Sunday, March 31, 2019

A super mom vs SuperMom

Facebook memories are so much fun sometimes.  Today, I saw this one, which I did dutifully share on my wall:

I could undoubtedly turn that into a whole post too.

But earlier this week, there was a memory where I started reading the comments.  I don't even remember what the post was about, but from the first line below, I'm pretty sure it was the new Sonlight catalog.  Someone was commenting on how whatever it was made them feel totally inadequate.  And this is someone I really respect and admire, someone doing a LOT with her kids.  I wrote back:
I totally understand what you mean. The pictures, the little quotes and testimonials, they all sound so perfect. And then the lack of book descriptions leaves me feeling, I don't know, incomplete. So combined, I feel inadequate too.

But remember when you look at those pictures that you are only seeing one brief narrowly focused snapshot. If it is anything like most of the photos I put on my blog, there is a mountain of clutter just outside the frame, and undoubtedly there is a child throwing a tantrum that you can't hear over the sound of my "forced to appear calm" voice describing the scene.

You are a super mom. But you can't be SuperMom. None of us in this thread are either... and none of the people in the catalog is either. You have your SuperMomMoments. I know you do. But this side of heaven, it will never be more than a few scattered perfect moments...

Don't beat yourself up. Really. You are amazing and wonderful. And flawed. Don't measure your reality against the projected external perfection of anyone else...
 Don't we all need reminders like that?

"Don't measure your reality against the projected external perfection of anyone else..."

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Restoration Series

One subject that has never come up on my blog before today:  prisons.

It is a subject that occasionally comes up in my life though.  Not that I plan to go into a lot of detail on my blog, but there have been a couple of individuals in my life who I met after they got out of prison, while they were trying to get back into life on the outside.

That isn't easy, usually for a whole lot of reasons.  Lots of reasons that most of us don't think about.  Prison Fellowship has put out a fascinating documentary, The Restoration Series: Jonathan's Walk

You can watch the first part below.  It's not quite five minutes.  Come on, you have five minutes.

Watch it.

One of the ministries that my church supports is helping women to get integrated back into society after they have been released from prison.  Listening to Marilyn, who runs this ministry, speak about these women -- and meeting some of them, too -- has been eye-opening for me as well.

About the series:

For years, Jonathan has been in prison. As a result, he has missed milestone
moments with his family. He wasn’t there for his daughter’s first day of school or a thousand little experiences with his wife and as a father, he is devastated to be separated from those he loves most.

Jonathan has been looking forward to his release from prison for over a decade. So many life events have been missed and he is now ready to be with his wife and kids again. Of course, this transition isn't going to be easy. The odds are against him: with over half of prisoners returning to prison within two years, Jonathan is aware of the challenge set before him.

Still, he is determined to take the skills he has learned into the world outside of incarceration and stay there, helping build the community that he is part of for years to come.

Prison Fellowship presents The Restoration Series: Jonathan’s Walk, a 5-part documentary film series following one man as he re-enters his community after 15 years in prison. It demonstrates in imagery, powerful storytelling and social interaction what it means to be human and the shared need of all people to see communities restored.

Though America is home to only 4% of the world's population, we house more than 20% of its prisoners. Recidivism–the tendency of a criminal to reoffend—is out of control. The Restoration Series tells the story of men and women who have experienced The Academy, a revolutionary in-prison program that is combatting incarceration and recidivism head on.

Go check it out.  The Restoration Series.

“Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255:  “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”):  Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway.  Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation.  I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Devotions from the Lake {a BookLook Blogger review}

Devotions from the Lake by Betsy Painter is a gorgeous book with one hundred devotions. Very peaceful devotions.

One of the hardest things for me with where we live is that I have to be so intentional if I want to hang out by water.  I don't just happen to run across lakes, ponds, or rivers in my normal life.  Not like when I was growing up.

Hanging out on a rock by a stream, reading a book -- that sums up my "perfect place" whenever I'm asked to describe such a thing.  Or walking along a shore, particularly somewhere that looks like the cover of the book.

I like bodies of water.  So I really thought this was a great devotional for me.

Each devotion is a two-page spread, with one of those pages being a beautiful photo. In between some of these devotions are two-page photos that are pretty incredible. Many photos are scenery, but there are also photos of things like relaxing in a couple of camp chairs or kids running through sprinklers.

The photos are awesome.

The actual devotional part starts with a title and a Bible verse. The verse is included along with the reference. There are two to three paragraphs of text that relates to the photo and verse. Each devotion ends with a short one to two sentence prayer.

