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.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Inductive Bible Study

As Christians, we know that reading the Bible is important. But not just reading it, studying it. There are all kinds of methods for doing personal Bible study. I've even used several of them, but I wanted to share the method I most often (and currently) use. WARNING: If you're offended by someone writing in their Bible you should probably skip this post. Or don't. It's up to you.

What is an inductive study. Induction is the process of using specific instances to form general conclusions. Inductive Bible study is essentially using details in a passage to draw conclusions about the passage, book, and Bible as a whole. You use the Word to interpret the Word. It involves three skills: observation, interpretation, and application. Here is a really good guide to how it works. (You have to make an account to download it, but it's free). Below I've laid out a few points and discuss how I do it.

Observation: What does the text say?
This is very similar to how you learned to read passages of text in school. Read through it (multiple times), ask questions, mark key words and phrases, notice patterns, themes, etc. Basically what stands out as being important? This is where the marking your Bible up comes in. These things are marked directly in your Bible. This helps you see what's important in the text by just glancing at it. Below are a couple of examples from my Bible.

I use pens and colored pencils to mark key words and phrases. This is my study of Isaiah.
I have a journaling Bible which helps me make notes in the margins.
You can use whatever symbols you want, but if you want a list of common words/phrases to get you started, this is a document I use. They have a few lists for specific books here. If you don't have a lot of room for comments because you're not using a journaling Bible, then I would recommend a regular journal. This also helps you keep track of all your symbols. I still use a journal (which I also use when I'm praying) because it gives me more room to write everything down. 

Interpretation: What does the text mean?
It can be difficult to interpret Scripture, even if you have a degree in it (which I definitely don't). The inductive study method really encourages using Scripture to interpret Scripture. Put the commentary down (at least at first). What clues in the passage, book, or other books of the Bible can help you figure out what it means? Context is key! We are given the Holy Spirit which helps us interpret Scripture. This is why praying before you read is so incredibly important. God will help you interpret Scripture correctly (which keeps us from reading our own meaning into it).

Application: How does the text work itself out in your life?
This is what we all want to jump to first. What does this mean for ME? But if we don't have a good understanding of what it says and what it means in context we are likely to draw the wrong conclusions. This is still a very important part of study, though. Don't be hearers of the Word only but doers. If there is no fruit from what you're reading, then why are you reading it? Let the Word of God transform you.

I often use books from The New Inductive Study Series by Kay Arthur (and various other authors). She gives suggestions on what to look for which can be very helpful. I still sometimes use commentaries, but only after I've carefully read through the passage. God can (and does) use others in increasing our knowledge and understanding of Scripture. Just remember, commentaries are not the Bible. Be discerning while using them. Hopefully this has given you a little glimpse into one method for Bible study. What's your favorite way to study God's Word?

As a side note, another way I like to dig into Scripture is by working through study workbooks. Lifeway Women is offering some of their video studies online for free. You just have to purchase the workbook. I plan on doing one of these studies starting in June and leading discussion in a Facebook group. If you're interested in joining us, let me know!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Resources for Moms

Happy Mother's Day! In honor of the day I want to look at tools that make us better moms. I've offered a few below that I've enjoyed recently, but what I really want is for you to tell me what resources you've used that have helped you. Now, this isn't just for moms with littles like mine. This could be for moms of older kids, grandmas, or those without kids but act as a mom-figure for others. I'll take a look at the suggestions and expand the list so that we can have a place to look when we need help/advice. Now, of course the best places to look are the Bible and our own moms. But lets add to those.

  1. God Centered Mom Podcast - A friend recently recommended this on Facebook and I thought I'd check it out. I want to start listening to podcasts instead of audio books all the time on my long drive to and from work. I've only listened to a few so far, but she and her guests talk about some really interesting things and it's neat to see the perspective of other moms (and dads).
  2. The Introverted Mother - I need to give credit where it's due. I found this article on my friends' blog. These ladies are amazing and have interesting perspectives on motherhood as well. Anyway, this article really spoke to me because it's me to a T! If you think this might describe you as well then check it out.
  3. Don't Make Me Count to Three - Some of you may have seen where I reviewed this book by Ginger Hubbard. She gives her take (from a biblical perspective) of disciplining children. I didn't necessarily agree with everything, but she gives a lot of good advice that I need to do better about implementing.
So now it's your turn. What blogs, podcasts, articles, books, etc would you recommend to other mom's or mom-figures? 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Postpartum Health Journey

I wanted to give a little update on how I've been doing since having Sophia. She's 5 months old today 😍 and she is just the perfect addition to our family.

