Monday, March 20, 2017

Once Upon A Time Storybook Bible

I mentioned a few posts ago I wasn't crazy about The Story Traveler's Bible. This children's bible, however, is wonderful!!! I LOVE this book. The size is a large 'storybook' size that just makes you want to open the cover and begin. The illustrations are beautiful-- similar to Disney type animation. There are many, many Bible stories in the collection and they are written at a great level for children, containing important truths but in a way little ones can understand. Each story begins with 'once upon a time,' going along with the book's subtitle of "The Bible is not a fairy tale, but every story happened once upon a time." I was also delighted with the "Happily Ever After" tidbits at the end of each story: a moral or lesson, such as 'Abraham trusted God even when he couldn't see the promise coming true. We too can trust that God is always working in our lives!' The only thing I might change would be the very last chapter about the book of Revelation. It talks about Jesus coming back and the kingdom of God, but Revelation is actually full of additional wisdom about God's kingdom here on earth, and even more specifically the Catholic Mass. All in all, though, a definite treat for a child. I've always loved fairy tales and I love the way this book shares the beauty and wonder of fairy tales but with Biblical stories that actually happened! As Hans Christian Andersen said, "Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale." I'm excited to give this to my godson for his birthday next month, giving him the gift of both stories and truth!

[Thank you to Booklook Bloggers for my review copy. This review contains my honest and original thoughts.]

Friday, March 17, 2017

These Days

Other than book reviews, I'm not blogging much these days. I'm thinking a lot, but my fingers stall on the keys.

Not much is happening, yet so much is happening. I told my mama-friend the other day how odd it is when someone asks how I've been. To the outside eye, every day is simply the same-- staying at home with my daughter, the diapers and food and naps and such. Yet every day feels like a roller coaster internally with all the physical, mental and emotional energy the day commands. Especially the emotional. No one told me that motherhood would take me to the end of myself and mirror back to me not only the best of myself and my strength, but also the ugly parts and the weakness.

But there's this nagging fear that maybe I'm the only one who thinks this is hard. Maybe she has family that lives nearby to help. Maybe her husband has different work hours. Maybe my perfectionist personality brings on my own hardships. Maybe it's just me.

Then there's this nagging guilt that this is everything I've ever dreamed of, this life of home and hearth and husband and babies. Guilt for the friends' who want this so desperately. The friends whose left fingers are empty of a ring, or whose wombs are empty of a heartbeat. I know. I remember. So I feel guilty when having those things now feels hard. 

Sure, there are the days when music is playing and dinner is cooking and the baby is smiling and my soul is soaring. There can be nothing greater than this, I think, my heart fairly bursting with gratitude and joy in this season of my life. My husband is romantic and charming, my baby is gorgeous and endearing, myself productive and accomplished and enjoying a good hair day (ha! rarely for that last one!). The sun shines and I cannot think of a better way to spend my life.

This swinging of the pendulum drives me crazy. Why am I so fickle? Why cannot I not be steadfast in the mountains and the valleys? Why cannot I not remember the joys in the hard times? Why cannot I see the grace in the the distasteful moments? Why cannot I not "count it all joy" (James 1:2)?

We're coming out of a week of teething, tummy bugs, respiratory bugs, and freezing temperatures and snow. I'd like to say I handled it all with saintly wisdom and grace and patience, but instead I feel bedraggled and, well, dragged through it. The lack of sleep and the constant body fluids wore me down.

But there's the tiniest light inside me that says all is not hopeless within me. That even though I don't like what I see in myself, God sees more. That even though I might have trudged more than I danced through it, I still did it. I showed up and offered up and begged for grace. I saw the places where I need His healing and molding and cleansing. Isn't that what Lent is all about? Perhaps this is all the point. God is at work, but it is a process. And for someone like me, that's difficult. I want so badly to "do things right" from the start but God simply wants me to do them and give them to Him, letting go of the outcome....and maybe sometimes not even to do, but just be.

My delusion is often that since motherhood is my vocation, I must do it well (and dare I say perfect?) all of the time and from the very beginning. Yet I forget that because motherhood is my vocation, God is going to use it to make me into the woman He desires and created me to be-- which will not happen instantly but rather over a lifetime. And wouldn't it make sense that the very vocation that will shine light on the dark and broken places for healing to occur will be a little messy (or a lot!) at times? I know when I'm cleaning out a closet, it gets messier before it gets cleaner!

I'm broken, friends. And that's hard. But it's also hopeful! We serve a God who mends the broken places and makes beautiful mosaics from them...and then shines through them.

"We're all broken...that's how the light gets in." -Ernest Hemingway

Maybe it's time I start focusing on the Light instead of the broken.

