Sunday, March 31, 2013

Book Review: Healing Fiction

I received a complimentary copy of Invisible: a Novel by Ginny L. Yttrup from B&H Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are solely mine and written only for this review.
     Many people struggle with their self-image. They search near and far for their identity, which hopefully they realize is not a visible, tangible value they can attain on their own, but rather their identity is in the Invisible. Ginny L. Yttrup does a superior job writing characters that capture many personalities and character qualities that really spread across the gamut of diversity. The struggles faced in Invisible are all to familiar and common that almost any reader could relate to something, seeing something of themselves in the three ladies.
     These three at first glance lack any tie of commonality. However, as the story progresses these women all see the good in others, but condemn themselves for the issues at hand. Ellyn, a middle-aged, attractive woman who happens to be a chef, has a heart of gold. People go to her restaurant not only for the warmth of a good meal, but also for the warmth Ellyn exudes. The biggest issue for her is she doesn't value herself as good enough to be loved by a man. She blames her weight problem for feeling shame, but her lack of self-esteem runs deep to her core.
     As does the anorexic struggle of sweet, young-with-an-old-soul Twila. The daughter of a health food store owner, Twila has always known how to eat properly. However, as she can't control who loves her, she finds solace in controlling her weight to the extreme. She meets Ellyn after treatment and together they assist the other's healing process.
     Outsider of Mendocino, Sabina, a counselor on sabbatical, rents a home for a year to hide from life. After what she deems a failure at her practice Sabina can't seem to move forward and blames herself for another's pain. The worst part is she has lost her faith in God and does not look anywhere for help, but inward. Thanks to quick friends whose loyalty runs deep Sabina finds that she doesn't heal anyone, but works has a divine instrument. As these women fellowship more with one another they help each another see themselves as God sees them.
     Yttrup develops the characters in a seemingly, natural manner. I began to wonder how she was going to carry the storyline for almost 330 pages. She does so seamlessly. The characters are multi-faceted and engaging. Each chapter is written in the first-person of the individual characters. I had a rather clear perception of the characters by the end. Their actions and thought processes were well integrated. My heart ached for these women. Yttrup possesses a sensitivity to the spiritual demonstrated by the power of her words that stir spirit and mind alike. Mendocino's streets became real. The salty sea air hung about while the cypress canopies shaded the day.
     The author does a wonderful job getting into the heads of these characters with modern-day issues. Invisible spoke to me on many levels, as I have battled self-esteem, body-image issues since I was 13. I struggled until my 30s to see myself as God sees me, made in His image. My heart yearned for these characters to have the breakthrough that took me so long to accept and live by.  Ellyn suffers from fibromyalgia, which I know the pains of all too well. Each lady in Invisible can validate something of one's struggles as they read. I hope and pray that such a work as this will open the eyes of readers, so the Invisible becomes visible. Imago Dei!


Book Review: Finding Hope in Despair

Handlebar Publishing in conjunction with Zondervan provided a complimentary book, North of Hope: A Daughter's Arctic Journey, in exchange for an honest review.
     Grief of any kind can lead us down a path of uncertainty. We look for the why, the purpose in the face of such loss. But, when tragedy strikes and the loss is compounded everything we hold dear to mixes into a matrix of confusion. Death stops us in our tracks. How does one stare grief down with courage and begin to live again? Where does hope intersect grief?
     Author Shannon Huffman Polson answered that call to search for answers and courageously shares her journey when her life seemed to shatter. In June 2005 Polson received a phone call shaking to her core: her dad, Richard, and stepmother, Kathy, had been killed by a grizzly bear as they camped along the Hulahula River. Raised in Alaska Polson understood nature's dichotomy of its inherent beauty and wild nature. However, she never fathomed the brutality the arctic landscape could claim.
      The loss of her beloved parents leads Polson to embark on the same journey down the Hulahula that stole her family one year later. Through adventure, beauty and sadness she finds life amongst her tears and questions.  There are some answers that will never be known, but other questions were answered in ways she didn't expect. It would be an understatement to say this was a trip of a lifetime. Many never have to face such harrowing circumstances.
    Any reader would be blessed to steal a glimpse of this woman's experience. I was completely mesmerized with Polson's beautiful eloquence. She is a master at her craft to overlay elegance on top of wild grief. Yet, the harshness of the Arctic is tangible. Her heartache bores into the reader. There has never been an author I have admired more in a memoir. The author lends words to the heart that are often difficult to put words to.
     Even if grief isn't rending your heart, North of Hope will capture yours in a beat. This memoir will engage your emotions that many books simply cannot do. It can encourage the grief-stricken to look forward and up at the horizon and see hope is there. Rainbows will be seen in the storms. Hope is what will walk you through the valley. Polson captures much of the human experience in 252 pages. I found bits of myself reflected throughout. It is validating to share in someone's journey and come to understand something more of myself. I cannot recommend North of Hope enough, nor capture its soul in a review. It is beautiful book of the heart.

