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!

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

Library Review: Why Read?

I just got my very own library card! Woot woot!
I had one years ago as a kid, but it’s easily been over a decade since I’ve perused the shelves of my local library for literary treasures, and now I have three kids who all love books (although the youngest mostly likes to chew on them).

We picked some gems on our first outing to the local library, but I have to say, my kids’ tastes in books differ wildly from my own. Maybe they take after Daddy? Maybe they are just little? Who knows!

Here are the favorites from our first trip:

These were the instant favorites. Cute and funny! Both kids loved the Mo Willems book, my daughter loved the Olivia book, and my son loved Goose Needs A Hug.
These were the crowd pleasers. Everyone liked something about these two books, even baby Kristie!
This was by far the kids favorite book! They almost had it memorized by the time it was due! We even looked up videos of the real life sounds these animals make.

I love good books, I love to read, and I love to learn. Good books are a great step to having life long readers, and life long learners. My son is just learning the beginnings of letter sounds and that when you put those letter sounds together, you get words! He thinks it’s fascinating.

I don’t just think reading is important because I’m a mom, nor because I’m a teacher at heart (I did major in education). As a Christian, reading is crucial. Jesus is called The Word in John chapter 1. God has communicated through a book, the Bible. Reading is, quite literally, life and death.

My kids are just figuring out this truth. They see how our family prioritizes reading God’s Word most of all. They see me read my Bible everyday. We take the time to read The Big Picture Story Bible at dinner. We have Bible verses written out that we read and memorize together.

It’s important.

Read for God’s Glory, friends. Even when your reading Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? for the fiftieth time that day. 🙂

Soli Deo Gloria

A godly friend, like Paul

The women’s bible study at my church is going through Philippians right now, using Melissa Kruger’s book In All Things. It’s been such a blessing to have this reminder to rejoice in the Lord Jesus no matter what.

Why? Because he is greater, he is worthy, he is worth it, he is with us, he is the reason and the end of all things, he is good.

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.

– “The Love of God is Greater Far” by Fredrick M. Lehman (1917)

I read though the entire book of Philippians just to refresh myself of the whole context of the book, even as we study it verse by verse. As I read, I was receiving texts from two girls. I pray for both these girls on a regular basis, and with their texts in my mind this verse of Philippians really popped out at me:

“Therefore. my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” 
Philippians 4:1

Do you have friends you think of like this? Do you have friends who think of you in this way? Through out this little letter, Paul’s language shows that he really loved and cared for these people. 

It’s so interesting to note what Paul’s love for these people calls him to do, because it is so different from what the world says a true friend does. Paul encourages this church to stand firm in what they have believed about Jesus (that he is the only way of salvation), love one another, and rejoices even in their suffering.

Do we do this for our friends? Do we spur them on? Or do we pander them when they grumble? Do we actually talk with our friends about Jesus, about good theology, even in a casual way? Or do we “save” those conversations for the formal church setting?

Are we investing in the spiritual growth of our brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we allowing others to invest in us?

These are tough questions! They require messiness, uncomfortable conversations, personal sacrifice, and more! That’s hard friend, but that is what Jesus did for us (and more!), and that is what we, as believers, are called to. 

Let us, in the confidence we have in our savior Jesus Christ, Rejoice! Standing firm, united in love, and growing ever more like Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Persuasion – When it hit a little too close to home

I picked up (or rather downloaded it to my Kindle) Jane Austen’s book Persuasion because, although I have read it before, I couldn’t remember anything about it. I tell you anything about the book or even who the characters were or anything! I either didn’t finish it before, or I really didn’t like it. So, I decided to read it again.

Well, I just finished it, and now I know why I didn’t remember it from before. Before getting married, I identified a lot with the main character, Anne. I identified with her personality, and her heartbreak. This made this book painful to read, and it’s happy ending unfulfilling and unbelievable.

During this second reading of the book, I did the hard work I didn’t want to do the last time I read it. That is, examine my heart. Why did this book bother me so much? Why was it so painful to read? Why was I letting this pain bother me so many years later? Certainly I am “over it”! (Spoiler alert: I wasn’t really over it in my heart.)

Find this book on Amazon

A quick summary of the book (so we are all on the same page):

Anne is the middle daughter of a baron. Her father and elder sister are obsessed with rank and status. Her younger sister is married, but her husband has no rank, only money.
Anne had been “attached” (that’s Austen-ese for “courting”) a man eight years prior to the book’s opening. He had no rank or money, but was just a low ranking officer in the Navy. Due to her youth, and his uncertain ability to provide well for her, she was persuaded by a dear friend to essentially break up with him. The friend believed that Anne was not worthy of him, and that being so young, a better offer would be coming her way soon (i.e. someone with equal or better rank and fortune to her father).
Anne never gets over the break up. She truly loved the man, and he loved her. She never gets a better offer.
When the book opens, she is living normal life when low and behold! HE walks back into her life. Drama, and emotional turmoil ensues for the entire length of the book, ending in a happy ending of Anne and HE getting together, engaged, and wed.

The first time:

In my original reading of the book, the emotion turmoil Anne experienced and the way she internalized all her thoughts, feelings, and pain, resonated with me deeply. I had done this. My own heartbreak was very different, there was never any attachment in my situation, my HE never felt the same way towards me that I felt towards him. Like Anne, however, I let it sit in my heart, fester, and ruin all other “possible happiness” – as Austen would put it – for several years. Our situations were different, but reading Anne’s feelings brought my own feelings to the surface again.

The second time:

This second time reading it (I just finished it yesterday), instead of remembering the plot, but I remembered how I felt before. This time, I could see through the fog of those deeply rooted, nasty, painful feelings.

I was bitter.

I had let heartbreak – a real, painful, unfair situation – dig into my heart and rule me. I let my feeling of bitterness towards this person for not loving me, rob me of the joy of loving others, harden me so as to keep me from being compassionate toward others, and keep me so focused on me that I would forfeit my college education – which my parents were paying for – to feel loved.

Reflecting now:

After reading, and enjoying, Persuasion, I see my younger self, and I am so sad. I am sad I let my feelings rule me. I am sad I wasn’t trusting God with my situation. I am sad I hurt so many people because I was focusing on myself.
But, I am also amazed. I am amazed my husband kept dating me even when I revealed my hurting, bitter heart! I am amazed that he married me! I am amazed that I am not that girl anymore. I am amazed that I didn’t do anything to deserve the love that helped me change. I am amazed by God’s grace that changed my bitterness into forgiveness, love, and joy. What He has promised to do He will do!

Philippians 1:6 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

I hope you are encouraged too!

Soli Deo Gloria!