Exploring My “God Jar”

In an effort to develop a daily writing habit, I first needed to…clean my basement office (otherwise known as The Mother Dungeon). I love to write. My tank is refueled when I put pen to paper. I feel whole and complete as my fingers move across the keyboard. But I’ll do just about anything to avoid it.

Writing is hard.

So is faith.

I haven’t written a personally honest post since this one which was just after Christmas last year. It’s easier to write book reviews. As I purged some books off of my office shelves, organized my scrapbook supplies, and finally found a place for an old typewriter, I came across my God Jar.

My God Jar contains various items I’ve picked up along my faith journey. To the casual observer, this jar looks full of junk but each piece had a meaning to me when I acquired it, and to my surprise, still carries meaning for me now. I feel pretty dead inside when it comes to Christianity and my faith. I don’t think my faith is dead. It’s probably in a coma. You can’t force a person out of a coma and I don’t think a faith rejuvenation can be forced either. You must wait.

So I wait.

I’m reading. I’m praying. I’m singing, and I’m waiting for faith to become vibrant once more. I’m waiting for my Christianity to be a life force within me instead of a label I call myself or my beliefs and this is where my God jar is coming into importance. I opened the jar and contemplated the contents; pondering whether or not these items are worth keeping.

Each of these items represents an encounter with God, a promise I made to Him, a promise He made, and reminders of answered prayers.

torn fabric

The torn fabric represents the temple veil being torn in two upon Jesus’ death and represented the new covenant God established. It’s symbolic to me in I don’t have to work for God’s forgiveness, it’s given to me freely if I ask. I don’t have to perform to a particular level for His approval or love.

david and goliath rock

I’ve had this rock for many years. This rock is roughly the size needed for David to bring down Goliath and it tells me God gives us what we need, when we need it and it may not be what we thought.

Marriage vows

 

 

3 rings

 

This card and three key rings are reminders to me of marriage. Against our “better judgement”, Rick and I were cajoled into attending yet another marriage event. We were tired and did not want to go but we went. I don’t remember many of the details but I do remember Rick and I recommitting ourselves to each other (the card) and being reminded God must be within our marriage (three rings, not two).

Hollywood Hills rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hollywood zip code rubber bracelet

 

This rock and this rubber bracelet are from a mission trip to Hollywood (I wrote about it here).  The rubber bracelet, which displays Hollywood’s zip code,  reminds me to pray for my Christian brothers and sisters who are working in a very tough, unforgiving, and very influential industry. The rock is from our team’s hike to the Hollywood sign. It was at the top of the hill and after an evening of meeting with writers who encouraged me to write where I felt like I found out who I am. I wanted something to remember the moment by so I faked tying my shoe and grabbed a rock.

1 Thes 5

And this verse…this verse was a promise I clung to as I waited for an answer to prayer. The answer was two years in arriving but it DID ARRIVE. I had this verse taped to my computer monitor at work and wondered daily, sometimes hourly, if I could count on it or not.  I could.

As I wait for my faith coma to end, I feel comforted by these items and more I did not write about. The light at the end of the tunnel exists and although I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to reach it, as I touch these items and wipe off their dust, I know I’m going to make it.

 

The Cure for the Perfect Life (Book Review)

Pinterest makes me feel bad.

It starts off as a great way to save ideas for my son’s graduation party, books I want to read, recipes to make, but quickly it becomes a place where I am reminded I am not enough.

  • My house isn’t in style.
  • My skin and hair are…not good.
  • My Christmas decorations lack a universal theme. (I thought the theme was “Christmas” but whatever)
  • My concrete patio isn’t stained (not a fashionable stain anyway. It does sport some spray paint, oil, and sidewalk chalk stains but I don’t think that counts).
  • And I don’t know how to properly tie a scarf.

