The Complicated Heart – Book Review

Let me start off by saying I am in no way gaining anything financially, nor required to say anything positive or negative about this book.
This review is completely honest, as reviews should be!

The title and cover artwork gives a great preview into what this story, this testimony rather, is about. It’s complicated. Just as life is, relationships are, because of one thing: Sin. The main theme Sarah Mae presents is the concept that we, even as Christians, do not always do what we want to do, what we “ought” to do. We sin, and sin complicates everything.

Sarah Mae presents in this book a very raw, painful, retelling of her relationship with her mother, and particularly the decisions she made because of the dysfunction between herself and her mother. At pride of place, the climax of the story, is glory of God’s grace, redeeming her life, her mother’s life, and miraculously, their broken relationship. The restoration of their relationship is just beautiful, and truly a work of God.

Now is the part of the review that I talk about what I didn’t like.

  • The timeline.
    It was often all over the place, very confusing to follow what happened when. I’m a sequence and timeline person, I love being able to follow the dates of one event to the next, to the next, to the next. In this book, the drama and events were emphasized over the timing. I understand why, but order is important too, and this was lacking.
  • Persons and Setting.
    Some people’s names were changed, which is fine, but there was no consistency with what their changed names were, whose names were changed. It was very challenging to keep track of who all these people were, which is important in a testimony-type story. Some people were given descriptive names (like Mr. Baldman), which made them feel insignificant, when actually they were more significant than those given names.
  • Lack of Scripture.
    While Sarah Mae spent time to explain psychological terms, there was little mention of the Bible. She says God was central to the change, but so much is based on feeling and psychology, it was hard to find grounds for God having anything to do with it. Perhaps this is why she included so many prayers? There is a problem here too, however, because the prayers mention personal feelings and struggle (which is good), but still no follow up with what the Bible says in answer to these struggles.

Here was my biggest issue with the book.
Sin does happen, and God can use and redeem people, situations, and relationships despite our failings.

Sarah Mae did a great job pointing this out, but there is a deep lack of truth to replace the lies and sin that fill so much of the book. The message of the Gospel is not clearly stated until the last fourth of the book.
Perhaps when she was going through these experiences she did not think of scriptures that spoke to the heart of these struggles, but if this book is to grow and encourage the reader, then appropriate corresponding scriptures should be there, in my opinion.

The very few places where she quoted scripture were so rich and refreshing! I simply wish she had done that as much as she had dug up all the details of past sin.

So, to sum this all up…

I enjoyed the book, the redemption story of Sarah and her mother is truly beautiful. It did lack in many ways however, and I don’t think I will read it again, nor recommend it to a friend.

If you have a challenging familial relationship, you may be pulled to this book because of the similar struggles. I would warn against that for this reason:

The result of the relationship she presents is completely situation based, because of the lack of scripture references to tie in Sarah Mae’s experience to biblical truth it makes this a nice story, but hard to apply to or encourage one’s own heart.

Read with discernment, friends!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Body image and eternity

Scars, stretch marks, freckles, moles, acne, crooked teeth, flabby places, tummy pooch, and a birth mark. I have all of these and more. My body is far from perfect. My post-partem body keeps changing, and I keep finding things I could handle before that now, post birthing children, I just can’t.

This is me about 4 months a long with my first child, about 5 years ago.
Here I am just hours after the birth of my third child.

No amount of self improvement will change many of the most defeating of these changes. Like becoming lactose intolerant. I can loose flabby parts, but I can never have ice cream again.

That one seems kind of silly, but there are other, more personal ones that really get me down more than not having my fill of moose tracks with peanut butter cups. Personal things that make that one week a month a literal pain, things that make loving my husband difficult, things that keep me from leaving my house because I want to cling to the baby sleeping in my arms a few minutes longer.

The culture around us would say things like:

  • Love your body the way it is
  • Change your body to what you want it to be
  • Raise your self esteem by doing what feels good
  • You have the power to “wash your face” and “stop saying sorry” and just change

The truth is… This body isn’t mine. I have been bought by the blood of Jesus, body and soul. My soul is intricately, and inexplicably intertwined with my body. Some Christians believe that they will receive new bodies in eternity, that this one will be gone. But that’s not what the Bible says. Our bodies, the ones we have on this earth, right now, will be raised, and made new.

Another truth that is often overlooked is the description of Christ’s resurrected, physical, very touchable, body. It bore the scars from the cross. If our Lord has scars, what makes us think we won’t?

There’s nothing that says we will or will not have scars. What’s is for sure, is that it will not matter. In eternity, believers will be free from the bondage of sin. We simply won’t struggle with insecurities, pride, selfishness, anxiety, etc. None of it! Body image will not be an issue, no matter if we have scars, like Jesus, or are flawless. It will not matter to us.

