May 31, 2013

Book Review - 'Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home'

Today I will offer you not only a review of Gloria Furman's new book Glimpses of Grace, you also have a chance to win yourself a copy!

This book is for homemakers.  That does not mean that you have to be a stay at home mom to learn from or enjoy it, but the stories and applications will resonate most with the woman in the middle of the mundane world of homemaking and caring for children, wondering if there's any joy and hope to be found in it, or if she must just struggle to survive until the kids finally grow up and get out!  ;)

I enjoyed reading this book immensely for three reasons:

  1. Real Life Examples:  The example Gloria provides in her first chapter hit right on something I had done less than 24-hours beforehand with my husband, getting all self-righteous and grumbly about an unrinsed dish!  So I was hooked quickly.  This pattern continued throughout the book.  At one point I emailed her to say that I thought we might be the same person!  But truthfully, the issue is that we're all sinners and Gloria is willing to look into situations (that really are really embarrassing when revealed) and free her readers by applying the Gospely to those messy places in the middle of the mundane. Which brings me to my next point.
  2. The Application of the Gospel: The best way for me to describe how Gloria writes is to say she's very "Pauline."  This year our small group worked through Colossians and it is notable how Paul several times goes back to the basic Gospel (Christ!) as the foundation for and answer to everything.  Everything.  Gloria does that for us in Glimpses of Grace with respect to homemaking.  The mundane might be repetitive and monotonous, but God's children have all they need for life and godliness in it.  Our problem is when we focus on the mundane rather than the Lord.  I have this quote from one of Gloria's blog posts on my kitchen cabinet:  When the mundane looms larger than eternal life, we forget who God is, who we are, and who our children are.  Gloria's new book reminds us not to let the mundane loom larger than eternal life!
  3. Length & Readability:  Moms, I'll bet you're thinking, Good grief, when would I find time to read a book!  So one quick note about that.  The book is about 180 pages long.  You could sit and read a chapter for about fifteen minutes a day and finish the book in a just a couple of weeks!  We need to take a little time each day to recharge anyway, so why not fill your mind with the edifying words that Gloria has to share with us.  Every time I sat to read a chapter this month I found that it had direct application to something going on in my life.  I don't think this is simply because this book was "the right book at the right time."  I think it's because Gloria simply, but skillfully and wisely, applies the Gospel to the life we live as homemakers.

As is stated in the Forward, this is not a how-to.  There are not seven easy steps to Christian perfection in homemaking.  Gloria simply looks at life and discusses how we can apply the Gospel to the situations in which we find ourselves on a regular basis, not theoretically, but with examples from her own experience, whether it's relating to her husband, her children, sharing with others, working though times of intense hardship, etc.

The only how-to Gloria offers is the Gospel - the good news that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to save us from our sin and restore us to a right relationship with God.  That is all she can offer, because the Gospel is the only source of life.  By combining Gospel-truth with stories from the trenches, so to speak, your faith will be strengthened and you'll be encouraged to know you're not alone or crazy (have I mentioned how real her examples are)?!

Gloria has a few small children and her husband, who pastors a church in Dubai, suffers from chronic pain that effects his ability to use his arms.  Gloria knows the mundane, she knows hardship, and she knows Jesus.  This is not a   put-on-a-happy-face book.  This is a real book, about real life and real, life-giving Truth.  I hope it blesses and encourages you to seek the Lord as much as it has for me!

Do you want a copy?
I'm going to give one away on Monday!

Simply, drop me a note in the comments to say "I want in!"
And share this review on your Facebook page for a second entry (but please tell me so I know)!

Get your name in by 5pm, Monday, June 3rd,
for your chance to win!!

**Tomorrow I'll post a link to an interview with Gloria and some info about a launch-week promotion!**

FYI: I received a pre-publication copy of this book in exchange for my review.
So I want to pass on the one that I would have bought anyway to Monday's lucky winner!

May 24, 2013

Book Review - 'Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate'

Happy Friday!  Today I'm going to recommend not only a book, but also the author.  Jerry Bridges has written several books that have profoundly impacted my faith.  The first that I read was 'The Discipline of Grace: Our Role and God's Role in the Pursuit of Holiness.'  Bridges' thoughts, in conjunction with the regular gospel preaching I was hearing at Christ the King in Cambridge, set me free.  I had spent so much time trying to live up to some standard by doing the "right" Christian things.  God really used those years up there in the Northeast to set me straight on the path He wanted for me.  It still blows my mind how I was connected to the church for so long but kept missing the point, that we need Jesus every moment of our lives, not just at the moment of conversion to get us out of that sin problem, and that God loves me and wants to have a familial (not a business) relationship with me.  It's a longer story than that - how dense and proud I am, how  patient and gracious God is - but for now, I'll leave it at that so we can get on to talking about 'Respectable Sins.'