The list goes on and on of where I don’t measure up as a woman, a mother, a wife, and just a person in general. But Pinterest isn’t the problem. Somehow and somewhere along the road of life, I’ve gotten into my head perfectionism must be, and can be, achieved if I just tried harder. But what I really am doing is chasing the proverbial carrot, alienating those around me and just wearing myself out.

When I spotted an opportunity to read The Cure for the ‘Perfect’ Life by Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory, I jumped at the chance. Based on the cover alone, I knew this was the book I needed to read. An imperfect cupcake (or anything really) sends me into a tailspin of tears and fear of judgement.

cure for perfect life

Lipp and Gregory build a pretty solid case against “trying harder” in life and boil the problem down into four issues:

  • Perfectionism-“I’m always trying harder to look good enough”
  • People-Pleasing-“I’m always trying harder to seem nice enough”
  • Performancism-“I’m always trying harder to be seen doing enough”
  • Procrastination-“I know I’m not enough, so why try?”

The authors spend quite a bit of time covering each of the above issues and discuss how they affect and look with different personalities. I had no problem finding myself in the text and seeing how I am affected. The Cure for the ‘Perfect’ Life is a Christian-based book; the authors incorporate Scripture into their work without being preachy. Lipp and Gregory gently, but consistently, steer their readers away from the lies and burdens of perfectionism and towards where our value truly lies.

This book has truly affected me on a personal level and has me rethinking why I:

  • say “yes” when I really need to say “no”
  • get obsessed over having everything perfect for company
  • become depressed when I make a mistake or am corrected by someone else
  • and much more

This is a well-written and thought out book which would be fantastic to read on your own, in a book club or in a women’s Bible study group. However, I do not recommend purchasing the Kindle version. Lipp and Gregory have several questionnaires throughout the book which were not formatted well on my Kindle (although I was reading an Advance Readers Copy on a .pdf). Formatting issues aside, purchasing the actual paper book makes the quiz-taking process easier.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for a book review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

Dad is Fat (Book Review)

Other than a few guest appearances on various television shows, I was not familiar with Jim Gaffigan until a friend of mine started retweeting the comedian’s tweets which lead to watching one of his acts on Netflix.

Overstatement of the year: The man is funny.

dad is fat

 

Dad is Fat is a book of essays on Gaffigan’s parental experiences and observations. He’s spot on and entertaining but I expected a bit more from Dad is Fat. I just didn’t find it as funny as I expected. This is Gaffigan’s first book but it didn’t grab me in the same way Gaffigan’s stand-up act does. (Food: A Love Story is the author’s second book which will be released in October)

I appreciate the author’s clean humor but this may be an instance where the audio book would be preferable over the actual book. I think Gaffigan’s delivery would have really brought this material home.

I received Dad is Fat for free in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

Book Review: Penny Wise (Windy City Neighbors Book 3) by Neta and Dave Jackson

As I may have mentioned before on this blog, I am a Christian fiction snob. As a reader, I’m not interested in contemporary Christian romance fiction, historical Christian romance fiction, Amish fiction, Amish romance fiction, or Christian westerns. I just can’t relate.

Tar and feather me if you must.

So what do I like? So glad you asked!

I want to read about characters and situations which feel real. If I can smell the plot points coming from a mile away, I’m not interested. If God answers every characters prayer and everyone comes to Jesus by the final chapter, I cry foul. If the characters voice changes and suddenly they sound like N.  T. Wright or Dallas Willard or the author was hitting me over the head with their “message”, I’m done.

I am no different from any other avid reader who wants the book they’re reading to entertain, to carry them away to another place, and allow them to escape from their own life for a moment. However, no matter the setting or the plot, the story must feel real to me. It has to be plausible on some level.

Which is why I absolutely love reading Neta Jackson. If you’re familiar with Christian fiction at all, no doubt you have heard of the Yada Yada Prayer Group series. Published in 2008, Jackson wrote a great series about women in Chicago from all walks of life; married mothers, college students, single professionals, ex cons and drug addicts. Each book focused on a different character introduced in the initial book. The situations the characters dealt with are realistic and of course, being Christian fiction, Jackson also writes about faith.

