Review of Then Sings My Soul, by Robert J. Morgan


Then Sings My Soul

Volumes 1 & 2

250 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories

by Robert J. Morgan

Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 2003.  308 pages.

My Mom taught me to love hymns when I was a girl.  She made sure our family had a copy of the church hymnal.  My sister and I used to while away long drives by singing hymns.  We used to kneel at the two back windows of our van (oh horrors, without seatbelts!) and sing out the back window.  With all the noise of the car, it felt like no one could hear us but each other, and we could sing our little hearts out with the wind blowing in our faces.

So I thought Then Sings My Soul is the perfect book for morning devotions.  Each two-page spread has a hymn on one page, and the story behind the writing of that hymn (or perhaps a story of someone touched by the hymn) on the facing page.

Not only are the stories inspiring, but the book also has a wonderful selection of old classic hymns.  As the author says in the introduction, “Hymns connect us with generations now gone.  Each week millions of Christians in local settings around the world, using hymns composed by believers from every era and branch of Christendom, join voices in united bursts of praise, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord.”

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Review of Our Own Selves, by Michael Gorman


Our Own Selves

More Meditations for Librarians

by Michael Gorman

American Library Association, Chicago, 2005.  224 pages.

I’m a new librarian.  I got my MLIS degree one year and one month ago.  All the same, once something becomes a job, there’s a danger that it will become “just a job” instead of a calling.

Reading a book like this one, slowly, one meditation per day, helped to remind me why I’m so proud and happy to be a librarian.  It reminds me that, despite the day-to-day little annoying details, I am doing a good work from a noble tradition.

As Michael Gorman says, “One of the great intangible benefits of library work is the sense of self-worth that comes when we realize that, no matter how humdrum the day or week, we are playing a part in bringing the good things of life to everyone and improving our communities, one life at a time.  A library serving a community of any kind (a village, school, city, college or university, corporation, government) enriches that community, which would be impoverished and weakened if that library did not exist.”

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Review of Forgive for Love, by Dr. Fred Luskin


Forgive for Love

The Missing Ingredient for a Healthy and Lasting Relationship

by Dr. Fred Luskin

HarperOne, 2007.  234 pages.

Starred Review.

After my husband left me, I did a lot of reading about forgiveness.  What do you do when your life falls apart?  Well, I look to books to help.

Of all the books I read about forgiveness, the one that made a breakthrough for me in helping me actually DO it (instead of just thinking about doing in) was Dr. Luskin’s earlier book, Forgive for Good.  (

The key thought that helped me was this:  This person has already hurt me.  Why in the world should I give them power to continue to hurt me by brooding over that hurt?  And he has some practical tips to help you get your mind away from all the ways you were wronged.

I thought that book was so outstanding, when I learned that Dr. Luskin had written a book about forgiving in the context of romantic relationships, I knew I had to read it.

So much of this book rang true for me, quotes from it fill up five pages of my Sonderquotes blog (

I have come to believe, along with Dr. Luskin, that forgiveness is the essential key to a lasting marriage.

“Think about it.  The centrality of commitment in relationships is expressed through the marriage vows, which ask us to love our partners through richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, and for better and for worse until death.  That means that we promise to love them when they are not doing well, when they have failed, when life is not exactly turning out as hoped, or when we’re going through a financial reversal.  What I see in the marriage vows is a basic prescription:  if we want our relationships to last, we better be prepared to forgive.”

But Dr. Luskin doesn’t only tell us we should forgive, he also shows us how.  This book is full of wise and practical tips toward becoming a better forgiver, and thus a better lover.

As he says in the final chapter, “Both the good news and the bad news about being in a relationship is that you will get many opportunities to practice forgiveness.”

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Review of In the Ever After, by Allan B. Chinen


In the Ever After

Fairy Tales and the Second Half of Life

by Allan B. Chinen

Chiron Publications, Wilmette, Illinois, 1994.  203 pages.

I love Allan Chinen’s collections of fairy tales.  This volume deals with tales from all over the world that involve “elders” rather than the youthful protagonist going off to seek his fortune.

After presenting each fairy tale, he speaks as a psychiatrist about the insights the fairy tale gives us and the light it sheds on living the second half of life.

