Category: Book Reviews

The Songs that Shape Us

Day 15 of #write31 days: Songs that Shape Us

 

When I was younger, I could never quite say I was looking forward to heaven. Somewhere along the way, I learned that in heaven, we were going to sing to God all day.

Ugh.

When I sing too much my jaw starts hurting. I yawn a lot. And if the music is not theologically flawless (to me), my mind automatically begins deconstructing the words of the song and trying to figure out what about it rubs me the wrong way.

Ironically, good music with carefully thought out lyrics speak to my soul more deeply than any sermon ever could. In fact, rich music has been what has encouraged me through some of the most difficult seasons of my adult life.  (more…)

Review: Wild in the Hollow

A review of Wild in the Hollow from Learning to Love

Wild in the Hollow is a story of Amber C. Haines’ life and how she finally found home– not a place for her body to reside, but a home for her soul.

Amber shares stories of struggle and of laughter. She lets readers into her broken places, and also shares of amazing places of God’s goodness showing up in her as well as through other places. We hear about how community went wrong, and how it it went very, very right. (more…)

Review: Paper Good Projects- a super make-it book

Repurposing stuff is kind of our thing around here.

I’m not talking about sanding and repainting an old dresser and making it into a brightly covered kitchen china cabinet. That’d be awesome, but it’s not really in our skill set.

I’m talking about turning cardboard into an awesome set of shelves, a chair, and a house for grasshoppers. We use old rootbeer bottles for our airtank on the back of astronaut suits. We make monsters out of paper bags. Our fun crafts aren’t really made to pass the test of time, but we do it because it’s fun and creative.

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Paper Good Projects is a craft book with the ordinary materials in mind. Jodi Levine (on staff at Martha Stewart) uses a few ordinary supplies to make a wide array of crafts. Paper towel tubes, coffee filters, balloons and paper bags turn into cake toppers, masks, villages, dollhouse decorations and centerpieces.

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Review: For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards

I first received my Jen Hatmaker Fan Club card back in October of 2012 when a few friends and I started a book club, because that’s what SAHMs do to get out of putting the kids to bed duty and eat food without anyone asking us if they can have some discuss interesting topics. Our first book was Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.

We were inspired. We were inspired to get rid of stuff and trim the excess from our lives. Perhaps more importantly, we were inspired to eat chips and salsa together more often, because that’s what Jen’s friends did (seemingly every day), and it sounded simply splendid.

Jen has a new book out now. If you haven’t heard of it you probably are not an evangelical Christian woman over the age of 30 and below the age of 50.

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For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, is a collection of funny essays about serious issues. Like tights-as-leggings, parenting quirks, advertising, community, poverty tourism and hope for spicy families. In her classic Jen way, she approaches issues that matter in a way that makes people laugh while also making them think twice.

I think my favorite chapter this read through is Jesus Kids. As my kids grow older (they are still so young, but 7 is way different than 3, let me tell you), I grow more confident in my belief that I can’t control them. They are going to choose how they act and what they say and what they allow themselves to think. I believe my job is to provide the boundaries, to teach them about right and wrong and all the grey in between, to provide lots of space to listen and talk and laugh and listen some more, and to point them to Jesus. Or as Jen says,

“The best we can do is give them Jesus. Not rules, not behaviors, not entertainment, not shame. I have no confidence in myself but every confidence in Jesus….Jesus is the only thing that will endure. He trumps parenting techniques, church culture, tight boundaries, and best-laid plans. Jesus can lead our children long after they’ve left our homes.”

My only teensy disappointment with this book is that not all of the content is new. The chapter entitled Hope for Spicy Families is basically this blog post without the cute pics of her kids.  The chapter on running the race sound a lot like this post. And then there’s the quirky chapter. Perhaps this is no big deal to many fans (and certainly not to new fans!). It probably only reveals that I’ve read all of the blog posts Jen’s ever written and for some reason they stick in my head like Daniel Tiger songs (“a friend just wants to play with you…” you’re welcome).

If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, run to your library and put it on request (warning: you’re probably going to be waiting for a long time), or buy it over on amazon.

 

 

 

Review: Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World

When Ada was born, we gave her a middle name that is a bit unusual. She is only recently enjoying it.

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Nouwen.

We named her after Henri Nouwen, a man who, through his writings, has deeply influenced Jake and I’s spiritual journey. The first book we read by Nouwen was Compassion, which is about our call as Christ-followers to be compassionate (suffering with), instead of seeking to gain more power and more control over both our own lives as well as others.