Yeah.  So in this book, Bridges' decides to dig deep.  It's embarrassing, painful, and challenging.  But it is GOOD.  This book is for those of us who are "good people":  those of us who aren't necessarily struggling with substance abuse or addiction, who haven't murdered anyone or cheated on our spouse, who tell the truth (for the most part) and help the needy, who go to church every Sunday and maybe even sing in the choir.  Yep, we're really pretty good, all told.  Aren't we?

Bridges, however, reminds us Who holds the measuring stick and gets down and dirty digging into the "respectable sins" that we try to stuff down and hide away, because we really are pretty good people. Right?  Here's where Bridges will take you if you jump into the pages of his book: ungodliness, anxiety and frustration, discontentment, unthankfulness, pride, selfishness, lack of self-control, impatience and irritability, anger, judgmentalism, envy and jealousy, sins of the tongue, and worldliness.  Sounds a lot like those lists of things Paul says we should "put away," doesn't it?  Bridges challenges his readers to be honest about who they are and also to acknowledge the God who saves by clinging to the Gospel of life and confessing these ugly sins that seem so much more respectable than other terrible things we could be doing.

It has been a while since I read this book, but looking back over the table of contents, I love seeing that Bridges does not jump right away into "the sins," but rather spends several chapters taking about sin, the remedy for sin, the power of the Holy Spirit, and directions on how to deal with sin.  Rereading the chapter titles makes me want to crack this book open again.  If you're looking for a book that will stretch you this summer and challenge you to believe the Gospel more, you might want to crack this one open, too.

Have a good weekend, friends!

May 17, 2013

Book Review - 'The Screwtape Letters'

I'm cheating this week.  It has been two and a half years since I read this book, but it fit with some things I was thinking about this week, so I'm going to review a book I read in November 2010.  But first I'll tell you what made me choose to look back at past reviews I've shared here.

Earlier this week, I mentioned feeling overwhelmed by life.  My brain was full of all kinds of "shoulds" and guilt about how I was failing at most of them.  As I sat down to my quiet time yesterday morning, I was feeling really tired coming off of a bad night's sleep.  I journaled to the Lord, My head is not in this today.  Shortly thereafter, Brian came downstairs before "seven, zero, zero" (the time the kids are permitted to come down in the morning).  He said he was hungry and I told him he could take food upstairs with him; usually this is a slice of bread or one of the cereal boxes.  Right after I did that, I had a flash of, You're a terrible parent!, fly through my brain.  Then, almost as quickly, the Spirit chimed in, Pray away the lies!

Pray away the lies!

Yes, some of my feelings of mental bondage this week were a result of sin.  But the above thought reminded me that there's more to this world than what I can see.  In the spiritual realm, I have an enemy who delights in seeing me struggle and remain in unbelief.  The Christian is up against not only the world and his own flesh, but also the devil.  And, ew, he is a nasty foe.  BUT the Christian always has the upper hand, because the Spirit lives within him.  The Bible tells us that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

So I started to pray against the angst and all of the lies I'd been believing about myself and others, all of the thoughts that were not of God, but of man, or worse, of satan.*  I wrote, Lies, you have no places here.

Then, I moved on to my reading for the day, which had me in Psalm 120.  Verses one and two read as follows:
I call on the Lord in my distress,and He answers me.Save me, O Lord, from lying lipsand from deceitful tongues.

My context was not exactly the same as the Psalmists, but the Word spoke so perfectly to my situation.  The lying and deceitful tongue of satan will whisper poisonous thoughts into your ear.  As you hear and believe them, death begins to seep into your bones.  But turning them over to the Lord, crying out to Him in the distress, tells the lies and the liar where they can go.  Then hope, joy, peace, and life retain their rightful place in the heart and mind of the Christian.

Which brings us to today's book review.  I want to recommend to you C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters.  The book is a collection of fictitious letters from a mentor demon to his disciple demon about how to deal with Christians in the battle against their "Enemy," who is God.  (Getting used to the language takes a few pages, but it comes quickly!)

I appreciate how this book reminds us not only that there are battles still raging in the spiritual realm, but also that it shows so clearly how deceptive and subtle the work of satan can be in our lives.  The demons never rest in their quest to pull us away from God, especially when we are striving to seek Him.  Lewis offers his interpretation of what this might look like, using his mastery of the English language and depth of insight into humanity.

