Tuesday, April 10, 2018

First Impressions - Christian Fiction Review

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please read my full disclosure here.

First Impressions by Debra White Smith

Lawyer Eddi Boswick lands the role of Elizabeth Bennet in her small town's production of Pride and Prejudice. Playing opposite of her as the famous Mr. Darcy, is none other than Dave Davidson, the most arrogant, rich (and handsome) man in town. As their initial disdain turns, to friendship and eventually love, they find their lives mirroring the characters in the play more than they bargained for. With many of the other characters in Jane Austen's story represented, you'll soon be drawing the conclusion that sometimes, life really does imitate art.

First Impressions is a bit more explicit in the moral failings of the characters than Austen's original book. Sometimes, the connections between the two stories was a bit too on the nose for my taste. In some cases the characters seemed to realize their real lives were following along with the play, such as the relationship between Eddi and Dave. Other times they were completely oblivious, like with Eddi's younger sister and the Mr. Wickham character, Rick Wallace. I didn't find myself having some of the same strong emotions towards the character's in Debra White Smith's book as I did in the original story. I think she did a pretty good job of modernizing the characters and situations, but it's always tricky when you're working with a classic.

It was an enjoyable book, but I would have preferred either they completely acknowledge the connection to the original tale, or not acknowledge it at all. That's just my personal opinion though. Also, the book is from a Christian publisher, but I personally thought the themes were so subtle that I'd classify it more as a clean read than a Christian fiction. The book, First Impressions, was originally published as part of a series with a different publishing house, so there will probably be other Jane Austen favorites coming out. So, if you enjoy all that is Jane Austen, check this series out.

As a side note, I've really enjoyed these Pride and Prejudice related stories:

  • Lost in Austen is about a modern woman named Amanda who suddenly finds herself in the shoes of her favorite book heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. Unfortunately, she manages to mess just about everything up.
  • I recently watched Death Comes to Pemberley and I enjoyed it more than I thought it would. I haven't read the book, but if you have Netflix the movie is currently on there.

Do you have any Pride and Prejudice or other Jane Austen favorite retellings?

I received this book for free from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.

Some of the links in the post above are Amazon referral links. I may receive money or products from them, but it's at no cost to you.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

In Places Hidden by Tracie Peterson - Christian Fiction Review

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please read my full disclosure here.

In Places Hidden by Tracie Peterson

Camri Coulter is in San Francisco in 1905 to find her missing brother. Her family hasn't heard from him in months and so her parents encourage her to take the trip from Chicago to see if she can discover what has happened to him. Along the way she meets two women, Kenzie and Judith, who have come to San Francisco with stories of their own. They've decided to work together as they seek their answers. Camri runs into difficulty trying to find her brother and in a town filled with corruption she doesn't know who to trust. She's hoping she can trust Patrick Murdock whom her lawyer brother helped defend against false murder charges. But as the lies (and murders) begin to mount, she doesn't know if she can trust anyone.

I saw a great deal of myself in Camri. She values education and truly believes it is essential for people to better their lives. What she learns as she makes new friends in Kenzie, Judith, and Patrick is that not everyone has the opportunities she's had and not everyone wants the life she does. While I cringed at a lot of the thoughtless things she said at the beginning of the book, she took her humbling in stride and really began to see the people behind her cause. I thought Patrick was a good character, but I would have liked to see him fleshed out a bit more. We were told what he thought and felt it, but I wanted to feel those things as well. I also thought Kenzie and Judith were good supporting characters and I look forward to continuing their stories in the next books.

I thought Tracie Peterson did a good job of highlighting some of the issues of the time such as racism, classism, and government corruption. How unfortunate that we continue to deal with these same issues today. It was also a good reminder that we too can carry around a good deal of pride that we don't recognize until we open our eyes to what's going on around us.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It didn't shy away from some of the harder things that fluffier books often avoid. While I thought the ending was a bit rushed and too convenient in some ways, I would definitely recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction and who have liked Tracie Peterson's other books.