My postpartum recovery wasn't too bad since I had a pretty uncomplicated delivery. Adjusting to a brand new baby, nursing, and having 3 kiddos was definitely a challenge, but I had some wonderful help along the way. Exhaustion was obviously a big struggle, but it wasn't unexpected. We eventually got the hang of nursing which made nights a lot easier. Sophia actually started sleeping through the night (like ALL the way through the night) at around 6-7 weeks. Since she had reached her birth weight again I stopped waking her up to feed and let her sleep. This sounds great, but my supply took a hit, she struggled a bit gaining weight, and I actually got my first period at 2 months postpartum. Her getting RSV around that time also affected her weight. She's steadily gaining now, she's just super skinny. We still nurse ok, but my ability to pump enough has somewhat declined. Especially since she's pounding down 2-3 times as much as she did when she first started daycare. We're getting adjusted to it all, but it's been a struggle. She's back to waking up once a night to feed, but that's okay with me.

I was pretty lucky in that I only gained around 20 pounds with Sophia. After giving birth and because of nursing I was down to my pre-pregnancy weight at about 10 weeks. I had also started working out a couple of times a week with some ladies from church after my doctor gave me the go-ahead. I was pretty pumped about the weight coming off so quickly, but obviously I still had a bit of a belly, and I wanted to lose some more weight since I hadn't been happy with it even before I got pregnant. I tried a couple of things to safely shed some more of the weight, but I had pretty much stalled. That's where my friend Caroline's challenge group came in.

At the end of March she did a 5 day clean eating crockpot challenge. I jumped on board because I knew part of the problem was I was still eating whatever I wanted. I used the extra 500 calories I needed for nursing as an excuse, just like I did when I was pregnant. In reality, those 500 calories were mostly junk. Plus, who doesn't love a good crockpot recipe, especially with three very young kids? The group also challenged everyone to work out more. I had never worked out consistently, and it was hard to find the time on the days I worked so I think I managed 2 or 3 workouts that week, but I tried really hard to eat clean foods, not just with the crockpot meals, but also breakfast, lunch, and snacks. The goal is 80/20 - eating healthy, clean foods 80% of the time. Because life is too short not to have a small bit of chocolate every now and then, am I right. Because I had enjoyed the week so much (and lost a pound), I jumped onto the 3 week challenge she was holding in April.
It's fun to see the changes. (Ignore my grumpy face in the first ones. I'm sure I was running on very little sleep.)

During the next challenge I continued to expand my repertoire of clean meals (that my family would also eat), and I did much better working out consistently. The challenge group was more of a group of like-minded encouragers. They helped me push my limits, and rejoiced with me when I succeeded. The accountability of logging my workouts and posting pictures of my meals (good and bad) gave me what I needed to really get over that hump. Plus, now, it wasn't just about losing weight, but it was about getting healthy. Each week I had to write down my goals and my why. Keeping this in focus helped me when it got hard. I loved the group so much, that I joined the 3 week group for May as well, and I'm almost 2/3 through it right now.

During that first 3 week challenge I started feeling like I needed just a bit more help to get consistent workouts in and get all my daily nutrition. Caroline is a Beachbody coach, and I saw lots of other ladies in the group drinking Shakeology and doing the Beachbody workouts. There was no pressure to do so (and many in the group don't), but I decided to try it out myself. I signed up for a challenge pack which got me a year's access to Beachbody on Demand which is a digital library of ALL of Beachbody's workouts. I also got a month supply of Shakeology and the portion fix containers that some of the meal plans used. I jumped right in as soon as I got it all, and WOW did I love it. There's a bit of a learning curve at first (especially with the portion containers), but there was a huge difference in how I approached getting healthy. It wasn't a magic potion. It was an all-around system to help me reach my health goals. I've lost 9 pounds since starting that first challenge group, but most importantly, I feel better. I'm more confident in my clothes (but I'll have to buy new ones soon), and I have more energy to keep up with the kids (except on those 5 hours of sleep days). I'm still a work in progress, but I know that this isn't a fad diet, it truly is a change in my lifestyle.

