Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sweet Christian Fiction

It always says a lot to me that I can whip through a fiction book in a day or two and a nonfiction book in weeks.  When I start reading a good story, I get drawn in and just want to know how it ends.  Last night, I finished reading a new book and when I was done, I just smiled. 

The book I read is Angel Sister by Ann H. Gabhart.  I have never read a book by this author before, but I enjoyed her story and her writing. 

Storyline:  Kate's family is a mess.  Her father, Victor, is turning to the bottle and her mother, Nadine, and he are both belittled by their controlling fathers.  She finds an abandoned little girl on the church steps when she goes to the church to take her grandfather some preserves.  This little girl causes a stir in their extended family and the town.  You hope that this will be the story of healing in Kate's family and without giving too much away--it is just that.

Writing:  The writing is good and easy to read.  The characters were easy to imagine and seemed very real.  They weren't perfect by any means--even Kate, who the reader deeply sympathizes with.  I liked that. 

Plot:  The plot is interesting.  It is set in 1936 during the Great Depression.  The story of Nadine and Victor's past is interwoven with the story of the present in this book.  The past for these characters, as for us all, is rooted in our pasts.  The desire for power takes a central role in this book and it is clear how that desire of Victor and Nadine's fathers affected not only their lives but the lives of their children and their children's children.

It is rare to find Christian books that are just fun to read that are not romance novels.  This one is not and that makes it a unique book in my eyes.  I think it's easy to draw readers in when it is a romance novel.  As women, we love to read romantic stories and we get drawn in very easily, at least I do.  For a book to not rely on romance as the central theme in the story and to portray it as a part of the story--just as it is a part of our lives, but not the whole--is much more realistic in my opinion. 

Yes, this book is characteristic of typical Christian fiction.  But, in this case, I think that's a very good thing.  This is a book you would sit down with and enjoy from beginning to end.  Just make sure you get yourself a good cup of tea or coffee before you get started because you may not want to get up out of your comfy chair for a little while...

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review by Revell Publishing.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A book about a man

Over the past year, I've read several memoirs.  Choosing To See by Mary Beth Chapman and Unplanned by Abby Johnson were wonderful stories that deeply encouraged me.  In both, I clearly heard in the author's voices their desire to love the Lord and serve Him.  They both also acknowledged their weaknesses and faults.  They took responsibility for their decisions.  Reading these books has grown a desire in me to read more like them.  When I recently read The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Ms. Tsemach Lemmon, I was also encouraged by the story and enjoyed hearing how Kamila Sadiqi supported, loved, and cared for the people in her life--her story wasn't just about her.

I picked up Scars of a Chef by Rick Tramonto with Lisa Jackson with the thought of looking for a story that would be encouraging.  The cover makes the Rick Tramonto look like a very rough and tumble guy.  But, that is what publicity and marketing does--its goal is to make you curious about the book and make you want to read it.  Unfortunately, it can backfire if the book doesn't match the cover--which is true in this case.  This is the story of a man.  It is not a story primarily about God and what He has done in this man's life or about the people in Rick's life.  Thoughout the book, you hear Rick's voice.  I felt as if I could be talking to him.  But, the book is all about what He, Rick Tramonto, did and how He, Rick Tramonto, succeeded.

I am thankful that Rick and his wife have come to know the Lord.  I am glad for them.  I am glad that Rick's father came to know the Lord two weeks before his death.

But, this book contains the details of Rick's life and achievements.  Very detailed details.  If you love food and you are curious about the world which chefs live in, then you may find the bulk of this book interesting.  It began to feel very repetitious to me after the first third of the book.

This isn't a book I would recommend.  It isn't a bad book, per se.  But, I didn't find what I expected when I chose to read this book.  I was looking for a book that would give me insight into how someone who grew up in a very rough family found his way out.  I was hoping that there would be an awareness on the a part of the author of how God helped him do that.  I wasn't expecting the story of a man who indulged in drugs and alcohol for years.  The inside pictures of Rick Tramonto paint a very different picture than the cover does.  I don't think he's the rough guy that the front cover portrays him to be.  Albeit he admits to having quite a temper, but I couldn't figure some things out about the story.  Like once he realized as an adult that he has dyslexia, why didn't he get help?  ...Why didn't he ever realize that the reason the counselor was talking to him about the things he did wrong in his marriage counseling was that he probably did have issues he needed to work out?  ...Why didn't he want to change?  In this story, rather than finding encouragement and answers, I was just left with a lot of questions.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Upcoming Book Reviews...

For a week, I thought I felt at a loss with no books to read and review.   It was a good loss, because my load lightened.  I was reminded of a few lessons I've learned along the way.  The biggest of which is:  Don't take on more than one heavy book at a time!  I took on too many in January...

