5 Helpful Books In Life’s Great Transitions

AmazonJunglePerufamilypic-4 2

One word summarizes 2014 for the Smith family – transition. Last April our family moved back to the States. One of the best things my family did this past year was attend a week of debriefing and renewal (DAR) for cross-cultural missionaries in Palmer Lake, Colorado. One of our counselors recommended a slew a books that I normally would not have picked out for myself; books on soul care, counseling, and rest. I’m so glad I read out of my comfort zone and took my counselor’s advice.  I feel like I’ve entered 2015 a healthier, more holistic man with a more integrated mind.

51TNLkSnGaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_1. Adrenaline & Stress, by Archibald Hart M.D.

While at DAR, I was told that if I don’t change my lifestyle, that I will have a heart attack in 10 years. We took many tests, one of them was the well-known Holmes & Rahe Stress Scale. For those who’ve never heard of this test, it measures the amount of stress you’ve experienced within the past year. The total score is on a scale from 0- 1,000.

  • If you score zero, you’re not living. If you score 1,000, then you’re about to die.
  • If you score below 150, then you’re not experiencing much stress.
  • If you score above 300, then you will get ill soon.

I became a believer in this stress test when Sandi & I took it our first year in seminary. We both scored over 300. Just weeks later we celebrated the big Y2K New Year’s Eve sick as dogs. Instead of parting with Prince like it was 1999, we were tossing and turning on our bed with fever. They said at DAR that the average missionary scores between 800-900!! Thankfully, this time I scored 481 – although it was still way over my score back in 1999. Our counselor recommended a book I would have never picked out for myself. This might sound stupid, but the cover was completely stuck in the 80s, which whispered to me: “out-of-date, and out-of-touch.” Boy, was I wrong. Dr. Hart’s book was written for type-A personalities who are addicted to adrenaline. I had no idea I could get high from cortisol. I won’t go into all the details of this incredible book, but it is key for preventing a heart attack. Let me just mention a few important points:

  • Most adrenaline junkies don’t know they are addicted because they enjoy being under positive stress – it makes them feel alive.
  • Stress is not bad and can’t always be avoided; the key is to learn how to come down off your adrenaline buzz and REST. Many times this down times feels more like depression – which is completely normal and necessary for the body to reset itself.
  • If I do not proactively fight my “hurry sickness” and learn what triggers my stress and learn how to bring down my adrenaline levels, over time I will have a heart attack. Bottom line. Simple as that.

If you are a thrill junkie and/or a workaholic, consider giving this book a read. You’ll finish it in a day or two. And it just might save your life!

9781418567798_p0_v2_s260x4202. The Emotional Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero.

Like so many Americans, I was taught to ignore my feelings, especially the not-so-fun emotions like sadness, fear, and anger. In this book, Scazzero argues that  “emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable… it’s not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature” (pp. 11, 17). And that dichotomy explained much of my walk with Christ – rigorous to love God with my head and hands, but not really knowing how to love with my heart. So when I read in the beginning of the book that “to the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well” (p. 26), I was resolved to explore the uncharted waters of my emotional life.

After addressing in the first three chapters the problem of an emotionally unhealthy life, Scazzero shows us a way to live a more integrated, healthy life. He does so by teaching on basic counseling topics such as the necessity self-awareness (ch. 4), family of origin patterns (ch. 5), the unavoidable ‘wall’ (ch. 6), dealing with loss (ch. 7), sabbath and the daily office (ch. 8), and embracing conflict (ch. 9). In fact, this book has become the basis of Peter & Geri Scazzero’s ministry to help church leadership integrated emotionally healthy spirituality principles into the fabric of church culture. On their website, they have provided many great resources and tools. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality laid a great theological and practical foundation for me to journey deeper into my heart as well as the hearts of others. I need to re-read this book!

3. The Rest of GodThe-Rest-of-God, by Mark Buchanan

Dr. Hart taught me all sorts of methods for resting and Scazzero reminded me of its practical importance, but Mark Buchanan’s book gave me a biblical theology of its beauty. On just an artistic level, Mark is an incredible writer: profound, poetic, honest, and charming. Although the subtitle states: “Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath,” this book is much bigger than a mere biblical argument for sabbatarianism. I guess he hooked me in the intro when he said, “I became a Sabbath-keeper the hard way: either that, or die.” That’s where I was when our family moved back from Peru.