Check out Shannon's website here.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Review: Learn How to Defend Yourself

     Chosen Books provided a complimentary copy of Larry Richards' The Full Armor of God: Defending Your Life from Satan's Schemes in exchange for an honest review. There is spiritual warfare that takes place beyond our perception. This isn't the fairytale warfare where happily ever-after exists just beyond the bend in the road. It is real and merciless. The author walks the reader through the Apostle Paul's Book of Ephesians that lays out the "armor of God." Richards breaks down the verses, as well as the historical context that lends credence and weight to the plan. When one understands the military use that was familiar under Roman-controlled land two millennia ago the equipment becomes more meaningful.
     The Full Armor of God explains the spiritual forces in this world that want to distract Christians everywhere from leading a righteous, Kingdom-focused life. He then explores the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, the sandals of peace, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth and the sword of the spirit. Satan's schemes are investigated and subsequently, the equipment best used to defend one's self. The truth that stands in direct opposition to the schemes are affirmed.
     Every time I pick up a book on spiritual warfare I do so with caution for a couple of reasons. The first being that if God's Word is being used to lead me to righteousness I can almost be certain that attacks will come. We're not speaking of demon-possession, but of Satan's lies, self-doubt, sin, obstacles and/or a distorted path in my walk. Secondly, I believe the deceiver will use such debated topics to lead believers astray from God's truth. The Full Armor of God is a godly volume with a reverence for the Almighty. Richards wisely relies on Ephesians' wisdom and not his own to encourage believers.
     Some information is repeated throughout, which I ultimately learned to appreciate. It was nice to see the Greek word being used explained again, so I didn't have to look back in reference. The form that was used for each part of the book was a great help to make it simple and clean. I know The Full Armor of God will be used for future reference. There is a great little small-group study in the back along with an appendix on Christian counseling in conjunction with the lessons learned throughout the book.
     I would not advise this book to be used by a new believer unless a mature believer was walking along side them. Mature Christians will be greatly encouraged and hopefully, will learn to defend themselves, as well as gaining information to pass on to others. God had given us the resources to protect ourselves from Satan's attacks. We just need to heed the advice and wisdom of the Word to make use of the spiritual weapons. I commend Larry Richards for standing for God's Truth and writing well on this hot topic. May The Full Armor of God protect you.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Heard in the Silence

     Sometimes when I intentionally seek God, I find Him to be silent. Well, or so I thought. In Matthew 7:8 I find encouragement. "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." I went and sat beneath the glistening sky waiting to hear something, anything. I simply wanted validation that I was where I was suppose to be, doing what I needed to. I wanted to hear the Lord's voice, thunderous and booming. Instead, I perceived dark silence. God couldn't possibly be giving me the cold shoulder, could He? So, I sat gazing at His glory. Psalm 19:1, "The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork." His glory was speaking, I just wasn't listening closely or paying attention.
     The day had worn on me and I was exhausted. There weren't any lightning bolt moments beheld as I looked up. The earth didn't shake. The trees hardly quivered. The day's warmth still hung on to a perfect night, further crowned by a bright and captivating moon. Slowly, yet ever surely, His presence was felt. His presence was heard in the faint tweets of distant birds, babies I suspect. God knew what I needed: rest, His rest. Psalm 37:7 invites us. "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him." The day's chaos and noise slowed with the setting of the sun. Now, I was enjoying the silence. The day drained from my body as the warmth of the Lord's love tenderly embraced me flowing into my veins.
     I wonder if I look for too much at times? Maybe, I want too much when much has already been given. It is all too easy to miss what is in front of us. Just as I watched Jupiter dip into the horizon gifts and blessings can slip out of view all too soon. Who knows, a shooting star could have soared across the denim sky while I was looking in the wrong direction.
     The blessings in life are ours if we open are hearts to receive them. When the world's cares take precedence it clouds our vision to an otherwise brilliant sky. He saw me through the day. Matthew 6:34 advises, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." God reminded me then He is always there, in the rush of day or the calm of night, He is there. It is up to us to ask, seek and knock for Him to answer, be found and open the door. Tomorrow as the sun rises and a new day emerges from the horizon we will find Him present, mighty and good, for He is Lord of all.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Many Lessons of Our Journey