So, here's my new list of upcoming books to be reviewed:

Two Devotionals for children--
Get Wisdom by Ruth Younts
God's Names by Sally Michael
I chose these because I like to read devotionals with my children at night--as much for them as for me.  I want to find some solid, biblical books that I don't have any concerns or reservations about.  I read several devotionals last year.  I loved The Jesus Book and Mighty Acts of God and Starr Meade's two devotionals for middle schoolers.  But, none of the others I read for elementary age children stood out to me.

Scars of a Chef by Rick Tromonto with Lisa Jackson
Rick went from a pit to becoming a world class chef, but more importantly he became a believer.  I started it this morning...

Sewing School by Amie Plumley and Andria Lisle
I have been searching for a home economics/life skills curriculum for my girls.  I've been working on a list for the past week.  I'm going to post it as a separate tab on this blog.  I'll write another post about this soon...

The Cleaner Plate Club, a book/cookbook for parents of picky eaters (like me!), by Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin
Sami is my ever picky eater and this book sounded interesting.  I liked the formatting of it from the preview and the premise of the book.  I'm looking forward to reading it!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A day of homeschooling: What it consists of for us

One thing my veteran homeschooling friends have told me is that there is always more we could be doing.  But, that doesn't mean we should.   One of my friends encouraged me this summer to simplify as much as possible.  

So, for Sami this year, this is my curriculum:
HSP 1 Math- 4 pages or 2 lessons
100 Easy Lessons-1 lesson a day
Handwriting without Tears 2-4 pages a day, and after they've finished a book I have them retrace the pages with a sharp crayon or colored pencil for additional practice 
The Bible Illustrated for children by Ella Lindvall (1 story a day)
Health once a week, 2 short lessons
The Writing Spot workbook
And she did the Explode the Code A, B, and C books last year.  So, she started Book 1 at the beginning of December and does two pages a day. .
I have just now begun to increase her reading practice.  She reads 2 Bob books or Now I'm reading books or 2 Hooked on Phonics Lessons in addition to the 100 Easy Lessons.

In total, her lessons take anywhere from 1 hour to  2 1/2 hours, depending on her focus, interruptions etc.  But, it's enough.  I know this now because I did it with Autumn and did too much!  I did science with her, but realized that she would have been fine starting it in 1st.  For Sami, her science this year will consist of our Penguin Theme pocket we made in January, cooking lessons, and gardening in the spring.

When Autumn was in PK, I started doing report cards and some evaluations so that I could gauge how she was doing and so I could show my husband that she was learning everything she needed to.  I used the World Book Scope and Sequence to know that I was covering everything she needed to learn.  If you'd like me to mail or email you a copy of the pages I use for report cards and evals, I'd be glad to.  They aren't as formal as they might sound, but I really like what I've found.  What it does for me is to help me see the progress she's made.  What it does for her is that I can show her that she's improving.  What it does for my husband is that I can prove to him that she's doing well =)  I just did my first evaluations for Sami and it was good to do that.  Autumn is finally at 7 ready to set goals.  I didn't really feel that I could convey that concept to her before, so I haven't really felt compelled to gauge her progress by goals yet.

As for our day, when it was just Autumn doing school, we'd aim to start about 10 am.  We also aimed to be done by lunch.  That way, they'd have some play time in the morning and then she and I would sit down for a bit.  The other two had to learn to play.  I let Sami sit in on as much as she could and often gave her a coloring book or something to work on herself because she wanted to be a part of everything.  I can't say that it was easy, but we got through it and she learned and so did I =)  Last year required more time and this year more still, so I'm adjusting little by little.  I did try to do it in the afternoon but that didn't work for me at all.  I was a basket case.  I need time in the afternoon with the kids in their rooms.  Even if I just sit down.  I go from 5 am when I get my husband ready and out the door till they're in bed at 8/8:30 p.m.  I need 2 hours in the middle of the day.  So, though it's harder to do it with the distractions of the other kids, I decided I had to do it in the morning.  I also discovered that Autumn had a horrible time with math in the afternoon.  Her brain struggled to work.  We do math first because it's the subject she most resists.  Even now she struggles with it and sometimes it takes her so long (1-2 hours) because she dazes off.  But, I know I can't do it for her and she blazes through it when it's math that she loves.  

So, that's our homeschool day in a nutshell.  Every day is a little different depending on what comes up.  I keep a planner and check of each subject as we finish it.  If I have to leave a little until the next day, I will and go back the next day to finish it up.  I try to not let things get to the end of the week without getting done though.

Over the years, a few non-homeschooling friends have expressed skepticism about how we can get so much done in so few hours.  I have a few thoughts about that...

