Maybe it’s menopause, but I’ve been waking up a lot in the middle of the night. Whenever I wake in the night, I pray. And lately a lot of you have been getting prayed for!


Last night, I prayed for my friends who suffer from depression.

Friends - one teenage girl comforts another


Depression may be one of the worst things I’ve experienced. When you suffer from depression, you understand you should want to live, but you can’t remember what the reasons for wanting to live are.


A dozen years ago I was there. I told a friend how bad I hurt inside and she insisted I call my doctor. The receptionist at my doctor’s office said, “Can you come in on Monday?” I said, “I don’t think I can stay around ’til Monday.” She responded, “Let’s get you right in!”


Within a few weeks, with the help of medication and counseling, I was feeling back to normal. Maybe not perfect, but I was on my way. Nowadays I am filled with joy and zest for life, and I barely remember how bad I felt.


As a counselor I thank God I’ve experienced depression. It gives me great empathy for folks who suffer with depression and anxiety. Without knowing how awful it is, I don’t think I’d feel the compassion and urgency to help others with this mental illness.


And depression is a serious medical illness; it is not something that you have made up in your head.

Read more here.


In 2014, an estimated 15.7 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This number represented 6.7% of all U.S. adults. For women, the number is higher. It’s more like 8%.


Based mainly on the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), in the NSDUH study a major depressive episode is defined as:


A period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-image.


The good news is depression is very treatable:

Read more here.



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I’m so thankful for my career. I actually have three jobs, and I love the variety:

  1. I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor – I counsel adults, not kids and I see both men and women, in a small office near Columbine High School here in Littleton, Colorado.
  2. I teach part-time at Colorado Christian University. When I’m offered a course it’s usually evenings. Four-hour increments, and the class only lasts seven weeks. Five of those weeks are in seat and the other two the students use for writing final papers. I’ve taught a lot of courses including Counseling Skills, Social Psychology, Human Sexuality, and Lifespan & Development.
  3. I am the author of two books. One is my book Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World published through a traditional publisher (Abingdon Press) and the other is a self-published ebook called What Does God Say About Suffering? The second book is shorter; more of a booklet. For the past three years I’ve been researching and writing a third book. I don’t want to say much about it until I figure out how I want to have it published.

Each of my professional vocations feeds and enhances the other parts: My counseling informs my teaching. My teaching informs my writing and research, and my research informs my counseling, etc.


In addition to my three careers, I often get asked to speak. Sometimes it’s to a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group, sometimes to churches, sometimes I give talks at my local library. I’ve had the honor of speaking at Denver Seminary and twice to the incoming Master of Arts of Counseling students at Colorado Christian University.


I have an upcoming engagement that you might be interested in: On February 27th, 2016 I’ll be at the annual Writer’s on the Rock conference at Bear Valley Church in Denver (Lakewood) Colorado. What I love about this conference is that it’s affordable—just $59 and that includes lunch—and any level of writer is welcome. That means if you want to learn how to write better love letters to your grandchildren or how to market a current bestseller, you’re going to find a workshop that meets your needs. I will be speaking about my experiences of turning a time of pain and growth into a published book.


In late April I get to zip away to Spokane, Washington to speak at Moody Bible Institute. I’m eager to share the topic of my latest research and upcoming book. The title and specifics are still secret, but the topic pertains to why some people thrive after experiencing trauma and others do not. You will not believe the interesting conclusions I found!


Of course, life is not all about work. With so much output, I need input. Here’s what fills me back up:

Attending University of Colorado basketball and football games, walking with my husband and our dog Chipotle, doing yoga at the rec center, swimming (I love swimming laps but I also love playing with water weights in the warm therapy pool and talking with my pregnant daughter), taking photographs (I’m an amateur but thanks to Molly I know how to get my camera setting off Auto), cooking, watching TV or movies with my husband (I’m a huge Homeland fan. I also like Dateline and Downton Abbey. Also, I’m a news junkie. I can tell you the one word Megyn Kelly uses to start each broadcast.) Once in a while I’ll read a novel, but most of the time I’m reading non-fiction and researching what helps people thrive. Lastly, spending time with my two grown kids and son-in-law, and soon my first grandchild, is what gives me the most joy.


