Category: book reviews

What Grieving People Wish You Knew

I was standing in the reception line after a funeral waiting to shake the hands of the grieving family members and I was wondering what I was going to say to these people I barely knew.

Standing…waiting…wondering. Those words only partly describe me that day. The word I need to add?


What could I say? What could make this awful thing better? And, yes, I was thinking, “What can I say that will help them and yet not make me look like a complete idiot?”

I mumbled something – I don’t even remember what, but I did come away with the impression that I had said something stupid. So, when I heard about Nancy Guthrie’s book, What Grieving People Wish You Know About What Really Helps (And What Really Hurts), I bought it right away.

To be honest, I put off reading the book until a friend was grieving the loss of a dear family member. I had to know what to say to her and what to do for her. I’ve read the book twice since then. I mentioned it in my post Best Books of 2016, but I really need to tell you more about it and convince you that you need to read What Grieving People Wish You Knew.

My first impression of the book is that it is a perfect example of what correction in the church should be. The reader is lovingly called out for mishandling grieving people and then shown how to handle the problem in a way that is solidly based in Scripture. Nancy Guthrie’s kind and loving unwillingness to allow us to dodge the problem and her generous and open sharing of ways to help our grieving friends has given me a great respect for her. More than that it has made me eager to hear her and to follow her advice.

So let’s get on with it – let me give you a taste of her advice to those of us who want to know what grieving people wish we knew. Here are just three from the first chapter entitled “What To Say (And What Not to Say)”.

1. Say Something

Saying nothing tells your friend that her loss was not important – that her loved one was not that important. Saying that you are sorry for her loss is better than saying nothing at all. Nancy also points out that is important to say the name of the person who died. They haven’t disappeared as if they never existed. They have died and the grieving family needs to know that they are not forgotten. Remember that your words won’t fix what has happened, but they can let your friend know that she isn’t alone.

2. Don’t Compare Their Grief to Yours

Before my friend lost her family member, my mother had died. I thought I knew what she was feeling, but the truth is that I didn’t at all. Hearing about your experience is not helpful until and unless your grieving friend asks. This is a time for us to practice humility, keep ourselves out of it, and make it all about our friends.  Which leads to another wise piece of advice.

3. Take The Grieving Person’s Lead

People handle grief in so many different ways and in so many different time frames. We must purposely determine to be listeners and to be companions in the journey, allowing the grieving friend to lead in what she wants to talk about and when she wants to talk about it. Nancy writes, “…there is great power and comfort in simply showing up and being willing to sit in the silence and listen to the person who is grieving give voice to their regrets…fears…complaints…rehearsals of the events…questions…chaotic thoughts, conflicting feelings, disappointments, desires, and despair.” Let your grieving friend talk.

These three pieces of advice are just the tip of the iceberg of this lovely book. There are pages and pages of quotes from grieving people telling us what to do and what to say and what not to say to them.

Nancy Guthrie also talks to us about what to do for grieving people. When someone dies, we so want to do something to make it better, but there are only so many casseroles a grieving family can consume. What else can we do? Nancy gives us a whole chapter of ideas such as leave messages on the phone, send notes, mark your calendar to make contact on the anniversary of the death, share photos of the deceased that the grieving friend may never have seen, and bring stuff like toilet paper and paper plates – common things that may get forgotten until they are needed.

There’s so much more I love about this book – the insight into the true feelings of grieving people and the loving encouragement to stand by a grieving friend. There’s no condemnation of our reactions to grief in the past – just truth to help us to minister to grieving people now and in the days to come.

You will have grieving friends – it’s a fact we cannot escape. If you want to be useful to your friends rather than panicking in the reception line, read What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps (And What Really Hurts) by Nancy Guthrie.


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Best Books of 2016

I just set my Goodreads Challenge goal for 2017, but before I jump into that goal, I really want to look back on the books I read in 2016 and give you a quick review of my favorite books of the year.

Just to be clear – these are not necessarily books released in 2016. Sometimes I get to new releases, but not too often.

Starting with fiction:

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff








This book took me by surprise because it is a collection of letters written between an American reader and an English bookseller. Sounds dry as dust, right? But this is one of those books that sucks you in and won’t let you go until you finish (only 112 pages so that’s really not that bad.) The relationship between the writer and the people in the English bookshop develops through the letters and becomes so real. I loved it.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien








I know, I know, you’ve heard this before from Tolkien fans who just can’t let it go. Too bad because here we go. If you have not read these three books (and The Hobbit) what are you waiting for? I read them again this year for the umpteenth time and I will read them again in the next three or four years. Just let go and enjoy the incredible mythology of a superb storyteller!

