Tag Archives: faith

Review: Risking Rest, by Carolyn J. Watts

Book cover: Risking Rest: Embracing God's Love Through Life's Uncertainties, by Carolyn Watts

Risking Rest: Embracing God’s Love Through Life’s Uncertainties, by Carolyn J. Watts (hope*books, 2023)

The best memoirs let us experience something of the writer’s world but also invite us to apply some of the life lessons to our own hearts, however different our circumstances.

Risking Rest is a memoir in two parts, linked by the imagery of pregnancy and birth from Dr. Carolyn Watts’ obstetrics training. The first two-thirds of the book revisit her brief years serving in a medical mission to Afghanistan’s “hidden women” in a remote village. A sensitive soul with an as-yet-undiagnosed illness that taxed her body, she nonetheless proved wrong the assessing psychologist’s declaration that she’d never make it—never make meaningful connections there.

For North Americans, this glimpse into the harsh beauty of rural Afghanistan and its courageous women will help us better appreciate the needs. And it helps us see some of what these women have since lost under the restrictive Taliban regime.

For non-medical readers, the narrative of serving 24/7 with never enough staff—or heat!—and while working in a language not their own is the stuff of heroes. But Carolyn Watts is quick to deny the heroic—they served because the need was great, even when exhaustion wore their compassion thin and government officials threatened to shut them down.

In the middle of this intense season, Carolyn wrestled with Jesus’ invitation to rest: “How did ‘my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ mesh with words about taking up your cross and sharing in Christ’s sufferings? [Page 128]”

She describes feeling a strong call from God to this part of Afghanistan, and that call kept her focused through the hard times—until her deteriorating health brought her back to Canada.

Enter part two of the memoir, learning to let go of the first calling—to focus on the One who gave the call and who was now giving a new call: to be cradled in His love and to learn that weakness could be a gift.

When the outward things that define you are stripped away, who are you?

Favourite lines:

…the One who brings life into being in us, tending it gently and with great skill, is little worried about the mess of the process. [Page 12]

Cling not to the call but to the One who called. [Page 166]

There are times grace hurts. [Page 167]

Risking Rest is a transparently vulnerable account of one Christian’s lifelong desire to grow closer to God. Each chapter opens with a heart-warming Scripture pointing to how she experienced God’s care even in the hard places. The book concludes with some practical and personal questions to help readers consider their own faith journeys and how they might apply the same lessons for themselves.

Dr. Carolyn Watts is a Canadian writer and blogger. You can find her at Hearing the Heartbeat, which she describes as, “Listening together to God’s heart and making our home in Christ’s love.” I highly recommend subscribing to follow her hope-filled blog posts. To view the trailer for Risking Rest or to download a free chapter, visit hearingtheheartbeat.com/risking-rest.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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99-cent Ebook preorder!

99-cent Ebook preorder! And not for the book you were expecting!

I don’t do 99-cent preorders anymore.

So why am I doing one for this book?

And what book is it, if it’s not the next Green Dory Inn mystery?

Announcing the Expanded Anniversary Edition of Heaven’s Prey,
now with 6 new chapters + prologue.

Expanded Anniversary Edition of Heaven's Prey preorder sale: ebook 99 cents. Ends Nov. 1/23.

So, why 99 cents? I hope many of my followers have read the earlier version. Why should I ask you to pay full price for a story when you know how it turns out?

For that matter, why suggest you buy it at all? 

How about those 6 extra chapters I mentioned? Plus the prologue.

If you’ve been with me awhile, you may have noticed my books combine mystery/suspense with a strong serving of Christian women’s fiction. It took time for me to discern the pattern, and by then Heaven’s Prey was already out there in the world. It’s not completely lacking in that aspect, but I had cut out the first part of Ruth’s story before submitting it to the publisher.

Last year, I reread the book. Reached the end, and started asking, “What about this part? Or this one? I didn’t see them anywhere.” And I realized they deepen who Ruth is. And they match my pattern of blending the mystery/suspense with Christian women’s fiction.

They also give readers the opportunity to walk with a Christian who’s grieving. Who’s angry. Whose faith shakes but ultimately stands. 

You know what? That’s me some days. And I suspect it’s you too. So let’s start the story with “everyday” Ruth. Before she becomes the prayer warrior God sends like Ezekiel to call a wicked man to repentance. 