Fairy tales are full of wisdom.  Allan Chinen helps you see how that wisdom can apply to your life.  This is perfect for people like me who love symbols and images.  It’s fascinating how the same concepts come up in fairy tales from completely different parts of the world.

“In most familiar fairy tales, the Prince and Princess battle against terrible enemies and survive overwhelming ordeals.  Then they meet each other, marry, and live happily ever after.  And surely true love and finding one’s own kingdom represent symbolic goals for all individuals.  But much more remains of life in the “ever after,” and perhaps the most important:  restoring innocence and wonder to a world that has forgotten them.  That is the ultimate promise of elder tales, and their challenge — infusing the magic of myth and childhood into real life.”

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Review of The Prodigal’s Perspective, by Robert E. Steinkamp

The Prodigal’s Perspective

by Robert E. Steinkamp

Rejoice Marriage Ministries, 2006. 263 pages.

Of all the books from Rejoice Marriage Ministries, I think I am most encouraged by the ones Bob Steinkamp has written about his experiences as a “prodigal.”

Bob’s wife Charlyne divorced him for adultery and abuse, on the advice of her pastor.  But then her heart was convicted and she felt God was telling her not to give up on Bob, but to fast and pray for him to repent and come back to God.

At the time, he thought she was crazy.  He told her the marriage was over, and melted down his wedding ring to prove it.  He told her he was never ever coming back.

But now, twenty years later, he tells a different story.  He tells how God was working on him the entire two years that they were divorced before he finally gave in to God’s promptings and remarried his wife.

He says, “It took a long while, crisis after crisis, almost a promise of a plane crash, and even coming face to face with three visible demons in my bedroom, for me to do what the Lord desired.  Yes, I had my own ‘free will’ as people are reminding you, but it would take a book to share all the ways God used to bring my free will into alignment with His will for my life.”

This book gives a window into what happened behind the scenes while his wife was praying.  She certainly didn’t know what he was thinking at the time.  I thought this paragraph was eye-opening:

“How many times a day do you think of your absent mate?  How often does something happen that will instantly remind you of the one you love?  Rest assured that you are coming to your prodigal’s thoughts just as often.  When you were married you became one flesh, a relationship that simply cannot be dissolved at will.  Your absent mate may wish you would drop from their memory, but God will never allow that to happen.  As you stand strong, doing things God’s way, those memories in your mate’s mind will be enhanced.  Take that as fact from a man who called the other woman by his wife’s name a year after our divorce!”

Bob also reminds the reader that his transformation came from God’s work in his heart, not something that Charlyne engineered.  He urges you to give your marriage to God, but reminds you that prayers for your spouse are far more effective than you may realize at the time.

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Review of The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love, by Jill Conner Browne


The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love

A Fallen Southern Belle’s Look at Love, Life, Men, Marriage, and Being Prepared

by Jill Conner Browne

Three Rivers Press, New York, 1999.  213 pages.

Oh my goodness, the Sweet Potato Queens make me laugh!

This is the first book Jill Conner Browne wrote.  It explains the hilarious origins of the Sweet Potato Queens and some of their initial exploits.

All books about the Sweet Potato Queens are hilarious, not exactly respectful of men (at least when they don’t deserve respect), irreverent, and did I say hilarious?  Reading Jill Conner Browne brings out the queenliness in each of us and helps us laugh at ourselves and everyone else.

Tremendous fun in a way that can’t be explained.  Pick up a copy and read it yourself!

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Review of Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara


Ghosts in the House!

by Kazuno Kohara

Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2008.  28 pages.

This simple little picture book reminds me of years ago when my landlady effectively dealt with my son’s fear of ghosts by telling him that if one bothers you, to bite it on its bottom.  We decided it would taste like marshmallow.

This book presents a similarly nontraditional way of dealing with ghosts.

A little girl moves into a house that is full of ghosts, but fortunately she’s a witch and knows how to deal with them.  She catches them all, puts them in the washing machine, hangs them up to dry, and then puts them to good use all over the house.

This whole story is played out with simple language and happy, smiling faces.

