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There is something about the Irish.

Their accents.

Their humor,

or humour.

Their music.

And oh their movies!

What I love about the Irish-set or Irish made films is that they have a soul that very few other movies are able to capture. You can sense it in how they present their ideas throgh film–there is an honesty about life and it does not seem forced but often has a whimsical nature, which is inspiring.

When you think about Irish culture and its history, you may recall St. Patrick, Celtic music, marvelous green landscapes, war, the Potato Famine, immigration, lots of drinking, and the 20th Century fighting known as “The Troubles.”

Despite a fairly rough history, the Irish always seem to be optimistic, joyful, and occasionally magical. It shows in their films, which is why I have loved so many of them. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be Irish to love these films. You just need to have a soul that is open to laughing and growing.

I have had this blog in a draft form for over a year but after recently watching Brooklyn, it kicked me to finish it.

Here are five of the most impactful Irish movies as well as a few others I recommend.

Waking Ned Devine (1998)

When a lottery winner dies of shock, his fellow townsfolk attempt to claim the money. And yes, this is a comedy.

If you want to get a sense of the dark humor of the Irish, you’ll love this movie. A word of warning, there is crazy old man nudity in a race to cover up one of the funniest movie plots in years.

The Commitments (1991)

If I were to name my favorite Irish movie, it would be this. Follow along some down and outers from North Dublin who try to make is as a “soul” band. It has some of the foulest language but the finest of Irish-accented deliveries. Every year I put the soundtrack on the stereo to hear the Irish soul of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.

Calvary (2014)

I’ve written about this before as I still believe it is one of the most beautiful and relevant depictions of the Gospel (other than the actual Gospel) ever on film. Enough said.

Once (2007)

Here you see a grown up Glen Hansard (from his teenage years with The Commitments). He plays an unnamed Irish street musician in Dublin trying to get by. He meets a young female immigrant from Eastern Europe who shares his loves for music. You see their love of music and longing for connection blossom in the movie. And again, the soundtrack is golden.

Brooklyn (2015)

What a delightful movie about courage, family, community, friendship, loneliness, and love. The movie thrives because of the subtle wins for the main character played by Saoirse Ronan and feels more like real life than the over the top dramatic. One of my favorite writers, Nick Hornby (Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, About a Boy), wrote the screenplay.

 

Other great Irish films I recommend:

  • Evelyn
  • In the Name of the Father
  • Michael Collins
  • The Boxer
  • 71′ – not technically Irish but set in Northern Ireland
  • Bloody Sunday
  • The Wind That Shakes the Barley
  • My Left Foot
  • Other notes:
    • I did not see Angela’s Ashes so please don’t hit me.
    • And before anyone brings it up…P.S. I Love You and Patriot Games don’t quite qualify.

When I find myself immersed in a history book the question often comes, “how would I act in this situation?” This is typically a moot point because I have the luxury of context and a more complete view of history. Yet, I still am tempted to do this and as I read 1944, I kept putting myself in each of the character’s shoes to make an attempt to evaluate how I would react.

I picked up Jay Winik’s new book 1944 last year and recently finished it. Although not his best work, it is an important book. To this day, I believe his book April 1865 is one of the finest popular history books to educate and entertain. I wrote earlier it is a book that will make you love history.

1944: FDR and the Yimagesear That Changed America could turn you away from reading history books. Not because it is a bad book but because it addresses some of the most difficult questions of modern history and what evil humans are capable of. I figured the book would provide a good contextual perspective of World War II but it focuses on FDR, the Allies, and the knowns and unknowns about the Nazi regime’s oppression of the Jewish people.

Known and unknown.

Despite the improvements in society, genocide has not gone away and in fact the majority of the modern western world has essentially turned a blind eye to such atrocities as Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, Cambodia, and Syria. These situations have proved that we have a long way to go.

The same questions arise,

We know it is going on but what are we able to do?

If we do something, what are the consequences? 

