Books · Religious · Reviews

Illuminating the Darkness by Noel Dear {Book Review}


by Noel Dear


Are You Ready For A Change?

Every day there are new approaches and drugs to help people overcome the emotional pain of depression, stress, and anxiety. More people are being treated for these than ever before. So, one would presume emotional health and happiness would be at an all-time high. But you know that isn’t the case, not even close. In fact, the only thing that seems to be gaining prevalence faster than antidepressants is depression itself!

Is there a way of escape? Is there a different approach from the failed strategies most often presented in self-help books and the doctor’s office? Is there hope for me? Can I live a life of real peace and joy?

Yes. Lasting joy and peace can be yours!

This is no idle promise from some new-fangled philosophy or rediscovered ancient herb. This truth has the authority of the Bible, the simplicity of fruit on a vine, and the track-record of many generations who have discovered the real source of mental and emotional health.

This is not another strategy to try, rather it is the genuine truth about why people suffer from depression, stress, and anxiety, and how those pains can be replaced with joy, peace, and patience.

The truths presented here are…

  • Easy to understand
  • Practical in their everyday application
  • Powerfully effective in both the short and long term
  • Proven

This book is both a challenge to everything you have heard about the cause and cure of emotional distress, and a real offer of hope. Learn here what thousands of others have learned and, enjoy an enduring harvest of the fruit of real joy.
from Illuminating the Darkness site.

My Thoughts:

Reading Illuminating the Darkness is much like listening to Noel Dear preach. He shares personal anecdotes, supporting scripture, Biblical stories, and clear examples as he states his case for living free of depression, stress, and anxiety. What is set forth in this book may seem too simple to some readers, but it is worth consideration as we often look first to medication and outside helps before considering what is simply in the Word of God.

There is much wisdom in learning to abide in Christ and cast our cares upon him not only for those dealing with emotional issues, but also new Christians and others needing a fresh start.  You will find the salvation message, steps to drawing near to God, and other helpful disciplines for Christians within the pages.

There are times when Dear states his position dogmatically, be advised to read this as passion and not condescension (as one Amazon reviewer wrote).  I know the Dear family from sharing about our ministry in their church, they desire to help others know God and I know them to be passionate about seeing people grow, missions, and adoption.

This book is easy to read with many practical examples and Biblical references. I think it would be especially beneficial to new Christians, those who desire to walk closer with God, and people struggling with the issues mentioned in the title.

Connect with the author:

This book was given to me by the author in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write an honest review. In the interest of full disclosure, I know the Dear family, have spoken at their church, and enjoyed meals together.

Books · Religious · Reviews

I Am Second by Dave Sterrett and Doug Bender {Book Review and How My Book Was Stolen}

by Dave Sterrett and Doug Bender


Countless stories. One incredible ending.

A major league baseball player. a Tennessee pastor. A reality TV star. a single mom. A multi-platinum rocker. What do these people have in common? They’ve all hit bottom. And none of them stayed there.

Famous or unfamiliar, these are the stories of real people who reached the end of their strength, the end of their control, and found the most surprising truths. It taught them not to rely on self or substance but to lean on the only completely reliable source of love, hope, and freedom: the God who created them. Shocking in their honesty, inspiring in their courage, these testimonies are critical reminders that no one is too far from God to find him.

Join these and thousands more who have discovered the lifechanging power in putting God first and proclaiming, “I am Second.

Description from Thomas Nelson.

My Thoughts:

I Am Second is a book of stories, short glimpses into how God profoundly turned sinners to Himself. Each chapter stands alone, but a few overlap in a beautiful way just as our real lives do.

Each story encourages the reader that God is still working in powerful ways. It is a reminder to those already living second, that we are called to share the gospel and live out God’s love in our lives. Reading testimonies can rekindle our first love so we can also say with conviction, “I Am Second!”

