In the Garden

Our story begins in a garden. In the most perfect and beautiful garden one can imagine – the home God made for the man and woman he’d made. The man and woman enjoyed peace, all comforts, and a perfect relationship with the God who loved them and made them. They were given a charge to fill the earth and rule creation. The garden was meant to grow.

But instead, we find the woman, Eve, fell victim to the lie that God didn’t really mean what He promised. For a moment she doubted His desire for her good and did the one thing He’d told her not to do. She committed treason.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the mad and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden

Eve understood in that moment what had been lost. In shame, she ran from His presence, though she couldn’t possibly understood fully what the effects of her actions would be.

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

He went looking for her in the garden. And we read next that God issued consequences for this sin and in the same breath promised one day the curse would be undone, when Eve’s offspring crushes the serpent’s head.

Then He clothes them in garments of skins. Did you catch it? God makes a sacrifice to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness and shame. The first sin offering. Right there in the garden.

Then He tells them they must leave the garden, but not out of anger. They have not been cast out. Even in this, He is protecting them from eating from the tree of life and begin eternally trapped in spiritual death.

“The expulsion from paradise, therefore, was a punishment inflicted for man’s good, intended, while exposing him to temporal death, to preserve him from eternal death” (C.F.Keil). It was merciful for God to send them out of the garden and prevent them from eating from the tree of life.

And so this story ends with a cherubim with flaming sword blocking the way in to the garden. I see Eve glancing back toward him, thinking of all she has lost.

But this is not the end of the story, or of the garden.

Years later, the Promised One arrives on the scene and one night, He walks purposefully into a garden. He surrenders to His Father’s fill in total obedience. Unlike Adam and Eve, He does not doubt the love of the Father. Here He is betrayed by one of his own — arrested and taken out of the garden to die on the hill.

He is crucified — naked, put out for open shame, and wearing a crown of thorns. He bears the full consequences of the crime committed long ago. He dies.

So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Another garden, another sacrifice. The Promised One surrenders in the garden. There He is buried, and for a moment, hope is lost.

But there in the garden, the Son of Man rises with healing in His wings.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”….

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stopped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Here we see Mary Magdalene, one who knew as well as anyone the full impact of the curse. This daughter of Eve, from whom, Mark tells us, Jesus cast out seven demons. A woman scorned and shamed, rejected, hopeless. What she must have been feeling in this moment! Her days following Jesus had transformed her life and given her purpose and joy — what was she to do now? Was it back to brokenness, isolation and hiding in shame?

Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

I hear the desperation in her words. Where is my Jesus? What have you done with Him? At least give me His body to mourn. Where else could she go?

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (Which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” — and that he had said these things to her. 

The first act of the Risen Christ was to find the broken and shamed woman in the garden. This time, though, she wasn’t hiding from Him. This time, the woman turned and beheld Him, then ran into His arms. The Risen Christ finds the woman and reconciles her to Himself. Mary Magdalene – the first to trust in the finished, complete work of Jesus Christ. She walks with the presence of God in the garden. The angels in this garden no longer prevent access. These angels usher her toward His presence and announce His finished work.

And still, this, too, is not the end of the story. He gives her a job to do. Go and tell. Tell the others Christ is risen. Tell the others the curse has been lifted and Jesus is making all things new. Everything sad will come untrue – even death.

Like Eve, Mary’s mandate is to be fruitful and multiply. Go and tell and bring the blessings of the garden to the whole earth. Go and tell that men and women from every tongue and tribe and nation will believe and one day be citizens of that great city, the New Jerusalem. For in the middle of that city is another garden, filled with the river of the water of life; “also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

One day soon we will all be with Him in the garden.

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A Long Overdue Reading Recap

Well, I’ve been doing a lot of reading in 2018, but I certainly haven’t made the time to post about it! Hopefully, if you are truly interested in my reading recommendations, you are my friend on Goodreads.  I do keep it up to date and review the books.

Because I’ve read over 30 books since I last posted, I am going to make this one a bit different from my usual recaps. Instead of describing and reviewing each one, I am going to list them by genre (ish) and then let you know my must-reads from each category.  Sound good?  Then, I will try to start making time for monthly updates.

