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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Book Review: Beautiful Battle: A Woman's Guide to Spiritual Warfare by Mary DeMuth

Mary DeMuth is one of my mentors, even if she doesn't know it. After reading her honest and raw memoir, Thin Places (which I highly recommend), I was shocked at how closely my early life experiences so closely resembled those she journeys through in her memoir. Mary's writing ministry is powerful and I pray that God will allow me to encourage and inspire others through authentic writing the way Mary does.

When I dug into the pages of Beautiful Battle: A Woman's Guide to Spiritual Warfare, this same phenomenon gripped me to the book's pages. How did she get inside my head and tell a story about exactly what I went through? In the book, Mary uses the lessons learned in her dark and painful time of service in ministry in France to encourage other women facing spiritual warfare.

As I read about these experiences, my still-raw heart flooded with memories of my time in ministry in Texas, the dark and difficult time of spiritual warfare I endured there, an experience I am now recovering from and resting in God's victory of that battle for my heart, mind, and emotions. My experienced seemed to mirror the one she details of her time in France, and while reading, I wished over and over and over again that I had had this book to help point me to the Truth I needed to rest in during that time.

I have to admit that spiritual warfare is not a topic I enjoy reading about. Like many Christians, I tend to avoid the topic of the Enemy altogether, dismissing evil as mysterious and scary and a terrible thing to waste my time pondering. Still, at some point in every Christian's life, we find ourselves neck deep in warfare, and from experience, I can tell you… Being ill-equipped to handle battle is not the best way to trudge through it.

What I enjoyed most about Beautiful Battle was that Mary did not simplify the intricacies of faith or warfare, nor does she make excuses for why God allows such suffering. She does not present a wham-bam formula or an oversimplified, one-size-fits-all version of how to emerge victorious. She does not focus on the Enemy but rather on the Lord, inspiring us in our darkest hours not to consume ourselves with the how of spiritual warfare, but instead on the who – the One who holds the power over defeat, and what it looks like to protect ourselves with His armor.

Something I appreciate about Mary's writing is that in all her books I've read, she isn't afraid to tell the truth. Mary doesn't sugar-coat things or put on a Holy Holly Christian face that I find hard to relate to, the way many Christian authors tend to do when writing from an authoritative perspective on a spiritual matter. Mary is quick to share her real struggles, bare the rawness of her heart and experiences, admit her failures, and expose her own brokenness that we might see ourselves in her (I know I do) and connect with what she has learned to help us take another step in growth.

Authenticity is what I admire most in a writer, and Mary's got it. As she says on page 86 of Beautiful Battle, "Authenticity is our declaration that we will live in the light." Amen, sister! Another of my favorite quotes in the book appears on page 135, "If I keep my heart in fear's forest, I'll never fly."

Mary urges us to not just read the Word of God, but to claim it in its full power. "What would life look like if you truly believed the words of Romans?" she writes. "To live as if nothing fazed you in light of Christ's amazing love? Not even the demonic can separate you from God's love. Rest in that. Believe that. Live that." (Page 140, Beautiful Battle).

Whether you're currently experiencing the terrorizing emptiness of spiritual warfare, you have in the past, or you're headed there in the future, I highly recommend keeping a copy of this book tucked under your armor. Mary only points to the truth of Scripture as weaponry against evil, but she is a wise friend to keep beside us in battle. You can purchase Beautiful Battle, Thin Places, or Mary's other books through the links on this page. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Book Review - You're Already Amazing

Hi again friends! I'm still on blog hiatus (until Easter), but am still posting book and product reviews per prior commitments. Miss you all!

"You don't have to do more, be more, have more."

This is what Holley Gerth suggests on the back cover of her newest book, You're Already Amazing. The subtitle teases me with a glimpse of what I long for, "Embracing Who You Are, Becoming All God Created You to Be."

But how?

How do we embrace our worth in a culture that caves in around us, with the lie that is eternally whispered into the depth of a woman:

You aren't enough. You are too much. You must keep reaching, keep trying, keep striving to be good, to be worthy of love.

Holley Gerth - You're Already Amazing

You're Already Amazing is a big, soul-hug from a good friend, but it's more than that. It's an instruction manual on personality and purpose, and a mirror held up to reflect us only in light of who God says we are without the lies that blind our vision.

This is an interactive text and Holley gives us the opportunity to work through the truths she presents bite by bite. There is a "Go Deeper Guide" at the end of the book with sections for further study of each chapter.