How freeing is that?! This reality of eternity really helps my perspective on my body now. This body has a greater purpose, an eternal purpose. I am to take care of my body, but not so that I look good or feel good, but so that I can serve the eternal purposes of the Kingdom.

Now that is freeing.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Made to create

Something I have noticed about children is that they are instinctively creative. They like to do things like color, draw, paint, sing, dance, make messes, invent new tools or contraptions, and pretend millions of different world and games.

Why is that?

I think it’s because children don’t feel the pressure to impress, they just do what gives them joy.

My son builds machines, monsters, and robots with his Duplos for hours, simply because he likes to build and loves to show me what he makes. He just learned a new skill of drawing faces, and he loves to draw “silly” faces. Future comedian on our hands I’m telling you.

My middle daughter sings, and sings… and sings… and sings. There are very few moments of the day when she is not singing. She simply loves to do it. She also loves to play pretend with whatever is in her hands at any given moment. From pretending her grapes are those infamous monkeys jumping on the bed, to dancing her Moana doll across the coffee table. Her new favorite pretend game is pretending our couch is a ship, which is sinking and they must stop it! (She’s got a flair for the dramatic, for sure.)

Even the baby is in on the scheme. Play any song, and she’s bouncing to the beat in an instant. Sometimes she will even coo along with you if you sing to her.

Children do what they like to do. They do what brings them joy.

I’m not sure when, but somewhere along the way, adults lose this ability to just do creative things we love. Adults feel the need to qualify why we do anything to see whether it’s worth doing. On top of that, adults add an (often) unachievable standard of quality required for this creative endeavor to be worth our time.

When we add these qualifiers on to creativity, we limit what it can be and we belittle the one who made us creative.

First, creativity is expressed whenever something is made and there is enjoyment when making it. So, this would include things like writing, cooking, drawing, decorating, singing, playing an instrument, any visual art, dancing, and much, muuuuuch more.

Second is an element that I call a “shared experience”. What I mean is that thing is made and enjoyed, is also shared with someone else (whether they are a “fellow creative” or are an “audience”). Part of the joy in making is sharing. Experiencing art at a museum, a home cooked meal, a music recital, a “Pinterest-worthy” party, or a theatrical production are intended to connect people and for people to enjoy.

Now, we experience and do creative things imperfectly. When does a great artist know when he’s finished, or does it need one more dab of paint? Is a musician ever satisfied that their performance was excellent, or could this one portion have been played better? Did the audience respond as predicted in the play, or was there a disconnect? You see what I mean, it’s never perfect, but this is what leads me to my third point about creativity because it answers this question: Where does creativity come from?

Third is that creativity comes from God. Take a look a Genesis chapter 1 for a reference here. God created the universe. From whence there was nothing, God spoke, and everything came. This point, that creativity comes from God, also gives support and reason for my first two points. We know that God enjoys his creation, because he doesn’t need it! He was complete, the Trinity was perfect in relationship and love and purpose without us. He chose to make the universe anyway, and he made it intricate and beautiful. You don’t make things detailed and beautiful unless you like it.

More than that, God called it good. Now, this word doesn’t just mean well done, or wholesome, or the opposite of bad, it also means complete. When God spoke the universe into being he did it perfectly, completely, without leaving anything out on the very first attempt.

Of all the creatures and matter in the universe only humanity is created to be like God. This is why we are creative creatures, and why every human is creative, because we are all made in his image.

So, what do you do that is creative? How are you imaging your maker?
It’s doesn’t have to be anything formal, or “crafty”, but think about it. What do you make that you enjoy making?

As always, all for His Glory.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Library review – an unpopular anti-bullying message

New month, more books! This trip the kids did a lot of picking on their own, and so we had a very surprising variety of books–as you would expect with a 2 and 3 year old pick out books whose titles they cannot read. Luckily, we had just enough space in our bag for mama to pick out a couple books too just to balance it out and stretch us a little bit.

My son is turning into quite the reader (or rather, listener), and is liking more and more books. He is getting to the point where he likes most of the books we get!

Here were his top favorites this time:

About three “chicken” chickens, very comical
About a turkey trying to run away from the farmer on the day before Thanksgiving.
About a big turnip, a family effort, and good homemade food.
Classic tales of foolishness and wisdom, old language, friendly characters and format for little hands.

Like I said, we had a pretty eclectic bunch!

My daughter appreciated some of these, but her attention span is pretty short these days.
Oh, to be two!

My son also liked this book, because I could “read” it on his own:

It’s a wordless book, and it tells the story of going out of your way to be kind to someone else. The illustrations tell the story beautifully. It’s a strong message about bullying and looking out for others.

