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.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

He Sees Your Sighs

It's summertime and you plan a fun day for your family.  You envision all the laughter and bonding that will take place.  You'll get some great pictures to post on Facebook and at the end of the day will be overflowing with sweet memories.  But things don't turn out the way you had planned.  Instead the day is filled with whining, arguing, and eventually yelling.  *Sigh*

Your kids are at a friends house and the house is quiet.  Your husband will be home soon, so you try to do your hair and put on something nice.  You anticipate him coming home, pulling you into an embrace, and having some time to re-connect.  But then the text comes in saying he has to work late. *Sigh*

What causes you to sigh?  What unmet longings and expectations do you have?

I've been reading this book called Hope Unfolding by Becky Thompson.  She put into words something that I've felt ever since becoming a momma that I couldn't quite put my finger on.  She writes "True loneliness doesn't only come from being by yourself.  There is another type of loneliness that comes from not being known.  A loneliness that takes place when others see you, but they don't see you."  Have you ever felt that loneliness?  You get known and appreciated for your roles and responsibilities, but does anyone ever see you?  I feel that way. *Sigh*

A few years ago, I came across this verse written by David in Psalm 38:9

All my longing - to be seen, known, desired, accepted, needed - He knows them all.  Each time I sigh because of unmet expectations, He sees that too.  I find comfort in that.

I have a love/hate relationship with technology...especially smartphones.  It's great having the world at your fingertips, but it's not so great when it gets in the way of relationships.  I remember one night last year when my insecurity was at a high and I was craving some affirmation from my husband.  I just wanted to be seen and loved.  He gets into bed...with his iPhone. (Men - do not bring your phone to bed with you...ever!)  As you can imagine, that's where his attention went.  I didn't even have the strength to ask for what I needed, so I did what any good Christian woman would do...I had a pity party for myself.  Ever been there?  I went downstairs and was whining to God about my unmet needs and his lack of attention, and then the weirdest thing happened.  I got this picture in my mind of God with an amused look on his face, almost as if he were going to start laughing at me!  It was as if He were thinking "Really?  Look who you're talking to!  If anyone understands what it's like to wait patiently and long for my loved ones to give me their undivided attention and desire - it's me!"  He understood.  He saw me.  I knew right then that I was guilty of giving my attention to many things before Him.  I also get distracted by all the world has to offer and lose sight of important relationships.  This realization allowed me to give grace to my husband and to focus my heart on the only one who can truly fulfill my needs.  

Friends, whatever you may be sighing about right now, it's not hidden from His eyes - He sees you.  Seek some time alone with Him to share your heart and rest in His arms.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Acoustic Worship for My Soul

Our church has recently started a series called Church Camp.  One of my favorite things about this series is that the worship is all acoustic...for 8 whole weeks!  My husband loves rockin' it out with a full band, but something about acoustic music touches my soul at a deeper level.  Maybe it's because it feels less like a performance and more heartfelt.  Give me some acoustic guitars, sweet vocals, and possibly a djembe (which is an African hand-drum that my husband has made sure our family knows how to spell correctly) and I'm a happy camper.

Here is a clip someone recorded.  Yes, this is taken inside on our stage.  Isn't it awesome?

There are a few songs, including the one above, that I have been listening to a lot lately from Elevation Church.  If you go to iTunes, the only option is to purchase the full band version.  However, they recorded these songs acoustically and put them on YouTube.  I will link the videos in this post so that you can enjoy them too :)  When I get discouraged, the best medicine is to put in my earbuds, turn the music up loud enough to drown out all my other thoughts, and focus on these words.

I pray these songs bless you as much as they have me.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Hope Unfolding by Becky Thompson

I read a lot of books, and I must say this is one of my new favorites on motherhood.  It's not a "how-to" book that leaves you feeling like there are an endless list of things you need to work on.  Instead, it reads like a series of lengthy blog posts that in essence say "Me Too!".....You feel like a failure as a mom sometimes? Me too.  You are not alone, and there is hope.

Becky writes with an authentic voice that is easy to relate to.  She shares many stories from her own experiences and brings in some biblical insights too.   We all need to be reminded that God has a plan.  He is with us, and sees us, and loves us in our mess.  He can strengthen and help us when we allow Him to.  Besides finding encouragement for my own journey, I also kept thinking of friends who would benefit from this book.  In fact, I know exactly who will be receiving this copy in a few days :)

Chapter 6 was one of my favorites.  It focused on authenticity.  Becky writes "The messy areas of your life do not tell a story of your failures.  Those areas tell the story of your humanity, and they are a continual reminder of your need for a Savior."  As moms we tend to compare ourselves with others and we want others to see us as having everything put together.  We stress when company comes over or when our kids misbehave in public.  Why can't we just drop the act and give ourselves and other mommas some grace?  She goes on to say that "the minute we decide we're going to stop being defined by what we don't get done and instead take pride in what we ARE able to achieve, grace lets truth win and unnecessary shame gives way to hope."  Hope...that maybe we are good moms after all.

There are so many issues that we all struggle with, yet we feel alone in our struggles because we don't talk about them.  This book could start some great discussions, and would be a great gift for a mom you know who just needs to be reminded that she's doing a good job.

You can also visit the author's blog at for some encouragement today!

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