What are you up to? Read any good books?

What’s your favorite wind down activity? 



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Why I Love Old People

I love old people. At least the ones I see at the rec center where I go swimming.

When I walk by the lazy river I see them walking in little clusters. Almost always they are smiling while they talk.

I’ve noticed something else. Most of them have given up on modesty. I think it’s because they are more interested in others than themselves. They peel off their bathing suits and wander around the locker room talking to each other. They don’t even try to be discreet. It’s quite a contrast to the fit young lady who drapes her beach towel over her body and dresses herself hunched over.

Overweight middle-aged woman playing under a water fountain splashing into a swimming pool as she stands chest deep in water laughing as the cascade pours over her head

And the political conversations . . . Older people say what they want, and they don’t apologize, but they give each other respect. (You’ve probably heard me tout the top five regrets of the dying…one is that people wish they had spoken up for what they believed.)

Here’s one conversation I overheard the Monday after the recent shootings in Colorado Springs.

Lady #1: Oh wasn’t that horrible. That poor officer gunned down.

Lady #2: Well it’s no worse that what’s going on inside that abortion clinic.

Lady #1: (In a friendly way) Well, no one should be killing anyone.

I got the impression one lady was conservative and the other liberal, but after the conversation they exclaimed their goodwill toward each other and promised to meet again on Wednesday. I rarely see younger people give each other that respect.


I have a stress fracture in my foot so my doctor said no weight bearing exercise. My daughter is pregnant. Our combined conditions compelled us to investigate the water aerobics class a few weeks ago. Feeling awkward and unsure, we pulled our floatie noodles from the closet and slipped into the warm water. Immediately a heavyset elderly lady greeted us. “Hi, I’m Maureen, come on it, you’ll love it. I have arthritis and this warm water and gentle movement feels so good. You’ll see.” She went on to educate us about the class and introduce us to others. I was struck by her kindness and what seemed like acceptance of her own frailty and weight. Since Maureen was in her early 80s, my guess is she’s experienced her share of suffering. She might not have too many years left on this earth, yet what exuded from this weathered woman were kindness, joy, and peace.


Yesterday,  I went to see a movie called Youth. A friend of mine who is literary recommended it. My husband and I sat in the back and laughed each time something weird happened. We didn’t understand the storyline but we sure loved the  cinematography, setting, and acting. My friend Carolyn who initially recommended the movie said she didn’t understand it all either, but it was a great conversation starter over a glass of wine.

Lots of people fear getting older. Not me. I’ve seen the research that shows most people get exceedingly happier as each decade goes by. People don’t have their peak life experiences until their mid 60s and early 70s. Happiness levels dip a tiny bit in our late 70s and early 80s but never do they go down to the levels of people in their early 20s.

I’ve written several articles about life getting better as I’ve gotten olderLife, so far, just gets better as I grow older. 

Do you dread aging?

Got anything to share with me about youth or old age?

Read any good books or seen movies on this topic?

I’d love to hear.

Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.

Isaiah 46:4

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*There's my book Renewed on the far bottom shelf.

*There’s my book Renewed on the far bottom shelf.

Can you believe 2015 has two days left in it? I didn’t get as many books read as I usually do because we were so busy traveling and remodeling. However, I got to read a wide variety of books and I think you’d enjoy most of them. For each book listed, I cut and pasted some description from Amazon, then I added my own thoughts.

To read the books I read the first half of 2015 click here. 


30. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

On May 1st, 1915 the Lusitania set sail on its final voyage. That it was sunk by a German U-boat will be news to few—and Larson’s challenge is to craft a historical narrative leading up to the thrilling, if known, conclusion, building anticipation in his readers along the way. To his credit, he makes the task look easy. Focusing on the politics of WWI, on nautical craftsmanship and strategy, and on key players in the eventual attack and sinking of the “fast, comfortable, and beloved” Lusitania, Larson once again illustrates his gift for seducing us with history and giving it a human face. Dead Wake puts readers right aboard the famous Cunard liner and keeps them turning the pages until the book’s final, breathless encounter.