The style and cadence of this book made me want to rest. God used this book to slow me down and discover the deeper rhythms of sabbath woven into the very fabric of our world. It stretched and renewed my understanding of sabbath than merely stopping for 24 hours each Sunday. For example, a theology of play is necessary for recovering Sabbath (ch. 9). Most strict sabbatarian views would see rest and play at odds with each other. Mark helps see that sometimes we rest the best at play. Also, I loved that each chapter ended with a “sabbath liturgy” – a suggested practice to help the sabbath sink in deeper into our soul and rhythms of life.If you are already convinced that you need to rest more, but need a book to help you to rest better, this is the perfect book for you.

51WebZe4npL4. Anatomy of the Soul, by Curt Thompson, M.D.

Of all the books I read this past year, this one was the most interesting. Dr. Thompson integrates the latest findings in neuroscience to show how the mind actually changes. Thompson borrows John Calvin’s description of the Psalter as an Anatomy of the Soul. His book illustrates how our minds embody our physical self, that is profoundly relational, regulates our flow of energy, and is interconnected with other’s minds. He goes on to say that the biblical concept of the “heart” is manifested most profoundly at the level of the prefrontal cortex (the front part of our brain).

Basically, this book explains neurologically how people change. Thompson’s premise is that a healthy, mature person has a fully integrated mind. Half of the book reads like a scientific text book for dummies and the other half reads like a guide for holistic, biblical change.

One of the most shocking moments in the book is when Thompson says, “there is no such thing as an individual brain.” I’m still trying to sort that one out. He continues: “transformation requires a collaborative interaction, with one person empathically listening and responding to the other so that the speaker has the experience of feeling felt by another” (p. 137). In other words, storytelling is essential for making disciples in community. He explains that by telling and listening to each other’s stories, it opens the door to a different future. When we tell our story and others empathically listen, our brains become more integrated by forming new neurological pathways which then changes how we think and feel about our memories. Crazy stuff! An Anatomy of the Soul is a very stimulating read.

41QmW03xfwL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_5. A Loving Life, by Paul Miller

In this follow-up book from A Praying Life, Miller’s A Loving Life is really a devotional commentary on the Book of Ruth. As I read through this book, I realized that the story of Ruth is about the heart-wrenching transition of Naomi & Ruth. This book drips with the gospel; Miller beautifully shows a cruciform life reflected in Naomi, Ruth, & Boaz. I was greatly helped by his definition of hesed love as a “one-way, stubborn love… that isn’t centered on fairness” but centered on death and ends in resurrection.

I began to read this book on my darkest day in 2014. Much of this book was read with tears; and I found a very healing read about God’s hesed love in the Gospel according to Ruth. To give you a taste of Miller’s mastery of gospel-centered living, consider his conceptual model he calls the “J-curve“. Christian Scholars say that a biblical worldview of history is linear instead of cyclical; but the line is not flat, says Miller; “it is actually shaped like a J, beginning with life and then going down into death and then upward to resurrection, a J-curve. Jesus lives a J-curve. He describes his life as a seed dying and rising again (John 12:24). Gospel stories are possible only because God actively shapes history, bringing life where there is death” (p. 68). A_Loving_Life__In_a_World_of_Broken_Relationships__Author_of_A_Praying_Life__-_Paul_E__Miller_-_Google_BooksWhat a great teaching tool! I agree with Miller that our hearts were made for gospel stories. All of our lives must go through the dip in the J, what Peter Scazzero calls “the Wall” and what David calls “the Valley” in Psalm 23. Before there is new life, there must always be a death. Miller provides extremely helpful pastoral insight to living-out this J-curve shaped life:

“[God teaches] us to love by overloading our systems so we are forced to cry for grace. God permits our lives to become overwhelming, putting us on the downward slope of the J-curve so we come to the end of ourselves. I encouraged my friend to embrace the downward path, not to push against it or worry about where his feelings were with his wife… Seeing the gospel as a journey remaps our stories by embedding them in the larger story of Jesus’s death and resurrection. His normal becomes our normal” (p. 69).

