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Monday, April 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Girl at the End of the World

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Girl at the End of the World, by Elizabeth Esther, is a dramatic and sensitive look at the inner workings of a cult. Esther grew up in the fundamentalist Christian cult called The Assembly, which was founded by her paternal grandfather. She grew up with a desire to please Jesus and her family by being legalistically devoted to the teachings of the cult; however, as a teenager she found herself confronted with the unhealthy atmosphere of her home and church. The heartwrenching challenges she faced to leave the cult (and her family) as a young married mother keep the reader riveted, rooting for her to break free and find a healthy relationship with Jesus.

However, leaving the cult was only the first step of Esther's healing. Anxiety attacks that had a crippling effect on her life had to be addressed in therapy, her marriage had to be renegotiated outside the confines of the authoritative influence of the cult, and family relationships needed restoration.

I read this book in two days because of Esther's engaging style, admiring the courage it took her to reach back into difficult memories and tell her story. It is important for cult survivors to do so, in order that others may be encouraged to confront similar situations. If you have ever wondered what it is like to live in a cult, this book will give you an accurate picture; I have a friend who spent 10 years in a cult, and the story she tells is very similar to Esther's. The road to spiritual health is a long one, but it is one worth walking.

For more on the author, go here. I received this book for free for review purposes from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: And Life Comes Back

To read And Life Comes Back, by Tricia Lott Williford, is to hurt and heal at the same time. After her husband unexpectedly dies in her arms, 31-year-old mother of two Williford gets off the floor, turns to the process of grief, and brings us along.

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Already a writer, Williford uses her abilities to chronicle her journey through grief, from the first terrible moments to the day she is finally ready to let go and restart her life. She even pauses to give her readers some advice, whether they are encountering others who have lost loved ones or whether they are the ones who are hurting.

My mom died just a few months ago. It was also unexpected, although she was elderly and had some minor health problems. Still, I viscerally understand that feeling of--your loved one is just...gone. He or she is never coming back. Williford's emotions, thoughts, actions, are all so understandable to me, although the circumstances of my grief were different. She uses the pillars of support in her life well, from her band of close girlfriends to her therapist to the baristas at Starbucks, where she sought daily refuge.

I especially was moved by the letter she wrote to her newlywed self, giving her glimpses of what her life would hold during the 10 years she would have with her husband. I also felt the conversations she had with her young sons about their father's death were compelling, because they were marked with honesty. Kids need honesty.
What am I left with after reading this book? Exactly what I've felt since my own loss occurred: love your family every day. You don't know how long you have with them. Try to remember that when you get frustrated over things that, in the scope of eternity, do not matter. Williford did that during her marriage (although of course no marriage is perfect), and she has beautiful memories to draw from until she sees her husband again.

Interested in the book or the author? Go here.

I received this book free for review purposes from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers.

Friday, March 21, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Blood Moons Rising

Blood Moons Rising, by Mark Hitchcock, is a simple-to-read, to-the-point look at the current prophecies about an upcoming lunar pattern. In 2014/2015 there will be what is called a "tetrad"--an occurrence of complete lunar eclipses ("blood moons", for their reddish hue) on Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles for two consecutive years. Several noteworthy prophecy experts point to this upcoming tetrad as a sign of epic, imminent activity by God...perhaps even the Rapture of the church.

Interestingly, I just read a book by a respected author and pastor that mentioned this phenomenon last week; previously it was unknown to me. Hitchcock takes a thorough look at all elements of the prophecy, first expounding what its proponents have to say and then progressing through biblical passages to look at how these views line up. 

I appreciate this book's readability. Whether or not you are a Christian, you will easily be able to follow his train of thought, because his approach is down to earth. It isn't filled with a lot of "Christian-ese." For instance, he narrates through, and then provides a chart of, the end times "schedule' predicted in the Bible. If you are curious about the upcoming blood moons and how they line up with biblical passages that refer to the sun and the moon, you will find easy to understand answers here. 

I also appreciate the author's respect for the prophecy experts he quotes in the book.

