Friday, October 13, 2017

Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

My non-fiction read for September was a biography anthology called Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. I had this book recommended to me, and I hadn't read a biography in a while so I thought I'd check it out. I'm not a huge biography person, but since these were short I figured I could probably handle it. I'm glad I did.

This book gives a brief biography on seven women: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. The person that I probably knew the most about was Corrie ten Boom since I had read (and reviewed) The Hiding Place earlier this year. I had at least heard of most of these women, but it was interesting to learn more about their stories and how their faiths influenced them. At the beginning of the book Metaxas talks about how he chose each of these women to write about. As a woman in a very male-dominated field, I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but I liked how he put this statement. "When I consider the seven women I chose, I see that most of them were great for reasons that derive precisely from their being women, not in spite of it; and what made them great has nothing to do with their being measured against or competing with men." They used their God-given femininity to accomplish amazing things for His kingdom.

I will admit, I had a difficult time connecting to some of the women in this book. Joan of Arc for example. Her experience was so "other" that while I found it interesting, I also felt pretty removed from it. I would say the same about Susanna Wesley. I can't really relate to having that many kids or even her style of parenting. And while I do think she was great in her own right, and not just because of her famous sons Charles and John Wesley, there wasn't a lot that really stood out to me. However, I think everyone can learn about standing against social injustice from the other five women. Hannah More stood against slavery in Europe. Maria Skobtsova was a radical orthodox nun who loved on refugees, including Jews during WWII, which eventually led to her death in a concentration camp. Corrie ten Boom also stood against the Nazis and was sent to a concentration camp, but her life after the war is a shining example of forgiveness. Rosa Parks, as we know, risked her life and stood up against institutional racism. And Mother Teresa of course stood up for the "least of these" by living with the very people she served. I think there are incredible lessons to be learned from these women because of the relevance of their stories in the society we currently live in. They stood up for those who had no voice. And only one of those women, Rosa Parks, was even part of the voiceless minority she defended. What an incredible challenge for us to step out of our comfort zones and be the hands and feet of Jesus.

So, all that to say, if you are looking for short stories of some incredible women and maybe you don't have the time (or desire) to invest in a full-length biography, this could be a great option for you. These women displayed qualities that I can point out to my own daughters. These are women who lived out their faith in remarkable ways.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Blind Spot Review - Dani Pettrey

I'm a bit late in writing the review, but my fiction book for September was Blind Spot by Dani Pettrey. This is the third book in the Chesapeake Valor series and I reviewed the previous two books here and here.

As I mentioned above, this book is part of a series, and you really need to read the first two before reading this one. This story follows FBI agent Declan Grey and Tanner Shaw, who is now working as a crisis counselor for the FBI. We met these characters in previous books and the main storyline is also a continuation from the previous book (see why you need to read them in order?). They work together to stop a terrorist attack all while trying to figure out their growing relationship as well. There are a couple of other stories going on in this one which tie in previous characters as well as their missing friend Luke. I'm assuming that story will all be wrapped up in the next book.

I think I enjoyed this book a lot more than the previous two. With the background already established I didn't find myself confused all the time trying to figure out who everyone was and what their story was. It was fast paced as usual, and the characters were well-developed. I especially liked learning about Tanner's background. What a fun surprise. If you're a fan of Christian suspense, I would definitely recommend this book (as well as her other series). I'll be looking for the next book!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Praying for Girls - Review

I've fallen behind on my reading. This is in large part due to the fact that I started keeping all three girls at home on my days off. I'm not going to stress about it though, because I want reading, even nonfiction, to be enjoyable. When it becomes something I "have to" do then I get less out of it. My July/August nonfiction book was Praying for Girls by Teri Lynne Underwood.

This book was so incredibly practical. Raising kids is so wonderfully hard, and each gender comes with its own set of challenges. Since we have three girls, having applicable scripture-based prayers to say over my daughters is invaluable to me. Praying for Girls works through five main areas of a girl's life: her identity, her heart, her mind, her relationships, and her purpose. Each part is broken up into different aspects of the main areas with Biblical truths, Scripture-based prayers (for both daughters and mothers), and creative ways to talk to daughters about those truths. Combined they form effective tools to help us, as parents, guide our daughters into becoming godly women.