Because of the success I've had with the Beachbody system, I've decided to become a coach as well! Not only can I get better access to the tools I need to reshape my life, I can help others do the same. Like the challenge groups have done for me, I really want to encourage others in their health journey. It's not some pill that they say lets you eat whatever you want because it magically burns the fat away. It's also not a diet that severely restricts what you can eat. Those things are often hard to sustain in the long run. This is something I can joyfully do for years to come, and hopefully I can help others do the same.

I plan on posting more health/fitness posts giving details about what I've done from recipes that even Lee will eat to how I've done with various workout programs. I'm also planning on being a part of more challenge groups. If you're interested in joining me on this fitness journey then feel free to shoot me a message. I'd love to just chat about it, no pressure. I'm not going to creepy cold-call your phone to convince you to try something, but I'll be available if anyone wants to jump on board. I want to say a special thanks to Caroline and the others in the challenge groups who have helped me really start my journey to becoming a healthier me.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Threads of Suspicion by Dee Henderson - Christian Fiction Review

Hey, look at me. I'm staying on top of my reading this month. I'm utilizing my time nursing/pumping since there's not much else I can do anyway. My fiction book for May is Threads of Suspicion by Dee Henderson. This is the 2nd book in the Evie Blackwell Cold Case series. (The first book is Traces of Guilt.)

Y'all know I love me some Dee Henderson. All of her most recent books are connected by the characters Ann and Paul Falcon (from Full Disclosure which I reviewed here). Threads of Suspicion is the 2nd book that follows Evie Blackwell, an Illinois State Police detective who has been appointed as part of a missing persons task force. Evie and her new partner David work together on a pair of seemingly unrelated cases in a Chicago suburb. Evie's case involves a missing college student. As they untangle the threads of these cases they find that things are more connected than they once thought. During all of this, Evie is also trying to work through some personal issues in her life.

Let's start out by saying that this, like the previous book, is not a suspense novel as many of Dee Henderson's earlier books were. I wouldn't even consider it a whodunit, but I don't want to ruin the ending by explaining that too much. I really enjoyed Evie's character. She's complex, especially in that she stays so upbeat in spite of the horrible things she sees in her job. She enjoys the puzzle of solving a crime, but is also compassionate for the victims. I also enjoyed David's character although his relationship with his fiance is a bit strange for me. I'm not sure I liked how Henderson handled the relationship between a believer (David) and a nonbeliever (his fiance Maggie). I'll have to see how it plays out later. I think Henderson is going to give Evie a different partner in each book to explore the other members of the task force, but hopefully we still get glimpses of past characters. I also wasn't really sure how I felt about Evie's relationship with her boyfriend Rob. He grew on me this book, but I spent most of the last book disliking him so it's hard for me to jump on the Team Rob bandwagon. Dee Henderson has always done well with character development and forcing her characters to go through some really challenging things. That is the main driving point of the book since most of the mystery is solved through solid police work and not crazy chases or epic showdowns. I really look forward to seeing how she develops this main character further in future books.

I really enjoyed this book, but like all of her recent books, it's not particularly fast-paced. It has taken me a while to adjust to this new method of story telling from Henderson, but I'm more prepared for it than I was when I read Full Disclosure. If you like Henderson's books you'll enjoy this one too.

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Invitation (Harbingers) - Christian Fiction Review

My April fiction book was Invitation: Cycle One of the Harbingers Series. This is essentially a serial novel written by four authors, each from a different character's point of view. The four authors are Bill Myers, Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, and Alton Gansky.

The four main characters, Brenda (the street-wise tattoo artist), The Professor (the atheist ex-priest), Andi (The Professor's observant assistant), and Tank (the kind-hearted jock) are brought together under mysterious circumstances. Each comes with a specific gift and they need these gifts to form their reluctant team. Four stories, told from four different perspectives with one central theme: there are dark powers at work that are no longer possible to ignore.

I was a little nervous about this book being written by 4 different authors, but the fact that they each wrote from the perspective of a different character made it work. The different styles of writing made sense. I haven't read any books by any of these authors. I had heard of Frank Peretti because I knew he co-authored a book with one of my faves, Ted Dekker, but that's about all I knew. His story was probably my least favorite because it was told by my least favorite character and it leaned more towards horror and involved ghosts which I'm not a fan of. All of the stories dealt with spiritual warfare which I'm usually pretty leery of too. I didn't really like any of the characters until I read their story. They seemed just a little too flat when described from a different perspective. That may have been the point though, that there's more under the surface that you don't see until you get their point of view. By the end I really did like the characters, and I was invested in the story.