I will say that my kids felt that the story was left unfinished, which I thought was very telling. At the end of the story, the entire school (or so it appears) rallies behind the girl who was picked on. A very “happily ever after” feel, but my son asked me,

“What about the mean boy? Why is everyone leaving him?”

That’s so striking to me! My son was so concerned for the bully, the apparent “bad guy” of the story. Why is that? Because my son saw the bully for what he is, a person, an image bearer. Even though the “mean boy”, as my son dubbed him, was indeed mean to Vanessa it didn’t make the whole school ignoring him right, and my son felt that. He didn’t know it, but he hit upon a biblical truth here.

Here is Jesus’ Anti-Bullying Message:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:38–48 (ESV – emphasis added)

That is a really unpopular message. Do not resist the bully, give in to him, love him, pray good things for him. Be perfectly loving to the unlovely, gentle to the violent, merciful to the unjust, giving to the greedy, good to the evil.

Be like Jesus. Be holy, perfect. We can only do this through Christ. We can only love our enemies through Jesus, through his Holy Spirit changing and growing us to be more like Jesus, who did it perfectly, who loved his enemies enough to die for them, take their punishment, and redeem them. We need a love that powerful to help us love others.

Do all things for his glory, even reading wordless books!

Soli Deo Gloria

Beginning Slow – home education

It’s officially August, and my son turns 4 at the end of the month. (Cue heart swelling, and tears!)

Like really?! Oh my goodness, I love this boy, and he is growing so fast!

My son is suddenly getting really interested in books, building with Legos, and he always gets excited about anything to do with numbers, sorting, or patterns (i.e. basic math concepts!).

So, this week, despite me having a cold, we unofficially started homeschooling (unofficially, because he is not even old enough for TK).

It’s super basic, easy to do, no curriculum, and takes maybe 15 minutes to “do school”. With a 2.5 year old and an 8 month old, so this is about as much as I can handle.

I don’t know if homeschooling is what we will be doing for all of our education years. We will take it one year at a time!
Although, I will say, my husband is a huge fan of homeschooling.
At the same time, he’s at work all day and won’t be the one really teaching.
So, we will see!

For now, this is our little routine:

  • Bible story: currently reading the Jesus Storybook Bible.
  • Alphabet flashcards (literally 3×5 cards that I wrote the alphabet on): we just go through and say the letter’s name and the sound it makes (short vowel sounds right now). He’s already got about 80% of the alphabet memorized!
  • Read, read, read!
  • Counting: cars, Legos, fingers, toes, crayons, shopping carts, trash trucks, everything!
  • Bible verses: I have verses written down, and in a frame on our dining room table. They can’t read it, but seeing it and hearing it read over and over basically helps them memorize. I don’t have a schedule of what verses and how long it should take us or whatever. I just pick a verse that fits our lives at the moment and we work on it until it’s memorized, then I pick new ones.

Ta da!
That’s all we are doing. I try to do most of that in the morning, and maybe a little in the afternoon (all the kids nap from about 1-3pm).

Sincerely,
This reluctant homeschool mom!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Library Review – July Favorites

We only managed to get to the library once this month, and with August fast approaching I thought I’d round up a few of our favorites.

First off, we have a new coffee table! This is where our library books “live”, as my son says. Alongside legos, water bottles, snacks, and anything else being played with at the moment. With our new table also came two very cute Queen Anne chairs. My grandmother had them and fixed them up for our kids to use. They love the new set up! My two-year-old daughter loves to wander over and sit with a book at the table.

Also, this is my two-year-old’s favorite way to sit, in my lap, with her legs on top of mine. How cute!

The Books: What they were and Who liked them

These were the runaway winners in my kids’ eyes. I was really hesitant about the Llama book because it’s a Netflix series now. I’m not sure why, but if there is something that is popular (like when a book becomes a tv show or movie) I automatically dislike it. Maybe I’m a little hipster, maybe I’m just a snob. I’m not sure, but my kids picked it off the shelf, and I generally don’t say no to books they pick, until my bag is full!
Well, we loved it! I won’t ruin if for those of you who haven’t read it, but let’s just say, if you have kids it is humorously relatable! And just cute! It’s definitely on my book wish list now!

999 Frogs was another surprise. My kids picked it because, well, frogs! And it ended up being a very sweet story about friendship and teamwork.

This was the classic favorite. Both kids liked it (the baby doesn’t have strong enough opinions about books yet, she just likes to chew on them), and it is the first Tomie dePaola book that they sat through. I love Tomie dePaola books, but they haven’t liked any of the ones I have picked out. My son actually grabbed this one off the shelf! I was so excited. I think their favorite was the caveman sounds, and of course, the dinosaur.

