Tuesday, October 25, 2016

In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson

I had heard of and seen this book in various places over the years, but I never thought it would be for me.  The subtitle states "How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars".  My primary job title is Mom, and I'm not career-oriented, so how many big opportunities are really going to come my way?  What I found is that this book speaks to any challenges in life, not just opportunities in the career field.  Mark Batterson writes in a very engaging and relevant manner, and I did lots of highlighting!  This book offers insight and can infuse you with courage to tackle whatever challenges you are facing right now.

The title and theme of this book comes from 2 Samuel 23:20-21 which briefly tells of Benaiah chasing a lion down into a pit on a snowy day and killing it.  Most people would have done the exact opposite and ran away.  Whether you agree that chasing a lion into a pit is a courageous act or a stupid move is up to you - but the result for Benaiah is that it led to a position of high rank within King David's administration.  If he would have run away, his safety would have been guaranteed, but he might have missed the blessing and future opportunities for influence.

I doubt I will ever encounter a lion.  (And if I did, I would definitely not chase it!)  However, there are situations I face where fear threatens to overwhelm me and I would rather change direction than face it head-on.  That is where the book's message hits home.  Mark writes "Lion chasers don't let their fears or doubts keep them from doing what God has called them to do."  He encourages us to unlearn our fears and reset our perspectives.  He goes on to say "The goal of faith is not the elimination of risk...We won't regret the mistakes we made as much as the God-ordained opportunities we missed."  I was encouraged from the stories shared in this book and reminded of some important truths.  I don't want to miss out on what God has in store for me.

For those of you like me who like to play it safe, this book will give you a nudge toward taking those first risky steps.  Keep a pen or high-lighter handy...you will need it!

*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Open by David Gregory

Open is a short fictional story that leads a person to think about his/her understanding of the Christian life and spiritual growth.  The main character, Emma, is going through a challenging time in her life and is having doubts and feelings that many of us can relate to.  She knows what she has been told: God is enough to satisfy you...reading the Bible will guide and comfort you. But what do you do when those things that are supposed to happen are not a reality in your life?  You read the Bible and can't relate.  You are not satisfied.  You can't deny that your feelings are not in line with what you've been told.  This is where we find Emma.

The story is based around Emma receiving a letter that tells her to go through the nearest open door for an adventure with Jesus.  When she does this, she is transported back in time, witnessing firsthand some of the stories told in the gospels.   She is able to gain a better perspective of what these encounters with Jesus meant for the people involved, and begins to see her own story in them.  Emma also has several conversations with Jesus, opening her eyes to the true path of spiritual growth.

I was asked to share in this review how I related to the character's experience with Jesus.  There have definitely been times in my journey that my spiritual life has felt empty when compared to what I hear others have experienced.  I've learned over the years not to compare...that one person's plan for spiritual growth/connecting with Jesus may not work for another.  I could relate to this truth that Jesus shared with Emma in the story.  He says "The only one who can make you grow spiritually, Emma, who can make you more like me - is me.  Spiritual disciplines in themselves have no power to transform you...I'm not telling you not to do them.  They can be vital.  But they only benefit you if they keep you focused on me.  On me personally, not as a concept...They're simply to help you know me, the faithful one who loves you perfectly and acts on your behalf powerfully."  It reminded me that relationship, not checking things off a to-do list, is the way to grow.

If you like short books that give you something to ponder, you will enjoy this one.  It doesn't have a lot of character development like you would find in a longer story, but just enough background to allow you to find common ground with Emma and go along on the "adventure".

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Civil War

Being a mother of boys, superhero movies have always been a favorite in our family.  Two of the newest movies released this past summer have a similar theme: Civil War.  Our heroes are now fighting each other, losing sight of the true enemy.  As I was watching Captain America: Civil War last night, I was struck by what the villain said...something along the lines of "I knew I couldn't kill them.  But if I could get them to kill each other..."  From the outside looking in, it's easy for us to see that heroes fighting each other is a waste.  (Except for entertaining the males in my family!)  Not only are they causing each other harm, but it is distracting them from the real danger!  Heroes should be united!

Then I got to thinking...is our enemy's strategy really all that different?  Doesn't he seek to isolate and divide us, letting us damage each other in ways that he never could?  He subtly plants distrust, secrecy, taking easy offense, holding grudges, unforgiveness, and pride.  Countries are at war.  Spouses and families are divided.  Churches are divided.  Friendships are thwarted.  And we do it to ourselves!  Families are meant to be united, weathering storms together.  Churches are meant to stand united against the devil's schemes.  We can easily see while watching a movie how sad it is to let misunderstandings and false assumptions destroy relationships, but it's so much harder to detect in our own lives.