I lost track of Jackson’s work for quite a while and have been catching up with her House of Hope series as well as the Souled Out Sisters series. Jackson’s husband, Dave, has written a Yada Yada Brothers series and together the couple has written the Windy City Neighbors series which brings me to today’s review of Penny Wise, the third novel in the Windy City Neighbors series.

Pennywise

I haven’t read Jackson in a while but it didn’t take much time into Penny Wise before I realized how much I missed this author.  This book focuses on the Jasper family, a family of five in an urban Chicago neighborhood. Michelle is a social worker, her husband is an air traffic controller. The Jasper family deals with many modern stresses such as financial pressures, full work loads, busy family life, demanding church responsibilities, parenting teens, and trying to meet the needs of others. When Michelle finds herself in an unexpected situation, she painfully struggles with a decision she never would have considered before and wonders where God is in the midst of it all.

What I love so much about Jackson’s books is character diversity and writing about real life.  Her characters:

  • argue with their husbands
  • get annoyed with people
  • deal with exasperating children
  • enjoy a healthy sex life (within the bounds of marriage and nothing explicit is said)
  • fight to keep their faith vibrant, although they forget to pray (just like me!)
  • have financial woes

Although I am picky and could see one plot point developing from very early on in the story, I highly recommend Penny Wise as well as Jackson’s other books. Life is messy and hard. Jackson reflects this in her work and writes about real people and a real God.

I received a complimentary copy of Penny Wise in exchange for a book review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

 

Book Review: Smart Money, Smart Kids

As the Hooligans get older and closer to leaving the nest, my husband and I become more intent on making sure they have the tools to succeed in life and avoid the mistakes we made. Most recently, we’re focusing on money management.

Both Meathead and Skippy have part-time jobs. Meathead has been working at a local grocery store for the past year. Skippy is earning money by mowing lawns and as a Little League umpire. Both boys have money burning holes in their pockets and our job is to guide them in how to save, budget, and make wise decisions. The DH (Dear Hubby) and I are pretty transparent with the kids on how we make decisions with money, where we made mistakes and what we’re focusing on moving forward. It’s our goal to help our kids avoid the traps and pitfalls when it comes to their money.

Enter Smart Money, Smart Kids by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruze.

Smart Money Smart Kids2

Dave Ramsey is pretty famous within the Christian culture for his radio show, podcasts, Financial Peace University classes taught at churches across the country, and his best-selling books such as The Total Money Makeover, Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money, and EntreLeadership. Smart Money, Smart Kids was co-written with his adult daughter, Rachel Cruze.

Ramsey and Cruze take turns within each chapter speaking to the reader about a variety of money topics, starting with the Ramsey family’s personal history from wealth to bankruptcy and back again. Smart Money is written in a conversational, no-nonsense tone one would expect from Dave Ramsey and covers just about every topic one could imagine when teaching children about money.

Ramsey and Cruze extol the virtues of work while teaching the dangers of debt. This book is jam-packed with advice about allowance (referred to as consignments) for children, employment, saving for purchases both small and large, college planning and even weddings. Smart Money, Smart Kids is a great, useable book for all parents, no matter the age of your children.

I received Smart Money, Smart Kids in exchange for a book review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

Book Review: Spiritual Misfit by Michelle DeRusha

I decided to read Spiritual Misfit by Michelle DeRusha based solely on the cover.

Spiritual Misfit

 

The solitary red bird and the cluster of black birds spoke to me and made this a book I absolutely had to read. I can claim the mantle of Christianity but so many times I feel like everyone else gets it and I just don’t.

DeRusha is a blogger and first time author who embodies the qualities I like best in memoir writing: she’s honest and relatable. Spiritual Misfit is about DeRusha’s faith journey from a childhood faith, estrangement from belief and from God, and the spiritual questions which seemed like boulders on her journey.

