Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Best Book I Read All Year

I saved my best book for 2004 for an entry all it’s own. I read the entire Bible in 2004. Yep. The Entire Bible. Wow! I have never done that before. I have attempted it many times, but was usually way behind by the end of January. Discipline was an area of my life I used to be sorely lacking in. Actually, I still am - but I’m better than I used to be.

Reading through the Bible this year was such an amazing experience. I wanted to blog a little about my thoughts and impressions by using the end-of-year wrap up I handed out the Sunday School class I teach that was reading along with me. I am sure I’ll never be able to articulate how meaningful this was to my life, but I’ll make a valiant effort here now.

What was your favorite book?

My favorite book was probably a tie between Judges and Romans. Judges is such an exciting book with so many cool stories - Gideon, Deborah, Ehud, Samson, etc. It’s action packed and full of God at work. Romans is a book that defies categorization in my mind. It is convicting, motivating, challenging, and even comforting. I love the way the Apostle Paul writes and how he holds so strongly to the truth.

What was the hardest book to read?

The hardest book was probably either Leviticus or Ezekiel. Both dealt with alot of tedious details and both seemed to repeat themselves many, many times. I wondered if I’d ever finish them. Of course, in the midst of both books were wonderful passages and verses so I’m glad I didn’t skip them.

What book was the most encouraging to you?

That would be the book of Job. I felt it comforting to realize that when Job went through such horrific circumstances, he asked the same questions I ask myself. Questions like, “Where is God? Doesn’t He see what I’m going through? Doesn’t he care? What did I do to deserve this?” In addition, it ws encouraging to read about someone who had it much worse than I’ve had it. At least I can say, “well I don’t have it as rough as Job, yet.”

What book did you find the hardest to understand?

That would be Revelation. Not that it wasn’t interesting to read, but there’s so much in there that makes little sense to me. Of course, I think it is better than we don’t understand all of it. I did enjoy reading it, but I can’t say that I have a handle on what it has to say at all.

What book would you like to go back and read, studying in greater detail?

All of them. Except for maybe Ezekiel and Leviticus. I am planning to read a portion of the Bible in depth and really study it this coming year. I’ll write about that more on New Year’s Day.

What was a favorite story?

I enjoyed the story of Esther quite a bit as well as Deborah. Esther had quite an impact on her people and she did it with such grace and style. Deborah is my Bible hero as she is someone God used mightily because she was willing to follow where he lead.

Whose life did you find the most fascinating?

That would be David. He was such a man of real emotion and passion. He lived large and made a great nation so much more than it was before. Yet he also made mistakes and lived a life that had many consequences of his poor choices at times. But for all that, God was pleased with him. David shows me that God want us however we are and he can even use our mistakes and poor choices to further His agenda.

Whose story did you learn more about than ever before?

That would be Jeremiah. I had never read the book of Jeremiah before or Lamentations. He had such a sorrow over the Isreal and it was very evident in everything he wrote.

Who will you remember most as a man or woman not to emulate?

I think of the many who lived lives of wickedness in the Bible, I would have to say that I would not want to become like Samson who never seemed to understand his role in God’s plan. He was too busy living for himself. I would hate to come to then end of my life and realize that everything I lived for was meaningless and empty. Even though he did manage to redeem himself in the end, he lived an empty, wasted life.

What did the following characters teach you about life?

* Noah - Public opinion isn’t really all that important when following God.
* Abraham - I can’t bring about God’s plan in my own way or timing.
* Moses - God wants willingness and can make up the difference for lack of ability.
* Joshua - You do not have to have courage to be successful.
* Solomon - Even in the height of success we can sow seeds that will negatively impact the future.
* Esther - God places us just where He needs us.
* Daniel - We never have to compromise our integrity.
* Peter - Past failures need not predict the future or our effectiveness at a God-given role.

How has this helped you develop and enhance a quiet time with God?

I had been able to finally establish a consistent time with God about a year and a half before I started this, so I was already in the habit of reading my Bible regularly. This did show me that I can fit it in even if things don’t go as planned. My year was quite crazy this year and I learned that I can read in the car before work, in the dentists office or while eating a quick lunch.

What are some of the major things God taught you this year during your time with Him?

The first thing He taught me was that I need more of Him in my daily life. To see how the Isrealite people intereacted with God on such a moment by moment basis as times made me realize how long I can go through my day without giving Him a thought.

I also discovered that there is so much more of God than I ever knew. He truly defies explanation. There is no way to contain Him into words or ideas.

What are some of the major circumstances you have faced this year? How was God’s Word a help or encouragement to you?

This year was a crazy one with several unforseen things happening. First of all I had three major illnesses this year. Pneumonia in the winter, a huge virus that attacked my entire respiratory system in October that left me with two ruptured eardrums and no hearing or voice for about a month, and now this holiday season I’m recovering from pneumonia yet again. My asthma is to blame for this last one and my recent discovery that my medicine had expired last month may be to blame.