1)  Each year gets a little tougher and requires a little more work.  I'm already expecting an increase in how much work Autumn will need to get done next week.  I'm thankful that God has given me the opportunity to let go of "my time" ;) little by little as she needs more time for school.

2)  We school all day.  I talk to them in the grocery store.  I teach them about how I'm driving and what I'm watching for.  I talk to them about what we pass by.  They have chores and are taking on more and more responsibility.  They fold and put away their clothes now.  They help me cook when I have the patience.  They are going to have their own garden this spring.  

3)  I listed our academic lessons, but I didn't mention that Sami goes to Preschool two days a week for a total of 5 hours.  Autumn has piano lessons every week.  The girls are in ballet, gymnastics, and Awanas.  They are active and social kids.

4)  They don't get enough socialization--Actually, between church, activities, neighbors, and their siblings, they are social beings.  And they are learning to include children of different ages in their play rather than excluding them.  

So, those are my thoughts for now... As homeschoolers, we can often think that we aren't doing enough and that everyone else is doing more.  I know it is something to guard against-- becoming a "lazy" homeschooler and not planning or making sure your children learn and are able to complete appropriate grade level work.  But, we also have to guard against--unrealistic expectations of ourselves and our children.  This is the dangerous trap I am far more tempted to fall into.

I feel as if God has helped me a lot with resisting that trap this year.  I fall into at times, but I'm doing a lot better than I did last year.  I do make mistakes and get upset at times, but those times are more about my forgetting to have patience than about them.  (Homeschooling really is about God working in me as much as them, I strongly believe.)

The weakness that I feel God bringing to my attention now is that I need to pay closer attention to the hearts of my children.  Amidst the stress of the last few months, I feel as if that is what I lost sight of.  I got mired down in the busyness and struggles of life.  This week it was my daughter's heart and her grace that I think God used to calm me and give me peace.  

There's always something for the Lord to work on in my heart... ;)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Help for Eating Disorders

Last month, I reviewed a book that deeply distressed me about eating disorders.  The answers that the book had were to shift the desire for control over one's life from food to other things like relationships.  The answer wasn't what I was hoping for and what I feel in my heart as I've watched several friends live and struggle with eating disorders.

I found this quote in Starved by Nancy Alcorn "The enemy wants you to believe that because you can deny yourself food you have some sort of power over your body and over your life.  But the Bible says that we are slaves to whatever controls us (2 Peter 2:19...Satan is your adversary, your enemy.  He wants you to believe that you are in control of your life, but this is a deception tactic to keep you in bondage.  The way to walk in freedom is to choose to surrender control of your life to God instead of trying to control your life yourself."

The hardest part about eating disorders is that they begin, not out of a desire for control, but out of a desire to cope or to lose a little weight. Then they give a false sense of control and compliments from friends about losing weight feed the positive feelings.  Then they progress to a false sense of control without the young woman or man realizing that the eating disorder has begun to control them.  That is oversimplifying things, but I, like most people assumed once that someone sets out to lose a lot of weight or that they are simply trying to feel in control over some part of their life.  But, the sense of control comes later.

Or so I've read.  I have not had an eating disorder.  There was a time right after college when I wouldn't eat anything but vegetables and every time I had dessert, I made sure I worked out.  I remember eating coleslaw filled with vegetables because it was cheap and low in calories.  It's interesting for me to look back on that time because it was actually the time in my life when I had the most dates.  Was there a correlation between me being thin and getting asked out?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  There really isn't any way to know.  But, that's where it all ended for me.  I got tired of vegetables--I'm actually still tired of vegetables.  And I love dessert and sweets too much to give them up.  When I look back, I always see God's protection of me in my eating during that time.

I'd liken what happens when an eating disorder develops to what happened in the Garden of Eden.  In Genesis, first the serpent twists what God says, and then he outright lies to Eve.  The twisted truth sounds almost just like the truth so it's easy to get tricked.  There is a deception in eating disorders that draws women (and men) young and old in.  And the deception is just as dangerous.

When I agreed to read the book about eating disorders in January, I was hoping to find a book that I could recommend to mothers and daughters to help them understand what's going on and begin the journey to healing from these disorders.  I was so discouraged by it, that I began looking for another book--which leads me to the two books I need to review in this post.

The first is Starved by Nancy Alcorn.  It gives some good information, but it is basically written for high schoolers or young college students.  Ms. Alcorn's voice and style of writing alternates between textbook and good truths.

For the most part.  I did find several things in the book that disconcerted me.

