Monday, August 17, 2015

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards - Book Review

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards

By: Jen Hatmaker

Expected Publication: August 18, 2015 by Nelson Books

224 pages

Genre: Religious, Spiritual, Christian, Inspirational

Source: Publisher via NetGalley (Thank you!!)

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NetGalley description--The popular writer, blogger, and television personality reveals with humor and style how Jesus' extravagant grace is the key to dealing with life's biggest challenge: people.

The majority of our joys, struggles, thrills, and heartbreaks relate to people, beginning first with ourselves and then the people we came from, married, birthed, live by, live for, go to church with, don't like, don't understand, fear, struggle with, compare ourselves to, and judge. People are the best and worst thing about the human life.

Jen Hatmaker knows this all too well, and so she reveals how to practice kindness, grace, truthfulness, vision, and love to ourselves and those around us. By doing this, For the Love leads our generation to reimagine Jesus' grace as a way of life, and it does it in a funny yet profound manner that Christian readers will love. Along the way, Hatmaker shows readers how to reclaim their prophetic voices and become Good News again to a hurting, polarized world.

You guys, I’m not even sure what to say about For the Love. I read listened to 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess several months ago and loved it. Everything from the message to the voice to the audio narrator was inviting. When I saw that Jen Hatmaker had a new book coming out, I jumped on it. I hesitate when requesting religious books for review because while I do read these type of books regularly, I don’t read them frequently enough or fast enough to really feel good about being able to review them by the release date. However, For the Love’s release date was so far in advance from when I requested it and the book so short (only right at 200 pages) that I thought I could make it work. Little did I know that I would read this one just as quickly as a fiction book. That just doesn’t happen to me very often. After reading several books recently that either felt irreverent as a whole or at least partially irreverent I felt like I needed a good dose of some reaffirming religious content. Jen Hatmaker seemed like a good bet.

The first twenty to thirty percent of For the Love had me highlighting large sections of text a time, emailing them to my friend Kay (the one who suggested I read 7 to begin with), and generally laughing out loud. This lady is hilarious. And on point. Only Jen Hatmaker could write an entire chapter dedicated to “Leggings are not pants” and “Tights are not leggings.” But there were serious subjects too, about the pressure we put on ourselves to be not a jack of all trades but a master of all trades—especially in the mom category. Even being an expected mother, I can totally see myself already placing these burdensome standards on myself that she discusses. Plus the first section of “thank you notes” in the style of Jimmy Fallon were also hilarious. I found myself nodding my head and “amening” throughout almost all of the first half of this book.

And then we get to the second half of the book. I won’t say the book took on a more serious tone as there were some rather serious topics discussed in the first half of the book, but I guess the humor was dialed back a notch with this second half. Perhaps that’s because this section was about how to deal with yourself. The remaining sections of the book were about dealing with people who live in your house, friends, neighbors, strangers, enemies, church, church people, not-church people, and God. It’s easy to laugh at ourselves I guess, but throw other people into the mix and waters can get muddy. For the Love still had plenty toward the second half of the book that had me nodding my head and amening. It gave me some good ideas on things I’d like to try when dealing with others and some things to think about. But I also found myself annoyed and confused about a few things.

There were a few references to the gay community which is a huge topic in our culture today, but mostly I came away from that subject unsure about Jen Hatmaker’s thoughts or convictions on the subject. I feel like she addressed this in the way that she did on purpose. It wasn’t the purpose of this book to discuss this subject in detail, but I wasn’t sure what the message was that she was trying to relay about this either. I was also unclear about her thoughts/definition of the church. This feels like semantics because there’s the biblical definition of the word “church”, what it means, and what all is entailed in it, and then there’s the 21st century American definition of the word. Why the difference matters isn’t always clear to everyone, but it does. And in the end, I wasn’t sure whether Jen Hatmaker was using the word in the biblical way or in the American 21st century way. Sometimes I felt one way and then others times I felt the opposite. One last complaint is that while it’s apparent that Jen Hatmaker is familiar with the Bible and what it says, For the Love was a little full of shoulds and shouldn’ts with very little actual Scripture used. Let me clarify, I don’t think this book was meant to be some big instructional manual (which I actually liked). It ended up feeling like a bunch of thoughts and realizations that Jen Hatmaker has had throughout her life. Conclusions that she’s come to. Etc.

At times, the overall message of For the Love felt like it was missing and some of the chapters felt disconnected. When I got finished I had to stop and really think back over the book to see if I could even recognize a common theme. It wasn’t really until I went back to the table of contents while writing this review that some of it made sense. I don’t know if that’s one of those “pregnancy brain” things that I’ve struggled with or if the lack of cohesion was an actual issue in execution.

