Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Comforting books for a cozy season to come

With Fall just around the corner, I've been heavily engaged with planning and organizing for the beginning of a new "structured" year. I got some new (cheap) bookshelves up to construct a fun school supplies nook. I have a towering pile of exciting, handpicked resources to make up my hodgepodge curriculum plan for this year. I am really excited to share some of them with you all in the near future! I just put in my grove collaborative order for the month and stockpiled on fresh Mrs. Meyer's cleaning products for the season. Apple Cider and Mum scents- fall just begs for signature scented house products ;) And of course, I can't forget all my favorite children's book titles, perfect for autumn afternoon readings. 

I set out a pile of books with fall colored, warm and inviting covers-hoping my books won't be able to pass them by without perusing them. Knowing my boys, that shouldn't be a problem ;) We have Apples to Oregon, Barnyard Dance, Thankful, Raccoons and Ripe Corn, About a Bear, Let it fall, Barnyard Baby, and last but not least, our newest addition- God gave us thankful hearts by Lisa Tawn Bergren. I own most of the beloved books in the God Gave Us series and even reviewed one of the other titles last year. These books are a real treasure on any child's bookshelf. They beautifully and lovingly explain major life events-such as a new sibling  and holidays, like Christmas. This sweet title features a new family- Little Wolf Pup and his Mama and Papa, as they find all the many reasons to be thankful during the autumn days. I smiled as I cracked this book open and started to read of Little Pup and his dismay to find the "fun seasons" coming to an end and winter on it's way. My Oldest has been pining over the dwindling, last days of Summer and change coming soon. I think this will become one of our favorite reads of the season. I appreciate that this book isn't trite and condescending, telling children to "just be thankful, already." Lisa has done a wonderful job of empathizing with kids and those things that are important and also a challenge in their lives. The book takes many "cons" in Little Pup's life and shows how his parents help him find the "pros" out of those same things. 

I liked the line Mama Wolf shares with Little Pup halfway through the book. "The trick to having a thankful heart," Mama said, "is thinking about the things that make us happy, rather than the things that don't." What a word of truth for all of us- big and little. 

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Missional Motherhood in further study

I shared with you last month of my love for pretty much anything Gloria Furman has to say, especially when it comes to the topic of motherhood. I was so encouraged by reading thru her newest book, Missional Motherhood and shared my review of it here. Crossway published this wonderful book and now B&H publishing has released a complimentary study book. To take the pursuit of Missional Motherhood even deeper, I recommend the Missional Motherhood- the bible study: the everyday ministry of motherhood in the grand plan of God

This is a six-session study that was designed for a small group setting, but would also work great for individual study and mentoring relationships. This is no shallow overview; the study book book delves even deeper into this idea of Missional Motherhood and arms us with plenty of opportunities for learning-with introductory review questions,  a video segment, group questions and 4 days of person study material. I appreciate all the content, including multiple prompts to look up and study correlating scripture. There is a lot here to "chew" on each week; on the other hand, I am glad that they went with a four day personal study schedule so that there is plenty of "grace days" for busy mamas. 

My church has a wonderful weekly "Godly Moms Group" where moms of all ages gather for a time of bible study and fellowship (with very generous childcare provided!). This program has been such a source of refreshment and growth in my life since having children. We are starting again for the fall in just a few weeks and will be going thru the Missional Motherhood study together. I cannot wait to dive into this book even more and glean from it in a community setting! 

I received this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for my honest review. 

Want to have eyes open wide to what's happening in the Middle East? Read this book.

The plight of Middle Eastern believers has been heavy on my heart since the rise of ISIS of the course of the last couple years. It is scary times for the world at large, but it is horrific times for Christians in the Middle East. These people who are the living in the land of the origins of our shared faith, treading the ground that Jesus and disciples walked on, are being decimated and displaced. Large portions of Christian history, and world history in general, are being wiped from the face of the Earth. One of the worst parts about it is that it is largely under reported and ignored by the rest of the world. What the mainstream media does share it is hard to trust as the truth of the matter and any coverage at all has seemed to taper off. One news source I have come to treasure and rely on over the year is World Magazine. I grew up with a new issue of World coming twice a month to my parents house and really came to enjoy this resource as a teenager. World does an amazing job covering a very broad spectrum of world events and presenting them from a strong Christian viewpoint. I used them for many current event school reports and have already started my kids on their children's subscriptions