One was the chapter on coming to know the Lord.  It was very simplistic.  I specifically struggled with the prayer about forgiveness.  "And Lord, I know you never caused any bad thing to happen to me in my life, but I blamed you and I forgive you right now."  Is there something about that that doesn't sound right to you?  We don't need to forgive God.  That statement reminds me of Job's friends in the Bible.  My other concern which I just realized is that forgiveness isn't actually explained.  As people, we use the word "forgive" as if everyone knows what exactly that means.  I think it needs to be explained and given examples.  That statement above which I quoted does not reflect an understanding of Romans 8:28--that God works in all things for the good of those who love us--he is omniscient, all powerful, and omnipresent.  We don't forgive God--that would imply that He had done something wrong.  There is a theology called Open Theism that does believe such things.  But, I don't believe that is biblical.

Another example of something that concerned me is at the end of the book in a chapter identifying Ungodly beliefs and Godly beliefs.  One of the Godly beliefs was that:  "God will restore all the time I have wasted or lost by my choices or the choices of others.  God gives me peace." p. 76  What does that mean to "restore" that time?  And does that statement mean (because this book is about eating disorders) that the disorder developed in response to the choices of others and to some degree can be blamed on them?  That's dangerous thinking.  Our society is all about not taking responsibility for our actions and for the most part, I felt that Nancy Alcorn talked to the young girls she is speaking to in this book about their responsibility without blaming others.

There is some good information in this book, but I wouldn't hand it to a young girl.  I might give it to a parent with a caution that I am not comfortable with some of the teaching in the book. The information about Pro-Ana websites is good.  There are good Bible verses that a parent could use to pray for their daughters to contradict the false messages that such websites give girls and even that the girls tell themselves--the lies.

There is a sequel to this book titled Beyond Starved: Real Stories of Real Freedom.  This is a collection of testimonies from young women who have healed from eating disorders.  After each story, there are several questions.  I can see this study being used in counseling between a counselor and patient.  I wouldn't recommend someone going through this on their own.  That's one of the problems of eating disorders in the first place--isolation.  Healing can only be done in community with accountability.  I liked this book a lot better than the first.  I thought the questions I read were good and it was encouraging to me to know that these young women have recovered.  Their stories share their responsibilities in their actions.  They do not deflect that responsibility to others.  Their reasoning and journeys are explained though.  As a mom of two young girls, it scared me.  I hope and pray that my girls will not find themselves on this path.  Unless you need to read this book, because you are a counselor, you have an eating disorder, or you are a parent of a child with an eating disorder, I wouldn't recommend reading it.  Sometimes we don't need to know about things unless that is what is on our plates--it can make what we are dealing with in our own lives seem overwhelming.

I am thankful for Mercy Ministries and their heart for young women living with eating disorders.  These disorders are devastating and I have heard from friends that the best success with healing from such disorders has come in such clinics where you live full time.  Mercy Ministries is pointing these young women to God, rather than themselves as hope for their lives.  We cannot save ourselves, but God in His grace and mercy can.

If you would like more information about Mercy Ministries, you can learn more here:

In the process of reading books about eating disorders, I have realized that my eating wasn't what would be called disordered eating.  But, there were definitely struggles with food and a desire to be thin was at the core of my eating habits at that time.  I am now reading Made to Crave, Satisfying Your Deepest Desire With God, Not Food.  I am hoping that this will be a book I can recommend to women about food and our ups and downs with it.  It's good so far, I'll let you know what I really think, though, when I've finished it!

Please note that I received complimentary copies of these books from Mercy Ministries.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Pilgrim's Progress for Children... Which edition do you choose?

I recently discovered when I began my search on CBD for an edition of The Pilgrim's Progress to read to my children that there are many editions out there.

Pilgrim's Progress was written by John Bunyan while he was in prison in 1678 during a 12-year incarceration. He was in jail because he preached without the permission of the church of England.  The story is told in two parts.  The first is his dream of Christian journeying from his home through the Gates of Heaven to the City.  The second part is the story of his wife, Christiana, and her journey with their children after her husband had been gone a while.

So, which do you choose?  Well, I think it depends on what you're looking for--and who you're looking for.

If you're looking for a way to share the story with young children age 5-9 years old... could listen to Adventures in Odyssey's rendition.  They did two episodes based on The Pilgrim's Progress.  I loved them.  You can purchase them for MP3 download here:  Each episode is $2.)  These episodes were actually my first exposure to The Pilgrim's Progress.   Adventures in Odyssey seems to follow after the Little Pilgrim's Progress.  It is quite different from the original, but it has elements that are common to both.

If you're looking for a very modern edition with a lot of pictures..

Pilgrim's Progress

Lion Children's Books / 2004 / Hardcover
But, this edition is very modernized.  It doesn't stick very close to the original book in the first few pages.  

If you're looking for an edition which homeschoolers have written curriculum for...