Will our reputation be damaged? 

Will Americans (or our people) perish in an attempt to help? 

Why can’t another nation closer to this take care of the issue?

We have so many other problems that also take priority.

These were similar questions asked when most of the Western world discovered about the Holocaust and the horrors of concentration camps like Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, and Flossenberg. In the United States, “pass the buck” seemed to be the unofficial policy between the State Department, the military, and even FDR. There wasn’t a clear answer in what to do and it too far too long to do anything to save the lives of these people. Thousands died each day as it was debated. Eventually action was taken and some lives were saved but millions still perished when they possibly could have been saved. 1944 is powerful because it illustrates how we easily we can shy away from big problems.

What do we do?

Anytime there is discussion about these questions, it is helpful to look at the people. If we don’t humanize the oppressed, we will never act. We will never become creative enough to do. I am encouraged to get out of my comfort zone to learn more and to listen to someone who is of the oppressed. Perhaps then action will emerge.

Oppression in this world is far from over and whether the issue is with equality of minorities in America, freedom for a North Korean, or a child standing up for their religious belief in school, we must search deep inside to be creative and act. I may not know exactly what to do next time this happens but I am reminded that I must get out of my chair and move. What can I do to help those in my city? What can I do to help my neighbor? Just get up, move, and love them, Dave.

 

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hod us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

 

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I have put audiobooks to rest for the past couple months to focus on a podcast binge.

Most of it has been spent listening to interviews on Fresh Air, The Tim Ferriss Show, Brian Koppelman’s The Moment, and others. I’ve always been liked the one on one interview format to learn about “what makes a person who they are.” It doesn’t have to always focus on some outrageously successful person but it needs to dig into what makes people tick to do what they do. Podcasts are able to successfully do this because tv shows typically have to serve the short attention span of its audience while succumbing to pressure from advertisers. On broadcast television, Charlie Rose is probably one of the few to still do this and the Larry King one on one talk show format simply doesn’t work anymore, which is sad.

Enter podcasts, the hope for the future.

In all of the interviews that I’ve listened to, there is something special that keeps rising to the surface. Good interviewers are able to dig into what makes that person special or discovers moments that helped the person break through in life.

It is simple and it affects us everyday.

As I listened to so many of these people interviewed, each shared a story of how words changed their lives. Whether positively or negatively, words often changed the course of their lives. Here are three examples.

McChrystal leading his team

McChrystal leading his team

General Stanley McChrystal

On one of the podcasts, General Stanley McChrystal shared an important story about his time as a cadet at West Point. McChrystal is one of the most successful military leaders of our age and as a young West Point cadet, he was graded often in the middle of his class. He couldn’t seem to break ahead and several commanders repeatedly told him he did not have a chance to become a true leader in the army. It wasn’t until a senior officer at West Point pulled him aside and pointed out one very important thing. He told McChrystal that his peers repeatedly gave him high marks and believed in him as a leader. The senior officer explained to McChrystal that he had what it took because his fellow cadets believed in him and would follow him. Whereas other senior officers overlooked this characteristic, that moment changed his life. These words became a cornerstone of his leadership as servant leader and he repeats this lesson to others.

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Kevin Costner on set of Field of Dreams

Kevin Costner

Next, it may not be a big surprise for an actor to be self-conscious but Kevin Costner shared a story on Tim Ferriss’ Show about when he was in 3rd grade. He was walking in the hallway at school when he was called into a 5th grade classroom. The teacher for some reason wanted to show off and asked the young Costner to complete a complex math problem on the board when he clearly was years away from being able to complete. Costner couldn’t do the math and the teacher began to laugh at him in front of the whole class. Over fifty years later, Costner could recall that moment in such detail as it affected him today. He still seemed bothered by it. In an opposite way, those words motivated him to evaluate how he would treat others, especially working in an entertainment industry focused on “me.” It has served him well as Costner is one of the most well liked and successful artists of the past thirty years. Most people know of his success in sports movies like Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and Tin Cup but he is also an Oscar-winning screenwriter, director, producer, and now an author.