I haven't quite decided if I'd read the next cycle. They have, I think, 19 self-published stories out so far with the 20th coming on May 5th. Bethany House is gradually publishing them as 4 book cycles like this one which means the stand-alone books won't be available any longer. My biggest issue is I have a hard time connecting Christian fiction with supernatural suspense. Allegory is one thing, but ghosts, psychics, etc are a bit much for me. The writing was fantastic, but I'd have to not read it as Christian fiction. However, if that doesn't bother you, then this would be a fantastic read.

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

Friday, April 28, 2017

You're a Good Good Father

Kids say the darndest things am I right? Sometimes you cover your mouth to keep in the laughter, sometimes you cover it to keep in your horror. You just know they will say whatever pops in their mind. Something the three year-old has been saying suddenly struck me this morning (even though she's been saying it for weeks). "You're a good Mommy."

At first hearing it definitely tugs at the heartstrings. It makes me feel like I'm not a total disaster as a parent after all. Lee hears about his accomplishments as a Daddy just as frequently. She said it again today, and God really made something click in my mind. Every time she says it, it's because we've given her something she wanted. Now, to a three year-old this makes perfect sense. I don't think any less of her because of it. This three year-old in particular (because of her history) is especially fond of being given things. Now, I don't know of any little kids who aren't, but she equates this to love because sometimes all she had to look forward to was being given candy or some small toy. For a long time she would constantly ask, "who gave me this?" or the ever embarrassing, "what did you bring me?" when someone would come over. Because spending time with someone she cared about wasn't a guarantee, she clung to any show of affection she could, which was often times physical things. I don't even remember what she was given this morning to spur her words of affirmation, but I could instantly hear God saying to me, "this is you."

You see, even though I am 10 times her age, sometimes I still act like a child in my relationship with God. Not in the good, child-like faith kind of way, but in the selfish, me, me, me kind of way. I of course, will loudly proclaim that God is good. But how often do I think that only because of the things He has given me. I have been incredibly blessed, and I should thank Him for those things. But when I think about all the thankless things parents do for their kids, I am ashamed to say I sometimes fall short in my gratitude when God does those things for me. 

I'm not always thankful when God disciplines me. Trying to explain to a small child that she is being disciplined because we love her and can't allow her to do bad things for her sake, is challenging at best. There are consequences for our actions, and while I know that God disciplines me because he loves me, I often forget to praise Him because of it. Looking back, I can be thankful, but in the moment...not so much.

I'm also not always thankful when God protects me from things that I think I may want. My kids may want to eat a pound of chocolate in one sitting (and honestly so would their sweet-toothed mama sometimes), but I know that's not good for any of us. They may think it would be the coolest thing ever to jump off of high places or run as fast as they can through the house, but I know that those "fun" things come with a high possibility of getting hurt. Sometimes, they have to learn the hard way (just like I do), but it's my responsibility to try to keep them from getting hurt. God sometimes says no because He knows what's best for me. He can see the bigger picture. In my better moments, I can think with clarity and see it's for the best. There are other times that I more or less throw a tantrum because I didn't get what I wanted. 

God is not a good father only because He gives us good things. He's a good father because He gives us the best things. Sometimes that giving comes in the form of discipline so we can be more like Christ. Sometimes it's in the form of a "no" to an asked prayer. While I pray my kids will one day mature enough to see that I tried to do what was best for them just like I grew up to see that with my parents, I also pray that I (and my kids) see that God doesn't just TRY to do what is best for me. He does it. Because He's a good, good, father.

I wanted to share this song because a little over a year ago, when I was going through my second loss, this song meant the world to me. I would stand in the back of the BCM weeping when we sang it (and I still cry every time I hear it). Fast forward to now, I can see that God is not good just because He gave me Sophia. He was good when I was in the process of losing my other babies. God is good because that's who He is. And He loves me...and you.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review of Jesus, the One and Only by Beth Moore

So I slacked off a bit with my reading. I didn't have anything from March, and I'm barely squeezing in April's books. Apparently taking care of three kids and working part-time means it's difficult to find time to read. Who knew. Regardless, I read Jesus, the One and Only by Beth Moore for my April non-fiction book.

