Saturday, June 27, 2015

Another lesson from a fiction book

I was reading a free fiction book this week that I had downloaded from Amazon.  It was titled All for Anna, by Nicole Deese.  I haven't found an easy way to find the free kindle books, but if you scroll down to literature, then scroll down to inspirational fiction, then have the books sorted by cost... well, then the free books will come up first.  One might say there must be a reason these books are free.  I think the reason is that they're usually the first in a series. If the author gets you hooked, well, you'll buy the next one in the series!

In this case, it really did hook me (I enjoyed the author's writing) and I was able to "borrow" the second book from Amazon Prime's lending library.  But, back to the book at hand and the lesson I learned...

The book All for Anna focuses on a 24 year old young woman, Tori, who is dealing with PTSD because she wasn't able to save a little girl from an accident.  The story keeps moving and I enjoyed reading the romance part of the story as well as how the young woman's family healed.  But, there's this one scene in which Tori is meeting her counselor and I had an "aha!" moment.  The counselor gives Tori a spiral notebook and explains that it's for her to continue processing.  It's a spiral notebook because some things are meant to be torn out and thrown away rather than held onto and remembered.  This was a powerful visual to me--simple, but powerful.

I shared it with my husband and his reply was quick and straight to the point.  That is what forgiveness is.


Monday, June 22, 2015


This is the next post about one of the booklets.

Today I'm going to write about the booklet I read first.

It is titled, Help! My Anger is Out of Control, by Jim Newheiser.  It's interesting.  I don't always know what books God is going to bring across my path and what paths He's going to take me down.  I picked up this booklet this morning and I'm glad I did.

Anger is something I've had to deal with in my life--just like everyone else I know.  It is an emotion that is part of being human.  But, anger can be very destructive.  This booklet made me stop and consider the sources of my anger and what prompts me to get anger.  It also made me consider my own sin and its ramifications.  I felt the author had some very valuable insights.  The first thing I learned was that anger is our response to our own judgment against perceived evil against us in our lives--it comes from judgments that we make.  The examples the author gave for his points were easy to understand.  one very interesting point is that when people give in to anger, they are at risk of losing control (pg.13).  He doesn't mention this, but I believe that Anger gives a false sense of control--it is deceptive in this way.  I agree with the author that anger leads to other sins, is dangerous, and is contagious.  Another very interesting point is that sinful anger focuses on our own kingdom, rights, and concerns, not on God's kingdom, rights, and concerns.  Newheisers's examination of why we get angry was also very helpful to me.  It also explained to me how many Christian counselors have come to the conclusion that depression, anger, and other emotional reactions do not have biological roots.  And this is the first point of discussion that I want to talk about.

After I had each of my children, I went through post-partum depression.  Our marriage counselor had wisely explained to my husband and I before we got married that my response to feeling hurt is anger.  When I was dealing with the hormone swings that come from nursing, my depression played out in anger rather than sadness.  I had not been a person prone to such anger before having children. I wish now that I had taken an anti-depressant at the time.  Yes, I sinned in my depression, but my body was not cooperating with me.  An anti-depressant, I believe, would have allowed me to get to the emotional place where I could make a choice to sin or not sin in my anger.

In this book, Newheiser says on page 19 that "all sin, including anger, begins in the heart."  Ah.  The author goes on to explain the ramifications of this.  As I read this, I finally understood how some Christian counselors could see depression simply as sin, --because it must all begin in the heart.

This is the point that I adamantly disagree with and I have struggled over the years to argue against.  Not because I didn't know my own argument, but because I didn't know exactly what I was arguing against--the root of the argument on the other side.  I have been pondering this for several weeks now.  I know people that don't advise anti-depressants and other medication because they believe that Christians who take them are simply sinning and that if they dealt with their sin, then they wouldn't need the medicine.  People who have said such things to me over the years have revealed something very important to me when they say this.  First, that they themselves have neither experienced it themselves nor have known a strong Christian who dealt with mental illness.  I say that because people who are actively seeking God are usually trying to deal with the sin in their lives and Sunday Christians and unbelievers don't necessarily care (they may or may not).  Secondly, the case may be that they have been taught that Christians don't need medicine for mental illness, including depression.  I know so many Christians who will advocate the medicine sometimes (like in emergency situations), but then at others resist taking medicine at all costs because somehow it is bad.   I am surprised at how often I come across Christians who are stand offish about taking medicine, for all medical situations across the board, though one can argue that doctors and medicine are a gift from the Lord.