Dangerous Journey

Edited By: Oliver Hunkin
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. / 1985 / Hardcover
Dangerous Journey is used by several curriculums and if you google this book, you can find resources to use with it.  There are a lot of illustrations, but the book isn't the closest edition that I found to the original.  I don't have a copy of it, so I can't say how much is taken out of the story, except that a lot must be because the length of this book is far shorter than others that only cover Part 1 about Christian.  The last chapter is about Cristiana. Her story, which is as long as part 1 in the original, is summarized in one chapter.

Answers in Genesis has also written an all-in-one curriculum using the original, unedited edition written by John Bunyan that is available on CBD.  Because it uses the original edition, would recommend it for 6th-10th grades.  The questions may seem a little young for 9th and 10th graders, but it depends on the student, I believe.  I was quite surprised that the people who review it recommend it for 4-6th graders.  If the edition were not the original, it would seem more appropriate to me for 4-6th graders.
If you're looking for an edition that retells the story with Christian as a young boy instead of as a man, then...

Little Pilgrim's Progress: From John Bunyan's Classic

Moody Publishers / 2006 / Paperback

Little Pilgrim's Progress by Helen Taylor does that.  But, the story is very different than the original by John Bunyan.  From the very beginning, it is different.  John Bunyan tells the story as if seeing it in a dream.  That the story is a dream is not mentioned at the start of Chapter One by Helen Taylor.  Moody's edition of this story has some black and white drawings to illustrate the story, but not many.  Ms. Taylor wrote this abridgement many years ago and it is a classic in its own way.

If you're looking for an edition that sticks very close to the original edition with only minor changes or for an edition to read yourself, then...

The Pilgrim's Progress, Deluxe Illustrated Edition

By: John Bunyan, ed. by C.J. Lovik
Crossway Books & Bibles / 2009 / Hardcover

When The Pilgrim's Progress, Deluxe Illustrated Edition arrived, I opened it up and immediately felt that if I were to read one edition of it myself, this would be it.  I compared it side by side with the original and I was pleased with the changes the editor makes.  It is like comparing the KJV of the Bible with the ESV translation.  Changes have been made, but they have sought to be as literal as they could while making it more readable.  They did not make changes which were extremely modern or use any type of slang language.  There were many little changes that other editions made which I was surprised by.  Several didn't even introduce the story as a dream that John Bunyan had.  Others did things like use Christiana's name in the beginning of the story.  In the original, her name isn't mentioned until Part 2.

This edition would be very readable for a middle or high schooler on their own or for parents reading with their 8/9-13 year olds.  Every few pages, there is a beautiful illustration.  These illustrations were actual paintings that were created for this edition.  One thing to note, though, is that this edition is only Part 1 of the original Pilgrim's Progress.  Comparing this book to the original has really made me examine what I think about reading the classics.  I won't discount modern editions of classics as quickly as I have at times.  I actually found this edition so much easier to read and understand.  The formatting makes it easier to keep one's place.  I also liked that the Bible verses which the story illustrates are footnoted on each page, rather than included in each sentence.

I have this edition published by Crossway, in addition to the Adventures in Odyssey episodes and an unabridged copy of the original Pilgrim's Progress in my possession.  So, I have made all comparisons and observations of the other editions based on the previews available on CBD and Amazon.  This is why most of my observations are made on how close the editions are to the original in their wording.  

It was very interesting to begin comparing all of the editions available on CBD.  If I were going to purchase one edition, the edition published by Crossway would be the one I would purchase.  It stays close to the original language and story, which I value.  The illustrations are beautiful and I enjoy them.  I highly recommend it because of the color illustrations, text, and formatting.

Please also note that I did receive a complimentary copy of The Pilgrim's Progress, Deluxe Illustrated Edition for review from Crossway Publishing.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Courageous Afghan Woman

A few years ago, I read The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.  A friend of mine was told by an Afghan woman once that it was hard to believe these books were fiction because they could have been non-fiction.  These two books draw a very vivid picture of what life was like for women in Afghanistan in the twentieth century.  I remember being shocked by how little I knew about that part of the world when I began reading The Kite Runner.  That shock shook me out of my little American egocentric view of the world with the help of another book, Love in the Driest Season, by Neely Tucker.  All three books I highly recommend if you haven't read them.

A new book is going to be released in March which is not fictional.  It is the true story of an Afghan woman and her life during the Taliban regime of the 1990s.  This story is not about history from long ago.  This story is recent history, which makes it all the more heartwrenching to read.

The book I'm referring to is titled The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gale Tzemach Lemmon.  I read this book in a day.  I have three little kids and I still read it in a day.  Once I began the first chapter, my heart grieved so much for the suffering of the women of Afghanistan.  I know that many people question what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan and why our troops fight the Taliban.  After reading this book, there is no question in my mind.  As Americans, we are simply so egocentric in our view of the world.  We don't always realize that sometimes we need to fight for people when they aren't able to fight for themselves.