Still Life (and the rest of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache books) by Louise Penny








I’m crazy about these mysteries set in Quebec, primarily in the lost little town of Three Pines. I’ve read eleven out of the twelve books in the series and have grown to love the characters. Chief Inspector Gamache is somebody you want to be your boss or your dad or at least your neighbor. He’s a rock of strength, but completely human with normal, believable weaknesses. And the people of Three Pines – well, for their population they have an awful lot of murders, but I still want to live there and hang out with them. Of course that tells you nothing about the mysteries themselves – they’re good too, but it’s the characters for me.

Then there were two good ones that I’m going to classify as memoirs:

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King








First of all, I think I have to admit that I have never read one of Stephen King’s novels. Now that that’s out of the way, I loved his thoughts and advice and pushiness about writing. He even gave a homework assignment to start a story based on a paragraph he suggested. Yes, I did start it and, no, I didn’t finish because I was scaring myself! If you want a very good read on writing, pick this one up.

Giddy Up, Eunice by Sophie Hudson








I love Sophie Hudson. She’s one of those writers who gets you laughing and then pops you over the head with a solid biblical truth that you’ve been hiding from or ignoring. You can’t ignore it anymore. I think one of the reasons I love Sophie so much is because her descriptions of her Southern family sound so much like my East Texas in-laws. She sees the humor in her family and yet also the warmth and acceptance that they offer so freely. This particular book is all about women needing to encourage and equip and mentor and love each other. For a introverted hermit like me, it was perfect.

The next four books are non-fiction and I’ll end up with a set of Bible studies.

Think It Not Strange by John Piper and others








When I read this book I was in a small group that seemed to focus on everything that is wrong in our country but that did not help any of us to live with what is wrong with our country. This book was perfect for me at that time. As you would guess from the title, the premise is that Christians must expect to suffer for the cause of Christ. Persecution is the norm and we must prepare ourselves and our children and our churches to expect it and to thrive in the midst of it. Go to to download a copy now.

The Four Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership by Jenni Catron









This year my boss encouraged me to read a couple of leadership books and I chose The Four Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership. The book is based on the Great Commandment – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you mind and with all your strength. The four dimensions are heart (relational leadership), soul (spiritual leadership), mind (managerial leadership) and strength (visionary leadership). I usually use Kindle, but I would recommend buying this as a real book so you can mark it up and refer back to it quickly.

Running on Empty by Barbara Bancroft








I’ve already written a review of this super book which you can find here: If you are a woman in ministry or married to a man in ministry, please read this book!

What Grieving People Wish You Knew by Nancy Guthrie







This may be my favorite book of the year because I needed it so badly. Maybe you do too. Have you ever had that awful feeling that you should do something or say something to a grieving person, but you are petrified that you will say or do the wrong thing? So you do nothing? Nancy Guthrie’s book is full of what grieving people have found helpful and what they have found hurtful. It’s a gentle, non-judgmental guide to being a good friend to a grieving person. You can get a taste of the book by watching a twenty minute video of Nancy at

Everyday Love, Everyday Hope, and Everyday Faith by Katie Orr








I’ve saved these Bible studies for last so that I can preach to you a little bit. If you are a follower of Christ and you are not immersing yourself in the Word of God you are effectively cutting yourself off from the vine and you are trying to work out your sanctification in your own power. Sorry, but that is just not smart and I so want you to stop it. I know that life is ridiculously busy, but if you will just carve out 15 minutes every day, you will be able to do these FOCUSed 15 studies with Katie Orr. You can go to to find out more.

So that’s my list of favorite books from 2016 plus a little preachiness – sorry, can’t help myself!

What did you read this year that you’re dying to share? Let me know!



photography by Unsplash 

Running on Empty

running-on-emptyIf you are

  • a woman engaged in full-time ministry or
  • the wife of a man in full-time ministry or
  • a missionary,

you are probably at risk of running on empty.

If this describes you, have I ever got a book you need to put on your reading list – Running on Empty: The Gospel for Women in Ministry by Barbara Bancroft. With experience as a church planter’s wife and as a foreign missionary wife, Barbara is well qualified to write to other women in ministry. She writes honestly and directly but with compassion and grace.

In the very first chapter Barbara addresses the fact that ministry can bring out the worst in us. We are faced with situations that are too hard for us. For instance, no one told me that being married to the pastor’s wife would mean having to bite my tongue while some crazy woman made a list of my husband’s faults. No one told me that as an inexperienced 21-year-old I was going to be trying to help an abused teenage girl. Barbara truthfully writes, “Ministry confronts us with our insufficiency over and over.” Ministry pushes us every day to remember who we are in Christ and to move forward in His strength alone. As Barbara says, “A heart abiding in Christ is prepared for ministry when it comes.”

The first chapter had me hooked and I wanted to read more. The second chapter took me off guard. The title is “Proverbs 31 Remix”. I’ve been a Christian wife for almost 36 years. I have heard Proverbs 31 taught and preached more times than I can count. There was a time when I could barely read that chapter because it filled me with guilt about all that I was not. Barbara says that most women feel the same way I did, but her perspective changes everything.