Miller then shares what he has learned by going through the J-curve:

  1. We don’t know how or when resurrection will come. It is God’s work, not ours.
  2. We don’t even know what a resurrection will look like. We can’t demand the shape or timing of a resurrection.
  3. Like Jesus, we must embrace the death that the Father has put in front of us. The path to resurrection is through dying, not fighting.
  4. If we endure, resurrection always comes. God is alive!

“We can’t do death. But we can’t do resurrection. We can’t demand resurrection—we wait for it” (p. 71). I was at the bottom of the “J” when I picked up this book: I had to die to a vision that I was not willing to let go. Watching Ruth die over and over, helped me die; and I found that my heart was re-oriented to love again. Resurrection quietly came. If you find yourself fighting in the bottom of the J, and you are confused about what is coming next in your life, then this book might really encouraged your soul.

cover-lowres1Sandi’s Pick: Notes from a Blue Bike, by Tsh Oxenreider

From Sandi: “Notes from a Blue Bike was such a wonderful book to drape the transition from our South American life to begin living in North America again. We have come back mostly Peruvian, especially our four daughters who had spent the entirety of their lives in Peru. I knew I had to help our family incorporate much of our beloved Peruvian culture into our new life so that we might successfully thrive, live simply and maintain a healthy lifestyle and worldview. I had traveled back and forth between continents enough times to know that blending two cultures into our new life might be tricky: we wanted to maintain many of our ways in Peru while avoiding many of the North American vices. Tsh addresses the issues of food, work, education & travel and how to practically incorporate the goodness of what was learned living internationally into our new North American life.”

So if you are an expat looking for practical ways on how to incorporate lessons from cross-cultural into your new life (things like eating fresh, living simply, and prioritizing travel), this might be a great book for you.

Summer Update


Dear Friends:

This has officially been our longest summer of our lives. Since Peru is south of the equator, it’s seasons are opposite from the States. Summer in Peru begins in December and ends around April – the month we returned to the States. So, we have enjoyed 9 months of ongoing hot, sunny weather. We landed in a family lake house in Hot Springs, AR. While being back in Allen’s home state, it’s been jammed packed with family reunions, high school reunions, weddings, summer camps, cookouts, hiking, tubing, skiing, tons of Magic Springs, and many other American customs. 

Back in March we asked you to pray for our girls that they would all get into the right grade. When our girls took the entry exam here in Hot Springs, we were wondering if our Peruvian schooling + a little English homeschooling combo would set our girls back a grade. Turns out that they all did very well and tested into the exact grades for which we were praying. God answered your prayers – thank you!

Now that school is in full swing, I plan on hitting the road this fall and visiting many of you and our supporting churches. My speaking & travel schedule thus far:

  • Oct. 19 –  Trinity Grace, Rogers, AR 
  • Nov. 2 – Christ Presbyterian, Oxford, MS
  • Nov. 19 – First Pres., Gulfport, MS
  • Dec. 7 – First Pres., Stamps, AR
  • Jan. 7 – Trinity Pres., Jackson, MS
  • Jan. 13 – Grace Presbytery meeting
  • Jan. 18 – Faith Pres., Clinton, LA
  • Jan. 25 – Pear Orchard Pres., Jackson, MS
  • Feb. 1 – Faith Pres., Brookhaven, MS
  • Feb. 8 – Tuscaloosa, AL
  • Feb. 15 – Christ Covenant, Hernando, MS & Memphis area
  • Feb. 18-22 – Dallas
  • later March – Central America, Guatemala
  • April 12 – First Pres., Aliceville, AL

If you would like for me to pay you a visit, please do not hesitate to email me or call me at 501-400-2202. I hope to see you soon!

Thank you for your prayers and support!

Allen & Sandi Smith

hiking arkansas_

Going to America for Year Furlough

We are only a few weeks away from returning to the States for our year furlough. We will land in Hot Springs, Arkansas on April 13. Right now we are busy in many areas: Allen is handing off his responsibilities to various leaders, Sandi is packing up our house, the girls are finishing up their school work and we have 8 plus “despedidas” (going away parties) to attend. Our Peruvian friends & mission team are sure making us feel loved!