     I look back on my family's homeschooling journey and am amazed at what the Lord has done. Although, our voyage is far from over, I have seen God's hand and work in our lives each day. It has been so rich in many aspects, educational and spiritual. Yet, I never would have foreseen what our journey has entailed. There has been a learning curve, steep at points and ever-surprising. I have learned a lot about God, myself, my children and our family. There are some lessons I wish I had been prepared for in advance. Whether, you are beginning your journey or are well-versed in homeschooling curricula and vocabulary, I do hope you draw encouragement.
     First of all, I made a mistake of not listening to God. Not that I was in direct disobedience, more of a sin of omission here, I simply did not seek Him for guidance when we first began to plan for the journey. We heeded His voice to begin, yet forgot He wanted to be a part of it all. John 4:23 reads,"The time is coming when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, and that time is here already. You see, the Father too is actively seeking such people to worship him." If everything we do when done in honor of the Father, including teaching our children, then we would be wise to take the time to discipline ourselves to have such a mindset, to keep Him in focus. The excitement and uncertainty of homeschooling took precedence of my thought process. Subsequently, I believe various aspects could have been a little smoother for God will never lead us astray.
      It is amazing and overwhelming to see the wide array of curricula offered for every possible subject. I chose our first year's curriculum out of sheer exhaustion. This is where His guidance was needed in our planning. By the sixth month, I realized the package I selected was not for us. My son was bored, I was panicking and supplementing for every subject. For this to-do-list-checking gal that simply led me to doubt. my choices and eventually, homeschooling. Finally, I woke up to my slumber and looked to God for more direction. It was one spiritual lesson that was humbling and freeing at the same time.
      Please, if you are the list-maker, box-checker, put down your pencils. Every box does not need to be marked. I learned that checking off lists isn't even close to being important. Expose your kids to as much as you feel they need. Sure it is great to have idea of the direction you want to head, but honestly, if you don't get there right when you want, or even if you never arrive to your anticipated destination, it is OKAY. I promise. God has something in store for you that is beyond your imagination and expectations.( Jeremiah 29:11) When we let go of those expectations it frees us to listen and discern His voice more clearly. Why fight the Expert?
      Let go of your expectations. It will be different than you plan, but God will fill in the gaps you find. 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  I found that we weren't early-risers, still aren't and have found that mid-morning beginnings are perfect for our family. I wanted homeschooling to look a certain way, not because I wanted those things, but because I thought that was the normal homeschooling thing to do. Little did I realize how much better things are when we work with our own dispositions and leanings. It really was trying to jam a square box into a very small circle. It simply didn't work!
      Flexibility. I can say without a doubt I am a lot more flexible now than I was a few years ago. As much as I want to influence my children for the Lord every day, He has that exact same thought for us parents. God will use every circumstance to shape us into the men and women we were created to be. One way or another God will find a way to sanctify us. By the way, flexibility here is vital. The learning curve isn't as steep if you are willing to bend.
     Keep your focus on Him. Don't look over your shoulder at other moms and their kids. It is not about trying to make your child a prodigy. It is about honoring God and showing our children His way. (Prov. 22:6) Exposing them at an early age to the world around them is one of the greatest gifts and learning tools we can show them. Life is not lived in a text book, but by the Book. The world is our greatest classroom. (Ps. 19:1) You may find your child thrives in some environments and not others. As we teach our children, we must study our children. What are their strengths? Hone in on those. What are their weaknesses? Acknowledge those, work with them, but never dwell on the negative.
     Leave some wiggle room in there. Even when having margin doesn't suffice, grace can be a welcomed gift. Grace is necessary every step of the way. God provides us with grace, which happens daily. It is a wonderful lesson to allow your child to see you live by His grace, in need of His grace. Equally important, our children need grace. Every day can be a divinely-appointed lesson in grace and love.
      The great illumination came when God showed us that our journey was going to be as different and unique as we are as a family. My journey is not your journey. Your journey is not mine. And that is glorious. Wherever God leads us is where we are meant to be. Sometimes doubt may creep in, questions will linger as the trials come, but God is working in your life perfectly. (Rom. 8:28) Trust in the Almighty. Homeschooling is a process. It's organic in nature and is never pre-packaged.  Philippians 1:6 encourages, "...being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." Each child is different, as is each mother and family and ultimately, your homeschooling journey. Remember most of all to enjoy your travels. The memories made and lessons learned will be priceless.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Book Review: A Lively Discussion

