Present Over Perfect (A Review - Two Stars)

1.5/5 stars.

I have never read anything by Shauna Niequist, but I see her books everywhere.  So when I saw "Present Over Perfect" available for review, I thought, why not?  

Niequist is known (to me) for her food memoir, so I knew this book would be a bit of a departure, but I was excited to give it a try.  However, I would not recommend this book.  As so many books I have read lately, I felt this one had positive and negative elements, but the negative elements outweighed the positive for me, whether I am looking at this book from a biblical perspective or just the enjoyability factor as a new reader. Here are my thoughts.


I started this book and about a fifth of the way through I realized I was just going to have to plow through without really enjoying it.  The main reason I couldn't enjoy it was because it felt a little schizophrenic to me - not Niequist, just the book.  Was this supposed to be a memoir or a self-help book?  I couldn't figure it out.  For so much of the book Niequist seemed to be just going on about her own internal struggles, like a memoir, with little practical advice for her readers.  The book seemed selfish to me, in a way.  If I had read other books by Niequist and was interested in her as a person, I might have really enjoyed getting an inside look, but mostly I was just annoyed because I had no background on the author to frame all this personal stuff.  It felt like reading a stranger's journal of innermost thoughts.  There were occasional gems (I'll quote a couple lines I liked below), but mostly I just kept thinking, "yes, but where is the value here for me?"  That sounds a little selfish, but then again, as a reader I'm the one who could potentially be buying this book and spending hours of my life on it.  There should be something in it for me.

I did not like this author's mention of "centering" prayer and deep breathing. The idea of "centering" is a very New Age concept and not biblical at all. I was more likely to give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume she meant simple meditation on Scripture, but then she started talking about her "spiritual director" (shouldn't that be God and His Word?) and "which God she prays to", which for the author was a mix between the Father and the Holy Spirit, not Jesus. Um, what? They are all ONE God, you don't get to pick and choose. At this and other points in the book, she uses language that suggests that God changed as her view of Him changed, and the way she expressed it could be misleading. I feel like she missed the boat on communicating that no, He's been the same good God all along, regardless of how she viewed Him before. 

Overall I got a sense of a New-Age, fluid version of Christianity from this book, and it bothers me how easily we are letting New Age philosophy into our churches and lives. These ideas are not in line with the Bible, and it's not okay. That's another point - there was little mention of Scripture in this book, aside from a couple verses Niequist uses to explain her own journey. Definitely no explanation or reference to the Gospel, which I always find disappointing in Christian non-fiction.  She quotes many people and talks about "spiritual" this and that, but she doesn't back up any of her main points or principles with God's Word, which is our only firm grounding in the world. The more I think about it, the more it bothers me. Niequist almost talks about God and Christianity as some sort of phsychological "savior", instead of the truth - that God became a man (Jesus) and died to pay the price for our true problem (sin) and to save us, not from poor self-esteem, but from an eternity apart from God in Hell. That truth isn't even alluded to in this book at all. 


While many of the chapters in this book felt like a waste of my time, there were a few that I actually appreciated - mainly the ones that actually related to the title of the book, giving thoughts on how to be present in our lives while letting go of our ideas of perfection.  Unfortunately there were probably only two or three chapters that I felt were somewhat valuable to me as a reader on these topics.  These are a couple quotes that I thought were actually useful things for me to think about.

"I was faced with a dilemma—one so many of us face quite often: I could either wrestle my life and my kids and my house and our Christmas into something fantastic, something perfect . . . or I could plunk myself down right in the middle of the mess and realize that the mess is actually my life, the only one I’ll ever get, the one I’m in danger of missing completely, waiting around for fantastic." 

"I gave myself away indiscriminately. Be careful how much of yourself you give away, even with the best of intentions. There are things you cannot get back, things that God has not asked you to sacrifice."

I thought she touched on some good points here, but it was too brief.  She quickly went back to the personal reflections, which I found disappointing, because it was not what I was looking for when I started this book.