In Jesus, the One and Only, Beth Moore walks through the life of Jesus, mainly using the gospel of Luke. She walks through scripture, encouraging the reader to dig deep into the story of Jesus so that we almost experience it instead of fictionalizing it as we often tend to do. She also ties in a lot of her personal experiences so that the reader can see how we can apply Jesus's earthy life and teaching to our own lives. I've brought up a few of the points she made which really spoke to me.

When speaking of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness from Luke 3 she summarizes a few main ideas about temptation. One that I highlighted was "Scripture is the most powerful tool in our fight against temptation. Don't fight back with your words, fight back with God's!" We know that we're supposed to memorize scripture, but do we truly understand how powerful it is. Instead of trying to power my way through a struggle I should rely on the power of God. She also talks about the Word as mentioned in Luke 8 with the parable of the sower. She says, "Our obedience to apply the Word of God is so we can live victorious lives that glorify our Father in heaven. Hearing it is simply not enough." Am I living a victorious life, or am I just letting life happen to me?

Another section that really struck me was from when she discussed Luke 12. "All our worry in the name of love can accomplish absolutely nothing. But all our praying in the name of Jesus could entreat God to accomplish anything. When will we learn to turn our worry effort into prayer?" Worry has always been a struggle of mine. God really freed me from much of it in college. However, now that I have kids I feel the temptation to fall back into the pattern of stressing about everything. I probably hide it well most of the time, but inside, my stomach is constantly in knots. I KNOW that it doesn't do any good, and yet I do it anyway. Because it feels like I'm doing something, even though I'm not accomplishing anything at all. Sometimes I'm on top of things and prayer is my first instinct when I start to worry. Other times...not so much. I'm so thankful for a patient God who is actually able to do something about the causes of my worry!

My favorite part of the book was the last several chapters which talked about Christ's death and resurrection. Beth Moore puts so much emotion in her writing that I found myself crying on several occasions. Both with tears of sorrow and tears of joy. She spends quite a bit of time bringing out specific details and emphasizing that this was God's plan, and He did it for us. What an amazing love the Father has for us!

Even though there were several parts of the book that I very much enjoyed reading, and she brought up a lot of things of which I needed reminding, it did drag on a bit for me. That's the reason it took an entire month to finish reading it. I'm slower reading non-fiction anyway, but this was tough to get into sometimes. It was 350+ pages and sometimes I felt so bogged down in details. While I loved her ability to help me visualize the end of Christ's life, I felt like such imaginings weren't as useful in other parts of the book. She spends so much time on conjecture when we don't really know if it's true or not. I'm sure that helps some people, but it frustrated me. Overall, I did enjoy the book. It was the first non Bible Study of Moore's that I have read. I know there is a Bible study for this, and maybe I would have been able to get through that easier. It's also probably spread out for longer than a month which would have helped. It did give me some great insight, but it may not be for everyone.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Hiding Place - Review

I had been wanting to read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom for a while now. I finally did it as my February non-fiction book. I LOVED it. I would recommend it to anyone.

Corrie ten Boom was a middle-aged, single, Dutch watchmaker working and living with her father and older sister when World War II interrupted their lives in a very big way. The Hiding Place is Corrie's account of what their lives looked like before, during, and after serving in the underground resistance and eventually being imprisoned in a concentration camp. This story is real, and raw, and it was so hard to read at times. She doesn't really sugarcoat things, but it's not all doom and gloom either. She was able to find joy in the Lord and that joy amazingly spread to others around her, even in such a terrible place under such terrible circumstances.

One of the neatest things to see was how honest Corrie was about her flaws. Whenever she was content and happy with the status quo, something or someone would cause her to re-evaluate who she was. To me, this story is ultimately about learning to love others because Christ first loved us. Even if those people hurt us terribly. What a christ-like example she was. I think about my life and the hurts I've experienced seem so minor compared to hers, but I still have trouble letting them go. But don't think that forgiveness and love came easy to Corrie. She was often pushed (and sometimes maybe guilted) into it by her father and sister, but eventually she couldn't help but love others. She had to tell others that, as her sister Betsie said, "there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still."

