Friday, December 2, 2016

Shaken: A Book Review

While this book could be beneficial for anyone to read, if you have teenage sons who are sports fans - this book is awesome!  Why?  They will read it!  And it's solid, faith-based teaching and encouragement.  I could buy them all sorts of spiritual books aimed at teenagers, but they would only get a passing glance.  Two of my boys have already read Tim Tebow's first book and enjoyed it, so I know they will give this one a try.  His writing is kid-tested and mother-approved ;)

Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life's Storms.  We all have disappointment and discouragement in our lives - even professional athletes.  In this book Tim shares some of his struggles in his sports career, such as getting cut from a few teams, and uses that platform to share how we can overcome our storms.  He also shares stories of other people who have inspired him.  I thought it was the perfect mix of sports, story, and teaching.  Enough football talk to engage my sports-oriented boys, but not too detailed for someone who could care less about the game.

Tim's story helps to give perspective on what it's like to be a professional athlete.  Right now my oldest son sees only the game and the money.  What he doesn't see is the risk of crushing disappointment, the fickle fans, and the struggle with remaining humble and grounded.  Everyone has highs and lows in their lives, but we can't let them define who we are.  That's the heart of this book.

I respect Tim for using his fame to make a difference in the world.  He has a foundation that is changing the lives of children, some of which we hear about in this book.  He does mission work in prisons and overseas, and he is sharing the message of hope with those who will listen.  Many of us don't have the same level of influence that fame provides, but he still encourages us to stand up and practice acts of kindness.  We can all make a difference.

Tim writes "I want my life to speak louder than a world record.  I don't just want to leave a legacy on the field.  I want to live off the field in a way that outlives me.  I want my love for God and for others to shine greater than an incredible comeback moment, a heavy gold trophy, or a handful of favorable headlines".  Thank you, Tim, for being bold enough to share your faith and set an example for these young men of mine.  You are leaving a legacy.

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

NIV Bible for Teen Guys Review

I have one teenage son, with two following quickly behind, so this Bible caught my attention.  I'm always on the lookout for content that will help them engage with and relate to God's Word.

The main thing you need to be aware of is that this is a devotional bible, NOT a study bible.  You will not find footnotes or maps explaining the text in further detail.  What will you find?

  • Scattered throughout the Bible are roughly 333 one-page devotions focused on a specific verse found within the book where the devotion appears.  Several of these are excerpts from popular student edition books, such as All In, Thrive, and Gods at War.  At the end of the bible is an index arranging these devotions by topic.
  • Since this is a bible for guys, there are 55 one-page highlights of Men of the Bible.  Each page tells what the man's name means, where his story can be found, and what lessons he can teach us.  There is an index at the back of the book for these highlights as well.
  • Each book of the Bible starts with a one-page introduction.  It details when the events happened, who is in the book, popular verses, and a brief synopsis.
  • The Bible ends with a 60-page concordance.
While I think a study bible might be the best choice for a teenage boy wanting to understand the Scriptures, I do like the features contained in this book.  The devotions are relevant and I think boys will be drawn to the stories of men.  The book I was given was hardback.  If I were going to purchase this book, I would probably spend the extra money for an imitation leather cover.

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

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Riley Unlikely by Riley Banks-Snyder

This book is the heart-warming story of how God has and is using a teenage girl to impact the world.  Can one person really make a difference?  Absolutely.  All it takes is one step of obedience at a time.

Riley Banks has an aunt and uncle who were going on a short-term medical missions trip to Africa.  At the age of thirteen she was able to go visit them and help serve, which ignited a passion in her for the children in Africa.  She would see a need and then figure out what she could do, with the help of others, to meet it.  She sacrificed presents and other material goods for herself in order to raise funds for return visits to bless the children.  What started as something as small as collecting school supplies has now become her lifelong vision to live and serve in Kenya.

This true story was enjoyable to read.  It is encouraging to see how God can use an ordinary girl and her family to start a ministry and do more than they possibly could have imagined.  Riley is honest about the challenges and obstacles that were present on her journey, but is also quick to point out the many ways that God has shown Himself faithful.