*This book was interesting but was more of a history book than a riveting read.



31. I’m Proud of You by Tim Madigan

Fred Rogers, the “gentle icon” of public television’s Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, taught generations of children and their parents how to express feelings and relate to others in a positive way. Rogers was also an ordained Presbyterian minister who regularly studied the important spiritual thinkers and shared his faith with an eclectic range of adult friends. Madigan, a journalist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, became one of those friends after writing a piece on Rogers and Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) in 1995. Soon Madigan and Rogers were corresponding, and Madigan reprints here many of their letters and e-mails. They built a warm, supportive friendship, one that nourished Madigan through his self-doubt “Furies” and the difficult death of his dear brother. As Rogers grieved for Madigan’s losses and several of his own, the two taught each other about the beauty of giving and receiving “unconditional regard” from a beloved friend. So close did they become that readers may share Madigan’s shock at discovering that Rogers was gravely ill—too weak for a last visit before his death in 2003. Even if readers don’t feel their day-to-day lives transformed by this luminous memoir, in times of grief or of loss they’ll know which book on their shelf to turn to.

*This is the second or third time I’ve read this book. It’s one of my all time favorites. I highly recommend the audio version.



32. Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine by Maxmillian Potter

In January 2010, Aubert de Villaine, the famed proprietor of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the tiny, storied vineyard that produces the most expensive, exquisite wines in the world, received an anonymous note threatening the destruction of his priceless vines by poison-a crime that in the world of high-end wine is akin to murder-unless he paid a one million euro ransom. Villaine believed it to be a sick joke, but that proved a fatal miscalculation and the crime shocked this fabled region of France. The sinister story that Vanity Fair journalist Maximillian Potter uncovered would lead to a sting operation by some of France’s top detectives, the primary suspect’s suicide, and a dramatic investigation. This botanical crime threatened to destroy the fiercely traditional culture surrounding the world’s greatest wine.This book takes us deep into a captivating world full of fascinating characters, small-town French politics, an unforgettable narrative, and a local culture defined by the twinned veins of excess and vitality and the deep reverent attention to the land that runs through it.

*This book took me nine months to read. That’s because I had it in my eliptical machine and I usually walk outdoors. I only read this on cold/rainy days. Since it is a true story this book could have been great. I felt like it bogged down and would have been improved with a heavy edit. But, it was still worthwhile if you’re interested in wine.



33. Love’s Executioner & Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin Yalom

The collection of ten absorbing tales by master psychotherapist Irvin D. Yalom uncovers the mysteries, frustrations, pathos, and humor at the heart of the therapeutic encounter. In recounting his patients’ dilemmas, Yalom not only gives us a rare and enthralling glimpse into their personal desires and motivations but also tells us his own story as he struggles to reconcile his all-too human responses with his sensibility as a psychiatrist. Not since Freud has an author done so much to clarify what goes on between a psychotherapist and a patient.

*This is another book I read for the second time. Yalom writes books to teach counseling students, but anyone would enjoy the stories from inside the counseling room.



34. Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

Enthusiastically praised by everyone from Bernie Siegel to Daniel Goleman to Larry Dossey, Rachel Remen has a unique perspective on healing rooted in her background as a physician, a professor of medicine, a therapist, and a long-term survivor of chronic illness. A deeply moving and down-to-earth collection of true stories, this prominent physician shows us life in all its power and mystery and reminds us that the things we cannot measure may be the things that ultimately sustain and enrich our lives. Kitchen Table Wisdom addresses spiritual issues-suffering, meaning, love, faith, courage, and miracles-in the language and authority of our own life experience.

*I could read books like this every day of my life. Dr. Remen shares all the important days of her life as a physician and therapist.


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35. Still Life: A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression by Gillian Marchenko

For Marchenko, “dealing with depression” means learning to accept and treat it as a physical illness. In these pages she describes her journey through various therapies and medications to find a way to live with depression. She faces down the guilt of a wife and mother of four, two with special needs. How can she care for her family when she can’t even get out of bed? Her story is real and raw, not one of quick fixes. But hope remains as she discovers that living with depression is still life.