Of course, it’s not enough to just talk the talk, but to also live it out in real life. In another of his books, In the Name of Jesus, he shared a little bit about how he lived out compassion when he moved from working in Ivy League schools to serving those in the L’Arche community, a community for people with intellectual disabilities. He spent the last 10 or so years of his life living and serving in this community.

It seems weird, doesn’t it? A brilliant man decides the next best thing was to live and serve those whom our society pretends doesn’t exist. How’s that for a smart career move?

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Review: Called for Life- How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic

I remember when the Ebola outbreak began. I’d visit CNN daily to learn about the updates on the situation, as well as any news about Americans catching this awful, awful disease. I remember hearing about Kent Brantly, the American doctor who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia– how he was flown to the United States for treatment- and how scared some people were. I didn’t quite understand the fear at the time because I didnt really quite understand the disease. It wasn’t until we had a scare here in Madison that I understood why people might feel nervous about a person in their city having Ebola. For a few days the city awaited the test results of a person suspected to have Ebola in a nearby hospital. At the time Jake was using public transportation everyday, and we talked about what we’d do if Madison experienced an outbreak (which, in case you want to know, was to go to one of our hometowns to ride it out in the rural countryside ;)). We let out a collective sigh upon hearing the test was negative.

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Perhaps my mild obsession with this worldwide event made this book, Called for Life, an I-can’t-put-this-down-even-to-eat-or-sleep kind of book. Written by Kent and Amber Brantly themselves, it’s a riveting story of how this couple ended up in Liberia, their experience while they were there, and also what battling this awful disease looked like.

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Review: Keep Your Love On

Jake and I aren’t really marriage book kind of people.

It’s not because we don’t need them (I’m sure we do).

It’s not because we don’t value our relationship (it’s an incredibly important priority).

It’s mostly because we don’t find marriage books to be very… well, interesting, and also because they tend to be fairly predictable. I’ve read a couple since we’ve been married, mostly during the first year and what I’ve found is that they generally have more of a role of cheerleader than provide sizable amounts of new information.

I received an email a few weeks ago about reviewing Keep Your Love On: Connection, Communication & Boundaries by Danny Silk, leader at Bethel Church in Redding, CA. At first I was going to say no, because, well, I was reading Harry Potter, and we’ve already established how I generally feel about marriage books.

But then I said yes.

Maybe because I hadn’t read a marriage book in a while. Maybe because this book had been out for only a month and it had a crazy number of amazon reviews. As I’m writing this, it already has 493 reviews on amazon, 93% of them being five stars. This impresses me. It’s not easy to get that many amazon reviews so quickly. So I gave it a chance.

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Keep Your Love On! is a book that focuses solely on keeping the relational connection between the husband and wife strong. And while each person has a indispensable role, this book focuses on what the reader can do, despite how the other person responds or doesn’t respond. Danny helps the reader understand what keeps the connection strong, and also what weakens the connection.

Connection

Every relationship has one of two goals: connection or disconnection.

In relationships, we choose to behave and speak in ways that foster connection, or in ways that distance ourselves from others. Most of the time we don’t realize what we’re choosing. Sometimes, well, a lot of times, we do what we’ve learned. How our parents treated or didn’t treat one another is a huge influence in how we’ll react towards our spouses. Danny shares some helpful stories and walks us through some important questions to help us understand how all of that plays out in our lives. One of the key points throughout this section is we can only control ourselves. How we respond to our spouse is of utmost importance in our connection.

Communication

Danny opens up this section by explaining the 3 styles of communication: passive communication, aggressive communication and passive-aggressive communication. Knowing how you communicate is the key to learning to communicate better, with a focus on keeping the connection between husband and wife strong. He then builds from there, discussing how to have an effective conversation, what the goals are, what needs to be in place for both parties to feel understood and also to “keep the love on” during all of it.

This section was full of really insightful pieces of information that I somehow didn’t ever learn or perhaps learned and then forgot. Jake and I don’t do disagreements well. We both are so hard-headed and sometimes choose the desire to be right and “win” the conversation over the common good of the relationship. Some of you are laughing. Big shocker, I know ;).

One concrete thing I’m taking from this section is being applied to all my relationships, including my kids. Say what you need. And ask others what they need. My kids are totally passive, which probably reflects my passiveness at times. I would rather hint at what I need “Wow, I’m tired.” instead of “Jake, do you mind if I take the next 30 minutes off to read in a quiet place?”. Or, one of the kids will say, “I guess I’m just going to have to walk around like this all day (with her pajama dress stuck on top of her head).” and I’ve been a broken record saying, “Can you please tell me what you need?” instead of just helping her take it off. It sounds little, but I think it’s important to realize that I can’t read their minds, and that they can’t read mine, so it’s better for all of us if we’re explicit with our needs. I feel like this would probably solve half of the world’s problems. 🙂

Boundaries

Finally, Danny finishes up with a section on boundaries- basically choosing who you share what level of intimate information with as well as with who you spend how much time.

