April 23, 2017

Adversity


Some of the women from church have been discussing Jerry Bridges' classic work, Trusting God. I was first introduced to this book years ago, and it was (and continues to be) very helpful in helping me understand God's sovereignty.

This is one of many, many quotes I've marked in my book. It was worth sharing, and I had a few extra minutes this morning (as I'm home with my sick hubby). Read the book, often.

January 27, 2017

Analog vs Digital (or How I Use a Bullet Journal)



This post contains affiliate links.


The author of one of my favorite e-newsletters recently confessed that she's struggling in her attempted transition to using a bullet journal. I've experienced a similar struggle over the past couple of years; in fact, last year I attempted to go full-on digital*. And failed.

My search for the perfect calendar/project system began in high school (nerd alert!) when I became yearbook co-editor. A few years later, my employer brought in a time management expert to teach us how to use the system he'd developed, and I was hooked. Over the years, I experimented with other systems, finally coming up with a funky hybrid that worked well for me... at least at the office. Once I came home to work, all bets were off.

When I started homeschooling, I knew that my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach just wasn't going to cut it. A wise woman recommended this book (sadly, no longer in print) and, while her unit approach to homeschooling wasn't for me, her home/task organization tips and charts saved my sanity, especially when my kids were younger.

Years went by, I drifted through various planners and systems... then I discovered the bullet journal idea. It's a big idea, because it's completely customizable. It doesn't require a huge financial investment, and it can flex as I go. And while I'm pretty good at making lists and adding things to my calendar, I did find one weakness in my use of a Bullet Journal: me, or rather me sometimes forgetting to check it and letting things fall through the cracks. And that's what led me to try to go full analog with Todoist and Cozi last year. But there was just one problem. I'm more of an analog person. I enjoy writing things down, turning pages, seeing what a previous day or month looked like.

Besides those things, the biggest reason I stuck with the bullet journal is just the ability to keep all those stinking lists I write in one place. Good things that happen can be telegraphed onto a monthly or daily page, but I can also add a little more info on a journal or gratitude page, if I want. That list of books I want to read or need to review is easy to include, and I love seeing things get checked off. Random quotes, snippets of poetry, blog post ideas, prayer requests, inspiration, hostess notes -- there's a logical way to fit it all in. I can make it mine.

This year, my plan has morphed into an analog/digital hybrid (and we'll see how that goes). I use my bullet journal for the basics, such as the monthly calendar page and daily to do lists. But I also use the reminder app on my phone for time sensitive things (like "finish taxes once and for all" or "give dog monthly meds" or if I'm out and about and need a quick brain dump (because I usually think of things I need to do at exactly the moment I cannot do them). I use Trello for projects that relate to internet resources. And I'm wholly devoted to the Cozi app for our family calendar and quick shopping lists.

Here's another confession: at some point, I got a bit sidetracked by all the overwhelmingly pretty and creative bullet journals out there on Instagram and Pinterest. Look, that's fine for some, but most of the time, it's all I can do to keep things legible, much less beautiful. So I've decided to save my creativity for things I want to see and share -- encouraging words on index cards for my family, favorite quotes on my chalkboard wall, handwritten notes to friends. 
So here's my encouragement to the struggling e-newsletter author: 
...give a try for a couple of months, but make it yours. That's the beauty of the whole thing. Let it be a tool to help you live the life you want to live, to free you to use your gifts, to serve God and others, and to just be able to think. And as I re-read those last sentences, I think to myself, "There's a life lesson in there, even beyond my bullet journal."


*This book prompted my analog attempt; while the digital approach didn't work for me, the principles set forth in this book are still foundational in my current analog/hybrid approach.



January 7, 2017

Don't Waste Your Snow Sunday



I originally posted this January 23, 2016, but have made a few updates for this posting in 2017.



Our church has cancelled tomorrow's church activities, thanks to Winter Storm Jonas (in 2017, it's Winter Storm Helena). I'm reminded of a time when our oldest was about eight years old. We were staying home from church (due to some complications in my pregnancy), and Jeff told Christopher on Saturday night that we were going to have church at home the next day. When Jeff and I came out to the living room that Sunday morning, we discovered that our son had built a small pulpit out of boxes and books, had selected some songs for us to sing, and had even hand-written bulletins for us! He had a very definite idea of what church should look like!