I received this book for free from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.

Some of the links in the post above are Amazon referral links. I may receive money or products from them, but it's at no cost to you.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

March Recap

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please read my full disclosure here.

I'm a few days late in posting on my progress towards my March goals because of Easter and some other stuff I had going. Better late than never right? Here's my recap of March.

Starting a Podcast
So, I really wanted to hit the ground running on my podcast this past month. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. I did get a few things accomplished though, and I'm looking forward to building up momentum in April.
  • Set up website ✅
    • I did get this one done. It's pretty much finished minus a bit of tweaking. I'm looking forward to launching it with my podcast.
  • Record introduction episode 🗷
    • I wrote the script for this, but I haven't actually recorded it yet. I plan on releasing a short introduction episode first and then the main episodes soon after.
  • Contact guests for first episodes 🗷
    • Didn't get this one complete yet either. I know who I want to be my first guests, but now I actually need to ask them.
Personal Growth
I didn't get as much reading done this month, but I'm still pretty happy with the progress. I finished 2 non-fiction books which puts me at 7/15 towards my goal. And I only read one fiction book because it took me forever!
Health & Fitness
  • I did pretty well with incorporating healthy meals in my day. But that Easter candy was a hurdle for sure!
  • I ended up doing PiYo for my workouts. I did some of these workouts while pregnant, and let's just say they're a lot easier now!
Home Improvement
  • Our crew went to a lawn and garden show, but I didn't find it that helpful. It might have been easier if hadn't been so distracted by trying to keep tiny people from running off and/or breaking things.

  • I managed to get my one-on-one dates with each of the girls. I ended up taking each of them to breakfast and/or shopping before appointments that they had. My girls LOVE to eat, but now that it's (hopefully) getting warmer we can branch out to other activities.
  • Lee and I did another Datebox. Here's a review I did on our first one. Unfortunately, the second box was a tad disappointing. I think we'll give it another try this month to see if they improve.

How are you doing on your goals?

Some of the links in the post above are Amazon referral links. I may receive money or products from them, but it's at no cost to you.

Monday, March 26, 2018

We Can't Save Them

I recently read on article titled Homeschool Will  Not Save Them. In this article, a woman shares her story of how she had made some assumptions when deciding to homeschool her children. She did all the things she thought a Christian parent was supposed to do and assumed God would save her children because of them, but in the end, her daughter turned away from the Truth. It's a heart-breaking, but eye-opening read. My post is not about homeschooling, or schooling at all. Because there are plenty of other things we do with the misunderstanding of "If I just do this, my child will grow up to be a Christian." Ultimately, we think we are our children's savior.

In our family, we go to church pretty much every Sunday unless someone is crazy sick. We read our Bible stories before we go to bed. We pray before we eat. And still I think, I could be doing more. And I probably could, but that's not the point. I know my salvation is not based on my works, why would I think my children's would be? There is absolutely nothing I can do to save my children. No church activity, at-home devotional, schooling choice or gospel presentation can force my girls into an understanding of their need for a risen Savior.

This doesn't mean I don't have a responsibility of course. I am to "train up [my] child in the way [s]he should go," (Proverbs 22:6) but ultimately it is God who will guide her steps. We are not to "provoke [our] children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."(Ephesians 6:4) But in the end, it is the Holy Spirit's job to work in their hearts and give them a deeper understanding of God. I am to fulfill my responsibility to teach, train, correct, discipline, etc because God has given me the gift of these children, and I want to "steward" that gift well. But I am not a savior to my children, Jesus is.

This is GOOD news! Or at least, it should be. I am not perfect and if it were left up to my own works none of my children would be saved. No one would be saved. But how hard is it to leave the futures of our children in someone else's hands? It wouldn't be, if we always remembered how powerful and loving our God is. He is the only one who CAN save them, and he wants what's best for us and our children.