Overall, good book! Easy read, not too fast, no fluff. My only dislike about the book is the underlying goal of the reader to become a “powerful person” by choosing to be and do various things throughout the book.  I think he is using it in a “powerful in self-control” way, but the whole power metaphor sits wrong with me.

Anyway, If anything else, this title is a fantastic one to throw out there when you and your spouse are in a little tiff. Just look at them, smile warmly and say, “Hey baby, let’s keep our love on.” 🙂

Review: Searching for Sunday

I’ve been reading Rachel’s blog from the early days. I mean, probably not the EARLY early days, but as soon as her first book came out, I was subscribing. I mostly started subscribing because I was then friends with a guy who was friends with her in college, and he insisted on how great she was. Okay, I’m in.

I think her blog’s content has really evolved from when I first began reading. The topics got a bit weightier, she became more vocal in what she was for and what she was against. I know from personal conversations that some of you really enjoy her blog, and others of you really don’t. I think that’s fair. Either way. This book.

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Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church interweaves Rachel’s navigation of church life through the lens of the sacraments: baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage. In some ways I felt like I was reading two separate books: one about her relationship with the local church and one about the relationship of the local church and the sacraments.

Rachel shares her story of how her relationship to the body of Christ changed as she went through a faith shift. What was once fantastic now annoyed her. What was once secure now unsettled her. Growing up in a fundamentalist church, Rachel began to push back, ask questions, and eventually realized that the faith of her childhood was no longer the faith that she could own anymore.

I thought this passage was hilarious, because THIS IS MY MIND. I’ve been getting a lot better about trying to tame it, but it will rear it’s ugly head if I let it:

On Sunday mornings, my doubt came to church like a third member of the family, toddling along behind me with clenched fists and disheveled hair, throwing wild tantrums after each offhanded political joke or casual reference to hell…

‘America is a Christian nation,’ said the man making the announcements.

Is it?

‘Those who do not know Christ will be separated from God for eternity in hill,’ said Pastor Doug.

Will they?

‘If the Bible is the inspired Word of God then we must accept this as historic fact.’

Must we?

‘God has called us to pave the parking lot.’

Has he?

But.

She also shares about how she’s grown. How her faith has become deeper, richer, and also more speckled with doubt.

This book is more than a memoir. It’s also a book about the Sacraments, and how these elements of our faith calls us to a deep, rich, holy relationship with Christ. I learned quite a bit in these pages.

I’ve read (and liked) all of Rachel’s books, and this is by far the most maturely written, both as a Christ-follower and as a writer. She shows her deep appreciation for the church that raised her and introduced her to Jesus. She also shows a deep appreciation for the variety of local churches who are doing things differently, experimenting with different ways of connecting with God in a way that makes sense to them. It’s a unifying type of book.

I think Rachel has an important perspective for all of us to listen to, whether we agree with it or not.

 

Thanks to Booklook Bloggers for the free book in exchange for an honest review! 

Cookbook Review: Cookie Love

Cookies are my absolute favorite thing to bake.

I can’t remember what age I began baking, but it was pretty early in life. My dad loves cookies, and I love my dad, so I would bake him cookies often enough to keep the cookie jar full. I started out by following recipes, and little by little, I would exchange this ingredient for that, and add a little bit of this to see what happened.

While I love making the classic cookies, I also enjoy cookies that are interesting, mostly ones that have an atypical combination of ordinary ingredients. Especially if they involve chocolate.

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Cookie Love by Mindy Segal is a cookbook all about cookies- drop cookies, shortbreads, sandwich cookies, egg white cookies, twice-baked cookies, bars- they are all in there! Not only does she include recipes, but she gives away some of her tricks, hints, and tool recommendations to producing perfectly delicious cookies.

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Delish

All of the cookies she makes in this book are gorgeous and interesting. Lemon Goat-Butter Tea Cakes, Graham Cracker and Passion Fruit Whoopie Cookies, and Smokey Bacon Candy Bar Cookies (oh yes, she went there!) are just a few of the cookies that I thought looked delicious!

Being a more common-ingredient kind of girl, I found that most of the recipes included items that I hadn’t really heard of (muscovado sugar, bacon-chocolate candy bars, passion fruit puree, valrhona dulcey, smoked sugar), so I must admit that, while all of these cookies sound AMAZING, they aren’t really ones I’m interested in making at this point in my life. I have little desire to spend my days dragging 2 little ones around from store to store looking for mystery ingredients. 🙂

But, if you’re up for something new, love to bake, and have some time to explore the underworld of speciality grocery stores, then this is a fantastic cookbook for you!