May we never encounter a person with this depth of evil. And yet, may we trust our God and rely on His faithfulness to carry us through whatever paths He brings us into.

If Heaven’s Prey is new to you, be aware the subject matter is darker and more intense than my later books and comes with a content warning. The villain is a serial rapist-murderer. Not a nice man. But he’s a soul in need of salvation.

Not for you? I get it. I couldn’t read something like this if I hadn’t written it (because I know what does and doesn’t happen). Even so, it took a long time to write because I’d tiptoe through scenes and have to go back and deepen them. 

If you can, please pick up a copy and consider leaving a review to raise visibility. If you can’t, please share with any friends who read darker fiction.

The print book will release later in November, but the ebook 99-cent preorder sale ends November 1. The buy links are collected here: books2read.com/heavens-prey-special.

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Short-listed for an Award!

Text: Short-listed for The Word Awards! Cover art: Bitter Truth
More text: descriptors of the book, including "mystery-suspense meets Christian women's fiction"
Available on all digital platforms and in print on Amazon. Click for buy links.

Short-listed in The Word Awards 2023. Finalist in the Angel Book Awards 2022.

Attempted murder. A hostile rescuer. And an amateur sleuth’s vow to catch the attacker before he strikes again.

Against all odds, Landon Smith and her ordinary-hero neighbour Bobby Hawke survived a murderous plot six weeks ago. Now, she’s determined to leave solving mysteries to the experts—like handsome local police officer Dylan Tremblay.

But when her friend Ciara is nearly killed in a daring daylight attack, Landon can’t sit this out. Not when she knows the anger of being a victim.

Her faith tells her to leave room for God’s vengeance. Her heart says to retaliate.

The fight to expose Ciara’s enemy will uncover secrets and betrayal that could cost Landon her life.

Discussion questions included. If you like clean mystery/suspense and Christian women’s fiction, read Bitter Truth today! Buy link: books2read.com/bitter-truth.

Windswept Way, by Irene Hannon (Review)

I’m joining the First Line Friday link-up again, hosted by Carrie at Reading is My Superpower. Today’s book is Windswept Way, by Irene Hannon.

And the first line is…

Maybe buying a haunted house wasn’t her best idea.

Book cover: Windswept Way, by Irene Hannon

Windswept Way, by Irene Hannon (Revell, 2023)

The chance at a partnership with the reclusive owner of a mysterious cliffside mansion brings Ashley Scott to the Oregon coast with the goal of establishing it as a premiere wedding destination.

The historic house is well maintained and stocked with period furniture. Transforming the grounds falls to local landscaper Jonathan Gray and his crew. Physically and emotionally scarred from the near-fatal explosion that ended his military service, Jon has come to the remote village of Hope Harbor to live a simple life and hide from gawkers.

Built by a lumber baron for his bride, the house’s subsequent tragic history led to rumours of haunting. But this isn’t a paranormal book, despite the isolated setting and the fog that creeps in. It’s a story of realistic, likeable people.

Filled with characters readers will embrace, this gentle story of second chances invites us to step out from any protective boundaries we may have allowed circumstances to construct around us. Sometimes secondary appear to have divine insight in what to say, especially Charley the taco truck owner. When God wants to get our attention, we’ll often meet His message at every turn. Fiction usually avoids this but when you’re looking for a heart-warming read with a comforting, almost fairy-tale feel, it’s a good fit. 

Windswept Way is my first taste of Irene Hannon’s Hope Harbor series. It’s book 9 and now I’d like to pick up book 1. Linked by place, each novel seems to feature different core characters and a fair dose of feel-good serendipity. Fans of Davis Bunn’s Miramar Bay series will enjoy the Hope Harbor series, and vice versa. The main difference I see is the Hope Harbor books have a strong faith thread where Miramar Bay is clean mainstream.

Irene Hannon is a bestselling, award-winning author of over 60 books, both romance and romantic suspense. For more about the author and her work, visit irenehannon.com.

[Review copy from the public library via Hoopla Digital.]

Want to play?

Leave a comment with the first line of the book closest to you, and then click on the image below to visit more First Line Friday participants!