The next big thing was the birth of my nephew. He was born on January 23 eight weeks premature. It was somewhat traumatic and I will never forget those experiences. He spent several weeks in the Neonatal intensive care in the University of Maryland. Overall he did well, and was home one week before his due date. For those seven weeks, we had freqent visits to the hospital that required a great deal of driving time and it seemed like much longer than seven weeks.

I lost my grandfather to cancer in May. He had suffered from kidney cancer a few years prior and wasn’t given long to live. He lived a good life, but his bi-polar disorder took away much of his personality as he began cancer treatments. He ended his life in a great deal of mental torment and I was glad to know he was finally at peace. While it was sad to see him go, knowing his mind was in torment no longer, and that he was experiencing the joys of heaven was a comfort to me.

This was also the first full year of our women’s ministry at church that I am the leader of. It took quite a bit more work to do it justice but I am overall please with all that God has done through it. I am eager to see what He plans to do through us in 2005.

Lastly, this year has been a difficult one for me at work. The job I loved turned into a nightmare this year, as I battled unrealistic expecations of perfection and an increased workload with nothing in the way of motivation or reward. It’s amazing to see how companies in the business world think that they own you if they are paying you a salary. And while I still enjoy what I do, I think so many of the poor decisions that were made this year will never truly allow me to trust anyone in leadership there again. So for now, I’m working fifty hours most every week and praying God would lead me to a better position in a company that allows me to have a life outside the office without guilt trips and constant harrassment. Until then, I’ll continue to lean on the Lord to get me through.

So through all of these things God has taught me that I cannot do everything myself. He’s taught me it’s okay to ask for help that to accept the offered help from others. He’s proved over and over and over again that He walks beside me when I am sad, miserable or angry and He understands how easily emotions can change my outlook. His Word has been my comfort through each of these circumstances by reminding me that God is in control. As I see him moving around entire nations and using individuals to make big changes in their world I realize that God will do what I cannot. And I’ve been challenged to leave in His hands the things I’ve often grasped for myself.

Would you be interested in doing this again in a few years? What would you do differently?

Yes, I would love to do this again. If I do though, I plan on reading the Message so that it’s fresh and the Old Testament will be a litttle easier. I also think I would design a plan that only called for reading on the weekdays as I got behind on the weekends quite a bit and then I’d have a few extra days to catch up here and there.

Well, those are my thoughts about this past year. I am actually not quite finished yet as I have a bit more of Revelation to read tomorrow. Then I will be done a day ahead of schedule. I am looking forward to digging deeper into the Bible next year and concentrating on study so that I can move to the next level of understanding. I have two new Bibles to help me out and some great software to assist my study. I’ll get to all that on New Year’s Day when I list my resolutions and my plans for the new year.

I’m still hoping to get to music before the new year and talk about some of my favorites, but I’m still working on it. I’ll explain when I do why this part has been difficult for me.

Tomorrow I am wrapping presents in preparation for Christmas with my brother. He and my sister-in-law and nephew arrived home from Michigan this morning. We’ll have our Christmas on New Year’s Day so I have tomorrow to get their things together.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

2004: The Year in Books

I’m not sure how to begin to list my favorite books of 2004. I read quite a bit, and even though this has been an off year for me, I did manage to read 109 books. I read for several reasons, but one of the big ones is to relax and escape from life. While I used to read more of the suspense type novels, lately I’ve moved on to mysteries that aren’t quite so graphic and scary. Our world is scary enough at times for me. I also read to learn something new and about 1/3 of my reading is nonfiction, specifically Christian non-fiction. I also read some women’s fiction and mainstream books but my tastes vary depending on my mood. I always have stacks of books around to read, and yet rarely resists buying new ones when I’m in a book store.

My favorite nonfiction reads of 2004 were:

How to Find Selfless Joy in a Me-First World by Leslie Vernick

Personality Plus by Florence Littauer

How to Study the Bible by Tim LaHaye (great forms and questions for Bible Study!)

Be Intolerant by Ryan Dobson

The Worn Out Woman by Dr. Steve Stephens and Alice Gray (I’ll be using this one for a women’s Sunday School class in the summer of 2005.)

Carolyn 101 by Carolyn Kepcher (An enjoyable book, but I can’t agree with many of her views on business and life. She’s an interesting person, though, and I enjoyed hearing how she got started and moved into such a high position in the Trump Organization.)

For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn (This should be required reading for every woman. While it does have an emphasis on relating to your spouse, this book is helpful in understanding every man in your life from fathers and brothers, to coworkers and friends.)

