Gathering Courage: A Book Review

By T.A. McMullin, copyright 2015, Gathering Courage Media, 200 pages

This is the story of Terry, born Kaysia, who overcame blindness, dyslexia, and the pain of abandonment. McMullin hopes, through her memoir, to support people who share some of her experiences. Anyone who struggles in life, Terry believes, can acquire a can-do attitude.

Terry, who goes by T.A., begins the story with her birth and ultimate adoption. She talks a lot about one of her passions: animals, especially dogs and horses. When T.A. felt the most disheartened, it was God and her loving pets to whom she turned.

The family dynamics she met in each foster care home seem to be the same. Rejected from the first adoptive family, her self-esteem plummeted. She struggled in school and early in life. She wore a brace because of back problems. Ultimately, she became legally blind.

But her story isn’t all sadness. Because of her faith and her tenacity, she had success and experienced love from people who, she says, never gave up on her. She attended a major university, achieving two degrees.

Gathering Courage most certainly tells the story of a woman who triumphed over adversities. Her story is interesting and inspiring as she hoped it would be. T.A. tells her story in chronological order of events, which makes sense in this case. She includes photos of some of the pets and locations she is most fond of. Gathering Courage attempts to humbly show the courage of its author. The story will also inspire us to be the best we can be despite the problems we may encounter.

However, I think the handling of the content suffers. The book could have been shorter and it needed professional editing or the hand of a skilled ghost writer. While these considerations don’t detract from the story, they’re noticeable enough to have made the story go slowly for me.

A mentor and teacher, the author is committed to helping others like her “To Make Life Better.” It’s her vision and heartfelt desire.

T.A.’s memoir may be found at Gathering Courage Media or on Amazon.

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher through the Bookcrash program in exchange for an honest review.

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What is Jesus Doing?

Sometimes we wonder what God must be up to. Life is getting weird and we seem to be floundering.  Ever feel that way?

If I keep my eyes open to what’s happening and keep trusting that God is doing what I cannot do for myself, the answer is usually simple.

What is Jesus doing? He’s helping me to grow in grace.

Be a blessing to someone today.

25 Simple Foodie Pleasures

We putter around the kitchen. We experiment with new recipes. We share a recipe with someone. When the kids are hungry, we get busy and feed them. Over the years, we accumulate cook books, gadgets and experience.

Foodies are usually well-versed in culinary activities. We share kitchen tips with others who enjoy baking and cooking. We’re also really fun to be with.

How many of these Simple Foodie Pleasures do you enjoy? Which ones would you add?

 

 

 

  1. Finding a new recipe that requires ingredients you already have in the pantry
  2. Using place mats and cloth napkins when having someone over for lunch
  3. Washing fruit, then seeing those pretty, clean colors mingle in a clear glass bowl
  4. Experiencing a new flavor or an ethnic dish never before tried
  5. Finding the bay leaf in a bowl of stew
  6. No-bake cookies
  7. Baked macaroni and cheese
  8. Anything homemade, especially pie
  9. Eating an occasional mushroom Swiss burger and the juices drip down your chin
  10. Slow-roasted rather than slow cooker
  11. Enough counter space in which to work
  12. When the bread rises just right
  13. Good conversation around the table
  14. Sharing a recipe with someone. Then they share it with someone
  15. Hasselback potatoes that come out just right
  16. At least 5 things you can do with a bountiful crop of zucchini
  17. Wearing a favorite apron
  18. Preparing some finger-lickin’ good southern fried chicken
  19. A steak grilled to the exact doneness you like
  20. Greek kebabs and pita wedges with tzatziki
  21. Learning how to make perfect fried green tomatoes
  22. Pie crust that rolls out nicely and is flaky, to boot
  23. Buying fresh veggies from the local farmers’ market
  24. Eating some flaky beignets, baklava, or croissants (better yet, knowing how to make them)
  25. Eating well, but not getting stuffed

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am”- A Book Review

By Reverend James O’Leary, copyright 2002, Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools, 180 pages

Here is a book with a title that, if you cannot relate to it, you only need read a few of the short essays and you soon will. These “pastor’s thoughts” wake you up to just how good life is even if a few bad moments come in an otherwise pretty good day.