Good Moment for Furlough

In the past two years, God has blessed the Cristo Rey Church. New members have joined the church, new leaders are being trained, new ministries have been formed, and we have a new location. Sunday worship now averages 92 each week. If the church continues to grow at our present rate, in just a few years, the church should become completely sustainable in both its funding & national leadership. It is a great relief to know that we are leaving Cristo Rey at such a good moment with such capable leaders!

Falling Behind on Supporters

One of my responsabilities as a missionary is to keep my supporters up-to-date on our financial state. After receiving our last month’s financial report, I discovered that we are at an all time financial low. Several churches are unable to continue supporting us this year, and on top of that, we have extra travel & moving expenses that come with going on furlough, placing our finances even further behind. It is good that we are going on furlough to raise more money.

You Can Help!

However, in the mean time, we need your help. We have already raised $5K in the last few weeks by simply making a few phone calls. If we could raise another $10K in the next month, would should be fine. Would you consider giving a one-time donation to help cover our financial downfall? Even if you can only give $25, it will help! Here are the two ways you can make a financial contribution:
  • You can send a check to the following address, with a memo note saying “Smith Family Support”:
Christian Missionary Society
P.O. Box 14563
Greenville, SC, 29610-4563

Prayer Points

  • Formation of Peruvian Church Planting Team. Our hope is that through the Apprenticeship Program, God would form a church planting team. Please join us in prayer that this year God would confirm a Peruvian church planter and his church planting team.
  • Leadership Transition. Right now Allen is turning over all his responsibilities to other  leaders. With change always comes tension and opportunity for conflict. Please pray that God would make these transitions smooth and promote greater national leadership.
  • Children Education. Upon arriving back to the States, please pray that our girls will be able to test into their appropriate grade for their age. They will take their entrance exam in late April. They are also nervous about fitting in & making new friends at their new school. Pray that God will provide great friends for each of them.
  • Financial Support. We are very thankful for your ongoing financial support. However we just found out that we are at an all time financial low. Several churches cannot continue to support us, and we have extra travel & moving costs in returning to the States. Please pray that we will be able to raise an addition $10K in the next several weeks.

Thank you for your prayers & support!

Signature Full_2

Reflections on our Amazing Trip to Easter Island


The day we flew away from Easter Island, I wrote the following journey entry:

“As the Easter Island Guide Book warned me: ‘You will leave Easter Island with more questions than answers.’ This is so true! Due to the small population & size of island, the history of the Rapa Nui has often been seen as a microcosm of all humanity. Today I read 2 Chronicles 33, and I noticed several similarities between the Rapa Nui people & the Israelites: their downfall & rebirth as a nation.

  • Both the Israelites & Rapa Nui were one of the smallest nations in the world.
  • Both nearly became extinct due to their idol worship.
  • Both were rescued from their near demise.

Looking over the island, here are two reflections:


1. Thoughts on Idolatry

Most contribute the downfall of the Rapa Nui culture to their worship of the stone statutes (called Moai). One guide said it took 2 years and a crew of 20 people to carve only one of these huge stone statues (the biggest is 70 feet high and 270 tons!). And they have counted 887 Moai all around the island – that is a lot of man hours!

ahu-akahangaSince the Rapa Nui lived 1,000 years in isolation, and they believed that all other “islands” of the world had sunken, they thought they were the last survivors on earth. They also believed a divine king would one day return to the island to save them, but to gain his attention, they needed to make bigger and taller Moai. The problem was that the island’s resources could not support the construction of more Moai. They had to cut down more trees to make more Moai, but over time they deforested the entire island. And once the trees were gone, civilization fell into chaos. No wood for fires, fishing boats, farming, or housing. Civil war broke out among the tribes. All the Moai were toppled face down (that’s why most are not standing upright today). Soon after they resorted to cannibalism in order to survive.

Both history & Scripture teaches an important lesson about idolatry: it always leads to destruction. Paul says that behind every idolatrous practice is a demon (1 Cor. 10:20-21), and the end game of the demons is death (John 8:44). In short, idolatry is dangerous for a people’s existence. Where are the Canaanites today? Where are the northern tribes of Israel? We have “Jews” that trace their linage back to Judah, but the idol worshippers of northern Israel were sent into permeant exile. Where are the Mochians or the Chimus? If you come visit me in Trujillo, Peru, I can show your their temples in ruin.