Children/Young Adult

  • Dragons Love Tacos (Adam Rubin)
  • The War That Saved My Life (Kimberly Brubaker Bradley)
  • Red Scarf Girl (Ji-Li Jiang)
  • Tell Me Three Things (Julie Buxbaum)
  • What to Say Next (Julie Buxbaum)

My Favorite: Tell Me Three Things – yes, you need to suspend a bit of reality, but that is what makes YA so fun sometimes.

Fiction

  • The Woman in the Window (A.J. Finn)
  • The Best of Adam Sharp (Graeme Simsion)
  • Force of Nature (Jane Harper)
  • The Fortunate Ones (Ellen Umansky)
  • An American Marriage (Tayari Jones)
  • Not that I Could Tell (Jessica Strawser)
  • A Fall of Marigolds (Susan Meissner)
  • Into the Water (Paula Hawkins)
  • Love Walked In (Marisa de los Santos)
  • The Girl in the Glass (Susan Meissner)
  • I was Anastasia (Ariel Lawhon)
  • Lie to Me (J.T. Ellison)
  • The Women in the Castle (Jessica Shattuck)
  • What She Knew (Gilly Macmillan)
  • The Book of Essie (Meghan MacLean Weir)

My Favorites: An American Marriage (contemporary literary fiction), I Was Anastasia (historical fiction), and Lie to Me (suspense).

Nonfiction/Memoir

  • Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money
  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight (Alexandra Fuller)
  • The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile)
  • Educated: A Memoir (Tara Westover)
  • I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer (Michelle McNamara)
  • Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House (Alyssa Mastromonaco)

My Favorites: Educated (Westover was raised in a fundamentalist, dooms-day prepper type situation and then ended up at Cambridge), Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight (Fuller grew up in Zimbabwe in the 1970s), and Who Thought this was a Good Idea? (Mastromonaco worked for Obama – the writing style is similar to Mindy Kaling and this was a fun read).

Christian Thought

  • Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You (John Ortberg)
  • The Four Wills of God: the Way He Directs Our Steps and Frees Us to Direct Our Own (Emerson Eggerichs)
  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (Nabeel Qureshi)
  • In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character (Jen Wilkin)
  • The Sacred Enneagram: Finding your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth (Christopher Heuertz)
  • The Gospel Comes with a House Key (Rosaria Butterfield)
  • Finding God in my Loneliness (Lydia Brownback)
  • Why Can’t We Be Friends? Avoidance is Not Purity (Aimee Byrd)

My Favorites: The Four Wills of God (highly recommend), and Why Can’t We Be Friends? (about male/female friendships within Christian community – so good, well-researched theologically, and challenging).

Abiding in Truth

A little over a month ago I came across a new podcast, Journey Women with Hunter Beless.  Several of the episodes have been so good that I’ve had to stop what I’m doing to take notes. One, however, was so profound for me that I’ve listened to it (and cried through it) more than once. [You can check it out here – Intimacy with God with Kim Vollendorf.]

One thing that Kim talks about is how she made some ABC meditations one who God is and who she is in light of salvation.  I found her lists so inspiring that I decided to make my own. It’s taken a few weeks and I’ve only done the first one – attributes/characteristics of God, but I wanted to share it here.  I will (maybe) share the other list when I’ve finished it. My list looks a bit different from hers….there are many different words that could go with each letter so I picked what resonated most with me right now in this season.

For now, though, here are the ABCs I’ll be reciting and meditating on as a way to abide in the Truth every day.

God is Able. He is Better than all else. He Cares for me. He Delivers me because He Delights in me. He is Eternal, He is Faithful Forever, He’s Good and Gracious to all He has made. He is Holy. He is Infinite and still Immanent. He is Just and Kind. He Loves me and is full of Mercy. He is Near to those who call on Him. He is the Omnipotent One. He is my Portion and Peace. He Quiets my soul with His love. He is my Rock and my Refuge, my Strength, my Song, and my Salvation. He is Truth, He’s Unchanging. He has the Victory and His Ways are Wonderful. He is eXcellent in all his works. He Yearns to show compassion on his creation and His Zeal for His glory will not be denied. 