My Book Was Stolen:

I was reading I Am Second daily, one chapter at a time. One evening, I took it with me in the car. At the last minute, we decided to stop for ice cream downtown a large city in Bolivia. The car was parked on a side street with no one watching  the vehicle which was a mistake we won’t make again. Coming back to the car, we could not get my door open and noticed papers were scattered about the front seats. We had been robbed. After a good look around, the only things missing were the front of the car stereo and my I Am Second review book. It struck me so funny, in a country where Spanish is the spoken language that someone would want my English book full of God at work changing lives. I have prayed since then that the book will land in the hands of people who speak and read English. {Lord, use that book to change lives especially the ones who took it in the first place.}

Connect with I Am Second:

I believe both the book and the I Am Second web site, can make a difference. Perhaps you can think of someone who would benefit from reading I Am Second.

Buy the book, watch videos, or follow on Twitter.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Books · Religious · Reviews

Love, Jan by Jan Bonn {Book Review}


Eighteen-year-old Hilary Bonn was just starting out in life, preparing for college and adventures beyond her small-town beginnings, when leukemia interrupted all of her plans. To help her body fight the ugly disease, Hilary required a stem cell transplant. While she endured PICC lines, pills, and endless precautions against germs, her family encouraged her and one another with Christmas lights, thoughtful words, warm hugs, soft music, action movies, entertaining books, and their abundant love.

During this time, Jan Bonn kept family and friends updated of her daughter’s treatment and progress through frequent e-mail messages. Love, Jan is a compilation of these messages. Jan’s accounts of medical consultations and procedures, the uncertainties of life-changing decisions, and times of expectant waiting are infused with humor, insight, and hope told from the heart of a loving mother and faithful child of God.

Love, Jan, Hilary’s story of faith, hope, and joy, will inspire and encourage stem cell transplant patients and those who love them.

From Love, Jan

My Thoughts:

“Death is not an ending; it is just a temporary separation. Yet, thinking about that temporary separation makes me cry.” (page 66)

Painful words from a loving mom facing months of treatment with her daughter who at eighteen discovered she had leukemia.

Email can be such a blessing for loved ones who want to be kept informed. That is exactly what Jan Bonn’s intention was as she reported regular happenings in and out of the hospital, daily events, and incidentals like buying a computer from a crazy man (which was amusing). She also encourages people to help the National Marrow Donor Program  and become more informed.

Love, Jan is a compilation of real, heartfelt emails. As Jan was being encouraged by emails people poured back and by those stepping up to help with fundraisers and needs, she was also encouraging her recipients and now the readers with what God was doing and how Hillary bravely faced her hardship.

If I am being honest, the beginning of the book was a little slow for me as I did not have personal ties to the family or situation. However, as the story unfolds it’s hard not to engage and root for Hillary. What I liked most was the insights and spiritual encouragement Jan both receives and shares as well as the joy which is apparent within the hard times.

I would recommend Love, Jan to families dealing with leukemia or any difficult path, moms, counselors, pastors, and people interested in medical stories.

This book was given to me by the author in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. {The author is a friend of a friend, but I do not know her nor had I heard her story previously.}

Adoption · Books · Organization · Religious · Reviews

7 by Jen Hatmaker {Book Review}

American life can be excessive, to say the least. That’s what Jen Hatmaker had to admit after taking in hurricane victims who commented on the extravagance of her family’s upper middle class home. She once considered herself unmotivated by the lure of prosperity, but upon being called “rich” by an undeniably poor child, evidence to the contrary mounted, and a social experiment turned spiritual was born.

7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.

Food. Clothes. Spending. Media. Possessions. Waste. Stress. They would spend thirty days on each topic, boiling it down to the number seven. Only eat seven foods, wear seven articles of clothing, and spend money in seven places. Eliminate use of seven media types, give away seven things each day for one month, adopt seven green habits, and observe “seven sacred pauses.” So, what’s the payoff from living a deeply reduced life? It’s the discovery of a greatly increased God—a call toward Christ-like simplicity and generosity that transcends social experiment to become a radically better existence.

