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

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

Faith, Religion, Self-Help

Christ In Every Hour, by Anthony Sweat


Anthony Sweat, a BYU professor and popular Education Week and Time Out For Women speaker, is one of those talented communicators who can “dial up” a presentation to include heavy doctrinal insights or “dial it down” to make it relatable to the masses but still very powerful.

His most recent book, Christ In Every Hour, is somewhere in the middle. It is both readable and deep, sharing examples of people who have endured great crises with faith and scriptural examples (often from the life of Christ) to instruct us in how we may become more like the Savior, our Ultimate Teacher.

At its core it is a teaching book, and I came away having learned many things I either did not know had not pondered in depth. One of my favorite explanations was the idea of Christ as the “bridegroom,” a term often used in Christianity. Despite numerous times hearing this in Catholicsm and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Letter-day Saints, the whys and wherefores escaped me until reading about it Christ In Every Hour. Another terrific explanation was about the importance of the Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine, why it was so significant and what it symbolizes through the ages for all of us. (I hope I have the opportunity to work it into a church talk one day! But I probably just jinxed myself for writing that.)

The book culminates into a clever acrostic:








Overall, this book is excellent and I highly recommend it. It’s audience is wide and beyond the scope of Latter-day Saints, appealing to anyone who wants to nurture their relationship with the Lord and make Him a part of your every day life.

9.5/10 Stars


Faith, Nonfiction, Religion, Self-Help

Faith Is Not Blind, by Bruce C. and Marie K. Hafen


I recently heard an interview with Bruce and Marie Hafen and I was so impressed that I decided to find their book, Faith is Not Blind. Bruce Hafen has been dean of the Brigham Young University Law School, president of Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho,) and is a long-time General Authority. He and his wife, Marie, have co-authored several books together.

A short but very powerful book, Faith is Not Blind speaks mainly to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but like Sheri Dew’s Worth the Wrestle, it is for anyone (or anyone related to someone) suffering a faith crisis or someone merely “going through the motions” who wants more. In other words, it casts its net fairly wide.

Because many questioning their faith, whether it be faith in God or their particular organized religion, feel a tug-of-war between logic and belief–opting for logic–the Hafens approach faith from a logical view. They know their audience.

Main points, upon which the book is built, are these:

  • real vs. the ideal
  • early innocent simplicity
  • bewildering complexity
  • mature enhanced simplicity

The last point, mature enhanced simplicity, is the ultimate goal for anyone who wants to break the confines of their struggles and rediscover faith. This usually only comes as the result of complexity. The complexity stage, however, is where many people get stuck, often for a lifetime, often leading to “intellectual apostasy.”

The Hafens assure the reader that emerging from complexity and progressing to mature enhanced simplicity with both faith and individuality intact is a very attainable goal, but it requires work and participation. There is no getting something for nothing. Understanding the ways modern society tries to prevent reaching the goal of mature enhanced simplicity is also key and something they discuss in depth. Personally, I found the idea of the “burden of proof” shift over recent years amazingly accurate.

Without being preachy, the Hafens accomplish a great deal in fifteen brief chapters. The reader will find himself holding up the figurative mirror and self-examining his own faith, as well as feeling more compassion and understanding for loved ones still stuck in the mire of bewildering complexity. At the very least, we learn that faith and logic do not need to be mutually exclusive, but can build upon each other to create one great end result.

It is a brilliant book.

9.5/10 Stars

Bonus Link: Bruce and Marie Hafen discuss stages of faith in the ALL IN podcast.

Part 1: Click HERE              Part 2: Click HERE


Faith, Nonfiction, Religion, Self-Help

All These Things Shall give Thee Experience, by Neal A. Maxwell


One of the most beloved apostles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Elder Neal A. Maxwell. Known for his compassion and his intelligence, Elder Maxwell passed away in 2004 after an eight year battle with leukemia.

At the time of his passing I was in the middle of a self-imposed “hiatus” from Church activity and, although I feel it was something that I, personally, needed to go through in order to shape who I am today, I do not recommend it. It was, in retrospect, both a waste of time and time wasted (not the same thing.) There are so many things I do not know but want to know and so many things I want to learn that I could’ve pursued years ago.

One of those things about which I’ve felt a recent desire to become better acquainted with the lives and teachings of Church leaders, past and present. Elder Maxwell has always been in my peripheral vision but it wasn’t until recently, while in the midst of several exhausting weeks of different trials and challenges, that I decided to read this particular book. It had been sitting for years, unopened, in my Deseret Bookshelf app. I read about two thirds of it and listened to the last third, read by Elder Maxwell himself in that fatherly voice of his, one that exudes both care and concern.

My immediate impression was that Neal A. Maxwell crafts his thoughts with the same quality as Mozart writing a symphony or da Vinci creating the Mona Lisa. This is not an exaggeration. He is one of the most masterful, exquisite writers I’ve ever encountered. But, like any masterful work, appreciating it requires focus and study. This is not a book you can skim or listen to in the background. While I did do some multi-tasking while listening, those tasks had to be fairly mindless in order to pay attention and ponder the messages.