Reading Spiritual Misfit feels like the conversations you have with that one REALLY good friend. You know the kind of conversations I’m referring to and what kind of friend I mean; the kind of friend you can admit bad parenting days to…the really bad ones…like when I got so frustrated at my son’s incessant whining that I threatened to flush a cherished toy down the toilet. I can’t share with all my friends…just a couple of close ones. The author treats the reader as though they are THAT kind of friend.

DeRusha takes the reader on her journey of faith to unbelief and back again and never once gives her audience the impression that faith is easy or that the answers were easy to find. She writes of her questions about prayer, control, fear, searching for a church, imperfect “panicky” prayers, shedding the one-size-fits-all faith and embracing the beloved misfit.

Spiritual Misfit is a great memoir to read on your own or even better, in a group context. It’s my hope to host an online book club to discuss Spiritual Misfit. If you’re interested, please click here and send me an email.

I received Spiritual Misfit in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

 

Why Can’t A Movie Just Be A Movie? (Spiderman 2 Family Discussion Guide Review & Giveaway!)

I never used to give much thought to what I watched or read; I just felt instinctively if it was good or not. That changed a few years ago when I went on a trip with my former church to Hollywood. It was then when I met with Christian directors, actors, and screenwriters to listen what life is like in Hollywood and what really is involved with creating and making a story.  I wrote about this trip and you can read about it here.

My friend, Lonnie, taught me about story structure and challenged me on what makes a good story. He completely opened up my eyes and when I came home, I immediately became an annoyance to my kids. At the time, my oldest was 11 when I wanted to talk about a movie he just watched he would lament:

“Why can’t a movie just be a movie?” 

I want my kids to think about what they’re watching and why. I want them to realize that writers don’t randomly throw things into a story for the sake of being cool (the good ones don’t). I want them to think about what the writer/artist is trying to say.  I want my kids to have a discerning taste when it comes to story and choose things which will make them think and touch an emotion.

Spiderman

We’re big super hero fans in our house and looking forward to watching The Amazing Spiderman 2 this summer. (Click here to view the trailer)  I was happy to review a family discussion guide for this movie before we see the film so I’ll have some great talking points with my kids afterwards. This discussion guide is faith-focused and can help guide you when you talk to your kids about this movie.

The discussion topics are:

  • The Nature of Power
  • Time is Luck and Life is Precious
  • Choices and Destiny
  • Sacrifice

This brief guide recounts a scene from the movie, lists Bible verses to illustrate your discussion and provides some questions you can ask you kids. It’s a great tool to use to get your kids thinking and I’m thrilled to offer a Spiderman 2 giveaway for one lucky reader.

Answer this question to enter:  what makes a movie a good movie for you? DEADLINE TO ENTER IS: Monday, April 28th. I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday, April 30th. 

The lucky winner (chosen at random) will receive a Spiderman 2 prize pack courtesy of Fly By Promotions which includes an electronic version of the Family Discussion Guide, cell phone case AND t-shirt!

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising): Many thanks to Propeller, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

Interested in an Online Book Club?: Spiritual Misfit by Michelle DeRusha

Spiritual Misfit

“I decided to admit once and for all that I didn’t know what I was doing, what I thought, what I believed, even sometimes if I truly believed. I would tell the truth: I wasn’t like them; I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t a proper Christian. I didn’t have it all together like they did. Why not, I figured? What in the world did I have to lose?”

Next month, I will be posting a review of Spiritual Misfit by Michelle DeRusha. Early buzz about this book is very positive and I thought it might be fun to host an online book club.

I’m not sure what this will look like yet; whether it would be hosted on a Google hangout or on my Facebook page. I’ll figure that out based on interest.

Spiritual Misfit will be released on April 15. My initial thought is to read the book in April and May and start the book club in June. If you’re interested, please leave a comment, drop me an email or comment on my Facebook page.

