Biography, Faith and Religion, Nonfiction

In the Hands of the Lord: The Life of Dallin H. Oaks, by Richard E. Turley, Jr.

It is late June 2015. My husband and I are visiting Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s his first time there. We’re surrounded by pretty flowers, curious visitors, the indescribably beautiful temple and other impressive buildings.

As we face the street, we see a lean, spry, older man hop the curb and sprint right by us. It was Dallin H. Oaks. “It’s Elder Oaks!” I exclaimed. Of course, he was long gone by then.

Rewind to August 12, 1932 when Dallin H. Oaks was born. His mother, Stella, named him Dallin in honor of the sculptor, Cyrus Dallin, for whom she was the artist’s model for the statue, The Pioneer Mother. The “H” stands for Harris, the last name of his 2nd great-grandfather Emer Harris, brother to Martin Harris. Martin was one of the Three Witnesses of The Book of Mormon, but even better known for losing the 116 page manuscript when the Prophet Joseph Smith was beginning his translation of the plates that became that book. Dallin H. Oaks gave a wonderful talk in 1999 (I highly recommend it, click the link) called The Witness: Martin Harris, in which he focuses on the sacrifices Harris made during the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A great reminder that a moment of weakness should not define us.

After a harrowing birth that made his physician father, Lloyd Oaks, and others present wonder if he would even survive, Dallin entered a remarkable life of hard work, service, and accomplishments. Widowed in 1939 when Lloyd died of tuberculosis, Stella Oaks was left to raise her children alone. She overcame much, but eventually finished her schooling and became involved in local education and civic leadership. She was a terrific example of resiliency and service. Being raised by a single mother gave Dallin a great respect for women and he has constantly worked for fairness and recognition of women’s achievements throughout his life.

Author Richard Turley, former Assistant Church Historian and long-time friend of President Oaks, does a marvelous job outlining the life of this amazing man. We learn about his early family life while advancing his admirable legal career. I was delighted to learn about his years as president of my alma mater, Brigham Young University–about a decade before I attended–and the effects of his tenure there, making much-needed changes that are still in place today.

Of course, Latter-day Saints know Dallin H. Oaks (now “President Oaks”) best as the Senior Apostle of the Quorum of the Twelve and next in line to be President of the Church. We see him speak twice a year (either in person or televised) at General Conference. For most of us, seeing him only in that setting has created an image of his overall personality in our minds. We hear his booming voice and think of adjectives like stern, instructive, even a bit intimidating. The best part of this biography was learning about the man behind the scenes. His family adores him and say he’s actually a pretty funny man. I loved reading about his first few years as an Apostle. His mentors, not surprisingly, were Neal A. Maxwell (a personal favorite) and Bruce R. McConkie. It is a life-long calling he had to grow into and takes very seriously. There were bumps along the way, but he works very hard, always reminding himself that, ultimately, he answers to the highest authority.

Towards the end of the book, aside from reading about his second marriage in 2000 to Kristen McMain Oaks after the death of beloved wife June in 1998, I loved reading responses to letters from church members. Like everything else he does, President Oaks answers with love, no matter the subject.

President Oaks is truly someone who leads by example. I am inspired by his work ethic, wisdom, devotion to family, and constant striving for personal improvement. He is a humble man who loves the Lord. I feel honored that this book gave me the opportunity to know him better.

9.5/10 Stars

Faith, Faith and Religion, Religion

The Divine Gift of Forgiveness, by Neil L. Andersen

As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles, Elder Neil L. Andersen has a lot of responsibilities. So I always have a healthy amount of respect when he and his fellow apostles take the time to write books filled with loving instruction such The Divine Gift of Forgiveness. As a subscriber to Deseret Bookshelf PLUS I had the option to listen to the book, pleased to hear that it was read by Elder Andersen himself.

Forgiveness is a vast topic. There is forgiving others and forgiving ourselves. Both are not easy but, as people of faith, we are commanded to forgive. These realms are covered in the book, presented mostly through Elder Andersen’s own experiences in different leadership callings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I think my favorite story was when, as mission president, he was counseling a young missionary who had struggled with the devastating effects of pornography addiction. His approach and advice were excellent.

We live in a harsh world where insensitive criticism of others and ourselves have become pervasive. This amount of tension can lead to thoughtless words, hurt feelings, and self-doubt. I am grateful for the Savior’s great love, that we are children of an omnipotent Father in Heaven who created us in His own image, and this book’s reminder to be a little kinder to ourselves and others during this mortal journey.

9/10 Stars

Faith and Religion, History

Repicturing the Restoration, by Anthony Sweat

Anthony Sweat is one of my favorite Latter-day Saint speakers at BYU Education Week and as a podcast guest. A very knowledgeable professor, I’m constantly amazed at the vastness of the information he knows about the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ancient Biblical history, and about the scriptures themselves. He’s also an artist, so I was excited to see his paintings and read about why he chose the subjects in his newest book, Repicturing the Restoration.