Favorite quotes:

-Folks who thrive in God’s grace give grace easily, but the self-critical person becomes others-critical.

-We need to quit trying to be awesome and instead be wise.

-There’s a difference between humility and insecurity, and self-effacement does no one any favors.

-How many trot out that tired cliché—“I’m waiting for God to open a door”—and He’s all, “I love you, but get going, Pumpkin,” because usually chasing the dream in your heart looks surprisingly like work.

-A good parent prepares the child for the path, not the path for the child.

-I worry we consider “success” to be a product of the parent’s diligence more than the child’s.

-Lean honestly into every hard place, each tender spot, because truthfulness hurts for a minute, but silence is the kill shot.

-Married tongues should be shredded with the amount of ugly words bitten back.

-Loneliness can be a prison, but we have keys. You needn’t wait for someone to open the bars.

-You can’t pour antidote into poison forever and expect it to transform into something safe, something healthy.

In the end, For the Love is definitely a book that I enjoyed and got something out of. I enjoyed the first section the most. And while I find myself wanting to recommend this book to others, I also want to advise caution. I always direct readers to the Bible itself for any “how tos” or “should/shouldn’ts”. If there’s anything you read in For the Love that you just aren’t sure about, the best thing is to bounce what it says against what the Bible says. The Bible always win. The parts that had me laughing out loud made me want to give this book 4 Stars, but the parts that left me confused or concerned knocked that rating down to 3.5 Stars. Have you read For the Love? What did you think? Let me know!

This review was first published at Somewhere Only We Know.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess - Book Review

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

By: Jen Hatmaker

Published: January 1st 2012 by B&H Books (first published December 19th 2011)

228 pages

Genre: Nonfiction, Spiritual, Christian, Religious

Source: Borrowed from the library

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Goodreads description--American life can be excessive, to say the least. That’s what Jen Hatmaker had to admit after taking in hurricane victims who commented on the extravagance of her family’s upper middle class home. She once considered herself unmotivated by the lure of prosperity, but upon being called “rich” by an undeniably poor child, evidence to the contrary mounted, and a social experiment turned spiritual was born.

7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.

Food. Clothes. Spending. Media. Possessions. Waste. Stress. They would spend thirty days on each topic, boiling it down to the number seven. Only eat seven foods, wear seven articles of clothing, and spend money in seven places. Eliminate use of seven media types, give away seven things each day for one month, adopt seven green habits, and observe “seven sacred pauses.” So, what’s the payoff from living a deeply reduced life? It’s the discovery of a greatly increased God—a call toward Christ-like simplicity and generosity that transcends social experiment to become a radically better existence.

My friend, Kay, recommended 7 to me a while back. Her Bible class group went through it and she really enjoyed it. I’ve had it on my TBR list for at least a year if not more. I finally saw that the e-library had it available on audiobook and so I jumped on it.

Some background information though might be important. My husband and I live in a 1800ish square foot house built in the 1960s. Even before we married, 6 years ago, we’ve been working to renovate the house. It’s a slow process—even slower because we actually live in the house. We’ve painted. We’ve replaced. We’ve pulled out. We’ve thrown away. Oh and we’ve painted some more. One thing that was not a priority in the 1960s apparently was storage. Our closets are tiny. The kitchen is small (though not tiny), but the kitchen cabinets are tiny. A regular size box of cereal or bag of chips will not fit in one of our cabinets. We can stack one regular sized canned product on top of another. That’s about as tall as most of our cabinets are. The shelves are not adjustable. But it’s just the two of us, right? (For now.) And all things are relative. While I sit here and complain about the storage space available in our house, the real problem is that we have too much stuff with nowhere to put it. After my dad visited the Philippines on a mission trip where most people he encountered live in bamboo houses, and we heard through the grapevine about a family in Africa who was trying to get enough money together to build a mud house I started re-evaluating how blessed I am over the lack of storage space I have. All of this has had me thinking about my own personal excess in life. Enter 7.

The title and description pretty much sum this book up perfectly. The author, Jen Hatmaker, had a poor child temporarily staying in her house comment on how rich she and her family was. This really stuck with her. With some direction/motivation from something a friend of hers was doing, the idea of 7 was born. As the description says, she identified 7 areas of excess in her life: food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste, and stress. Each area was designated a month—30 days—of focus on reducing the excess. Again…repeating the description above, but 1) Food – Only eat 7 foods; 2) Clothing – Only wear 7 articles of clothing; 3) Possessions – Give away 7 things each day; 4) Media – Eliminate the use of 7 media sources; 5) Waste – Adopt 7 green-living habits; 6) Spending – Only spend money in 7 places; 7) Rest – Observe “7 sacred pauses” each day.