As an example, the devotion titled “Where the Sky Meets the Ground” quotes Matthew 3:2. The photo is gorgeous, a green meadow stretching off, with a pretty blue sky containing fluffy, white clouds. The devotion talks about drawings, where there is a clear line separating earth and sky and how we often think this way about Bible stories too. Heaven and earth have a clear line between them.

The devotional goes on to talk about a more three-dimensional way to look at this, with air (heaven) in between every blade of grass. The final paragraph states, “We can ask Jesus to give us a back-porch view of heaven. Where we draw lines separating heaven and earth, He erases them so that heaven pours out over the earth and into our lives.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Beloved: 365 Devotions for Young Women {a Crew review}

I have been wanting to do something with Trina as a devotional reading, or just something about growing into a godly woman that isn't too cute and trendy.  Zondervan to the rescue! Beloved: 365 Devotions for Young Women is intended for girls ages 13-18, so Trina is just a bit "too young" for it, but this has been working great.

My plan, which I had announced to the Crew, was to go through this five days a week with Trina.  On the weekends, between church and pantry and everything else, I knew we would never be able to be consistent,  and I didn't want to feel guilt for that.  That means I didn't plan for that to happen at all.

Good decision on my part.

We failed at doing it every weekday too, even though the readings are super short.  Our problem seems to be that we simply are not getting in the habit.

All of that just proves how much we need it.

Snuggled up, reading, trying to ignore the photographer
The product name does a pretty good job of describing exactly what this product is.  A daily devotional, for young women.  Each day is a single page, starting with a Bible verse and ending with four lines that can be used to journal.  In between there are two or three paragraphs that absolutely relate to growing into a woman of integrity.

One thing I really love about this devotional is that it is not just random devotional thoughts.  The beginning focuses on "ideal" womanhood, and then there are a few about Eve (days 7-14), and Noah's wife (days 15-18) and it continues on through Genesis.  I love that you aren't just reading random thoughts here and there, but that it is more like a little story that continues from day to day.

Sarah, for instance:
  • Day 19: talks about the crazy promises of God, and how Sarah reflects huge amounts of faith, but also shows how not to respond to life events.
  • Day 20: talks about fear and leaning on your own strength instead of asking God for protection.
  • Day 21: talks about intertwined relationships, specifically Hagar and Sarai.
  • Day 22: talks about taking matters into our own hands.
I love that quite often, one day really does add on to what we read about the day before.

Looking ahead, there are some amazing devotionals that really mean a lot to me as well, not just my daughter.  Day 196 really hit me.  There is a string of devotionals talking about Hannah (mother of Samuel) and offerings and suffering.  And then... Day 196.

This one switches gears and starts talking about Peninnah.  Yeah, I didn't recognize that name either.  She's the other wife, the one spoken of in 1 Samuel 1:6 "her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her."

It's easy to be mad at Peninnah.  Like the devotional says, "Not cool, Peninnah."  But it immediately goes on to say,
But perhaps we should turn the magnifying glass onto ourselves before we judge Peninnah too harshly.  The ugly truth is that blessings can make us smug.  When the Lord has chosen to bless us with something - material wealth, talent, intelligence, beauty, opportunity - it's very easy to feel superior to those who don't have what we've been given.

So while this is written to teens, some of these devotional entries absolutely hit me as well.

Smug superiority.  Lord help me not display that, and even more, help me not to feel it either.

A few dozen folks on the Crew have been using Beloved: 365 Devotions for Young Women in their homes.  Go, check out the other reviews!

Beloved: 365 Devotions for Young Women {Zondervan Review}

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Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dave Raymond's Modernity

Last schoolyear, we were blessed with the opportunity to use Dave Raymond’s Modernity as part of William’s high school studies. William is my history-loving son, and he had determined that modern history, specifically the 20th Century, was where he really needed to spend his last year of high school.

Compass Classroom provided a wonderful way to do just that.

This course consists of daily video lectures, which you can stream, download, or purchase on DVD. We have lousy internet, so we were thrilled to be able to use the DVDs. There is also a Student Reader and a Teacher’s Guide, available as a pdf, epub, or mobi file. You do need all three parts to really use the course, although just watching the lectures could be a great way to supplement a more textbook-based course.

There are 27 lessons, with each split into five parts. Each day you have a lecture to watch, and there is reading in the reader. Those readings include a variety of source documents – speeches, diary entries, sermons, letters, and other documents. Some readings are really short, but some are pretty lengthy. For speeches, we tended to search online for a recording of the actual speech. Those were fun to watch together, especially as we got to Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech in the final lesson, where I could talk about my reactions to the events or to that speech at the time. We were able to do the same for songs, as some of the readings were of song lyrics (the theme song from M*A*S*H, for instance, “Suicide is Painless.”)