This year I also read the newest mysteries from some of my favorite authors such as Denise Swanson, Kate Kingsbury, Jill Churchill and Elizabeth Peters. While I am reading the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters, I haven’t caught to on her latest ones yet. This year I have been reading her single titles and the Vicky Bliss series. I especially enjoyed her single titles such as “Legend in Green Velvet” and “the Copenhagen Collection.”

My favorite fiction of 2004 were:

Harry Potter - I read all five of the Harry Potter books this year. I especially enjoyed books four and five. I must be honest here and say I didn’t actually “read” them, I listened to the unabridged audio books at work. (I love a job that lets you read all night!) I am buying the hardbacks this year and hope to reread them before book six arrives in the summer. I would need to write a book myself to comment on these books, but I will be writing more about them in this blog once I reread them in the coming year.

Dee Hendersons O’Malley Series - I only have one more to go which I would love to finish up this year still. These books are wonderful and she is one of the best writers in Christian Fiction. I love how she so effortlessly weaves the gospel and the characters salvation into her stories. I also appreciate how the believers in each story are so willing to share their story and let God do the work to bring others to Him. They treat the unbelievers in their life with such grace and loving concern that I want to emulate them at times in my own life. For the uninitiated the stories in order are: The Negotiator, The Guardian, The Truth-Seeker, The Rescuer, The Healer and The Protector. There’s also a prequal to the series that can be read before or after called Danger in the Shadows.

Songbird by Lisa Samson - This was not as good as I had hoped it would be. It was somewhat uneventful and was almost like reading someone’s diary. But Lisa Samson on a bad day is better than most “Christian fiction” authors out there. I had the wonderful priviledge of meeting her this year as she graciously accepted an invitation to my book club to discuss her book “The Church Ladies.” That book is on my top ten fiction books of all time and one I highly recommend.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers - Francine Rivers is hands-down the best women’s fiction author writing inspirational fiction. Her books are amazing and so well written. Her stories pull you in from the first page and they are compelling to the finish. Redeeming Love is the Biblical story of Hosea and Gomer set in the 1800’s gold rush in California. If you haven’t not yet read this book you need to stop what you are doing and get a copy. It is powerful and beautiful and haunting. I would recommend reading the book of Hosea afterward. It will give you a greater appreciation for God’s love and how gracious He is to us every day.

If I had to list my favorite fiction books of all time, I’d say my top five are:

1. Redeeming Love (Francine Rivers)
2. The Gates of Zion (Bodie Thoene)
3. The Church Ladies ( Lisa Samson)
4. The Guardian (Dee Henderson)
5. The Last Sin-Eater (Francine Rivers)

That list is certain to change as I’m somewhat new to Inspirational Fiction. When I read it in college it was so cheesy and sugary I couldn’t stand it. I still don’t like Christian Romances. They are so weakly plotted and are very distorted from real life in my opinon. But there are many newer authors in the last five or ten years I’ve heard good things about so my goal next year is to try some new ones. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

I’ve been promising to get to music, so I will work on that in the next day or two. I keep putting it off because my music is somewhat disorganized right now and I need to go through it before I can sort out what was new in 2004. I’ll work on it and get it up before the end of the year.

Monday, December 27, 2004

2004: The Year in Television

I’m sick. I started feeling poorly on Christmas Day and was feeling horrible by Sunday. The doctor says I have pneumonia and I am to stay in for the next five or six days. To be honest the rest will be nice after the last few weeks of constant busyness and I can just lay in bed and play on my laptop. I have already played Bejewelled 2, Bespelled, and Lingo for several hours while lying in bed. I’m sure I’ll be bored by tomorrow afternoon!

Favorite TV Shows of 2004

I am not an avid TV viewer as far as network shows go. I work evenings so it’s hard to keep up with weeknight television. But this summer I got TIVO for my Direct TV and as a result have been able to catch a few shows this fall season. My top four shows for 2004 are:

ALIAS - I love this show. Even when it’s bad (as much of season three was) it’s better than most other television out there. I want to be Sidney Bristow when I grow up. I love how she’s so tough and yet able to be vulnerable to those she cares about. I cannot wait for the beginning of season four next week. I am looking forward to seeing it return to the glory of season one and two.

LOST - Hands down, the best show of the fall season. It is a fascinating study of people and how they react when life thrown them a curve. I love Locke because he seems to thrive on difficulty and Hurley because he’s funny and looks out for everyone in unusual ways, like coordinating supplies at the beginning, logging the survivors and setting up a golf game. I also like Sawyer because he seems to be such an unredeemable character that is sure to grow and change over the course of time. I can’t wait to see what they do with his character.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES - Granted, this show probably has no redeeming value other than entertainment, but it’s funny and seems to fill the void that’s been missing from television for years. A drama with humor and fun and people you care about. Bree fascinates me and reminds me of my mother in how tough and loving she is with her children. I love a good mystery as well, and this show has been developing the “big mystery” in a great way that hasn’t drug it out or overpowered the rest of the story.