Overall, I wouldn't recommend this book.  As someone who was new to this author, I did not enjoy this book, I was disappointed by the New Age undertones, and unfortunately I won't be picking up one of her books again.

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.  This is my honest opinion.

Second Note: I felt a lot of the themes that Niequest tried to address in this book were things that I had already read about in other books, and they were addressed by other authors in a more effective way for me.  Since I can't recommend this one, I thought I'd say that "The Best Yes" by Lysa Teurkherst was really helpful to me in learning to say no; "Breathe" by Prsicilla Shirer was a really useful Bible Study on the biblical value of rest; and ironically, a secular fiction book called "What Alice Forgot" by Lianne Moriarty was a fun book (warning: some language) that really got me thinking about how busyness was affecting my life.  I would recommend those ones to you if the title of "Present Over Perfect" is what interests you.

Becoming A Woman Of Excellence (A Review)

Earlier this summer I wrote about how I wanted to pick up a Bible study guide to use in my personal devotion time this summer.  I was happy to have a chance to review "Becoming A Woman Of Excellence" by Cynthia Heald.  I have heard of this Bible study in the past and was curious to pick it up again.

One thing I really appreciate about this Bible study is that it doesn't do all the work for you.  It is full of scripture verses to look up, and the questions make you think a little more deeply about the passage and applying it to your own life.  As part of the 30th Anniversary Edition, Heard also includes "Thoughts From An Older Woman" at the end of each chapter, writing about things she has learned since she first published this study 30 years ago.  I really loved how this study got you deep into God's word.

What I didn't love about this study - the organization was a little confusing to me.  I think this might be partially because I didn't use it every day, so maybe I forgot some of the ties between chapters.  I am still working through it going into the fall (about half way through), and I am looking forward to finishing it and seeing if it starts to fit together better for me.  The scripture verses Heald chooses seem to follow this kind of scattered organization, as she picks short passages or single verses to make some of her points.  I miss getting the full context of a passage, and I think I would like it better if each chapter focused on one Scripture passage and pulled points out of that passage, instead of listing Scripture verses that support her own topics or points.

All that said, this really is a good study, and I think it is one that is flexible enough to be good for those who want a lighter study, while also providing that springboard for depth that others might want.  I'm looking forward to finishing it (I'll update this review if I change my mind about anything by the end)!

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

My Answer To The "How Do You Do It All?" Question

I balanced Clarice on my hip as I took the papers from the pediatrician.  The kids were driving their Hot Wheels cars on the white, probably non-sterile exam room floor (I cringe just typing that), and I asked them to stand up again as I attempted to listen to the doctor’s instructions.  I got everyone on their feet, tossed the papers she gave me under the stroller and thanked her as she complimented my skirt.  Then our pediatrician asked how I managed to look so put together with so many kids.

First Watermelon And Words


Well, my sweet girl is ten months old, and this post is very late.

July seemed to sweep by in a hurry this year, and I woke up at the beginning of August realizing that we haven't even done anything this summer, excluding vacation.  And since we haven't done anything interesting, I've been slacking on taking pictures of the kids, which means Clarice's imaginary nine month album is going to be rather sparse.  Poor Clarice!  I'll just explain as much about her little personality I can instead.

This month the scrunch-nose smile has returned, and it is so darn cute with her four new teeth.  Two upper and lower teeth have popped through her little gums, and it makes her look slightly older and even more impossibly cute.  When she is happy she'll jerk her arms up and down (kind of like that old dance "the jerk" - look it up), and she gives the biggest grin, nose scrunched and four teeth shining, and little blond curls poking out from the back of her head.

This month Clarice officially said her first word - which I am counting as "da" for Derek. Up until now it has mostly been happy screeches and tongue clicks.  I think she would be right at home in one of those South American tribes that uses clicking in their language.  It is hilarious how much she enjoys clicking her tongue!  But she recently started saying "da" when Derek arrived home from work, and it seemed more intentional than in the past.  Shortly following "da", she started saying "hi".  Only imagine the word "hi" drawn out with a strong southern belle accent, with no actual long "i" sound.  Then she figured out how to combine her only two words, and when Derek arrived home she said "hi da", like a little Georgian native, even though we've never been to Georgia in this family's life.    No "mama" is in sight.

