Him. It’s also a lot of fun! So sit back and relax, and enjoy this conversation with my friend!

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Love Hides Close By

Until I put it on display, love is sometimes hard to see.

Dr. Mary Manz Simon invites pint-sized theologians to embark upon a delightful scavenger hunt, looking for all the places love hides in the daily life of a preschooler.  She does this with precision, because when we demonstrate the love of God to others, it is not with the intention of motivating Him to love us in return or to increase His love for us.  Rather, we love Him (and others) because He first loved us, and all our acts of love or obedience serve to demonstrate the unselfish mercy and grace that is God’s love.

So . . . where does love hide?

Readers will find six replies, hidden under the flaps that have been incorporated into the construction of Hannah Wood’s large, vivid illustrations which feature a rainbow of children who have been caught in the act of being good with actions with which even the youngest toddler can identify.

My grandson’s tiny fingers were well able to grasp and open the flaps, and it turns out that love hides very close at hand, for the revelation of love can come with an invitation to a friend, a sharing of cookies, a cheerfully executed chore, or practical services offered to the weak or the elderly.

Relevant and simply stated Scripture verses make a solid case for each example of loving deeds and will help parents (and grandparents!) to set the example in establishing memory habits as they work together to learn the verses.  A fun way to encourage this would be to let the child pull back the flap and give the answer to the question while the adult says the verse — and then switch roles.

Giving and receiving love involves words as well as actions that lend weight to those words.  After all, God Himself communicated His love to us through the Word, but He didn’t stop there:

“God demonstrated His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,”                 Romans 5:8.

When our children join Him in the joy of giving, His love is put on display for all the world to see.

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This book was provided by Tyndale Kids, a trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

This is the third of Mary Manz Simon’s books that my grandson and I have had the privilege of reading and sharing.  You’ll also be interested in discovering God Made the Sun and God Made the Moon. (Click to read my review.)

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

The Freedom is in the Falling

Because I’m a planner, I carry a planner, but the truth is that my planner carries me.  All pristine and un-besmirched, the 2017 edition holds out the promise of glorious accomplishment and blessed organization in a life that often feels like spinning plates and chaos management.  Shannan Martin started her marriage and motherhood in much the same way.  Plan-the-work-and-work-the-plan as a way of life had secured for her and her husband their dream farm with a cute little family and a life that had all the trappings of security.  In a journey that began with the hunch that God might be leading them to move — literally — outside their comfort zone, the Martins said good-bye to predictability and hello to an address that had always seemed to them like “the wrong side of the tracks.”

Memoir meets manifesto in Falling Free, for Shannan not only shares her story, but also describes the safety she found in risk and the stunning realization that when we say, “God is all I need,” we may be asked to make good on those words.   The Martins’ income plummeted to make space for ministry in a life that became centered around a community that included a struggling public school and a circle of friends who had done jail time, who struggled with addictions, and who continually battled poverty.

It is no understatement to say that Falling Free challenged some of the assumptions and guiding principles of this homeschooling mum who can just barely see the smoke from her neighbor’s chimney. Reading about Shannan’s “rescue from the life she always wanted” allowed me to consider some fairly uncomfortable concepts:

  • God reserves the right to do the unexpected and to move His people in unlikely directions.  He is unpredictable and has not “settled down” since Old Testament times.
  • True family transcends DNA and mirrors the welcome that God extends in the gospel.
  • It’s hard to pine for heaven when you already believe you’re there.”  For North American Christians, our stuff is a serious obstacle to living an authentic Christian life.
  • Our most valuable offering to those in need is our “good standing.”  One of the greatest needs of the poor is a future: a way to secure employment, stability, and a permanent address.
  • Missional living makes for missional parenting and produces missional kids.  If God calls a believer to ministry in an area with failing schools, He is asking her to trust Him with her children’s education.

It was delightful to read about Shannan and her family bonding with their newly adopted community around plates of pasta and garlic bread (often well-done).  She testifies to the efficacy of the “unfancy dinner table” and to this stunning truth:

“If community is the heartbeat of the gospel, hospitality is the hand that opens the door and waves it in.”