EasterIslandSantiagoVacation-194There is a parallel between Manasseh’s son, Amon, and the children of the Rapa Nui. Amon brought out his daddy’s idols for worship; which led to his quick downfall (2 Chron. 33:21-25). It is no secret; the idols of Rapa Nui’s past are the main reason why tourists come to the island today. And tourism is the main industry of the Rapa Nui. So the BIG QUESTION for the Rapa Nui is: Will they bring out the Moai as idols and worship them like Amon worshipped his father’s idols? If so, God might just let capitalistic consumerism over take their little island. Can Easter Island support the exploitive power of international hotel chains, tons of tourists and major industry turning their island into a remote Disney Land? Although the very Moai were crafted to provide protection & prosperity from the outside forces (thus most of them face inland), will these stone statues once again be their demise? Or will the 5,700 remanent of Rapa Nui survive like the faithful Jews, and turned to God and worshipped Him alone? These are the questions the Rapa Nui youth face today.

2. Thoughts on Grace

I am moved by how God is so gracious. The Chronicler adds material that is not recorded in Book of Kings: Manasseh repents in exile. The Assyrians literally took him into exile with hooks; he was brought very low. Perhaps when the Rapa Nui dwindled from 10,000 to 111, a chief repented of his ways, was converted by hearing the gospel from a Christian missionary, God was greatly moved (as with Manasseh), and restored a people from a near destruction. I have no clue if this ever happened, but I would not be surprised something like this is true. How else did the three crosses get placed on one of the main hills that overlooks the village of Hanga Roa, the very place where they were exiled on their own island for about 70 years (from the annexing of Chile in 1888 to their release in 1966).

The main point is that God is more moved by repentance than by rebellion. Yes, God punishes the wicked, even Judean kings who burned their children on a flaming altar or people who eat each other; however He als restores anyone who repents of their ways and turns to Him for forgiveness. Destruction is for the rebellious, but relief is for those who repent. We know that Manasseh truly repented because he issued many reforms; and he was the worst of the kings, even worse than wicked Ahab! Yet God loves to forgive. He even brought Manasseh back to Jerusalem from exile and restored him as king. What amazing grace! Perhaps that is why we see the Rapa Nui resurge today.”


Easter Island: One of Our Best Vacations Ever


With 4 years of saved up airline miles, the income of lots of photography jobs, and some awesome friends to babysit our 4 daughters, we were off to discover the world’s most remote inhabited island.

Our first day on Easter Island we rented a little jeep, bought a guide book, and were off! Once out of the Hanga Roa village, we were completely alone on the island 90% of the time. We kept asking ourselves, “Where are all the people?” We explored everyday, all day until the sun set at 9:10 pm – allowing us to squeeze as much of the island into one day as possible.

There are certain trips you take that you build so much in your mind that once you arrive, you’re like, “Ah, this is not that big a deal.” Easter Island was not like that at all – it definitely did not disappoint! We went to see the Moai stone statutes, but we discovered that there was so much more: beauty of untouched landscape, three volcanoes, 3,000 wild horses running loose, white sandy beaches, intimidating cliffs, surfing and diving, and beautiful polynesian people speaking their native Rapa Nui language. Since the island is 2,200 miles from civilization, it forced us to unplug from all internet, social media, and TV. It felt like what a vacation should feel like.

Easter Island is one of the those places where it was hard to take a bad picture. Here are some of our favorite pictures from our trip.


The volcanic quarry at sunrise: the birthplace of the Moai.


Overlooking one of the volcanic craters.


Can you see the Moai statues through the imported palm trees?



Running wild and free!




Exploring the caves where many Rapa Nui lives in the 1960s




One of our best vacations ever!

Stay tuned for some reflections about what we experienced on this mysterious island.

Christ, the Church & The Lego Movie

Www indiewire

Yesterday, I took my 4 daughters, along with 10 other  kids, to see The Lego Movie. Despite that it was dubbed in Spanish, I literally laughed the entire time. I woke up this morning feeling like Emmet. Even that cute yet annoying tune buzzed through my brain: “Everything is awesome!” (If you watched it, don’t lie – you had the same experience!)