A Rowdy 6th Grader

Last, this story is about my time as a rowdy 6th grader. I wasn’t a poor student or necessarily a kid with a bad reputation but was distracted and occasionally disrespectful. There was a day in class when I was fooling around with other boys in my class. My teacher was a newer teacher and was trying to figure us out. Mrs. Conley stood up and with the look on her face, you knew she had it with us. She looked us with this look of “you better be quiet now or else….” She then proceeded to walk over to the stereo and turn up the dial to Aretha Franklin’s iconic song RESPECT. She took us around the class dancing to the song and singing the lyrics. It brought a lot of laughter but she took time throughout the year to talk to me and teach me about what respect meant and how to treat others. Boy, did she work me over and almost 25 years later, it still sticks with me. I am thankful for Mrs. Conley and am pleased she is still teaching and impacting lives of the next generation.

 

Our life is full of scenes of words to build us up and words to break us down. We can choose to be crushed by these words or we can use them to lift us up.

Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 1:7,

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

In fact, this is a mere sprinkling of encouragement you can find from Paul and others in the Bible. It is a reminder that encouragement is needed more than ever in our lives today.

God whispers to us encouragement everyday through his Word and through others. 

But, just as the serpent spoke nonsense to Adam and Eve, we also must pray for discernment. In those moments, remind yourself that you are not alone and that encouragement is still there.

Instead of sharing words to break others down, share words that matter and can change hearts.

You never really know the power of these words at the time but they can change the direction of a person’s life.

I once heard Sheila Walsh say that there is this “sacred ache” within us. We sense that things in life aren’t supposed to be this way and we ache for what God intended for us from the beginning of time. Heaven awaits those who trust in Christ but as we live our lives today, we feel a loneliness and yearning for what it was also supposed to be. That is why we should return the garden of Eden.

My friend Erik Parks and his team at VCE Productions created a wonderful short film that captures the heart and story of man. It is a short 15 minute film so take time to watch and I would love to hear what you think.

After watching Return to the Garden, I was forced to sit down and think about it for a while. There is beauty yet a haunting in “Return to the Garden” that captures what is behind our joy and pain we experience through life. Just like what Sheila Walsh referenced, the lead male actor referred to the pain as “it wasn’t supposed to be like this.” We start life with so much joy and freedom but pain, sin, and disappointment creep in and we are tempted to throw in the towel like this young couple considers. The movie naturally put me in a place to reflect on my life and how I have experienced similar ups and downs. That is what a good film does, whether in 2 hours or 15 minutes – it brings the viewer personally into the story. There are few filmmakers, who happen to be Christian, who have the courage and ability to let the visuals and story tell the message without shouting it out.

Our world is lovely and tragic, and Parks nailed what is underneath this journey. I even sensed a young Terrence Malick in him in the style and storyline. Parks is an outstanding young writer and director and I am excited to see what is next. You can follow his movie review blog in the meantime as we await to hear his favorite movies of 2015.

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The Best Books of 2015

December 26, 2015 — 1 Comment

This year was a bit of an unexpected journey of reading. I try to read about 25-30 books a year and looks like I’ll accomplish the goal this year.

I gauge a book’s success in my heart by its ability to entertain, educate, motivate me to re-read it, underline, and reference from time to time.

None of the books that made my best books list were ones I set out to read in 2015 so they had a serendipitous value that made them that much more special. These are the books I have enjoyed and been shaped by the most in 2015. I also have given each of these books to friends or recommended them along the way. I also chose several passages for you to read to get a feel for each book’s purpose, entertainment, and beauty. Perhaps these books also inspired you in 2015. If not, I hope they will in 2016. Salud.

