The Moment of Lift (Book Review)

I recently finished reading The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates. Before choosing it as an audiobook, I had no real idea what it was about; I wanted to be able to join the bookish community in conversation about it.

Sometimes it’s a good thing to have zero expectations about a book. In this case, I was completely unprepared for the powerful, positive message that this book contains. Melinda alternated between writing about research and sharing stories of women around the world.

My eyes were opened to the gender bias and inequality that persists in the U.S. even in 2019. In first-world countries like the U.S., it has taken women millennia to get where we are today and we still have a way to go. Women in developing nations suffer much more extreme gender bias and inequality every day of their lives.

But this book is filled with stories of women who changed their circumstances by challenging those in authority and standing up for themselves and their children.

Melinda is clearly a woman in a position of wealth, privilege, and power, but she also possesses humility, a willingness to learn and change, and an awareness of the dangers associated with wealthy people trying to do good. I was surprised by her down-to-earth manner. I think listening to her narrate her own book made it much more personal. And she is a really good narrator; I am super picky about voices, but hers is just right for listening.

As a person of faith (she is Catholic), Melinda takes into account the Bible’s words about serving the poor and being a voice for those who cannot speak up for themselves. She travels the world and spends time with the poorest, most marginalized people, which I was impressed by, and which is certainly Christ-like. But as much as her and Bill’s charitable foundation impacts the lives of others, she has been impacted and changed by them as well.

In case you were wondering, this isn’t a book that puts down men in any way, or that preaches that women should be above men. The book has a respectful tone toward everyone: man, woman, child, rich, and poor. Instead this book is about women taking their places alongside men in every area of life. And the message woven throughout the book is about love as the missing link, as the needed element that can heal social ills.

The Moment of Lift will challenge you, educate you, surprise you, break your heart for the suffering of others, and, yes, it will lift your spirit! I hope you put it on your TBR list and read this important book very soon. I’d love to hear what you think when you read it!

Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man (Book Review)

We live in a world that makes a fuss over men who run around chasing each other and throwing balls for a living. We make idols of surgically-enhanced actors or actresses in superhero constumes or singers who leave their pants at home when they perform. We love spectacle. We love drama. We love obnoxious, outrageous behavior. But, much of the time, the true heroes are those who live out of the limelight, serving their fellow humans every day with whatever resources they have.

The book Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man by Anne-Sophie Constant is the story of a true hero. Jean Vanier was a hero to all the people whose lives he touched through his love, kindness, and practical care. He was a man who quietly lived to serve people whom society would call “the least of these”. He saw each person inside the disability or deformity that would send most of us running in the opposite direction. He saw their worth, and even, their beauty.

Jean was not planning to spend his adult life in this way: he had been in the navy, then lived a very religious life of meditation and prayer, and, for a short time, as a professor.

What changed him was a visit to a care home for those with intellectual disabilities and his interactions with two of the men there. “I heard this mute cry…a cry inviting me to be their friend.” After that visit, he couldn’t stop thinking about those people. So he began to visit the places where disabled people were kept and he was appalled by the miserable conditions in which they lived.

Jean decided to purchase a small house and invite some of the disabled men to live with him. At this point he had no financial plan to support them, but acted out of the impulse of love. And just by being willing to take the first step and reach out to those in need, the rest of what was needed followed. People volunteered to serve, a board of directors was formed, Jean chose the name “L’Arche”, and they began a life of community, of family, in this little home in Trosley in the North of France.

What began as a way to serve the needs of a handful of people with disabilities flourished into a worldwide movement. Today there are 154 L’Arche communities worldwide on 5 continents. When I visited the L’Arche website, with all those beautiful faces, my respect grew even more for Jean Vanier and his life of love and service.

I highly recommend this book, which will be published on August 4th, to those who want to read about people who really made a difference in the world and whose legacy continues to change lives after they’ve passed on. Jean Vanier’s life made a difference to many and will continue to do so for years to come.