If you want to learn more about Riley's ministry Generation Next, or if you simply want to read a story about the impact that one family is having on the world, check this book out!

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

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 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 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.

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.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Confessions of a Pastor's Wife

Every now and then I have women ask me if I still blog.  It's at those moments when I wish I could say "Yep, sure do", but am left admitting that while my book reviews are still regular, my personal reflections have been few.  In fact, I just looked and it has been an entire year since my last non-book related post!  I feel like this is something God has called me to do, so why the absence?  Two reasons come to mind.  The first is one you might expect:

Yes, these boys keep me busy.  Trying to juggle sports schedules, homework, music lessons, and their social lives make my head spin.  Add to that substitute teaching during the school year and my times of peace and quiet are dwindling.  BUT I can't just use this as an excuse.  God does provide me with pockets of time that I could use to write if I chose to.

Now for the confession:  This past year as a Pastor's Wife has been a struggle.  Much of that has not been something that I felt I could or would want to put in print.  In my mind a Pastor's Wife should be positive and encouraging, and quite honestly my pessimism has been getting the better of me.  I strive to be authentic, so when I don't have something positive to say, sometimes it's best to just keep my lips (or in this case, my fingers) silent.  This past month I have again felt a stirring to write because God has been starting to reveal to me some wisdom that has been forged in the fire.  But I'm getting ahead of myself...let me first define the struggle.

When most people first start attending church, it's exciting (or at least it should be - why else would you want to return?)  There are new people to meet, ministries to explore, things to learn.  You anticipate each weekend wondering what will happen next.  Will the band play that song you love?  In what creative way will the pastor teach the lesson?  What new opportunities will there be to connect with others, to serve, or to grow spiritually?

Then you get in a little deeper.  Maybe you start to volunteer in a few ministries.  You commit your time, talent, and treasure to the cause.  At this level, you get a better understanding of how the church ministries function and learn that those leaders you put up on a pedestal are really just human, just like you.  You make the choice to "get in the game" and feel good about the role you are playing in the church body.  Sometimes you can commit too much and get burnt out, but you always have the option to step back a little if needed.

And then can come the next level of church staff.  There is no doubt that my husband has been gifted for and called to his position.  He LOVES what he does and never complains.  I, on the other hand, am taking longer to adapt.  Being a pastor is a 24-hour a day job.  It may be flexible as far as when he is physically "in the office", but with technology like computers and cell phones, he is always on call.  There is always work to be done.  So how do I protect the time we need as a family, without selfishly taking him away from his ministry?  It's a delicate balance.  I struggle with resentment towards the job, which is then followed by guilt for feeling that way.  When I hear about a new initiative at church, my first thought typically goes to how much time it's going to require of my husband....time that will be taken away from our family.  And then I think of the needs of others, and again feel selfish and guilty.   I love the people - they are like family.  I want my husband and I to be a blessing to them.  I want others to see Christ in us.  How can we ever find balance?  What do I do with all these conflicting feelings?  The church is now a workplace, and it's becoming harder for me to see beyond the programming and the tasks ahead and allow myself to just be and experience.  The struggle is real.

Now that you've seen a glimpse of this tension, let me share with you that God has been teaching me some things through this.  He's been asking me some tough questions about why I go to church. Do I go because of what I get out of it, or for what I can give?  Do I go because of a feeling that I get, or because of a commitment I've made?  Do we serve because it is convenient, or because Jesus asked us to?

I think that many times when people lose their feelings of excitement and anticipation about church, we assume the answer must be to switch churches.  Surely there is another church that will "feed" us better, or offer better programs, or contain less hypocrites, or would have more staff to share the workload.  We let our feelings dictate our decisions.  But would it really be different anywhere else in the long run?

My big revelation came when God showed me this parallel between church commitment and marriages.  When you first get married, it's new and exciting.  Then the deeper you get, your eyes are opened to new realities.  Feelings may come and go.  The problem we are seeing is that many couples are now letting their feelings determine their level of commitment instead of the other way around!  Their problems are not solved by switching spouses.  If you want the blessing of a long-lasting  marriage, feelings cannot be given the reigns.  The same is true of churches.  I believe there is a real blessing in store for those who remain a part of a church body through ups and downs - one that can only be realized after years of commitment.