If I had to choose 3 favorite chapters it would be these:

  • The Omniscience of an Omnipotent and Omniloving God
  • Prayer and Growth
  • Follow the Brethren

All of these chapters resonated with me for different reasons. Going into great detail about God’s omniscience helps us to understand that challenges help to shape us to become like Him one day, which should be our ultimate goal. Learning how to pray in a way God can answer has been a recent personal pursuit, so I was happy to learn more on the subject. Following the brethren (leaders) is a strong pep talk of a chapter, but sometimes tough love is the best course, especially when the only agenda behind that pep talk is to help the reader self-reflect and improve.

I learned a lot of things that I need to consider in my own life, especially when things are difficult. I also understand, more than ever, why Neal A. Maxwell was so revered. He KNOWS people, how they tick, how they function, how they act and react. I was amazed at his perception. This book is a treasure.

10/10 Stars

Faith, Religion

The Coming of the Lord, by Gerald N. Lund


I’m a newcomer to the world of podcasts, and one of the very first ones I heard was a fascinating interview with Elder Gerald N. Lund, well known in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for his prolific writing of historical fiction, such as The Work and the Glory series.

The podcast series ALL IN was interviewing Elder Lund about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, a subject on which he is very knowledgeable. The Coming of the Lord, Elder Lund’s very first book, was referenced several times and, since a 30 minute podcast episode can only cover so much, I sought after the book.

The subject is gripping, dramatic, and very interesting. The book is well-researched, using many quotes and prophecies from scriptures and the prophets of old and in the latter days. It is interesting to think that it was written in the early 1970’s because many of those prophecies have already been fulfilled.

I learned a lot, but the writing is a bit cumbersome. My rating is based on the writing, not the subject. Elder Lund did mention on the podcast that he is in the process of writing a revised version of The Coming of the Lord. I would be curious to compare it with the original.

8.5/10 Stars

Bonus Link: Gerald N. Lund discusses “signs of the Second Coming” in the ALL IN podcast. Click HERE.

Faith, Religion

Almighty, by David Butler


I recently heard the author, David Butler, interviewed on my favorite podcast show, ALL IN and knew I had to read this book. He is one of those people who speaks like he’s always smiling and the tone of his writing is no different. I loved this book! Feeling unhappy? Unloved? Marginalized? Life got you down? Read Almighty.

It is written for anyone of any Christian faith. It is like a booster shot of sunshine, reminding you that life is more than a parade of challenges. David Butler personalizes our Heavenly Father into a loving, approachable celestial parent. A celestial parent who is waiting for you to have a relationship with Him. This book is like wrapping a warm blanket around the aching heart, the heavy mind, the broken spirit.

I highly recommend it.

9.5/10 Stars

Bonus Link: David Butler discusses his book, Almighty, on the ALL IN podcast. Click HERE.

Faith, Nonfiction, Religion

Worth the Wrestle, by Sheri Dew


There is a vast spectrum between belief in God and non-belief. There is also a large spectrum within the range of belief. In the course of our life this is something that everyone must self-evaluate at least once. Our belief system, after all, shapes who we are, what we do, and how we interact with others. Am I a Christian or not? Do I believe in God or not? Do I adhere to the doctrine of an organized religion or not? Am I satisfied with my belief system or not? All of us have answered these questions, either in quiet solitude or aloud.

It is only fair to tell the reader of this post two important things: 1. This blog is maintained and written by a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2. While not strictly for a Latter-day Saint audience, Sheri Dew’s Worth the Wrestle is directed mostly towards members of this particular church.

Having said that, and knowing what one is getting into when reading this book, its audience is well, anyone. If you are a seeker of faith, a student of religion, a Latter-day Saint who is struggling, a Latter-day Saint whose testimony is strong but needs a booster shot, or even a curious person with any belief system who seeks important suggestions for a happier life, then this book is for you.

Sheri Dew has been blessed with a wonderful gift of expression. Her messages are simple, but the outcome is undeniable. She uses examples from her own life when she encountered situations that could have threatened her beliefs. Like all of us, she has wrestled. She knows of what she speaks, and does so brilliantly. However, unlike all of us, she has emerged victorious from that wrestle with her initial beliefs intact. She also gives examples of friends and acquaintances who have wrestled with their faith. What is the common denominator for those, like Sheri Dew, who are able to heal from their spiritual slumps? True humility and true desire to find their way back. The outcome for the humble person versus the obstinate one is profound.

I listened to the audio version of this book on Deseret Bookshelf PLUS, a treasure trove of faith-based materials available to anyone. Sheri Dew, the current CEO of Deseret Book, reads her own words, making them all the more poignant and expressive. At the book’s conclusion I was fortified, spiritually uplifted, and informed. All good things.