What I Read: January/February 2018

I’m back after a much longer than anticipated blog hiatus.  In all honesty, I actually hoped to write a little more this year and not make this solely a book blog…you know, get back to where I started. Life just keeps getting in the way, and not just busy work things. My sister had a baby and I want to see him every chance I get.  I stayed up way too late through most of February watching the Olympics so my reading and writing time took a pretty big hit.

In an attempt to get back into a routine, I figured I’d start by sharing the 13 books I’ve read so far this year. [Yes, I’m a bit behind schedule if I am going to hit 100 again this year, but I am giving myself grace and *only* set a goal of 75 this year anyway.]

Here they are, in the order I read them, with a very, very brief description and my grade rating.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol Dweck) – I love the content of this book so much I am giving a presentation on it to other school staff this week. However, I give the book itself a C, only because I could have done without so many anecdotes. I found the book to be a bit boring and redundant, but I think it has a great message.

The Witches: Salem, 1692 (Stacy Schiff) – I picked this one up because I find this period of history fascinating, but this book didn’t give me what I wanted. It is well researched, but far too technical than I wanted.  If anyone has a recommendation for a historical fiction novel set in the same time/place, I’d love to hear it. Grade: C

This is How it Always Is  (Laurie Frankel) – An engrossing and charming story of a family with a secret.  Frankel navigates a highly charged topic with love, humor, and sensitivity. I really enjoyed this one. Grade: A

White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America (Nancy Isenberg) – if you’re looking for a macro-lense view of the Hillbilly Elegy story, read this. Grade: B

In Bloom: Trading Restless Insecurity for Abiding Confidence (Kayla Aimee) – I have a love/hate relationship with the Christian women memoir genre, but this one is pretty good. It doesn’t have any glaring theological errors and offers encouragement. Kayla Aimee is a good storyteller and made me laugh more than once. Grade: B

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just (Timothy Keller) – I do not and will never grade a Keller book, so I will just say that this one resonated with me in many ways and I will probably pick it up again in the near future. As an Enneagram 1, justice is a topic I am passionate about, and I appreciated what he had to say.

If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free (Jamie Ivey) – Another Christian woman memoir — but this is the best one I’ve read in a while. Jamie preaches fire and the last chapter alone is worth buying this book for. We need more books like this one. Grade: A.

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean  Defector’s Story (Hyeonseo Lee) – In anticipation of the Olympics, I read this autobiography of a young woman who escaped from North Korea. This broke. my. heart. I don’t know what else to say.  If you aren’t much of a reader, you can watch her TEDtalk here. Grade: A

Turtles All the Way Down (John Green) – this is young adult fiction at its finest. I started this one on a Friday night and finished it the next morning. A bit simplistic (compared to a book geared toward adults) but charming nonetheless. Grade: B+

Still Me (Jojo Moyes) – This is the third in the series that began with Me Before You. In Still Me, we get what I think is the conclusion of Louisa’s story.  I liked this book, but if you haven’t read the first two, I wouldn’t bother. If you did, you will probably appreciate the closure. Grade: B-

The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships (Suzanne Stabile) – a straightforward reference guide to the enneagram.  I love reading about personality typing systems so I enjoyed it.  If you aren’t familiar with the enneagram and it’s nine types, or aren’t sure of your own type, there are other books I would recommend you read first. Grade: B

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (David Grann) – I had a hard time staying engaged in this book, but think it was because I was trying to read it during a time when I really needed a fast-paced work of fiction. This is actually a very well-written and well-researched book that I will probably reread this summer. Grade: B- (for now…)

As Bright As Heaven (Susan Meissner) – Philadelphia. 1918. The Great War rages on and the Spanish Flu wreaks havoc all over the world. This is a beautiful, touching story of one family’s journey in a life-changing summer. I loved this one. Grade: A+

That’s what I’ve read so far. I will post again with a March recap in about a month.

What have you been reading lately?

2017 Reading Recap

It’s been a while – sorry about that!  I had several commitments in November and December that pushed blogging way down on the priority list, but fortunately, I was still able to read a good number of books.  I finished book 100 on November 13, and currently sit at 110….which is probably where I will end up, considering there aren’t many hours left in the year and I really need to clean out some closets.