I already prayed for my kids every day, but having very specific prayers that address circumstances they'll face in life, and suggested ways to talk to them about those circumstances (based on their age) was a huge blessing. This is a book I feel like I need to continuously work through over and over again to guide me through praying for my kids. It's easy to feel overwhelmed with the prospect of raising children in today's society, but prayer is the best way to help us in that feat. Ultimately, we have to come to a place where we realize that there's only so much we can do, and God is in control. Wonderfully, He loves our kids abundantly more than we every could. It says in the book, "We don't have to be perfect prayers, nor do our prayers have to be perfect, because the God who hears us and loves us - and our girls - is perfect and perfectly able." What an amazingly comforting thought.

If you have girls, I couldn't more strongly recommend this book. I believe it has helped make my prayers more focused and effective, and it has given me ideas of how to talk to my kids now, and in the future about what it means to be a Christ-follower. I pray it has a similar impact on your family as well.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book to review. All opinions, however, are my own.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Women Who Move Mountains - Review

So, even though I'm just now writing the review, my June nonfiction book was Women Who Move Mountains: Praying with Confidence, Boldness, and Grace by Sue Detweiler.

This book is essentially broken into two chapter sections. The odd numbered chapters give both biblical and modern examples of women whose prayer lives made lasting effects on God's kingdom. The even chapters provide discussion/reflection questions to aid in application. We all know prayer is important, but have you experienced its power? Do you truly believe it makes a difference.

Sue shares some very valuable insight on how to develop a rich and meaningful prayer life. The Bible is full of examples of prayer warriors, and I really enjoyed the modern examples she shared as well. If we recognize who we are because of our position in Christ, then prayer is a natural part of our relationship with God. But we don't have to be perfect or pray perfect prayers. God often uses prayer as a tool for perfecting us. I thought the questions in the even numbered chapters did a good job of getting you to think through your own prayer life and how it can be improved. Those chapters also contained common lies we believe as well as truths found in Scripture. Overall, it is very practical but encouraging at the same time.

While, I didn't necessarily agree with all of Sue's theology (minor things), I think she did a very good job of breaking down important aspects of prayer to make it seem possible to have a solid prayer life. I will admit, I didn't know going into it that half the chapters were going to be discussion questions. I was just planning on reading through it and marking things I found useful. It's difficult for me to find time to answer 20+ questions, especially since those questions are accompanied by Scripture that sometimes bounces around the Bible. I do think it would be a good book for a Bible study or book club, but it's not necessarily something you would just sit down and read. Definitely a good book, but know what it is going into it.

So if you have the time to really dig into the book and journal the applications, or if you're wanting to do a book club about prayer with other women, then this is definitely a good option. Check it out!

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book to review. All opinions, however, are my own.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

With You Always - Christian Fiction Review

My fiction book for June was With You Always (Orphan Train Book #1) by Jody Hedlund. I've read several of Jody Hedlund's books before (including this one) and I've always really enjoyed them. I knew this one would be no different.

With You Always is a historical fiction set during the financial crisis of 1857. Elise Neumann, her two younger sisters and two young orphans are all taken in by the Seventh Street Mission after their parents die and they end up on the streets. Due to the decreasing number of jobs in New York City, Elise is forced to leave her younger sisters behind and ride the orphan train with other young women to one of the developing cities along the rail line in order to find a job. Thornton Quincy is a part of a wealthy family and he learns he has to fulfill two obligations in order to inherit his dying father's company instead of his twin brother. He has to build a more successful town along the rail line and he has to marry for 6 months. He's never beaten his brother in anything, will this time be any different?

Elise and Thornton meet for the first time during a dangerous riot in the streets. Many months later they meet up again on the train. Elise doesn't know that Thornton is part of one of the wealthiest families in the country or that he's practically engaged. All Thornton knows is that he wants to get better acquainted with Elise so he uses his influence to make sure she gets a job in his town. Obviously, Elise is upset when she finds out, and she's also upset by the living and working conditions in this new town. Can she help him see success is not built on fear and the bottom line, and a marriage isn't built on the approval of others?