As long as I am leaping to the end of the course here, it is worth knowing that there is a fair amount of discussion about things like the sexual revolution, or the attitudes in the M*A*S*H theme song. Modern history isn’t exactly fun, and I would not necessarily recommend this course for younger than high school. In fact, my plan is to make it a senior year course for the rest of my kids, in spite of the fact that I love being able to combine as many of them as possible. I may change my mind, though, and have 12th and 10th graders do it together.

So back to how this course works. Daily, you have the lectures and readings, and some questions generally. Every week, there is an exam in the Teacher’s Guide, and the student is to complete an entry into his portfolio. The exams have questions like, “How are revolutions and reformations different?” or “Why is scientism attractive to mankind?” The portfolio is a bit like a scrapbook, where the student is to put images of some sort, along with titles or captions. This could be maps, artwork, copies of artwork, lyrics, quotes, etc. This is a great place to personalize the course.

I can see Thomas (now in 11th grade) using this as a place to talk about significant movies of the time period in the lesson, or about the time period, or photographic and film innovations from that time period. That might be a bit tougher for some of the earliest lessons, but it would be something he can go all out with as we get to about the 1890s and on.

I can see Richard creating a portfolio based on flight and aviation. Right now, I could see Trina doing a portfolio based on fashion trends, as she is really fascinated by clothing of the early parts of the 20th century.

In addition, there are four other projects that take place throughout the year. There is an imitation project, where the student is to imitate the work of a 17th or 18th century master – either art, music, poetry or invention. There is a speech, and a research/thesis paper. The final project is very open-ended, where the student is to invest a chunk of time into a big project of their choice. Again, I could see Thomas creating a documentary about the early stages of motion pictures. I could see Richard creating a replica of the Wright Brothers’ plane, I could see Trina creating a 20s ‘flapper’ outfit.

William focused on Winston Churchill for his project, and one thing he ended up doing was to create a list of Churchill quotations that we printed up on nice paper, with lots of “white” space (it was actually more "parchment space") that we had people sign as a guest book at his graduation ceremony.

The first few lessons are setting the stage. In fact, Lesson Two is called, “The Great Stage: Introduction to the West.” The course ends with “The Triumph of the West: The Fall of Communism and Post-Modernity.” Over half of the course (roughly Lesson 12 and on) takes place in the mid-1800s up through the late 20th Century.

William loved this course. The video lectures were fantastic. Dave Raymond draws you in and really talks to the viewer in a way that makes you think you are right there, listening in. He includes a lot of visuals in the lessons, so it isn’t just watching him lecture.

I absolutely plan to have all of my children work through this.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the download of this course from Compass Classroom. This post does contain affiliate links.  I was not required to write a positive review, and any affiliate relationship does not impact my opinions. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

All Saints: a Bethany House review

I have no idea why I went for it when I had the opportunity to review All Saints, by Michael Spurlock and Jeanette Windle.  I knew nothing of the story, didn’t realize it was being made into a movie except that something in the blurb said so, and the title doesn’t exactly scream out that this is going to be a story that will really move me.

The subtitle might have helped.  All Saints: The Surprising True Story of How Refugees from Burma Brought Life to a Dying Church.

Of course, the publisher's description is great too, and I had to have read it:
The True Story Behind the Powerful Film ALL SAINTS
Newly ordained, Michael Spurlock's first assignment is to pastor All Saints, a struggling church with twenty-five devoted members and a mortgage well beyond its means. The best option may be to close the church rather than watch it wither any further. But when All Saints hesitantly risks welcoming a community of Karen refugees from Burma--former farmers scrambling for a fresh start in America--Michael feels they may be called to an improbable new mission.

Michael must choose between closing the church and selling the property--or listening to a still, small voice challenging the people of All Saints to risk it all and provide much-needed hope to their new community. Together, they risk everything to plant seeds for a future that might just save them all.

Discover the true story that inspired the film while also diving deeper into the background of the Karen people, the church, and how a community of believers rally to reach out to those in need, yet receive far more than they dared imagine.

The Reverend Michael Spurlock served All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, for three years. He is currently on the clergy staff at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York City. Michael, his wife, Aimee, and their two children live in New York City.

Award-winning author and investigative journalist Jeanette Windle has lived in six countries, authored nineteen books, and mentors writers on five continents. To learn more, visit her at

But I don’t remember actually thinking about that.  I just determined this was something I should read.  It arrived and I set it aside, and completely forgot about it.

I ran across it a month ago, and felt guilt that I had not read and reviewed it.  So one afternoon, I opened the book and started to read.  I was so completely pulled into the story that I didn’t stop for much of anything.  I might have made dinner, but not much else happened.