I may not feel as I used to, and that's ok because feelings change.  What doesn't change is God's truth and His purpose for our lives. I may feel inadequate and unprepared for this role, but in time I believe there will be a great blessing after having stayed the course.  Even now, I feel a great connection and pride being able to say we've been at our church since opening day.  The memories we've made and the people we've met have been priceless.  I enjoy watching my husband thrive as he is doing what makes his spirit come alive.  I am thankful that he gets to bless so many people with his gifts. ( I just wish I could clone him!)  As our family struggles to find balance, I ask for your grace and prayers.  I may not be the woman overflowing with optimism, but I am willing to be real.  I know I can come to Jesus, and hopefully to you, just as I am.

Are you in a place in your marriage or your church where your feelings aren't in line with where you want them to be?  Unless there is abuse or non-biblical teaching, I encourage you to also stick it out.  Continue to love and serve right where you are, believing that God has a blessing in store for those who are faithful.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Mind of Terror by Tass Saada

Whether or not you follow the news, I think we're all aware of the threat of terrorism.  Maybe you've wondered as I have..."What would make someone want to hurt us and be willing to die to do it?"  This book captured my attention because it was written by a former terrorist to try and explain why this problem exists, how terrorists think, and what we can do about it.  Even though some details were over my head, I thought overall this book was written in a very easy to read and understand format.

This book is broken into three sections.  The first section explains how terrorists think and why they are inclined to act with such violence.  The next section outlines some reactions/solutions to terrorism that are often thought of, but that the author feels are not effective.  The final section reveals some strategies that we can use to neutralize terrorism. (Namely doing what Jesus taught us to do - praying for and loving our enemies). The author also shares some stories from the ministry that he is involved in to show how this strategy has been effective.

I have a rough understanding of biblical Islamic history and current events.  There are so many new vocabulary terms that are used when speaking of the Middle East that I sometimes have trouble following.  I thought this author did a great job of explaining some of the background information and history of the Palestinian and Israeli people.  I feel more educated and equipped to understand the daily headlines.  I have also grown in my compassion for the Arab people, many of whom do not agree with these terrorist tactics either.

 I can't imagine a world where the fighting stops - where people cease to strike back with violence - but it sure is nice to dream and hope for a more peaceful world.  This book has the ability to open hearts and minds to a better way, starting with creating peace in our own neighborhoods.  The author writes "Muslims are everywhere across the world, and the alert Christian will find openings to make show be the hands and feet of Christ in natural and acceptable ways.  Whenever and wherever this happens, the Good News moves forward.  Tension are eased, and light breaks through the clouds.  Regardless of where we live, this is our great calling."

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Delilah:Treacherous Beauty by Angela Hunt

Any fan of biblical historical fiction will enjoy this novel.  As you may have guessed, this is the story of Samson and Delilah.  The Bible provides a lot of information about Samson, but very little about Delilah.  Is she truly the villain that scholars make her out to be?  Or could there be more to her story?  This book takes the known biblical account of these two people and uses a little imagination to fill in the blanks.

The chapters are written from two perspectives, some from Samson and others from Delilah.  After reading the book, I went back and read the account in Judges.  I was impressed with how well the author stuck to the original script!  The stories do line up.  The background and motives of Delilah, however, are purely fiction.  That part seems to be a little far-fetched.  It's hard to believe that there could be any good, justifiable reason for betraying a man you love in that way.  However, it did make me wonder whether there was more to Delilah's story than the quick conclusion many jump to of the "greedy, deceptive beauty who was only in it to get rich". The author concludes her Author's Note by writing "Samson and Delilah were not heroes or villains.  They were people...because people, with all their flaws, are what God uses to work His divine will."  It's helpful to remember that all of these Biblical characters are people, with many dimensions to their characters and lives.