I received a free e-galley from Net Galley, but all opinions are completely my own.

She’s My Dad (Book Review)

I have to be honest: when the invitation to read this e-galley popped up in my inbox, my very first reaction was that I wasn’t interested. Why? For the boring reason that I don’t know anyone who has transitioned gender, so I didn’t think it was something I needed to read.

My next thoughts countered my initial reaction: I needed to become a more diverse reader. I needed to read more books that were completely outside of my personal experience and outside of my comfort zone. I needed books that challenged my pre-conceived ideas, my natural aversions to certain subjects, my tendency to read about subjects I felt familiar with. So I accepted the invitation to read She’s My Dad: A Father’s Transition and a Son’s Redemption by Jonathan Williams with Paula Stone Williams.

Right away, I realized I did have something in common with the author and his father. They came from an Evangelical, non-denominational church culture that took the Bible as objective truth and considered it the Word of God. This was the culture I was steeped in my whole life until just a few years ago.

This culture said they loved the LGBTQIA community, but because of a handful of Biblical passages, considered the queer lifestyle sinful and wouldn’t allow anyone in the LGBTQIA community to join the church, serve in the church, be baptized, etc. Does that sound like love to you? Nope, I didn’t think so.

This story is centered around an Evangelical thirty-something pastor, Jonathan, and his dad, Paul (also a pastor). Paul comes out to his family and tells them he’s a woman. He changes his name to Paula, begins hormone therapy, and begins to act and dress as a woman: hair, makeup, clothing, etc. He loses his job as a pastor and has to start his life over.

Although the book is interspersed with a few chapters from Paula’s perspective, it is mainly about how Jonathan, as a son, deals with his father’s gender transition, both internally and externally.

He has to grapple with the grief, anger, denial, and the decision whether or not to accept his father as woman. He has to deal with the effects of the rejection his father experiences once his transition becomes public. He has to decide what to do about the church network he’s a part of that does not welcome gay or transgender people. He has to look at the Bible in new ways and think long and hard about theology that he has always believed to be true.

As so often happens when I read or listen to the story of the “other”, someone who seems so different from me, I discovered common ground. In addition to growing up in a similar church culture, I also experienced rejection from the church as a result of my decision to divorce. Whether it was letters and “return to God” messages or the “Great Silence” that accompanied disapproval, disappointment, and an ineptitude for dealing with someone who stepped out of the box, I experienced rejection as well, although on a much less dramatic level than Paula and Jonathan.

I am glad my better nature won the day I was deciding whether to read this book. It has been helpful for me to learn about gender transition and to think about how much of the Christian church has failed to show love, humility, and grace to those it doesn’t have a doctrinal box for. And how parts of the church are showing up and just loving people no matter what. I’m grateful that Jonathan shared the journey of how he dealt with his dad’s transition. If you are interested in transgender issues in the Evangelical church, I recommend She’s My Dad by Jonathan Williams.

This Is Marketing by Seth Godin (Book Review)

I don’t have a business degree and have never taken a marketing course in college. Everything I learn has been through podcasts, books, articles, blog posts, and a few videos on Lynda or Linked In Learning, as it’s now called.

Seth Godin’s books have been invaluable to me over the past eight years since I discovered him online. His insight, encouragement, and knack for getting to the core of each idea he talks or writes about has been invaluable in my actual everyday life, before I started a business.

When I was a stay-at-home homeschooling mother I read Seth’s books and blog. His message about “work that matters” has always inspired me. I’m an INFJ, so doing work that matters is pretty much as important as breathing. On page 14 of his latest book, This is Marketing, Seth Godin writes:

“Marketing is the act of making change happen”.

And he shows us how we can use the principles of marketing to share our meaningful work with the world and bring about change. All through this book, and, indeed, all of Seth’s work, you will hear him talk about doing “work that matters for people who care” and that we, as marketers, are meant to serve people and add value.

