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Scripture tells us that Job had a pretty charmed life. Seven sons. Three daughters. Thousands of sheep and camels. Hundreds of oxen, and a great reputation for serving God, which is apparently what made him a target for a spiritual tug-of-war.

As the story goes, Satan was trolling around looking for someone to deny God, so God suggested Job. He knew that Job’s faith was strong enough to handle anything thrown at him. Usually that’s where the Sunday School lessons focus, the perseverance and commitment angle.

But I’ve been thinking about how Job’s suffering was carefully mapped out. Even before the messenger had finished explaining how all of his camels were stolen, another messenger arrived to say that his children had died. Soon, Job was covered in painful boils from his feet to his head. No part of his life was left untouched.

So, why do I think I would be any different? Why should I think that evil won’t tug at my job, my family, my homesickness, my insecurities, the pieces of my heart that are broken? Do I even recognize evil?

“I’m convinced we live in chains – either of our own making or by the enemy,” said James Rubart, author of Rooms. “We each have a divine destiny, and the enemy is trying to keep that from happening.”

That idea of releasing the brakes we put on ourselves and throwing off the chains of those who keep us down – the idea of true freedom – is at the center of Rooms, the fiction book I’ve chosen for our second Simply Faithful book club.  In Rooms, software tycoon Micah Taylor receives a letter from a late uncle he barely knew telling him of a house he has built for him along the Oregon coast. The house, it turns out, is actually a physical manifestation of Micah’s soul, and there are rooms for places of his life where he needs forgiveness, healing and victory.

Alpha & Omega Parable Christian stores in Penfield and Greece, NY, will offer the book at a discounted rate of $9.97 and host discussion groups at 7 p.m. July 10, 17, 24 and 31. I’ll host a live chat with Rubart on the Simply Faithful page on Facebook at 7 p.m. July 25.

I hope you’ll join us. Maybe we’ll all find a little more freedom.

James Rubart knows success can feel empty. For years he ran a highly profitable marketing firm, all the while feeling there was more to his destiny – knowing that he needed to write more than TV ads.

He poured that experience into Micah Taylor, the main character in his first Christian novel, Rooms.

“I had the same choice Micah has to make in the book,” Rubart said. “I had the choice to jump off the cliff or stay safe.”

In Rooms, Micah is a software tycoon with almost more money than he knows what to do with. He has a great girlfriend, a penthouse in Seattle, a hurtful relationship with his father and a heart still aching from the loss of his mother.

A letter arrives from a late uncle he barely knew and tells him of a house the uncle has built for him along the Oregon coast. The house, it turns out, is actually a physical manifestation of Micah’s soul. And its rooms, which seem to appear and disappear on their own, offer the chance for healing, reconciliation and love.

Like its cover says, the story is a blend of The Screwtape Letters and The Shack, without as much controversial theology. Rubart uses Christian scripture sparingly and stays away from religious lingo, yet still manages to bring in topics like spiritual warfare.

Micah, and most people, get comfortable with the voices they hear – the thoughts that flash through their minds, Rubart said, and those thoughts, even if negative, seem to be true.

“I’d love for people to walk away and test the voices they hear every day,” he said. “Is that voice coming from me? From God?”

And is it a voice of forgiveness and freedom?

“For me, my theme is freedom,” said Rubart, who just finished his fourth novel, Soul’s Gate. It will be released in October and tell the story of people who are able to send their spirits into other people’s souls to help set them free.

Apparently the theme of freedom is resonating. Rubart receives letters and emails from people around the world telling him how Rooms has changed their lives. It has certainly changed his.

He once believed that he would never be good enough to write novels. Now, he has published three, finished a fourth and has a contract for four more. Rooms has sold tens of thousands of copies and even has a DVD study guide where Rubart visits the house in Oregon that is the setting of the book and actors bring key scenes to life.

Now, Rubart has stopped paying much attention to the voice that told him he couldn’t write. Instead he focuses on setting people free one character at a time.


About the book club

Joining the Simply Faithful book club is easy. Just pick up a copy of Rooms and participate in the community conversation. Talk with friends. Read it at church. Come to book discussions at Alpha & Omega Parable Christian Store.

Then, on Wednesday, July 25, log on to the Simply Faithful page on Facebook and meet the author, James L. Rubart. He’ll start answering questions at 7 p.m.

Also, send your comments to markettagregory@yahoo.com and read what others have to say about Rooms in the July 30 newspaper.

About the author

James L. Rubart lives in Washington with his wife, Darci, and two sons, Taylor and Micah. Besides writing novels, Rubart blogs at www.JamesLRubart.com and sometimes takes pictures – like the one that serves as the cover of Rooms. He can also be found on YouTube and Facebook, and he uses the Twitter handle @jimrubart.