He chooses subjects that are not the most obvious, using angles and lighting in his paintings which continue that theme. I love the painting called Purgatory, which shows Joseph Smith and his faithful wife, Emma, in a dimly-lit room, lit only by fire in the fireplace, while he explains to her the principle of plural marriage. Her body language emits tension while his shows pure weariness.

Purgatory, by Anthony Sweat

It is powerful, accompanied by the artist/scholar’s explanation of the principle’s history and why he chose to portray the moment in this way.

Although I bought the digital version of the book, would make a beautiful coffee table book in hardback form. Page after page is both informative and thought-provoking. If LDS church history is something you are interested in, I recommend it highly. It is currently available in digital form only on Amazon and digital and hardback form at

9.5 out of 10 stars

Faith and Religion

The Heavens are Open, by Wendy Watson Nelson

In The Heavens are Open, another marvelous book by Wendy Watson Nelson, she talks about the importance of living and listening a certain way in order to be more in tune with Heaven.

What does that mean? For some it might mean eliminating some of the noise and distractions from our lives. For others it might mean rethinking the things we watch, listen to, and say. For all of us it certainly means admitting to ourselves that we cannot do everything alone. We need God’s help and should be inviting Him and His will into our lives.

These kinds of suggestions only have gravitas when the author is willing to use examples from her own life. Thankfully, Sister Nelson is humble enough to do that. She admits she has made choices she’s not always proud of, mostly in the way she uses her downtime, but she is self-aware enough to notice the differences when she makes positive changes. I greatly appreciate her humility. It’s certainly not a quality celebrated in the world today.

Through both of Sister Nelson’s books it was confirmed to me that we are never too old to stop learning, growing, or admitting there are changes to be made in our lives. I’m grateful for her example.

9.5/10 Stars

Faith and Religion

Covenant Keepers, by Wendy Watson Nelson

One month later and the cozy mysteries and light novels have run their course. In the last month I have immersed myself in literature, talks, lessons, and lectures from my faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ve needed Heaven’s help, and Heaven has responded.

In Covenant Keepers, Wendy Watson Nelson talks about the importance of making covenants, which we do in holy temples, and how keeping those covenants will bring blessings. The word “covenant” is mentioned a lot in our faith, sometimes to the point where it can be easy to tune it out, but Sister Nelson digs deep. She lovingly, and without judgment, holds up a mirror and forces the reader to reexamine his/her choices regarding the covenants made in his/her own life. They are, after all, much more than lazily-made promises. They’re serious. They’re promises made to God. And, of course, God being God, He already knows if we’re honoring them or not.

In my own life, there were many years where covenants didn’t mean a whole lot to me. I didn’t lead a wild life, but I didn’t attend the temple either. Now, in the midst of this pandemic and pervasive civil unrest, where our temples have limited use, there is nowhere else I’d rather be than within their safe and hallowed walls. I’ve thought about the temple a lot these last few months, already making a personal promise that when they fully reopen I’ll never take them or my covenants for granted ever again. Why? Because there is great, tangible power there. In the meantime, I can simply do my best to honor covenants in my home and with the everyday life choices I make.

This is a beautiful book and I’m very happy I discovered it. It was exactly what I needed right now.

9.5/10 Stars

Biography, Faith, Faith and Religion, Nonfiction, Religion

Life’s Lessons Learned, by Dallin H. Oaks

If you’re familiar with Dallin H. Oaks, you know he is nothing if not certain when he speaks. As the senior apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some might even describe him as intimidating. I have felt that too, until about a year ago when I heard him being interviewed, alongside his wife, on a podcast. Hearing him speak freely, as opposed to giving a speech, humanized him to me. It was then I had new respect for the man.

Life’s Lessons Learned, published in 2011, is a book with a simple format. President Oaks (he is called “president” because of his current Church calling in the First Presidency) shares different events from his life and the outcomes of those events. The oldest of three children raised by a single mother after his father died of tuberculosis when he was 11, Dallin H. Oaks is the definition of self-made. Trained as an attorney, his legal resume is very impressive. However, the majority of his adulthood has been devoted to Church service, and it will be that way for the rest of his life.

The book is divided up into three chronological sections, each with brief experiences and the lessons learned from them. The sum of its parts being that anything we go through, good or bad, has something to teach us. The more self-aware person will take that information and apply it. Sometimes the lessons come from observing others as well.

There are many wonderful things to glean from the book, but I think my favorite was the one on “labeling.” Here is an excerpt:

“We should be careful not to label or define ourselves (or others) by some temporary quality. The only single quality that should characterize us is that each of us is a son or daughter of God. That fact transcends all other characteristics….

“When we choose to define or label ourselves (or others) by some characteristic that is temporary or trivial in eternal terms, we de-emphasize what is most important about us (or them) and overemphasize what is relatively unimportant. This label can lead us down the wrong path and hinder our eternal progress.”

I could not help but think about recent events and run this section through that particular filter. Lately it feels like excessive labeling (and generalizing) is leading to society’s downfall.

That is only one of many examples, all taken from his own life. President Oaks will be the first to tell you he is not perfect, something he freely admits. But he also shares ways he and all of us can improve, both from a spiritual perspective and from Life’s lessons.