Does this mean that all of our children will be saved? Unfortunately, no. God, in his sovereignty, chooses those whom he will save and we are called to respond. So, what does that mean for us as parents? We are called to be faithful and obedient. Obedient in our walks as believers, and by extension, our roles as parents. Faithful in our roles as prayer warriors for our children and for others. Faithful, and obedient.

I don't think this just applies to our children, either. This applies to anyone we desire to come to know the Lord. Spouses, parents, siblings, friends. We are called to live our lives in accordance with his will and to share the Truth of his great salvation plan with the people around us. We are to feel the burden of the lost in our lives, but we are to trust the burden of their salvation to the Savior. Trust in the One who saves.

Do you have kids who don't yet know Jesus? Or are there others in your life you are trying to lead to salvation? Don't give up! Share that burden with others. What a blessing it is to know there are other people out there who are praying for your loved ones. Who are showing the truth of the gospel to them. Let's be the church!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Living Well Planner Review

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please read my full disclosure here.

Does anyone out there use a physical planner to keep track of your day? I used one throughout college to keep track of my assignments but since then I've always used a digital planner (Google Calendar). And once I got Lee on board with Google Calendar it made things a whole lot easier because we could keep track of each other's activities as well. This is especially helpful since we both have had times where we forget to tell the other person about an important event. Oops.

This year, I wanted to try something a little different. I've seen people post about their cute physical planners and I've gotten a little jealous. I like the convenience of a digital calendar, but I felt like writing things down helps keep me on track a bit better. The problem then became, which of the many planners should I choose from? No planner is going to have everything I want (and nothing I don't). I know a lot of people are using a bullet journal to make their own planner, but I know myself well enough to know that would add more stress and not less. Eventually I landed on the Living Well Planner. I've been using it for about 2.5 months now so here's my review.

What is it?
Living Well Spending Less is a blog which according to their site has a mission "to eliminate overwhelm in the lives of women everywhere by simplifying the necessary in order to make room for the essential." This planner contains the necessary planning aspects of a calendar, but also really focuses on setting and meeting goals. Here's what the planner does according to the website.

  • Identify your biggest long-term goals and priorities, then provide a comprehensive framework for breaking them down into manageable bites.
  • Gain an overview of your year at a glance, so that you can plan out the big picture & avoid the tyranny of the urgent.
  • Set monthly and weekly goals in order to move you closer to your long term plans.
  • Establish a monthly cash flow budget so that you can tell your money where to go.
  • Plan your meals and your shopping list, right on the same page as your weekly schedule so that you can see your whole week at a glance.
  • Keep track of expenses, birthday, important phone numbers, and even prayer requests all in one place.
  • Become more purposeful with your time by eliminating overwhelm, getting all those details out of your head and into one place.
They also send you a series of emails when you order the planner to show you how to use it.

The good
Like I mentioned before, I really like the focus on goal planning and not just activity planning. I made quite a few goals this year, and I really wanted something to help me accomplish them. The planner has a place for long-term goals, monthly goals, steps for accomplishing goals, and planning specific projects. These have all been very helpful for me to keep track of what I want to accomplish and how I'll go about it. There are also separate sticky pads for weekly and daily to-dos towards each goal. To make things even more fun and organized, I use these multi-color pens to write everything out.

There's the normal monthly calendar and a weekly calendar as well, with each day broken down into 1 hour blocks. The "Must Do" section is also really helpful because it provides a quick look at the essential tasks for each day. I also really like that there's a place to write out your meal plan and grocery list for each week. I have found meal planning to be essential to our family's sanity and budget.

Another plus for this planner is that it's undated. It takes a bit of time, but you fill in the months and dates for the calendars. This means you can start the planner at any time and it doesn't have to be used within a certain year!

The bad
The biggest critique I have of this planner is the size. It's huge. The pages are 7.5x9.5 inches. I'm not sure how much it weighs, but I wouldn't exactly call it super portable. Because of this I don't always carry it around with me. Since I still have my Google calendar this isn't a huge deal, but it sure would be nice to be able to fit it into a reasonably sized purse.