Thinking about this book makes me want to go grab it off of the shelf and read it again!  I recall so many times thinking, Yes, yes, I know that experience exactly, or, Oh wow, Lewis is putting into words something I'd never be able to express myself!

The Screwtape Letters is fiction, but with rich Biblical themes.  I think you'd enjoy both the creativity and the validity of it.  I found myself entertained by the premise and challenged by how it played out.  It's like a fictional devotional.  I hope you enjoy The Screwtape Letters, too!

*I hope you don't mind too much me not capitalizing 'satan.'  I just loathe the idea of giving him the dignity and satisfaction.

May 15, 2013

There's Hope!

Here's the deal, people.  Over the last couple of weeks, I've been feeling in over my head.  Life is coming at me too fast, the days are too full, and I get overwhelmed at moments.  I think God has me on an accelerated sanctification plan this spring!  Every time I think a little rest might be coming, something else "comes up" and I'm challenged once again.  My default is to seek escape, rather than endure with joy.  The question is ever before me: will I cling to Christ or will I crumble before my circumstances?

Today I had an inspection scheduled for the car.  I was proud of myself for remembering to schedule one before the end of the month and the sticker's expiration.  Then last night I got a text from my neighbor,  "You've got a flat."  (Thanks to Kerri, by the way!)  We knew this tire was trouble; we had just filled it Sunday and it was noticeably lower yesterday afternoon.  But it was by the evening, without a doubt, flat.  This text came in about the time that I'd decided to wash the dishes, ditch going for a run, and just sit for an hour before bed, reading and writing.  I was so excited about this coming rest!

Rather than rest, however, Colin and I had to have a conversation about what to do with the car.  I was tired and feeling done-in.  I never did read.  I just talked out how overwhelmed I was feeling at Colin, trying to work faith into the equation.  Then we went to bed.  The night felt like such a let down.  It made me sad.

Nevertheless, the Word of God had been ringing in my ears all evening as I wrestled with the reality of life's fullness.

My soul finds rest in God alone.
Psalm 62:1

So what if it never changed?  What if the relentlessness was really relentless?  What if it never stopped?  How do we find rest in the midst of the crazy?

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone.
Psalm 62:5

Rest is found in a Person.

Sometimes we know it and can say it, like the Psalmist in verse one.  Sometimes, we have to command our souls in His direction, like in verse five.

The rest our souls long for, especially when life is extra full or extra difficult, can't be found in a perfect schedule, a life void of difficulty, or a vacation.  Even if circumstances were "just right," our souls would still be restless.  Here's how I know why.

The Psalmist says this:

My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
He is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Psalm 62:1-2, 5-7

The salvation, the ultimate rescue we're looking for, comes from God.  The solid, unshakable foundation we seek is found in Him alone.  He is the rock, the refuge, the fortress, and the source of salvation.  He cannot be moved.  If my life is hidden with Christ in God, I cannot be either.  The world can rage around me for good and for ill, but with my eyes fixed on the God of salvation, because of the work of Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, I can join the Psalmist in proclaiming Him, remembering the depth of the hope I have.

Just to be clear, there is nothing awful happening in my life, (which makes me feel even more terrible about feeling overwhelmed!), but I do feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities and how quickly the days go by.  It is in the midst of that reality that the invitation stands to:

Trust in Him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to Him,
for God is our refuge.
Psalm 62:8

What's your reality today?  Every moment of every day, the invitation stands.  Will we trust?  Will we cling to Christ and be filled with hope?  Or will we persist in prideful unbelief?  Oh, that our hearts would trust the Lord!

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:23

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 5:5

May 10, 2013

Book Review - 'The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming'

Last month, in preparation for leading some elective sessions at a retreat, I read Henri Nouwen's, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.  My short recommendation is this: give it a read!  (Also, no disclaimers necessary this week, this book is for anyone, not just moms.)

The premise of the book comes from the Rembrant painting on the cover, which is a depiction of the return of the prodigal son from Jesus' parable in Luke 15.  Throughout the book, Nouwen shares how contemplation of the painting really "rocked his world," so to speak.  In three sections, he discusses how Christians, beloved children of the living God, can find ourselves in the characters in the story: the wayward younger son, the stiff older son, and the father.

My mind was stretched, for Nouwen asks his readers to consider that God says to us, as He did to Jesus at His baptism, This is my beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased.  How difficult it is to thing of being God's beloved!  Nouwen succinctly states: Belief in total, absolute forgiveness does not come readily. (p 52)  Yet I John 3:1, a verse I've had memorized since my youth firmly states, How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.  And that is what we are!

His children.

I have children.  I wonder what it would be like to have them stray away and think they can't come home.  Or to have they stay and not realize the depth of my love for them.  This might be a tiny taste of how the Father feels about His own.