AMERICAN DREAMS - I adore this show. It is so easy to care about all these people as they seem real and well fleshed out. It really is one of the best family dramas on TV and easily one of the most emotional ones this year. In fact, I cried through most of the holiday episode with J.J. coming home for Vietnam. That was a great episode. I even thought the Ford Sponsorship was well done and not intrusive at all in the story. This show hasn’t caught on with a huge number of viewers and I’m not sure why. It’s a fascinating story and one that continues to deliver week after week.

I also watch CSI, CSI Miami, Las Vegas, Joey and the Apprentice, but none of them are shows I can’t miss. If I have a busy weekend and don’t get to watch them I usually delete them from the TIVO and don’t mind missing them. Joey has been a disappointment so far for me, but I’m going to give it the rest of this year before I give up on it.

Well, I’m off to get some sleep. I will blog tomorrow about my favorite books of 2004.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

2004: The Year in Movies

In 2004 I saw the following Movies in the Theater:

The Passion of the Christ
13 Going on 30
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

That’s it! Three movies. I’m amazed that I could go all year and only see three movies. Granted it’s been a wild year, with the premature birth of my nephew, my grandfather’s death, and my suddenly overloaded work schedule. All in all, it wasn’t a prolific movie year, yet two of the movies I did get to were two of my favorites of all time.

13 Going on 30 was a cute movie for what it was. I am a fan of Jennifer Garner (two weeks till the Alias premier!) and so I went to support her movie. I expected a light-hearted movie and it was surprisingly entertaining, in a generic sort of way. I didn’t buy the movie on DVD, but I might when it goes down in price.

The Passion of the Christ was one of the better movies I’ve seen in my lifetime. From an artistic point of view it was amazing. The opening scene brought about a feeling of impending doom from the first moments of the movie and that beginning scene with Satan and the serpent getting his head crushed was quite well done. I remembered the Bible verse right away from Genesis where it said Satan would bruise his heal but Christ would crush Satan’s head.

I also liked the beauty of the imagery throughout the movie. Watching Mary as she remembered Jesus as a child, watching Mary and Mary Magdalene wash up the blood with the white cloths, and Pilate’s questioning of truth were all favorite parts. It’s hard to pick one scene that stands out, but if I was forced to choose it would be the one where Mary cleaned up the blood after Jesus was beaten. It was so horribly beautiful that I’ve never forgotten it.

It was a hard movie to watch, and even now, many months later I am hard pressed to write my true feelings from the movie. Watching it and realizing that Christ would go through all of that for my sin was humbling and made me feel small and unworthy. I can’t imagine going through that for anyone. One day I hope to be able to adequately explain the way that movie made me feel about Christ and my relationship with Him.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was an entertaining movie that exceeded my expectations. I had only just shortly finished the book before I saw the movie so the events were fresh in my mind. There were so many good things cut out of book three when the movie was made. But the movie was well done, and fun to watch. It was darker in tone than the others but it was necessary to show how much darker their world is becoming as “you-know-who” grows in power and influence. I am eagerly anticipating Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire but have about another year to wait.

I am planning on seeing one more movie this year. I already have tickets to see the Phantom of the Opera on Christmas Eve afternoon. I have been waiting for this movie to come out for years and am so glad to get to the theater to see it the week it releases.

While 4 movies this year is a really sad number, I can say there really wasn’t too many I wanted to see that I didn’t get to. I was trying to get to Hidalgo, the Bourne Supremacy, Shrek 2, and Spiderman 2. I bought Shrek 2 and Hidalgo on DVD and enjoyed both of them. I spent a decent amount of cash on DVD’s this year including Season One of Monk.

I’ll plan on wrapping up my 2004 reviews in the next few days. I am looking forward to blogging next year and keeping better track of what I’m watching, reading and listening to. I’ll try to get to music tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I'm Blogging!

So the new year is swiftly approaching and I am eager to get started blogging. This blog will “officially” start on January 1st, but for now, I’m practicing with a few entries to get my feet wet. I’ve wanted to blog for awhile now, but wanted to make sure that I would stick with it and not do it a day or two and give up. I wanted to wait until the time was right and I think this year will be a good time to start.

I don’t know exactly yet what form this blog will take. I do plan on using it to record favorite passages of books I’ve read, thoughts from movies that inspire me, and personal reviews of music that speaks to me. I’m sure I’ll also talk about what God is doing in my life through my life and ministry. And I’m positive that I will use this space to brag a bit about the best nephew a girl could have! Evan Alexander is a precious gift from God and I’m sure anyone who read this regularly will feel they know him well before too long.

Well, that’s all for now. I finally have this blog close to how I want it to look for the moment. I’ll add some pictures and graphics at some point. I’ll pop on a time or two around the holidays and write about the books I’ll be attempting to work thought next year and a few of my goals for the new year.
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