When Father Jim O’Leary first released the book, I was so happy to see it. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand his words of wisdom, humor and kindness. Reading the book again after many years, I hear his voice and see that twinkle in his eye.

Father Jim shares insights into Catholic traditions, travels in Europe associated with his calling, missions trips, parenting, growing up in Michigan, and eventually serving there. He tells stories about simple living and what he learns from everyone he meets. While he may have rubbed elbows with some pretty important people, it’s obvious he’s energized by conversations with folks like you and me.

Each essay is a reflection of Jim’s heart. Like this:

“Our world is so full of people who are planning to change the world. They are simply waiting for the right time. I do believe that I must include myself in this group. We wait and wait and the right moment never comes, and we never make our contribution to the improvement of our world. Opportunities to serve people surround us. The right time is now. Always, the time is now.”

I haven’t met many people as humble as Jim O’Leary. Of course, he’d get a sour look on his face, glance at his feet, and shake his head if he heard me say that. And that’s because, as I knew him, he really was a self-effacing man.

One day, during one of our brief meetings, I wanted to get a rise out of him. “Jim,” I said, “since I’m not Catholic, instead of calling you ‘Father,’ can I just call you ‘Dad?’”

He did laugh. “Just don’t call me what my parishioners call me,” he said.

“What’s that?”

In a matter-of-fact style and with a straight face, he said…No, I better not. It wasn’t a nice name. But I’m sure he was joking with me as well. That twinkle in his eye, you see.

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am” is filled with stuff like this. No, not bad words. But his way of seeing things. His constant love for God and for people. His explanations about Jesus and His earthly ministry. Metaphors for life derived from everyday observations. Father Jim doesn’t try in his book to convert anyone, but it’s plain he hopes you’ll believe in the One who was born, preached the Good News, and died to save us from ourselves. Jim always admitted that he needed saving from himself and his stories reveal his gratitude for God’s mercy.

The essays are gleaned from his columns originally published in the weekly St. Joseph Parish bulletin. Jim was a priest in the Battle Creek parish where I live. He was not my priest; as I mentioned, I’m not Catholic. But he was a good friend. The last time I saw him, we were both at a local American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Both cancer survivors, we met on the track and shared our news, chatting like old friends do.

I’m so glad I read the book again. It feels like we’re having another of those chats. Gosh, I miss him.

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13

In our relationships, we value trustworthiness in people. We want to be able to rely on them.

The Holy Spirit grows this virtue in us as we follow Jesus, being obedient to God and His purposes.

God is the One we can trust for everything. When friends and family let us down–and they will–we know God is faithful even when we and others fail to be all we could be.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Growing in the other Fruit of the Spirit, we learn to be trustworthy. We are faithful to God and begin to improve our earthly relationships because God is teaching us a better way.

 

 

 

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness

A definition from Easton’s Bible Dictionary states that

Goodnessin man is not a mere passive quality, but the deliberate preference of right to wrong, the firm and persistent resistance of all moral evil, and the choosing and following of all moral good.”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone” (Luke 18:19)

When I read what Jesus had to say to a rich young man, the idea of calling myself  ‘good’ seems prideful. Can I call myself “good?” Or is it up to others to call me “good?”

If agathosune is “uprightness of heart and life,” perhaps I’m better off letting others make the judgement call. After all, Jesus, in his deity, gave all goodness to God alone. He could have claimed it, but in his humility, he glorified his Father.

As I continue to learn about how the Holy Spirit works in me to produce fruit, definitions from several sources help me to understand. I’m glad that Easton’s dictionary uses verbs like choosing and following because it implies that I must be aware of what’s going on around me.

I also appreciate that, to be considered “good,” I must be deliberate, firm, and persistent. Indeed, Mr. Easton, being “good” is not a mere passive quality. The Spirit leads; I listen; I obey.

Ultimately, the fruit of the Spirit called “goodness,” like each other fruit, is defined by the Holy Spirit himself as he works in us to make us “good.” With the Spirit working in us, we’re able to live a fruitful life. We Love, we exhibit Joy and Peace, we act with Kindness, and we can be Good.