For weeks I read books that readers suggested. I visited book stores and asked for recommendations. I bugged my husband and friends for their opinions on plots.

And finally, I found it. The next book for our book club: Rooms by James Rubart.

It’s not my typical genre — and I’d never read Rubart before. Still, the book tugged at me. It made me think of how I’m limiting myself, of how I allow the negative voices too much play time in my mind, of how God brings healing to broken hearts.

Give it a try and let’s discuss it.

Read my column and my profile of the author in today’s Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle:

Photo courtesy of Ann Voskamp

The beauty of purple hyacinths in the snow.

The smell of a granddaughter’s hair after her bath.

All tiny blessings scratched in Lida Merrill’s gratitude journal so she can cradle the moments just a little longer and thank the one whom she believes created it all.

Water droplets off a shale wall.

The stillness of a lake as the morning mist rises and the loons call.

Gifts that once would have been missed are now counted and celebrated in preparation for their Easter observance and in the hope of a life well lived — a life renewed by gratitude and joy.

“The practice of journaling keeps me focused on who I am grateful to and who is the source of what I am grateful for — God,” says Merrill, who along with dozens of other people in the Rochester area, recently read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

Voskamp’s story of writing down 1,000 things she was grateful for has earned her a spot onThe New York Times bestsellers list for more than eight months and has inspired countless others to take note of their own gifts and to trust the giver.

In the book, Voskamp references the Greek word eucharisteo, which is the word used to describe what Jesus does when he breaks bread at the Last Supper before his death on a cross. The word means “thanksgiving.”

“But guess what root words are embedded in that word, eucharisteo? Charis — and charis means ‘grace.’ Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks,” Voskamp said in an interview. “And the other word embedded in eucharisteo, is the word chara, meaning ‘joy.’ See it? The triplet, that three-braid cord? Charis. Grace. Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving. Chara. Joy.”

Easter is about joy, about fresh hope and new beginnings, she says. And it all begins with being grateful.

“This tremendous response to the gift of Easter, what can it be but thanksgiving?”

In all things, give thanks

For years, Merrill took note of the kind things that other people did. She filled notebook after notebook in her Rochester home with thanks for the neighbor who shoveled the driveway and the daughter who folded the laundry without being asked. But now, since reading the book, that is changing, said Merrill, assistant pastor at Zion United Methodist Church in West Walworth and director of spiritual life at Heritage Christian Services.

“Now I am noticing what God does in my life; I am noticing the beauty he gives to me.”

It’s a refrain heard time and time again at local book discussion groups where strangers became quick friends as they dug into Voskamp’s poetic writing and questions, her struggles with anxiety and the death of her younger sister.

Laura Bates of Penfield, has been making it a point to write at least three things a day she is thankful for – most often on the “One Thousand Gifts” free app that she uses on her phone.

“I have multiple myeloma (treatable but not curable cancer) and I am finding ways to be thankful for the good this has brought into my life,” said Bates, who attended a book group led by Merrill. She’s thankful for “my closer relationship with God, my appreciation for my family and friends, the fact that I was diagnosed early and the wonderful advances in treatment for this disease over the last several years. Seeing the good in everything also releases you from anger and bitterness.”

For some, the book discussion group became a gift as well.

“People felt safe to share their stories,” said Joan Weetman of Brighton. “Discussions launched by literature can be very rich and personal.”

“My life will be different,” said Char Ipacs of Irondequoit. “I met some wonderful women…  I count each one of these women as one of my 1,000 gifts.”

And while Ipacs expected to learn about gratitude, she was surprised to find how much the book dealt with joy. But the two are inseparable, Voskamp said.

“This book – this really is a dare to fully live – to find joy, right where you are. Because the thing is too often we think joy is ‘out there’ around some elusive next corner. But remember eucharisteo, that Biblical Greek word for thanksgiving? Joy is embedded right in that word. Joy is a function of thanks,” Voskamp said. “If thanks is possible then joy is always possible.”

Thanks in hard times

But giving thanks isn’t always easy, said Benjamin Lipscomb, associate professor of philosophy at Houghton College.

“To be grateful is to acknowledge myself indebted,” he said. “And that is to acknowledge that I’m not self-sufficient, that I’m a receiver and not only a giver.”

Aristotle says that great people, in particular, love to be reminded of favors they’ve given but hate to be reminded of favors they’ve received, Lipscomb said.  Being givers can make us feel strong and superior.  Being receivers, or admitting that we are receivers, destroys illusions of self-sufficiency.