“Since the coming of Christ changed how we read the Old Testament, it would be good to see how his coming changes our understanding and application of this passage. We might begin by viewing King Lemuel as a ‘type’ or forerunner of Christ.” She says that the way we normally apply Proverbs 31 makes us the center of the discussion. But “with Christ as our focus, we can appreciate the amazing truths this passage reveals. Our King’s bountiful provision for us, his bride, gives us all we need to be extravagantly creative as we love and serve him and seek to bless those around us.” Proverbs 31 is not a checklist for the Christian wife but is a treasury of the abundant wealth the King showers out on us as His precious bride.

“It is from the wealth of the king and her position as his wife that the virtuous woman is able to be and do all the things represented in this passage. Out of that relationship she prospers, and from his resources she is blessed and able to bless others.” And one last quote from this chapter – “Christ deeply loves and rejoices over his bride. Our faith and ability to trust him and step into ministry grow stronger as we understand that we are the ones he has chosen.”

After just these first two chapters I was in love with this book and felt like Barbara Bancroft was my friend in ministry. The rest of the book is just as wonderful although reading some of it and thinking through the ideas was more than difficult. Barbara pushed me to face up to some sins that I had buried and that had made ministry so much harder and less fulfilling than it should be. Chapters 7 and 8, titled “Fair is a Four-Letter Word” and “The Pit of Entitlement and Envy” were pretty rough, but I am so glad that I continued to read and that God used what I read to show me myself and his acceptance and forgiveness.

Throughout the book, Barbara directs our attention away from ourselves and away from our weaknesses and turns it to Christ and to His strength that He offers so freely through the Gospel. She reminds us that the Gospel is not just the power of God for salvation, but it is the power of God for us to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

If you’re feeling like life isn’t fair – that ministry is too hard for you –  that nobody really cares how hard you work in your area of ministry – that you’re running on empty, please pick up a copy of Barbara Bancroft’s book. Read it slowly and thoughtfully and let God use it to fill you back up.

Which Do Families Need – Quality or Quantity Time?

crazy-busyDoes it seem like our way of life has gone a little crazy in the last couple of decades? How is it crazier?

  • We’re busier

    • longer hours at work

    • more traffic to thread through

    • more activities to get our kids to

  • We’re more stressed out

    • more demands on our money

    • more expectations to excel

    • more people modeling “perfection”

  • We’re less able to cope

    • pessimistic

    • depressed

    • anxious

  • And we’re pretending we’re none of these things.

And then we come home…to our children who are also busy and stressed and trying to cope.

So which is it? Do they need quality time or quantity time?

If I say quantity, I am upping my busy-ness and my stress. If I say quality, that too could add to my busy-ness because I’ll have to work longer to afford it and it could add to my stress wondering if the quality I provide is good enough.

Wow, what a mess!

Michael Horton has written a book called Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World. Listen to what he says about the crazy that moms have ended up in.

“…the burdens we place on women – even from childhood – make them anxious about life and drive them to expect dissatisfaction with the normal and everyday aspects of life that are so crucial for the development of deep roots, wisdom, and nurture for the whole family…What they need is fewer guilt trips and expectations and more encouragement as they invest in ordinary tasks that yield long-term dividends.”

Somehow we moms have let ourselves become convinced that ordinary quantity time is not what our kids want or need. It’s boring. It can’t compete with all the other claims on our families’ attention. It’s just not good enough.

Instead our kids need:

  • themed birthday parties that look like they cost a mint (and did)
  • the newest and most up-to-date technology (otherwise they’ll be behind in the job market before they ever get to high school)
  • the best teachers and coaches and schools (ditto)
  • the most opportunities to develop new skills (ditto)
  • vacations that keep up with those their friends took
  • moms who look young forever
  • moms who serve on every board and committee related to their kids’ activities
  • moms who bring the best snacks after the game

I think that’s enough. You get the point and, if you’re honest, you know I’m not exaggerating.

So…do kids…do families need that stuff?

One more quote from Michael Horton should answer the question.

“We need to take the pressure off of both parents, let them take a breath, and, resting in God’s grace, let them revel in the ordinary chat in the car, the normal conversation over family devotions, and the countless moments that add up. Our families, including us, do not need more quality time, but more quantity time. That’s when most of the best things happen. We think that such events are spontaneous – and to a certain extent they are. But they are really the things that bubble up when people are living ordinary lives together.”

So what do we do?

  • dial it back

    • don’t say yes to every activity80

    • leave work at work

  • stop trying to keep up to Instagram and Facebook

  • hang with people who feel the same way – not people who push you to do more

  • listen to your family, look at them, and enjoy them

  • rest in God’s grace letting Him create “the countless moments that add up”


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