This story is as powerful, if not moreso, than the The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Partly, I think, because it is a biography, not a realistic fiction story.  Several reviewers on Amazon shared spoke of a  desire for more visual description of Afghanistan in this book.  If you begin this book and desire more description, set it down.  Go read Hosseini's two books and then come back to this one.  Having those pictures in your head will fill in any gaps that you have, I think.

The ending brought tears to my eyes.  I am thankful and feel blessed that I got a chance to read this.  I think what made this book really hit my heart so hard was that this young woman is five years younger than me.  The story begins when I was graduating high school.  I was heading off to college.  I earned my four year degree with no idea that such suffering was going on in the world.  How ignorant I was!  I am thankful to be aware now and I hope that it will teach me to be more aware and thankful for my life and where I live.  I hope it will do the same for others as well as help us to have compassion and a sense of understanding why our soldiers are fighting abroad.

Please note that I received a complimentary preview copy of this book from Harper Collins.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Apologetics for Children

My last post alluded to the book I'm going to review today.  One of the first questions I ponder when I begin writing a book review is :Who is the intended audience?  My second question is whether or not I think the intended audience is the best audience for this book, or if I would recommend it to a more specific audience.  That question is the crux of this review.

Book to be reviewed:  Who is God? And Can I Really Know Him?  by John Hay and David Webb, published by Apologia

From the description of the book's publicity materials:  "the audience is children ages 6 to nondenominational in content and is suitable for families belonging to any evangelical or mainline church."

From my perspective, the best audience for this book is families who are attending nondenominational churches who have children who are 10-13 years old.  I would not recommend this book to:  families who attend denominational churches or with younger children, unless you are able to read the book ahead of time and selectively read sections to your children.  It is very difficult to write a book for such a wide age range, like 6-14, because 6 year olds do not understand what 14 year olds do.  It is also often inappropriate to discuss topics that are appropriate for 14 year olds with 6 year olds.  They are not able yet to understand such difficult concepts and ideas.  It can be confusing and upsetting.  I have several friends who attend nondenominational churches.  I think they would like this book a lot.

The theme of this book is to examine the central, core essentials of the Christian faith.  It is essentially a book of apologetics for children.  I believe it is important to note that this book would be best used to encourage and strengthen a child's faith.  But, apologetics do not lead a child to faith in God--We cannot reason our way to faith in God.  There must be a step of faith.  As Ravi Zacharias has said, "God has put enough into this world to make faith in him a most reasonable stance, but He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by reason alone.”

The topics covered in this book are the Truth and how we can know what's true (I did think this was a wonderful explanation), what God is like, who the trinity is, why there is sin in the world, why God created us, will God take care of us, and if Jesus is the only way to God.  I think many kids have these questions and this book answers these questions better than others I've read.  The book itself is a large textbook with great formatting and wonderful, real pictures that bring the stories to life.  It will be much easier for children not to dismiss the stories as simply fictional because of the photographs.

If you attend a denominational church, I wouldn't recommend this book.  Though the authors strove to write this book in a way that would relate to all Christians, there are some key differences among what believers do believe--that is why there are denominations.  When I read Everything a Child Should Know About God by Kenneth Taylor several years ago, I felt that it would be helpful for all believers.  It did not go into many doctrines of the faith that are taught differently in different denominations.  This book verges on going there because of the perspective that it is written from.  The issues I am referring to are free will vs. predestination (this issue isn't talked about, but rather affects how much emphasis is put on one's will); how much emphasis is put on grace and how much is put on obedience and works; and what you believe about how someone comes to know God (free will and the sinner's prayer or by God's grace that worked in one's heart).  I suppose all three of the things I just listed all come back to the ramifications of what one believes about free will and predestination.

My husband's concerns with this book are specifically the perspective the authors have towards the world in their introduction and in how they teach children philosophy in the worldview sections.  He works almost entirely with people who don't believe in God.  They are smart, educated people.  If a young college graduate were to enter his office and begin scoffing at what the other workers did over the weekend, think that they are dumb for believing whatever they do, or mock what they believe, they would build up some significant walls.  It would prevent them from loving their coworkers well.  We are to love both our friends and our enemies, as Jesus calls us to.  We do need to stand up to evil and proclaim the truth.  But, it crucial to speak this truth in love.  In the introduction, the idea is alluded to that if more people in our country believed a Christian worldview it would be more influential in swaying people through the media, entertainment, education, and business sector.  My husband struggled with this belief because as he explained to me--our goal is also not to create heaven on earth--it is to proclaim the truth of the gospel and glorify god.   My husband's feeling is that we do a disservice to our children and leave them illequipped to handle challenges to their faith when we portray other faiths and beliefs like evolution and completely rediculous.  His preference would be rather to simply give our children a strong grounding in their faith and leave the door open to discussion when they come across views and opinions that challenge what they believe.  As they walk through these challenges to their faith, their faith will become their own and will be strengthened depending on how they and we, as their parents, respond.  