Falling Free unpacks the biblical image of Jesus “moving into the neighborhood” by first inviting readers to picture someone on the lowest rung of their social ladder — a homeless, meth-addict, for instance.  Shannan first nails the pity and lack of respect that I would feel toward her — and then suggests that my trading lives with that addict would not even begin to approach the utter humiliation of the incarnation.  Embracing my own smallness is more than a matter of having less.  It is about being less, like Jesus, when He “took the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” — less, last, and ordinary.

In a culture that encourages all of us precious believing snowflakes to “shop” for our “perfect church” that “meets our needs,” Shannan reminds her readers that the Kingdom of God is full of surprises.  God may ask us to sink our roots deep into a community that wounds us and exacts a deep cost to our souls while satisfying nothing on our personal wish list.  This is Jesus’ invitation, made explicit in the Beatitudes, but inexplicable to my preferred business plan that’s built around “blessed are the sensible and those who serve dinner on time.”

Not everyone will be called to join the Martin family in the weightless free fall, but the principles that guided their choices and the insights they gained in the process are choreography for my own choices and priorities in this world where I am called to dance the love and the life of Christ.

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This book was provided by Thomas Nelson through the BookLookBloggers program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

An Announcement for January

Most of us have a favorite C.S. Lewis book, whether it’s the incisive practical theology of Mere Christianity or the glorious story-telling found in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis’s favorite of all his books was Till We Have Faces.  One Lewis scholar calls it his “most subtle treatment of the relation between good and evil.”  It’s a novel, based on the mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in it, Lewis explores themes such as the selfishness of human love, the limits of reason, the corrupting effects of self-will, and in Lewis’s own words, “the havoc a vocation or even a faith works on human life.”   I’m planning to lead a discussion group about the book starting in January, and am hoping that many of you will join me, so here’s a quick overview of the plan:

  1.  The pace will be leisurely at three chapters per week (about 30-ish pages), which will take us into the beginning of March.
  2. I will be posting weekly starting January 5 (Thursdays) with introductory material and a detailed reading schedule.  My hope is that the comments section here at Living Our Days will become a comfy living room where we can discuss our thoughts on the book.  If you blog, PLEASE plan to include a link to your post about the week’s reading so that we can all benefit from one another’s impressions with more detail than is possible in the comments.  If you don’t blog, no worries.  Just share your thoughts in connection with the weekly reading here, and be sure to visit and respond to others.

More details to follow!

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The Season of Yes

“You can say ‘no.’”

Immediately, my guard went up.
It was Christmas time, so my planner was bulging its squares with lists of things to buy and to wrap and to bake.  What was my husband going to propose that required this ominous-sounding, front-loaded disclaimer?

Well, it turns out that there was this puppy . . .

A St. Bernard puppy – the dream puppy of my youngest son’s heart.

Could I really say ‘no’?

Well, sure . . . I could have, but how much cuteness would I have missed at the sight of a small boy’s head resting on a big dog’s sprawled body?  How much joy and laughter would be absent each Christmas without Tucker’s howling descant that floats atop our seasonal singing?

It seems to me that many of life’s loveliest gifts come with a built-in refusal clause:

“Be still and know that I am God, (Psalm 16:10 NKJV).

I can say no to stillness.  I am free to fill my life with activity and noise            that drown out the whisper of God’s Spirit.

“In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path,” (Proverbs 3:6 NKJV).

I can say no to His direction.  I can bulldoze my own path through life.

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation,” (Isaiah 12:3 NKJV).

I can say no to eternal abundance.  My bucket can hang out to dry while I   search for joy in ways that leave me parched and exhausted.

Or I can trust God and make room in my heart for the risk that comes with a yes.

The “yes” that bubbled to the surface on the Christmas that Tucker joined our crew was a gift to my family, but it was a gift to me as well, for I learned that I don’t have to play it safe in my love for my family.

Acceptance of inconvenience stretches the boundaries of my heart, while my yes becomes a reminder that Jesus Himself ushered in The Season of Yes with His embrace of God’s great rescue plan for the human race.  Early in His ministry, He made His mission clear:  “I have come down from Heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me,” (John 6:38 NKJV).

This is deep teaching that we revisit every Advent season, but as my sons grow into men, our Advent traditions are no longer about teaching them the message of Christmas.  No, they’ve celebrated with stories and carols for so many years that now Advent has become a time to remember known truth and to rejoice in it together; to offer up our hearts as a family in an echo of God’s resounding YES that came when Jesus poured His glory – and His obedience – into a small body and entered time and space.

