Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Review: Plain Perfect

Plain Perfect (Daughters of the Promise, #1)Plain Perfect by Beth Wiseman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warning: contains spoilers.

I would give this three stars except I realize that I'm not usually a novel reader and to expect a novel to measure up to non-fiction isn't exactly fair to either genre since they are both unique. I happened across this book recently and while I can't say it's an amazing book, it is an enjoyable read that was a sweet love story.

My biggest problem with it is it seemed so predictable. I knew from the outset what was going to happen, but even so, a good writer can make a predictable story shine, and that's what Wiseman did.

Lillian needs a change in her life. She leaves her boyfriend in Texas and moves to Pennsylvania to live with her Amish grandparents. I very much enjoyed her struggle over worldly and Amish ways. I think anyone who lives in another culture struggles over how the way they do things conflict with those around them be it living in another country or living in a different culture within our own society.

As in most romance books, I found Samuel almost too charming, although cared more for his son than for Lillian during their courtship, which was commendable.

In addition to this being predictable, the other thing I wondered about it was how likely it would be that it could happen. First, few "English" come into the Amish world. I would have thought that Samuel would have taken a much longer time in courtship with Lillian especially since she did not grow up Amish, how could he be certain she would not return to the ways of the English? Although a sweet love story, I had to wonder how wise he was in choosing her as his bride.

Would I recommend this book? Only to someone who likes novels, especially Amish fiction. It's not one I would rave about to others, but it is a fun, light hearted read. Because I did enjoy this book I gave it four stars since I am not typically a fan of novels, and I feel that giving it three stars wouldn't do it justice. I read it almost straight through, so it was good, just not my usual in books!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

By Grace Alone by Sinclair Ferguson

FTC disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

Grace. As Christians we sing about it. We talk about it. We may even preach about it. But do we understand it? Do we comprehend it for the true gift of God that it really is? When we become Christians, many times we are overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the grace God has extended to us to forgive us our sin, but even a year later, are we still so speechless when we think about the mercy that was extended to us?

In this book Sinclair Ferguson takes the hymn “Oh How the Grace of God Amazes Me” and transforms this hymn into a short but powerful book reminding as well as instructing us about what a powerful gift was given when we were forgiven.

Within the seven chapters are an amazing amount of truth that all Christians should be reminded of from time to time. I think this would make an excellent book for a small group or Sunday School class to go through, or even a new convert class because isn’t a large part of Christian maturity growing in knowledge and living out the grace of God in our lives?

Within seven chapters, Rev. Ferguson presents in a very readable style the theology behind grace. The book begins with the chapter “My Chains Fell Off” and concludes with “True Freedom” and the chapters in between cover the theology behind grace, how it applies to us, and how we can live it out.

One of the most powerful statements to me in the book is the amazement that religious people often have when they realize they are not a Christian. I know that’s true in my own life, and a number of people were shocked to find out that I was not a Christian in years past. I was certain I was, and others were sure as well. When I discovered grace, it made me wonder how I never realized that I was not a Christian because grace was so powerful it didn’t compare to anything else I had ever experienced while doing religious things.

My favorite chapter was “True Freedom”. This chapter discusses sanctification as a process of growth. The way it is explained is that if we are Christians we are slaves to Jesus Christ. We aren’t slaves to sin because we have been set free from slavery to sin. Now we just need to live out that truth. This was an amazing revelation to me because so often I would like to have a checklist of things I do and don’t do, but that’s not how we receive grace. Grace is freely given, and all we have to do is receive it. While many things can help us grow in the knowledge of God, we can’t earn grace. It is right there for us.

I have a friend at church who we always discuss what we are currently reading. I explained this book as “So powerful I would actually make myself stop reading so I can absorb the truth in it.” I highly recommend this book to every Christian, pastor and layman, as this book is a readable account of the amazing gift Christ gave to us.

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 23rd Snow

There was no school where I live today because of the bad weather.   I remember a snow day in April when I was a child but it was either April 8th or 10th.