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!

[If you haven’t seen the movie yet, come back latter to read this entry.]

OK, I’m a pastor, and I admit that the entire meta-narrative isn’t exactly a consistent Biblical worldview (i.e. the prophesy is true – there is a chosen one!). But I’m fine with it, because this movie is told from a kid’s perspective. Just as if I would be gracious to my 6 year-old’s imaginary world of My Little Ponies & Littlest Pet Shop, so I will not point out all the gaps. Rather, let me share with you several awesome themes of redemption that I found:

1. We all have a special role to play on God’s team

What is refreshing about The Lego Movie is that it does not just celebrate the repetitive theme that “everyone is special” but places our specialness in a community context. The second line to the theme song (“…everything is cool when you’re part of a team”) actually interprets what the movie means by awesome.  As Cuidon of Christianity Today says: “The Lego Movie proposes that our different roles in the larger story make each of us totally necessary and special, even if we don’t all look and act the same.” One can easily see how the all the members of a local church are very special because all are very needed to make disciples and be salt and light in the world.

2. We all have a creative role to play on God’s team

The Lego Movie also connects our collective awesomeness to our creativity. I agree with Gray Ewing, that we are all builders that image the Master Architects creativity in making a better world. “In creation,” Ewing states, “God has basically given us a bunch of colorful blocks and told us to go play with them in meaningful ways.” Yes, we do have dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28), but not in an oppressive way like President Business, but in a caring way like Emmet and his motley crew of master builders. We make the world more awesome through innovation, creativity, and many times through improvisation.

[Side note: Richard Bauckham does a brilliant job in his book The Bible & Ecology, of making a biblical case that the cultural mandate is a call for creative care of the earth, rather than cruel exploitation of the earth as some Christians in the past have interpreted.]

3. We all have to follow the rules on God’s team

A major turning point in the movie is when Emmet improvises a speech to the other master builders. He tells them how they can enter the unscalable, impenetrable Office Building. It will not be by building a bat mobile, a pirate ship, or a rainbow train. Rather, Emmet surprises them all and says that following instructions is the most subversive thing they can do! “No one will expect it!” Another thing I loved about The Lego Movie is that they don’t portray rule following as boring and dumb, but rather as the most counter-cultural strategy against President Business. To be on an effective team, yes, we have to follow the rules, especially the rules our Master Builder tells us in the blue prints of Scripture.

4. Even the most unlikely people are chosen to be on God’s team

Right when President Business is about to glue Emmet, all seems to be lost! Yet Emmet improvises again (something he seems to be growing in) and says he has a secret weapon. This spikes President Business’ curiosity and asks, “What is it?” “Our hands,” replies Emmet (If the dialogue isn’t exactly right, I did watch it in Spanish!). What Emmet says next is the most surprising moment of the movie, he tells the undeserving, cruel President Business that he too is special, that he is the chosen one, and the most gifted master builder he knows! Although Morgan Freeman (Vitruvius) already said that had made up prophecy about the chosen-one, what Emmet says still communicates a powerful point: electing love changes even our enemies’ hearts. Emmet chose to love the villain. As Emmet lavishes his love on President Business, his perpetual angry face melts away into wonder.

Perhaps when President Business becomes part of the team is the most powerful gospel moment in the movie. The good news is that the Divine Architect is real and His prophecy is true. God does have a Chosen One and He is the real hero of the story.  His death on the cross looked more idiotic and unpractical than Emmet’s double-decker couch (which interestingly saves them all). The cross was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. We too are like President Business, and Jesus’ counter-intuitive act of love melts our hearts. “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10).

Christians, lets me honest. Look around. Not only are many of us as bizarre as Uni-Kitty, as simple as Emmet, as narcissistic as Batman, but we are also as mean as President Business. We do not deserve to be on the team. And that is precisely what makes election so beautiful, so touching. Although we are the most unlikely people to be on God’s team, He has chosen us to do some awesome things. So let’s keep extending the hand like Emmet and work together as God’s unlikely team, because we know that one day everything will be completely awesome!

What did I miss? What other themes did you you see?