One thing that I like about 7 is that Jen Hatmaker isn’t trying to project this experiment on any and every one. She simply saw 7 areas in her life that she could cut back on and set out on her own personal experiment that she just so happened to write a book about, documenting her experiences. Sure she learned some very valuable lessons each month, and sure she would recommend those lessons to anyone, but she’s not saying throughout this book “you need to try this”. Of course, friends and family and strangers who have heard about her experiment have decided to try it for themselves, but this isn’t something that she’s projecting onto other people.

I loved the lessons that Jen Hatmaker learned, and I really do want to implement some of these ideas into my own life. There are so many things lying around my house that aren’t being used by me that someone else might be able to benefit from. I have clothes upon clothes upon clothes that I don’t wear. Let’s face it, a large portion of those clothes currently don’t even fit. I’m thankful that my life isn’t as busy as some. But yet I often find myself feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and exhausted mentally if not physically. Implementing practices that will lead to a more “rest”-filled life sounds like heaven. Point being…there are definitely areas I want to make some changes in my life to cut back on excess as well.

During the time she was writing this book, Jen Hatmaker (I keep wanting to call her “Jen” like we’re friends) and her husband, Brandon, were in the process of adopting two Ethiopian children. All of the sections in this book related to her adoption were particularly moving to me. When she discusses being completely disgusted with her natural born children throwing out almost a pound of chicken fingers simply because they did not have ketchup to go with them when her soon to be adoptive children likely went to bed with hungry bellies was particularly emotional. And even more than that, during the last month—the Rest month—when Jen (I’m rolling with it) and Brandon were both struck with a strong desire and need to pray for their adoptive children (not even knowing who these children would be exactly), and then she finds out that the exact day they were pressed with this need is the exact day the 5 year old little girl they ended up adopting was being abandoned at the orphanage. Now that…that got me for sure. Moments like this were sprinkled throughout the book, and I’m thankful for getting to experience this book and see God work in the lives of people I don’t know and have never met. It warms my heart and builds my faith.

Ultimately I think of all the blessings that I’ve been given stewardship over in my own life, and I have to ask myself whether I’m being a good steward or not. And that’s one thing that 7 helped me to do—to realize how much work I have left to do. I highly recommend 7 to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed in their lives. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Cut back. Give away. Donate. Repurpose. 7 gets 4.5 Stars from me. Have you read 7? What did you think? Let me know!

Also, side note...the narrator, Rebecca Gallagher, of the audiobook did such a good job that I just KNEW it had to be Jen Hatmaker reading the book herself. Yet when I went to double check that fact, I realized it was someone else entirely which means I was highly impressed.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Review: The Power of a Praying Wife

The Power of a Praying Wife

By: Stormie Omartian

Expected Publication: April 1st 2014 by Harvest House Publishers (first published January 1st 1997)

208 pages

Genre: Religious, Christian, Spirituality, Self-Help

Source: Publisher via NetGalley (Thank you!!!), I also own an earlier edition

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Goodreads description--Stormie Omartian's bestselling The Power of a Praying series (more than 23 million copies sold) is rereleased with fresh new covers and new material to reach a still-growing market of readers eager to discover the power of prayer for their lives. The Power of a Praying Wife has sold more than 3.5 million copies and has encouraged countless women to trust God for their marriages. In this beautiful new padded hardcover edition, Stormie shares how God has strengthened her own marriage since she began to pray for her husband concerning key areas in his life, including his spiritual walk emotions role as father and leader security in work and finances health faith and future.

If you desire a closer relationship with your husband, you will appreciate this refreshing look at the power of prayer in marriage.

You guys, Stormie Omartian has taught me so much about prayer. I know you guys might be tired of seeing me review these books, but I just can’t help myself. The Power of a Praying Wife was the first of these books I ever read. I grew up being taught that prayer was important and we prayed before meal times and bedtimes, and I was told to pray throughout my life, for the sick, thanksgiving for our blessings, etc. But I had not made prayer a real part of my life. After reading a fiction book where the main character had a better prayer life with her fictitious god than I had with the One True God, I realized that I really needed to make this a priority in my life. And where better to start than to pray for my husband—I was newly married at the time. So I picked up this book for the first time.

