Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Book Review: The Complicated Heart by Sarah Mae

Loving like Jesus did is hard when someone continually hurts you. Where do you draw the line of maintaining a relationship, offering grace, and setting boundaries that allow you to heal and move forward? The Complicated Heart is one woman's story of learning to love her alcoholic mother while also learning to be emotionally healthy. Sarah Mae repeatedly took her pain to Jesus and let Him bring peace and healing, while still reaching out to her mother.

Written in a journal format, alternating between Sarah's own memories and pages from her mother's journal, we see the hearts of two women, each broken by a parent's hurtful words and behavior, being drawn toward God. In her pain, Sarah Mae made choices that brought even more pain and shame to herself, but in the end, both women found redemption through God's grace.

I have to admit that it was hard to read her mother's journals written as prayers to God, knowing that at the time it was written she was an alcoholic who was verbally and emotionally abusive toward her daughter. But Sarah's own love and forgiveness for her mother helped me to see it as the plea of a hurting woman who was trying to ease her own pain and didn't know how to love others because of her pain. Sarah Mae helped me view her mother through Jesus' eyes and reminded me that God sees the hurt and the hearts of people, while we can only see their actions and the results of their choices.

I haven't had that complicated and painful relationship with a parent, but I still found lessons for myself within the book on how to forgive and be vulnerable and open. Sarah Mae's story is messy, and painful, as life often is, but it has been redeemed by Christ's love and she shares it so others can find hope for their own painful and messy relationships. I truly believe that anyone who struggles with the ugliness of their own past, or hurts they haven't faced, can learn something from this book. The Complicated Heart reminds us that no one's life is too ugly, too sinful, or too hurtful to be redeemed by Christ!

April E.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Review: Prayers for the Battlefield by Heidi St. John

Prayers for the Battlefield, Heidi St. John
Following on the heels of Becoming MomStrong, Heidi St. John has published a new book entitled Prayers for the Battlefield: Staying MomStrong in the Fight For Your Family and Faith. This little hardcover book is the perfect size to toss in your purse and read in those never-ending moments of waiting to pick your kids up at activities, on a lunch break, or any spare moment you have.

Prayers for the Battlefield is a mixture of a devotional book and a prayer guide. Each chapter is topical (i.e. A Prayer for the Mom Who Wants to Live Intentionally, A Prayer for the Worried Mom). The chapter begins with a Scripture passage, and then moves into a short, relatable lesson on the topic. A written prayer closes each chapter, as well as additional Scriptures you can read and add to your prayer arsenal.

I recommend beginning by reading Prayers for the Battlefield from start to finish, for lessons on prayer and motherhood. Once you've finished the book, you can return to topics as needed, by referring to the Table of Contents. You may not need to read the chapter each time you return to a topic, but you can use the accompanying Scriptures to pray Scripture for your family and yourself. This is how I plan to use this book now that I've finished reading it.

Heidi St. John speaks right to my heart. I have found myself re-reading chapters before moving forward, as well as high-lighting parts that were particularly poignant. Although Heidi St. John is a homeschool mom and her ministry began in the homeschool community, her MomStrong ministry is geared to all mothers. This book is no different. Prayers for the Battlefield will minister to moms of all ages and walks of life who feel a burden to pray for their families. Pick it up now for Mother's Day gifts, or just to encourage the mothers in your life.

April E.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Book Review - Beloved: 365 Devotions for Young Women

 Last year I reviewed Zondervan's devotional for young women, Adored. I loved it, and my twelve year old daughter has loved reading it this year, as well. So when I was offered the chance to review Beloved, I gladly said yes. These books are so well-written and generally well-made. Both books are hardcover books, about 5.25 x 7.5 inches in size. They're over an inch thick with colorful covers and page designs. Beloved includes a ribbon marker to mark your place in the book, which my daughter noticed right away and appreciates.

The devotions are short, each only a page long, but meaningful. They're not just fluff. They're not condescending, and they don't try to sound like teenagers talking. There is space to includes notes or a brief prayer of your own at the bottom of each page, though it's probably better to journal in a larger space than to try to respond in the inch or so of space provided in the book.

One thing I noticed as I was reading portions of Beloved, is that it starts in Genesis and moves forward! Other than a few readings from Psalms, Proverbs, and Hebrews, the book goes through the Bible in order. The majority of the devotions are actually from Old Testament passages, which is a nice change, since many books want to focus almost entirely on the New Testament.