Stacked books with text: "First Line Friday"
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Review: Making Room in Advent: 25 Devotions for a Season of Wonder, by Bette Dickinson

Making Room in Advent: 25 Devotions for a Season of Wonder, by Bette Dickinson (IVP, 2022)

Meditative artwork, Scripture, and a brief devotional followed by reflective questions and short “breath prayers” to repeat through the day make this book a special part of Advent—or at least December 1-25, since the season of Advent usually begins in November.

The Bible verses come from Luke 1 and 2, highlighting the key figures: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna.

Making Room in Advent became a favourite part of each day for me, bringing quiet, calm, and pages of journalled response. I missed the benefit of the brief daily prayers by not taking time to write them down and keep them in view to include in my day.

The art in this book is lovely, restful, and thought-provoking. A paper copy of the book would be ideal, although I found reading the ebook on a tablet gave me a large enough view of each image. I don’t know how effective it would be on a smartphone.

Highly recommended for anyone desiring a meaningful collection of devotionals leading up to Christmas—although it could benefit readers any time of the year.

Bette Dickinson is a prophetic artist, a writer, and a speaker. To learn more about her, visit bettedickinson.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Joy that Renews, by Steve Akerson

Cover of Joy that Renews: A devotional from Psalms to refresh your life every day, by Steve Akerson.

Joy that Renews, by Steve Akerson (River Birch Press, 2021)

These devotions brim with infectious joy and confident trust in our Lord.

Taking one verse from each of the Bible’s 150 psalms, Joy that Renews invites readers to grow deeper in their relationship with God. The daily devotionals focus on God’s goodness and love and on themes like living in freedom, thankfulness, and listening to God. Although the Psalms were written many years before Christ, they contain much that points to Jesus.

Each day’s reading begins with a title, a one-line summary, and then the Scripture, a brief application, and a heartfelt response. The conversational, transparent style makes for easy reading and relatability. The author uses The Passion Translation, which puts oft-familiar verses in a fresh light.

Anyone familiar with the psalms as a whole is aware that they’re not all light and jubilant. Some are laments, and some groan with deep pain and affliction. One of the points Steve Akerson draws from these heavier psalms is that “You will always have a big choice in your life—either to focus on your problems or on God’s goodness. That choice will make a tremendous difference in the quality of your life and on those around you.” [Day 22, “Chased by Goodness,” Hoopla edition page 61]

And “It is good for you to praise Him, even if your praise is accompanied by tears and sorrows.” [Day 31, “Turn Distress Upside Down,” Hoopla edition page 77]

I appreciate how, whatever the circumstances, this book turns the focus back to God and His goodness. This helps strengthen our faith and leads us into worship. I also appreciate the encouragement to listen to God with expectancy—the more we train our spiritual ears to recognize His voice, the closer we’ll walk with Him. Or, as Day 110, “Listen—God is Talking,” says, “His words will bring richness to your soul.” [Hoopla edition page 253]

These daily readings blessed me, and I’ll be marking Joy that Renews as a book to read again. The book is also available in print and digital format from many online venues.

Author Steve Akerson is one of the Prayer Team leaders at Hosanna Church in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. For more about the author and his book, and to request the free study guide that accompanies it, visit joythatrenews.com.

[Review copy from Hoopla.]

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Review: Holding On When You Want to Let Go, by Sheila Walsh

Cover art: Holding On When You WAnt to Let Go, by Sheila Walsh

Holding On When You Want to Let Go, by Sheila Walsh (Baker Books, 2021)

Subtitled “Clinging to Hope When Life is Falling Apart,” this book takes a candid and compassionate look at the struggles that can make us want to let go and give up. And it takes a clear-eyed look at the God who holds us in His care even when life really does seem to be falling apart.

Each chapter opens with a verse of Scripture and a relevant quote. The first five address the main things that threaten to overwhelm us: feeling like life’s out of control, feeling alone, when God is silent, when we’re afraid, and when we’ve messed up.

This is an easy to read, conversational-style book that feels a little bit like we’re sitting with the author over coffee. Sheila Walsh doesn’t write “down” to us in an instructorly way. Instead, her personal stories and those she shares from others prove she has the credibility to write about this. She’s been there, and is still there, just as we are. But she’s learned some solid strategies to keep holding on.

