My Summer Hold List



If you don't like to read or were just living under a rock last week, you might have missed that Anne Bogel put out her annual summer reading guide.  I have to say, every year this guide does kind of kick off the summer reading season for me.  I'm fairly sure that Bogel and I do not share quite the same tastes, but she still rounds up some interesting ones each year, and I enjoy branching out and trying fiction books I wouldn't normally pick up.

This is how it usually goes - I request the books that looked interesting, and somewhere around the beginning of June they all come in at once.  Then I spend the next two weeks reading a chapter here and there to try to figure out which ones are worth committing to, and which ones I can discard.



This year I thought I'd share which books on her list caught my eye and why!  I cannot guarantee that these books are ones that I will, in fact, like or recommend.  There has been many a book from past guides that I have abandoned part-way through after I figured out that I was bored, or that it wasn't for me for some other reason.

I'll try to post updates on which ones I actually read and enjoy as they come in, but for now, these ones are the books that are on my hold list at the library!




The River by Peter Heller 
A disastrous adventure/mystery story set in the wilds of Canada?  I just rediscovered "I Shouldn't Be Alive" and binge-watched it a few weeks ago, so sign me up for this one.



Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson 
I just started a different book by this author, and her style is fun to read, plus I have a thing for southern fiction.  This one sounds like a mystery and involves a book club, so I had to give it a try.




Recursion by Blake Crouch 
I should probably read Dark Matter (by the same author) before I read this one, huh?  Since Dark Matter has been sitting on my shelf and all.  I do sometimes enjoy action books with a little bit of science fiction thrown in, and this one sounds like it involves medical science, which is usually up my alley.




Waiting For Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey 
I'm very skeptical of secular chick-lit/romance novels, but this one sounds like it stays fairly PG-13 (I will update on this).  A screenwriter works with an annoying actor, but then I'm assuming she eventually falls for him.  Cliche, but I like some light fiction in the summer.



Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald 
I suspect this book has some sort of time-travel element, which I am all there for.  I at least have to try it!




The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson 
Beauty pageants and a Jane Austen retelling?  How could I not pick this one up?




The Island Of Sea Women by Lisa See
This is about an isolated culture on a South Korean Island, where all the women go fishing to support their families.  Apparently this is based on a true place or true events.  I like reading book set in other countries and cultures, but I've had mixed luck with this type of book.  We'll see how I like it.




The Mother-In-Law by Sally Hepworth
I don't typically like terrible mother-in-law stories, but this one sounds like it could be a little redemptive - even though I think the plot involves the mother-in-law being murdered.  Yikes!  The mystery element interested me though.  I don't know about this one, I'll report back.




Only Ever Her by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen 
I read one other book by this author a while back, and it was pretty depressing to be honest, but it was a page-turner.  It's also a mystery, which I'm typically drawn to.  So I might try this one.  Or I might not.




The Inheritance by Dani Shapiro 
The only nonfiction book I picked from the guide. I have no idea who Dani Shapiro even is, all I know is that there is some family secret she unearthed that was fairly shocking (don't tell me if you know), and this book is her memoir about it.  Sounds good to me.




The Unlikely Adventures Of The Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Three sisters who haven't seen each other in years travel to Punjab to scatter their mother's ashes.  Once again, I was interested because I like reading fiction books set in foreign cultures.  This is some sort of family drama.  Anne says the author keeps it light-hearted even though the sisters are keeping some serious secrets.  I'll give it a shot.




Hope And Other Punch Lines by Julie Buxbaum
This one involves a mystery surrounding 9/11 and two of its survivors.  I believe this is YA, which I have mixed feelings about typically, but the plot sounded interesting.



Okay, that's it!  Once again, please do not take these as recommendations, because I have no idea if they are decent or not!  They just caught my eye.  I will update this post with my reactions to these books and whether I actually read them or not.

Did any of you take a look at Bogel's Summer Reading Guide yet? 
Which books piqued your interest?  
Have you found any winners from her past summer guides?




Painting With A Twist



After a post yesterday that was very difficult for me to write (and share) and a different heavy post last week, I wanted to lighten things up a bit around here this afternoon!  (Probably for my own sake more than yours.)