PrintRunner Postcard Giveaway

I was recently contacted by PrintRunner about hosting a postcard giveaway.  I know many of my friends enjoy postcards, after all there are so many things you can do with them.  You can use have your own photo printed and send them as Christmas cards.  Engaged?  You and your fiance can hold up a sign that says "Save the Date".   Use them to promote your business, or if you are planning a large party, make up invitations to send to everyone and save some money on mailing them since it only costs 32 cents to mail a postcard!  Just think how easy it is to Print Online after you've chosen the postcard imagine you wish to share with everyone!  I love creating things with my photos and Online Postcard Printing is a great way to share a favorite photo or information about an event.

One lucky reader will receive 100 postcards by PrintRunner in size 5"x7".  They are 4/0 Front Only Printing with rounded corners.  4 PT. UV Coating on Front, no proof.  They will be ready to ship within 4-6 business days after your order is submitted.  (Because of the timing of this giveaway, you will be contacted by them in their batch of May winners!)

Giveaway open only to U.S. Residents 18 and older.  Winner may not have won another PrintRunner giveaway in the last six months.

Will end May 2nd at 12:01 am (so have your entries in by May 1st at 11:59 pm)

Disclamer:  I will be receiving 100 postcards in exchange for hosting this giveaway.   

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Movie Review: Blue Like Jazz

I haven't been to a movie since 1999.  I grew up in a church that taught movies were wrong, but I no longer think that.  Just haven't been to one.  When my friend Jill asked me to go with her to our closest city (about 2 1/2 hours each way!) to see this movie, I jumped at the chance.  Who would drive a total of five hours to watch a movie?  We did.

I have a bit of a history with the book Blue Like Jazz.  I had traveled to Israel some years back (more on that in a moment) and was really seeking answers.  My friend Jake recommended I read it.  Because he is usually into apologetics books I held off.  I didn't want to read something that was going to tell me all the evidences that the Bible was true;  this book was anything but.  Later, my friend Ben recommended I re-read this, and at that time I also read Donald Searching for God Knows What.  The title of that book pretty much summed up what I was feeling at that moment of my life.  My friend Ben told me that Donald Miller and Eudora Welty were two writers who most influenced his Christian life, and having read Welty in college, I decided to dive into Miller's books.  It had been about five years since I had last read a Donald Miller book, and I'm glad for the lapse from reading to be able to enjoy it on the big screen.   (See the movie first if you haven't read the book yet!)  I knew Miller was older when he started college, was confused with cell phones at first because I knew he is close to my age, and we didn't have laptops when I was a freshman!

My friend Jill grew up in church, like me, but she and I had very different experiences as we found out while munching on burritos afterwards.  The opening scenes (sans the communion cup factory one) could have been my formative years.  Yes, I've heard the urban legends about angels.  I have been to more lock-ins than I can count on both hands.  (In fact, just went to one a few months ago.)  I think my favorite scene from the beginning of the movie was here Donnie was dressed (literally) in the full armor of God.  I spent almost an hour looking for a photo of me dressed in the full armor of God circa 1989, but couldn't find it, nor could I find the boy who was dressed up.  We had a competition to see who could create the best armor from newspapers, and the boys won because they set some newspaper on fire to simulate the fiery darts of the evil one.  (See Ephesians 6:10-20).  Not only that but the movie pokes fun at the all important, sacred puppet ministry that churches seem to often do and not do well.  I was on the puppet team when I was growing up, so once again, I felt like my life was being told on the big screen.

Watch the trailer:

In the movie, unlike the book, Miller's mother has an affair with the youth pastor.  It needed to be some dramatic event to shock the viewers into understanding how disillusioned with the church Miller had become.  He goes to ultra-liberal Reed College and Lauren tells him early on if he is going to have friends, he better hide the fact he's a Baptist boy.  He dives head long into the party scene, lands in jail for a protest, is an astronaut at a robot demonstration, and befriends "The Pope" who is as anti-church as Miller is.