This has been a difficult book for me to review.  I do not want to be divisive, but rather respectful about differing views.  I hope that I have done that.  If you attend a nondenominational church, this series may be a good fit for your homeschooling Bible curriculum.  It is the first of four books, each addressing aspects of living life as a Christian.  I think the idea behind the series is wonderful.  It is the execution that my husband struggled with.  This book may be one that has a lot of great stuff in it that you filter through before you present to your children.  I would caution homeschoolers about introducing the worldview sections to their children before they are old enough to understand philosophy and before they believe in God.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Apologia Press.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Teaching Our Children About God

I remember when I was pregnant with Autumn being introduced to an idea that was new to me.  The teacher of our Sunday school class brought up the idea that in teaching our children about God from the time they are born, they will always know God.  As a soon to be new parent, I thought that would be amazing.  I would love to guarantee, in a sense, that my children will know and love the Lord.

When my daughters were 3 and 5, they told me that they knew God and loved Jesus. They may have been even younger, because I didn't write down the date.  I puzzled about it for a bit and wondered if they were certain.  I questioned them several times.  They told me they were certain.

Last year, I read God, Marriage, and Family by Andreas Kostenberger.  As I read the book, I became keenly aware that we cannot "guarantee" how our children will turn out or that they will come to know the Lord.  I questioned what I'd been taught in that Sunday school class so long ago.  In my questioning, I have become more and more convinced that faith in God cannot be logically reasoned out.  Faith is a gift from God--a gift that we do not deserve or earn.

Ephesians 2:8 ESV
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God"

We live in a pragmatic age--in which all that is practical has value, whether we are speaking of words or things.  And all that is not practical, well, it is expendable.  Twitters, texting...  That pragmatism combines with post modernism in interesting ways.  There is the predominant belief that we are in control of our destinies and that we can reason for ourselves so that we might understand the world around us.  

The son of a friend of mine considers himself a Christian agnostic.  Essentially, he doesn't believe in God, but lives by a moral code.  He isn't a Christian by the definition that a Christian is someone who believes Jesus died on the cross for our sins, died, was buried, and rose again from the dead three days later.  This young man doesn't believe in Jesus.  I have read the responses of friends, including me, on his blog.  The responses are filled with logical apologetics defending and logically reasoning out the existence of God.  At the end of the day, this young man refuses to believe.  Belief is a step of faith.  I love Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." NIV

So, as parents, what are we left to do?  What is our responsibility?  How should we teach our children about the Lord.  The Word is clear:  "18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." Deut 11:18-19 NIV

We are to pray for and love our children.  We are to teach our children about the Lord, with the understanding that if and when they believe, their salvation will be a gift of God's grace to them.  

I have been puzzling for several weeks about how to review a book on my desk.  When it first arrived, I loved it.  It's a large size book which is wonderful for reading with kids.  I like the formatting.  I enjoyed the stories, even if they aren't always as natural as I think they might play out in real life.  My husband, on the other hand, had an immediate and strong opinion about the book when he began perusing it.  He was very concerned about the content of the book.  I don't think I would even be able to explain all of his concerns, though the are deeply rooted in what he believes about God.

The questions I've come back to is--How do we teach our children about God?  and What do we teach them?  and if we give them a defense of their faith, will they be stronger and more able to defend their faith?  These questions seem simple at first and yet they're difficult.  

How do we teach our children?  
By our own examples.  As Susie Larson talks about in her book Growing Grateful Kids, we can't give our children something we ourselves don't have.
By reading the Word with them.
By talking about God with them.
By explaining God's Word to them and praying with them.
Most of all, by loving them with God's love.

What do we teach them?
God's Word.
From the Westminster Catechism for Young Children:

Q. 1. Who made you?
A. God.

Q. 2. What else did God make?
A. God made all things.

Q. 3. Why did God make you and all things ?
A. For his own glory.

Q. 4. How can you glorify God?
A. By loving him and doing what he commands.

Q. 5. Why ought you to glorify God?
A. Because he made me and takes care of me.

If we give them a defense of their faith and teach that other religions are simply wrong, will they be stronger in their faith and more able to defend what they believe?
There has been a movement to return to the learning of the catechisms so that young people might not doubt and that it might also strengthen what they do believe.  Apologetics have their place.  They are important.  But, it is important to know that apologetics encourage us in our faith, but they do not lead to faith.