*As a published author I get asked to review a lot of books. This one was a joy to read. If you’ve never struggled with depression but want to know what it’s like, Still Life paints an accurate picture. If you have lived on that fearful ledge called depression, you’ll find an ally in Gillian Marchenko. With heartfelt honesty, Marchenko describes life with double depression (Major Depressive Disorder and Dysthymia). In my dozen years as a licensed professional counselor, I’ve never read a more accurate book about depression and the toll it takes on the one who suffers, as well the impact on those closest to the sufferer. This book holds no cure, no magic wand, but it does extend hope.

**Available May, 2016



36. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

A classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, The Things They Carried is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

*This was a difficult book to read. Why? Because it’s a gruesome depiction of war. The writing and storytelling is top notch. We read this in our bookclub.



37. Rising Strong by Brené Brown

You may be someone who looks at Rising Strong and says, “oh, that’s not really for me….” Translation: I don’t read or need that self-help stuff, give me a good novel and go away. But Brené Brown isn’t a spiritual guru, or someone who’s risen from the ashes to tell us how to live our lives. She’s a researcher. And Rising Strong isn’t some feel-good-get-over-it regimen; it’s more investigative reporting on the common denominators of people who whole-heartedly get back up and go another round after getting their asses handed to them in big and small ways. In her straightforward Texan voice, Brown sets the table for us to get curious about life’s sticky moments and invites us to serve ourselves a plate of what she’s learned in over a decade of research. I don’t know about you, but I’m not trying to be famous or come up with a cure that will change the world, I just want to live happily and keep getting back in the arena whether I’ve been rocked on my heels, knocked to my knees, or gone face down in the dirt. For my money, seeing how I can do that better is worth reading about.

*I love all of Brown’s books. This is not my favorite but it’s very worthwhile. (I still think The Power of Vulnerability on audio is Brown’s very best book).



38. Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable, and Consistent Community by Anne Marie Miller

Life has a way of throwing unexpected obstacles in our path, tripping us up, and bringing us to our knees. When these crises hit, who do you call? Who do you lean on? Miller found herself in one of those valleys on the floor of a hotel bathroom while on a business trip. Months of stress accumulated and took its toll. In a moment of desperation, she picked up the phone and called a friend for guidance. That simple phone call was the first step in a transforming journey of evaluating what community truly meant and looked like in her life. We live in a world and a generation where the word “community” is often discussed. But how genuine and authentic are your relationships really? Miller noticed an important tension all of us must recognize in order to have life-giving friendships: “We desperately want to belong yet at the same time, we yearn for independence.” Miller takes us along as she sets out to dig below the superficial and explore what choices are necessary to find intentional, vulnerable, and consistent community. Jesus was passionate about truth-speaking relationships. And with Miller’s narrative and practical insights interwoven together, you will feel more equipped in your quest for these types of relationships as you seek people to lean on and as you pour love into those around you.

*I enjoyed this book. Miller describes a difficult time in her life and shares what helped. It wasn’t earth shattering but it wa a good reminder.



39. My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson—free spirit, track star, and belle of the block—experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too. M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.

*I listened to this on audio. A coming of age story mixed with mystery. A story of teenage angst in Baton Rouge.