Sometimes, the story read too much like fiction and I would forget that it actually happened to real people. The version I read had various photographs of Corrie, her family, their home, etc. These helped remind me, that not only was Corrie a great storyteller, she was a survivor of a horrifying time in our history. I also enjoyed the forward and preface which were written by people who had actually met Corrie ten Boom before she died. I'm so glad to have read this testament to the remarkable life she lived through the strength of her very real God.

If you haven't read The Hiding Place, I couldn't more strongly recommend it to you. I think one of the reasons I put it off so long was because I knew that it would be difficult. I usually use reading as an escape which is why I mostly read fiction. Sometimes we have to read the hard things to learn about others and to learn about ourselves. See what God has to show you through the life of Corrie ten Boom.

Friday, March 24, 2017

To the Farthest Shores - Christian Fiction Review

I'm a little late in posting, but February's fiction book was To the Farthest Shores by Elizabeth Camden. I've read other books by Camden and I enjoyed this one just as much as the others.

To the Farthest Shores is a historical fiction story set in 1904 about army nurse Jenny Bennet and naval officer Ryan Gallagher. They met and fell in love six years earlier, but Ryan left on a military mission, later seemingly abandoning Jenny and their tentative love. When they meet up again there is obvious mistrust on Jenny's part, but Ryan has a small hope that they can be reconciled. He needs Jenny's help to prepare for a new assignment, but with someone making attempts on Ryan's life and secrets on both sides, the deck is stacked against them.

This is one of those books where the characters' own flaws and fears keep them apart. You just want to shake them until they realize how dumb they're being. While this does make them realistic, it is also quite frustrating! Sometimes I felt it was dragged on a little too long. The suspense/mystery aspect was not quite as convincing. (Ryan couldn't figure out someone was trying to kill him after two attempts were made on his life. Come on guy.) It felt a bit like an afterthought to keep the plot moving, but sometimes it just didn't make sense and probably could have been left out altogether. I thought the supporting characters were great, and the story was definitely interesting enough to keep me reading.

If you are looking for a historical book with interesting characters looking for redemption then this is a good choice for you. If you're wanting something with mystery and suspense, then you should probably find something else. To be fair though, this book wasn't really publicized as such. All-in-all it's a good book that I enjoyed reading.

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sophia's Birth Story

It took longer than I wanted to get this written down, and I probably forgot some of it, but here is Sophia's birth story. I really enjoyed reading stories like this before Sophia was born so hopefully this helps someone else. If not, then I at least have a record of it for when I forget!

At my 39 week appointment on a Wednesday we were having a discussion about induction. I was dilated to about 1.5 cm and hadn’t progressed much in the previous 3 weeks. I still had plenty of time, but my doctor wanted to make sure I knew my options. She didn’t want me to go much past 41 weeks, but she was fine if I wanted to be induced earlier. I just knew I was going to go past my due date. On my way out my doctor said I should try to go into labor that weekend since she’d be on call, and I thought, yeah right. J

I hadn’t had any Braxton hicks contractions so when I started feeling some cramping Friday night I just assumed that’s what they were. They weren’t very strong or consistent. I told Lee just so he was aware, but I kept saying I didn’t think it was actual labor. They kept coming though, and they were coming a little closer together. I had heard of people going through prodromal labor for weeks and I was terrified of that happening. The contractions were getting stronger so I decided to go ahead and pack my bag since I hadn't actually done that yet. Oops. During contractions the yoga ball became my best friend since that’s what seemed to help the most. I ended up “sleeping” on the couch that night but I actually wasn’t able to fall asleep until about 5am. The contractions had grown farther apart and they stopped completely around 9am or so. I woke up at 7 with the other kids and Lee let me nap for about an hour later that morning. I assumed it was all a false alarm.

Later that afternoon, though, the contractions started up again. They never were consistent, but they were definitely stronger. I’m such a rule follower that I absolutely wasn’t going in until I met the 5-1-1 rule (contractions 5 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute for at least 1 hour). Sometimes the contractions were 4-5 minutes apart, but other times they were 10-12 minutes apart. This is probably TMI, but this is a post about a birth so you’ll get over it. I had experienced some bloody show a few times and lost, what I thought was my mucous plug. I knew that didn’t necessarily mean anything, but the fact that it happened multiple times made me wonder. That night was another sleepless night moving back and forth between the couch and my yoga ball. Still no 5-1-1, but contractions were getting extremely uncomfortable, bordering on painful.