Jesus brought with Him the Promise, the Mercy, the Forgiveness, and the Welcome that lie at the heart of what we celebrate every Christmas.  His big, beautiful obedience opened the way for my heart to accept His grace and truth — and sometimes . . . to move outside my comfort zone in this glorious Season of Yes.

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Find more inspiring Christmas reading at BCW’s Christmas Blog Tour!  Click here for the next stop on the tour!

Photo credit

An Announcement for January

Most of us have a favorite C.S. Lewis book, whether it’s the incisive practical theology of Mere Christianity or the glorious story-telling found in The Chronicles of Narnia.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis’s favorite of all his books was Till We Have Faces.  One Lewis scholar calls it his “most subtle treatment of the relation between good and evil.”

Till We Have Faces is a novel, based on the mythical tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in it, Lewis explores themes such as the selfishness of human love, the limits of reason, the corrupting effects of self-will, and in Lewis’s own words, “the havoc a vocation or even a faith works on human life.”   I’m planning to lead a discussion group about the book starting in January, and am hoping that many of you will join me, so here’s a quick overview of the plan:

  1.  The pace will be leisurely at three chapters per week (about 30-ish pages), which will take us into the beginning of March.
  2. I will be posting weekly starting January 5 (Thursdays) with introductory material and a detailed reading schedule.  My hope is that the comments section here at Living Our Days will become a comfy living room where we can discuss our thoughts on the book.  If you blog, PLEASE plan to include a link to your post about the week’s reading so that we can all benefit from one another’s impressions with more detail than is possible in the comments.  If you don’t blog, no worries.  Just share your thoughts in connection with the weekly reading here, and be sure to visit and respond to others.

More details to follow!

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Grateful Parents: Grateful Kids

Happy Thanksgiving!  I’m taking a blogging break in honor of my favorite holiday, but I hope you’ll be inspired by these words about gratitude and parenting from a book review that I shared some time ago.


Finally, about ten years ago, the light began to dawn, and you can’t imagine how disappointed I was.  I realized that parenting is not a cause and effect proposition.  It’s not a vending machine in which I insert my actions (seizing teachable moments, training in character, consistency in discipline) and then am rewarded by equal and corresponding reactions (obedience, respect, good behavior).

I’m a slow learner, so this was earth-shattering for me, but . . .

Having said that, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch reminds me that if I want my children to appreciate their blessings and to operate out of gratitude rather than entitlement, I had better be modeling the right heart attitude myself.

In the Great Balancing Act called parenting, we are at war against three words:  “Is that all?”  In ourselves, in our kids, Western culture exacerbates our entrenched selfishness in everything from “ice cream servings to allowances.”  “Enough” is never enough.

Kristen is writing from the trenches of raising three kids, and so the tone of Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World is NOT “we have arrived and here’s how your kids can ooze gratitude like our perfect children do.”  She comes alongside her readers with humble offerings:  “Here’s what we’re doing.  Here’s what others have tried, and that’s great, too.”  Kristen’s perspective is derived from the knowledge that parents who are willing to fight against the prevailing culture and for an attitude of thankfulness in their children will feel as if they are swimming upstream.

My oldest son talked early — and often — so I can still hear his husky toddler voice saying, “There’s a difference between a need and a want.”  To me!  Even so, one need that is common to all kids is their parents’ love, and ironically, in our culture of possessions and privileges, it is common to find children who are sadly lacking in that need while every want is speedily fulfilled.

No one sets out with a goal of “spoiling” her children, but little daily choices that arise from incorrect thinking accomplish the task over time.  Kristen unmasks some of these:

  1.  We want our kids to be our friends.
  2.  We’re afraid to say no because of the fallout (slammed doors, tears, eye rolling, shouting).
  3. We feel guilty about our circumstances and try to compensate with permissiveness.
  4. We are busy.  We eat fast food on the way to one of Junior’s three different soccer league practices, take on an extra job to pay for a Disneyland vacation, and don’t have time for the slow work of eyeball to eyeball interaction in which we pass on our values.
  5. We don’t want them to fail, so we make things “easy” for them.
  6. We don’t want them to feel left out, so we cave to the “everyone else” argument.
  7. We don’t want them to be unhappy.