My Thoughts:
Simplifying is a thing these days. There are loads of books and magazine articles showing ways to cut down and live with less. Jen Hatmaker decides to take it one step further and live with SEVEN. Each month she and her family pick a theme {food, clothing, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress} which all revolve around the number “7“. 
Gathering some friends and her family, she embarks on a journey of fasts. “Seven will be an exercise in simplicity with one goal: to create space for God’s kingdom to break through.” (from Intro of ebook) After introducing her project and friends “the council”, you get a month to month diary account of her experiment. Her goal is to be changed and transformed to follow Jesus more authentically. It seems to work.
I liked Jen’s writing. She is funny, open, engaging, and you feel like you could be sitting at a coffee shop chatting with her when you read. You meander through her months learning about the topic but also about her upcoming adoption (which I certainly enjoyed), her daily life, and some of the pop culture things she enjoys. Her failures and reality are also present, she lets you know where she falls short and what she is doing to work on these issues. I don’t know about you but that inspires me. It feels like a conversation too in that I wondered if a few sentences of what she relates would have been better left unsaid.
I was reading the chapter on giving away stuff right before we had to go through all of our stateside storage and get rid of about half. Perfect timing as I felt prepared to be less sentimental and more brutal. 
The idea of 7 is catchy. It caused me to at least ponder the possibility of following in her footsteps and it has spurred on others like this blog which my friend, Janine, (who had not read 7 and did not know I was) shared with me. I think Jen Hatmaker may have caused a little revolution here. 
I enjoyed reading 7 and would recommend it.  Do keep in mind this is her, her life, and her revelations and not a “how to” guide to living with less. Your take away may be different then mine, but you will be challenged.
This book was given to me by NetGalley and B & H Publishing Group in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review.
Books · Children · Religious · Reviews

God Gave Us Love by Lisa Tawn Bergren {Book Review}

As Little Cub and Grampa Bear’s fishing adventure is interrupted by mischievous otters, the young polar bear begins to question why we must love others…even the seemingly unlovable.
“Any time we show love, Little Cub, we’re sharing a bit of his love.”

In a sturdy format, ideal for the littlest hands at storytime, bedtime, or anytime, God Gave Us You assures each child that he or she truly is a treasured gift from the Lord.

My Thoughts:
We have the book God Gave Us You also by Lisa Tawn Bergren and Laura J. Bryant.  It has been enjoyed and well loved especially by the youngest as he flew through his toddler years.

Not surprising, my family enjoyed this new addition to the “God Gave Us…” Collection.  The beautiful illustrations make the story come alive and allow for some delightful observations and questions. The story shares the theme of loving as God is love in various ways and situations with the gospel (“…we know God loves us because he sent his Son to save us…”) presented simply as well.
This little board book can begin some important conversations with your children. Besides learning about love, there are side themes developed like the joy of family spending time together and praying to ask God help us love. God Gave Us Love can be a helpful tool in developing character in young hearts!  I recommend it!
I was given a copy of this book by WaterBrook Multinomah Blogging for Books Program in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review.
Books · Religious · Reviews

The Accidental Bride {Book Review}


When a wedding reenactment turns real, Shay finds she’s an accidental bride.

Shay Brandenberger is raising her daughter in Moose Creek, Montana, on her childhood ranch, nestled against the Yellowstone River. Despite the hard work, she can’t seem to keep her head above water—and now the bank is threatening to foreclose. She prays for a miracle, but the answer she receives is anything but expected.

Having agreed to play the bride in the Founders’ Day wedding reenactment, Shay is mortified to be greeted at the end of the aisle by none other than Travis McCoy, her high-school sweetheart—the man who left her high and dry for fame and fortune on the Texas rodeo circuit.

Then the unthinkable happens. Thanks to a well-meaning busybody and an absentminded preacher, the make-believe vows result in a legal marriage. But before Shay can say annulment, Travis comes up with a crazy proposal. If she refuses his offer, she may lose her home. If she accepts, she may lose her heart.

Shay isn’t sure if the recent events are God’s will or just a preacher’s blunder. Will trusting her heart to the man who once shattered it be the worst mistake of her life? Or could their marriage be the best accident that ever happened?

*Description from Tomas Nelson where you can also purchase the book.

My Thoughts:

When a book is published where a man and woman have to get married, finds themselves married, or the marriage is arranged; I am compelled to read it. Despite the inconceivable premise and usually because of it, I’m in. In fact, sometimes the crazier story makes a better read which is why I chose The Accidental Bride.

