Book Review, Relentless

I wrote this book review a few months ago fully planning to share it with you during the Christmas season. Obviously, that opportunity is long gone, or a long ways away–depending on how you choose to look at it. All the same, I can’t believe I waited this long to post my review of the book Relentless. But then, God’s timing is never off. Perhaps He intended to remind of this message when the season of charity has passed. 

I’m writing this in the season of Salvation Army Santa’s and stepped up food drives. It’s the season of renewed calls to action by every ministry, nonprofit and social service. It’s the season of year-end budgets, shortfalls and red ledgers. It’s the season we waffle between emotions of guilt due to over indulgence and smugness at our unprecedented charity. It’s a season when no one wants to hear another true story of need, or receive one more lecture about what we should do to help.

But, I actually picked up Relentless, by Dave Donaldson, completely unaware of its subject.

Relentless, begins with the transcript of a congressional address by Ron Paul, commending the author’s organization, Convoy of Hope. Before the first chapter, I was convinced that Relentless is unlike any other bleeding-heart story I’ve read. It is completely other than the typical description and advocacy of another charity. Without a celebrity spokesman or even a single heart-wrenching picture, Relentless, digs deep into the reader’s heart calling not only for awareness of the poor, asking not only for donations and volunteers, but equipping every Christ-follower with the energy, desire and resources to make difference.

I’ve read many similar books and found them frustrating. Between dramatic images and desperate prose, they seem to cultivate a condescending sympathy for the poor, rather than an empathy with those less fortunate realizing, but for the choice of the Sovereign God, I would be as destitute.

Some pleas for help seem to conjure up the same response as I might have to pictures of abused puppies and beached whales. Relentless is different. Maybe it stems from Donaldson’s own experience of poverty and charity; Donaldson does an excellent job of preserving the dignity of the poor, in fact establishing in the reader a new respect for those we can help.

There are a few distinctions that set Relentless apart from the crowd of other well-intentioned books.

First, as I mentioned, Donaldson experienced severe need and the generosity of fellow Christians. He was nine years old when his father was killed in a car wreck. Because the family had been living in a hotel while in the process of building a home, and his father had been the sole provider, overnight the remainder of their family became homeless and destitute.

Donaldson tells the story of a Christian family that took them in. The words of that father ring in his ears to this day and fuel his passion for outreach, “You are with family and this is now your home.” He tells of an incident years later when he uttered those very words to an orphan finding shelter in his home.

Relentless is filled with anecdotes that give the book a “meatier” feel than it might otherwise have. The stories are strategically placed to keep the reader engaged and to complement the dozens of statistics without drying-out the narrative.

Finally, the purpose of the book, to energize and equip “The Relentless” to impact their world, is overt. Donaldson does not merely tout his own organization, Convoy of Hope, but spends equal time pointing out the assets and successes of similar ministries.

Truthfully, I couldn’t put this book down. Far from feeling laden with guilt, Relentless left me feeling restless, empowered and determined to obey my Savior’s call, “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4

Conviction at Christmas

Wishing You a Grinch-less Christmas!
Wishing You a Grinch-less Christmas!

Just before Thanksgiving, I signed on board with my SheLoves sisters to participate in Advent Acts of Kindness. We are each taking a day of this Advent season to share how God led us to practice kindness specifically and intentionally.

And as I told you yesterday, no one needs to tell us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I think I figured that out the first time I spent my own allowance on Christmas gifts for my sisters. The anticipation of giving is the best part. Once I’ve selected the perfect gift, it’s all I can think about until finally, I cave beneath the mounting pressure of a secret and unveil the spectacular surprise, long before I’ve wrapped it and sometimes even before the tree is decorated. So when Julie Fisk wrote the post encouraging us to, “Celebrate Advent in a way that serves Christ and others in a tangible, physical way,” true to form, I couldn’t wait until the designated time.