Another drawback are there are several pages I don't use or don't know how to use. I don't use the Monthly Budget  or Monthly Expenses pages because I do all of my budgeting through a spreadsheet and Mint. Another page that I haven't used but probably should is the Thoughts & Thanks page. I like the idea of keeping track of the things and people I'm thankful for I just haven't done it yet. I also got some sticker sheets which I think are fun, but I haven't gotten in the habit of using yet.

One thing I wish the planner had is some way of habit tracking. Keeping track of books I've read, days I've worked out, money saved, etc, all in one place would be a good visual reminder of my progress on some of my goals. One final problem is pretty minor. The weeks start on Monday. It's not a huge deal, but I sometimes forget and I write things down on the wrong day.

My conclusions
I really do like this planner. And I've seen a definite difference in the days/weeks I use it like I should and when I don't. It's a little piece of accountability which is helping me reach my goals. If there was a way to make it smaller and customize it to fit exactly what I need then I think this would be the perfect way to organize my life. I will hopefully continue to use it throughout the year and I'll be able to really see how well it helped my meet my goals.

What do you use to plan out your life and keep track of your goals? Have you found a planner or some other method(s) which fit all your needs?

Some of the links in the post above are Amazon referral links. I may receive money or products from them, but it's at no cost to you.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Jesus Loves the Church, Do You?

Let me preface this post by saying it will probably step on some toes. I stepped on my own toes in a few places. I didn't write this post to make people feel bad about themselves but to challenge all believers in their attitudes towards the church. Know that, as always, I pray my words are taken with the love and grace I hope to have towards others. Don't feel judged, but feel encouraged that we have a big God who wants us to continually seek hard after him. This post sat in my drafts for months out of fear for hurting someone's feelings. Out of fear for not having the right words. At this point I can only pray that my tone of compassion is appropriately conveyed and if anyone struggles with what I've written that they'll search for the will of the Father.

You hear it a lot. I don't go to church, but I worship God better on the lake anyway. Or, my faith is such a personal thing, I don't really need others. How about, I just don't like what the modern church has become, we should go back to the New Testament church. I'm probably going to be stepping on a lot of toes here, but these are all just excuses to well, not go to church. I fully understand that some people have been hurt by the church. And let me say, I'm deeply sorry. It is a sad thing indeed when the church is a hindrance to a person's relationship with God. But let me be clear, not being a part of the local church is a hindrance to your relationship with God. So I wanted to talk about why it's important to be a part of the local church.

What is the church?
I'll just give you a brief rundown of John Piper’s explanation of the church1. The Bible uses the word "church" in three different ways. The first is the global church as found in Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4, etc. The second is a group of believers in a particular city or area like Jerusalem (Acts 1:22), Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2), Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:1), etc. The last group is the small groups of people that would meet in individual houses. There could be one per city or area or multiple in larger cities (like Jerusalem). When giving his definition of the local church, Piper says, "a local church is a group of baptized believers who meet regularly to worship God through Jesus Christ, to be exhorted from the Word of God, and to celebrate the Lord's Supper under the guidance of duly appointed leaders."

This means, strictly speaking, Bible studies, non-profits, para-church organizations, watching a televangelist, etc are not the local church. It doesn't say don't do those things. They’re just not a church. Mark Dever says2, “The relationship between our membership in the universal church and our membership in the local church is a lot like the relationship between the righteousness God gives us through faith and the actual practice of righteousness in our daily lives.” We practice our love for the body of Christ by serving the local church.

Why the Local Church?
Jesus loved and died for the church. Now you could be saying, “that's the global church
.” That's true. Ephesians 5:25 commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, even to death. This verse is talking about the global body of believers. But do you know who Paul was writing this letter to? The CHURCH at Ephesus. Now, we all benefit from it, but he was addressing a local body of believers. It was natural for them to gather together to read/hear God's Word and spend time worshiping him. Jesus loved the church so much, the global church AND the local church, that he died a horrific death on the cross.