Just a few pages in, Shay finds herself accidently married to Travis who had left her at the alter many years before. After some debate, she decides to stay married for a time to save her ranch. Thus the story goes until the inevitable, agreeable ending which, by the way, I liked. Just so we are clear; however, I would never counsel someone to be married (fake or real or whatever) because it will be a financial help. (Sanctity of marriage, anyone?)

That said the story was an enjoyable travel companion. A light, easy read that was interesting enough. There is some romance (obviously), some inspiration, and Travis seems like a good guy. Here is your summer beach read, just don’t use it as a marriage manual!

This book was given as an e-book from NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review.

Books · Reviews · Writing and Journaling

The 11 Secrets to Getting Published {Book Review}

The 11 Secrets of Getting Published

by Mary E. DeMuth


See how easily you can learn the secrets of getting published!

Frustrated by how much there is to learn to finally see your name in print by a big publisher? Mired in confusion about your next steps? An accomplished nonfiction freelancer and novelist, Mary DeMuth understands the twists and turns of the publishing industry. She answers the question, “How can I be published?” by pulling 11 Secrets from her popular blog, Wannabepublished.

In this book, I teach you how to:

• Craft the kind of query letter that gets you noticed by industry professionals.
• Write stronger, powerful prose.
• Create effective writing routines to meet your daily and weekly goals.
• Navigate a writing conference with confidence.
• Find and woo an agent.

{Taken from author, Mary DeMuth’s web site.}

My Thoughts:

The title, The 11 Secrets of Getting Published, is a little misleading. It suggests that you will learn just over one dozen ideas to help you as a writer when, in reality, there are loads of other ideas, suggestions, and resources within the 11 main points. This is actually a handbook to inspire writers in practical ways towards getting published. 

Mary E. DeMuth has managed a nuts and bolts writing workshop in her book. The beginning writer will benefit from the straight forward approach to things like learning about the industry, writing query letters, writer’s conferences, and answering your inner critic. DeMuth has shared an insiders view of what to do and when. All of this practical advise is clearly presented in a easy-to-read manual that contains many bullet points and lists. It will quickly become a the place writers will look first when wondering how to move forward with their writing. I’m glad to have a copy on my virtual shelf although now you can also purchase a physical copy if you prefer!

I was given a copy of The 11 Secrets of Getting Published in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Books · Children · Religious · Reviews

The Next Story by Tim Challies {Book Review}

by Tim Challies


Even the least technical among us are being pressed from all sides by advances in digital technology. We rely upon computers, cell phones, and the Internet for communication, commerce, and entertainment. Yet even though we live in this “instant message” culture, many of us feel disconnected, and we question if all this technology is really good for our souls. In a manner that’s accessible, thoughtful, and biblical, author Tim Challies addresses questions such as: • How has life—and faith—changed now that everyone is available all the time through mobile phones? • How does our constant connection to these digital devices affect our families and our church communities? • What does it mean that almost two billion humans are connected by the Internet … with hundreds of millions more coming online each year? Providing the reader with a framework they can apply to any technology, Tim Challies explains how and why our society has become reliant on digital technology, what it means for our lives, and how it impacts the Christian faith.
via Zondervan

My Thoughts:

Today, in our digital world, we spend much of our lives beyond Gibraltar, beyond accountability through visibility, able to say and do and look at and enjoy whatever our hearts desire. Yet for all the freedom it brings us, it can also bring us captivity. (pg. 68)

The Next Story is a look at our digital lives through a Biblical filter, a little dive into the histories that brought us to where we are plus a clear view of how we now communicate. Challies shares what the media explosion is doing to us as modern people and admonishes us to step back and give it some thought!  In fact, the challenge really is to help us retain the ability to think deeply within the much fragmented pull of social media and the digital age.