We've been so impressed with these devotions, that we've bought copies to give to other young ladies we know and care about. These books can definitely help a young woman grow in her understanding of God's Word and her place in His Kingdom. I hope that Zondervan continues to produce these yearly devotional books for young women. I highly recommend them.

April E.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Book Review: The Lifegiving Parent by Clay & Sally Clarkson

I started reading this book months ago. I've tossed it into tote bags and carried it to ball games, on car trips, and read it at home before bed. Unfortunately, my reading time was usually interrupted and it has been a slow process. By the time I finished the book, it had somehow picked up a pen mark on the cover. Oops!

The majority of this book is written by Clay Clarkson. Each chapter is written from his viewpoint, with a wrap-up at the end by Sally Clarkson. To be honest, I missed reading Sally's warm tone through the chapters. That may be part of why the book took me longer to read. Or maybe it's just that life has grown increasingly busy as a mom and grandma.

In this book, Clay and Sally address many aspects of Christian parenting, and guidelines for leading our children into relationships with Christ. The book begins with their call to number our children's days (teaching them to have goals and a structure to their day.) They then address nurturing their spirits and guarding their hearts through careful limits on what they view, what they read, and how they spend their time. The next chapters deal with renewing your child's mind by continually leading them to Scripture, strengthening your child's faith by living an active faith before them, and shaping your child's will by helping them desire to obey God. The chapters on building your child's character and forming their imaginations talk about the interactions of daily life where we correct and discipline our children and guide their free-time choices.

Clay and Sally wrap up the book by talking about the importance of a parent's role in their child's life. We only have one life to give, and our greatest ministry is the one within our own home. Overall, the book is a challenge to rise up and parent in a way that goes against the grain of our current culture. It's counter-cultural to have daily family time, to limit children's exposure to most worldly television, to have daily devotional time and encourage children to follow God's ways. Many would consider these methods to be sheltering children too much, indoctrinating them, and being too controlling. It's counter-cultural to live this way.

At times I felt as if I've failed as a Life-giving parent since television and other screens take up much more of my children's time than I'd like to admit. Daily family suppers with conversation starters don't happen here either. If you read the book and feel overwhelmed with areas that you are lacking, just take baby steps. What is one small thing you can improve on? Pick one small change you can make. The main heart of the book that I focused on was the ones that talk about letting the Bible and my faith be so important to me that my children can't help but see it. Talk about how God is working in my life so that  my kids see Him as an active and caring God. That's the main message and heartbeat I took from this book.

April E.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Book Review: The LifeGiving Table by Sally Clarkson

I'm very late in posting this review of The Lifegiving Table by Sally Clarkson. I started reading the book months ago, but I was so wrapped up in survival mode with my family that I found the idea of trying to create a beautiful table experience with meaningful times of conversation completely overwhelming. I made it almost half-way through the book and just didn't pick it up again. Yesterday, I took it with me to read while waiting on my son at baseball practice. I'm just as overwhelmed with loving on my family these days, but I picked up the book again at just the right spot. If' I'd just kept reading one more chapter last time I would have come to the part where Sally pours grace all over the reader and tells us that even a snack meal can be life-giving if it's presented in the right way and your presence is given to your children.

We're still just as likely to eat at the couches, on paper plates, before my husband is home from late-hours at work most nights. But this new stage of life has me preparing Sunday afternoon meals for my family and our adult children, gathering together on a weekly basis. It means getting up a little earlier on Sunday morning, and prepping some meal items on Saturday night, but it has been worth the effort. We've pulled out the table cloths and made the effort to be sure our large dining room table (which also serves as our school area) is cleared off on Saturday night and all the non-food items set out ready to go after church.

Don't let the idea of family meals or creating a place of beauty for your family overwhelm you. Sally encourages us to make the most of what we have, and creating a respite and gathering place for our family no matter where we are. I may have a cluttered home, a dining room that doubles as a school room, and walls that desperately need to be repainted - but I can still set the table, fill it with good food, and pour love out on my family in the process.

"Learning to create beauty and peace in everyday moments was what kept me going in the middle of it all. Food, feasting, and traditions are not frivolous, but ways to make life work, to make it sustainable. Predictable peace, comfort, and fellowship are something every home should provide - at least most of the time."
          ~ Sally Clarkson, The Lifegiving Table

Each chapter in Sally's book ends with something to think about, something to try, and a few of their family's favorite recipes. The something to ponder is usually Scripture, a few devotional thoughts, and quotes. Something to try are practical steps you can take to apply the chapter's message. The recipes range from simple family recipes to delectable treats that the Clarkson's enjoy.  I'll be trying some of the recipes myself, though not all of them suit our personal style and food tastes, here.