9.5/10 Stars

Nonfiction, Religion, Self-Help

Face to Face: Seeking a Personal Relationship With God, by S. Michael Wilcox


True confession time: I do not read a lot of Church books. I have bought a few by Church leaders or scholars I’ve heard speak in person, but usually end up giving them away or let them collect dust on a shelf. I just gravitate to other genres.

Still, I probably own more by S. Michael Wilcox than any other LDS writer, mainly because he is my favorite (and husband’s favorite) speaker at BYU Education Week. I try to attend every class he teaches and we own several of his talks on CDs that we listen to on the long drive home from Provo, Utah.

Three nights ago I was experiencing some inner turmoil. I had prayed for solace but felt inspired to take this book off the shelf and give it a real chance. That, in itself, was an answer to prayer. And yes, although Bro. Wilcox makes definite references to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the lessons, examples, most scriptures, and other references are not “LDS specific.” In fact, one of the greatest things about Bro. Wilcox–something that makes me respect him even more–is that, instead of negating the value of Christian writers outside his faith, he employs their teachings (positively) to edify the point he is trying to make.

I would call him a true “scholar of the humble heart.” In the spirit of extreme humility and courage, he uses very personal struggles from his own life as examples. Sometimes we look at men (and women) of faith such as Bro. Wilcox and assume that they have always been that way. Not so. He goes into great detail about times in his life where he has wrestled with doctrinal concepts, times where he was not the husband he now wishes he was, and the many times he has brought these challenges to God. More often than not, great patience was required before the answers came–but they did.

The difference between Bro. Wilcox and so many of us in our own prayerful wrestlings, is that he is more determined and more diligent than most. When one approach doesn’t work, he tries another. I love the way he creates conversations between himself and the Lord. I would never have the courage to do this. They are familiar, but loving and respectful. Example: “Mike, why don’t you ask me what you should pray for?”

I learned so much from this small 148-page book. Whatever your faith–even if you are new to prayer and conversing with our Father in Heaven–I recommend it. Highly.

9.5/10 Stars

Nonfiction, Philosophy, Religion, Self-Help

The God Who Weeps, by Terryl and Fiona Givens


As I review The God Who Weeps, by Terryl and Fiona Givens, we must first discuss “audience.”

  • There are those who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) who have great interest in the philosophical workings of their church. They enjoy dissecting, discussing, and analyzing the church to which they belong. They deeply ponder its scriptures, standards, doctrine, and history. By doing this, it only strengthens their testimonies and beliefs. (Many who find great satisfaction in such discussions, including friends of mine, belong to a network called the Mormon Transhumanist Association.)
  • There are other Christians (“other,” because Mormons are also Christians) and non-Christians who are interested in the LDS Church, who perhaps have no desire to become LDS, but are still curious and interested in reading a philosophical approach such as this one.
  • And there are those who make it their life’s work to study religions, either professionally or as a hobby–religions which fall under the umbrella of Christianity, as well as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., but are mostly interested in comparing and contrasting the various faiths and gleaning, what they perceive, as the best qualities of all of them. “Best,” of course, being subjective to the individual.

While reading The God Who Weeps, I identified people with interests and pursuits, like those above, as the book’s target audience.

Unfortunately, I do not fall in any of those categories. While I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons,) it is my experience that over-analyzing my faith and Church doctrine also over complicates it and has negative effects on my personal testimony of what I believe to be true. As a result, I usually avoid books such as this one.

That is not saying I don’t recommend The God Who Weeps. There is much good in it. Let’s look simply at the title. The idea of a “God who weeps” is that there is a loving Heavenly Father–an actual FATHER–who cares for us so deeply that our pain is His, our setbacks/worries/challenges/heartbreaks are things He mourns for right along with us.

It is this personalizing of God that I find so attractive and dear about the teachings in the LDS Church. (Among other things.) I feel He knows me individually, hears and answers my prayers, and knows the worries and concerns of my heart.

This Heavenly Father I love so very much is discussed in The God Who Weeps. However, I also feel like the best ideas (those with which I can most identify) are buried under a lot of philosophy and ideas that the authors admit they don’t agree with, but still discuss as a way to promote their original thought: that Mormonism makes sense of life.

So, I have to ask myself, what is the purpose in writing a book like this? To help Mormons feel better about a church they already belong to? To give non-Mormons an analytical perspective?

I would hope that a book like this, at the very least, strengthens the testimony of an LDS Church member. I would also hope that a book like this, at the very least, sparks interest about the LDS Church in someone who is not a member–with the disclaimer that true faith in God the Father and His son, Jesus Christ–as well as discernment about which church is true–may begin by reading a scholarly book like this one, but is actually created and nurtured through sincere scripture study, humble prayer, and a heartfelt witness of the Holy Ghost.

8.5/10 Stars