I appreciate how Nouwen draws his readers in to consider how we are like both the prodigal and the older son.  We are complex, we sinners!  And Nouwen has a way with words that expresses so perfectly how I feel and experience life.  We need God.  Nouwen draws out how we can come home to Him, and find life and joy in Him, from our distant lands of straying to our dutifully religious staying at home.  The Lord is calling.  Beloved!  He's calling us into relationship with Him, calling us home; Nouwen reminds us we must tune our ears to hear and our hearts to believe.

In the final section of the book, Nowen does something very intriguing.  He asks his readers to consider, as he was asked to do by a friend, how we are to be like the father in the story, welcoming in those in need of tender compassion.  Reading through my notes on that section, I found this quote:
This is not the picture of a remarkable father.  This is the portrayal of God, whose goodness, love, forgiveness, care, joy, and compassion have not limits at all.  (p 131)
This is the Spirit that works in us to love and care for those in need of grace, and this is the God who we offer to them.  He's incredible, awesome, wonderful, and mighty!  I had never thought of myself as moving into being the father figure in the story.  Food for thought, indeed.

I suppose we dance around among the three "roles" throughout our days: sometimes so prodigal, sometimes so like the upright son, sometimes being called to minister as the father.  The final section reminds me of Ephesians 2:10:

For you are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do.

I would love to give you quote after quote to encourage you to read this book, but I'm sure most of them are best read in context.  So I leave you to it!

Have a good weekend.  :)

May 8, 2013

His Statutes, My Counselors

I had high hopes for May.  April was full.  May promised to be calmer, more subdued, a respite.

Ha ha ha.  That was a nice little joke you played on me, May, pretending like you were not full and then going and getting all booked up.  Sneaky little month that you are, unassuming with your short name and beautiful flowers and weather.

I kid.  But really, lately I've been feeling the pinch.  I am behind: behind on basic household tasks, behind on long-term projects, behind on relationships.  Behind.  And now we've added a move to a new town to the end of the summer and a house search.  I can feel my behind getting more behind.  (That's a funny sentence.  You can laugh.)

The last few days have had their ups and downs in my wee little head.  I get excited about the wonderful things going on then overwhelmed by the wonderful things going on.  I need to find some balance or I'm going to end up in the loony bin before we even get to our new home!

In my clearheaded moments, I know exactly how to stay balanced: Ground your feet firmly in the Word of God and wrap your arms around your Savior, girl.  In my confused moments, the scales tip into a wild grasping at mirages of hope offered to me by frustration, sorrow, fear, or any other way I try to get "control" over the situation.

Ground your feet firmly in the Word of God
and wrap your arms around your Savior, girl.

This morning I read these oh-so-descriptive-of-me words in Psalm 119:5-6.

Oh that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees,
Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.

Boy, am I put.  to.  shame.

Later, in verse twenty-four, the Psalmist says:

Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors.

Isn't that a beautiful image?  Knowing God's statutes and having them sitting around me to advise me, as counselors (and like a fortress of protection).  God's way is right.  His paths are righteous.  His directions for us are perfect, showing us how He intended for us to live and move and be in this world.  These statutes are my counselors.

So when I consider my fretting and turmoil about the full-ness of life and my inability to handle it all, I can think about my counselors.  For example, Jesus said things like, "Don't worry because God's in control and cares for you." God's Word and will for me is to trust Him ... not to try to be Him by trying to understand everything or anticipate every outcome.

And the Good News, the Gospel that Christ came to save sinners and died and rose again from the dead, is more than enough proof of the Lord's love, faithfulness, and trustworthiness.  (And that doesn't include a single one of the providential ways He's worked specifically in my life - or yours - since the days we were born!)

So I wonder, are you with me this May?  Does life seem like it's a little too much?  Are you ready to throw in the towel and go live in a cave?  Do you believe the lies your idols offer in the form of escape, control, or both?  As an alternative, we can delight in God's law.  We can consider these our counselors.  We can trust the only One who has proven Himself 100% trustworthy.  Let's set our hearts and minds to His frequency.  I mean, really, why do we keep trying to act like we're trustworthy with our own lives!

I'll close with a few other verses I read this morning, Proverbs 8:17, 34-35.  Wisdom is speaking.
I love those who love me,and those who seek me find me.
Blessed is the man who listens to me,watching daily at my doors,waiting at my doorway.For whoever finds me finds lifeand receives favor from the Lord.

Have a lovely evening.  God bless you as you seek Him.

May 3, 2013

Book Review - 'Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe'

Confession: It's been awhile since I finished up this book, so this will be a review of broad and sweeping impressions, rather than one of great detail.