If you're looking for encouragement in the task of caring for your family on a daily basis, or looking for ideas to create lasting family memories and traditions, The Lifegiving Table is a wonderful source of inspiration. I admit to feeling weary of cooking and kitchen chores on a regular basis. It helps to be reminded of WHY I feed my family and WHY I take time to cook family favorites instead of relying on easy frozen options. (Which we do use - too much during our current baseball season.)

April E.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Review: Adored Devotions for Young Women

Adored: 365 Devotions for Young Women has an important message for young ladies. The message is simply that they are never alone. They are loved by their Creator God and He is always with them. He will never fail them, and His grace is always available. I've looked through this devotional and although it states that it is intended for teenage girls, I believe my 11.5 year old daughter is ready for it. The devotions are short, but meaningful - covering aspects of godly womanhood, grace, honesty, godly love, and so much more than just dealing with mean girls at school.

The book itself is small - a hardcover that's a little wider than most paperback books. The cover design and page edges are elegant and lovely, perfect for a maturing young lady. The daily devotions each begin with a Bible verse, the accompanying devotion varies from 2 - 3 paragraphs in length, never exceeding one page of the book. There are a few lines at the bottom of each page to add a prayer, notes on how the devotion applies to their life, or a Bible verse.

My daughter is just a few months from turning twelve and I'm going to put this devotional into her hands to begin on January 1. It's exactly what I would have needed at that age, and many of the messages in it are still the reminders I need today. Thank you Zondervan for publishing a meaningful devotional for pre-teen and teenage girls.

April E.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review: Becoming MomStrong by Heidi St. John

 Heidi St. John's book, Becoming Mom Strong, is a call-to-arms for Christian Moms everywhere! The subtitle of the book is "How to fight with all that's in you for your family and your faith." Being a warrior isn't the first image that comes to mind when we picture motherhood. Motherhood usually invokes images of white ruffly gowns, baby snuggles, rocking chairs, and a soft glowing light.

Some moms find themselves invoking their warrior mom early, as babies born with serious health conditions find them fighting for their child's life immediately. Some are warrior moms as their battle with postpartum depression rears it head. Some of us find ourselves getting along just fine, managing to do things on our own strength for a long time, until we find ourselves exhausted, burned out and overwhelmed. At that point, we are discouraged as our children's misbehavior and the constant, everyday parenting struggles and monotonous mountain of chores start to seem pointless. We feel as if it's never going to end and we aren't making a difference. The devil has found our weak point, he's caught us relying on our own strength and not God's strength.

Eventually, our children grow up, and we are burdened to pray for them as they  make life-changing decisions and as they face the difficulties of life on their own. It's too late to undo our past parenting choices. They're on their own now, and all we can do is pray.

In Becoming Mom Strong, Heidi St. John challenges us to always go to God's Word as our measuring stick for truth. She reminds us that we are fighting a battle against spiritual forces that lie to us, and to our children. We are fighting a culture that wants to distract us and destroy our faith in God, and wants to steal our children. This battle is so important and we can't let ourselves become discouraged and give up.

The majority of the book was a confirmation of the very things God has been laying on my heart. It was affirmation that what I'm doing is important and reminders to keep finding my strength in God's Word and to seek His presence daily.  

But when I got to chapter twelve, I broke out my highlighter. I cried. Because I have felt burned out. I have felt overwhelmed. With children ranging from preschool through young adulthood, I am facing a wide variety of spiritual needs and difficult behavior. It can be so tiring and I've found myself "checking out" at times. Heidi reminded me that I can not check out. This is a battle. I must be a warrior mom. Because nothing else is worth fighting for as much as the hearts and faith of my children.

I know this book can bless every mother, but I feel like it's essential for the moms whose children are ten and above. Once our children reach the age of ten, they're bombarded with so many more messages from society, and they're beginning to question things. They're making their faith their own, and wading through so many mixed messages.

But we can't give our children what we don't have. We have to be strong in our faith, sure of what we believe, if we are going to be able to pass that faith on to our children. They need to see us living it ourselves. They need to see us in God's Word, praying, turning to Him for answers. We have to be Mom Strong to lead them and to fight for them.

Becoming Mom Strong is inspiring, courage-building, and I'm looking forward to digging into the accompanying Bible Study now that I've finished the book. I recommend it for all Christian Moms.

April E.