Category Archives: faith

The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco (Thomas Nelson, 2017)

Another Look at History {Book Review – The Dog Who Was There}

The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco (Thomas Nelson, 2017)

About the book (from the publisher):

The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco (Thomas Nelson, 2017)

No one expected Barley to have an encounter with the Messiah.

He was homeless, hungry, and struggling to survive in first century Jerusalem. Most surprisingly, he was a dog. But through Barley’s eyes, the story of a teacher from Galilee comes alive in a way we’ve never experienced before.

Barley’s story begins in the home of a compassionate woodcarver and his wife who find Barley as an abandoned, nearly-drowned pup. Tales of a special teacher from Galilee are reaching their tiny village, but when life suddenly changes again for Barley, he carries the lessons of forgiveness and love out of the woodcarver’s home and through the dangerous roads of Roman-occupied Judea.

On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Barley meets a homeless man and petty criminal named Samid. Together, Barley and his unlikely new master experience fresh struggles and new revelations. Soon Barley is swept up into the current of history, culminating in an unforgettable encounter with the truest master of all as he bears witness to the greatest story ever told.

My Thoughts:

When I first heard about this adult novel, I loved the unique premise that the story would be told through the perspective of a dog wandering about first century Judea.

The first several chapters move very slowly with quite a few flashbacks, dreams, and “had been” moments rather than immediately drawing the reader in to current action. Much of the writing could be tightened and more active phrasing employed. (Perhaps this was a voice choice, though.) I also noticed several inconsistencies within the first half of the book (ie: a character calling the time “first century AD” when I’m not sure someone living during the time of Christ would have called it that). Also, at times Barley is portrayed as only understanding certain words, yet at other times, he is shown as understanding full conversations. The book also is a bit of an Americanized version. For example: one of the characters in the first chapter has the more culturally appropriate name of “Duv,” but his wife says it rhymes with “love,” which is an English word, of course, and wouldn’t have been used in ancient Judea. Though the book is pitched as told in Barley the dog’s point of view, readers are tossed between Barley’s perspective and several other characters’ perspectives throughout the book, which breaks the flow of reading.

Barley himself is a wonderful character. The author does a lovely job of showing the dog’s instincts and natural desire to be in a ‘family’ group and love and protect. Those traits are (in my animal-adoring experience) God-given, which plays well into the themes and plot of this novel. The last third of this book picks up in action, making it a quicker read. Many of the violence scenes are graphic, just as a note to readers who prefer not to read such. Barley (and the readers) only see Jesus in his last few days as he reaches Jerusalem, so you can imagine the intensity of those chapters. The ending, though, is satisfying and offers redemption to the many, many trials Barley endures throughout the book. It winds together Barley’s experiences in a way that offers an example of how God works in our lives.

Read more about the book and the author at the Litfuse page.

What biblical or historical event would you find interesting as ‘viewed’ from the perspective of an animal?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book via Litfuse. This is an honest review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Craving Connection book cover - (in)courage community

Finding Friendship as Adults {Book Review}

When we were young, it was so easy to go up to someone and make a friend, right?

“Hi, wanna play?”


Boom. Friendship initiated.

Of course there were challenges, conflicts, and collapses, but some aspects of friendship were just easier. When you saw someone every day at school or every week at co-op or every week at art class, you could easily keep up with each other’s lives.

But as adults, it’s not as easy to go up to someone and ask, “Hey, wanna be friends?” (I’ve often considered it.) And the energy it takes to maintain a friendship seems to increase.

But friendship doesn’t become any less important. God made us to connect with others, encourage others, and grow together.

Many writers from the (in)courage community have come together to create a 30-devotion book full of thoughts on connection and adult friendship – Craving Connection (B&H Books, 2017).