     BookSneeze on behalf of Thomas Nelson provided a complimentary copy of God's Not Dead in exchange for an honest review.
     Peter 3:15 exhorts believers to, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have..." Rice Broocks' book, God's Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty will help believers stand firm in their faith at the barrage of assaults from the world at large and specifically, atheists, encountered. He dissects many arguments that atheists adamantly believe and gives proof to the contrary pointing to the handiwork of the Creator. The first few tenets of faith he backs are more of a scientific viewpoint, such as creation and the ever-precise workings of the universe. Subsequently, Broocks moves onto other topics in a more a historical and philosophical context, including the Resurrection and grace. Yet, they are all done with such clarity and ease that many will profit from reading this work.
    It's not my faith was weak, but I feel a lot more prepared to discuss such topics with unbelievers now than I did. The scientific debates were particularly illuminating. Such fine-tuning is seen through Creation that Broocks easily provides a defense that indicates a creator that stands up to mere, feeble chance. Some chapters I was familiar with the topics, while others were novel and unfamiliar. Yet, I never felt lost in the chapter. The latter chapters were more easily readable as I was more comfortable with the material. So, whether you lean more towards science, philosophy or history there will be many chapters that will pique your interest.
    The current division in society over theological debates is frigid at best, as many are ridiculed into retreating from any discussion of depth. Believers have hope that others are seeking. Others have questions they want answers to. This work can assist us to live up to Peter's exhortation and ready ourselves with answers. Why is there evil? Why are we here? How can we help others to see God's glory? God's Not Dead is a book that can be read for leisure or studied for a more comprehensive understanding. Either way, it will help the believer strengthen their faith and their willingness to lead others to Christ. If nothing else, after reading this book, I pray you see God is well and very much alive.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book Review: A Resounding YES

     WaterBrook Press recently furnished a complimentary copy of The Gospel of Yes in exchange for an honest review. Who are you? Where does your identity lie? And why are you here? The great philosophical questions of every age are looked at once again, but in a biblical manner. Author Mike Glenn, senior pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church, affirms what God has in store for the reader. Although the world has told us "no," since the Fall, God continuously offers a positive, restorative "yes." Beginning with Creation God has wanted to walk with us and us with Him. But, as sin took hold and tries to ever suppress God's work, God's mandates and laws sometimes look as if they are here to oppress us in the eyes of some. The world distorts and twists God's beauty and truth.
     Glenn journeys through Christ's path and mission on earth and explicitly lays out the freedoms found within. The Gospel of Yes when read is like peeling an onion. As he shows the redemption and reconciliation we have in Christ to God's original design slowly you get to the core, the soul of our being and see its true essence. The world has been sloughed off and you are free to be in His will. You are free to be loved and to love. You will see what a wonderful piece of God's workmanship you are and that realization can enable you to serve God for His glory alone. What an honor it is.
     Our mission is a part of Christ's mission of restoration. God wants us to affirm His "yes" for us. Every believer has been gifted to be a working member of His church and bring the Kingdom to earth. So often the world, be it holding onto anger, fear or laws that inhibit, stop us from following the divine path He wants for us. Glenn doesn't hand you a manual, but a path to ponder.
     I was enamored with Glenn's passion for the work of Christ. Whether you are a new believer or a rather seasoned one, The Gospel of Yes, is a lovely encounter with Jesus. Glenn brings a freshness to his writing that wrapped me up into his line of thinking. In fact, I enjoyed the book on the whole to the point I was disappointed to set it down.
     The Gospel of Yes is one of those volumes that ultimately will be a different experience for all who read as every reader is uniquely created. In 209 pages Glenn will lead you into the unknown. For the outcome of your journey just might surprise you. May you answer God's call with a resounding YES!