There is some initial surprise when the first ghost shows up, but soon the girl says, “How lovely!  I hope there are some more!”

This is a cheerful and cozy story, showing that things people are afraid of aren’t always so scary at all.

The illustrations are creative.  It’s all in simple black and orange, with the ghosts showing up in a somewhat transparent white.

There are very few words on a page, and this would make an excellent story for very young listeners, for a friendly, reassuring, and cozy story about ghosts.

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Review of The Evangelical Universalist, by Gregory MacDonald


The Evangelical Universalist

by Gregory MacDonald

Cascade Books, Eugene Oregon, 2006.  201 pages.

Several years ago, through reading the writings of George MacDonald, I became convinced that God will save everyone, eventually.  Now I believe that this view is the most consistent interpretation of the Bible.

Gregory MacDonald’s process of coming to believe in universalism was similar to mine.  He says, “Finding arguments for universalism convincing seemed to be a major and unwelcome challenge to my orthodox faith.  I was, and remain, committed to the truth of Scripture; so I thought that I ‘knew’ universalism was not true.”

However, he began to read articles and books that presented the idea that universalism is a biblical belief.  Similar to my own process of coming to this belief, the first step was the realization that there exist some intelligent and godly people who believe that the Bible teaches that God will save everyone.  This realization opened the door to question the interpretation that he had always been taught.

His description of his change of thinking also describes exactly how it was for me:

“My ‘conversion’ to universalism was not sudden but very gradual and, at times, anxious.  Such a departure from the mainstream view of the church is not something to be rushed into.  I do not expect readers of this book to rush to embrace universalism — in some ways I would be concerned if they did.  I do however wish to sow a seed of hope.”

It may come as a surprise to those brought up in evangelical churches (such as I) that some people believe that universalism is biblical. “I hope to show that, in fact, universalism is not a major change to the tradition and that it actually enables us to hold key elements of the tradition together better than traditional doctrines of hell.”

Gregory MacDonald reminds us, “even a commitment to an inspired Bible is not a commitment to inerrant interpretations.  Reason can play a role in exposing misinterpretations of the Bible.”

How is an evangelical universalist different from an evangelical or different from other universalists?  Well, such a person does believe in hell.  However, they believe “that one’s eternal destiny is not fixed at death and, consequently, that those in hell can repent and throw themselves upon the mercy of God in Christ and thus be saved.  Second, she also believes that in the end everyone will do this.”

Gregory MacDonald takes a very intellectual approach to this topic, and concentrates on the biblical backing for this view.  If you think universalism might have merit, but don’t understand how someone could claim the Bible teaches it, this might be the book for you.

As for me, I already had come to believe that universalism makes more sense and resonates with the body of Scripture.  But like Gregory MacDonald, I am not 100% sure.  This book helped clear up some of the discrepancies that remain in my mind and helped me feel that much more secure in this belief in a God who loves everyone enough to save them.  Truly, He is mighty to save.

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Review of Breakfast Epiphanies, by David Anderson


Breakfast Epiphanies

Finding Wonder in the Everyday

by David Anderson

Beacon Press, Boston, 2002.  155 pages.

Finding God in the ordinary is a way of seeing the world.  It’s a willingness to suspect God when no other fingerprints match.  When we encounter the sublime, terrible, inexplicable, we can stop silent in our tracks and whisper the words of Jacob as he awoke from his ladder dream:  “Surely the Lord was in this place and I did not know it.”  Or we can shrug it off as a weird coincidence.

Here’s a little book of musings about everyday events and what they mean in the bigger picture.  I actually read this book over breakfast, one short chapter per day.

A nice opportunity to stop and think for a moment, instead of simply letting life rush past.

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Review of Your Life in Christ, by George MacDonald


Your Life in Christ

The Nature of God and His Work in Human Hearts

by George MacDonald

edited by Michael Phillips

Bethany House, 2005.  261 pages.

I love George MacDonald’s writings.  His deep and abiding love for the Father shine through, and his encouragement is inspiring.

Here’s another collection of his writings compiled by Michael Phillips.  This book contains selections only from his nonfiction, with commentary on each passage from Michael Phillips.

Here are some quotations that blessed me from this book:

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