My husband's belief is that honesty is the best policy--teach them the truth and teach them what's out there.  Don't belittle other beliefs or people who don't believe in Jesus.  

My next post will be a review of the book that is on my desk.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Coping with PMS

Before I had kids, I was generally pretty even keel through the month.  Then, I had kids.  And everything changed.  I struggled with post partum depression after the birth of each of of my children.  It subsided after I stopped nursing, but my hormones never quite returned to normal.  

I realized this year that I have really begun to struggle with PMS.  Each month, I would find times when I couldn't keep from crying.  It was irrational.  This year I have also struggled to exercise regularly--which I was able to do after my girls births.  I began talking to friends about PMS and asking how they deal with it in their lives.  One friend shared with me that she plans her week so that it will be less stressful and gives herself more room to breathe.  But, other than that one friend, most women I talked to simply struggle with it like me.  

A few weeks ago, I discovered that Lorraine Pintus wrote a book titled Jump off the hormone swing: Fly through the Physical, Mental, Spiritual Symptoms of PMS and Perimenopause.  I recognized Ms. Pintus' name because she coauthored Intimate Issues and Intimacy Ignited with Linda Dillow.  Both books are good resources for women about sex and marriage.  Intimate Issues deals specifically with struggles women have with sex in marriage.  Intimacy Ignited is a literal interpretation of the Song of Solomon and a guide to how we can love our husbands well physically.  Over the years when friends have struggled with sex in their marriages, I have always turned to Intimate Issues for guidance about advice and encouragement I could give my friends.  I wrote a review of Intimacy Ignited last year and I enjoyed it.  I was so thankful to discover Jump off the hormone swing.  I felt very hopeful that it might give me some clues as to how I can cope with what is going on in my body!

The day this book arrived, I opened it up and read the first page.  I breathed in a deep breath of relief and surprise as I discovered that I am not alone!  That pit--that horrible pit where I tell myself what a horrible person I am and what a failure I am--she's been there!  As I began reading the book, I found myself deeply enjoying it.  Isn't that ironic--I enjoyed a book about PMS?!  Ms. Pintus mixes humor throughout her book that is engaging and lighthearted.  She has the ability to speak straight and be both encouraging and convicting at the same time.  

She first addresses the physical things that we can do to help us cope with PMS.  She then moves on to the mental symptoms.  There's even a chapter on ways we can stretch our brains and cope with stress better.  Finally, she addresses the spiritual symptoms.  She does not let women use PMS as an excuse for hurtful behavior towards others.  She acknowledges how hard it is and then talks about walking through PMS with God.  The final chapter is about the blessings and testimonies of women of how God has used PMS in their lives.  

After finishing the book, I can't recommend it highly enough.  If you struggle with PMS, I highly recommend reading this book.  I hope it will encourage you as much as it has encouraged me.  I now have a list of things I need to process and consider.  I have some changes I need to make in my life.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Moody Publishing.

Run the Race Well

Over the past year and a half, I've read several of Jerry Bridges' books.  This morning I finished reading The Pursuit of Holiness.

Sometimes there are books that you know you need to read though they aren't easy for you.  That was the case for this book and me.  Every time I read a chapter I felt encouraged and challenged.  I would put off reading it.  My lack of discipline I suppose.  When I find myself needing to read a book, yet struggling to do so I set a goal of reading a chapter a day.  Within a few days I've made my way through the book.

Jerry Bridges books are always challenging and encouraging to me.  In this book, tackles the question of how we pursue holiness by living an obedient life.  He talks about the role of discipline in that pursuit and why we must pursue God and living a holy life.  He clearly says at the beginning that holiness begins with God, not with ourselves.  That is one thing I most appreciate about Bridges' books.  He is always aware that though we are responsible for what we do--God has given us a will--there is an intertwining with the Holy Spirit.  We are not sanctified by our own efforts.  I can best explain this by mentioning the illustration that Bridges begins with in his book of the farmer.  The farmer sows the seed and cares for it, but ultimately depends on God as to whether the seeds grow.  If he doesn't sow the seed nothing with grow.  But, it is also God who has given him the strength to plant the seed.  So, it is with our pursuit of holiness.

Bridges defines holiness as "conformity to the character of God." p. 22  We pursue this through a life of discipline and seeking God.  We are to write His Word on our hearts, care for our bodies, resist temptation, and as we live a joyful life in fellowship with the Lord.

If you are looking for a good Bible study that will encourage you in your walk with the Lord and you have been a believer for a long time or if you have recently come to know the Lord, Bridges has a wonderful way of helping one understand what it means to walk with the Lord.  NavPress has recently published this book as a combination book/Bible study with wide margins that you can write in.  It's a great deal!  I'm so glad they are publishing several of Bridges' books in this new format.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.