I like especially that Hitchcock encourages readers, rather than becoming fearful or anxious about end times scenarios, to do four things (based on 1 Peter 4:7-11): "keep our heads clear, our hearts warm, our homes open, and our hands busy." 

I received this book for free, for review purposes, from Tyndale Publishers. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Homeschool blessings

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." Deuteronomy 6:6-9

Today I loved being a homeschool mom because...

First, the opportunity to take my time in the morning with my Bible, coffee, and journal is precious. I don't have a deadline to meet...a certain time I need to get myself in the shower or out the door. If God's speaking, I get to sit and listen. If the checkbook needs balancing, or emails need answering, I can take an extra 15 minutes and do it. My kids will usually sleep till I wake them up, and although I do have a basic schedule in place, it's flexible. We start when we start, and we finish when we finish.

This morning I did kick some butt when I woke them up, because we have indeed fallen into the winter sludge, but they responded pretty well and we worked hard, together. When we have a good school day, we all get to share in that ownership. We do it as a team.

Next, I love that I get to read and talk with my boys as we go. We read good books (historical fiction much of the time, interesting textbooks the rest) and have natural conversations about the world events they cover. I believe this cements the information into their minds and hearts. I love when they take an idea and question it, or apply it, or challenge it. That's knowledge building.

I also love that I can give my boys breaks when they need them. Because they are boys, they get squirrelly and restless. I can send them outside to shoot hoops for 10 minutes and then pick the books back up again.

Last week math facts fell completely out of one of my sons' heads and he melted down over his math lesson, which was introducing a new concept. We have been able to go at his pace, slowly, step by step, until the math facts came back to roost and the new concept made sense. He feels so much more confident now than if he'd been rushed through in a traditional classroom and made to feel dumb for not understanding. Same has gone, in the past week, for his cursive lessons and his writing class project. I am so thankful that I get to listen to him, identify the point of trouble, and work from there baby step by baby step. Today, we had success moments in all three subjects--priceless!

Different days bring different reasons for gratitude. This is our 9th year homeschooling, and although not every day brings those success moments, I've not had any "ohmygoshI'msendingthemtopublicschoolTOMORROW!" days in a really long time. Thank You, Jesus, for bringing me--and my kids--home. I am going to bed feeling blessed.

Friday, March 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Brenda and the Loveladies

Miss Brenda and the Loveladies, by Brenda Spahn and Irene Zutell, is a delightful book! 
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Brenda Spahn is an unlikely candidate to rehabilitate a group of female ex-convicts, but God rarely chooses likely people for His work down here. A wealthy woman in her mid-50s, Brenda hears God's call on her life after facing jail time herself for some groundless accusations. Rather than go get a social work degree or fast and pray for further direction, Brenda just barges into a work release program one day--and the story begins. 

Filled with hilarious anecdotes that really would make a fantastic motion picture, Brenda and her girls all have lots to learn about redemption--and the fact that there is THE most epic Walmart story I have ever heard makes the whole book worthwhile! I spent 20 years working with disadvantaged teens, and I love that God's forgiveness and promises are a constant theme every time Brenda talks to her girls. 

Having journeyed the past three months through some sad life events, I so appreciated the "grace, God, and gumption" that the subtitle promised in this book.  Go get this book. Period. If you need further convincing, go here for more about the Loveladies. 

I received this book for free for review purposes from Waterbrook Multnomah. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Holy Land Key

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Do you look at today's headlines and get a little nervous? Do you ever wonder if we are in the last days? What does the Bible say about world events as we approach the second coming of Jesus Christ? 

Pastor Ray Bentley, of Maranatha Chapel in San Diego, speaks right to you in his book, "The Holy Land Key: Unlocking End Times Prophecy Through the Lives of God's People in Israel". He is a seasoned man of God, trained up under Pastor Chuck Smith (the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement). He has led his church to love and honor the nation of Israel, and has developed significant personal relationships with those in its leadership, such as the late Ron Nachman (founder and mayor of Ariel) and the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He lives Genesis 12:3, that those who bless Israel will be blessed. The pastor of my church has similarly close friendships with Israeli leadership, and I had the privilege of hearing Ron Nachman speak at my church. I find everything Bentley represents about these national leaders to resonate with what our experience as a congregation has been through the years. 