Just for fun, I took a picture of 110 books to get a visual for how many that actually is, and WHOA! I didn’t read these books (most of my 2017 reads were library loans or kindle versions), but that’s a lot of books to fit in one (poorly staged) picture.

110 books

I thought for this post I would quickly list what I read in November and December, then share my favorite books of 2017.

So, without futher ado…

November  

Home is Where My People Are: The Roads That Lead Us to Where We Belong (Sophie Hudson) – a sweet memoir from a writer who doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman) – a bit darker than I expected, but I enjoyed this book.

Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home (Amber Haines) – my favorite genre to criticize (ha!), I did appreciate this one.

In this Moment (Karen Kingsbury) – the cheese factor is HIGH in this one.

Before We Were Yours (Lisa Wingate) – this one is GREAT! You’ll see it again later in this post.

December

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling) – I finished Harry Potter! And actually liked it! About halfway through book 4, I finally began to appreciate it and by book 5, couldn’t put it down.  As Harry got older, the story got darker and I liked it. What does that say about me? Oh well.

I, Eliza Hamilton (Susan Holloway Scott) – I thought that the fact that it was being told in first person would make it less boring than a biography, but no.

The Identicals (Elin Hilderbrand) – several of the book bloggers I follow are big fans of Hilderbrand. This is the first one I’ve read.  I didn’t really care for it. Not my style.

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy (Sue Klebold) – Sue is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the perpetrators of the Columbine tragedy. This book was heartbreaking and un-put-down-able.

The Things We Wish Were True (Marybeth Mayhew Whalen) – I enjoyed this book, which details the events that in occur in a single neighborhood one summer.  It’s told from the perspective of multiple characters and Whalen brings them all to life.  I’ve liked every one of her books.

And now, my favorites of 2017 (in no particular order, with Amazon’s description):

Before We Were Yours (Lisa Wingate) – BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. “Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge–until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents–but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.”

Free of Me: Why Life is Better When it’s not About You (Sharon Hodde Miller) – “We live in a culture that’s all about self, becoming the best “me” I can be instead of becoming like Jesus. This me-centered message affects every area of our lives–our friendships, our marriages, even our faith–and it breaks each one in different ways. The self-focused life robs our joy, shrinks our souls, and is the reason we never quite break free of insecurity.
In this book, Sharon Hodde Miller invites us into a bigger, Jesus-centered vision–one that restores our freedom and inspires us to live for more.”

American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land (Monica Hesse) – “The arsons started on a cold November midnight and didn’t stop for months. Night after night, the people of Accomack County waited to see which building would burn down next, regarding each other at first with compassion, and later suspicion. Vigilante groups sprang up, patrolling the rural Virginia coast with cameras and camouflage. Volunteer firefighters slept at their stations. The arsonist seemed to target abandoned buildings, but local police were stretched too thin to surveil them all. Accomack was desolate―there were hundreds of abandoned buildings. And by the dozen they were burning.”

When We Were Worthy (Marybeth Mayhew Whalen) – “When the sound of sirens cuts through a cool fall night, the small town of Worthy, Georgia, hurtles from triumph to tragedy. Just hours before, they’d watched the Wildcats score a winning touchdown. Now, they’re faced with the deaths of three cheerleaders—their promising lives cut short in a fatal crash. And the boy in the other car—the only one to survive—is believed to be at fault. As rumors begin to fly and accusations spin, allegiances form and long-kept secrets emerge.”

Beartown (Fredrik Backman) – “a poignant charming novel about a forgotten town fractured by scandal and the amateur hockey team that might just change everything”

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed (Sara Hagerty) – “Every heart longs to be seen and understood. Yet most of our lives is unwitnessed. We spend our days working, driving, parenting. We sometimes spend whole seasons feeling unnoticed and unappreciated. So how do we find contentment when we feel so hidden? In Unseen, Sara Hagerty suggests that this is exactly what God intended. He is the only One who truly knows us. He is the only One who understands the value of the unseen in our lives. When this truth seeps into our souls, we realize that only when we hide ourselves in God can we give ourselves to others in true freedom—and know the joy of a deeper relationship with the God who sees us.”