The church is called the bride of Christ. If you really want to worship God, how about you love what he loves. Thom Rainer goes so far as to say3, “I am to fall deeply in love with my church. Christ is the bridegroom, and the church is the bride. My commitment is to love that bride with an unwavering and unconditional love.” How can you love something/someone you have no connection with?

A community of believers provides us with the fellowship needed to grow in Christ. God created us to have fellowship. Our desire to be with others (even us introverted types) points us to our need for a relationship with God as well as the perfect relationship among the members of the Holy Trinity. We weren't made to be alone. We weren't made to worship alone. Proverbs 27:17 and Hebrews 10:24 both talk about how being a part of a community helps us to be better Christians. We are not only called to live in fellowship with Jesus but also with his family. 

I love listening to podcasts. I've listened to several lately that have said some really insightful things which have caused me to think and desire to change. But if I don't have real people that I really come into contact with who are encouraging me, challenging me, helping me then I'm not as likely to actually change. While this community can be found outside of the church, there is no better place to find it than within the local church.

But we don’t just gain from being a member of a local church. We also give by being a member of a local church. And in reality, we should always seek to give more than we take. We are given the opportunity to work out our spiritual gifts in service to our local church. Jesus Christ came to earth to serve others through his life, death, and resurrection. If we want to be like Christ, we also need to seek to love, serve, encourage, and hold accountable those who are a part of a local body of believers. And as an added blessing on this, when we love our church well, we spread the gospel to those outside the church. Mark Dever again says “The church gives a visual presentation of the gospel when we forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us, when we commit to one another as Christ has committed to us, and when we lay down our lives for one another as Christ laid down his life for us.” Do you want to truly help others? Do it in the context of the local church. Do it outside of the church as well, but don’t forsake the local body for something that Christ didn’t die for.

God calls church leaders to shepherd and minister to believers. There are several passages in scripture that talk about the roles of leaders in the church. Why is this a reason to be active in a local church? Because those people have the heavy responsibility of teaching, encouraging, correcting, and guiding the members of their congregations. If you are outside of a local church then who is your spiritual authority? God ultimately, of course, but God has ordained certain people to take leadership within the church.

Where are you getting your Biblical teaching and guidance? From someone you don't know on a tv or computer screen? From someone you don't know in a book? As believers we have the Bible to give us God's Word and the Holy Spirit to help us interpret and apply it, but if you are outside of a local church then you are dismissing a God-given method of maturation and sanctification. Ideally you are part of a church where you have direct access to those leaders so that you can form a relationship with them which will allow them to speak directly into your life. I'm not talking about just sitting in a pew once a week. Form a real relationship with someone who has authority over you.

Why aren't you at church?
There are many legitimate reasons that a person may not be actively involved in and attending a local church. Perhaps poor health doesn't allow them to physically attend church. In this case, they should be involved in a healthy church that will come visit them frequently. A church service on tv or online can be beneficial here, but it's not a substitute for the community found within a congregation.

Perhaps you've recently moved and are still looking for a church. My suggestion would be to not take too long. There are most likely many good churches near you, and there's no such thing as the perfect church. Actively seek God's direction on where he wants you to be a member, but don't get into the habit of "church hopping." If you are one of the rare people that doesn't have nearby healthy Bible-teaching churches (like if you're abroad), then ask God to see if you should start your own. Look for a solution instead of just giving up.

I mentioned those who have been hurt by the church previously. I encourage you to pray through your past hurts and seek wise counsel in healing. As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s a terrible thing when church is the reason a person’s relationship with God suffers. But please know that there are good churches out there, and I pray you find one.

Aside from these situations (and possibly a few others I can't think of), the reason you aren't in church is because you don't want to be. You don’t love the church. It's not important to you. You could be doing something else which may be good, but is not the best. Stop right now and pray for wisdom as to the real motivation behind your lack of church membership.