I read a really great article here that I agree with about mental illness and biblical counseling.  This article and discussion is relevant to this author's discussion of anger, because he doesn't acknowledge or agree with a biological source.  I do believe that there can be a chemical imbalance that can make people--more prone to anger.  I am not excusing the anger, but I want to acknowledge that the propensity to irritation and anger can be exacerbated.  In Lorraine Pintus' book Jumping of the Hormone Swing, she gives a wonderful discussion of women's hormones and PMS/Menopause.  She doesn't let women off the hook for sinning against others, but she does acknowledge the difficulty of managing ones' emotions when our hormones are affecting us.  If you are struggling with this, I highly recommend this book!  It's wonderful, biblically sound, and very helpful.

What I realized after a week of reflecting about this booklet is that it is just that--a booklet, not a book.  Anger is a big subject, because it's a big emotion.  This booklet will probably give you some food for thought. It's not exhaustive.  It can't be in so few pages.  Sometimes I read a lot into a small amount of words because I'm so analytical.  I realize this.

There are a few other points about anger that I believe worthy of mentioning:
1.  I think that no one is immune to getting angry.  We are human.  Even the person who thinks they have completely died to self and can get angry.  I've seen it.
2.  Anger that is not expressed outwardly is still anger if it is in your heart.  The conflict that is at the source needs to be dealt with.  Even if one thinks that other's won't know, what is in the heart will come out through a snippy tone of voice or facial expressions.

There was one really big question I was left with after reading this booklet:  What I felt after reading this book is that anger is because of perceived evil--but what if that evil is real and not a wrong perception?  What if wrong has been done?  What if when you speak the truth in love--and try to let someone know that they've hurt you, they lash out at you?  Are you simply supposed to take it?  What if the other person really intended to hurt you--intended to sin against you?  I remember my dad telling me once that if someone hurt him, he was going to hurt them back harder.  I think Christians can fall into this trap by using indirect means like excluding people from family events, by speaking passive aggressively--implying comparison between people as a means to manipulate.  Christians are human.

As usual, I seem to have more questions than answers, but I do trust that God will help me figure things out when He wants me to--and for that I'm very thankful.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this booklet for review from Shepherd Press.

Depression and Abuse

My next few posts are going to tackle seven books from a new series that Shepherd Press is publishing.  These are small books that you'd find at a side table at your church.  They're great, because you can sit down in less than an hour and read what they have to say.  The books I've read so far have given me a lot to think about and process.

The first booklet is about Depression.  

Carol Trahan has written a small and easy to read book. It tackles the type of depression that are part of the normal ups and downs of life. This is not a book for anyone who deals with ongoing, prolonged depression. She says from the get go that she is a biblical counselor, not a medical doctor. Even so, I wish she had included a few questions about how to discern which type of depression you are experiencing and how to get ongoing help.

But, as to the material in this book, I liked it. Quite a lot actually. I thought that she made some great points about depression and sadness in the Bible which I hadn't considered before. She also talks about how depression is a choice--and it is for people like me. I can tell when my thoughts are focusing in on sadness and I make the choice to turn away from it or towards it. Ms. Trahan addresses the hope that God gives us in this situation and also that He desires for us to have joy in Him. All of this was great. For anyone who crashes once in a while or is dealing with one particular event that has provoked a lot of sadness, I'd recommend this book.

For folks like the people I love who live with depression, I wouldn't recommend this book. I've had several Christians over the years, who've said to me that the source of mild depression is really just sin and that if the person struggling would confront those issues, they wouldn't need medication. Those words have hurt because of the people I love who I know that live with depression and one of whom committed suicide. One of those close to me once said that the medication allowed him to get to the point of making a choice of going down the road to sadness or not. Before the medication, he felt like there was no choice--it was like being belted into a rollercoaster that you couldn't get off of. One of the most harmful things that Christians, especially Christian parents, can do to someone living with chronic depression is badmouth medicine and tell them that they just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Mental Illness comes on for many people between the ages of 16 and 30 years old. If depression runs in your family, be aware--if you see signs of chronic depression, encourage your family members to get help from a counselor and doctor. There's nothing wrong or shameful about either one--don't push your family history under the carpet and pretend that no one in your immediate family will experience it. Books like this that are aimed at the short term depression. They can mislead people who have biochemical imbalances and make them feel that they must be trapped in sin and that how they feel is their fault. This is also the kind of book that makes it harder for people to get counseling and medical attention, because it conveys the idea that something is wrong with them if they need medicine--that they aren't spiritual enough be able to handle it the way that Ms. Trahan talks about. I did share the book with someone I love who lives with depression and he was offended and saddened by it.