Craving Connection book cover - (in)courage community

I remember when I first found (in)courage about five years ago, I felt welcomed. With several different writing styles, experiences, and voices, it could be a place for everyone without judgment and with godly encouragement — and relatable to real-life, which can sometimes be hard to find among devotions. Many of the contributing writers found in this book are the same names I’ve been reading since five years ago — some were blog writers then, some were readers conversing in the comments, and now they’re authors of their own books.

The thirty devotions, written by thirty different authors, share personal stories of friendship challenges and friendship successes and what God has shown them connection can mean in their lives and the lives of others.

The devotions are split into three main sub-sections:

  • Connecting with God More Deeply
  • Connecting with Friends More Purposefully
  • Connecting with Community More Intentionally

Each devotion starts with a focus verse (designed well in a sidebar box), an initial thought to consider, and an action step to create connections in your own life as you read. After the devotion, each ends with three connection questions, a prayer, and an action ‘challenge’ to take what you’re reading and apply it to real life. The book has lovely design aspects with border accents, sidebars, and quote highlights, which help make it a lovely gift book.

With thirty authors, there is definitely some diversity (racial/cultural, abilities, and a little bit of economic) in the book. I feel the book would be able to reach even more people if more diverse backgrounds were included. As a special needs mom, I’d love to see more stories that did touch on special needs go deeper and more opportunities in generally to really look through a window into other perspectives, other voices, and other life experiences. That said, most readers will be able to find aspects of life they can relate to and relate to well. (I did, too.) And you’ll never feel judged reading this book. Instead, you’ll read of ideas on remaining intentional in the hard but needed work of connected with others. You’ll see grace, see the value of connection, and see writers who are growing in life just as you are.

And that’s a gift. I’m thankful for the (in)courage community.

Want motivation to connect more?

(in)courage is hosting 5 weeks of Craving Connection Challenges, starting on February 7th! They’ll share an excerpt of the book and inspiration to complete the associated connection challenge. Read more over at (in)courage!

Craving Connection Challenges at (in)courage

What can you do to support a friendship today? What friendship or community are you thankful for today?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own, and this is my honest review.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family! For Book of the Month, if you click my referral link and join, I receive a small bonus.

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Holding on to Hope

Let’s Look for the Hopers

We all need some hope right about now, right?

This month at Do Not Depart, we’re talking about renewed minds, and I’ve written about holding on to hope. Join me at Do Not Depart for some verses and resources and amazing examples of spreading God’s hope.

Like Mister Rogers originally said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” We can associate that to hope, too. Let’s look for hopers together.
Holding on to Hope

Christ in the Carols -

Looking for Christ in the Carols

This month at Do Not Depart, we’re sharing some of our favorite Christmas carols and how we see Christ in them.

With all the hustle and bustle and marketing and pounding messages that lead up to Christmas in our current day, we so often hear people around us (and sometimes even ourselves) say, “Only __ more days, and then Christmas will be done!”

Christmas can quickly become a “thing to get through,” rather than a time to cherish, love, and grow in hope.

This is one of the reasons I love the carol, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.”

Click here to read the rest of the post at Do Not Depart. While you’re there, read the rest of this month’s posts, and share your favorite carols in the comments!

Merry Christmas.

Christ in the Carols -

NIrV Kids' Devotional Bible (Zondervan, 2016)

A Year-Long Devotional Bible for Kids {Book Review – NIrV Kids’ Devotional Bible}

NIrV Kids' Devotional Bible (Zondervan, 2016)

About the book (from the publisher):

NIrV Kids’ Devotional Bible (Zondervan, 2016)

Complete with a year’s worth of devotions, the Kids’ Devotional Bible, NIrV will help children develop a habit they’ll want to keep. Engaging weekday devotions, fun weekend activities, interesting illustrations, and a dictionary make this a Bible they’ll want to read and apply to their lives. It includes the complete New International Reader’s Version (NIrV)—the stepping stone to the NIV—making it easier for young readers to read and understand.