Working with college students, we see pretty much every reason under the sun as to why people don't go to church. One of the most disturbing that has popped up within the last decade or so is the excuse that the modern church just "isn't meeting my needs." Now, it may be disguised as something else. The church isn't doing enough about social injustice. They fail to adapt to current culture. People don't fit in because the church is too cliquey or it has the "Holy Huddle" problem. The church has strayed so far from the New Testament church that it's barely recognizable. The list goes on.

You want to know the funny thing? I agree with all of these. And yet I still try to be a faithful member of a local church. Why? Because church isn't about me! We tell students that when looking for a church there are 3 criteria. 1. Does it teach the Bible faithfully? 2. Is there a place for you to serve within the church? 3. Is there a place for the church to serve you? The last one is last for a reason. To me, this is implicit with a healthy church and means the church leadership and members are loving each other as they should. It doesn’t mean it has the exact program you want, or the type of music you prefer. As believers we are often called to give up our rights and preferences in order to better serve someone else.

Finally, when it comes to the issue of sin in the church, my question is this: Where else should sinners be? Unfortunately, because the church is a people and not a place, there will be individuals who aren’t perfect. In fact, all of the members of a church aren’t perfect, from the pastor to the parishioner. This is where God calls us to forgive others because he forgave us. To love others because he first loved us. There are times when an unhealthy church wounds us, and in that case, if you can’t do anything to change the church culture, then maybe it’s time to find a new church. But before you do that remember this, “A healthy church is not a church that’s perfect and without sin. It has not figured everything out. Rather it’s a church that continually strives to take God’s side in the battle against ungodly desires and deceits of the world, our flesh, and the devil. It’s a church that continually seeks to conform itself to God’s Word.”2

Resources mentioned:

Some of the links in the post above are Amazon referral links. I may receive money or products from them, but it's at no cost to you.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February Recap

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please read my full disclosure here.

As a point of accountability I want to update you on my progress on my February goals. (Side note: Does anyone use say "Feb - ru - ary" in their head every time they write it? Just me? Ok, moving on.)
Starting a podcast
My motivation for my February goals here was to do some brainstorming and research to set up my podcast as well as continue posting more regularly on this blog.
  • Write 4 blog entries ✅
    • This is my 4th post. I didn't quite keep the schedule I wanted because of some personal stuff that happened, but I did get the posts in.
  • Create a "focus group" and survey ✅
    • If anyone is interested, I have a survey I can send with some questions to help me make some decisions on my podcast. 
  • Go through podcast guide ✅
    • I have a guide that works me through setting up a podcast with quite a bit of detail. I'll still have to use it as I continue the process, but it was helpful in thinking through some of the early details.

Personal Growth
I focused on my non-fiction reading goal. I finished three which I'm pretty happy with. That means I've read 5/15 towards my goal! I also got a fiction book in as well. Below are links to some of the books and also to some of my Goodreads reviews.

Heath & Fitness
I've been working on getting back into the routine of working out as well as continuing to incorporate healthy meals into our weekly rotation. I even got to work out outside one day which was amazing! And the addition of Graze snacks have helped me during the afternoon slump at work. I still need some work in these areas, but I'm definitely seeing improvement.

Each of the girls got some one-on-one time this month. Letty went with me to Starbucks and then to Target to go shoe shopping. Callie went with my mom and I to Savoy to eat lunch and have tea. Sophia stayed with me one morning while Lee took the older girls out. She got to play with all the toys and dance to all the songs. I've also been working on connecting more with Lee. Here is my post on our first time to do Datebox and other things we try to do at home. Finally we've been blessed to be able to start a community group in our home. I'm really enjoying getting to spend time with other people at church while diving into the Word.

God has blessed us in being able to save some financially towards a few of our goals. And it's getting closer to time to plant our garden. I know it's silly, but I'm a bit nervous about it for some reason. Thankfully my mom has volunteered to help after tax season is over!

How about you? How are you progressing towards your 2018 goals?

Some of the links in the post above are Amazon referral links. I may receive money or products from them, but it's at no cost to you.