In the end, handle this book with care. As with all books, filter in what's helpful to you and filter out what isn't.

The second booklet...

All of my adult life I have searched for resources that address abuse. In high school, a girl sat in front of me in one of my classes who was being abused by her boyfriend. I got her in touch with a counselor who helped her leave the situation. I'll never forget her. Over the years, I have been continually confronted with how to love people who have been abused and I have wanted to have wisdom and biblical counsel to share with them. I have searched and searched.

So, when this booklet came along, I was very excited to read it. Excited, not in a happy sense, but in the sense that I hoped it would be helpful to me. And it was. It defined abuse, used good examples, and gave steps on how to help the victim cope. It put this in the context of the church's responsibilities and role as well--which was very helpful. I would highly recommend this booklet to church leaders. I also appreciated that it doesn't encourage parents to stay in physically and emotionally abusive relationships that affect their children because God uses all things for the good of those who love him. The booklet encourages parents to protect their children. This is personally important to me because a friend's parent once justified the abuse of their children to me with that scripture from Romans.

This booklet also does not take the stance that one woman I knew took years ago, advised by the book The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace. A woman I know believed that she should stay in that abusive relationship because a) so that her husband might be won over to the faith and b) if her husband had been confronted once with his sin, then she should go on being submissive to him. This book does not advise people to stay in abusive relationships so that their spouse or significant other might be won over to Christ. I'd like to point out that God is in control of salvation (predestination) and it is not us who saves but God. It is God's efforts that save, not ours. "We are saved by grace, through faith..."

I do have two concerns worthy of mentioning, though. The first is smaller and it is that a lot of emphasis is given to the victim taking a hard look at themselves and their own sins. Yes, we do need to see our failings and understand how we have fallen into traps, but the responsibility for abuse is not a 50/50 deal when it comes to the responsibility of being abused and being the abuser.

The second concern is a much larger and important one. On one page of the booklet, the authors state that the one who has been abused does not have to forgive unless the abuser repents. They are to be ready to forgive, but do not have to forgive unless the abuser repents. This is huge to me and I don't agree with it at all. I looked up the biblical underpinnings of why someone would say that. It is in the old testament, but not the new. In the new, we are called to forgive just as we have been forgiven (Lord's Prayer). How many times are called to forgive? We are called to forgive 70 times 7. We are called to forgive even if someone doesn't recognize what they've done wrong or ask for forgiveness. This is extremely, extremely hard to do at times. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or excusing. It doesn't even mean that you have to have an ongoing relationship with that person. That is often not a safe thing to do, which I understand personally.

I did correspond with the publisher about this concern and it was clarified that the words used are that relational forgiveness can't be fully granted without repentance.  I think the author intended to say that we are to forgive, but that forgiveness is more complete in some way when the abuser repents.  Given the different wording is strange, I would just keep in mind that page 38 isn't saying that we shouldn't forgive when someone sins against us.  

This is a very helpful book, but please note the two caveats I've mentioned and be aware of them.

Please note that I received complimentary copies of these booklets for review from Shepherd Press.

Free CS Lewis Literature Guides

This morning I was looking around and found some free resource guides on CS's site.  You can find them here:  The study guides are age appropriate based on the age at which students would read those books.  For example, the guide for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is for grades 3-5, but the study guide for Letters to Malcolm is written for high school students.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

I just discovered this free resource on PBS Masterpiece Theater site: Teacher's Guides

There's a guide for Austen's books and Dickens' books as well as several other high school level books that Masterpiece Theater has done productions of.  

Friday, June 12, 2015


I have decided this:

The Best Way to Be a MOM:  
Be a Gumby and not a Ball Point Pen.  

Two days ago, my middle daughter fell on the grass when she tripped.  Yesterday, she went to the doctor and within 3 hours had a splint on her hand because of a tiny fracture.  
I did not wake up thinking I would have one of my children in a splint at the end of the day.  

It was just the way things worked out.  I had a choice.  Be a Gumby--flexible and set aside my plans for the day.  Or I could be a BallPoint Pen and be unwilling to bend, complaining as I had to rearrange my day.  I decided my family needs me to be a Gumby.
Today I posted a review of a book for middle schoolers on Amazon. 

The book is Almost Home by Joan Bauer.  (What 5th grade girl wouldn't pick up a book with a cover like that?)  

Here's my review...
It's very interesting to me that all of the reviews are positive for this book. And there are a lot of positives about it. Joan Bauer is a good writer and it's a well written book. The plot moves along, the characters are interesting, and it would resonate with a lot of kids.  The cover conjures warm feelings and it makes you want to like the book.  It tugs at your heart.