 

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

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This book has been incredibly helpful to me as I am now leading a larger and more complex group of teams this year in publishing. In Team of Team, McChrystal and his colleagues show how the challenges they faced in Iraq can be rel­evant to countless businesses, nonprofits, and other or­ganizations. The world is changing faster than ever, and the smartest response for those in charge is to give small groups the freedom to experiment while driving every­one to share what they learn across the entire organiza­tion.

“Purpose affirms trust, trust affirms purpose, and together they forge individuals into a working team.”

“A leader’s words matter, but actions ultimately do more to reinforce or undermine the implementation of a team of teams. Instead of exploiting technology to monitor employee performance at levels that would have warmed Frederick Taylor’s heart, the leader must allow team members to monitor him. More than directing, leaders must exhibit personal transparency. This is the new ideal.”

“Efficiency, once the sole icon on the hill, must make room for adaptability in structures, processes, and mind-sets that is often uncomfortable.”

 

Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics 

Cover-Boys-in-the-Boat-Large

Many people wondered what they would read after Seabiscuit and Unbroken. Well, they should be reading Boys in the Boat. It reads like a novel and you get such a vivid picture of life during the Great Depression while finding yourself cheering as a coxswain for these University of Washington rowing boys.

“It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.”

“It takes energy to get angry. It eats you up inside. I can’t waste my energy like that and expect to get ahead. When they left, it took everything I had in me just to survive. Now I have to stay focused. I’ve just gotta take care of it myself.” – Joe Rantz

“All were merged into one smoothly working machine; they were, in fact, a poem of motion, a symphony of swinging blades.”

“The wood…taught us about survival, about overcoming difficulty, about prevailing over adversity, but it also taught us something about the underlying reason for surviving in the first place. Something about infinite beauty, about undying grace, about things larger and greater than ourselves. About the reasons we were all here.”

Peace Like a River

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Perhaps one of the greatest novels of the early 21st Century, it is beautifully beautifully by Leif Enger. Suggested to me by my friend Matt West, I already want to re-read it.

“Sometimes heroism is nothing more than patience, curiosity, and a refusal to panic.”

“Fair is whatever God wants to do.”

“We and the world, my children, will always be at war.
Retreat is impossible.
Arm yourselves.”

“Many a night I woke to the murmer of paper and knew (Dad) was up, sitting in the kitchen with frayed King James – oh, but he worked that book; he held to it like a rope ladder.”

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe and a Great War

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Although I knew plenty about C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, what I did not know much about was their experiences during World War I and how it brought them together as friends. Their writing about good versus evil was shaped by their experiences and the book was very well researched and written by Joe Loconte, a former author of mine. This is one of the best stories about an epic friendship that has helped me re-look at how I value friendships in my own life.

“Their experience reminds us that great friendship is a gift born of adversity: it is made possible by the common struggle against world’s darkness.”

“Like few other writers over the past century, they show us what friendship looks like when it reaches for a high purpose and is watered by the streams of sacrifice, loyalty, and love.”

“I grew up believing in this Myth and I have felt – I still feel – its almost perfect grandeur.” – C.S. Lewis

The Martian

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Rarely does a movie honor its original book so well and Ridley Scott did a great job for Andy Weir’s underdog book. The book I listened to this audiobook, which is probably the one thing that is better than the movie. I laughed most of the way through and you will too. Pick it up for a long road trip.

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”

“I guess you could call it a “failure”, but I prefer the term “learning experience”

“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.”

“Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”

The Top 10 Survival Movies

September 17, 2015 — 2 Comments

After watching two fascinating survival movies in the past few weeks, it has been a reminder of why I appreciate these movies so much. The first was 71′ starring Jack O’Connell (Unbroken) and All Is Lost (2013) starring Robert Redford. They are incredibly different stories of survival but their lives were at stake and basic human instincts the same. I understand that movies like this are difficult to watch for some but I would argue that they are necessary for us to watch, learn, and grow.


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 Can Survival Movies Change Us?