This is not the way marketing was seen in the past. It is no longer considered a good marketing practice to selfishly demand that people (who don’t know us) give us their time and attention as we try to sell them something. Instead, we are to start by showing up consistently, bringing our best to people, and serving them.

Then, if we earn their trust and we become part of a “tribe” or community of people who share interests, we can offer what we have. And they might actually choose to listen to our message and, possibly, to buy from us. One very important point Seth makes in Chapter 20 “Organizing and Leading a Tribe” is this:The tribe doesn’t belong to you, so you don’t get to tell the members what to do or to use them for your own aims.” (p. 230)

I hear a lot about “building your tribe” and “growing your followers on social” from successful influencers, but Seth is right: if you are lucky enough to have a group of people who want to listen to you, that’s great! But you don’t own that community–you are there to serve them, not use them.

I’m jumping around a bit, but Chapter 9, “People Like Us Do Things Like This” is about people’s desire to fit in and their perception of status. Seth explains why it is so difficult to bring about change. I found this chapter super helpful to understand why marketing can be so difficult.

Chapter 10 is about the creation of tension, as a marketer, in order to bring about forward motion, and, thus, the change we want to make. He explains “pattern match” and “pattern interrupt”. This was helpful in understanding what to do about the resistance people have to change.

Other valuable and practical insights can be found in his chapters “A Better Business Plan”, “The Funnel”, and “Status, Dominance, and Affiliation”.

I always appreciate the generosity with which Seth shares his wisdom and the clear way he explains marketing principles so that anyone can comprehend them. Throughout the book, just like in everything else he shares with the world, Seth’s message is about being generous and doing your best work. Not perfect work, just your best. And then ship it. And then tomorrow you can make it better.

If you’re an entrepreneur, small business owner, or involved with marketing in any organization, including non-profits, you need to read this book. Buy it here or at your favorite bookstore or borrow it from your local library, but definitely put it on your TBR list! Oh and one final book nerd note: at 5.3 inches by 7.3 inches, the size of this book feels just right to hold in my hands.

There are Amazon affiliate links in this post. This means if you choose to make a purchase through a link, the cost to you is nothing extra, but I will receive a small compensation. This helps me pay for the costs associated with running this blog, as I am determined to keep my blog ad-free (you’re welcome!).

Nocturnal (Book Review)

This is a very short review of a new poetry collection by Wilder Poetry.

Nocturnal was the first poetry collection from Wilder Poetry that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. It is an achingly beautiful work of art. The emotional intensity of the poems are juxtaposed with calming black and white watercolor-type imagery of the moon in its phases, birds, trees, and other nature-related things.

The poetic themes seem to be centered around the poet’s identity and the euphoria, misery and pain of love in its highs and lows. Her voice sounds quite youthful and should appeal to readers in their teens and twenties. Readers of the poetry of Atticus should enjoy this collection very much! Grandparents, this would be a great gift for a teen or twenty something book-loving grandchild.

Here are a couple of poems:

how to handle me with care:

forgive;

then show me how

to do the same.

I will hold the colour gold

in my hands and show you

how beautiful this life can be

even when your eyes have forgotten

how to see the light.

the sun will always find its way back to you,

just like me.

I received a free e-galley through Net Galley, but all opinions are strictly my own.

Planting Native (A Book Review)

Here in the Northeastern part of the United States in April, we haven’t planted our gardens yet. But we are cleaning up our and gardens and preparing them for planting. We are buying shrubs and trees and perennials too. If you are wondering what to plant, PLEASE think about birds before you do. Are you investing in plants that are native to your area? Birds need native plants to thrive and if you already know this, hooray!!! But if not, and you live in the Eastern part of the U.S., this book might be just what you need to help you choose plants for your yard!