As I'm sure many of you will be kept home, too, it seemed like a good time to share some ideas for worshiping at home when you are prevented from meeting together (Hebrews 10:23-25). You won't need hand-written bulletins and a make-shift pulpit for any of these, but I have included some links that might be helpful.
  1. Listen to (or watch) one of your own church's previous sermons. There may be one you missed while serving in the nursery, traveling over the summer or holidays, or home with a sick child. Or there may be a favorite you'd like to chew on a bit more. For those at my church, a few recommendations might be The Real Grinch of Christmas (only 28 minutes!), Walking Worthy, or Putting on an Honest Intimacy. Tip: Find at least one take-away for your family to encourage one another in throughout the week.
  2. Watch another church's live-streamed service. This allows you to see the full service, not simply the sermon. You can still participate to a limited degree, and it's a great opportunity to work with young children on church etiquette. Faith Bible Church and Grace Community Church both offer live-streaming of their services, and you can be certain of God-honoring worship and a sound biblical sermon. Tip: Some live-streaming requires you to set up an account prior to watching. Be sure to check on this prior to the service time to avoid being delayed.
  3. Watch (or listen to) a previously recorded sermon from a church other than your own. Both Faith Bible and Grace Community have sermon video available; you can also find audio via their websites or podcasts. Other messages I'd recommend include If God is for Us, Who Can be Against Us? by Don Whitney, and The Church: The Beginning and End of Missions by Thabiti Anyabwile. Tip: Take a few notes to help prompt some discussion afterward.
  4. Read aloud to your family, and talk about what you read. Whether you read a portion of Scripture (maybe from the book your pastor is preaching through), or a book that has encouraged you in your own walk of faith, or a missionary biography (some of these are free to download) share it with your family. Tip: Read enthusiastically -- you and your family will enjoy it more.
  5. Sing together. Find some favorite songs and worship together! If you grew up singing hymns, but your kids aren't as familiar with hymns, this is a great time to introduce them to some solid, time-tested favorites . Or, if you're not as familiar with some of the newer music your church sings, now's your chance to practice together. Maybe there's a song that particularly reminds you of the gospel (In Christ Alone, anyone?); this is a wonderful time to sing it together and discuss its truths with your family. Tip: You don't have to be musically or vocally gifted to do this. Singing together karaoke-style is fine!
  6. Pray together. Really pray together. Tip: Tim Challies shares some wisdom from John Piper about how to pray, and I believe this would be helpful for families praying together.
  7. Enjoy this unique time with your family. Whatever you decide to do, relax and have joy in it. Tip: Remember that the word worship literally means worthness (not workness!). 
 I'd love to hear how your family has worshiped together during times when you've been hindered from going to church. Please share in the comments!






Photo: AnnaKate took this photo of Bella two years ago during an unusual snow event in Middle Georgia. This is pretty much representative of Bella's attitude about the snow, which contrasts sharply with my own.

October 30, 2016

Review: Martin Luther






Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on Amazon.com and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links. 


Martin Luther, Simonetta Carr's latest addition to the Christian Biographies for Young Readers, tells the story of Luther's life and the beginning of the Reformation in a brief and attractive format. Don't be deceived by the series title, though. While the book is written to engage young readers, I found myself drawn into Luther's story -- even through much of it was familiar to me! I also appreciated learning more about his post-95-theses work, when he focused on providing biblical education.

While Carr's writing style drops you right into Luther's life, Troy Howell's beautiful illustrations help set the mood and tone of the time period. Original paintings and engravings of the people and region complement the storytelling, as well.

While not all of Luther's writings are exemplary (and Carr makes this clear when appropriate), his courage and conviction in learning and upholding the truth during a time of persecution can be a great encouragement to us, even in our own increasingly-difficult times.

As we look toward celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, this book provides a great launching point. I recommend this book as a great addition to the reading libraries of families, churches, and schools alike.



{You may also be interested in my review of John Knox from the same series. Many of the general comments made there apply to this book, as well!}


Review: Christ All Sufficient




"Through the power of the gospel and the work of the Spirit, we are being restored to our humanity. The gospel makes us fully alive, fully ourselves. By God's grace, we are becoming human again."
Brian Hedges

Over the past year, my pastor has been teaching through Colossians. It's been a much-discussed epistle in our home for years (in case you don't know, I happen to be married to my pastor), but hearing these verse-by-verse messages has been so helpful. When I learned that Brian Hedges had recently published a new commentary on Colossians, Christ All Sufficient: An Exposition of Colossians, I looked forward to reading it. You see, I read (and reviewed) Hedges' book, Active Spirituality, a couple of years ago and found it very helpful.