At this point of the movie, a couple in front of us left the theater.  I can only assume they were expecting a Christian movie with great family values, and it is more of a Christian kid turn frat boy coming of age story.  The language is a little rough, there are themes that you wouldn't want children to watch.  The child asking why the "happy balloon" was on top of the church steeple was one of the most uncomfortable for me in the entire movie, yet that child had one of the most memorable characters to me even though she was barely in the movie.  Again at the end when she tells Miller the line about his clothing (I don't want to spoil it) I almost cringed.  I'm not sure why I had the reaction I did to the girl, perhaps seeing her innocence as she, like the children at the lock in, are being given Kool-Aid  (a reference that was not lost on me in the movie.)  Just knowing that girl will have to have her own "Blue Like Jazz" experience to decide if her faith is real or not, something rattled me with her scenes.

In the movie, Miller's mother calls and tells him some even more news that shatters what little he has left of any semblance of the Christian life he grew up in where innocence is rewarded and the hard questions of life are ignored.  At this point Penny realizes that Miller is running from something and towards nothing.

Jill and I discussed this part of the movie after leaving the theater.  I specifically asked her, "What was your Reed College?" meaning where did she quit drinking the Kool-Aid to allow her faith to become real.  My Reed College was the Garden Tomb.  It felt surreal.  It wasn't the commercialization of the Holy Sites which I was warned about before my trip that shook me.  In fact, I didn't think they were overly commercialized.  But it was the number of groups in multiple languages partaking of Communion at the Garden Tomb.  It shook me and I wasn't sure if it was wine, juice, or grape Kool-Aid in those olive wood communion cups that the pilgrims could take home as a souvenir.  My Israel trip left me searching for --   God knows what.  I studied Hebrew thinking I could find what I was looking for there.  Things felt to unravel even more.  I asked a pastor some questions as I was truly seeking and he told me he didn't have time to answer.  In time I found a friend who was to me what Penny was to Donald Miller, grabbing the untethered space suit as you're slowly wandering into the abyss of space and reeling you back into the Shuttle.

One of the neatest things about this movie was the fact that funding ran dry and Miller asked those who the book had impacted to be a part of the movie.  For a donation, you became an associate producer and received a "Blue Like Jazz Associate Producer" t-shirt.  (Which, unfortunately, my friend Jill did not wear.)  We watched the credits to see her name, and there it was on the big screen.  On the way home, she played a message she had saved to her phone from the producer thanking her for being a part of the movie.

My friend Jill is listed here:  (It was so funny, we were hanging around with our camera phones out to capture her fifteen minutes of fame.  The number of associate producers amazed me, and even to get to the Js it felt like it took forever!  Neither of our phones would focus on the scrolling names long enough to get a still shot (I tried with still) so Jill grabbed 19 seconds of video.  What a fantastic way to raise money and make everyone feel involved with the movie.  Genius fundraising idea!

This is a hard movie to watch if you have a Christian background UNLESS you have become disillusioned with the church.  I was in tears at the end.  Hearing an apology of how Christians often time suck at the way the represent God, yet acknowledging it's a crappy representation of the Body of Christ, that was something I needed to hear, and I think tens of thousands of people need to hear.  Eight minutes of dialogue to end a movie?  Never done.  Until now.  It's profound, irreverent, and Christian. Blue Like Jazz has replaced π as my favorite movie of all time.  This movie is not for those who are clones (bonus points if you get the reference as it relates to this movie), nor is it for those who have not had their comfy Christian world shattered, but for those of us who have, it's a refreshing look at life, faith, and living our lives as Christians when we are surrounded by flawed people who more often seem to represent hypocrisy than Jesus.  

One of my favorite parts of the movie, personally, was when The Pope holds up a copy of a Chicken Soup for the Soul book.  He was saying that if there really is a God then God would not allow such books to be published.  Jill and I found this very funny as I was recently published in a Chicken Soup book.  We were laughing so hard, and I'm sure the other people in the theater wondered what we found so funny in a book burning scene.  