Those strategies are the focus of the second half of the book: learning to focus on the God who is holding us. We read about His promises, His character, and he amazing things He has done for us. The invitation is to actually let go… and to be held by the One who won’t let go.

Favourite lines:

I still felt like that five-year-old girl who was afraid of being known. What if someone saw the crack in my soul. [page 78]

The simple act of thanksgiving reminds us that God is with us and that He is in control. [page 103]

If life is making you feel like letting go or if you just want a little reassurance, this book can be a helpful resource. I love how it keeps pointing back to God and to His Word.

Sheila Walsh is an author, speaker, and teacher who I first discovered in my younger years through her music. Scottish-born, she makes her home in the US. For more about the author and her ministry, visit sheilawalsh.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Is It Trust or Denial? (Guest Post)

Pink tulips with text "Trust v Denial"
Image by Ralf Kunze from Pixabay
Image by Ralf Kunze from Pixabay

Is It Trust or Denial?

by Steph Beth Nickel

Do people who always seem at peace with whatever life may throw at them drive you crazy?

(Psst, that’s a rhetorical question. You don’t have to share your answer. Maybe not so rhetorical actually … since you probably should answer it for yourself.)

Let me transport you back in time three decades or so. When I was a brand new mom, my family and I moved to a new city.

There were members in our new church home who were going through what I then considered unimaginable hardships, including one family whose young son had succumbed to cancer. As the mother of a two-and-a-half-month-old baby boy, I couldn’t imagine why God would bless a family with a child and then take that child away.

Oh, I could recite the cliches! But I didn’t know any of them to be true—not deep down in my heart.

As time went by and I got to know some of these people better, I realized they weren’t just spouting platitudes but actually trusted that God knew what was best—even when their situation was difficult and heartbreaking.

Trust, especially trust in the God of All Comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3), is a remarkable and precious thing.

But what we think is trust can actually be denial, a squashing of our feelings, doubts, and fears.

This summer, my second son is getting married. Because of COVID, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be able to attend the ceremony. (He and his bride-to-be live two provinces away.)

I’ve braced myself for this pretty much since Joshua informed me that he and Ericka had set a date. Still, it was more with a sense of fatalism than acceptance that I dealt with the reality of the situation.

And then, one day, I decided to be completely honest with myself. While I may have locked away my emotions, it didn’t mean they weren’t there. It didn’t mean that, if I gave them permission, the tears wouldn’t fall. It didn’t mean that I was truly accepting that God knows best in this, and every, circumstance.

COVID has taken many lives, and my heart goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one or is facing an ongoing battle with this horrific virus.

But, as we all know, COVID has struck a fatal blow in other areas as well—job security, relationships, our peace of mind, and on and on and on.

There’s no denying it.

And yet, there is light in the darkness, hope in the despair, trust in the denial.

But the way to find real peace is not by denying the struggles we face—physical, emotional, and spiritual.

We don’t need to cling to platitudes or cliches.

We don’t need to deny how we feel—or that we’ve locked away our emotions.

We don’t need to paste on a happy face and pretend we’re a-okay.

But if we want to come to the place of authentic trust, we must press in and get to know the God of All Comfort better than we ever have before.

That’s what I plan to do. How about you?

Steph Beth Nickel
Steph Beth Nickel
Photo credit: Jaime Mellor Photography

Steph Beth Nickel is a freelance editor and writer and an author. If you would like more information about her services, you can contact her at stephbethnickelediting@gmail.com.

You’re invited to visit her website: http://stephbethnickeleditor.com/.

You can join her Editing Tips Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/418423519384351.

Review: Letters to the Church, by Francis Chan

Letters to the Church, by Francis Chan (David C Cook, 2018)

I’ve read some impactful Christian nonfiction this year, but this book may be the most crucial.

Francis Chan writes here with a gentle, prayer-steeped tone, knowing some of what he has to say can sound hard and may be misused.

He actually pleads with readers not to use his words to berate leaders who may not be doing the best they could. And he confesses those times he’s been where some of those leaders may be. (He does warn readers who discover they’re in a church with false teaching to find a Bible-based church right away!)

So now you’re wondering what kind of book this is. It’s the result of the author’s study of what church looked like in the Book of Acts and what it looks like in other parts of the world today.