When I was teaching middle school English, I would have assigned this book to my class. I know I would have. There is very little character description, so readers will make their own minds up about what the characters look like. I had many students who lived through situations similar to what the girl in this story, Sugar, walks through.

But, as a homeschooling mom, I'm not going to assign this book to my children. There are a couple of reasons. Because I homeschool, I can shelter my kids and let them be kids. I know they have to tackle and understand the hard stuff of the world, but the big question I face is when and how. Books tackle difficult subjects differently. Some address the tough stuff of life. Some can plant ideas in kids heads (depending on who the kids is). Some are persuasive about life issues. Some are objective and simply tell a story--leaving the moral evaluation up to the reader. I did read this entire book. After the first half, I was willing to let my daughter read it. I knew I would need to process through it with her because there is a slew of difficult emotional issues in it--abandonment by a parent, neglect, poverty, homelessness, peer pressure, teasing, and death of a loved one. But, then I read two pages that it took it off the reading list for my kids. It was the discussion of depression and her mom's time in the hospital after she breaks down. She asks the question to herself of whether it could happen to her. For some kids, I think this could provoke discussion and help them identify with the character. For others who read this alone without anyone to talk to about it, it could plant some dangerous and fearful ideas. This book is recommended for grades 5 and up. I know it would devastate and weigh down my fifth grade daughter to read these pages. I don't even think she could get through them. (To help my children understand homelessness, I'm going to assign Paper Things by Jennifer Jacobson)

This book is particularly weighty to me though and there are some other things that bother me. I grew up in LA, where there is a large homeless population. (I looked up Chicago and its homeless population rivals LA and NYC) A year ago, I heard a twentysomething girl glamorize homelessness and I was floored. It's not ideal. I do understand why teens need to understand the truth about the difficulties of life. But, the way this author portrays homelessness and shelters was frustrating to me. Because Sugar is raising herself essentially and has to act like an adult, her perspective isn't always right. She sees her mom and others breaking the rules about alcohol in the shelter and thinks it's okay. It's not... When she talks about the other homeless people she knows, she talks as if they aren't responsible for the situations they're in. ... There was a homeless man in a dinner group I coordinated a few years ago. One day he came to the group and said he'd been fired because he didn't call for 3 days and didn't go to work because--he didn't want to. Many homeless people won't stay in shelters because they don't want to follow anyone's rules. Except, rules are a part life--wherever you go. Schools, workplaces, homes, and even public places all have their own rules. We live in a world where people don't want to take responsibility for their choices (and subsequent consequences). Paper Things addresses this in a way where both the children and adults come to understand their responsibilities and what they did right/wrong. But in this book, the only people who are ever really wrong are Sugar's deadbeat dad and her friend's dad who abandoned his family. Sugar's mom does grow, but Sugar still thinks at the end of the book that she has to act like an adult. If your child reads this book without being able to process it with you, they are going to come up with their own way of understanding how the world works—for better or for worse. There's just so much in this book that needs to be processed.

Another very subtle part of the story is that Sugar lies and is manipulative to get what she wants. But, she justifies it when it's for a good cause—like getting food for her puppy. She is nice to people on the outside—not understanding that as people, our hearts are just as important as our actions. She's nice to people to get what she wants many times. One could say, though, aren't we all? Well, that's not what I'm teaching my kids. We love others because God loves us.

So why would teachers have kids read this book? I've been asking myself this question because it is such a heavy book. As a former public school teacher, I know that the philosophy is that as long as kids are reading, it doesn't matter what they're reading. Teachers look for books that kids want to read. The priority is not on the question of whether or not a book is good for a student to read--whether or not it would be helpful? For kids who live in situations like Sugar's, I think it can help them make sense of their lives and not feel alone in what they're going through. It could give them hope that things will get better. But, the school in my county that I know read this is an upper middle class school with kids that are not in the situation Sugar is in. I tried to do some reading why kids would be drawn to this book and it sounded from a Time article like it's because they want emotionally provocative books--that will draw them in. They want to read about teens overcoming. Sugar does that. She has to be the adult in the book and she is. Do you want your teen to think they have to act like an adult (and essentially be one) or that they know more than you do as the parent?