His writing is clear and well-organized–the kind of intuitive organization I appreciate. I recommend this book and look forward to reading more.

9/10 Stars

Faith, Faith and Religion, Religion

Answers Will Come, by Shalissa Lindsay


Olympians sometimes swim in sweats to increase the drag and work their muscles harder. This mortal body may often feel like that too. Some of the challenges that I process as temptations are more helpfully viewed as mortal processes that provide my spirit an intensive training exercise in patience, self-discipline, and charity. –Shalissa Lindsay

(Just a brief disclaimer for anyone reading this review: this particular book is very much targeted to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as LDS or Mormons. There are several references only they will understand. That being said, the book’s message is for everyone.)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in mid-March, my Sundays have looked very different. Instead of spending a minimum of two hours at our church building listening to talks and lessons, singing hymns, and partaking of the sacrament, my hubby and I have been holding our version of “home-centered church.” It is spiritual and reverent, but we dress more casually and it doesn’t last two hours. We pray, follow the weekly Sunday School lessons, read the scriptures, and try to maintain a Sabbath atmosphere in our home that day.

It has actually been wonderful. It’s made me realize the power we each have to access the Spirit and have him abide in our homes, whether we attend church in a building or not. I do miss my church family and the insights they give during lessons–I learn so much from their example–but this will do for now.

Not being around others of my faith on a weekly basis has created another desire in me. If I cannot share ideas in person, I would, at least, like to read the ideas of others. Part of attending church in person is the comfort of knowing others share your struggles. Not exactly in a “misery loves company” type of way, but more like “we’re all in this together, so let’s figure it out together.”

That’s a lengthy introduction! Suffice to say, all this spiritual pondering without a congregation has been a bit lonely. When I have questions or concerns, there is no class full of like-minded people with whom to discuss them.

I’m very aware that the Lord’s timeline for answers is not my own. (“Answers” could be answers to questions or answers to prayer.) So it is comforting to read a book such as this that lets me know that my (some time) impatience and frustration is not unique. In Answers Will Come, Shalissa Lindsay tells my heart and my head things I already know, but need to hear again…and again…and….again.

The bottom line, Life is not easy, and that’s OK. Answers are not immediate, and that’s OK too.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has a well-known quote: “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come.”

You could reread this quote substituting the word blessings for answers, making it no less true.

I found myself agreeing with a lot of the logic the author uses to reconcile her faith, her patience, and current gaps in her doctrinal knowledge that she wants to fill. Many of her gaps and questions are fairly common. And, while not the most revelatory read, Answers Will Come certainly makes you think and self-examine, as we all should do once in a while.

8.5/10 Stars



Faith, Faith and Religion, Nonfiction, Religion, Self-Help

Let God Love You, by Wendy Ulrich

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Once in a very great while I will read a book and think, “If I was more eloquent and disciplined, this is the book I would’ve liked to write.”

Fortunately, probably more successfully, Wendy Ulrich beat me to it.

For many, just believing that God exists is a challenge. That’s a subject for another book. (One I have no plans to write.) But for the rest of us, the biggest challenges can be keeping Him close, feeling worthy of His love, and being assured that He is listening when we pray. Admitting these challenges, even to like-minded friends and family, is equally difficult. It feels like a massive character flaw.

Wendy Ulrich, who spoke at an event I attended in 2012, addresses these challenges and more in her book Let God Love You: Why We Don’t, How We Can. Although Ulrich is a psychologist–which would normally have me running in the opposite direction–she doesn’t use professional terms to make her point. Instead, she takes a very courageous route, an incredibly vulnerable route, tapping into all of her own insecurities with her personal relationship with God over the years and sharing them with us.

At times I felt almost numb. Her sentiments echoed mine in a way that was so accurate, it was almost scary. Her concerns, her fears, her highs and lows felt so relatable. I could feel myself nodding along and thinking, “yes, Yes, YES…These are all things I’ve felt too.” After a while I thought, “I should just stop highlighting, because I’m highlighting everything.” Other reviewers have said the exact same thing.

Not only was it extremely satisfying to know that someone else has gone through the same struggles I have while trying to feel God’s closeness, but it was a relief to know the root of those struggles (she shares many possibilities) and to know that there is hope. Hope, being a core element of faith. Faith being the “assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Some may ask, “If being close to God is so hard, why try at all?” Good question.

Obviously, the desire to believe in God (or not) is a choice we all make. But, like anything else worthwhile, it takes practice. Knowing there is hope of getting closer to Him by understanding what we might be doing to keep Him at a distance is a major step. The most important lesson I learned is that we often project human flaws on God because being flawed humans–who often hurt and disappoint each other– is all we know.

It’s been a long time since I could honestly say I was “blown away” by a book, but I was with this one. Yes, it forces introspection and self-examination, sometimes admitting things we are secretly ashamed of and have tucked away, possibly for years. But for those of us who think having a better relationship with God is worth it, which I most certainly do, this book is a wondrous read that far surpassed my expectations. And, while Ulrich is an LDS author, the principles of the book are for anyone and everyone.

10/10 Stars