We are big college football fans in this family.  This goes back to Derek's childhood.  When he was a boy, his dad took him to the spring practice for their college football team every year, and they created alot of good memories around college football!  So when his dad asked Derek if he and our boys wanted to go to spring practice with him this year, obviously they said yes!  I love that they can create multi-generational memories now.

That left the girls and I with nothing to do on a Saturday, and Derek insisted we should do something fun too.  So he did some research and signed us up for a Mermaid Tea And Painting Party.

I did not even know there was such a thing, but the day arrived and the girls and I jumped in the car to head to the paint shop.

I have to admit, it was pretty magical.  First the girls each got to decorate a little plastic teacup.  They got their faces painted.  Disney princess music was playing in the background.  Then we were instructed on how to paint mermaids by a mermaid.  Later she gave us cupcakes.












It was adorable to see how the girls chose to decorate their teacups, and to watch them as they concentrated on filling in the lines on the canvases with paint (we obviously helped them quite a bit).  Every time I look at the pictures in the girls' room now, it makes me smile.

Afterward I was informed repeatedly that it was the best day ever, and really it's thanks to Derek.  I was a little skeptical about whether this was something we should spend money on, and I probably wouldn't have done it myself, but he signed us up and insisted we go.  Husbands are pretty smart.  It ended up being a sweet memory with me and my three girls!  I'm glad we went (and I'd recommend a painting experience with your kids if you ever get the chance, it was pretty fun!).

Grumpy Mom Takes A Holiday - A Review



Are you all ready for a really long review? (I'm sorry in advance, but I couldn't make it shorter.)

I saw Grumpy Mom Takes A Holiday by Valerie Woerner when a blog friend shared a few really good lines from one of the chapters.  I've developed an aversion to books written for Christian women in general, but I thought the points from the book that my friend shared were really interesting, so I decided to give it a go.  And I do have thoughts.  A lot of thoughts.

Before I start, I just want to say up front that I really agonized over this review for one main reason - I'm really hoping the author will read this review.

I'm hoping she will read it because I think she is actually really talented.  It's no small thing to write a book, and her voice is relatable and fun.   I can tell that she really has a heart for the Lord and wants to serve the Lord well, and that goes a long way in my book.  She also mentions a few times in the book the value of having a teachable spirit and being able to listen to a critique.  I do have some critiques to give that I think are really important.  I'm hoping the author reads this because I have no doubt that she will write another book in the future, and I hope she can consider these points when she does.

First, let's talk about what she did well!



Positives

This is such a great topic for a book in today's culture.  I fully agree with the author's assessment of the problems with being a grumpy mom, and how the different aspects of modern mom culture (like wearing "hot mess" like a badge and one-upping each other on how little sleep we got, for example)  are only contributing to our general grumpiness about motherhood.  Her chapter on not being constantly offended is right on the money, while also being really self-aware of her own areas of weakness when it comes to being offended.  She hit on alot of great points throughout this book, and really did a great job in pointing out some of the problems in our collective attitudes about motherhood.

As I said, her voice is also really relatable, and the writing was overall fun to read.  Alot of her personal stories reminded me of the days when my kids were a little younger, and also of some of my own struggles as a mom right now!  This book does an excellent job of letting mothers know they are not alone in their struggles, and that I think is definitely valuable.

Negatives

This is the not-so-fun part for me.  I feel like I need to preface this section with saying that to me, this book actually felt like two separate books.  I felt like the underlying focus of the advice in the first 40% of the book, and the last 3 or 4 chapters was completely different than the middle. The first part and the last few chapters were mostly focused on more secular concepts with a Christian twist (by secular concepts, I mean concepts that would apply to anyone, secular or Christian, or that you could read in many psychology or self-help books), while the middle was packed with many more Bible references and a more biblical approach to the problems.

I don't know that much about the book writing/editing process, but it felt like the first part and the last part were written at the same time, and then the section in the middle was written later during a period when she grew in her faith and biblical knowledge.  If I'm right, it's a great thing that her outlook grew to focus more on Scripture.  For the sake of the book, it was not a great thing that the book couldn't all have been written after she decided which type of advice she wanted to focus on, because like I said, it felt like two completely different books.  All that to say, some of the critiques I give below are more prominent in the first half and last few chapters.