Sunday morning Lee was supposed to teach at church. Clearly I wasn’t feeling up to going so he took the kids and I stayed home and tried to rest. I ordered him to keep his phone on him! After no rest and another bout of bloody show I finally called the on-call nurse. She got in touch with my doctor who called me soon after. After explaining what was going on she said to come on in and get checked out. I just knew we were going to go up there for nothing. I waited until I thought Lee was done teaching and called to tell him to come home and get me. He got ahold of some people to come watch the kids and I told my mom what was going on so she could be ready to come up if necessary. I finished packing my bag and we headed to the hospital when he got home. I got all checked in and the nurse who did our birthing class at the hospital was the one who examined me. (She remembered us as well because of the live tweeting Lee did of the birthing class). I was nervous that she was going to say I wasn’t progressing, but surprise, I was at 4 cm and 90% effaced. They got me a room at around 11am, and the waiting continued.
Some of Lee's tweets. He thought he was hilarious.
This is how the nurse remembered Lee.

I really wanted to try to give birth naturally, but I wasn’t married to the idea. Because I was doing okay they let me walk around the halls and just get monitored for a few minutes every hour. The pain was getting a bit worse, but the contractions still weren’t consistent. I practiced some of the pain management techniques I had learned, and although I was pretty exhausted I felt like I was doing well. When they checked me again at around 6pm, however, I had only progressed 1cm. I was so upset. The doctor said they could break my water to see if that helped me progress faster, but I was so tired and stressed that I decided to go ahead with the epidural. BEST. DECISION. EVER. For real. The epidural wasn’t too bad (except for the fact that the anesthesiologist had also heard of Lee’s live tweeting escapades) and I was able to relax enough after it started working that I progressed another 2 cm before they even came in to break my water. I just knew this was going to help. I was even able to take a short nap. Since I thought I was going to be busy with the pain of contractions we didn’t bring anything to entertain ourselves while I was stuck in bed. Poor Lee was bored. Good thing he had his smuggled in McDonald's to keep him company.

They checked me again at around 10pm, and I’d only dilated to 8cm. Gah! Why weren’t things progressing more quickly?! We decided to give Pitocin a try, and at that point I was super glad of the epidural because I knew it could make contractions more painful. Soon after is when the horrendous heartburn began. I mean, it was awful. I’d struggled with heartburn half the pregnancy, but this was on a different level. They gave me some foul medicine which didn’t help at all. I was burping constantly. Gross. When I finally got close to 10cm the nausea began to accompany the heartburn. Joy. Around 11pm the nurse said I was close to ready to push. I pushed for an hour and a half. I was so exhausted. It took a while for me to figure out how to push effectively, and even then, sometimes I was so pooped I couldn’t do much. (Speaking of, I didn't poop while pushing which is apparently a thing and something I was terrified of. Yay me.) Finally, at 12:56am Monday December 12, we heard that beautiful cry. Our 7lb 4 oz, 20 inch, red-headed baby girl was born. Then, I found out said girl pooped all over me as she came out. Better her than me I guess. She also swallowed quite a bit of amniotic fluid, but they were able to suction most of it out later. They placed her on my chest and cut the cord (since Lee refused to do it). The relief was immediate, in more ways than one. Our precious baby was here and she was healthy, labor was over and with it went the nasty heartburn and nausea.

Ignore what a mess I was and look at the adorableness that is our baby.
They cleaned her up and got me stitched up (1st degree tearing). Lee’s folks who were waiting got to meet her before they had to go home again. We texted my mom who was with the kiddos. After I showered and we got in a room I pretty much passed out. It wasn’t great sleep since people kept coming in to check on us and Sophia and I struggled through some unproductive nursing sessions. Bless the lactation consultant and all the nurses. The pediatrician came later and pronounced her perfect (which we already knew) and after one more night they sprang us Tuesday afternoon. Now we just had to figure out what to do with this tiny person!

She had this cute Popeye thing going on.

We’ve had our ups and downs, but the Lord has blessed us so incredibly. In spite of over 50 hours of labor the delivery was uncomplicated. Next time, if there is a next time, I may try natural again. But only if labor goes faster! We look forward to seeing the person Sophia becomes and praise God for her every day.