What a fabulous story!

Michael Spurlock is writing his own story here, or a piece of it.  There’s a missionary story I’m reading with my kids for school right now, written by the missionary himself.  The description of the book in our curriculum guide says something about how while the missionary is describing events that happened in his life, and describing that part of it from his point of view, they don’t believe the missionary is the protagonist in the story.  He is, in fact, a fairly minor character.  They argue that God is the protagonist.  Waiting with anticipation and excitement to see the drama play out, to see His kingdom advance.  To see light brought in to the darkness. 

I think that description completely applies here.  Reverend Spurlock is a character in this story.  An important character, surely.  But God himself is the protagonist. 

Aren’t those the best kind of stories?

In a nutshell, this story follows the life of Michael, and the life of Ye Win on the other side of the globe.  Their stories intersect in a dying church in Smyrna, TN.  All Saints Episcopal Church.  This story also has light being brought into the darkness, or at least light coming into the dimness.  Church politics, a church split – a gorgeous church building that is a shell of a church.  War refugees from Burma are the ones bringing the light back. 

This is a truly phenomenal story, and it is a very quick read.  

Disclosure:  Bethany House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.  No other compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Promise of Dawn: a Bethany House review

I’ve read quite a few books by Lauraine Snelling before, primarily her stories that take place in the fictional town of Blessing, North Dakota, which is set somewhere just north of where my father’s family immigrated to from Sweden.  Her characters emigrated from Norway and formed a community there, and I enjoyed reading about them in the Song of Blessing series.  You can read my review of From This Day Forward, the fourth book in that series.

The Promise of Dawn, the first in the Under Northern Skies series, follows another part of that family as they move to northern Minnesota and begin a new life in this new world.  I don’t have the same personal ties to logging in that state, but my German and Polish families came to central Minnesota around this same time period.

Let me start with the publisher's description:
In a Compelling New Saga, One Family Strives to Make Their Own Future
Opportunities are scarce in Norway, so when Rune and Signe Carlson receive a letter from Rune's uncle, Einar Strand, offering to loan them money for passage to America, Rune accepts. Signe is reluctant to leave her home, especially as she is pregnant with her fourth child, but Einar promises to give them land of their own, something they could never afford in Norway.

But life in Minnesota is more difficult than Signe imagined. Uncle Einar and Aunt Gerd are hard, demanding people, and Signe and her family soon find themselves worked nearly to the bone to pay off their debt. Afraid they will never have the life they dreamed of, she begins to lose her trust in God. When the dangers of the North Woods strike close to home, will she find the strength she needs to lead her family into the promise of a new dawn?

I enthusiastically started reading this story, and for whatever reason, I totally bogged down.  I absolutely could not get enthused enough about the characters or the story to read more than a few chapters.  And then the book sat for months, taunting me, as I did promise to review it.

I picked it up again, read an additional chapter, and set it back down.

A few months went by, and I told myself I simply had to read this book.  This time, however, I started over.  And this time, I was completely sucked in starting in about the third chapter.  I did not set the book down until I had read the very last word.  I immediately checked to see if the second book in the series was out, and was thrilled that it was.  I read that cover to cover as soon as it arrived.  Two books into the series, and I can absolutely say that I love this series more than the books about Blessing.

I have no idea why there was such a roadblock the first time I tried to read this.  I have to assume there was something going on in my life that just made it impossible for me to continue.

This book follows Signe, her husband Rune, and their three sons, the oldest of whom is fifteen.  Signe has recently discovered she is pregnant, and having lost a few children since the birth of her youngest son, that does make this journey to America that much more traumatic.

They arrive, unprepared for much of anything they will face.  Things are far more difficult than they imagined, and while some of the conflicts of the story resolve by the end of the book, not all do.

Another thing is that this isn’t a romance.  While there is a wedding in the story, it happens the very first chapter, before Rune and Signe leave Norway.

One of the things I really loved about the Blessing series was that you felt a bit like you were dropping in for a part of the lives of the folks of this town.  As you finished a book, there were things that hadn’t been all wrapped up, and you knew that there were more stories that could be told, and maybe the next book would answer some of those questions.

That feeling is even stronger in this series, and that is speaking for both this title and book 2, A Breath of Hope.  I think what I truly love, though, is that the primary conflict – the one resolved by the final pages – isn’t romance.  There’s a hint that Book 3 (coming in November) might be a bit more romance-driven, which would be fine.  It isn’t the central story of the first two books though.  I find that refreshing.

Disclosure:  Bethany House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.  No other compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.