Alive in Him: How Being Embraced by the Love of Christ Changes Everything (Gloria Furman) – “God’s grand plan for the redemption of his creation has been in motion since before time began. The book of Ephesians lays out this glorious vision, revealing what Christ’s redemptive work means for the people of God and showing us how we should live in light of that reality. Alive in Him draws us into the main themes in the book of Ephesians, showing us how the blessings we have received in Christ empower our obedience and love for God.”

Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi)   “Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.”

No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God (Aimee Byrd) – “Why are so many well-intentioned women falling for poor, even false, theology? The Devil has been effectively targeting women from the beginning, so why are they often left to fend for themselves in so-called women’s ministries?”

The Mothers (Brit Bennett)  “A dazzling debut novel from an exciting new voice, The Mothers is a surprising story about young love, a big secret in a small community—and the things that ultimately haunt us most. Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett’s mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition.”

Completely unintentionally, I ended up with 5 fiction and 5 nonfiction on this list.  It makes me wonder if that’s representative of my reading this year. I’m too lazy to check, but my gut says that it isn’t.

And now it’s time to set some goals for 2018 and get a TBR list ready.  Let me know your 2017 favorites in the comments!

What I Read: October 2017

I set a new record this month! Unfortunately, it’s a record for the LOWEST number of books I’ve read in a month in the almost three years that I’ve been tracking my reading.  I think there are two primary reasons for this “failure.” First, I have been quite busy and my brain is too tired to read when I get home from work and evening obligations. Second, I feel like I’ve been in a reading slump since mid-September. I haven’t loved the books I’ve picked up lately so I was less eager to keep reading.

So, with that said, here are the four books I read in October.

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) – I really wanted to love this. There are some beautiful lines of inspiring writing. But I’ve come to learn that fantasy is just a genre than does not and probably will never resonate with me. Oh well.

This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live (Melody Warnick) – I had some apprehension going in to this one because it is set in my beloved Blacksburg. The problem is that the author writes about Blacksburg as the town she didn’t love at all! I actually really enjoyed this one and appreciated the journey Warnick went on to love the place she lives.  It’s fun reading about your hometown since you’re able to picture all the places described in the book.  Also, the last couple chapter made me sob.  I love Blacksburg so much.

The Alice Network (Kate Quinn) – I think this one is being made into a movie and I think it will be a good one.  If you like historical fiction, especially set around the World Wars, you’ll like this book.  Each chapter goes back and forth between two characters and time periods, but it is easy to follow.

If I’m Found (Terri Blackstock) – This is the second book in a Christian suspense trilogy. I read the first about a year ago and really enjoyed it, but I think I’d forgotten too much of the plot of the first book.  I recommend waiting until the third book comes out this spring and reading all three at once.  It’s not award-winning fiction, but it’s a good, fast-paced story that keeps you wanting to know how it ends.

 

And that’s all the books I read last month. I hope November brings me out of this funk. Happy Reading!

Friday Finds: 10/6/17

I hope it’s feeling like fall where you are – it’s almost 90 here, but I’m trying not to complain about it.

Here are a few links and other things for your weekend.

The National Book Award announced its nominees earlier this week. Out of 20 books nominated in non-fiction and fiction, I am both surprised and a little embarrassed to say I haven’t read a single one! I do own Sing, Unburied, Sing (it was one of my Book of the Month picks last month), so I will make reading it a priority. I haven’t even heard of most of them.

I mentioned Free of Me by Sharon H. Miller in my September reading summary.  Sharon wrote a great piece for The Gospel Coalition highlighting the themes of her book. Read this and if it resonates with you, get her book.  I think it’s great.

Melissa Kruger also had a great post on TGC’s site this week: Life in the Shadow of Death.  She’s another one of my favorite authors.

Worth a Listen

Here are a few sermons/podcasts that made me say “Amen” more than once.

Curtis Jones of Bayou City Fellowship in Houston, TX: “The Good Samaritan and Race in America”

Nancy Guthrie at TGCW16: “Three Little Words that Change Everything”

Rockbridge Church (my church!): “Church Works: The Building” and “Jonah: Part 1”

And, lastly, a couple new albums that I’ve been playing on repeat: Where His Light Was by Kristene Dimarco, and Lecrae’s latest release, All Things Work Together.

Enjoy!