I paid for my movie admission myself.  However I will be honest.  Donald Miller offered to call everyone who posted a review of this movie on Facebook or Twitter on opening weekend.  It's no longer opening weekend, but Donald Miller, if you are reading this, I would love a phone call in exchange for this review.  (I don't know he will as opening weekend was LAST weekend, but if you are reading this, I would love to hear from you -- my e-mail is on the left side of the page here under "About me" and I'll e-mail you my phone number.  I would love a phone call from the author of some of the books who influenced me so much, as well as the subject of my favorite movie!  I'd love enjoying a laugh about the Chicken Soup for the Soul scene with him.)  

I am ready to read Blue Like Jazz again for the third time. I rarely re-read a book, let alone three times, so I think this speaks for how highly I like the book and movie.  I am also looking forward to the movie being released on DVD. 

Weekend Mail Wrap-Up 4/21/12

It's time again for another edition of Weekend Mail Wrap Up where I showcase the goodies that showed up in my mailbox this week.

Monday started with me receiving a Hamburger Helper prize pack I won over at Your Fun Family.  Included in this were two boxes of Hamburger Helper, a bowl, spoon, and trivet.  A very fun win, and looking forward to trying the new Cheesy Italian Beef and Ultimate Beef Stroganoff flavors of Hamburger Helper.

I won a $25 Dollar General gift card as well as a Hanes Comfortfit bra two pack.  A bottle of Essie nail polish, and a copy of Frank Peretti's book Illusion: A Novel .  I'm really excited about this book because I've been a Peretti fan for over twenty years, and really looking forward to his latest novel.

While not in my mailbox this week, I went to a book sale and the books I purchased for myself include:

The Life Surrendered: A Young Mans Plea for His Generation to Abandon Hypocrisy The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality  (I was happy to find this at a book sale.  I'm not sure where my copy is, and I want to re-read this book as I watched the movie last night.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: Winning the Food Fight

Steve Willis is probably best known for his appearance on "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution", but Willis is a pastor in Kenova, West Virginia who saw what effect obesity was having on the people around him.  The church he was pastoring in shuffled staff, and he went from working with youth to being a pastor for adults.  Willis recounts that nearly every week he was visiting someone in the hospital -- or burying someone -- due to an obesity related illness.

I live in the same state as Rev. Willis, although not near him.  I could relate as he talked about the health of our state in general.  As I read this book, I wished more churches would get on board with the idea that healthy eating brings glory to God.  To me it often seems that the last taboo in Christianity is to discuss obesity.  In fact, I once had a pastor who used to joke he was someday going to preach on gluttony before a church dinner.  That may not be the time to introduce to a congregation the need for healthier lifestyles, but this book outlines how this church started encouraging people to eat better food.  In fact, Willis claims that many people bring salads to their church fellowship dinners.

No stranger to being overweight, the author lost about twenty pounds himself.  He talks about how those in his church even questioned if he was sick because being a normal weight is not the norm in his community.  He discusses trips out of state where he realized that the average person in Texas or California weighs less than the average person in his community.  Being from the same state, I have to agree this observation holds true for me as well.  Obesity is many times an outcome of low income.  He discusses why this is true, and I never realized before this book WHY the government will often give vouchers for high(er) calorie foods and not things like fruits and vegetables.  (Although this is changing.  I know in my area a program started a few years ago where those on food assistance would get vouchers they could take to the local farmer's market, and those vendors could turn them in for cash.)

This book also talks about community gardens and exercise programs.  Rev. Willis says that one thing that is very needed if you want to get healthy is a community supporting you, and he recommends you tell some people in your church as you decide to start your journey into healthy living.

One of my favorite parts of the book were where he says instead of visiting folks in the hospital so much these days, he stops by the exercise center that his church was able to build with some money received from being on the "Food Revolution" -- it is in that center that he is able to visit with people who may otherwise be in the hospital had it not been for their lifestyle changes! 