Disclaimer: This book is for moms and is written by Christians from a Christian perspective.  Sorry to you readers who do not fit into these categories.  But perhaps you might have a friend who would benefit from and enjoy this book, and could pass on the recommendation to her.

DesperateBook: Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe
Authors: Sarah Mae & Sally Clarkson

I have read many of Sally Clarkson's books.  Her books Ministry of Motherhood and Mission of Motherhood were instrumental in major changes in my heart and home.  The Holy Spirit used them to do some major work in my attitude about being a mom.  I'm grateful, eternally, that Sally wrote the books that she has written.  With that being said, I always offer this disclaimer when sharing those books with friends or giving them as gifts: Sally has thought a lot about these things, don't be intimidated by how it seems like she's done everything right.  (She hasn't but it can feel like she did.)  And also, don't try to be Sally; be yourself, putting the principles (not rules or regulations) that she teaches, into practice.   As you know about me if you've been around Life in the Valley for a while, I want a plan and program, to do it, and have everything turn out perfectly.  Sally points moms to Scripture, the life of Jesus, and calls us to disciple the little ones with whom we've been entrusted.  It's a call of faithfulness and trust in the Lord.  Her words are a blessing to our generation.

I share all of that with you to say this.  Desperate is different; different than any of Sally's previous books or any other book about being a mom I've ever read.  I didn't feel at any point like I had to talk myself down because I was feeling intimidated or overwhelmed by what I was reading.  THIS BOOK IS REAL.

What makes it so powerfully real is that each chapter has a contribution from both Sarah and Sally about real issues mommies face day by day by day by, well, you get the idea!  Sarah is "in the trenches" so to speak, with a few young ones.  Sally is "on the other side" (yeah, that special place we all dream of getting to, more ASAP some days than others!  Did I hear an, Amen, out there?!) all of her children having graduated from high school.  Each chapter begins with a short letter from Sarah to Sally about some issue or topic surrounding being a mom, and a brief response from Sally to Sarah.  The meat of the chapter that follows expands on the question at hand.  The format is wonderful.

But it is the content that "makes" the book.  As I said, THIS BOOK IS REAL.  There are chapters ranging from depression to housework, staying sane with so many voices around us to finding joy in this life of mundane busyness.  The pages are bursting with hope; the reader finds herself relieved to know she's neither alone nor crazy (reading Sarah's words) and then uplifted and encouraged to persevere because it's worth it (reading Sally's responses).

Desperate is a must-read if you are a mommy, no matter what age your children, though I suspect even more so if you are a mom of a bunch of little ones.  I also recommend it to "seasoned" mommies, because it's a good refresher/reminder of days gone by and the call to mentor and teach those coming along behind you, a la Titus 2.

In the pages of this book, we're invited in to the mentoring relationship Sally has with Sarah Mae, enjoying the privilege of gleaning from Sally's wisdom without her needing to mentor each of us individually!  I highly recommend reading this book with a friend.  Every chapter ends with questions for reflection and a QR code to learn more by watching a short video interview with Sarah and Sally.  Cool, right?!  (I need to go back and watch those, still!!)

Hm, maybe we should have a book club in Pittsburgh this summer?  Any takers?!

Have a great weekend!

Friday Book Reviews in May

Have you missed checking in for a grace interruption post the last couple of days?  I've missed writing them! The good Lord continues to interrupt me by grace, yesterday with a well-timed invitation to a park picnic at the end of a grumpy-Heather morning.  Lovely.  How about you?  Are you catching God in action?

Now that April is over, I'd like to do something regular, but not every day, in May.  I've read a few books recently and will offer my reviews for your reading.  Perhaps you'll want to pick one up if you're looking for something new.  I may have to do a re-post of an old book review to fill up all the Fridays.  I hope you don't mind.  I wish I could read more, but not at this stage of life!

Here's some fun news!  During this month, I will be reading a new book called Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home by Gloria Furman who blogs over at DomesticKingdom.  From the short relationship we've had via email and reading her posts, I can say she is a pretty cool lady!    We met online a while back (remember when it used to be weird to say you met someone online?!) and I hope someday we get to meet in person.  She lives in Dubai, so it could be a while!

Anyway, her book will be release on - wait for it - the last Friday of May.  Perfect, no?  So here I am giving you a heads up on what this month's final book review will be.  I hope I can crack it open here shortly and dig in!  I'm so curious to see if there's intersection between what Gloria has to share and last month's interrupted by grace series.

So here we are in May.  The sun is shining and my chimes are singing to me a song of spring as the breezes blow; I'm gonna go read the first chapter of that book.