There are discussion questions included at the end of the book.  Whether you are interested in the discussion, or simply want to be entertained and challenged to see a familiar story in a different light, I recommend this fictional book.

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Saving My Assassin by Virginia Prodan

Wow!  It's not often that I read a true story that truly captivates me from cover to cover.  Often there are parts that are too detailed or contain boring background information...not so with this memoir.  Virginia's story gives us a glimpse into what it was like to live in Communist Romania, when freedom of religion was merely a front.  She not only declared her faith, but as an attorney openly fought for the rights of other Christians, putting the life of her and her family in danger.  This is a truly courageous tale in which the evidence of God's intervention is difficult to deny.

History is not my subject.  I would never read a book on Communism, but I do enjoy learning about history when it comes packaged like this!  Nicolae Ceausescu was the president of Communist Romania from 1965-1989.  It was during this time period that Virginia Prodan was raised to be a good citizen and obey her leader.  However, after becoming a Christian, she realized that God had a purpose for her life - to fight for the truth.  I learned a lot about what life was like in a place where religious freedom didn't exist.  We take this freedom for granted here in America.  Learning about the dangers and injustices of that time help me to appreciate the government and protected rights that we enjoy in this country.

I was also inspired by Virginia's faith.  I doubt if I were in the same situation that I could continue to risk the safety of my children, especially after being abducted, beaten, and threatened.  Through prayer, Virginia learned how to pray for and love her captors.  Once while in custody, she reasoned "they are here by human appointment, but I am here by divine appointment.  Maybe I am here so they may see Christ in me."  We all find ourselves in unpleasant circumstances from time to time, although usually not as dire.  Even so, what if we could all ask ourselves that same question....what if I am here so that others can see Christ in me?  That's a game changer.

I highly recommend this book both as a captivating story to read out by the pool this summer, and as a way to learn a bit of history and more fully appreciate our freedom in America.  Be inspired by how Virginia Prodan saves her assassin and changes the lives of so many.

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

Monday, May 2, 2016

(Un)qualified by Steven Furtick

I'll let you know up front that I'm a fan of Steven Furtick.  He writes and speaks in a way that connects with me.  This book originated from an event in his life in which a well-known preacher called him "unqualified."  As he searched and wrestled with the truth of this claim, the content of this book began to take shape.  What do we do with our weaknesses and struggles...those things that make us unqualified for what we've been called to do?

I will admit that the first third of the book seemed a bit drawn out to me.  Steven introduces the idea about the "third words" that we call ourselves (I am _____).  These first 5 chapters are all basically explaining some errors in the way we think about ourselves.  I found myself thinking "I get it...let's move on..."  If you feel the same way, rest assured that the book does pick up the pace.

The main benefit of this book is that it gives a good dose of perspective in how to view our weaknesses.  We learn from the story of Jacob in the Bible that God can't bless who we pretend to be.  We need to embrace who we are, letting God's strength be seen through our weakness - while at the same time allowing God to grow and change us during the journey.  Steven writes that "often our greatest influence is birthed in our deepest suffering and brokenness."  Being real and authentic is what helps us to connect with others.  Weaknesses also remind us to turn to God and trust him instead of relying solely on ourselves.  If you frequently get discouraged about your apparent lack of growth or qualifications, I encourage you to read this book to reset your thinking.  We are all broken to some degree, but God can still use us just where we are.

In conclusion, Pastor Steven is honest and real about his own brokenness and gives some solid advice and perspective to those who also get discouraged with their own struggles.  I don't think that the book flows as well as some of his previous ones, but it's definitely worth your time to read.

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

Pressing Pause - A Devotional for Moms

The title of this devotional for moms really jumped out at me...Pressing Pause.  Isn't that what we all want to do from time to time?  Pause the noise, the chaos, the arguing, the constant activity, and take a quiet moment to reset.  This book contains 100 short devotionals that can help to reset our perspectives and focus on what's truly important.

Each devotional is 2 pages long and contains a key verse, short prayer, some questions for thought, and a few lines to jot down a response.  It is a good length for the busy mom, even if you only have 5 to 10 minutes to "press pause".