40. Never Broken by Jewel 

When Jewel’s first album, Pieces of You, topped the charts in 1995, her emotional voice and vulnerable performance were groundbreaking. Drawing comparisons to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, a singer-songwriter of her kind had not emerged in decades. Now, with more than thirty million albums sold worldwide, Jewel tells the story of her life, and the lessons learned from her experience and her music. Living on a homestead in Alaska, Jewel learned to yodel at age five, and joined her parents’ entertainment act, working in hotels, honky-tonks, and biker bars. Behind a strong-willed family life with an emphasis on music and artistic talent, however, there was also instability, abuse, and trauma. At age fifteen, she moved out and tasked herself with a mission: to see if she could avoid being the kind of statistic that her past indicated for her future. Soon after, she was accepted to the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, and there she began writing her own songs as a means of expressing herself and documenting her journey to find happiness. Jewel was eighteen and homeless in San Diego when a radio DJ aired a bootleg version of one of her songs and it was requested into the top-ten countdown, something unheard-of for an unsigned artist. By the time she was twenty-one, her debut had gone multiplatinum. There is much more to Jewel’s story, though, one complicated by family legacies, by crippling fear and insecurity, and by the extraordinary circumstances in which she managed to flourish and find happiness despite these obstacles. Along her road of self-discovery, learning to redirect her fate, Jewel has become an iconic singer and songwriter. In Never Broken she reflects on how she survived, and how writing songs, poetry, and prose has saved her life many times over. She writes lyrically about the natural wonders of Alaska, about pain and loss, about the healing power of motherhood, and about discovering her own identity years after the entire world had discovered the beauty of her songs.

*After a best selling author/English teacher said this was the best book she’s ever read, I ordered it and devoured in two sittings. I also mailed my hard copy to my twin sister who has been begging me to listen to Jewel for a dozen years. I then ordered another copy on Kindle so I could refer back to it. I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor and mom of two grown children. I found myself alternating between shock and anger most of the first half of the book. I felt so badly for Jewel and her siblings who did not get the kind of parenting they needed. Not only did they miss out on nurture, they experienced physical and emotional abuse. Most people would have turned to drugs, promiscuity, or alcohol. Not Jewel. She was raised in a bar and saw how alcohol poured on top of pain made people worse off, so she turned to her journals. Her written words became songs.
Amazingingly Jewel has been able to sort through the parts of her life that were worth keeping. She repaired relationships where she could, acknowledged severe personality disorders in others and let go for her own sanity, valued her rich Alaskan upbringing, etc. She is a perfect example of what researcher/author Brene Brown calls “wholehearted & courageous.” In spite of life’s pain, Jewel keeps connecting, growing, and making wisdom out of horrible life events.



41. Hot Mama: 12 Secrets to a Sizzling Hot Marriage by Kathi Lipp and Erin MacPherson

If you ask the average woman how much sizzle there is in her marriage, she’ll probably answer, “Not enough!” Being a mom is overwhelming, and it’s easy for moms to slip into the habit of allowing responsibilities for kids, work, and church to interfere with their relationship with their husbands. They don’t have the energy or the ideas they need to have a spicy, satisfying sex life. Hot Mama to the rescue! Kathi Lipp and Erin MacPherson set out on a mission to find out what it takes for busy moms to feel confident and sexy. In this witty book, they share hilarious stories and creative ideas from moms all over the country that will help readers build a relationship with their spouse that’s happy, healthy, and fun. From building confidence and banishing guilt to flirting (remember that?) and wearing clothes that make you–and him–feel hot, Kathi and Erin offer women all the encouragement, motivation, and know-how they need to take their sex lives from ho-hum to hot.

*I was invited to contribute to this book so I read it when it was published. It’s helpful, fun read.



42. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

Anchored by excerpts from her favorite memoirs and anecdotes from fellow writers’ experience, The Art of Memoir lays bare Karr’s own process. (Plus all those inside stories about how she dealt with family and friends get told— and the dark spaces in her own skull probed in depth.) As she breaks down the key elements of great literary memoir, she breaks open our concepts of memory and identity, and illuminates the cathartic power of reflecting on the past; anybody with an inner life or complicated history, whether writer or reader, will relate.

*I don’t have plans to write a memoir, but it was interesting to learn how one author does it.