Jesus Feminist: Book Review

The word “feminist” carries different meanings and evokes a variety of feelings depending on the circle it is used in. I suspect most in the conservative arena (myself included on occasion) have tended to believe feminist=man hater. Sarah Bessey not only refutes this definition but she gently challenges the church to fully welcome women’s “diverse voices and experiences”.

Jesus-Feminist-Cover-copy

I wasn’t sure what to expect with Jesus Feminist since the word has angry undertones. I suspected this book would have anger and vitriol woven through it based solely on the title. I’m glad my assumptions were inaccurate.

Sarah Bessey is a popular Canadian blogger who has written Jesus Feminist out of a place of peacefulness and hope. The topic of feminism and women leading within the Church is a powder keg subject today among Christians. The topic of women leading within the Church is not a topic I spent much time thinking about. I have no desire to lead or to preach, but I have gifted, talented female friends who do. By virtue of association, I now pay more attention to this subject. It now matters to me because it matters to those I care about.

The author finds a way to discuss this topic without animosity or bitterness. Bessey invites the reader to join her around a proverbial campfire to sit, listen and share. She gently points the reader towards stories of heroic and strong women from the Bible, shares her own story and asks questions about what Scripture means in regards to women in leadership within the Church.  She references Scripture and asks questions but does not point fingers nor provides pat answers.

I will have to read this book again. The electronic Advanced Reader’s Copy I received is riddled with typos and formatting errors which made it very difficult to focus on the author’s message. I feel I missed a great deal as a result.

However, the bottom line for me is Sarah Bessey is a talented writer who takes on a hot button issue without disparaging anyone or cheapening Scripture. She’s a fellow sister in Christ who has questions and is seeking answers. I’m quite eager to read more of her work.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for purposes of review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Holiday Hangovers

Yesterday marked the end of Christmas for the Huisman Hooligans as we celebrated the holiday at my parents home with my extended family. A great time was had by all with wonderful food, loads of laughs, great conversation and a few lovely gifts.

The tree and other decorations are put away, New Years’ Eve is this week and then we get back to the reality of jobs and school.

And I don’t want to do any of it.

1392710669

I’ve been having way too much fun hanging out with friends and family, eating whatever I want, reading for fun and binge-watching movies and TV shows with my kids. I don’t want to be a responsible adult now.

That’s the trouble with extended breaks sometimes. It’s hard to get motivated once rest time is over and get your hustle back on. Throw in this is the time of year when almost everyone is discussing goals and resolutions for the coming year and it’s enough to make me want to go back to bed.

But I’m won’t and I hope you don’t either.  Although a new year is a good time to set goals for ourselves, we really don’t need it. The next moment is just as good as any.

I’ve given some thought as to what I want to achieve in this next year, set some goals and will be revising them down to more realistic steps.

  1. Continue working on my Bachelor’s degree. I will take only 4 classes in 2014 as opposed to 6 as originally planned. I’ve learned I get too stressed and drive my family (and myself) crazy when my work load is too intense. I will make peace with this decision and decide any progress towards my goal is better than none at all.
  2. Start exercising again which is another reason I’m only taking 4 classes. I’ve regained all the weight I lost last year due to a lack of boundaries and realistic goals. I don’t know what this is going to look like yet. I hesitate to make a gym commitment but living in the Midwest during the winter months means no outdoor walking or bicycling (which I can definitely commit to in Spring and Summer).
  3. Finishing stripping and repainting this chair. I bought this last Spring at a local antique store and made it my project. I would love to see if I can restore this chair with my own hands (and advice from my husband). I’ve never tackled a hands-on project before.Metal chair project

That’s it. Three simple, but labor intensive goals. By this time next year, I hope to have four more classes under my belt, weigh less than I do now (no size or weight goals, I’m just going for progress) and a lovely yellow and white metal chair to lounge in.

Wish me luck!