“We’re taught in the Lord’s Prayer to ask even for our food — presumably even if we have a pretty good idea where it’s coming from, and that there will be enough,” he said. “To ask is to put ourselves in the position of receivers, and to prepare to receive in gratitude. Of course, it’s harder to receive things in gratitude that we anticipate.  And harder still to receive things in gratitude that we see as rightfully ours.”

But Jennifer Hopper of Brighton will try, thanks in part to a passage in “One Thousand Gifts” where Voskamp describes keeping hands open to receiving God’s grace.

In all of the book’s pages, “The idea of a closed hand pointing to self and shutting out God is what I will remember most,” Hopper said.

And that hand must remain open, even in the toughest of times, said Merrill.

“Just within the past few weeks of Lent there have been fires, murders of innocents, run away children and drunk driving accidents,” she said. “In the midst of these overwhelming tragedies God is present.”

While God doesn’t orchestrate these events, he is present even when people make decisions that hurt each other, Merrill said. So, she can be grateful that he brings comfort, peace and wisdom, grateful that she can pray for grieving families and know that God is there with them in their suffering.

“I cannot change what I see, but I can change the way I see it,” she said.

That’s how gratitude worked in Voskamp’s heart, too.

“Counting gifts powerfully resurrected me, rose me to the possibility of beauty in places I wasn’t even looking. Awakened me to grace and loveliness in places and moments I was just speeding through, in this relentless hurry,” she said. “Counting gifts slowed me down and resurrected me to really, fully living – attentive and mindful to all the ways God loves me. It was like a budding, an unfurling.

“And once you’ve experienced fully living? You never want to go back.”

 

Join me at 7:30 p.m. EST March 16 for a live chat with Ann Voskamp on the Simply Faithful page on Facebook. She has graciously agreed to answer questions from readers and share more about her life of faith. I know you’ll enjoy your time with her.

For 30 weeks Ann Voskamp’s book has earned a place on the New York Times bestseller list – and her neighbors don’t have a clue. People at her church found out only because the pastor shared his congratulations the first week.

And now the mail lady knows because her niece told her about a book she was reading called One Thousand Gifts. The mail lady happened to recognize the name of the author as the woman on her route who rarely leaves her farm in southwestern Ontario. The woman whose life is intentionally the same as it has always been, except for the occasional interview with a reporter and a mention on national TV by Kathie Lee Gifford, who tells the “Today” audience that the book is life changing.

“I never thought anyone would read it,” said Voskamp, adding that she and her husband hoped her story of writing down 1,000 things she was grateful for would at least sell enough copies to earn the advance from the publisher. It did. Before the book was even released.

Now 337,000 copies are in print, and it recently won an Award of Merit from Christianity Today. A free One Thousand Gifts app helps people track their gifts on their mobile devices, and Voskamp’s blog – aholyexperience.com – is no longer a private way for the shy woman to process her thoughts and find quiet time with God. She suddenly has an audience.

Most of that audience adores Voskamp, her wisdom and her poetic writing. And they appreciate the glimpses into her life: her struggles with depression and anxiety after the accidental death of her sister; her joy of chasing a harvest moon; her learning to take the hands of God and to trust.

“In some ways, writing is my personal handicap” because I need it to process my experiences, said Voskamp. “Some people can live through experiences once and learn from them. I have to live them twice in order to unpack and unfold the lessons.”

That’s why the mother of six continues to write what she is thankful for, to slow down, to see God’s gifts. “Counting gifts makes me realize who I can count on.”

It also reminds her of lessons she learns and then forgets – something she calls soul amnesia. “My default is not Pollyanna,” Voskamp said. “My default is perfectionism. I see all the mistakes, all the holes.” But gratitude, grace and joy point her to a different way of life, one that is content and in communion with God. “I often think God needs my hands to work but what he needs is for my knees to bend in prayer.”

So, she practices. She finds time to write on the fringes of the day. She prays at set times and between gathering the eggs from the hen house and homeschooling the kids, between the 45-minute drive to the library and writing assignments.

“When you establish time for prayer, you establish who is the priority,” said Voskamp, who attends a non-denominational church and travels for Compassion International, where she contributes to a blog for the ministry that helps children living in poverty.

On one of those trips, she met a pastor who brought clean drinking water to children living at a dump in Guatemala City, and he had dreams of building a recreation and educational center with computer labs, an English academy and a music studio. That pastor can now break ground on the project, thanks to royalties from One Thousand Gifts.

One Thousand Gifts, a book about thanksgiving now becomes a story of thanks-living,” Voskamp writes in her blog.

And there it is. The woman who gets anxious about travel and about being in the spotlight, the woman who never mentions her success to her neighbors, is quietly changing the world. One gift at a time.

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