43. Killing Reagan by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

From the bestselling team of Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard comes Killing Reagan, a page-turning epic account of the career of President Ronald Reagan that tells the vivid story of his rise to power — and the forces of evil that conspired to bring him down. Just two months into his presidency, Ronald Reagan lay near death after a gunman’s bullet came within inches of his heart. His recovery was nothing short of remarkable — or so it seemed. But Reagan was grievously injured, forcing him to encounter a challenge that few men ever face. Could he silently overcome his traumatic experience while at the same time carrying out the duties of the most powerful man in the world? Told in the same riveting fashion as Killing LincolnKilling KennedyKilling Jesus, and Killing PattonKilling Reagan reaches back to the golden days of Hollywood, where Reagan found both fame and heartbreak, up through the years in the California governor’s mansion, and finally to the White House, where he presided over boom years and the fall of the Iron Curtain. But it was John Hinckley Jr.’s attack on him that precipitated President Reagan’s most heroic actions. In Killing Reagan, O’Reilly and Dugard take readers behind the scenes, creating an unforgettable portrait of a great man operating in violent times.

*I’ve read all the Killing books. This one was just as well researched and written as O’Reilly’s other books. It’s not political so you don’t have to worry about it being skewed toward one political party.



44. Big Magic: Creating Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work,  embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.

*I listened to this one on audio and enjoyed hearing Gilbert’s own voice. This was an easy read puts a new spin on the creative process.



45. Upside: The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth by Jim Rendon

In the tradition of Po Bronson and Paul Tough, journalist Jim Rendon delivers a deeply reported look at the life-changing implications of post-traumatic growth—an emerging field of psychological research that shows how the suffering caused by traumatic events can be harnessed as a force for self-improvement and success rather than destruction. PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is at the center of national conversation and a widely recognized psychological condition. But an equally valid, though lesser known outcome of trauma is post-traumatic growth. While many survivors suffer long-term emotional damage, over the last several decades psychologists have discovered that with the right circumstances and proper support, survivors can actually emerge from their trauma stronger, more focused, and with a new and clear vision for the future. In fact, as many as two-thirds of trauma survivors report positive changes—far more than suffer from PTSD. But how can terrible events lead to remarkable and dramatic breakthroughs? Upside seeks to answer this question by taking a deep-dive look at this burgeoning new field of study. Comprised of interviews with leading researchers and dozens of trauma survivors, Rendon paints a vivid and comprehensive portrait of this groundbreaking field. With accessible language, prescriptive takeaways, and specific tools to promote positive responses to trauma, this book is perfect for anyone interested in the ways that traumatic events shape people. It is particularly useful for trauma survivors or their loved ones seeking a more hopeful and positive future.

*For the past three years I’ve been researching this topic. It was completely gratifying to find much of the same research as my own book, and the author’s conclusions, which mirrored my own. Of course he worded it in his way with his own stories, but it made me happy.



46. Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People by Calvin Stapert

Handel’s oratorio Messiah is a phenomenon with no parallel in music history. No other work of music has been so popular for so long. Yet familiarity can sometimes breed contempt — and also misunderstanding. This book by music expert Calvin Stapert will greatly increase understanding and appreciation of Handel’s majestic Messiah, whether readers are old friends of this remarkable work or have only just discovered its magnificence. Stapert provides fascinating historical background, tracing not only Messiah’s unlikely inception but also its amazing reception throughout history. The bulk of the book offers scene-by-scene musical and theological commentary on the whole work, focusing on the way Handel’s music beautifully interprets and illuminates the biblical text.

*I enjoyed this book until about 2/3 of the way through. Then Stapert lost me on on the musical information. I had hoped he would provide snippets of music in between the narrative. That’s why I bought it on audio.



47. Match by Kay Day

Fourteen-year-old Match MacGillicuddy has some big questions—questions too painful to contemplate. But a missing person (whom nobody really misses) and some unexplained phenomena in the area start him looking for answers. The Snickers-eating sheriff, the nurse with ever-changing hair color, the eccentric old lady with a pet monkey, and a homeless man with amnesia are some of the folks who help (or not) as Match tries to resolve the mysteries that surround him.

*Kay is a friend of mine. She has learned the craft of fiction writing. I’m envious. She has a wonderful voice, and lots of humor. She shows instead of tells. This was not the typical kind of book I read, but I still enjoyed it.