It is not for nothing, then, that Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World provides an end-of-each-chapter assortment of age-related hints for going against the flow.

For parents:

“Put a plan in place.  Decide in advance what you will say ‘yes’ to.”

For toddlers:

“Make cookies together.  You may eat one for your effort, and then give the rest away to brighten someone’s day.  Teach your children that we don’t have to keep everything for ourselves.”

For elementary age:

“Clean out closets and drawers, and instead of giving away only things that they won’t miss, urge your kids to include something they really love to share with someone else.”

For tweens/teens:

“It may seem to your son or daughter as if she’s the only one in her class or he’s the only one in his grade or on this planet who isn’t fitting in or keeping up.  But if we are going to compare ourselves to others, let’s also compare ourselves to kids who live in poverty.”

The award for most practical feature goes to the chapter called “Making Smart Choices about Technology” with its related idea of a cell phone contract.

Central to all this intentionality and hard work is the goal of  introducing kids to the freedom of self-discipline; to the security that comes from seeing parents follow through on their principles; and the self-confidence that can only come to kids who have been allowed to “struggle” a bit and then to solve their own problem before a parent comes swooping in to rob them of the privilege.  We must love our children enough to make the hard choices that lead to a lifestyle of gratitude.

This book was provided by Tyndale Momentum, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishing,  in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Celebration and Lament

The walls had been rebuilt.

The people living in and around the city of Jerusalem had gathered.

Along with the fresh aroma of new lumber from Ezra’s wooden platform and his strong voice ringing out over the hum of the crowd, celebration was in the air! Within the barely-renovated city walls of Jerusalem, there was a party brewing, and it was no token religious observance.

For the first time in a thousand years (Nehemiah 8:17), the Nation of Israel was gearing up for the Feast of Tabernacles. “Booths” — little huts, really -– would be cobbled together from branches and set up on rooftops and in courtyards, and families would live in their booths for seven days to commemorate Israel’s wilderness wanderings. Remember, too, that, although Jerusalem’s protective outer wall had been restored, this is all taking place in a city where many houses had still not been rebuilt, (Nehemiah 7:4).

I’m actually a little jealous when I picture this holiday:

An Annual Camp Out!

Gathering piles of branches with the kids, making a cozy nest inside the booth, and hearing the small voice:

“Tell us again, Mum . . . why are we doing this?”

Then the magic of storytelling under the stars would begin in which history flows from memory into the hearts of another generation — with everything made tangible by the show-and-tell of celebration.

Of course, in the re-telling there would be sadness for Jerusalem was still a city in captivity, its citizens still an oppressed people. Forking over up to 50% of their earnings in taxes to the Persian Empire, they were only just beginning to recover from the exile’s comprehensive shattering of their self-perception as God’s people. They were still in the process of learning their way back into fellowship with God. Governor Nehemiah’s gracious pronouncement to kick-off their feasting was desperately needed:

“Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” —Nehemiah 8:10

And so it is today.

We live with one foot in celebration and the other in lament. Whenever we gather on this planet, it is for an imperfect celebration in which our only hope for joy is to look squarely at the empty seat, at the strained relationships, at the imperfect execution of all our Pinterest-worthy plans. Our only prayer for peace is to own the sadness; to recognize the power that grinding sorrow has over our hearts—and then to throw the door wide open to the feast.

By acknowledging and even embracing lament—an art we have lost here in North America—our celebration can be restored. Our feasting can be deeply sincere, even in a context of deep suffering or deep disappointment.

In the case of Israel, the people had just stood outside for about six hours (yes, stood), “from morning until mid-day,” listening to Ezra as he read aloud to them their saw-tooth record of rebellion. Their tearful response revealed that they were cut deeply with the weight of national failure over the centuries, but Nehemiah’s instructions proclaimed that the time had come for the people to begin, once again, to eat and drink blessing to themselves:

“Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Until Jesus comes, it will be this longing and this feasting that keeps my heart’s sonar trolling for Kingdom shalom. I will lament the family that could have been if not for alcoholism, if not for mental illness and garden-variety selfishness.

But when I grasp warm hands and gaze at the faces around my table, by faith I will celebrate the family that is because of the forgiveness that lubricates our relational gears; because of much-beloved friends who have been grafted in; because of the cords of grace that hold our hearts in joy.

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This post first appeared in SheLoves Magazine (November 2015).