1.The gospel is poorly presented (and even misrepresented) in this book.

I am bringing this up as someone who has made the same mistakes in my writing in the past, so I hope it can be read with that in mind.

It was clear that the author was addressing her book to an audience that are already believers in Christ. The problem is that in the current culture, you can’t assume that everyone who picks up a Christian “self-help” type book will actually be a Christian. Especially with a title like “Grumpy Mom Takes A Holiday” - all kinds of moms who struggle with grumpiness will be picking this up. As a Christian author, you have to keep this in mind.  If any nonbelievers pick this book up, it will do them absolutely no eternal good if they learn how to be less grumpy at their kids, but they still don’t know what it means to be saved.

In the first few paragraphs the author assured the reader that the Holy Spirit will help her on this journey.  She can make no such assurance though, because unbelievers do not have the Holy Spirit. 

There are two things that need to happen to explain the gospel - you need to tell WHY we need to be saved, and tell HOW we can be saved. Unfortunately, the book missed the mark on both counts.  

Just to be clear, the gospel is NOT that God will help us to be better, less grumpy people. The gospel is not about doing our best for God.  The gospel is not about God helping us live our lives more abundantly. The gospel is not about self improvement.  Some of those things can RESULT from the gospel, but it’s not how we are saved.

Unfortunately alot of this book gives the impression that this is all there is to being a Christian, because the actual gospel is never explained in full, though in some of the middle chapters it is touched on.

The author makes an attempt to explain the gospel in Chapter 9 after admitting that until fairly recently, she was relying on works to save her, until she realized she could never do enough. But I was disappointed when the only thing she described being freed from was her “guilt” (not her sin and it’s consequences). She prays “Only you can save me from my own requirements for righteousness that I put on myself.” 

The problem is not that we are guilty of not living up to our own standards. We are guilty of not living up to GOD’S standard (Romans 3:23), and His standard is perfection, because He is perfectly holy. We have earned nothing for ourselves but eternal punishment in Hell, because we have sinned against an eternal God and broken His laws (Romans 6:23Matthew 25:46).  Even our supposed good deeds are like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6).  We cannot pay this sin-debt, we cannot make ourselves righteous.  Which is why we need Jesus, because HE is the only one who meets God’s standard (Corinthians 5:21), and He took our punishment for us. 

God loves us, and because He loves us, He didn’t leave us in our sins, but provided a way for us to be saved. God became a man, Jesus who was fully man and fully God. He lived the sinless life that we couldn’t, and then died in our place, paying the penalty for our sin. Then He rose again, defeating sin and death, proving He was God! And now all we must do to be saved is repent, meaning to be sorry for our sin and turn to Jesus, putting our faith in Him to save us and not in any work of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). When we do that, He takes our sin and gives us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), so we can stand blameless before God. He also gives us the Holy Spirit, who then empowers us to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ.

I’m not saying the author doesn’t understand the gospel, I think she does because of different things she writes. But no one could read this book and put the gospel together unless they already knew the gospel themselves.  Elements of the full gospel are scattered in various phrases throughout the book, but it’s like a super-confusing Easter egg hunt, one that starts with the results of the gospel and works backward. But even the reason Jesus died for us is never explained, His resurrection never mentioned. 

The whole gospel is awfully hard to find in this book amidst all these disjointed and missing puzzle pieces, and perhaps an opportunity to reach unbelieving moms who pick up this book is missed. Worse, I’m afraid that because our sin problem isn’t addressed and the gospel isn’t fully explained, some may leave with a confusion about what it really even means to be a Christian. This is so important to get right in any Christian nonfiction book, in my opinion, and the lack of a clear explanation of how to be saved was my biggest problem with the book.



2. There was more of a focus on self-help than biblical advice.

A lot of the advice in this book is repackaged self-help, with a few Bible passages sprinkled in to support her points. I thought this was a shame. The Bible actually has a ton to say about complaining, selfishness, worry, grumbling, unthankfulness...all the things that make us act like grumpy moms. This book could have been so Biblically rooted if the author had started with the Bible and worked out from there, but she often starts with her own thoughts (many of which are not that different from other self-help books) and her own experiences with Christian living, and then the biblical references felt tacked on in order to support her points.

In all fairness, this critique applies more toward the beginning and last few chapters of the book. She hit a better note in the middle. 


3. She seemed afraid to address the actual root cause of being a grumpy mom. 

The truth is, we are not grumpy just because we aren’t flexible enough. We’re not grumpy because we don’t take enough time for self-care, or because we rely too much on chocolate. At the root, being grumpy at our kids is really a lingering sin struggle.

We don’t like our kids interrupting whatever we’re doing because we’ve put our interests ahead of theirs (Phil. 2:4).  We complain about all the work kids involve and how we never have time to brush our hair because we are viewing a gift from God as a burden, harboring ungratefulness.  

These are just examples from the book, but hopefully you can see my point.  These things won’t be fixed by bandaids like more flexibility and self-care. Selfishness, complaining, and ingratitude are all sins, and ones the Bible has plenty to say about, but she didn’t include any of the really relevant verses, or address them as sins at all. She didn’t explain how Jesus has freed those of us who believe in Him from the power of these sins in our lives BECAUSE He died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins. This book would have been so much more powerful and useful if she had spent more time on these things. Christians still need to be reminded of the true gospel too.  I think that’s the most effective way to overcome these struggles -when we are focused on what Christ did to save us from sins like these, they automatically lose some appeal.

I got the feeling through some of the book that the author just wanted to be positive and not address the hard truths. She seemed mostly hesitant to use the word “sin” through most of the book, mainly using euphemisms like “mess” and “brokenness”.  

There is such a thing as being too nice - and it’s when it causes us to avoid speaking the truth in love because we are worried speaking the truth clearly might cause hurt feelings. Avoiding saying hard things might be “nice”, but it’s not kind.

4. Questionable use of Bible translations.

Warning: This is just a pet peeve of mine.

I almost hate to bring this up, because a lot of you may just tune me out here, but can we all just be a little more careful with our use of the Message? This is not an actual Bible translation, and it’s not God’s Word. It’s a paraphrase. If I paraphrase something you say, I’m not spreading your words, I’m taking what you said and putting it in my own words. A paraphrase of the Bible is man’s word, not God’s Word.  There is nothing wrong with referencing it occasionally, but please, let’s not quote the Message as if it’s God’s Word. Because it’s not. 

The author did okay with qualifying that it was a paraphrase at the beginning, but she used the Message heavily throughout this book and then eventually dropped the qualification. 

Whether you like the Message or not (can you tell what I think about it? ha!), the Message should not be referenced or read as your main “Bible translation”. Because it’s not an actual translation. 

Okay, I’m off my soapbox now.

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To sum it up, who would I recommend this book to?

Because of the problems with presenting the gospel clearly and the confusion that might result, I would absolutely not recommend this to anyone that I was not already sure was a strong Christian who really understands the gospel.  

Because of the weak beginning and end, I am hesitant to recommend the book to my Christian friends too.  There are some gems in this book, but they are buried beneath too much soft or confusing language, and a hesitancy to address these issues as sin.  I just think there are alot of other books that are more rooted in the Bible and the gospel (Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges is one).

Again, I'm sharing all this not just for people who want to know what to expect, but also because I hope the author sees this.  Valerie, if you are reading, please know that I tried my best to approach this review in love, as a sister in Christ.  I've been praying over this review, and hope you can see my heart and give some thought to these issues.

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley for free, in exchange for an honest review.

Little Letters | Springtime Notes


Dear Blog Friends, I have a disappointment to share.  I had intentions of writing a Little Letters post each month, because I like the format and and there was even a linkup attached!  Remember linkups?  The really early ones that were fun because they were small, and people actually commented on each other's posts?  But the blogger who was running the linkup seems to have dropped it.  I was waiting around to see if she'd bring it back, and was disappointed when she didn't.

However, I've finally decided, hey, why should that stop me?  So I'm sharing a few little letters from the past few months, and if you want to join in and share YOUR little letters (Michelle, Amanda, Bekah, Anyone-In-My-Sidebar, I know you would be great at this type of post, so consider this an official tag) - well, please do write one, and let me know.  We'll have our own informal linkup.

March

Dear Bathroom Renovation, I think you might be trying to kill us.  Or at least our budget.  And maybe also my feet.  I am tired of getting splinters while I'm trying to brush my teeth.

Dear Library, Why didn't you tell me you have a gorgeous back room with tons of windows?  I would have been visiting you each time I get away to work on computer stuff.  Do you know how much money I could have saved in Starbucks drinks?



Dear Bomb Cyclone,  I'm sorry, I'm just not that impressed.  I thought you were supposed to be like a hurricane, but our power didn't even go out.  (Just to clarify, this is not an invitation to try again, so don't get any ideas.  Let's just move on.)

April

Dear State Sales Tax System, I don't understand why I have to file two separate returns for two separate addresses when I'm just selling digital products out of my house (and I just happened to move).  I'm not even totally sure I have to collect sales tax on digital products, I'm just trying to be safe and follow the law and all that, but you are kind of making my life miserable.  Businesses that sell digital products are more common these days, right?  Can we come up with clearer rules please?  Thank you.

Dear Confused Reader, If you didn't know I have a "business", it's an Etsy shop in which I sell these pretty printable Bible verse cards. "Business" is in quotes because I just set it up and pay my taxes and do zero marketing, so it kind of feels like I'm cheating by calling it a business.  I'm just not very business-y, can you tell? #notabossbabe

Dear Swimsuit Shopping, Ugh.  Can we just...not?

Dear Warm Weather, I'm happy to see you and all, but can you please visit on a day when we are able to take a trip to the zoo?  Thank you.

Dear Self, It might be a little weird that you find it so satisfying to clip your kids' fingernails. Similar to how it might be weird to admit how satisfying it was to scrape mineralized bacterial colonies off people's teeth for a living for seven years.  Something about cleaning things up, and putting things back in order...maybe we shouldn't mention this to people.  They might not get it.

May

Dear New Swimsuit,  Where have you been all my life?

Dear Internet, Some of us do not have cable and must watch the new episodes of the Bachelorette one day late on Hulu.  PLEASE DO NOT SPOIL ANYTHING.  I like to analyze the show myself before I read your analysis.  Thank you for your consideration.

Dear Trees,  I do not approve of the delay and general sub-parity in your flowering this year, but I will grudgingly give you props for at least not skipping it altogether.  Good job.  But do better next time.




Dear Email Inbox,  Is this an episode of The Twilight Zone?  You've delivered a mere ONE email from a blogger who just had to tell me about the Build Your Bundle Homeschool sale tomorrow.  ONE.  What is happening?  Where are the other 25?

Dear Build Your Bundle Sale, I'm not really sure why you are so tempting.  I think I've used a mere two or three of the resources from the massive bundle I bought from you last year.  I feel like you tricked me.  And yet, I see all your shiny new printable curricula and worksheets, and I still get sucked in every time.  Maybe the homeschool inspiration and excitement you offer is worth something, but let's just say I'm going to keep a tighter hold on my wallet this year.  Just please don't offer me coupons.

Dear New Books I Bought,  Look what you made me do!  I was supposed to refrain from new-book-buying until the library sale.  Now you are making me feel guilty.  But also not too guilty, because the way you freshened up my to-read list has given my reading a boost.  I feel so torn.  Let's just not tell anyone about my lapse, okay?

Dear Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges,  Wow, you are timely.

Dear Bathroom Renovation,  It's almost time for you to move on.  It's been fun, but also not.  But look at what we have (almost) accomplished together! It's a beautiful thing!  But really, it's time for you to go now.  Thanks for all you do.

Dear Mother's Day Weekend,  You were nice to me this year.  Really laid back.  You gave me time with my mom and my kids, and that's really your purpose, isn't it?  We brought my mom breakfast, went to church, bought some loose-leaf tea, went to a park.  Derek made me my favorite dinner after the kids went to bed, which we ate while we watched our show.  I felt no stress of unreasonable expectations of you, and you even gave me some time to relax too.  Let's do this again next year.




Dear Summer,  Hurry up please, and no more fake-outs!  My poor sunlight-starved heart can't take it.  I have big plans for you.









The One Thing Your Church Needs To Get Right




(The steeple from my childhood church, in case you were wondering.  It was the best church photo I had.)

Let's do a little evaluating exercise, shall we?

I've mentioned a couple of times briefly that Derek and I have had some church upheaval to deal with over the last six months or so.  I won't get into details here, but we decided in light of everything that we needed to take a step back and evaluate our church situation a little bit, and seek where the Lord may have us go.  So we've been trying some of the churches in our area.

This is the second time we have gone through this process in the last few years, so between Derek and me, we have checked out over a hundred churches, either online or in person.  I wish I could say it's been an encouraging process, but on the contrary, it's been incredibly discouraging to me.  The most discouraging part hasn't involved service styles or anything to do with the people in these churches.  So many have been friendly and welcoming.  I've been more discouraged than anything by the content of some of the sermons.

One illustration we heard at a church-that-shall-not-be-named particularly bothered me, maybe because it is an example of everything that I've been discouraged about in our church hunt.  I'm tipping my hand here, but see if you can understand my point after you read the sermon illustration below.  I understand that every illustration is imperfect and falls apart when you try to take it too far, but I was particularly concerned with this one.

This is roughly what was said in one of the sermons we heard.

---

"Let's imagine that a man gets called into his boss's office one day.  His boss tells him that he needs to sell a million dollars worth of product.  He needs to do it in six months, or he'll lose his job.

The man works to sell the company's product.  Six months later, he gets called into the boss's office again.  He sits down, and his boss looks at him.  The man sweats a little bit in nervousness.  He doesn't think he did well enough.   He is fearful that he'll have to go home tonight and tell his wife that he's out of work.

His boss announces that he only sold $7 worth of product in the last six months.

The man hangs his head.  He knows he's going to lose his job.  He didn't do enough.

But his boss looks at him, and tells him that no, he didn't sell enough.  But because he cares about him so much, he's going to give him another six months to sell the million dollars."

"That," this pastor announced proudly, "is grace."


---

Okay.

The only problem is, that is not the Gospel.

I'm going to give that pastor the benefit of a doubt and assume he was merely trying to explain the general concept of grace rather than a Gospel illustration, but I'm using it as an example because the illustration was representative of alot of the teaching we've heard lately.  Let's just be clear:

The Gospel is not that God gives us grace to do better.

The Gospel is not that Jesus is our example.  He is, but He's so much more than just that.

The Gospel is not even about God changing lives.  That is the result of the Gospel, but it's not the Gospel.

The Gospel starts with understanding that we have a sin problem.  Not "messiness", not "mistakes", not "brokenness".  A pervasive, indwelling sin problem that we can never make up for because we are always piling on more sins.

No, nobody is perfect. And that's the problem, because we are talking about a perfect, holy God, full of goodness and light.  And we have sinned against Him (Psalm 51:4).  We have broken His laws.  God must punish sin, or He would not be perfectly just nor good.  We have earned for ourselves death and eternal punishment in Hell (Romans 6:23).  With every disobedience.  With every grumbling or unclean thought. With every "white lie".

That is not a message that some pastors want to focus on these days.  That is not a feel-good message.  That is bad, bad news.  It might even be offensive, because we all have a tendency to think we aren't "that bad" (guilty here).  But even that attitude is the sin of pride!  Even our good deeds are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  We're in trouble.

You have to understand the bad news to understand the good news.

God, out of the richness of His loving-kindness, didn't leave us in our sin and death.  He sent His Son, Jesus, who was fully man and fully God, and He was perfect.  He did everything we couldn't, lived a life without sinning even once.  Then because He was perfectly righteous, He took the punishment we had earned upon Himself.  He died in our place.  Then He rose from the dead, conquering our sin and death itself.  He took our sin upon Himself, suffered the wrath against sin that we deserved, and in exchange He gave us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When we recognize who we are, and who Christ is and what He has done, the only thing we need to do is to repent.  We need to turn from our sin and turn to Christ with faith that He will save us.  With faith that He has done everything required for our salvation if we will just turn and trust in Him.

We don't have to be a "better person" to earn His favor.  We don't have to "clean up our lives" to earn forgiveness. We don't have to strive to do things "God's way" in hopes that we've done enough to make up for our wrongs.  We can do nothing to deserve His mercy, we can't make up for our wrongs. But Christ did.  

 "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,  not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,  whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior," 

Titus 3:4-6

And when we understand that and turn to Christ, God takes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh.  We will respond in loving obedience, because when we understand Jesus died to save us from the punishment of our sin, we will start to hate our sin.  We want to turn our back on it and turn to Jesus because He already saved us from that.  And He enables us to now live for Him (2 Cor. 5:15) through the Holy Spirit working in us, sanctifying us.



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So if we were going to take that illustration at the top of this post and make it represent the Gospel more truly, it would be something like this.

Your boss comes to you one day and says you have to sell a million dollars in six months or you will lose your job. Worse, you have been embezzling from the company for years, so you have to pay that money back before you can start earning the million dollars.  The total is astronomical.  You will never be able to earn it back.  You are in trouble.

In six months your boss sits down to look at your accounts.  He looks at the papers, and then looks up at you.  You are sweating.  You've done nothing that has decreased what you owe.  You know you deserve to lose your job and be thrown in prison for what you've done.

But he looks at you with eyes filled with compassion.  And he smiles.

He leans forward and tells you he knows what you've done.  He knows what you owe, and that you can never do enough to repay it, no matter how many years he might give you.  But he cares for you like his own child.  You have fallen incredibly short, but His son sold enough to cover everything you owe.  He has credited what his son has earned to your account, and he won't be pressing charges against you for the embezzlement because his son has paid your fine.

You don't have to do anything.  Your debt is payed, your way has been earned.  You can keep your job forever. 

That is mercy.  That is grace.

That is the Gospel.


---

If you have not trusted in Jesus for your eternal salvation, I urge you, please be reconciled to God.  Trust in the One who has done everything necessary to give you eternal life.  Turn away from your sin and turn to Him.

And if you are a believer already, please get this right. And get yourself in a church that gets this right. 

It does little good for church pews to be filled each week, it does little good to hear superficially inspiring sermons, if the message doesn't point us back to Christ and what He has done to save us.  The pure, beautiful truth of what Christ has done for us that we couldn't do for ourselves. Understanding and believing this truth is what brings about actual life change, through God's grace.

I have seen the "gospel" taught wrongly so many times in the past few months, and I don't think I even realized how much of a burden that discouragement was putting on me until a few weeks ago, when we finally sat again in a church that preached everything I just tried to explain above.

I sat there in the pew with tears rolling down my cheeks.  It was such a relief to me, even as someone who is already a believer, after months of "do better" sermons, to hear again from the pulpit the beautiful truth of the Gospel preached clearly.  To marvel again at what Jesus did for me.

We believers still need to hear the Gospel too.






How I Kept My Hair Under Control In New Orleans



I have had a long, contentious relationship with my hair.

It's too much to get into that whole story here, but let's just say that when I hit puberty my hair decided to rebel against me.  It frizzed and curled and waved and did weird things, and I've been wrestling it into submission ever since.

Thankfully this is typically very easy to do in my usual dry climate.  I straighten it, and nothing really messes it up unless it gets wet.  There is no real humidity to speak of.

Well, last time I went to New Orleans, I learned what humidity truly was.  I would go outside literally for two minutes, and I'd come back in and my hair was doing that weird frizz/curl thing it does.  It was bigger.  The frizz obscured all shine.  My bangs were sticking straight out to the side of my head in a strange attempt to curl.  It might have even made me cry one day when I realized how ridiculous I looked (please keep in mind I was hugely pregnant and hormonal, which may have also been a factor).

For our second trip to New Orleans I was determined to plan for the frizz, and though my hair didn't 100% held it's ground (is that even possible in New Orleans?), I have been overall pretty pleased with how it's held up.  This is what I think went better this time.



Hair Training

I mentioned this briefly before, but I've been training my hair recently to need less washing.  Part of this method includes brushing your scalp oils into your hair each night, which is supposed to be good for it.  This is totally anecdotal, but I suspect that the scalp oils have helped my hair hold it's shape a little better in this humidity.

Chi Shine Infusion Spray

I knew I was going to bring this spray on this trip, because last time we came my best hair day was the day I had used this product.  I just spray it over my hair after blow-drying and before straightening, and it makes my hair smoother and shinier, and that seems to tamp down in the humidity-induced frizz. (It's only $8 on Amazon today, which is a great deal!)

Joico Humidity Blocker Finishing Spray

This is the big guns.  I sprayed this on my hair every time I left the hotel in New Orleans.  It's basically like a very touchable hair spray.  Even after spending most of the day walking around outside, my hair looked like this:



It waved a little, but didn't frizz or stick out weird.  With my hair, I call that a success.

All my southern friends, how do you keep your hair under control in that humidity?

Especially if your hair is sort-of curly like mine?  I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I do think my hair strategy would have to change if I lived down south.  This shorter style I usually sport is doable in dry weather, but requires a lot of maintenance when you breathe a significant amount of water in with your oxygen.


 Me and Derek, and I just went with my curls (with my humidity blocker spray) at the end of our trip.

When Wiping Faces Doesn't Feel Satisfying



Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days! Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us, the years in which we have seen evil.  Let Your work appear to Your servants, and Your glory to their children.  And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands for us.  Yes, establish the work of our hands.

  Psalm 90:14-17


There are days, as a Christian woman and as a stay at home mom, when it’s hard to keep perspective.  No one is very excited to hear what you are doing day in and day out, and to be honest, it’s not exciting to tell it.  I wipe little faces.  I make meals to fill little bellies. I listen to long stories, agonize through sounding out words, correct attitudes that have gone askew.  I try to mold little hearts, but often feel as if I’m making a mess of it, more like a child forming mudpies than a sculptor forming a work of art.

We all love instant gratification, immediate results, the fruits of our social media-saturated culture. We like to look at our work each day and point. “See what I’ve done! See what I’ve grown!” 

Motherhood is not like that. There is no instant progress, and the dopamine hits are few and far between. 

I read in some book once (maybe Teaching From Rest?) about how in medieval times, when the gothic cathedrals were being built, it took several generations to bring them to completion.  So some may have worked on a cathedral their entire lives, and they were lucky if they saw the end product.

I think often the work that will really last, the stuff that will really matter, is not like building a social media platform. It is like building a cathedral.

This passage in Psalms stopped me in my tracks today, because it is the cry of my heart on those days when it is hard to keep perspective. It is everything I want my life to be, everything I want for my children.

Satisfy us early with your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days!  I want my children know the kindness of His mercy early, so they may follow Christ all their days. When the days are long and feel fruitless, I want to rest and rejoice and be glad in the salvation He bought for me too.

Let Your work appear to your servants, and Your glory to their children.  I need to keep my eyes on Jesus, to open my eyes to see the work God is doing here, even in the mundane.  I want to teach my children to do the same, so they will know the glory of the One who made them.

Establish the work of our hands for us.  Remember that there are things that will last for a moment, and things that will last forever.  

Money will be spent.  Things will wear out.  Beauty fades.  Fame is fleeting, and social media kingdoms crash to the ground every day.  Some of these things we need to a certain extent, and some things we don't, but all these temporary things are ultimately meaningless by themselves.  If we put our satisfaction in these things, one day we will wake up and realize we wasted our lives.

But there are things that last forever.  There are souls to invest in, from the woman who needs a kind word at the store, to the friend who needs encouragement, to the children giggling down the hall who need to know Jesus.  There is the work we do for Christ.  Even something as simple as wiping chocolate off the little face of an eternal soul, when done to bring more glory to Jesus, is significant.  

Wiping little faces, filling little bellies, showing patience through frustrations, all the while speaking of the mercy and kindness and glory of our King.  Speaking of what He has done to save them if they will just turn to Him in repentance and faith.  So our children (and others) will know it.  So they will know Him. 



That's the work that is worthy of establishing, friends.  That's a cathedral.  And you may not see what this day to day, mundane faithfulness is building, but God does.

Yes, Lord, establish the work of our hands.


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