Holley has a beautiful way of presenting her loving message directly, so it hits right between the eyes. She's never harsh, but helps us look at the whole picture in such a way that we can operate in our strengths and gracefully minimize the impact our weaknesses have on us.

"Love in a biblical sense isn't a touchy feely, vague experience. It's a verb. It's a series of choices and actions in our lives. So the next step in our process is to look again at your life through the lens of love." – Page 131

Perhaps the most insightful aspect of the book (for me) is its focus on pursuing purpose rather than perfection. Feeling like I was able to internalize this in a new way frees me up to connect more deeply with what God has for me in the world, not work to burden me but my heart and soul in action with Christ's leading.

Holley leads us to develop a LIFE statement (LIFE = Love is Faith Expressed) to help us check our actions, activities, and motivations against what we know about our journey. Mine looks like this:

I am created and called to express my faith through love, especially by inspiring, nurturing, and encouraging God's children through honest words, shared experiences, and creative nourishment.

There is a profound power in connecting with your deepest purpose in light of the Kingdom, and Holley's words were a beacon for directing me to embrace all that I am and even what I am not, to make more room for that which belongs in my path.

You're Already Amazing exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds. I expected a pep talk, a sweet reminder to love myself, and an encouraging spur in the right direction. I didn't expect the book to be so chalk full of actual steps on that path. Holley is a woman deeply connected with her purpose, and it shows. I'm happy to have had the opportunity to glean from her wisdom and experience in this area. Ladies, don't miss this great resource.

Get You're Already Amazing through the links on this page. DaySpring has the entire Holley Gerth collection at 25% during the month of March! Woohoo! One of the best ways you can spend a couple bucks, for real.

It's also the (in)courage Bloom book club selection of the month. Join the conversation!

You're Already Amazing

Holley Gerth - You're Already Amazing

(Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Polka dots + a GIVEAWAY = Everyday Joy

If you've spent any time on this here blog, you've certainly heard me express my undying affection for DaySpring. On top of being my absolute favorite brand of home d├ęcor, books, gifts, cards, and other products, their team is simply amazing. I had the pleasure of meeting some DaySpring team members at Relevant 2011, and work with them through email for blog and affiliate purposes.

DaySpring's generosity, corporately and individually, never ceases to amaze me. Customer service is amazing, products are of great quality, and the value can't be beat. They are forever offering amazing deals, free products, giveaways, and more.

I'm blessed to be able to partner with them here on my blog and be a vessel for their generosity. Keep reading and enter to win a $20 gift code for anything you want to buy at DaySpring.com.

Last month, I received the Everyday Joy collection to review, and I squealed with delight when I opened the box. Anyone who has been to my house, seen my wardrobe, or visited my blog can attest to my unnatural affection for red and white polka dots. Was there ever a cheerier pattern in the world? Combine it with a splash of aqua and some inspiring Scripture, and my cuteness cup just runneth over.

Everyday Joy Assortment Set

I'm sitting here now, drinking coffee out of my adorable coffee cup, reminded by the verse across the front, "You have filled my heart with greater joy." – Psalm 4:7. You can't not be full of joy with this cheery gift-set, complete with coffee mug, journal (perfect for you gift-counters out there), stack of notepads, and a gift bag/tissue to wrap it all up with. Super adorable.

Now for the fun part. Who wants DaySpring cash? Leave a comment telling me what you'd buy with your credit and I'll draw a random winner on Friday, March 16. You can check out this month's amazing deals here or follow any of my photo links to be taken to DaySpring's site.

Good luck and happy shopping!


CONGRATS LINDSEY! You won the $20 DaySpring giveaway! 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book Review: Sarai by Jill Eileen Smith

I don't read much Christian fiction, mostly because I tend to find the characters a bit hollow and one-sided, the stories wrapping up too cleanly to be believable. Yet, when Revell/Baker Publishing Group contacted me with an invitation to review Sarai by Jill Eileen Smith, I was intrigued. I hadn't read any biblical fiction before and I was curious how a novel about an actual biblical character would read.

I was skeptical about this telling of Sarai, especially in light of the ancient lands and unfamiliar culture the story is set in. I knew the biblical account of Sarai and Abram, but when the first few pages of the novel buzzed casually with terminology like ziggurat and lapis lazuli, introducing characters whose names I couldn't pronounce, I worried the cultural divide would either confuse or bore me with the excruciating detail of an ancient time and unfamiliar place.   