Come, Lord Jesus, Light of the World, and shine through us this day, even and especially through the broken places.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

On the Bookshelf

Since we've been snowed in (after all that gorgeous spring weather!! boo!) and little G. has not only been teething but also caught a small tummy bug and a big respiratory bug...needless to say, we've been home, indoors, and I've been reading a lot during snuggles and naps. Here are three that have been in our stack: one on marriage, one on motherhood, and one for little ones.

Your Marriage Masterpiece: Transform Your Relationship Through God's Amazing Design, by Al Janssen

This was a good book but not a great book for me. I fluctuated in my opinion through it actually. Some chapters I would be engrossed and think "YES! The world needs to read this!" and other chapters I would skim and feel like I've read similar things before. (Maybe I need to spend more time focusing on my marriage itself instead of reading books about it-- haha ;) ). A few things I liked: the book is a companion resource to The Family Project DVD by Focus on the Family. My husband and I LOVE that course/project, particularly the movie Irreplaceable (about the necessary connections of love/sex/marriage/children and how disconnecting those has broken down the family). I appreciate how much FotF has done and continues to do to promote healthy marriages and families. This book is definitely included in that effort. I liked the real-life stories of marriage. I liked the study guide included. I even liked the Biblical imagination narratives woven throughout, showing us how we are to mirror God's "marriage" to us in our marriages (very Catholic). I did not care for: some of the Biblical narratives were cheesy or took too much artistic liberty for my taste. I felt that the flow of the book was somewhat slow and didn't keep my attention. Overall, a good book on marriage but not one of the top five on that subject that I would recommend to someone.

[Thank you to Bethany House publishers for my complimentary review copy. This contains my honest and original thoughts on the book.]

Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline, by Catherine McNiel

I did not expect to like this book as much as I am! I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but so far it's exceeding that! What a beautiful, inspiring, and even gently convicting book! Ann Voskamp has a review quote on the cover of this book and I can see why-- it has something of the mystic/poetic prose style that she uses when she writes. This book goes deep into the soul of motherhood by using the simplest, earthiest everyday things. The author writes about the (sometimes monotonous) things we experience as mothers and encourages us to find God in them...the God who became a baby, a child, to bring us closer to Him. He is in our children today and wants us to find Him in them...and to find Him in our own weary, changed bodies as well. One of my favorite parts was when she wrote about Jesus being one of us in the messiness of life-- how He lived with and joined the normal, everyday people and talked about fish, yeast, water, taxes as He ministered and taught the kingdom of God. I mean, I know this already but somehow reading her words and seeing Jesus like that was very tender for me. I also appreciated the Catholic vein woven throughout the book even though the author herself is not Catholic-- she writes a lot about the sacramental realities...God using tactile, tangible things to give grace and spiritual meaning to our lives (reminds me of another great book I'm reading by Laura Kelly Fanucci: Everyday Sacrament). At the end of each chapter, there are several reflection and practice points to integrate into your own life. This has been a very meaningful book to me and one that I will likely read more than once.

[Thank you to Tyndale Publishers for my complimentary review copy. This contains my honest and original thoughts.]

God Loves Daddy and Me, by Bonnie Rickner Jensen

I'm such a sucker for faith-based board books. This one does not disappoint. Beautiful illustrations and a touching story to introduce little ones to God's gentle and fatherly love for all of us. I like the specific message that God loves not only children but also adults (who are also His children). I think it's good for kids to learn that God loves us even as we grow and that God loves and takes care of mommy and daddy too so that they learn faith is not just for children, but also for us as we grow up! (Maybe even more necessary as we grow and lose that sense of childlike innocence and trust!) My only slight hesitation about the book is that some of the activities the dad and child do may not be ones all fathers do with their children-- build forts, go on picnics, etc. I wouldn't want a child to feel left out if their daddy doesn't do these things with them. Also, the raccoon child seems to be a boy, so not that a little girl and her daddy couldn't have these adventures, but there's a father-son feel to the relationship described. These are all fine things, but just information for those considering the book if they have a daughter. :)

Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for my complimentary review copy. This contains my honest and original thoughts.]

Friday, March 3, 2017

7 Quick Takes

1. Lent. My devotional today was such a beautiful reminder that this is a season of GRACE. So often we see it as a time of lack or emptiness or dryness because of the fasting...but the fasting is simply there so we can make room for all the grace and growth and presence the Lord wants to give us!! I'm fasting from social media (oh, Instagram, how I miss you!) and though I'm missing the sweet connections with friends because of it, I'm also enjoying the mental detox and the greater openness to prayer, reading, and staying in my own present moments.

2. My monthly meal plan is going along swimmingly and I was THRILLED to notice the past few weeks' grocery bills have been lower as well as the grocery list itself being easier to plan. This tickles me to no end. I've tweaked a few things here and there, and will probably revamp the whole thing when spring/summer rolls around (give me all the fresh food!!) but for now, I'm delighted with the way it's kept us healthy, frugal, and saving time and energy.