So far, so good.

Be a blessing to someone today.

 

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness

When someone says the word ‘kindness,’ what we think of can be a mixture of other words as we consider how to define it. We think about how people are nice; that they act in a loving way; or that people who are kind must be generous.

All of these simple descriptions are a part of what it means to be kind. I suppose we can also consider how another person perceives what we think is a kindness on our part. However, it’s a pretty sure thing that when we act out of love and humility and when we are kind in an obviously selfless way, people are more open to us and will name ‘kindness’ for what it is. Sometimes kindness can be shown by just using good manners.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

In relationships, we can show kindness by treating friends graciously even during challenging times. We are kind to someone whom we call ‘friend’ when we accept them for who they are, not expecting them to fulfill our definition of what they should be. Having a friend means being honest, firm and gentle when we’re challenged by discord.

“Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” Job 6:14

Often, we fail to be kind because we just don’t think of it. Our lives are so full of busyness, we don’t make acts of kindness a habit. We’re rushing right past people who need kindness. We can find comfort in knowing that it’s only through God’s Spirit that kindness can be a consistent part of a believer’s experience. Quite simply, we surrender to the Holy Spirit and listen for the prompts to act kindly.

Most people are familiar with the term Random Acts of Kindness. And people are familiar with a variety of popular ways to show kindness in an ordinary day. Like holding a door open for someone or buying their purchase while we go through a drive-through. Here are some other ideas: offering someone your pen and letting them keep it; giving your umbrella to a stranger; writing someone an encouraging note; taping a microwave popcorn packet to a movie rental kiosk (leave a short note telling them you hope they enjoy the movie); picking up litter on the beach; donating your cut hair to a charity that makes wigs from it and distributes them for free; sending care packages to military personnel overseas.

On the website Positive Outlooks, stories about how folks are being kind are the norm. In fact, these bloggers go looking for them. Truly, kindness is a way of showing people by how you treat them that they have value.

Regardless of how you define ‘kindness,’ God rewards you when you choose to selflessly help others. Make it a point to perform random acts of kindness today and to top it off, don’t let anyone else find out.

Be a blessing to someone today.

 

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

The word is Patience, but in some Bibles, it’s translated Longsuffering.

That’s interesting. I’m not sure if I can say I suffer long. While I’m certainly more patient than before I surrendered to Christ, I still experience time when I want relief immediately. Anyone with me on that?

But God says that Patience is a Fruit of the Spirit. And when the Spirit fills us, we will develop Patience. No, we don’t have Patience dropped from Heaven in one fell swoop. It’s up to us to behave in a Patient manner; then the action will soon become as natural as breathing. We bloom, then reap a harvest of Fruit. We needn’t “pray for patience.” The Holy Spirit begins to grow us in virtue and character when we decide to fully devote ourselves to Jesus.

A friend of mine shared her experience with praying for patience. “I prayed for patience,” she said. “But God didn’t send me patience all wrapped up in a nice gift box. I got pregnant.”

We learn to love by exercising Love. We have Joy and Peace when we exercise Faith. God says, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). Listening to the Holy Spirit who speaks Love, Joy, Peace and Patience into our lives means hearing the logic in exercising those things. Surely God has emotions and He gives us emotions to help us in our times of need. But He also wants us to Think. Things just go better for everyone when we are Patient, not wanting our way or being unable to accept whatever is going on in the moment.

“Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way” (Psalm 37:7).

The wisdom from Heaven is mature, for it is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Doesn’t that sound like someone who is Patient? I confess that sometimes it doesn’t sound like me at all.

Patience is associated with maturity. We put away the things of a child. Simply put, our lives can be so much better when we see how Patience smooths the way.

How has God spoken to you about Patience? How has he given you opportunities to exercise Patience?

Be a blessing to someone today.

 

Burning Old Glory

In the United States, today is Flag Day. Citizens are encouraged to fly flags at home. We fly them properly. We fly them proudly. But on this day, we also burn them properly and with pride.

When we hear about a flag-burning, it doesn’t always mean a lack of patriotism. Sometimes, it’s the exact opposite.