Let's take a lesson from these movies: learn to recognize the real enemy.
United We Stand.  Divided We Fall.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
-Ephesians 6:12

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Uninvited Book Review

See if you can relate to any of these scenarios:

*You feel alone in a crowded room and wish you could somehow hide and avoid the awkwardness.

*A rejection from the past is causing you to have trust issues in your current relationships.

*You catch yourself assigning thoughts to others that they never actually think, certain that they don't like you.

*You had a friendship that didn't last.

*Or maybe you have experienced a rejection so deep that it turned your world upside-down.

If you've been in any of these places, you'll be comforted to know that author Lysa TerKerust would say, "Me Too"!  Out of the vulnerability of one woman sharing her pain, we can know that we are not alone and learn from someone who has and is fighting the same battles.  In this book, Lysa shares her struggles and the truths that have helped her heal and improve her perspective.  We can trust her advice because she has been there too.

There is so much wisdom packed into these pages that it was difficult for me to pick out what I wanted to highlight in this review!  I suppose my biggest take-away was an insight Lysa shared about the difference between being set aside and set apart.  She writes...

"To be set aside is to be rejected.  That's exactly what the enemy would have wanted me to feel.  If he could get me to feel this, then I'd become completely self-absorbed in my own insecurity and miss whatever the reason God had for me to be at this event.

To be set apart is to be given an assignment that requires preparation.

I know it's painful to be alone.  And I know the thoughts of being set aside are loud and overwhelmingly tempting to believe in the hollows of feeling unnoticed and uninvited.  But as you pray through your feelings, see if maybe your situation has more to do with you being prepared than you being overlooked.  There is something wonderfully sacred that happens when a girl chooses to realize that being set aside is actually God's call for her to be set apart."

And did you know that there is actually a blessing that arises out of being lonely?  Lysa writes "The conversations I have with the Lord in my loneliness always lead me to more intimacy with Him and more compassion for others."  I've found that to be true in my life as well.

There are some helpful tools contained in these pages:

*Chapter 14 contains ten prayers that were inspired by Psalm 91.  When you feel alone and don't even have the words to pray - these prayers will give you a good starting point.

*Have you ever wondered what you have in common with the Olive Tree?  Chapter 15 has some insightful parallels that illustrate how hardship in our lives can be used for good.

*There is a Bonus Chapter entitled, What's It Like To Do Life With Me?  This chapter includes a self-assessment and helps you to evaluate your own role in your relationships.

It is not easy to live loved when you're feeling left out and lonely.  I know that from experience.  But by focusing on the truths presented in this book, you can begin to change your outlook and take steps toward finding fullness in God.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

What Substitute Teaching Has Taught Me

After being a stay-at-home mom for several years, my youngest son was going to Kindergarten.  This was 4 years ago.  I began hearing about the need for substitute teachers and had some friends encouraging me to give it a try.  While it was a scary step of faith, it has brought a great reward.  Here's what I have learned...

1) I've learned to rely on God.  My initial response when told about this opportunity was "No way, it's not for me".  I'm an introvert.  I'm not a natural with kids.  I like to plan and be prepared.  Subbing was far out of my comfort zone!  I took a small step and got my toes wet by volunteering in my boys' elementary classrooms.  After becoming familiar with the routines and getting further encouragement from the teachers, I decided that I was going to jump in and pray that I could swim!  I found that as my experience grew, so did my confidence.  However, I've had to learn to be flexible and take things one moment at a time.  Each day is different.  Even now, 4 years later, I walk into new situations all the time.  But instead of getting worried or anxious, I just say "Ok God, here we go!" and trust that He will make up for my areas of weakness.  I may be going out of my comfort zone, but it's become somewhat fun and adventurous not knowing what to expect and rising to meet the challenges.

2) I've increased my capacity to love.  We live in a small town and I choose to sub only within our school district (in all grade levels).  I stay plenty busy and enjoy the relationships I form with the students over time.  I don't just see them one year like a regular teacher...I get to follow them all the way to graduation!  Of course some students are easier to love than others, but I've learned to care about them all and want them to succeed.  These are now "my kids".  I struggle with remembering all of their names, but I do try :)

3) Teaching helps to keep my mind sharp.  I was always one of the top students in school.  I prided myself on being intelligent.  However, when you don't use it, you lose it.  I get nervous that maybe I'm no longer "Smarter Than a 5th Grader".  Being in so many classrooms helps to refresh my memory and practice skills that are in danger of being lost.  (Thank God for answer keys!)  I use my "downtime" opportunities in the classroom to read, work on math on Khan Academy, or study yearbooks (see, I really do try to remember names).  While I'm thankful that I no longer have to study for tests, I do enjoy the challenge of remembering information and explaining it in age-appropriate ways.