3. P and I have been enjoying the When Calls the Heart series from Hallmark. He turned up his nose at the cheesy Hallmark DVD cover but it has since sucked him in as well and he happily joins me. My parents are watching it too and have commented how much Mountie Jack reminds them of my husband. What can I say? I married a charming, handsome adventurer...

4. As for books, I've got bookmarks in probably a dozen books these days...marriage, motherhood, simplicity, spiritual growth...but my fiction books really have my heart right now. Have you heard of Bess Streeter Aldrich? Lesser known than Louisa May Alcott or Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I'd say she's similar to both. GORGEOUS writer, I can't get enough of her characters and scenes and wisdom in each book. I finished Song of Years (my third time through it, though it's been years since I read it) and am now in the midst of A Lantern in Her Hand. Whenever I feel motherhood overwhelming me, I pick up this book and I'm re-centered. The main character Abbie Deal is a pioneer mama raising four littles on the wild prairie, how can I complain or worry or lament in my twenty-first century parenting world? And she throws in such beautiful life lessons and wisdom, it really gives you all the feels.

5. Our little "Spring in the middle of Winter" is over and we're back to freezing temperatures. But those crazy days of fifties and sixties were wonderful. I took lots of walks with baby G and P enjoyed his basketball hoop. One of the days we walked through our whole tiny town with no coats as the sunshine smiled down on us.

6. I had an Amazon gift card and decided to spend it somewhat frivolously and bought a curling wand. I'm hoping it is a dream come true when it comes to my hair, ha! I love the look of those beach waves, but my own hair is a bit of a frizzy, not quite straight, not quite curly mess. This little gem promises to give me those elusive beach wave locks, so we'll see. ;) You know how those things go...

7. The baby woke up so it's goodbye for now...I do appreciate that she waited until number 6 of my quick takes. Hey-- here's what we're having for dinner: Zesty Tilapia thanks to the simple idea from Sweet Little Ones! :)

Have a great weekend, dear friends! Let me know what you're up to-- books, TV shows, recipes! :)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Story Travelers Bible: A Book Review

Even though G is still an infant, I think it's never too early to contemplate ways we can introduce our Lord Jesus, our Mother Mary, and our beautiful Catholic Faith to her. Books and stories are one of my favorite ways to do that-- and what better book to introduce a little one to Jesus than the Bible?

The Story Travelers Bible is such a cute idea. It's about three modern-day children who go back in time on an adventure tour through the stories and places in the Bible. Set in the same order as the Bible itself, they begin their adventure at the creation of the world and ends with John's vision on the island of Patmos. The book is filled with colorful illustrations, memory verses, and extra 'fun facts' in addition to the Bible stories. It would make a great movie or TV series, but I like that it's a book of stories instead-- just as captivating yet better than screen time. :)

The only things I wasn't crazy about is that because the STB is from a Protestant perspective, there are a few stories that are missing the fullness and beauty in the Catholic faith...the Last Supper, Mary's stories and personal holiness, even some of the typology in the Old Testament. The Catholic Church is so amazing at pulling out the depth of scripture and how intertwined the Old Testament and New Testament are...whereas this Bible reads more of a beginning to end storybook without all the connections present. Still a great book, but I would be hesitant about the few stories that are missing important details. I hope a Catholic publisher comes up with something similar in the coming years. :)

[This book was provided to me by Tyndale at no cost. This review contains my honest and original thoughts.]

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What Trust Looks Like

My daughter was loaded in the backseat of the car in her carseat. I glanced at her in the rearview mirror and then glanced up at the pin on my visor. A silver medal of Jesus (Divine Mercy) with the words "Jesus, I trust in You" below it. I breathed a quick prayer of it and we started on our way to the doctor.

The visor pin made me think of a conversation with my husband the day before. We were on our first date post-baby, a simple afternoon getaway to a bookstore and coffee shop. We were talking about what trust looks like for us in this season, when fears have a different shape than they did when we were single. I shared how one thing I learned during my single years is that when it comes to trust, we must trust in a Person, not an outcome. I couldn't necessary "trust" that I would get married and all would be well, but I could always, always trust that God was good and He loved me and He would take care of me.

Little did I know we were about to embark on yet another one of those journeys in learning to trust Him.

The doctor examined our baby girl and then excused herself from the room. She brought in another physician to examine her as well. They were both stumped and started to converse about options and diagnoses and possibilities. While they talked out loud, my heart was racing almost as fast as my mind. Fear was tightening its grip around my throat. They don't know what's wrong. I had hoped it would be a simple exam, obvious answer, and quick fix. But two doctors were confused about what was wrong with my daughter. They started talking about medications and xrays and other testing, but I could barely take it all in.