I'm no Bible scholar. I have no seminary training and do not know the biblical languages. As a Christian, however, I am a student of the Bible. For all of these reasons, I appreciate that this commentary is easily accessible to believers at all stages. Hedges admittedly draws from sermons he prepared for his own congregation, as well as the scholarship of others who have influenced him along the way. These roots make the book readable, while providing stepping stones to further reading, if desired.

For me, the book was strengthened by the clear illustrations of theological truths that were included. Some of these are timeless, others are currently more culturally relevant, all were helpful. I also appreciated the inclusion of oft-forgotten hymns that teach the truths of Scripture.

Christ All Sufficient provides clarity on the meaning of Colossians, but goes even further by providing challenging application, as well. This makes the book more than a resource for teachers of the Word, but not less than that. Throughout the book, Hedges reminds the reader of Paul's main purpose in writing this letter:

With every stroke of the pen, Colossians proclaims, "Christ is supreme! Christ is sufficient! If you have him, you have all you need!"

I requested and received a copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review. 

October 23, 2016

Review: The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life


"People actively make choices all day long. These countless decisions flow from the more hidden dedications of the heart. Whether strongly conscious or less conscious, the heart's intentions drive a person's actions. People are, in large part, who they choose to be."
Jeremy Pierre

The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience is a convicting personal read, as well as helpful in counseling others -- as all good counseling books should be.

In The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life, Jeremy Pierre seeks to help the reader see the that our hearts respond to life in a three-fold manner: cognitively (knowledge/beliefs), affectively (desires/emotions), and volitionally (choices/commitments). Rather than being a clinical analysis, this perspective helps us understand that we are "wholly spiritual persons". And Pierre is careful to say that while "...all problems are spiritual problems, I am not saying they are merely spiritual. People have bodies as well--bodies that function not as vehicles to an independent soul that drives it, but more like the canvas and paint embodying the ideas of an artist.... all human responses are by nature spiritual."

The premise of the book is well expressed in the introduction:
People are often only partially aware of the beliefs and values residing within them, and they will tend to read these beliefs and values into Scripture. People must become more willing to listen to God's voice for what it actually is rather than what they want it to be. As Scripture is thus received in the heart, God's revelation shapes people's thoughts, feelings, and choices.
The book is divided into three sections. The first section deals with how the heart responds dynamically. This includes a careful look at what the heart was designed for, how it was corrupted and redeemed, and how it is affected by its context. The second section deals with what the heart dynamically responds to. This section examines four facets of influence upon the heart. The last section deals brings us to nuts and bolts of counseling from this biblical paradigm.

I found The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life to present a strong, biblical perspective on common struggles, along with very practical helps in working through these struggles. It's not a quick read, but worthy of chewing on as you go. This book will be helpful for pastors, counselors, and believers who simply want to work out their own salvation (Phil 2:12) and walk side-by-side with others in this same pursuit.

"God designed the heart's functions for worship: he wants people to respond to him with the complex beauty that reflects his own. Dynamic hearts worship God in daily life--in the way they think, the things they want, the choices they make."
Jeremy Pierre



I requested and received a copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review. 

August 10, 2016

This and that 8/10/16



I'm still planning to catch up on those book club posts (in case anyone was wondering), but until those are ready, I thought I'd do a quick round-up post for you.

Despite my well-known aversion to exercise of any sort, I've (re)started Pilates. I'd done a little Pilates at home before, but the online instructor was young, bubbly, and just exhausting. I found a bunch of free workouts from The Balanced Life, and they're much more my speed. I started with her beginners' series (actually did this a couple of times) before moving on to another challenge on her channel. As you can see from the Instagram photo above, Pilates is a team sport in my house.

In just a few weeks, I'll be starting what will probably be my last year of homeschooling. My youngest child will be in his final year of high school. It's hard to believe! With almost twenty years of homeschooling under my belt, I feel like I should know so much more. But you know, the further I get down this road, the less I feel like an expert -- but the more comfortable I feel about the whole thing. I think it's because I've settled into my role of not teaching my kids stuff, but teaching them to be learners. Lee Binz briefly explains here, and David Murray discusses its importance here (this post will be required reading for my son this year, as it was last year).

I've been thinking about how to listen to my pastor/hubby's sermons lately as I've discussed expository sermons with others. This post on 3 Keys to Listening to Sermons is a great starting point for older children through adults. And I'm really excited about My Church Notebook, a new kids' resource from Children Desiring God.

And this is the summer I've learned to embrace iced coffee, thanks to Starbucks Cold Brew with Sweet Vanilla Cream. Thankfully, I've learned to make my own cold brew minus the Sweet Vanilla Cream (which would probably cancel out the Pilates anyway). I'm a convert.

What have you been up to this summer?