Heart Sisters: Be the Friend You Want to Have (Book Review and Giveaway!)

From time to time I find myself envious of young children.

Have you ever watched a group of kids at a park? They naturally gravitate to each other and play; many times names are never even exchanged! Every time I witness this phenomenon, I find myself wishing adults were more like kids. It’s hard to make friends as adults.

I’ve been thinking about friendships lately. I work from home and spend a lot of time in the car in the afternoons driving the “kid taxi”. My life is pretty isolated and it’s not as easy to meet people as it once was. Throw in baggage of past hurts and I find developing new friendships to be even more complicated. It’s tempting to throw in the towel and settle in to a life of a hermit.

Enter “Heart Sisters: Be the Friend You Want to Have” by Natalie Snapp. This book should be in read in every church women’s ministry and in every book club. Snapp covers every aspect of female relationships: our need for friendship, finding the courage to put yourself out there, investing in friendships, frenemies, how to recognize both healthy and unhealthy relationships and most importantly, how to be a true friend or “heart sister” to someone else.

Heart Sisters cover

Snapp’s book is personally encouraging to me as I wade back into the social waters. She shares her own past mistakes, hurts and lessons she’s learned in the friendship arena. By sharing her personal experiences, a reader can connect more readily with what Snapp has to say. Written in a friendly, conversational tone, Heart Sisters is a definite must read for any woman wanting to develop inner heart friendships.

I’m pleased to announce I have a copy of Heart Sisters to give to one lucky reader. To enter, leave a comment and tell me about your closest friend or “heart sister”. I’ll choose a winner on May 16th.

I received Heart Sisters for free in exchange for a book review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

The Picnic Table

Today is a guest post from an unlikely, but wonderful, person…my husband! As usual, one of my brilliant ideas means quite a bit of labor for Rick. Check out Rick’s thoughts on the gift of hard work and the benefits of imperfections. 

Last fall we got an old picnic table that someone no longer needed. It needed some work, but was still pretty solid. My wife said we’d take it. I hitched up the trailer and we went and got it. They were glad someone took it and we were glad to have it.

When we got it home I took it apart. Some boards needed holes filled, a few smaller pieces need replacing, and some pieces needed work. Everything was weathered. The bolts and screws were rusty. One board for the top was badly warped, so I stacked all the other pieces on top of it and left it for the winter.

Spring came and it was time to get going. We have an outdoor graduation party planned for early summer and we wanted the picnic table to be done by then. I spent several hours sanding and filling in holes. One piece was still warped, but not as bad. I had to replace three smaller pieces of wood, but was able to with scraps I had. I decided to replace the screws and bolts since the old ones were rusty. I stained the wood and put the table back together. I spent a lot of time, but little money. Somehow, by doing the work, it felt like it was really mine.

As I spent my time sanding and staining the table I wondered if it was really worth it. It was old and worn. The wood was banged up and cracked. If I had done nothing I’m sure we would have spent the summer picking splinters out of each other. When I was at the home improvement store they had new but unfinished ones on display for $99. I could have just bought a new one and stained that, but I noticed something. Those new ones lacked character. My picnic table had character. Every ding and dent gave it a story. The hard work I put into it made it that much more special to me. There’s a feeling of accomplishment and pride I have with restoring this table. I didn’t just go for something new. New doesn’t always mean better. Working on improving what I already had was worth it. I put in the hard work and made something better. It might not be perfect, but it’s mine.

PicnicTable

Releasing and Letting Go

Over the weekend, my eight-year-old son (whom we call Monkey) was helping me clean the house. He lifted up a doily off of the end table, held it up to the light and proclaimed it looked like a rabbit. I affirmed his declaration and cautioned him to be careful because the doily was my grandmother’s. Monkey gave me a quizzical look, put the doily back on the table and continued dusting the next item.

I associate many items in my home with their original owner. The green afghan is not mine but my mother-in-law’s since she’s the one who made it. I feel the same way about the black and white afghan my sister-in-law made. It’s Doris’ afghan. The doily’s are Grandma’s, the nightstand is Mom and Dad’s, the cake stand is from the unnamed person who hosted the garage sale where I purchased it. I don’t know why I ascribe ownership this way  but I do with almost everything.

Everything except my kids.

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I’ve been told over and over my children belong to God, but it’s easy to believe and live as they are completely and totally mine.

I carried them for 9 months.

I gave birth to them.

I potty trained them.

I drive them to school.

I take them to clothes shopping.

I took them to the doctor and held them on my lap when they were sick.

You get the idea. (I don’t want to negate my husband’s role. He was every bit as present in our sons lives as I am). I don’t think I’ve fully comprehended or understood that these three hooligans belong to God; at least not on a heart level until recently. Our oldest is turning 18 next month. He’ll be legally an adult. He’s in the car so much going out with friends, to school, and to work. College and scholarship applications are on the horizon. He’ll have to register for Selective Service.

I’m scared.

Soon it will be time to release him to the world and as much as I’m looking forward to the days of just the hubby and I alone in our house, I don’t want to start letting go. It feels safer to have my boys here with us. Nothing gives me more comfort than to know each brown haired boy is in their own bed every night. But I can’t keep them here forever. They have to start forging their own path.

 

I can’t protect them. I can’t prevent bad things from happening and I can’t stop them  from making bad, or contrary, decisions. I can’t stop hurt from entering their lives.

I hope I’ve done right by my son, and by God. I hope I did the best parenting job I was capable of doing.

It’s time to trust God and my son.

So…how do I do that?

Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? (Book Review)

Eugene Cho is the founder and pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, Washington and the founder of One Day’s Wages, a “grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty”. Cho is also the author of Overrated.

Overrated

Cho builds a convincing case in stating many Christians (including himself) are more in love with the IDEA of changing the world than actually rolling up their sleeves and putting their intentions into action; we neglect to put ourselves in a “posture of humility” and being aware that we too must change if we want to be instruments of change.

It’s easy to write about justice, to have passionate discussions about social justice, read articles, wear the t-shirt and buy the shoes all in the name of justice but Cho challenges the Church as a whole to truly understand what justice is, examine our motives and realize justice comes at a cost. The author draws heavily from his own experiences and does not hesitate to shine a light on the less-than-stellar areas of his life. Over and over again, Cho emphasizes as he sought to do justice, God sought to change him.

Justice, especially within the Church, can look glamorous and cool but Cho wants the Church to remember who the justice is for, to seek out God’s will before charging ahead under our own steam, do the research before engaging in activity and to remember “we should be about the work of God”.

I received a copy of “Overrated” from David C. Cook Publishing in exchange for a book review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

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.