4) I have a deepened respect for teachers.  Like most girls, I liked to play school as a child.  I would imagine standing in front of a classroom where the students were all sitting quietly in their seats waiting to learn.  Then I would grade the simple worksheets and put stickers at the top.  That's what teaching was in my mind.  But that is not the reality of the classroom!  My visions did not include controlling behavior issues, managing IEPs, preparing students for state tests, writing SLOs, and grading for hours on end.  I've been asked many times if I want to become a teacher, and the answer is definitely "NO!"  I prefer to be a support and blessing to them by being in their classrooms in their absence, and hopefully providing them with peace of mind that their students are in good hands.

As this new school year is upon us, I look forward to getting back in the classroom and seeing "my kids" again.  I know that joys and challenges await, but I'm trusting in God to equip me for the job.

** Many districts need substitute teachers, so I encourage you to check into it if you are in a position to do so!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Hidden In My Heart Scripture Memory Bible

Most Christians know that it would be beneficial to memorize Scripture, but when it comes to DOING it....well, that's something else entirely.  The title of this new Bible comes from Psalm 119:11 in which David writes "I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you."  For those of us who have a desire to memorize Scripture but could use a little help and direction, this Bible may be a good resource!

So what features make this Bible unique?

1)  Within the Bible text, 100 Core Memory Verses are chosen and highlighted in a text box.  These verses are written in 3 popular translations (NLT, NIV, and KJV) so that you can choose which version to memorize.  There is also a paragraph of explanation, a prayer using that verse, a devotion that can be found at the back of the book, and a song which can be downloaded or listened to for free online.  A checklist is provided at the back of the book to keep track of your progress.

2) For those who want a challenge: There is a set of "Challenge" verses also highlighted within the text and written in the 3 translations.  There is also an index suggesting good Bible passages to memorize and stories to learn.

3) At the front and rear of the book you can find tips and suggestion for how to memorize Scripture and thematic/topical verse finders.  These include the core verses and many more.  So if I was lacking confidence and wanted to memorize some verses on this subject, I look up "confidence" and BOOM...there's 12 verses I can choose from.

So what about the songs?  This feature was the one I was most anxious to check out.  The index at the back of the book categorizes the songs by age range and musical styles.  These songs are supposed to appeal to people of all ages.  So I listened...  The verdict? Good songs....for young kids only.  I'm all for worship songs that use Scripture, but the voice used in recording these songs and the styles all point to young children.  The kids that I know (age 10 and up) would roll their eyes at this music.  I have no doubt that it would aide in memorization, but the process would not be pleasant, for them or for me.

Overall: Even if the music is not for you, the other features in this Bible make it a good resource.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Today's Moment of Truth by Lee Strobel

While we have not been the most consistent in doing family devotions, we have found one time of day that works well for our family...right after dinner while waiting for the slow eaters to finish up. (If the kids want dessert they need to pay attention!) We have used sports-focused devotionals in the past to appeal to our boys interests.  This devotional caught my eye as one we could use in the coming years when our boys may start to question the Christian faith and want to know WHY we believe what we do.  I want them to understand that our faith isn't blind and that it's okay to question and look for answers.  So, here's my take on this book...

This devotional contains 180 short readings (2 small pages each) that give a bible verse and a story/facts related to common questions that skeptics raise.  There are topics such as creation, the resurrection, the divinity of Jesus, evil and suffering, the validity of the Bible, and other religions.  Each devotion has a title that can be found in the Table of Contents that gives a clue to its topic.  However, reading are not grouped by topic and there is no topical index.  This can make it difficult to find information related to a specific question.  For someone wanting in-depth information that fully answers questions, I would recommend Lee Strobel's other books.  This one is better for discussion starters and small bits of thought-provoking material. (Perfect for short family devotions!)

The author states in the introduction that these devotions were compiled "in a way that will not only reinforce the faith of Christians, but also make the evidence for the Christian faith accessible to spiritually curious readers, including students, who are interested in better assessing the case for biblical faith."  By just taking 5 minutes per day, you can use this tool to increase your knowledge and build your faith.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.