Hello world!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Don't Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard

I mentioned in my last post that I was planning on reading at least 24 solid books this year. One fiction and one non-fiction each month. The non-fiction book I read in January was Don't Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard. This book was recommended to me by our pastor's wife a while ago, but I just recently got around to reading it.

Having been thrust into parenthood in a unique way with fostering, and recently adding a new baby to the mix, I knew I could use all the guidance I could get when it comes to raising children. Don't Make Me Count to Three talks about using scripture when disciplining children and recognizing that all disobedience comes from a heart problem. What a great reminder that while we can feel that our children's misbehavior is an affront against us, ultimately, it is sin against God. When you look at the situation from an eternal perspective you're more likely to give grace but also lovingly correct instead of lashing out in frustration.

One of the most beneficial things I found in this book were the "Wise Words for Mom" table which contains a list of a child's behavior with corresponding heart probing questions and scripture for reproof, encouragement and additional helpful verses. She talks about using Biblical terminology when correcting children, and using the verses in kid-friendly language is a great way for them to learn what the Bible says about certain matters (and you to learn as well). I need to work on looking through all the passages and slowly introducing them for discipline. Another helpful part of the book is a phrase my pastor and his wife use. When talking about how God wants children to obey it is "all the way, right away, and with a happy heart." The cool thing about this is that's how God wants His children to obey too! When a child begins to understand what this means, the phrase can be used as a gentle reminder instead of dealing with repeating yourself, whining, etc.

I will say, the one thing I didn't agree with was her take on spanking. She makes the argument that if you don't spank you are not being faithful to God's method for disciplining children according to Scripture. This is something I need to do more research on, but I don't think her arguments for this are foolproof. The passages she uses are from the book of Proverbs which, as Lee likes to say, is often more of a description instead of a prescription. Again, something I will have to prayerfully look into more. Aside from this, however, I think she does a good job of relaying the importance of discipline in the Bible. There are some very practical things that I hope to be able to use in my life.

So, if you feel like you're always counting to three before your children obey (if it even happens then), then I recommend you take a look at this book. Just remember, as always, test whatever you read against Scripture. As a final note, my friend Caroline posted something on Facebook today that can be a good reminder for all you tired parents out there. I've heard it before, but it was a great thing to hear during this trying season. "Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise." What an amazing calling to raise children who love the Lord. One of my constant prayers for my kids is that they grow up to love the Lord even more than I do.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Still Life by Dani Pettrey

Y'all, I totally failed on my reading challenge last year. Don't get me wrong, I read. I just didn't read based on the challenge, which means I mostly read random things I could find for free. I'm hoping to do better this year. Here is the 2017 challenge for anyone who is interested. My goal is a bit more simple. I plan on reading at least one good fiction and one good non-fiction book each month. I'll probably also listen to at least one audio book each month. I still have a few from when I had an Audible subscription. I also plan on using my local library as well as finding books available with free narration from the Kindle Unlimited stock. Hopefully I'll be able to read/listen to a wide variety of books this year.

The fiction book I read in January was Still Life by Dani Pettrey. This is part of the Chesapeake Valor series. (I reviewed the first book in the series last year.) We first met the main characters Avery Tate and Parker Mitchell in the previous book. Avery is a photographer who was blacklisted from the art community because of a photograph she took of a prominent political figure in a compromising situation. Parker is a crime scene analyst and Avery worked as his photographer in the last book. This book finds them no longer working together due to Avery's feelings for Parker and his inability to move past the death of his girlfriend years before. A missing friend of Avery's and a disturbing photograph taken of her bring the two together again to solve another possible crime. Add in a human trafficking case and the continued search for Luke (an old friend of the group) and the mysteries begin to pile up.

Once again, Pettrey's characters struggle with very difficult, very real pasts. I enjoy seeing them overcome obstacles and find their new identities in Christ. There is a lot going on, and it is sometimes difficult to follow because of that, but the story is fast paced and enjoyable. I liked how even though you thought you knew what was going on, things kept popping up to make you second guess or change your mind. Even though there is a satisfying ending for Avery and Parker, there are still quite a few things that need to be tied up in the next book. Yet another good Christian suspense novel from Dani Pettrey.

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