I was very excited to see that Mindy Belz, editor of World Magazine, was publishing a book containing her years of on the ground reporting in the Middle East. I had followed Mindy's column exposing the trials of the Middle Eastern Christians for some years now. I had become very thankful to have someone brave enough to go to the source and see what was truly befalling our brothers and sisters there and to be their voice to those of us anxiously watching from afar. We had even had the privilege to watch a video presentation Mindy put on with another one of our favorite Christian organizations, Summit Ministries with our youth group last year. It was an eye opening experience for   our teens and Mindy did an amazing job of bringing attention to the plight of Middle Eastern Christians by sharing personal stories and pictures.

 I knew this was the "current events" book I needed to read this summer- They say we are Infidels: On the run from ISIS with persecuted Christians in the Middle East. This is a thick book containing Mindy's experiences in the Middle East from 2003 until current day and it even includes maps and photos. Mindy truly has a heart for the Middle Eastern Christians and can even say she has many personal friends there now, making her the perfect person to author such a poignant expose on trials and tribulations of these brothers and sisters in Christ. This book features many families and individuals and their struggle for survival, but also an encouraging glimpse and the intrepid people and organizations doing all they can to bring aid and support. Mindy's passion for this topic bleeds thru the pages and makes for a very engaging and stirring read. On top of that, because she has spent so much time in the trenches, the majority of this book is written from a first hand view point and makes Mindy a very credible source. 

 I would strongly encourage any Christians who wish to be aware of the times we are living and how to pray for our fellow Christians around the world who are enduring persecution for our faith. I wholeheartedly agree with the inscription in the book jacket that says, " They say we are Infidels is required reading for those who are seeking to gain a firmer grasp on the complex dynamics at play in the war-torn Middle East today, and for anyone who is ready to stand with the persecuted and suffering."

I received this book in exchange for my honest review from Tyndale Publishers.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Christianity truly is Unparalleled

I have been trying to balance out my summer reading stack full of engaging novels, stimulating educational philosophy and motherhood inspirations with some ambitious theology reads as well. One that surpassed my expectations was Unparalleled: How Christianity's uniqueness makes it compelling.

"Aren't all religions basically the same?
That's a popular notion these days. It's also a convenient way to avoid the ultimate questions we all must answer. If all religions are the same, then there's no reason to choose one over another beyond what fits into our already busy lives or what suits our particular tastes. But what if that assumption is fundamentally flawed? What if Christianity is not merely one among many similar options? What if it is categorically different? Wouldn't that fact alone make it worth another look?

Unparalleled, Jared C. Wilson reveals how Christianity alone answers the deepest longings of every human heart, compelling us to take a second look and to consider the Christian faith in a drastically new light.

One of these things is not like the others. And the difference matters--for eternity."

The summary off the back of the book gives a great preview to the potent content contained inside. I was immediately intrigued by Wilson's engaging  and inviting writer's voice and yet bold and challenging stand for truth. He does a great job weaving enlightening tales from his own life as a pastor with big picture theological truths to make a cohesive case for the validity Christianity.

Wilson focuses in on issues here that are most argued to be able to satisfied by a multitude of religious options, but he does a superb job of showing that's simply not true. Christianity is alone in being able to truly stand up to the rigorous testing that humanity and all it's needs puts religions through. Wilson touches on the relatability of God, the completeness of the trinity and the uniqueness of Christianity's view of salvation. My favorite chapters were correlating- one on how a Christian's view on life was the most optimistic and another their view on life is also the most realistic. I think these were the true gems of the book as they did a wonderful job of deconstructing and refuting the current prevalent humanistic beliefs of our cultural- not all life is worthy and sacred, but also we are inherently good. I love the simple, but wise line Wilson shares, "It probably does not surprise you to know that the same people who believe that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man also believe that human beings are both profoundly sacred and profoundly broken."

I am glad that this book made it into my summer reading repertoire and highly recommend to anyone wanting to bolster their ability to defend their faith or as a offering to a seeking friend.