Features include:

• Short weekday devotions that help young readers apply Bible lessons for a full year.
• 52 weekend devotions that teach kids about God’s creation through fun activities like visiting the zoo and gazing at the stars.
• “Got It” feature that encourages kids to find answers to Bible trivia themselves.
• Book introductions that give helpful information about each book of the Bible.
• A dictionary to look up words they want to know more about.
• The complete NIrV text, which uses shorter sentences and easier words. Kids can read this Bible on their own!

My thoughts:

Our kids are old enough now that we are loving going through study bibles with them, and they also pick up bibles on their own and read through passages we’ve recently studied together, etc. And, so far, we are big fans of nearly every Zondervan kids Bible we’ve picked up.

That trend continues with Zondervan’s newer Kids’ Devotional Bible. This bible has the full Bible text in NIrV translation (read more about this translation here — we love this translation for young readers!). It also has 5 devotions per weekday that move through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, as well as ‘weekend’ devotion each week.

The weekday devotions include:

  • a bible reading (usually between 2-10 verses),
  • a focus verse,
  • a short less-than-half-page devotion that tries to tie the biblical story or truth into more current, everyday living,
  • “ask yourself” questions to help young readers reflect on what they read,
  • a box to ‘check’ when the devotion has been read, if wanted,
  • and a note at the bottom notifying which page the next devotion appears, plus additional Scripture references for additional reading/study.

This structure is set up nicely for brief reflection and family discussion after each reading. The devotions remain fairly general to be accessible to most readers. Some can be a bit more on the superficial side, but others delve into deeper topics that will warrant family discussion. I find the language used and topics covered to be geared more towards kids ages 7 to 13 or so. (The language will be ‘too young’ to be as interesting for most teens, but teens can definitely join in with younger siblings on discussions and guidance.)

Also, I suggest parents/teachers reading the devotions with kids to help talk through the devotions. Because devotions are interpretive by nature, some of the devotions, on rare occasion, may not align with certain biblical understandings or your family/church’s theology. (This can happen with any devotional book, so discussions can help your kids learn to analyze and still some glean truth from something that may differ from their own understandings.)

Readers can decide to go through the Bible straight through, or use the “subject guide” in the back to pick Scripture readings and devotions on topical needs, like joy, forgiveness, giving, worship, truthfulness, etc. (Some literal readers may not like reading a “Thursday” devotion on a Monday, for example, if wanting to look for specific topics, but these devotions could still certainly be read that way.)

The weekend devotions differ with:

  • two Scripture readings offered (one for Saturday, one for Sunday),
  • additional reflection questions (in the “Some things to think about” sidebar),
  • a “Some things to do” sidebar with simple, broad ‘action steps’ to live out what has been read and studied. Some of these tips include things to pray, ways to help. Some are too general (like “help those in trouble”) for some readers to benefit strongly from them without guidance, but most action steps will at least spark readers’ ideas for living out our faith in the world.

Additional features:

  • Each book begins with a brief, one-paragraph introduction/summary to what takes place or what is discussed in the book.
  • Each book ends with a “Got it!” section that reflects on the book (and devotions within that book) as a whole, and one or two “Connect the dots” questions that ‘quiz’ or review the material (including Scripture references to find the answers).
  • A “How to Use Your Devotional Bible” article at the beginning of the Bible written to young readers (rather than to parents).
  • A dictionary in the back with definitions of harder biblical terms, people, places, etc.
  • A “subject guide” in the back to find topical devotional and Scripture readings.

Overall, this is quality Bible and that would be especially useful for family devotion time with middle grade readers.

Our very favorite study bible for young readers (thus far) remains to be the NIrV Adventure Study Bible, which I reviewed here a couple of years ago, but this newer devotional bible will likely be well-used in our house, as well, and is a worthwhile addition to family libraries.

What is your family’s favorite study Bible or devotional Bible?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a part of the BookLook bloggers program. All opinions expressed are my own and this is my honest review.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to