What I love about survival movies is seeing how characters respond to their fear. Some panic. Some find their true grit. Ultimately each character must recognize that they need others and for many, they need God. No character is left unscathed and can survive alone.

If we look close enough, we can see ourselves in these characters. I draw hope, courage, and inspiration from many of them.

As movies like The Martian and Everest release, it is time to reflect on some of the finest survival films.

There are many excellent movies about survival, too many to count in fact, but here are my ten favorite along with honorable mention.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

A group of passengers struggle to survive and escape when their ocean liner completely capsizes at sea. Gene Hackman is at his best leading a group to safety.

All Is Lost (2013)

After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor played by Robert Redford finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, starring his mortality in the face. It is one of the most beautiful and personal films about survival because of the close-proximity filming style the director uses.

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

After being shipwrecked on a deserted island, the Robinson family overcome the obstacles of nature and transform their new home into a community. Pirates, tigers, and storms. What more could a family adventure bring? If you visit Magic Kingdom at Disney World, you have to tour the treehouse.

Panic Room (2002)

A divorced woman played courageously by Jodie Foster and her diabetic daughter (a young Kristen Stewart) take refuge in their newly purchased house’s safe room, when three men break-in, searching for a missing fortune. Even in your own home, survival is the central theme.

Alive (1993)

Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the snow swept Andes are forced to use desperate measures to survive after a plane crash. The movie begs the question, ‘how far will you go to survive’?

Castaway (2000)

A FedEx executive played by Tom Hanks must transform himself physically and emotionally to survive a crash landing on a deserted island. The ending still makes me wonder.

127 Hours (2010)

A climber played by James Franco goes on a hike and becomes trapped. Yes, he even has conversations with Scooby Doo. It’s a reminder to let people know where you are going before you head into the wilderness.

Rescue Dawn (2006)

A U.S. fighter pilot played by Christian Bale and his epic struggle of survival after being shot down on a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War.

Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

Robert Aldrich’s tense, 1965 drama about a plane crash in the Sahara is a unique psychological study of men in desperate circumstances. I studied this film in business management classes.

Apollo 13 (1995)

NASA must devise a strategy to return Apollo 13 to Earth safely after the spacecraft undergoes massive internal damage putting the lives of the three astronauts on board in jeopardy. Led by Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell and supported by Bill Paxton with the omnipresent Kevin Bacon, this is a must-watch “failure is not an option” movie.

Honorable Mention

Life is Beautiful (1997)

28 Days Later (2002)

The Day After (1983) 

71′ (2004)

Lone Survivor (2013)

Into the Wild (2007)

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

White Water Summer (1987)

Unbroken (2014)

Red Dawn (1984)

Empire of the Sun (1987) 

Gravity (2013)

What are your favorite survival movies and why?

“You complete me,” says a man to his book softly in a coffee shop.

Well, not exactly. Not one book (besides the Bible) really completes a person. There was a season of life when I only read history books because I loved the topic. In my early 30s, I came to a point where I was interested so much in the topic, and still am. But, I found myself not growing enough in other areas. It was linear growth and despite my love for history, it is not all that I am.

As I have grown older, I desire to be challenged in my imagination, to avoid the staleness of life, and occasional monotony of checking off the fact that I read a book. I want more out of the reading experience.

Enter the “Renaissance Reader” I aspire to be.

I’ve been on a quest to figure out the best mix of reading that helps shape me to be a better professional, person, and one who can praise God with more heart. 

“In an age of specialization people are proud to be able to do one thing well, but if that is all they know about, they are missing out on much else life has to offer… I like the idea of being a Renaissance hack. If tombstones were still in style, I would want to have the two words chiseled right under my name.” – Dennis Flanagan, editor of Scientific American

In the past few years, I have set out on a quest to figure out the right combination of books to help me grow into the “Renaissance Reader” I want to be.

In this time of exploration, I have found the combination of reading three types of books at a time.