48. Hands Free Life: Nine Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More by Rachel Macy Stafford

We all yearn to look back to find we lived a life of significance. But is it even possible anymore? Considering the amount of distraction and pressure that exists in society today, living a fulfilling life may seem like an unachievable dream. But it is not – not with the nine habits outlined in this book. New York Times bestselling author and widely known blogger, Rachel Macy Stafford, reveals nine habits that help you focus on investing in the most significant parts of your life. As your hands, heart, and eyes become open, you will experience a new sense of urgency – an urgency to live, love, dream, connect, create, forgive, and flourish despite the distractions of our culture. By following each daily Hands Free Declaration, you will be inspired to adopt mindful daily practices and new thought-processes that will help you: Make meaningful, lasting human connections despite the busyness of everyday life. – Live in the now despite that inner nudge pushing you out of the moment toward perfection and productivity. – Protect your most sacred relationships, as well as your values, beliefs, health, and happiness, despite the latent dangers of technology and social media. – Pursue the passions of your heart without sacrificing your job or your daily responsibilities. – Evaluate your daily choices to insure you are investing in a life that matters to you. With a Hands Free Life perspective, you will have the power to look back and see you didn’t just manage life, you actually lived it – and lived it well.

*My mother died when I was 18. That’s why I appreciate Stafford’s books so much. I never take a day for granted and neither does she. She reminds moms to live each day with purpose and presence. She shares plenty of stories of times she messed up and times she got it right. Great writing. Powerful message.



49. Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

This book compiles the best work of the legendary short-story writer Lucia Berlin. With the grit of Raymond Carver, the humor of Grace Paley, and a blend of wit and melancholy all her own, Berlin crafts miracles from the everyday, uncovering moments of grace in the Laundromats and halfway houses of the American Southwest, in the homes of the Bay Area upper class, among switchboard operators and struggling mothers, hitchhikers and bad Christians. Readers will revel in this remarkable collection from a master of the form and wonder how they’d ever overlooked her in the first place.

*My friend (and author) Dave Cullen recommended this book. Berlin was one of his writing professors at the University of Colorado. Any book Cullen recommends, I read. The writing is stellar. Sometimes I had to take a break because the subject matter is heavy.



50. Stealing America: What My Experience with Criminal Gands Taught Me about Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Party by Dinesh D’Souza

In the fall of 2014, outspoken author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza found himself hauled into federal court for improperly donating money to an old friend’s Senate campaign. D’Souza pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight months in a state-run confinement center.  There he lived among hardened criminals—drug dealers, thieves, gangbangers, rapists, and murderers. Now the bestselling author explains how this experience not only changed his life, but fundamentally transformed his view of his adopted country. Previously, D’Souza had seen America through the eyes of a grateful immigrant who became successful by applying and defending conservative principles. Again and again, D’Souza made the case that America is an exceptional nation, fundamentally fair and just. In book after book, he argued against liberalism as though it were a genuine movement of ideas capable of being engaged and refuted. But his prolonged exposure to the criminal underclass provided an eye-opening education in American realities. In the view of hardened criminals, D’Souza learned, America is anything but fair and just. Instead, it is a jungle in which various armed gangs face off against one another, with the biggest and most powerful gangs inhabiting the federal government. As for American liberalism, it is not a movement of ideas at all but a series of scams and cons aimed at nothing less than stealing the entire wealth of the nation, built up over more than two centuries: the total value of the homes, the lifelong savings of the people, the assets of every industry, and all the funds allocated to health and education and every other service, both public and private. “The thieves I am speaking about want all of it.” And who are the leading figures in this historically ambitious scam that has turned the federal government into a vast and unprecedented shakedown scheme? Why, none other than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – the current leaders of the Democratic Party. This pair of smooth-talking con artists, trained in the methods of radical activist Saul Alinsky, have taken his crude but effective political shakedown techniques to a level even he never dreamed of.

*This book will make you mad! Hopping mad. I’ve been a fan of D’Souza’s ever since I read America and The Roots of Obama’s Rage, and watched 2016: Obama’s America.



51. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.

*This is another book I read for the second time. It’s filled with great stories and interesting research.