It didn't take me long to realize that Jill Eileen Smith is a gifted writer with a true insight when it comes to reading between the lines of Scripture. She writes with a sensual familiarity of ancient biblical culture and a read on the conflicted nature within every human being. In the novel, she unravels the mystery behind Sarai's lifelong barenness, God's promises to Abram, Abram's nephew Lot and his self-dependence, and the difficulty of a long-suferring faith in Adonai amongst the polytheistic culture of their time.

She beautifully details the human struggle for control in the midst of God's promises, the pain of infertility, the consequence of doubt, the jealous nature between women, the challenges of a nomadic lifestyle, and the nuances of a culture built on ritual and sacrifice, not to mention the redemption of it all by a mysterious but always-loving God. Ms. Smith paints a clear cultural setting but weaves this more as a heart-gripping romance than a history book, while still remaining true to the biblical account. I admire the way she can expand upon the existing story without much speculation, without adding significant plot lines, rather imaginatively painting the story for what it already is.

I'd highly recommend Sarai and I'll surely be on the lookout for other books in her Wives of the Patriarchs and Wives of King David series. Keep your eyes open for Sarai to hit bookstore shelves – it releases tomorrow on Amazon.com, but you can preorder now through the links above.  

Sarai is available March 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. I received this book free from Baker Publishing Group in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Book Review: The Harvest of Grace by Cindy Woodsmall

Hi friends! *Wave*

I'm still on blog hiatus, but I said I'd be back here and there for a few reviews and other bloggy business, so here I am. Miss you all! :)

Book Review: The Harvest of Grace

Having previously read and enjoyed Cindy Woodsmall's Sisters of the Quilt trilogy, I was glad for the chance I was given by WaterBrook Multnomah to review The Harvest of Grace (an Ada's House novel). I may have jumped the gun a bit as I hadn't realized until it arrived that it was the last book of a three-part series. Figuring I couldn't offer a fair review without having read the rest of the series and not wanting to drive myself crazy reading a hole-filled story, I picked up the first two books in the series: The Hope of Refuge (book 1) and The Bridge of Peace (book 2) so I could read through the whole Ada's House series in order.

Like Cindy Woodsmall's other Amish fiction, The Harvest of Grace intertwines the complex stories of several members of a particular Amish community, and its reader gets to shares in the ups and downs, challenges and triumphs of the so-called simple life. I particularly enjoy Cindy's multidimensional way of building characters and the internal struggle that goes on within each of them. Even the most Pollyanna-esque among the characters in this book has her own conflicted side.

The Ada's House series follows the street smart and not-at-all Amish character Cara Moore through her rocky beginnings as an exotic dancer in New York City, through her difficult transition into the Amish fold when she lands in an Amish community while on the run from a dangerous stalker and decides to stay put. This one aspect of the series is what attracted me to the book – the curiosity of what it would be like, as an outsider, to embrace the Amish lifestyle. This book also introduces Sylvia Fisher and details her own conflict in leaving home to run a farm – not a typical lifestyle choice for a young Amish woman.

The series in general and the book in particular painted quite a few strong female characters and Cindy had a delicate way about breaking female-role stereotypes, something I particularly appreciated about this series in the beginning, but which fell a bit flat by the end of the book when, in typical fashion, wedding bells trump all other pursuits for every single character in the series.

William Faulkner said the problem of the human heart in conflict with itself makes for good writing, and Cindy's way of weaving this conflict through a plot line is artful, nearly all her characters likeable. She accurately portrays the human condition and our tendency to battle between following our head and following our heart, noting the flaws within "good" characters and the redeeming qualities in the "bad" ones.

For anyone familiar with Amish fiction, the Ada's House series offers a familiar plot scheme – the grand finale and happily-ever-after finality of a sought-after wedding or five. The series, like other Amish fiction, ultimately is the telling of the various characters' winding pathway toward marriage, assuming, of course, that post-wedding life will be a happily-ever-after affair full of babies and farm chores and that this will adequately satisfy all the strong-willed women of the story.

If you're looking for a heart-warming book with a happy ending, The Harvest of Grace won't disappoint. I found it casually predictable and the complicated tapestry of events tied together a little too effortlessly, but all in all, it was a likeable story that I'd recommend. While I abhor romance novels, I enjoy Amish fiction (sometimes considered in the "romance" genre) for the mental break it gives me, so the predictability and squeaky-clean story line don't bother me much. While I think I enjoyed the Sisters of the Quilt trilogy more than this one, The Ada's House series is, in general, a good clean read that might have you longing for a bonnet of your very own.

Want a sneak peek for yourself? Read the first chapter here.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own honest appraisal of the material provided.