He challenges readers to “slow down long enough to marvel” [page 5] about Who God is and who we are in Him, advising, “don’t try to solve the mystery; just stare at it.” [page 7]

Chapters address wonder, pleasing God first, prayer, leadership, suffering, attitudes, and more. The focus is on simplifying, going back to the Gospel basics, and developing into an intimate capital-C Church family. The model is house churches, but it has plenty of insights and challenges that readers can apply in established building-based churches as well.

Favourite lines:

Remember it’s not about what I would like, what others would like, or what “works.” Church is for Him. [page 150]

My hope is that you will refuse to take the easy route. You need to care about His Church enough to fast and pray. You must believe you play a necessary role in the Church. [page 151]

One of the key takeaways is that each member of the church has a role to fulfill and that everyone working together is the church. The shepherds are to be training up other shepherds, not raising complacent sheep.

Francis Chan built and shepherded a megachurch in California before God called him and his family to missions in various parts of Asia. At the time of this book’s publication they were back in the United States, planting and growing house churches as part of wearechurch.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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In Search of Joy and Wisdom (Guest Post)

Red heart with a puzzle piece missing.
Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

In Search of Joy and Wisdom

by Steph Beth Nickel

In the English Standard Version, James 1:2-5 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

I can almost guarantee we’re all going through a trial of some description. Thankfully, as believers, we can cling to the promises in this passage.

It won’t be easy. And the full effect of steadfastness won’t happen overnight, but we can rest assured that God will be with us each step of the way. And I need that assurance right now. How about you?

In the early days, COVID-19 exacerbated my tendency to procrastinate to a full-on “What’s the use?” attitude.

With God’s help, I pushed through … although I still have a tendency to put things off. However, I no longer believe my efforts to forge ahead are essentially futile.

And then George Floyd and the racial divide spotlighting the need for God-honouring forgiveness and reconciliation.

In Ontario, churches have been allowed to reopen with restrictions. You would think this would be a cause for celebration, that we would delight in the opportunity to be together again. And while that’s the case to a certain extent, we are witnessing everything from those staying away because of fear to those who think we should completely disregard the governments directives.

We have come to realize we don’t know one another as well as we thought.

Enter social media. Facebook, in particular, has become a place where we hurt one another because of the hurt we’ve been carrying, the hurt that those who attend church with us may not be aware of.

Enter, once again, the “What’s the use?” mindset.

Why would I explain myself? What good would it do?

Why would I share my perspective with that particular person? Their mind is already made up.

Why would I voice my opinion? It will only cause an argument.

Or the other extreme …

Why shouldn’t I voice my opinion? I want to start a conversation. (Sadly, this “conversation” often devolves into something completely emotion-driven and just causes more hurt—especially if posted online.)

After 35+ years in the same church, I have seen countless hurts and disagreements. Those are unavoidable. I get that.

But what do you do when one person you love and care about wounds another but you haven’t witnessed it firsthand?

You want to submit to authority.

You don’t want to cause division.

But you believe we, as the body of Christ, could be more than this, more genuine, more authentic, more loving.

I long for the day when beloved brothers and sisters don’t simply disappear into the night as it were.

However, in all this, I must cling to James 1, trusting God to work it all out not only for me but also for all those involved.

When we face trials and heartbreak, we can count on God’s promises.

When we just don’t know what to do or say, we can ask for wisdom and trust Him to provide it.

It may be cliché, but “God’s got this!” And boy, am I glad!

Tweetables:

The full effect of steadfastness won’t happen overnight. (click to tweet)

God will be with us each step of the way. (click to tweet)

What do you do when one person you love and care about wounds another? (click to tweet)

When we face trials and heartbreak, we can count on God’s promises. (click to tweet)

When we just don’t know what to do or say, we can ask for wisdom and trust God to provide it. (click to tweet)

Steph Beth Nickel
Steph Beth Nickel
Photo credit: Jaime Mellor Photography

Steph Beth Nickel is a freelance editor and writer and an author. If you would like more information about her services, you can contact her at stephbethnickelediting@gmail.com.

You’re invited to visit her website: http://stephbethnickeleditor.com/.

You can join her Editing Tips Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/418423519384351.