This was the parents’ favorite. I read it aloud when my husband came home and he cracked up through the whole thing. The humor is definitely for a little bit older kids than mine, but anything read with a funny voice is funny! Pretty sure my husband read it later after the kids went to bed and laughed through it again. This is another one to go on the wish list, and if my brothers are reading this, act surprised if you get it for Christmas!

This is the honorable mention, because it recalls a very dear memory for me.

When I was born, my parents were living in Minnesota, but my grandparents still lived in California. My Nana wanted to make sure that her grandbabies knew the sound of her voice, so she wouldn’t be a stranger to us, so she recorded herself on tapes for us. We mailed home videos and cassettes back and forth across the country. On one of those cassette tapes, Nana told the story of the little seed. It was so long ago, I don’t remember it all, but I remember her voice talking about a little seed growing into a flower. This book reminded me of that tape. Later, I discovered why she had told that story, because she is passionate about things that grow. Her yard is full of growing things, she is always giving plants, and she knows the names and the care for almost any plant in southern California.
So, this one makes the list purely for her sake. Thank you, Nana (I know you will read this).

What are you reading?
Meet any new “friends” among your book stack?
Gotten to introduce an old “friend” to someone? That’s one of the most special things in the world.

Soli Deo Gloria

My story, God’s story

A lot happened this weekend.

Went away with my hubby Thursday night to celebrate our 5th anniversary, Dodger game Friday night (which they won!) with fireworks commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, my niece’s 1st birthday party on Saturday, then I got baptized on Sunday.

Like I said, big weekend. Very fun and very full. Has made for a very sleepy Monday, which I am totally fine with.

Many people from my church came up to me after service saying how encouraged they were by my testimony. I always feel awkward when people thank me, but especially then because I didn’t really do anything. God did it all, I just showed up.

Here’s what I shared:

My Story – God’s Story

I was baptized once before, when I was 11, but I was not a believer at the time. It took a long time for me to admit that the testimony I thought I had wasn’t true. I believed my own lie.

The truth was, I was a really good Pharisee. I grew up in a Christian home, was taught about God, heard the gospel, and mentally assented to the truth about God. I told others about God, I behaved well, I sought to be “the good girl”, and prided myself in all these things. There was one problem, and that was me. I didn’t believe I needed Jesus. I didn’t believe I was that bad. I didn’t believe I was a sinner. 

It wasn’t until high school that this deadly belief in my own goodness, grew into something more serious: pride. I loved myself more than anyone. I wanted others to love me too. I sought favor from my peers, and affection from boys. I despised my church, my parents, and especially my siblings who knew the real me and all my flaws. I attacked or cut off anyone who confronted me, who tried to show me my sin, or who stood in my way of what I wanted.

By God’s grace, I was accepted to and received scholarships that enabled me to attend The Master’s College. In the first three months of being at college, I ignored all the warnings of my parents, and got in too deep with a boyfriend. I almost got myself kicked out of the school. I was then confronted with my sin, and I couldn’t escape it, or reason it away. I was confronted with the reality that God’s standard for my life is not Goodness, but Holiness. I can fake Goodness, but I cannot do Holiness. It broke me. 

I remember collapsing on the emergency stairwell of my dorm, where no one could find me, and just crying. Crying over my sin. I remember that being the very first time I prayed to God. I prayed, fully expecting to hear nothing, “God I can’t. I’m awful. I’m gross. I’m not holy.” In my heart an answer came, “And I love you anyway”.

That was the part about God that I didn’t understand for 18 years. That He is holy, and I am not. And He chose to love me anyways. This is where my faith in the Lord began, in repentance. Repenting of my pride, my selfishness, my self-righteousness, my godless goodness, all that mattered to me, because now none of it mattered to me without Christ. I was, and still am by God’s grace, like Paul in Philippians 3:7-9 

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the flesh, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-” 

God tested my faith at that time too. I came back to school after the Christmas break with no friends, and in a new department because I had switched majors. I spent the next year in complete dependence on God. I had lost it all for His sake, and He slowly revealed to me that blessed truth that He is worth it. 

God faithfully showed me his love. By His grace the trust with my parents that I had broken was restored, and by restoring, and continually growing the relationship with my siblings, blessing me with deep friendships with my family members. Almost exactly a year after I repented and my faith became true and real, God brought Mike into my life. 

I became a born again Christian almost 10 years ago. I am now married to a man who strives to show me Christ daily. I have three kids, entrusted to me and my husband to teach the things of God and be faithful parents. I want them to know that there is a God, that He is holy, that they are sinners, and that they desperately need Jesus. That is why I want to get baptized: to be an example, and to obey my loving Father.

Soli Deo Gloria!