Thanks to Blogging for Books for this complimentary cookbook in exchange for my honest review! 

 

When Your Child Asks Hard Questions about the Bible

Just the other day, the kids and I were eating dinner when the topic of the destination of the unevangelized came up. Of course, it didn’t come up in those words, but more like, “Mom, what happens to people who haven’t heard of God or Jesus before missionaries come to tell them God’s good news?”

If this topic hasn’t come up around your dinner table or while snuggled close to your kids at bedtime, then another one has. What happens to the baby that was miscarried? Why did the earthquake happen and kill so many people? Why does God allow people to do bad things to people because of the color of their skin? What will heaven be like?

As parents, we expect these questions to come, yet often feel the sense of surprise when they do. We have some general idea of how we answer the questions for ourselves, but when talking to our child about it, the ideas sometimes seem foggy, or the explanations “not enough”. We long for our child to have assurance of God’s great love for them, and also know that cutting off those questions, and that precious dialogue, may eventually be hurtful to their faith journey.

All that to be said, parenting is hard. Wading through tough questions about faith is hard. We need wise resources from people who have walked through it before us.

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One book that I’m reading through right now is called The Bible Story Handbook, written by Dr. John and Kim Walton. Married for many years and having raised three children themselves, John and Kim offer a theological sound, critical way at looking at the Scriptures that will allow us to teach our kids the intended messages of the Scriptures.

It’s tempting to read a passage of Scripture and then immediately figure out a way to connect it to our life. I mean, isn’t that what the Bible is for?

Well… maybe not exactly.

If a preacher or teacher is going to do a “leadership study”, you can pretty much guess what book of the Bible she or he is going to use… Nehemiah. But, the Waltons argue, leadership is not what Scripture is teaching in this passage. It’s not what the text is intending to teach, and “only the things that Scripture intends to teach carry the authority of the text.”

So, then, when we teach about Noah and the ark with all of the animals, what is the intended message of the Scriptures in that story? What do we teach our children about the story of Abraham? of David’s life? the creation of the world?

We are definitely good intentioned; at least I am. I want my children to find themselves in the Scriptures- to connect to them, to feel like the Bible is “applicable to their lives”. But all too often we pop the Scriptures of of their redemptive historical context only to make it into a nice packaged story with a good takeaway for our kids. The should be honest, obey, feed the poor,  be humble– things like that.

So if we’re not to just dive into the Scriptures to figure out how we should live, what should we do with them? The Waltons recommend first and foremost being careful to ask ourselves- what is the intended message of this passage of Scripture? What was the author trying to convey? Most of the time, it’s teaching about WHO GOD IS, not what we should do. They go on to say, “We want our students to be conformed to the image of Christ and their behavior to have been embraced as a way to imitate God. We accomplish this by helping them know God better, not by telling them that they should obey because Abraham obeyed.”

So, after this and much more (the introduction in itself is worth getting the book; I feel like I’m not really doing it justice), the Waltons go through the entire Bible and lay out lesson guidelines for parents or teachers to use when teaching on the various passages of Scriptures. They include:

  • a lesson focus
  • a lesson application
  • a short paragraph on the biblical context
  • interpretational issues in the story (this part is EXCELLENT. It will help with some of those tough questions that will come up if a child is thinking closely about the text)
  • Background information: Information about different parts of the story or words/images used that will help in gaining a fuller understanding of the message of the author
  • Mistakes to Avoid: a list of ways in which the passage of scripture is perhaps inaccurately taught to kids.

Another interesting thing that Waltons bring up is that it’s better to not teach your child a passage of Scripture than teach them the wrong thing about it. For example, one day their son came home from church and talked about how he learned about Cain and Abel in his class. Interested, they asked a few questions and learned that the lesson learned that day was “God created our bodies”. And while no one is going to argue that that is not a true statement, it’s not at all what the story of Cain and Abel teaches (acceptable and unacceptable sacrifices, murder of a brother, etc.). Most likely the teachers didn’t know how to teach this difficult passage to preschool children, so just tried to grasp at straws. There are passages of Scriptures that are inappropriate for young children to read. Skip them. Come back to them when they are older and you can teach them about it in an honest way.

Not only is this book helpful when teaching children, but it’s helpful to us as adults too. If we’ve grown up in the Church World, it can be hard to tease out the difference between what the Scripture says and what we may have been inaccurately taught about it.

Of course, as with any book, you read it and test it, but so far it appears to be an excellent resource. I HIGHLY recommend it to all parents!

 

Thanks to Crossway for a review ecopy of this book!!