If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Enjoy Your Preschooler

“You need to stop reading those magazines.”

Once again, the patient husband had come home from work to find me in a puddle of panic over some detail in the life of our firstborn.  Some days I was convinced that I was a failure as a mother; other days I was sure that I had already done irreparable damage to our son’s development — all based on the opinions of the “experts” I was consulting.   (Thanks be to God that there was no internet access in those days!)

Based on that experience, I’m obviously a little suspicious of parenting books.  Everyone seems to have a handy list of guidelines, an opinion about what’s “normal” or “enough,” a foolproof checklist, or a guaranteed plan for successful parenting — often with advice that is contradictory, confusing, or impossible for normal people to follow!  What would happen if parents decided that instead of doing more and enjoying their children less, that they would do less and enjoy their children more?

In The Low-Pressure Guide to Parenting Your Preschooler, Tim Sanford, licensed counselor and member of the Focus on the Family counseling staff, has offered his Big Four, over-arching, low-pressure principles to help young parents shrug off the pressure:

1.  Shrink your job description

The way I understood parenting in my early days was this: (1) Make sure the boy turns out “right;” (2) Do everything perfectly.  (No wonder I was stressed!)  By contrast, Tim’s first rule of parenting preschoolers is:  Relax!  It is the role of mothers and fathers to nurture and to validate their children.  In actual practice, this will look different in every home, but the message children need to hear sounds like this:

  • “You’re good enough!”
  • “You belong in this family!”
  • “I love you!”

Nurturers and validaters (i.e. parents) take time to hold and play with their little people; their voices are gentle and playful; they are focused on enjoying their child rather than rating their own performance or worrying about the “what-ifs” of the future or the stress of fixing their own past and living chained to by-gone resentments.  Naturally, parents who love the gospel will also introduce the sober truth regarding the havoc that sin has wreaked on our relationship with God, along with the off-setting joy that “good enough” is attainable only through the righteousness of Christ.

2.  Make friends with free will.

One of my sons was born with the conviction that life is a multiple choice test — and all the answers are none of the above.  He and I used to lock horns every day over choices.  Many of them needed to be worked out, but honestly?  Some of them could have been avoided if I had been more comfortable with this concept.  It boils down to sound theology:  God made humans to be choosers, and sometimes we make dumb choices.  It is not a parent’s job to make everything in life turn out perfectly, and, as frightening as it is for a parent, it is important that a child be allowed to experience age-appropriate life lessons, and to be given a voice, even as a toddler, in life’s little choices.

3.  Step away from the power struggle.

As a new mum, I think I truly believed that I was responsible for controlling every stray atom in our family’s universe.  Here’s Tim’s wisdom on that:

“Trying to control what you can’t equals HIGH pressure when it comes to parenting.”

“Accepting the truth that you can’t control all you’d like, and focusing on how to best influence, equals LOW-pressure parenting.”

For example, we are responsible to see to it that our children cannot put a paperclip into an electrical outlet.  This we can control.

We are not responsible for the look on our mother-in-law’s face when our son throws a temper tantrum.  This we cannot control.

4.  Reduce the rules.

Rules that are developed ad hoc and on the fly are usually ineffective.  Because they are so critical for keeping safety in and chaos out, it’s important that rules be few, specific, enforceable, relevant, and — most importantly of all — worth the effort!  If a rule is actually keeping safety in and chaos out, then it’s worth the battle.  If it’s not, then it can be relegated to the category of good advice, but not mandatory, (see Big Four Principle #3).

Cynthia Tobias predicts that Low-Pressure Parenting will have this effect: “You can replace worry with joy as you learn to celebrate and delight in the earliest years of your child’s life!”  I wish this book had been among the piles (and piles) of parenting books (and magazines) that I read when my boys were small.  Certainly, I will be passing this gem along to my beautiful daughter-in-law, because Tim Sanford’s parenting advice really comes down to some extremely astute theology:  God is sovereign.  He is bigger than any of the hurts that my grandson will face in his dear little life.  My son and daughter-in-love cannot control every outcome or circumstance of their son’s days, but the relationship they form with him now will have huge sway over the amount of influence they have with him in the future.  So, in these days of parenting their preschooler, I have begun praying for them that they will find grace to do what they can — and NOT what they can’t.

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This book was provided by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.