If we are a distracted people, a distracted society, it stands to reason that we would also be a distracted church, a church with a diminished ability to think deeply, to cultivate concentration, to emphasize slow, deliberate, thoughtful meditation. (pg 116)

For me, the reflection on my habits and certain changes has been beneficial. For example, I began to ponder what I really want passed down to my children and am I living that. I also found myself slimming down my Google Reader to blogs that I know, people whom I have connected with online, ones that edify, and so forth. If I missed a day, I would open my reader to find 1,000+ posts to skim and often I would just peruse my favorite categories and dump the rest. This way, I now can skim the headings of worthy blogs and read the posts that I have time for that day. (I do still follow Missional Mama readers, so be sure and let me know that you do.)

The Next Story was a hefty undertaking for Tim Challies and one worthy of your time. If you are entranced by what the Internet and latest devises have to offer, perhaps this book would be a thoughtful meditation on the information overload we now face. I think it is imperative at this point in history for all of us to take a good look at how we use media and what it is doing to us and our families. How would we like to shape it instead of having it shape us?

This book was given to me in exchanged for my honest review.

Children · Reviews · Teaching

Swish: Flip, Rotate, & Stack Game by Thinkfun {Review}


Ages: 8 and up

Swish is a spatial card game that challenges you to be the first to make matches, or “Swishes.” Swishes are made by layering as few as two or as many as 12 cards so that every ball swishes into a hoop of the same color. The cards must be placed on top of each other in the same orientation, and no ball or hoop can be left unmatched. The player with the most matches at the end of the game wins. Various levels of play make this card game addictively fun for all! Swish is a spatial card game that challenges you to be the first to make matches, or “Swishes.”


* 60 clear SWISH! Cards
* Game-Go Bag
* Instructions

via ThinkFun

My Thoughts:

Swish is an extremely unique and interesting addition to the ThinkFun line. The fun “see-through” cards are really exciting for kids and adults alike. Even the box that Swish comes in, shouts of the creative game adventure inside. Of course, it has a convenient bag to store the cards in just like all the ThinkFun games. 

When the game arrived, my kids begged me to open it and get started. They quickly figured out the rules and began to play. It has been pulled out many times since because “it is fast, fun, and cool” (quote from my oldest). This Mama likes it because the children can easily play it on their own, they enjoy it, and it helps with critical thinking skills.  I have even heard them talk of playing their own version by modifying the rules which is also a big plus in our household.

ThinkFun, keep making creative learning games!

This game was given to me in exchange for my honest review.

Books · Religious · Reviews

His Kingdom Come {Book Review}

edited by Jim Stier, Richlyn Poor, and Lisa Orvis
Jesus’ final words to his disciples ring down through the ages: preach the gospel to every individual and disciple every nation. Preach the gospel? Got it, but what does it mean to disciple the nations? Do I preach or teach? To individuals or groups of people? What exactly does Jesus want me to do?

Come explore these questions through Scripture, history, and the ideas and experiences of those who are actively engaged in discipling nations. You’ll discover that God’s kingdom comes in and through many ministries, vocations, and locations – from university campuses to developing regions, in kitchens and boardrooms, through government, journalism, and the arts. All followers of Christ are needed to bring God’s grace and truth to individuals, cultures and nations today and to do the works God prepared in advance for us to do.

Jesus’ words are for each of us, wherever we are and whatever God has gifted us to do. What does it look like for you and for the body of Christ worldwide? How can we respond passionately and creatively to the call of God to see every person and every nation transformed?
My Thoughts:
I need to be honest and let you know that I am not done reading His Kingdom Come, but my family will be traveling soon and I did not want to wait until the summer to let you know about this gem! I have skimmed much of the content, looked for ideas that I needed, and read slowly from the beginning. Slowly, because some of the ideas are new to me and so profoundly beautiful that I need the time to slow down to take it in. I especially have loved the first two chapters which are all marked up with underlines and notes in the margin.  It is worth getting the book for just those chapters!
I think anyone with a heart for missions should obtain this book. His Kingdom Come is split into five parts including: “What the Bible Says”, “History of Discipling Nations”, “Philosophy of Ministry”, and “Strategy”. Each of these sections is broken into chapter by different authors which brings an interesting change of flow between the writings.
My plan is to keep at this book in a studious manner. I have even considered teaching some of the content for it to really sink in. 
This book was given to me in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review.