The day was June 14th and I was visiting my family in Mid-Michigan. Part of that visit included a flag retirement ceremony. American Legion Post 101, of which my father was a member, conducted this ceremony on Flag Day and the experience has been etched in my mind forever.

The three-man color guard, including my father, marched toward the ceremony grounds. One of them proudly carried the American flag. They were a tight and disciplined group. It was as though they were still in the service of their country.

Indeed, they were.

We could hear their boots crunching the gravel underfoot, but that was the only sound except for the guard leader’s orders: “Forward march!” “Halt.” We faced the color guard and the Legion post commander led us in reciting the pledge of allegiance. Then he introduced the short ceremony by stating from prepared copy:

“We are gathered here to destroy these flags that have been deemed no longer serviceable. It is proclaimed that each of these flags has served well.

“The U.S. Flag Code states: the flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

I’d never seen a flag burned before. Certainly I’d seen news stories about radicals burning flags in protest. This was different. My thoughts were racing. I was like a three-year-old asking questions non-stop.

“How long must a flag fly before it’s this tattered?” “How do people know where to take a tattered flag to be disposed of properly?” “How many flags must they have collected in a year in a city of this size?”

I never asked those questions. I just watched.

I’d seen my father in his jaunty little cap and white gloves marching in parades before. But he’d never seemed so solemn then. Besides, parades are fun. And noisy. I could hear my father’s feet as he marched by on the pavement during a parade.

Now, if you listened, you could hear the sounds of traffic on M-57. Except for that, it seemed as though noise would be unwelcome. Only the post commander, resplendent in his uniform, spoke. He gave instructions to the Flag Bearer to come forward and receive the first flag to be issued to the flames.

“Who starts that fire?” I wondered. “Who will keep an eye on it and how long will it take to burn all the flags?”

Still, with all my questions, I simply watched along with everyone else. My stepmother stood beside me and I wondered if, as a legion auxiliary member, she’d witnessed a flag burning before. It was another question I didn’t ask.

In all my days, I’d never felt so awed by what our flag stood for. Now it seemed my questions really were unnecessary. The answer to questions that truly mattered occurred to me. Those answers explained why we say the Pledge. They explained why we burn Old Glory in this fashion. They explained why we need few words.

The answer was epitomized in one word: Respect.

The Flag Bearer came forward with the flag, which had been cut apart in accordance with the Code’s instructions. He placed that first flag in the fire.

“Why am I crying?” I thought. Another question and one only I could answer.

Smoke rose from the small fire; it was probably started with gas or some such thing. I wiped my cheeks and heard the post commander dismiss the color guard and the crowd.

I didn’t want it to be over. I wanted to watch Old Glory continue to burn. My stepmother said, “Come on, let’s go inside and have a drink. We’ll wait for your dad.”

Watching a flag-burning gave me a new perspective and the perspective is based on that one word. Respect. A new respect for our star-spangled banner.

Long may she wave.

Fruit of the Spirit 3: Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

 

“And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165

In the list of fruit which will be evident in our lives as we submit to the Holy Spirit, “peace” is mentioned third in line. But that doesn’t mean a person must tackle and be mature in “love” and “joy” before he can obtain peace. The Spirit begins working every single fruit in us as soon as we give our lives to Christ and decide to follow Him.

And if you’ve read my thoughts on Love and Joy, you understand that we don’t “tackle” them as if we need to strive to exhibit the fruit. Jesus says these are for the taking when we are surrendered to His will.

Think about this: If Jesus told us that it’s His peace He gives, and not the kind of peace the world gives, wouldn’t you want that? The peace the world offers is fleeting and, more often than not, based on emotions. At its most basic, that peace is a lie from Satan.

With the peace of God, our condition can be calm, not anxious, regardless of what’s happening around us. Do you know someone who seems to always be at peace? How do you respond when your circumstances challenge your inner life?

Jesus, we offer ourselves to you and trust you. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to grow us and mature us in the grace you give; a never ending grace. Your peace is what we want and we ask you to protect our hearts from the peace the world offers. We come to you for rest and worship you as our Prince of Peace. Amen