I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially to pastors who would like to develop a vision for their church to get healthy.  What Pastor Steve did in Kenova could be replicated to some degree anywhere even if you don't have the help of Jamie Oliver.  There are ideas on how to approach the congregation with the first sermon about health, as well as a number of other ideas that could be used in helping your parishioners shed pounds as well through education and healthier eating.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Weekend Mail Wrap-Up 4/14

There was a number of goodies that came in the mail.

First off, not pictured was a $10 Dollar General gift card from a win.  I used it already to buy cereal.

I received the following books:

Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus  (purchased)
Good Girls Don't Have to Dress Bad: A Style Guide for Every Woman (not pictured)  (trade)
That's Life: Finding Scrapbook Inspiration in the Everyday (trade)
The Voice Bible: Step Into the Story of Scripture (win)

I love Doritos Locos Taco T-shirt (win)

Lady Gaga Prize pack (win) which included:
2 Lady Gaga stickers
1 vinyl poster
1 other poster
Lady Gaga Presents The Monster Ball Tour At Madison Square Garden [Explicit]
The Fame Monster
Born This Way

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Giveaway: Unfriend Yourself

I reviewed the book Unfriend Yourself (click on this link to read my review) and I loved the book, but thought I would pass my book on to someone else, so here's a giveaway to do just that!  The book is a review copy but looks new as I am very careful with books.

Open to the USA only.  Winner had 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen.

Unfriend Yourself is subtitled:  Three Days to Detox, Discern, and Decide about Social Media  It is a Christian book, and I think it's well worth the read.  It's only 91 pages, so it's a quick read, too!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review: Unfriend Yourself

Unfriend YourselfUnfriend Yourself by Kyle Tennant

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book short on pages, but long on thought provoking questions.  In Unfriend Yourself, Kyle Tennant discusses both the advantages and pitfalls of social media.  He asks questions relevant to the Christian life and our online persona such as do our Facebook status updates amount to bragging.  He explains that we attempt to put our best foot forward at all times, and in so doing we may "like" pages of celebrities or bands we've only heard of and have no connection just to make others perceive ourselves a certain way.  If we compare ourselves to the online persona of our "friends" we may walk away depressed because we feel our lives don't measure up to theirs.  Personally, I tend to try to make my status updates interesting.  My attitude is life is an amazing adventure and there's always something humorous or amazing to share.  I have had a number of people tell me how entertaining my status updates are.  For instance, I recently saw a working payphone.  I snapped a photo and asked when the last time everyone had seen one of those.

He also talks about how we can still be lonely even if we have a large number of friends.  He mentioned the "just" factor and how we need to rid ourselves of "justs" as in "I'll just text her."  Tennant said many times the "just" is a substitute for better social contact such as an in person visit or phone call.  He also discussed how he visited a friend in the hospital and how that friend got a large number of texts but few visitors.  While in the past those same people may have been inclined to make a hospital visit, but in that instance they "just" texted.  This resonated with me because I was in the hospital recently.  I enjoyed every e-mail, text, and Facebook message I received.  Friends as far away as Russia called me.  Obviously they and friends who live out of state couldn't visit, so their phone calls meant as much as a visit to me.  However, I posted on Facebook I was in the hospital.  While I received a large number of posts, what really surprised me was the people who saw that and then visited.  One friend I hadn't seen in twenty years stopped by and brought me tacos.  I believe this is the power of social media that Tennant would like to see utilized.  I, like Tennant believe there can be positive ways to use social media rather than interacting with a screen.  He mentioned creating events for his teen group (he's a youth pastor) and that gives him a pretty accurate count of how many will attend.  I believe social media is a boon when it facilitates off line relationships.  I recently asked on Facebook who would be willing for me to visit them as I have a free airline ticket that expires soon.  I'm visiting friends I never would have thought to toss the idea out to them, but I'm so excited about spending a weekend with them.  A group I'm in at church uses social media to send out reminders when there is going to be a change in location of our class.  I believe these are great ways to utilize a tool that can be used for good or a great time waster. 