The Holy Land Key discusses prophecies that have already come to pass, such as the regathering of the Jewish people back into the land in 1948. It also examines prophecies being fulfilled in our current days. Then it takes a look at prophetic signs through the culture of the Jewish people, such as seasons and feasts. Bentley takes an in depth look at the Old Testament prophecy of Daniel's 70 weeks. The book also examines God's pattern of revealing prophecy in layers--first in the natural world, then in the spiritual. All this is done in context of the position of the Jews throughout history. The testimony of how the Ninth of Av has been connected to no less than 12 hugely painful events in Jewish history is compelling--and chilling. 

The most interesting portion of this book to me is the upcoming significance of the blood moon "tetrad" in 2014 and 2015. This is an occurrence of a total lunar eclipse (hence the term "blood moon", as the moon appears red) on both the day of Passover and the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, two years in a row. Read about why this is biblically significant, and what kind of things might be upcoming for Israel--and the world--this year and next. 

This book is sobering, and yet soothing. To be reminded that we are in the palm of God's hand through such "interesting times" gives me peace, "even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea" (Psalm 46:2).  

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers for review purposes. 

To learn more about the author, go here.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Three funerals and a wedding

"Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for sadness has a refining influence on us.
A wise person thinks a lot about death,
    while a fool thinks only about having a good time." Ecclesiastes 7:3, 4 NLT

I know that there is a movie called, "Three Weddings and a Funeral," but I haven't seen it. However, in the last three months I have lived the reverse of the movie's title.

On December 17, while my husband and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary out of town (the first time in 26 years that we celebrated early), I got the phone call that my mom had died of a sudden heart attack. Although she had had health concerns in the last few years, and indeed had just been at the hospital that morning for a fainting episode, the doctors did not feel there were any urgent medical issues. They had sent her home, and I was planning to call her that night.

But there was no phone call. Only this phone call.

Because it was a week before Christmas, my niece was imminently expecting twins, and my mom had lived out of state, we decided to postpone her funeral services until February.

Tears, texts, sobs, calls, tears, plans. Sleepless nights, sad days as our family began walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

Christmas came--and we smiled. Babies came--and we laughed. Pockets of happiness.

But before my mom's funeral services were held, I attended two other memorial services. Two weeks to the day after my mom died, a close girlfriend lost her stepfather in a similarly sudden fashion. Three weeks after my mom died, I stood with some dear friends as they said goodbye to their 18 year old son. Heartbroken for my friends, I wept with them, prayed with them, loved them.

And two days before my mom's funeral, I was at...a wedding. It was very hard to go, with my heart in preparation for such a sad day in my own life, but I am glad I did. Happy for these friends, I rejoiced with them, smiled with them, prayed for them, loved them. A pocket of happiness.

Finally the days came for my mom's funeral and burial. Our family held tight to each other and walked through the valley, surrounded by my church family who wept with us, prayed with us, loved us (and fed us and blessed us in a hundred other ways).

I have thought about many things in the past few months. One thing I have thought a lot about is the truth of the verse at the top of this blog. Sorrow does have a refining influence upon us. It has reminded me, threefold, that when you stand at the graveside only two things matter: what you did with Jesus, and how you treated your family. What you did with Jesus determines your eternity. How you treated your family determines your legacy.

My mom loved and lived Jesus, and she is in heaven. She loved and lived for us, and her legacy is a beautiful foundation for the rest of us to stand on as we all bump up a notch in the family line up.

I have also been well reminded that there are pockets of happiness in this life, and they are important. Babies, weddings, holidays...they are God's gift as we walk down here. And for them I am thankful.

From here? Well, I've come up with a hashtag that goes on all my family-related Instagram posts now: #loveyourfamilyeveryday. And, lately I have had this song on repeat in my car, and it pretty much sums it up.

Love Jesus.
Love your family.
Laugh in the pockets of happiness.
Be ready for eternity.