One of my favorite readings so far was entitled "We Have To or We Get To?".  The key verse was Colossians 3:23-24 which says Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord.  You serve the Lord Christ.  Sometimes as moms we get into the "poor me" mentality track.  Here's an excerpt from the reading that can help to reset that mindset....

"I don't have to clean my house.  I get to clean my house - because I have a place to call my own, while many are homeless or displaced.  And I'm serving the Lord Jesus as I clean.

I don't have to fill out this team permission slip.  I get to fill it out - because my child is healthy enough for physical activity.  And I'm serving the Lord Jesus as I write.

I don't have to drive to get groceries.  I get to do this errand - because we have enough money to purchase provisions and we own a car, so I don't have to walk.  And I'm serving the Lord Jesus as I shop.

We don't have to.  We get to.  And thanks be to God that we do."

This book would make a great gift for any Mom, especially one with young kids at home.  I was very impressed with the beautiful hard back cover.  It has a nice feel, with reflective lettering and design.  There is also a purple ribbon bookmark attached.

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

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Rising by Ryan D'Agostino

The Rising tells the story of Dr. William Petit, who suffered the tragedy of having his home broken into and his wife and daughters murdered.  Many who hear about this event may wonder as I did,,"How does someone get through such a horrible loss?"  That question prompted me to select this book.  However, it was not quite what I had expected.  If I had not agreed to review the book in its entirety, the writing style would have led me to stop reading after a few chapters...

This book is written in 3rd person and reads like a documentary.  It was almost like hearing an episode of 60 Minutes in my head...only much longer.  It had a very impersonal feel to it.  The amount of details given regarding family background and the trials were extensive.  For someone who knows the family or wants to know everything about the case, this feature might be great - but it was more than I needed to know.  The pictures included within the text did add a nice touch.

As I said earlier, my main motivation for reading this book was to understand how someone could cope with such a tragedy.  This theme was touched on a little, but was not the focus of the story.  The Rising did not speak much about the importance of faith in healing.  Instead it's focus was on the impact that community support can have on a family.  This was my favorite part of the story.  It was uplifting to hear about the kindness and generosity that people can offer...even strangers.  Bill received nearly 25,000 pieces of mail, many containing money.  He received so much money that he created a charitable foundation in memory of his girls.  This foundation gave him something to focus on and was able to bless others.  The evil done by the murderers was contrasted by this idea that many people are good.  We just need to recognize that goodness.

Even though I did not care for the way this story was written, it is a story worth hearing.  It testifies to the fact that life goes on and can even be good after an unimaginable tragedy.

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

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Risen by Angela Hunt

I have just finished reading this novel, but have not seen the recently released movie.  The story revolves around the death and resurrection of Jesus, as seen through the eyes of a Roman Tribune.  For those familiar with the Bible, the events in this story will be predictable.  It's for this reason that I say the book is just "ok".  I would have liked more character development.

The book introduces two main fictional characters into the familiar story of the resurrection; Clavius (a Roman Tribune) and Rachel (a Jewish widow).  The story-telling switches frequently between these two characters.  Since I consider their interaction and differing perspectives to be one of the highlights of the story, I was very surprised to read in the Author's Note that the character of Rachel was completely cut from the movie!  The bulk of the story centers around Clavius searching for the body of Jesus and interviewing his followers for information.  The author did a fairly good job of representing the Biblical characters in a matter consistent with the Scriptures.

Some of the vocabulary used in this book is specific to that time period in Roman history, and can be a bit difficult to decipher.  I would have liked to see more explanation given in the text, or a glossary of terms in the back of the book.

In summary, if you already know the details of the resurrection, this story won't be new, but it will be told in a different way.  If reading the book or seeing the movie gets people thinking about and investigating the truth of this claim - I say that's a good thing :)

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

Here is a trailer for the movie...