What follows is a slight expansion of what I shared with you yesterday; continued musings on the proper order of thanks and giving:

Believe it or not, fun as it may appear from one side of the counter, barista is often a thankless job. This year, I discovered that my go-to Starbucks, my home away from home, my third place, my pick-me-up, my happy spot, my daily dive, was going to be open on Thanksgiving Day and all…night…long. So my puppy, Brave, (who benefits from most every visit there, as well) packed an oversized, red and green gift bag.

We loaded it down with hand lotion, peppermint gum, granola bars and odds and ends and dropped it off Thanksgiving evening just as the Black Friday crowds encroached upon the covered portico.

Giving is contagious, in a better way than the stomach flu. Recipients are often supernaturally compelled to bestow blessings on the next person they meet, or to turn and heap graciousness right back on the lap of the giver. 

And so it happened here. I haven’t been allowed to pay for my coffee once since Thanksgiving. So, the war is on. Last week, as I pulled up into the parking lot after a brisk dog trot along the river walk, I noticed, for what seemed like the first time, Chick-fil-a, only a stone’s throw from the Starbuck’s drive thru.

I’ve worked in food service before. In spite of being surrounded by sticky buns, soft pretzels, yummy wraps and cake pops, I’m pretty sure that my barista-friends seek any other option for their lunch break. I hustled into Chick-fil-a, postponing my coffee fix. Moments later, I stood at the coffee counter ordering my decaf-quad-grade-no-room Americano. When Ryan smiled at me and waved me past the register at no charge, I placed a Chick-fil-a gift card in his hand.

But there are other things I’m learning this season, things beyond thankful smiles and the warm-fuzzies of knowing I lifted another’s spirit. My mind keeps blinking like a crazed strand of Christmas lights. That’s because this giving thing feels so good – energizing in fact. But it’s got me thinking too, why don’t I do this more often?

Where does intentionality go most months of the year?

Why am I missing out on this feeling of explosive joy so much of the time?

Another thought that keeps sputtering in my subconscious: I am so painfully selfish.
If you could shine a flash light into the corners and cobwebs of my mind, I’d be squeamish. It’s the little things.

Things like only being intentional about kindness during Advent.

The amount of mental energy wasted on deciding if I should buy a new pair of pants, and then if I need new boots to go with them.
Then returning them because I feel guilty and feeling self-conscious next to the woman wearing super cute boots at church.

Searching for the least expensive version of the toys I promised for the toy drive at my church. Not wanting to send out Christmas cards because of the time and energy it requires.

The fact that it’s so easy to buy something tiny for myself when I’m out shopping for gifts for others.

These thoughts are blinking off and on. They’re real, they are conviction, concern and curiosity. And I’m not completely sure what to do with them yet. But I know the crux of this is my obsession with myself. Oh how I want to be so other-minded, so Christ-consumed that I see myself only as the shadow cast by the reflection of my Father’s joy and His children’s blessing.

Turning the Other Cheek this Christmas

Hi Everyone, I’m joining my SheLoves Sisters here, and doing this: Advent Acts of Kindness. (Both links are very informative and helpful to explain the whole process which is actually very simple.)

I hope you’ll join me! For once let’s not just talk about decommercializing Christmas, and perhaps not even fight the hype. Instead, this project feels a little like turning the other cheek, to me. We’re not ranting about Santa, stores and stinginess. We’re not resolving, rejecting or reframing.

We are simply sharing the overflowing Love and Joy of Christ this Christmas, multiplying our giving, highlighting His generosity and loving others as He loves us. 

Merry Christmas!

Screenshot 2013-11-27 11.59.25

P.S. I know you hardcore “No Christmas ’till after Thanksgiving” folks are wagging your finger at me. Believe, I’ve been you (still am to a degree). But this project requires just a tiny bit of planning, so I figured I’d give you a head start. Also, perhaps we wouldn’t get so bent out of shape about Christmas overshadowing Thanksgiving if we behaved as we believe: Jesus didn’t just come once to a stable, but that He lives here and NOW in our hearts. 

Again, Merry Christmas!