I remember what immediately impressed me upon my first reading was how Mrs. Omartian dedicates an entire chapter on praying for “His Wife.” In most cases, the person reading The Power of a Praying Wife is going to be the wife. And so Mrs. Omartian starts off the book with a chapter about praying for yourself because change always has to start with yourself. While you can pray for your spouse and while God will work because of that, this book is not designed to be about changing your husband. God is not a genie in a bottle that you rub when you pray and He pops out and asks you all of the many things you wish you could change about your husband, snaps His fingers and all of those things are now to your wishes and specifications. That’s not how this thing works. Truthfully the only person I can work on changing is myself. And so I was really impressed with her choice to start this book off about me instead of about my husband.

Obviously, The Power of a Praying Wife does not address every possible thing that your husband needs prayer over. That’s just not possible. So someone looking for this book to cover every aspect that your husband will ever need prayed about in his life is going to be disappointed. What this book does is teach you how to focus your prayers on a specific area of your husband’s life and spend some dedicated time covering that topic, characteristic, aspect--whatever--in prayer. This can really apply to any aspect of your life and any relationship you have, not just your spouse. As a matter of fact while reading The Power of a Praying Wife this time, I thought of several chapter topics that some of my friends were struggling with and could use prayer in that area even more than my husband. The principle is the same. So obviously, this book isn’t going to have a prayer for every obstacle you might come up against as a wife praying for your husband. It doesn’t cover every prayer need your husband will have in his life. But it is a guide—and a really good one at that—designed to teach you how to focus your prayers for your husband to better yourself, to better him, and to better your marriage.

The first time I read through this book, I took one chapter at a time. I would read that chapter and focus my prayer throughout the week in this area for my husband. And it worked really well for me then. This time I was aware of how short each chapter was and I just wanted to keep reading, to keep devouring this book, and to keep covering my husband with these prayers in the moment. Also, through this reading of The Power of a Praying Wife, I typed the prayers at the end of chapter and emailed them to my husband. Even though I did read multiple chapters in a day, I would only send him one prayer each day so as to not overwhelm him. I think there is something really special in sharing with that person the actual words You lift up in prayer on their behalf. It does a lot more for the soul than just saying “I’m praying for you.” I will add though that if you decide to share the prayers with your husband, you might want to preface that by telling him that you're about to share some prayers with him from this book and that it doesn't necessarily mean that you think he (or your marriage) is necessarily struggling in each of these areas, but these prayers can be used as preventative measures just as much as addressing an actual issue.

The Power of a Praying Wife is a must read for any married woman of faith. I’d even recommend it to any and all people everywhere, but specifically for married women who want to cover their husbands in prayer. The Power of a Praying Wife gets 4.5 Stars from me. Have you read The Power of a Praying Wife? What did you think? Let me know!

This review was originally posted at Somewhere Only We Know.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book Review: Erasing Hell

Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We've Made Up

By: Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle

Published: July 5th 2011 by David C. Cook

208 pages

Genre: Christian, Religion, Non-Fiction, Spirituality

Source: Personal Kindle Library

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Goodreads description--How could a loving God send people to hell? Will people have a chance after they die to believe in Jesus and go to heaven?

With a humble respect for God's Word, Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle address the deepest questions you have about eternal destiny. They've asked the same questions. Like you, sometimes they just don't want to believe in hell. But as they write, "We cannot afford to be wrong on this issue."

This is not a book about who is saying what. It's a book about what God says. It's not a book about impersonal theological issues. It's a book about people who God loves. It's not a book about arguments, doctrine, or being right. It's a book about the character of God.

Erasing Hell will immerse you in the truth of Scripture as, together with the authors, you find not only the truth but the courage to live it out.

I've had Erasing Hell in my possession for quite some time, but considering the topic I've put off reading it. Who wants to read about hell? I really didn't. But Husband and I have been talking about how there is a general lack of the fear of the Lord in our country lately it seems, and how it would do us both good to spend some time dwelling on this subject. What better subject to instill some Godly fear than hell? And so thus I decided it was time to pick this one up.

Francis Chan...wow. He certainly has a way with words. In all of the books I've read by him, I'm always impressed with his ability to be honest with himself, honest with his readers, and honest with God. He's not afraid to put himself and his short-comings out there on display in order to learn something about himself and in order to use that as an example to teach others. It's really impressive.

Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle admit upfront that truthfully they do not want to believe in hell as a real place. They don't want to think about people that they know and love possibly ending up there after this life is over. But they don't stop at what they wants to believe. No, they move into the Scripture and search it for what God says about hell and about eternity.

What was really impressed upon me while reading Erasing Hell was how much this subject is dependent upon a proper understanding of God. The authors do a great job of showcasing God's character and nature throughout this scary and unpopular topic. While the first several chapters truly focus on the Scripture surrounding the topic of hell, the last two chapters had the most impact upon me. These chapters focused on some difficult questions concerning God and how we interpret God with our limited human minds. These chapters forced me to be honest with myself about how I think I have a right to determine what is right, and just, and loving.