Before you let your child read this book, I'd encourage you to read it yourself. Your child may be able to handle the emotional weight of this book. You may feel it is appropriate for him/her to read. Many people tell me all the time that a lot of what's in books goes over kids heads. I don't believe that. They take in a lot—and if they can't process it, there's a good chance they may end up misunderstanding a lot of what they read or coming to conclusions that you wish they wouldn't. This is a thought provoking book—but one that shouldn't be read by a student alone. And I definitely wouldn't recommend it for anyone younger than 7th grade.

That's it.  That was my review.

A day later, I still feel weighted down by the book.  I can't resolve in my head how twisted Sugar's thinking is about the world and how I don't want my kids to see the world the way she does.  I read an article on Christianity Today by ND Wilson, who writes a lot of darker fiction for teens.  He said that we need to give our kids examples of light and dark--examples of people being heroes and overcoming--and in order to overcome there must be darkness in the stories.  But, as I read this book, it felt like there was an absence of morals.  It felt like people were trying to fill in that hole themselves by telling themselves "I'm okay, You're okay."  This isn't a story of truth and light vs. darkness.  It is a story about sadness and the fallenness of man.  I am still struggling to put my finger on why this book has upset me, but it has.  Hopefully, I'll figure out soon.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Couple of different books...

This weekend I felt like reading a book, so I actually read three.  The first was the one I liked the best of the three.

I feel bad admitting it though.  It was a cheesy, Christian romance book titled Married 'til Monday
by Denise Hunter.  The title (and the cover) makes me think of a Harlequin Romance, but for some reason I wanted to read it because of the story line.  It was good.  Surprisingly good.  The story is about a couple who broke up three years previously and now must pretend for a weekend that they are still married.  The story was a little slow at times, but I began asking God about part way through the book what He wanted me to reflect on.  And the lesson to me was this.  One's childhood baggage follows people into marriage and into their adult life.  It will come up when you don't expect it.  So, know your issues.  Know your achille's heal.  Know the wounds that God has healed and that He's working on.

It also makes me think a lot about how I'm raising my kids.  What will they think about their own childhoods when they grow up?  One thing that is always on my mind is preparing them for the future and helping them develop the ability to cope with life in healthy ways.  I want to teach them how to talk through conflicts and not run away from them.

So, I know all of that may sound strange to take from a fiction book, but when my mind starts processing, I always end up somewhere.

The second book was one that I didn't like as well.  It was titled Among the Fair Magnolias: Four Southern Love Stories.  I read this one because Elizabeth Musser wrote one of the short stories in
the book and she's become an author I really enjoy reading.  This book is four short stories set at different points during and after the Civil War.  The first drove me crazy, because it was about love and that it was all that matter.  It was so fluffy that it was hard for me to read.  The others were fine and easy to read.  I found that because they were novellas, they cut out a lot.  I enjoyed To Mend a Dream, but the shortness made it very unbelievable and I wanted more story.  I would have enjoyed that story as a full book.  Ms. Musser's story felt the same way.  Unlike many Christian love stories I've read, this collection didn't bring God into the picture a lot.  Rather, I would simply call this a more wholesome romance book, not necessarily Christian historical fiction.  

The third book I read was by Erin Healy.  It's coming out in September.  Hiding Places.  This is not a romance, but a realistic fiction book written by a Christian author.  There's a difference between
Christian fiction and a realistic fiction written by a Christian author.  This book falls into the latter category.  Sometimes those books and authors are good to find.  It's hard for me to find secular fiction that doesn't cross lines that I don't want to read about.  Erin Healy's a great writer.  She writes engaging stories that draw you in.  Her stories are suspenseful mysteries usually full of twists and turns.  This story is full of flawed, very human people.  It's messy and at times hard to read.  Sad to read.  But, it's one of those books like the first one of these three that falls into the category of being what Leland Ryken says books are.

I hearken back time and time again to what Ryken says in his book, Realms of Gold.  He says that we read books because they help us make sense of life.

The first book is a reminder of how when mistrust and issues are added into the mix how a marriage  can tear a itself apart.  I look around me at the world and I listen to the stories of friends and acquaintances and my compassion increases.  I am reminded of the importance of fighting for my marriage when my husband and I disagree at times (because we do just like every other married couple I know).  The third book reminded me of how messed up families can be, what gangs are like and how they think, how anger and bitterness can drive people, how hiding the truth of who you are harms other people, and how not confronting conflict doesn't make it go away.

All three of these books will be released before summer's end.  Hiding Places is coming out on September 8, 2015; Married 'Til Monday is being released next Tuesday on June 9, 2015; and Among the Fair Magnolias is being released on July 14, 2015.

Please note that I received complimentary e-copies of these books for review from Thomas Nelson Publishing.