The book I’m recommending is called Planting Native to Attract Birds to Your Yard by Sharon Sorenson. What I love about this book are several things: The photos of birds and native plants are gorgeous, the quotes by naturalists sprinkled throughout the text are inspiring, and the facts that are highlighted bring perspective, importance, and responsibility to us as property owners.

Another thing I like about this book is that in chapters 1-3, the author explains EVERYTHING–even down to a definition of what a native plant is (not a weed!) She doesn’t simply say “birds need native plants for shelter, nests, and food”, but explains how birds use the plants for shelter, nests, and food, and why it’s so crucial that we have them in our yards.

Did you know that native plants are actually less work and less expensive to care for than non-native plants? They don’t need fertilizer, and they rarely need watering, pruning, or deadheading either!

In Chapter 4, the author helps us to formulate a plan for our yard and garden spaces, by analyzing what is already in our yard and neighborhood. We make a list of assets and liabilities. She also includes a list of invasive plants named “The Disaster Dozen”. She shares why they are such a problem, how to get rid of them, and what to replace them with.

She goes on to have ample suggestions for what to plant in any size space. Chapter 5 is dedicated to Native Trees with consideration of biodiversity, soil conditions, space, personal preference, and more! Chapter 6 is all about Native Shrubs and Vines and she has you choose one for each season. (I would’ve never thought of this!) Chapter 7 is Native Perennials: Flowers and Grasses, and finally, Chapter 8 discusses Adding Water.

So, if you are a property owner, gardener, landscaper, or bird lover, I highly recommend that you order this book here or from your favorite bookseller!

From Red Earth (Book Review)

I knew when I saw the cover of Denise Uwimana’s book From Red Earth: A Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness that it would be a weighty read. Although I’ve heard missionaries talk about the Rwandan genocide, of the hateful, horrible violence and desolation the small East African country experience, it was only in general overviews. I’ve never read the first-hand account of someone who survived it, and even more incredible–someone who has been able to forgive the perpetrators of these horrific crimes.

Having read many Christian biographies and autobiographies to my kids during the years we homeschooled, I was pleasantly surprised to find this book is as well-written and captivating as a good novel.

The author does such a wonderful job describing her surroundings in the town of Bugarama, creating a sense of danger and foreboding, and she vividly recounted her childhood in such a way that I was transported through the story along with her. And even more importantly, I quickly felt a sense of connection with her.

Denise’s personal thoughts and feelings, that she generously shared with readers throughout the book, gave a beauty and individuality to the story, and invested me as a reader.

What she, and the Tutsi people of Rwanda experienced during the hundred days of genocide is unimaginable, horrible violence, pain, and grief. The fact that the international community did nothing to stop it is unthinkable and shameful. The descriptions of barbaric, hateful atrocities that humans committed against fellow humans are difficult to read, to take in, but necessary to remember in the hopes of preventing history repeating itself.

The second half of the book focuses on what happened after the violence. Denise wrote how she and the people who survived began to process what had been done to them and to their loved ones. So much grief, pain, anger, and hopelessness permeated their hearts and minds. Many had no home, no family, no land and seemingly, no future.

As time passed, Denise gradually found healing and was miraculously able to forgive her enemies. She began working to help other survivors to find healing. Eventually, this became her full-time work: to help widows of the genocide toward recovery and restoration.

I believe everyone should know what happened in Rwanda, even those of us who live far away and may never visit. We need to be reminded of the cruelty that is possible in humanity, and that we are not immune to it no matter how much we think we are.

Reading this book provides us with a first-hand account of the Rwandan genocide; more importantly, though, the message of hope, healing, and restoration that shines through this story is one that the world also needs to hear. I highly recommend this book!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Plough Publishing, but all opinions are completely my own!

What I’m Reading Lately

I have a stack of my own To-Be-Read books and an even taller stack waiting for me at the library, but I am only reading four at the moment. I just noticed that that three out of four authors are of Irish heritage…interesting!