My goal is to read three “P’s”:

  • Professional – What develops me in my profession
  • Personal – What develops me to have fun and dream as a reader
  • Praise – What helps make me stronger in my faith

Here are the latest three that I have been reading each day and are best shaping me.

Professional

As a leader of a very talented marketing team in publishing, I am often thrown dozen so business books to read. They have helped shape me professionally but none of them can I safely say have truly transformed me.

For the past few years, I have been scratching my head about how to be a more effective business leader. There are so many prodigious communication tools in today’s mass media market to make my head spin. Things simimageply don’t work the way they used to, which is hard for me because my chief strength is ‘context’ and I feel most at home reading history books with the inclination to draw inspiration from the past to form the future. Yet, the future is so uncertain. I am in a different stage of career where I lead over a dozen people, separated in different groups, and some with differing objectives.

I am forced think differently. Enter Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal. He draws lessons from his time adapting to the Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). When General Stanley McChrystal took command of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in 2004, he quickly realized that conventional military tactics were failing. Al Qaeda in Iraq was a decentralized network that could move quickly, strike ruthlessly, then seemingly vanish into the local population. The allied forces had a huge advantage in numbers, equipment, and training—but none of that seemed to matter.

McChrystal was forced to change his team into a more flexible and cohesive information-sharing team to fight back.

Team of Teams has been a book to help clarify my role as a leader and manager in today’s complex environment. I am so thankful for the military and General Stanley McChrystal in how he had the courage to adapt to a new environment. We all can learn from the military.

Personal

Cover-Boys-in-the-Boat-LargeI love history and fiction so I try to read something in this area that fulfills that joy. My latest has been one of the most inspiring stories in publishing the past few years. My latest read is The Boys in the Boat. Who would have thought rowing was interesting, especially set in the 1930s? I am sure people felt the same way about Seabiscuit. I literally was clapping and cheering for these underdog boys from Washington state, overcoming immense odds during the depression to win the 1936 Olympic gold medal. The Boys in the Boat is one of the finest narratives written in the past few years.

The 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team from the University of Washington. From left: Don Hume, Joseph Rantz, George E. Hunt, James B. McMillin, John G. White, Gordon B. Adam, Charles Day, and Roger Morris. At center front is coxswain Robert G. Moch. Photo courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW2234.

The 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team from the University of Washington. From left: Don Hume, Joseph Rantz, George E. Hunt, James B. McMillin, John G. White, Gordon B. Adam, Charles Day, and Roger Morris. At center front is coxswain Robert G. Moch.
Photo courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW2234.

 

 

 

 

Praise

I aim to consistently read a Christian-themed book that challenges my faith to grow deeper.

urlThere are many books I would recommend to read before Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, primarily because it is a collection of essays and speeches given by Lewis. In college, I wrote a paper about Lewis’ influence and encouragement to fellow British citizens during World War II. Published years later, The Weight of Glory is evidence of his contributions to give hope and understanding for a world that seemed poised to end for Britain. Churchill and Roosevelt gave their radio fireside chats but Lewis, even as a layman, provided something even deeper. As you study Lewis further, I highly recommend reading this treasure. Put yourselves in the shoes of an average Briton during World War II and his words and God’s truth will come alive.

One of Lewis’ most famous lines is found in these pages, “Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.”

 

What connects it all? Reading the Bible everyday.

There is a story to be told that connects all of what we are meant to do and it is the word of God. I’ve heard it referred to at the greatest self-help book, ever. It is true. God’s Word is our greatest guide to shaping how we approach each day.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 HCSB

Reading is such a wonderful experience. But, it is meant to be shared so I encourage you whether in the Bible to use an online sharing platform like YouVersion, Wordsearch, or He/She Reads Truth. Or or as a reader, use Facebook Groups and Goodreads.com to share your review with others.

“We read to know we are not alone.” – C.S. Lewis.

What are you reading? Do you have a mix of books you enjoy reading to fulfill yourself?