I called my husband to let him know we were headed to the bigger town's hospital for testing and if he could cancel the repair man that was supposed to come today to fix our water heater (when it rains, it pours). He promised to meet me at the hospital and I could hear the strains of worry in his voice, both of us trying to be strong for the other.

I stopped at Subway to get a quick sandwich so I could drive straight to the hospital instead of going back home. Of course, nothing is quick with a baby and time was in fuzzy, slow-motion ever since we'd left the doctor. I stood in line at Subway, not really caring what I ate but knowing I needed to eat something, and watched the people in front of me. When it was my turn to check out, the cashier glanced at me and said "our card machine just got jammed, so go ahead. No need to pay today."

And in that odd little moment, a distracted Subway manager reminded me to trust in a Person rather than an outcome. The small coincidence of my lunch being paid for on that day was a hug from God. A reminder that He was with us, He loved us, and He would take care of us no matter what lay ahead.

I got back in the car and continued our journey to the hospital, this time with peace instead of fear. A favorite song by Josh Wilson came on as yet another reminder of God's goodness, of the 'dark before the morning' and the 'pain before the joy.'

We still don't fully know the outcome, but things are looking so much better with her health and prognosis right now and we are so grateful for that. But I'm also grateful for the ways God showed up and reminded me to look to Him and not an outcome. He was, and is, tangibly present with His grace in our situation...first shown to me that day by a Subway manager.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

30 before 30: A Bucket List in Retrospect

So that 30 before 30 thing? Where you list 30 things you want to do before you turn 30? I was all into the idea. I love bucket lists! But for the past year, every time I thought about it I couldn't come up with much! And here I am, freshly turned 30 this month!! (I know! Still getting used to this new decade myself... ;) )

 Since I didn't make a bucket list for the past year, I spent some time thinking on all the things I've already done before turning 30 and I had a great time coming up with this list! What a wild, wonderful life! Though I certainly struggled mightily at times during my single years, I'm so grateful I used much of that time for adventures as well. I see so much how God used my travels, my jobs, my relationships, and my experiences to mold me (and prune me) in ways that continue to help me even in this new vocation. Somehow I have a feeling the next 30 will be a little less crazy...then again, marriage and parenting are their own crazy adventures. ;)

1. Kayak in the Caribbean.
2. Get cornrow braids in Mexico.
3. Move out on your own.
4. Get your nursing license at a young age and be able to legally give narcotics before you can legally drink alcohol.
5. Become a CPR instructor.
6. Be a church youth leader for three years and have your heart begin to stretch by your love for the teens.
7. Go on a cruise.
8. Break an engagement and break your own heart as well. Hurt deeply. Find God deeper still and feel heart widen.
9. Drive a motorcycle.
10. Learn to water ski and wakeboard.
11. Swim in the ocean.
12. Hike the Rockies.
13. Hike the Smokies.
14. Shoot a gun with aim like Annie Oakley.
15. Get a convertible and realize your favorite thing in the summer is driving in the open air.
16. Go white water rafting in the moutains of Tennessee.
17. Cook over an open fire.
18. Fly alone to Paris...get lost in Paris...learn the metro system in Paris out of necessity and experience deeply that God is with you in your greatest fears.
19. Ride alone on a train through France to Lisieux and kneel in the convent where one of your favorite saints knelt. Pour your heart out with tears to a random nun who speaks broken English and then gives you a relic and some words of encouragement. Realize again that God is everywhere.
20. Visit a ranch in Texas and learn true virtue, patience, and hospitality from one of the greatest families you've ever met.
21. Perform ultrasounds on women considering abortion and watch their lives be changed by seeing their babies in their wombs. Cry with them. Walk with them. Love on them. And feel your own heart widen.
22. Be on a radio show
23. Go to a third world country and experience Mass on a rooftop.
24. Have your heart broken by an orphan baby boy you will never forget.
25. Have a spa day with Haitian women who were dying. Laugh with them. Rub lotion on them. And realize you're not so different from each other. Feel your heart widen, stretch, and break once again.
26. Fall in love. Oh, what a ride. The love that had mountaintops and valley lows. The love survived two breakups and vocation discernment and fear and grief and uncertainty. The love that grew despite it all.
27. Get married to the one you fell in love with.
28. Experience the hardest loss yet: the loss of your miscarried child. Feel the grace seep through all the broken cracks of your heart. Know that yes, it is better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all. We will see you again, little one.
29. Get pregnant again and this time give birth naturally (oh, pain like you've never felt before!) to a daughter. A daughter. Oh, your heart is so full, so full.
30. Realize anew that God is so good, He uses everything we give Him (the good and the bad), His grace is everywhere...and life is beautiful.

Here's to the next 30 years, God willing!