Although I’ve been reading Colm Toibin’s The Master for several nights, I didn’t realize until last night that it’s about Henry James. It is beautiful: poetic and imaginative, and told by a true Irish storyteller. Have you had the opportunity to read anything by this author? Last year, I read his book Nora Webster and fell in love with the characters, the Irish landscape and style of speaking, the sad story, and her strong, surviving spirit.

David Whyte‘s The Heart Aroused has been on my unread bookshelf for a few years. Since it’s about corporate America, and I don’t have any experience in that arena, at first glance it seems a bit irrelevant to my life. But since I love all of David Whyte’s writing–poetry and prose–and once I dug into it, I realized the message is for all of us. The subtitle is “Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America”. David works with large companies, focusing on “the conversational nature of leadership. If you haven’t already, listen to his TED Talk “A Lyrical Bridge Between the Past, Present, and Future”.

John O Donahue left this world too soon. A friend of David Whyte’s, everything he wrote was pointing his readers toward beauty, imagination, curiosity, and wonder. His book Walking in Wonder was published posthumously and contains talks he gave. I don’t want to miss one word this man left for us! However, if you like his work, then read my favorite book of his Beauty: The Invisible Embrace .

This is Marketing is Seth Godin’s latest book and everything he writes is something every business owner, entrepreneur, and worker in today’s economy needs to read. Seth has always thought and spoken outside the box and his ideas might take a while too assimilate. He speaks much on generosity, doing good work, picking yourself, and shipping your work ( as opposed to perfectionistic procrastination.)

The Heart’s Necessities (Book Review)

I recently finished reading The Heart’s Necessities: Life in Poetry by Jane Tyson Clement and Becca Stevens. It shares the story of Jane Tyson Clement’s life, which was woven throughout with poetry.

She began writing poems as a teenager, and that is the way she seemed to best express herself. As a young woman, she married, had children, and, for a season, moved from the States to a Bruderhof community in South America. Jane was a lively teacher and a loving wife and mother, who always had poems singing through her head and heart. Her poetry was wound up in Nature and in the intricacies of her daily life.

Becca Stevens is a songwriter who has been influenced by Jane’s poems and wanted to share these quiet and beautiful gems with the world. She wrote the book with a chapter on Jane’s life, interspersed with snippets of poetry, lovely photos of nature, several poems at the end of each chapter, followed by Becca’s reflections on Jane’s life and poetry.

Like many other offerings from Plough Publishing, this book would make a wonderful gift for a poetry lover or songwriter, or for anyone longing for a glimpse at how the ordinary life is transformed through poetry. It will be released on April 22 and you can preorder it here.

Engineering A Life (Book Reviews)

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As you head off to work or to your home office this Monday morning, you may feel the need of some motivation. The following is a short book review of a highly inspirational true story. 

Krishan Bedi is someone I admire. He came, as a young man, to the Southern U.S. during the early 1960s with the purpose of obtaining a degree in engineering. He had little money, didn’t speak English very well, and had no experience with American culture or the American educational system.

In short, he took a huge risk to leave everything and everyone familiar behind and live an adventure. Because that’s what it was. He had a very courageous, impulsive and fun-loving spirit, which, I’m sure, helped him to face and overcome the numerous challenges that presented themselves. Sudden disaster, foolish decisions, and working menial jobs to earn enough to survive kept his life quite interesting in the early years.

But even finding a measure of success doesn’t mean that circumstances stay at an even keel the rest of one’s life. He faced hardship and unanticipated difficulties, but he kept going, kept trying, kept looking for the next step, for a better path. You will laugh at some of the hilarious situations he finds himself in, you will gasp at some of the unwise decisions he makes, you will share in his grief as he goes through loss and disaster, and you will cheer when he comes through it.

The book is called Engineering a Life: A Memoir by Krishan K. Bedi. I highly recommend this one. First, as a book to motivate and inspire you. Second, to see life through the eyes of another.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion and review.