Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: Cherish by Gary Thomas

Twenty-two years. Almost twenty-three. Three homes, nine children, one grandson later and we're still committed to each other. We've weathered career changes, parenting, illnesses, caregiving, and the death of parents. We are committed, but our marriage could certainly use refreshing. We're in the midst of potty training and homeschooling, while also planning graduations, driving lessons, college applications, bridal showers, and summer weddings. Life is perpetually busy and our marriage often ends up neglected.

I know we aren't alone in this struggle. Every couple faces the challenge of maintaining a strong and loving relationship despite busy schedules. The answer doesn't necessarily lie in weekly date nights or counseling sessions. It lies in learning to not only love your spouse, but cherish them. (Yes, it goes both directions.)

Gary Thomas helps couples understand how to truly cherish each other and live that out in his book, Cherish. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of cherishing our spouse, as well as giving real-world examples from couples he knows, including his own marriage. What does cherishing look like? Not comparing your spouse to others, listening with your eyes and ears, speaking gentle words of love and appreciation, supporting your spouse so they can shine.

Nothing that I read in Cherish was exactly new to me. I know this is how God desires that we treat our spouse, but it's so easy to forget, to become lazy or selfish, and to take our spouse for granted. I needed this reminder to love my husband with a Christ-like love and to help him feel cherished. I can love him, respect him and be thankful for him, but if I don't express that to him, he won't feel cherished.

Whether you've been married a few short months, or nearly twenty-three years, you can benefit from reading Cherish and applying it to your marriage. It's never too early or too late to begin to cherish your spouse.

April E.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: Welcome to College by Jonathan Morrow

 I've sent two daughters off to college, and my third daughter starts college this Fall. She'll be attending the local community college, and we've talked about how she can find Christian friends at college. What if her roommates have different values and lifestyles than hers? In other words, how will she live out her Christian faith in a secular environment?

Welcome To College: A Christ-Follower's Guide For the Journey, by Jonathan Morrow, was recently updated and re-released. Its re-release couldn't be more timely for my daughter. This book has 43 topical chapters that begin with quotes and applicable Scripture, a few pages that discuss the topic, and end with a bullet-point synopsis and a list of further resources.

Jonathan Morrow tackles difficult subjects: the existence of God, whether or not all roads lead to God, evil and suffering, evolution vs. Intelligent Design, sexuality, and death. He also discusses the practical topics of money, gender roles, dating, health, schoolwork, and how to study the Bible. All of his advice is Biblical and encouraging, pointing our young adults back to God and a Biblical worldview.
The appendices include a Bible reading plan for your first semester of college, the pros and cons of Christian colleges and secular colleges, resources for learning more about philosophy, and discussion questions for each chapter. The discussion questions make it simple to read the book in a study group with other college students or high school seniors preparing for college. 

Welcome to College is helpful for all young adults launching into the world, not just for those heading to college. I like that each chapter is short. If a young adult tackles one chapter a week, they'll finish the book in less than a year. If they read the chapters out of order, as questions arise, they have manageable chunks of information that are easily located, relevant, Biblical, and helpful.
I'm thankful for this resource for my graduate. I would have appreciated it when I was graduating and entering the world on my own.

April E.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Book Review: Different by Sally and Nathan Clarkson

Sometimes we struggle as parents. We have a child we just can't figure out. We arrive at the end of each day simply exhausted from managing that child's needs while still caring for other children. We don't know what is going on, but we know that this child is different, and we just don't know how to parent them. Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him is the story of another family following God through difficulties and diagnoses.
I have always looked up to Sally Clarkson. I've read all her books. I knew that her youngest daughter had severe asthma as a young child, but I didn't know that her youngest son struggled with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, learning disabilities, and a series of other disorders with letter labels. I didn't know how hard her journey was, and I admit there were times I whispered to myself that she just didn't understand how hard it was for those of us who didn't have such perfect children. I was wrong. Sally and her son Nathan have been through more than I have with any of my children.

I've been working my way through Different slowly, just savoring the encouragement Sally and Nathan give while they share their journey openly in this book. Each chapter has a section written by Nathan, and a section written by Sally. It is their shared journey, each telling the story from their own perspectives.

My copy of this book is battered from being toted around in the car, and it even suffered an unfortunate water incident. Although I don't have any children with as many challenges as Nathan faces, I do have children who walk to their own beat. Whether they just don't learn the same way their siblings did, or they struggle with anxiety and struggle to maintain emotional control, they're different.

I often feel like I'm just not capable, knowledgeable, strong enough or calm enough to successfully parent the nine children God has given me. Sally's (and Nathan's words) were just so uplifting. God has put each of these children into our family for a purpose, He has a plan for each of them, and He will equip me to raise them, and them to succeed.

The main things I took away from this book are to pray for and with your child, to pour out life-giving words of blessing and encouragement on your child, and to focus on their hearts. Look at their hearts, their motives, and their hopes - not just the immediate actions of that day. Know your children, and believe God has a unique plan for them. Tell them that!! Point them back to God regularly.

If you're struggling to understand a child who God has created to be either very different from you, different from your other children, or different from most people around you - this book is full of encouragement and hope. No, it doesn't have a cure. It's not about that. It's about working with your child to develop the gifts God has given them, and to believe that their differences are good. I highly recommend Different! This battered copy has earned its place on my shelf, right next to Sally's other mothering books.