Erasing Hell really does dwell on some tough subjects, but as the authors say and is listed in the description above, "We cannot afford to be wrong on this issue." I highly recommend this book to anyone who is undecided on this topic, to anyone who needs a look at the deeper nature and character of God, to anyone who needs a good dose of the fear of the LORD. To well...anyone.

Please note that of the other books by Francis Chan that I've read, Erasing Hell seems to be the most academic in nature. The authors obviously put a lot of research into this topic, but truthfully, you need to be willing to do some research on your own, specifically from the Bible, to form your own beliefs from God's Word.

Erasing Hell gets a good 4.5 stars from me. Have you read Erasing Hell? If so, what did you think? Let me know!

This review was first posted on Somewhere Only We Know.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Review: Love & Respect in the Family

Love & Respect in the Family: The Transforming Power of Love and Respect Between Parent and Child

By: Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

Published: November 5th 2013 by Thomas Nelson Publishers 208 pages

Genre: Self-Help

Source: Publisher via NetGalley (Thank you!!)

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Goodreads description--Children need love. Parents need respect.

It is as simple and complex as that!

When frustrated with an unresponsive child, a parent doesn't declare, "You don't love me." Instead the parent asserts, "You are being disrespectful right now." A parent needs to feel respected, especially during conflicts. When upset a child does not whine, "You don't respect me." Instead, a child pouts, "You don't love me." A child needs to feel loved, especially during disputes.

But here's the rub: An unloved child (or teen) negatively reacts in a way that feels disrespectful to a parent. A disrespected parent negatively reacts in a way that feels unloving to the child. This dynamic gives birth to the FAMILY CRAZY CYCLE.

So how is one to break out of this cycle? Best-selling author Emerson Eggerichs has studied the family dynamic for more than 30 years, having his Ph.D. in Child and Family Ecology. As a senior pastor for nearly two decades, Eggerichs builds on a foundation of strong biblical principles, walking the reader through an entirely new way to approach the family dynamic. For instance, God reveals ways to defuse the craziness with our children from preschooler to teen, plus how to motivate them to obey and how to deal with them when they don't. In the Bible, God has spoken specifically to parents on how to parent. This book is about that revelation.

I’m not a parent yet, so I might have a skewed perception of this book. Husband and I do plan to try to expand our family in the near future, so that combined with how much I enjoyed Love & Respect (about the husband and wife relationship) made Love & Respect in the Family a perfect choice for me. As with Love & Respect, some of these principles discussed in this book are obvious, but the way Dr. Eggerich spells it out makes so much sense and clarifies a lot.

Dr. Eggerich points out that when a parent and child get into it you never hear a child say, “you don’t respect me,” and you usually don’t hear a parent say, “you don’t love me.” No. The child says, “you don’t love me,” while the parent replies, “you’re being disrespectful.” This was such a revelation for me--and SO true! Dr. Eggerich even follows it up with another obvious point—it is the parent’s job to be the mature one in these "Family Crazy Cycle" situations. The parent is the one who has years of experience on the child. The parent is the one who should be mature enough not to lower themselves to the antics of children. This makes so much sense to me as to why parents and children have the strained relationships that they sometimes have—the parents never grew up. They never matured. They are still selfish and self-centered creatures who haven’t learned that they have to take the high road in order to avoid the "Family Crazy Cycle" that Dr. Eggerich discusses.

Truthfully I should have written this review the day I completely the book. I feel like I’ve forgotten so much of the wonderful text already, which indicates to me that this is a book that I will need to read more than once. Dr. Eggerich does a good job showing you how to exit the "Family Crazy Cycle" and some great parenting advice that is indeed extremely applicable. And he does it in a way that both shows his own parenting successes and failures. He’s the first to admit that he and his wife did not parent perfectly—as no one can. He’s not arrogant with his advice and forceful in saying “this is what you must do in order to be a good parent.” Yet his advice is both Biblically based and common sense.

Love & Respect in the Family is another book that I think every person ought to read. If you are a parent, if you had a parent, if you ever plan to be a parent. Love & Respect in the Family is broken down into easy to understand concepts that will make a big impact on your family if put into practice. Not being a parent myself, there were a couple of things that I wonder about, but time will tell for me. I’m giving Love & Respect in the Family an easy 4 stars. My only negative was that I thought the book felt complete at about the 75% mark. While the remaining portion still held valuable information, I felt it was time to wrap things up. Have you read Love & Respect in the Family? What did you think? Let me know!

This review first appeared on Somewhere Only We Know.