Tennant also discusses how he "friended" a number of those who were going to be in his freshman class in college.  They had a lot of heartfelt discussions an expected to be close friends when they arrived on campus at Moody Bible Institute.  However, those were not the ones he became friends with.  He discusses the awkwardness that can come when meeting an online friend.  I know for myself, when discussing my social network, I always add the modifier "online" in front of "friend" for someone I've never met.  That's not to say that online friends don't turn into friends because they do.  Back in 2003 I met someone on a message board.  I was in Florida and visited that friend's church, and we still exchange e-mails to this day.  We're not close friends, but I am thankful for him and his family.

He discusses the fact that social media will never save nations, but he does discuss how Christians can use social media to uplift others.  He encourages a weekend fast of social media while reading this book.  I didn't do that as I had extremely limited access to Facebook when I was in the hospital and don't even read everything on my news feed.  This is an excellent book and I highly recommend it.

FTC disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Interested in finding out more or purchasing this book?  Visit the Unfriend Yourself page at Moody Publishers

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Weekend Mail Wrap-up 4/7

Welcome to another edition of "Weekend Mail Wrap-Up"   Another slow week, but I had a few win notification e-mails this week, so hopefully some fun stuff coming in the next few weeks!

Not pictured:  Coupon for free Coffee-Mate and refund check

I received a "The Voice" t-shirt from a Facebook win for this new translation of the Bible.  (I thought I also won a copy of The Voice Bible but it hasn't arrived yet if I did!)

Barnes and Noble sent me a 20% discount coupon and I had a gift card, so I ordered  Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together.  Someone I follow on Twitter posted a link to a review by someone talked about what a great book this is for singles, so I've wanted to read this book ever since I saw that review.

Finally, from First Alert I won a  First Alert SA304CN3 Smoke Alarm with Escape Light and  four pack of Duracell 9 volt batteries

Thursday, April 5, 2012

First Pinterest project: Necklace Organizer

I enjoy Pinterest, and have pinned some "why didn't I think of that" ideas on my Pinterest boards.  One, I'd been wanting a necklace organizer.  I saw a neat idea of attaching scrapbooking paper to a piece of wood and attaching cup hooks.

Mine didn't turn out nearly as nice as the one I saw, but I can always easily put a different piece of paper over this one if I decide to do so. 

My necklace organizer which cost under $3 to make.  (I'd been pricing these at about $15, so a little time and I saved $12 and have a much more unique organizer to hang on the wall!)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Review: Thou Shall Prosper

Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making MoneyThou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money by Daniel Lapin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rabbi Daniel Lapin has written a book that I believe should be read by anyone who is in business, which means just about everyone! He tackles misconceptions such as it's okay to cold call people asking for donations to charity but to try and sell something door to door is much different. He explains if you believe in your product you should take the same pride in it if you are selling or soliciting for charity!

Lapin challenges ten ideas that many people seem to hold. Such as money is bad. Money itself is not bad, it's what we do with it. I know this is something I heard many times as I was growing up. I heard the Scripture of I Timothy 1:6 MISquoted to say "Money is the root of all evil", but if you read it in context it says "The LOVE of money is the root of all evil." That's a huge difference. Rabbi Lapin explains why money is neither moral nor immoral -- it just *is*.

One thing I loved about this book is how he weaves Jewish ideas and concepts throughout its pages. It's not just a stereotype that Jewish people often have good business sense, Rabbi Lapin explains that many of the concepts he is presenting in this book are things that someone who is Jewish has likely learned, and he's teaching the rest of us. As someone who has studied Hebrew, I have a great respect for the Hebrew language which he occasionally explains a word to make a point.

He also emphasizes the importance of giving to charity. Instantly I would think being a rabbi, he would back this up with Scripture, but he explains this has far reaching consequences It often empowers us to make more money, and we should give to charity even if we have no religious system. That, on the surface, seems like a oxymoron, giving to get, but he explains how many times business contacts are formed while doing community service even if you are not to actually form business deals there, you can pass along your business card and meet for lunch later!

You can purchase this book here: