The Traveler's Gift

By Susana Fletcher

Remember in high school when each of us got “the speech” from our favorite teacher? You know the one: “You’ve got so much potential,” they’d plead. “If only you’d just apply yourself.” We’d inevitably roll our eyes, as teens do, and exit with coolness intact. But somehow the thin lecture reverberated, and we pushed forward toward betterment.

“The Traveler’s Gift,” an inspirational novel by motivational speaker Andy Andrews, has the same effect. The book’s simple narration and Sunday school advice doesn’t fail to tug at a few heartstrings.

Protagonist David Ponder is a man at his end. After being laid off from his corporate executive position and having no financial independence to show for it, he learns that his daughter needs surgery. He can’t afford it, and has nowhere to turn.

A predictable turn of events takes Ponder on a soul-seeking journey though time, where each encounter with a dead famous person generates a piece of advice. From King Solomon to Christopher Columbus, they bestow affirmations. “My destiny is assured,” Columbus passes along from behind the helm of the Santa Maria. “I have a decided heart.” Harry Truman gives the famous, “The buck stops here,” adding, “I am responsible for my success.”

Andrew’s narration is simple and rosy, reminiscent of Andy Taylor’s patient parables with Opie. The diversity of voice is thin, leaving Anne Frank and Abe Lincoln with virtually the same narrative inflections. None of the characters, as they read, has more or less humor than the next. Or grit. Or insight. The individual chapters would make great fodder for a daily inspirational calendar or the like, but as a novel they fall flat. One clear message, though, seems to penetrate unscathed through the layers: Be better.

Through rolling eyes I read “A Traveler’s Gift.” But just as a teenager, before I dared to leave my homework undone yet again, I let the message resonate, and decided to take Andrew’s advice anyway. Following Anne Frank’s, “I will greet this day with a forgiving spirit,” I forgave Andrews his lack of eloquence and originality, and let the good advice sink beneath the rebellious layers. If Andrews ever finds himself unemployed as did his character in “Traveler’s Gift”, I’m sure he’d make a fine guidance counselor.

THE TRAVELER’S GIFT: Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success
By Andy Andrews
224 pp. Thomas Nelson. $19.99.

The Traveler's Gift: Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success

Same Kind of Different as Me

By Susana Fletcher

A friend of mine just returned from a mission trip to Zambia. She told me how God was clearer in a place where there were fewer distractions. She had witnessed some pretty intense events, even the casting out of demons. Hearing about these amazing wonders God performs in Africa, Asia, and around the world, I begin to wonder sometimes if God bothers with this country at all. And then I hear a story like Ron Hall and Denver Moore’s, “Same Kind of Different as Me.” Suddenly, things don’t look so grim.

This true life story is one that reaffirms belief in things unseen and may even bring one closer to God, by telling the tale of a few changed lives.

Denver Moore was born and raised into a sharecropping family in Alabama, although there didn’t seem to be any actual "sharing". This “modern-day slave” life consisted of working cotton fields day and night, receiving barely enough supplies and shelter to stay alive, and being eternally in debt to “the man”, or owner of the plantation. Denver left Alabama in his late twenties, only to spend the next 30 years in jail and on the streets, ending up homeless in Fort Worth, Texas. He became hardened with layers of distrust and anger. "You get a spirit in you, a spirit makes you feel like nobody in the world cares nothin about you," Moore writes. "People with that spirit get mean, dangerous. They play by the rules of the jungle."

Ron Hall, the other narrator in this two-lives-become-one story, first tells us of his early life in East Texas. It’s not all that interesting until you meet Deborah, his girlfriend-turned-wife, and we begin to hear about his million dollar art sales. As his career as an art dealer rises, his relationship with his wife declines. A midlife crisis moment jolts things back into place, Ron starts paying more attention to his wife’s life, and they end up serving dinner at a homeless shelter every Tuesday in their hometown of Fort Worth. Deborah was, Hall writes, "propelled by her passion to help the broken and I [was] propelled by a love for my wife."

And so Ron and Denver take us through, step by step, the years that connected their lives, the struggles they faced when Deborah was diagnosed with cancer, and the faith in God and man that carried them through.

Especially poignant is Hall’s section on evangelism. It is a microcosm of the story itself, which isn’t a how-to on Christianity. He writes, “I have learned that even with my $500 European-designer bifocals, I cannot see into a person’s heart to know his spiritual condition. All I can do is tell the jagged tale of my own spiritual journey.”

The dual voice narration is refreshing and honest. Moore is honest about who he is, and Hall is honest about who he is not. Although the depiction of Hall’s wife Deborah might as well have come with its own textual halo – she never once smacked one of her kids or even cooked a bad meal – the love that the two men have for her is enough to let it slide.
Ron, Deborah (“Miss Debbie”), and Denver prove that true friendship and selfless investment in another’s life is better than the finest gold or sleekest luxury car. “Same Kind of Different as Me” is an inspiring and sobering reminder of the power of God in the lives of people whose hearts are open.

By Ron Hall & Denver Moore.
235 pp. Thomas Nelson. $14.99.

Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together