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Walk to Beautiful by Jimmy Wayne

I had never heard of Jimmy Wayne before picking up this book, but now that I know his story, I doubt I will ever forget.  This is an auto-biography of a boy who went through unbelievable hardship as a child, was transformed by the love of an elderly couple, ascended to country music stardom, and then risked it all to help raise awareness for foster kids.  Most people blame their past for making them bitter.  Jimmy chose a better path and allowed his experiences to make him better.  It is a beautiful story.

Warning: you may want to keep a box of tissues nearby!  It really was heartbreaking to hear the details of Jimmy's childhood.  I can't even fathom a child having to go through even a few of the events Jimmy had to endure, much less all of them.  As a substitute teacher, I think his story has increased my compassion for students.  I may wonder now about that student who has bad hygiene and comes in with dirty clothes.  What time of home life does he have?  How can I be an instrument of kindness?  I desire for God to use me in some way to help change someones life like the couple changed Jimmy's life.  Maybe some day He will.

The section of the book concerning Jimmy's music career was interesting, but sometimes too detailed for my interests.  I'm sure people in the music industry will get more out of it.  The thing I loved is that he rose from poverty and was living his dream, but his music career was not the most important thing - he remembered where he came from and dedicated himself to making a difference.  This is a lesson we could all learn from.

The photos in the middle of the book add a nice touch, allowing us to share in some of Jimmy's treasured memories.  This book will touch your heart and inspire you.  As Jimmy wrote "it's not where you've been, but it's where you're goin'; it's not who you were in the past, but it's who you are today - that's what really matters."

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

I've included a video for those of you not familiar with his music:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch

Reading this book has been similar to simply talking to another mom about the struggles and joys of raising children in this generation.  There is no judgment or strict rules to follow - just a conversation about perspectives and strategies for teaching our kids, and ourselves, how to be grateful. 

I like that Kristen spends a lot of time helping parents develop a healthy mindset.  She points out that gratefulness is often learned by example.  She also reminds us that "often our kids don't need more stuff or more freedom; they just need more of us."  This journey begins with parents recognizing that we need to develop a healthy perspective - one that goes against the flow of today's culture.

There are many stories shared on these pages, both of parenting successes and of failures that can be learned from.   I felt encouraged and affirmed in some areas of parenting, and also got some new ideas I can implement in the future!  Hearing about the failures was helpful too because it reminds me that we're all in the struggle together.  I like that at the end of each chapter there is a Going Against the Flow section which highlights key points for parents and provides a few practical age appropriate suggestions for toddlers/preschoolers, elementary, and tween/teens. 

There are discussion questions included at the end of the book.  I think this would be a great book for a small group of mothers to read and discuss together.  This calling of motherhood is no easy task, but reading books like this one can help give a little encouragement and wisdom for the journey.

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

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

   I sometimes wonder what it would be like to lose a child.  Would I be strong enough to handle that kind of pain?  How does God show up and comfort parents who are living though this nightmare?  I was interested in reading this story because I too have a 12-year-old son.  While I have not experienced a deep loss, I desire to know others stories to increase my awareness and compassion for those who are grieving.  It is difficult to write a review on a book like this because I can't critique a person's experience.  Instead, I can only comment on the way the story way written.

What will you find in this book? Honesty.  Authentic heart-wrenching thoughts and feelings this mother experienced during the first year after her son's death.  The mood continually switches back and forth between feelings of bitterness and hope, which I suppose is normal.  Anna shares openly how this loss has affected her relationships with her daughter, husband, friends, and neighbors.

The one thing that I found shocking was her use of foul language.  While I certainly don't judge her for thinking or using these words, I didn't find it tasteful to put them in print.  We're not talking about mild language either...these are the big dogs.  At least 15 cuss words spelled out and scattered throughout the book.  Maybe these words were included to support "authenticity", but I felt they were unnecessary and it resulted in me disconnecting from the story.

I would recommend this book with caution to those who want to understand the types of thoughts and feelings that a grieving mother may experience.  While there are strong threads of bitterness, Anna also offers glimpses of hope and comfort.  Anyone who reads this book will be moved with compassion toward those going through this type of loss, and will be reminded to treasure each and every day with their loved ones.

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