I really disliked Thornton at the beginning. He's stuck up and selfish. He only cares about beating his brother and gaining his father's approval. Elise, however, is kind and compassionate. In spite of their rocky beginning she sets out to change how Thornton uses his great influence on others. Over time Thornton became a much more likable character. Elise was a wonderful, well-developed character from the beginning. Hedlund also writes very good supporting characters, and I look forward to seeing more of them in future books. I really enjoyed the plot, but some parts of it seemed a bit contrived. Also, there was a bit too much setup for the next book. It took some of the focus off the main story. Overall it was a very interesting concept with complex characters. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

My Take on Prayer Journaling

Since I shared about how I read my Bible during my daily personal study, I thought I'd also share how I spend time in prayer. Now, this is not the only time I pray throughout the day. It's important to pray when a need arises, before you go to bed, you know, continually. However, I do find that having an organized way of praying with my study helps keep me accountable and I feel more effective. I'm not a superfluous prayer so my method is pretty straight forward (which also helps me to not get distracted). So here it is.

What I Write In
I've had this particular journal cover since December 24, 2008. How do I know the exact date? Because it's how my husband proposed to me. I've had several blank journal refills inside it over the years, but obviously this cover has sentimental value for me. I don't want to have to continue to buy a nice new journal every time I finish one, although some people like to do that. This has worked pretty well for me.

How I Write In It
I've used several methods for prayer journaling over the years. I used to write out my prayers like a letter to God. I still will on occasion, especially if something big is weighing on my mind. Obviously, this can take quite a bit of time. Currently I just used bulleted lists of what I want to pray about as a guide and then I pray through them like normal. A conversation with God. It's probably not "journaling" in the strictest sense, but it helps me keep track of my prayers and it helps me stay focused.

What I Write About
My prayer is broken up into 3 main sections:
One section is where I pull out something I've learned from the Scripture I'm currently reading. For example, today I read Isaiah 52. Verse 7 says, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'" So I prayed to be those feet and to be given an opportunity to share the good news with someone today. Essentially, this is where I pray Scripture back to God. I don't write it down, but this is also when I pray for God to forgive my sins. It's important to be specific, but I don't write them down because once He's forgiven me, I (try to) move past them.
The next section contains my prayer requests. One thing I like to do is focus on something different each day. Now that's not all I can pray about that day, but it helps my prayer time to not be so rambling. I pray for my immediate family every day and anything else that feels urgent, but a lot of the time I spend praying is focused on these categories.

The final section contains praises for what God has done. This is one benefit of journaling. I can look back through my past prayer requests and see how God has answered them. God has done so much for me, and this helps remind me of that.

Once I've written everything down I just pray through my list. Sometimes stuff pops into my mind which of course I'll pray about then, but this focused time of prayer has really made my time with the Lord so much better. What about you? How do you pray during your quiet times?

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Most Misused Stories in the Bible - Book Review

My May non-fiction book was The Most Misused Stories In the Bible by Eric J. Bargerhuff. This book goes through 13 passages of Scripture which are sometimes misunderstood. It discusses the error some people believe and then walks through the actual meaning according to Scripture. Some of the Bible stories include David and Goliath, Jonah and the big fish, the betrayal of Judas and many more. 

Not all of these stories are "misused" exactly, but they might be misunderstood or misinterpreted. That might sound like splitting hairs, but there is a subtle difference. For some stories the focus is taken off the main idea. For example, with Jonah and the big fish, a lot of people focus on Jonah or the big fish (especially with kids). Really, God should be the main focus of the story. The same with the story of Zacchaeus. Some of the stories are taught incorrectly like Gideon and the fleece. Some use this story as justification for testing God when in reality it should be the opposite. While sometimes it can seem like splitting hairs, misunderstanding Scripture can have serious consequences. 

I will say that as I read through the book I was glad that I had a correct understanding of all the stories Bargerhuff wrote about. That wasn't always the case though. I was definitely one to think there were only three wise men and that they visited baby Jesus in the manger. I also had been a Christian for many years before I heard a correct interpretation of Cain and Abel's offerings as well as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. For some of these stories, a simple reading of the Scripture will take care of any misunderstandings. Others are more complex. It's so, so important to be students of Scripture and not just rely on tradition or Scripture taken out of context. Bargerhuff does a good job of clearly walking through each passage and contextualizing everything. I think this book would be great for anyone that has been a part of "Christian culture" but has only recently started studying the Bible. Or if you're like me and just curious if what you think matches up with what Bargerhuff says.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book to review. All opinions, however, are my own.