April E.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: Laura Story's Open Hands Album

#OpenHands #FlyBy
Laura Story's music inspires and comforts. We hear it on the radio, and sing it in church services. Her new album, Open Hands, is no different.

We were already fans of Laura Story's contemporary Christian music style, and my family has been enjoying this latest album. Each of her songs speaks of the rich depths of a relationship with Christ, and His Steadfast Love. Open Hands describes the continual act of surrendering our life and dreams to God's will. Every Word You Breathe is a reminder to seek God's voice, to listen and cling to His Word each day.

I love how she works classic hymns into For the Love of my King and Awake My Soul. She keeps the hymn portion classic, inserting her modern verses between the hymn. It flows together so well. As a mother, my heart resonates with Give You Faith, a prayer that our children will have their own faith in God and a relationship with Him.

The entire Open Hands album is beautiful, uplifting, and so easy to listen to. If you're already familiar with Laura Story's music, you will want this CD. If the video I shared was the first time you'd heard her sing, and you enjoyed it, you'll love the rest of the album, as well. We're loving it! Now that I've had it to myself for a week, my daughter is raising her hand for her turn.

Stay up-to-date on Laura Story's music by following her on social media:

April E.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Review: Tightropes and Teeter-Totters by Lisa Pennington

Tightropes and Teeter-Totters: Finding Balance in the Ups and Downs of Life.
Balance. In an attempt to find balance in my own life, I'd decided to review less books, take on fewer outside commitments, and try to bring my focus back to my cluttered home and busy family. But then I saw that book, written by a fellow homeschool mom of 9, and knew I had to take on just one more book review. Because ... maybe Lisa Pennington had found the secret to balance in the hectic life of parenting and homeschooling a large family.

I wasn't prepared for the ouch that accompanied some of Lisa's chapters. She writes truthfully, like the good friend who will tell you something negative that you need to hear, but softens it with a hug and genuine encouragement.

Lisa has developed an acronym from the word Balance that she uses to address many aspects of a woman's life: her home, her marriage, her children, her job, her ministry, and her friendships. Using these steps to examine each area that is out of balance, she provides a framework for getting life back in balance. I desperately need to get several areas of my life back in balance, and it's so helpful to have a game plan laid out.

Yes, if you read Tightropes and Teeter-Totters, you might say ouch a time or two. But you will also be encouraged to re-prioritize, take steps to change, and to persevere.

Learn more about Lisa Pennington and purchase a copy.

April E.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: NIV Journal the Word Bible by Zondervan

I didn't really need another Bible, but I couldn't resist the beautiful botanical print on this cloth-covered hardcover Bible. It's so pretty and well-made. If botanical print isn't your preference, it is also available in other covers. Mostly, I am extremely thankful for the lightly-lined margins which give me so much room for taking notes in church or adding my own thoughts on Bible passages.

The NIV Journal the Word Bible doesn't have any other special features. There are no maps, no commentary, no glossary or concordance. It's simply the Scripture and some small footnotes at the bottom of each page. This allows the Bible to remain reasonably sized, despite the extra space allotted for note-taking. The hardcover Bible measures approximately 8 inches by 6.5 inches, and is 1.5 inches thick. It's still perfectly sized for carrying with you to church.

The Scripture text is printed in a single column rather than the usual double-columns per page. I know the purpose was actually to make room for the note-taking section, but I like this format much better.  It reads more like a normal book this way, rather than going down each page twice before switching pages.

Although I enjoy art, I have found it hard to try to create art in my Bible. Personally, I want the ability to erase and try again that this paper quality doesn't really allow. I also never want my artwork to make the Scripture itself unreadable. So, I can't really attest to how well this particular Bible would work for the art-journaling trend.

I can however tell you that if you always find yourself taking prolific notes on the pastor's sermon or writing notes, dates, thoughts in the margins of your Bible, the NIV Journal The Word Bible is perfect! There is plenty of room for word definitions, sermon notes, and more. You'll be able to look back on lessons learned over the years, and leave a legacy for your children in this beautiful Bible filled with your handwritten notes. A beautiful legacy!

April E.

Book Review: The Kill Fee by Fiona Veitch Smith

A photo posted by April E (@elcloudapril) on

Who can resist a book that mixes a female reporter sleuth, the roaring twenties, and the Russian Revolution? Not me.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Kill Fee. Not knowing the identity of the man in the bear skin coat, but following his actions, kept me intrigued. As the mystery unfolded, I found myself not too surprised by his identity, but definitely surprised by twists the story took with other characters. I stayed up late three different nights reading this book. By the third night, I was completely drawn into the mystery and finished more than half the book in one night. One very late night.

Although I enjoy Poppy Denby as a character, I'm not as invested in her romance with Daniel as I thought I would be. Throughout The Kill Fee, she is worrying that Daniel might expect her to give up her career to care for his children. That actually kind of bothered me, and almost made me feel like the story would be better without any potential romance for her. The romance felt like an add-on to this story, anyway. The book could have rolled along satisfactorily without it.

The Kill Fee is a good read; an intriguing, cozy mystery for reading under a warm blanket in these long winter months!

April E.