I received this book in exchange for my honest review from Baker Books.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Experimenting with making the most of Real Llife

Grown up life, mom life is not really what I thought it would be. It is, in fact, harder than I had assumed, by a very large degree. I am not as self disciplined and naturally productive as I thought I would be. My children aren't just carbon copies of me who happily partake in whatever I think is "fun and valuable" for them, like I imagined they would. So much doesn't go like I pictured it going and I find myself waiting for my "imagined" life to finally materialize when I should have realized a long time ago I have to craft it into existence. I am always on the look out for a good source of inspiration for this, especially if it comes in book form. That is what Alexandra Kuykendall strives to provide in her book, Loving my actual life: An experiment in relishing what's right in front of me.

The cover just draws me in with it's vintage lighting and beautiful letter- great design! Alexandra has broken the book up into 9 parts- nine months, one experiment focus per month. She takes on topics all moms face in their day to day lives that challenge them thriving over just surviving. It was entertaining to read her logs of each months successes and failures with trying to incorporate new routines and techniques to her life in order to be able to enjoy the everyday moments more. I appreciated her candidness in plotting out her initial approach and then at the end of the chapter sharing what actually worked and what didn't. Alexandra obviously leads a very busy life with four daughters and a career- that is a lot to juggle and I can see why this project had a lot of meaning for her personally. However, because we lead such different lifestyles (she carries much more than I could even attempt!) I did find it hard to take away a lot I would actually implement in my own life from her experiments. This is an entertaining book for moms, and for the right one, may be the encouragement they need to really relish where God has them!

I received this book in exchange for my honest review from Baker Books.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Quirky Summer Read- Vinegar Girl

I must admit, I don't read all that much fiction, particularly secular fiction. It's not that I don't enjoy a good story for a story's sake, it's just that I have a hard enough time as it is fitting reading into my daily docket and I always have a pile of worthy non fiction I want to learn something from. So, usually, nonfiction trumps fiction in my reading repertoire. Also, I find it is very hard to be able to filter which secular novels will be "clean" and worthy of my time by simply looking at their covers alone. Don't judge a book by it's cover and all...But if I was to judge a book by it's cover, Vinegar Girl  by Ann Tyler would have won the beauty contest.

And when my favorite magazine, World chose Vinegar Girl as their novel of the year in their annual "Book" issue, I knew it was worth a read. It's a quick but insightful read that proved to be a lighthearted distraction during a heavy season for me. A retelling of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, there are definitely plenty of nods and ties to the original but about enough modern context to be engaging enough as a story on it's own standing. A witty, though rough around the edges Kate Battista is stuck. She's stuck at her job as a preschooler teacher- where her sarcasm doesn't phase the children but their parents are a different story. She's stuck living at home with her eccentric, scientist father and boy crazy, melodramatic little sister. All the home keeping duties fall to her with little recognition or gratitude from her family. She leads a meager existence of going to work, making a nightly dinner of scientifically formulated Meat Mash, and on her weekends sporadically indulging her one joy in life- gardening (but only flowers, her small yard doesn't get the sunlight needed to grow vegetables). And it seems things will never change...

Until it does. Until her father comes home one night babbling on with a glowing report of some lab assistant he's apparently had for years and but has barely even mentioned in passing before now. And now, he can't seem to speak to Kate about hardly anything else but Pyotr, Pyotr, Pyotr. Kate finds this infinitely out of character for her self absorbed father, until she realizes that he is still looking out for himself-how to save his precious lab work from losing his very needed and gifted lab assistant who is being threatened by deportation. So he hatches what seems to him a very logical plan to marry Kate off to Pyotr and all will be made right. At first, Kate is indignant. How dare her father think so little of her to see her as property to be exchanged for a greater good? It's her life, her heart, after all. And hulking, socially awkward Pyotr seems just about the last person she wants to share those things with. But the more time she is forced to spend with him, the more freeing the idea of being "stuck" with him seems. She may even be able to tolerate him and maybe more. 

 The characters, though quirky, are endearing and entertaining and the unlikely love story that follows had me cheering more than most Hallmark movies I've watched lately. I enjoyed the gradual wearing down and smoothing out of Kate and seeing Pyotr become more possibly lovable in Kate's eyes. We even got glimpses of humanity we can relate with    in Kate's father and sister. Ann Tyler did a commendable job in taking a well known classic and crafting a fresh new spin on it. This novel was a summer treat!

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.