What were your favorite books from 2015? 





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Christmas 2015


I made a video of Christmas 2015


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Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude asked people with debilitating physical illnesses to compose a narrative concerning a time when they felt a deep sense of gratitude to someone or for something. He asked them to let themselves re-create that experience in their minds so that they could feel the emotions as if they had transported themselves back in time to the event itself. (See article at Greater Good)



He had them reflect on what they felt in that situation and how they expressed those feelings. In the face of progressive diseases, people often find life extremely challenging, painful, and frustrating. He wondered whether it would even be possible for them to find anything to be grateful about. For many of them, life revolved around visits to the pain clinic and pharmacy. He says he would not have been at all surprised if resentment overshadowed gratefulness.






As it turned out, most respondents had trouble settling on a specific instance—they simply had so much in their lives that they were grateful for. Emmons was struck by the profound depth of feeling that they conveyed in their essays, and by the apparent life-transforming power of gratitude in many of their lives.


It was evident from reading these narrative accounts that (1) gratitude can be an overwhelmingly intense feeling, (2) gratitude for gifts that others easily overlook most can be the most powerful and frequent form of thankfulness, and (3) gratitude can be chosen in spite of one’s situation or circumstances.


Emmons was struck by the redemptive twist that occurred in nearly half of these narratives: out of something bad (suffering, adversity, affliction) came something good (new life or new opportunities) for which the person felt profoundly grateful.


If you are troubled by an open memory or a past unpleasant experience, you might consider trying to reframe how you think about it using the language of thankfulness. The unpleasant experiences in our lives don’t have to be of the traumatic variety in order for us to gratefully benefit from them. Whether it is a large or small event, here are some additional questions to ask yourself:


  • What lessons did the experience teach me?
  • Can I find ways to be thankful for what happened to me now even though I was not at the time it happened?
  • What ability did the experience draw out of me that surprised me?
  • How am I now more the person I want to be because of it? Have my negative feelings about the experience limited or prevented my ability to feel gratitude in the time since it occurred?
  • Has the experience removed a personal obstacle that previously prevented me from feeling grateful?



So I did what Emmons suggested and answered the following questions in regard to a painful friendship that ended a year ago:


What lessons did it teach me? With a year of no drama and a mostly peaceful year, it taught me I should listen to myself and the significant people in my life who were giving me advice. I should have ended the friendship three to four years sooner.


Can you find ways to be thankful for what happened to me now even though I was not at the time it happened? Even though it ended in an ugly way, I got to see clearly what the friendship was made of. I saw what I contributed and what the friend contributed that made it so messy. I’m thankful I didn’t continue the pain for another decade and I’m able to know what warning signs to watch for in future relationships.


What ability did the experience draw out of me that surprised me? I was able to end some accompanying professional relationships related to the friendship. I did it in a strong, confident way. I was able to keep my head high and not let myself feel shame for the decision I made. I maintained my integrity throughout the painful ending.


How am I now more the person I want to be because of it? It’s only now, with a year of healing, that I can see how much the friendship changed me. It was making me physically sick. In the end, I was irritated and resentful most of the time. I felt like Pinocchio on a string. A fish on a hook. The toxic friendship made me cynical about life. Now, I’m back to a person I used to be. The one who feels good physically and emotionally.


Has the experience removed a personal obstacle that previously prevented me from feeling grateful? I think so. I am able to appreciate the quiet time I have. A year ago I felt like I should always be at my friend’s side because she was so unhappy and had so much daily drama.  I was hooked into her need for me. That says as much about me as it does her. This is more a commentary on the dynamics of our relationship, and not either of us individually.


Try thinking of a painful experience and answering the questions above.


Remember, your goal is not to relive the experience but rather to get a new perspective on it. Simply rehearsing an upsetting event makes us feel worse about it. That is why catharsis has rarely been effective. Emotional venting without accompanying insight does not produce change. No amount of writing about the event will help unless you are able to take a fresh, redemptive perspective on it. This is an advantage that grateful people have—and it is a skill that anyone can learn.


Happy Thanksgiving!







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