When I realized that we hadn't done anything this summer, I took us to a park with water fountains.  The fountains are down some steps in this little concrete bowl, but the draining system must not have been working the day we went because it was full of three inches of water.  I plopped her down in it anyway, and she had so much fun, smacking the water with her little hands and grinning up at me.  The kids would run by and splash her little face, and she would look briefly startled and then scrunch her nose and laugh again.

I bumped her up to size 4 diapers, not because she fills them out but because they seem to work better at night right now.  She is probably between a size 3 and 4.  Her favorite thing to do is eat finger foods and pouches of puree, and if everyone else is eating but her, you will hear about it.  She screeches, with a very serious look on her face, to let you know when she is unhappy.  She was very focused and clearly thrilled with her first slice of watermelon this month; she felt like such a big girl, eating the same thing as everyone else.  Give her a rice puff cookie or a slice of apple and she is happy as a clam, but she has recently started boycotting green vegetable purees.  Only the green ones.  It doesn't matter if it is 90% apple and mango, if there is a green vegetable in it she (literally) turns her nose up at it.  She seems far too young to be this picky.  We have been nursing twice a day.

My favorite moments this month have been when she falls asleep in my arms, because she doesn't do that as much anymore, and I've noticed.  I'm going to miss it when she stops.  She falls asleep, and her sweet little dark eyelashes brush her smooth skin.  Her lips are pink, her elbows are dimpled, and a little blond curl sticks out on top of her head.  My own living baby doll, with her little breath brushing against me.


My Sweet Clarice,

This month was quiet and sweet with you my darling.  We really didn't do much except just live.  There have been lots of days of playing, lots of peek-a-boo, lots of baby giggles and splashing in the kiddie pool.  Lots of grins, and naps, and snuggles.  Lots of little baby arms reaching up, because even now you are happiest when I'm holding you - and those are my happy moments too, with your little head resting against my shoulder.  I love you Sweet Girl, more every day.


Four Reasons To Love Sports Movies (GREATER The Movie Recommendation)

This post is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group® and GREATER Productions. but all my opinions are my own. #pmedia #GREATERMovie #GreaterTheMovie

Confession: I have absolutely no sports ability; but despite this fact, I love sports movies.

There is something about a good inspirational sports movie that makes me wish I could have been on a team.  (But then that thought flits out of my head, because trust me, I am doing everyone a favor by staying off the field.)  Sports stories appeal to a few things that touch my heart, things that I want to teach my own kids - maybe while watching a good sports movie.

Sports movies remind us that we weren’t meant to do life alone.   

Sports movies reflect this in the most poignant way, because no player really succeeds unless the entire team succeeds.  And when when player is successful, it’s because their teammates have been there to help them along the way.  God didn’t make human beings to live alone, raise their families alone, or do life alone, and I think sports teams and movies are a good reflection of a deeper truth.

Sports movies remind us that hard work and doing the right thing pay off.  

Though sports movies are obviously about successes, it’s the parts where the players have to overcome obstacles to achieve greatness that are most poignant.  Does hard always pay off with your dreams becoming a reality?  No, not always, but it always pays off with good character, and I love when sports movies reflect that.

Sports movies remind us that true teammates are there for you even when you fail.  

One of my favorite parts about sports movies is seeing how the main character develops relationships with teammates, and how those teammates are there to pick them up and encourage them when they fail.  Everyone will want part of your successes, but true teammates are the ones who are there to give you a hand up and slap on the back when you fail.

Sports movies speak to that intrinsic desire to be a part of something greater.  

I think the main reason I love a good sports movie is because the best ones make your heart swell as you watch the individual players work together to achieve something greater, a goal none of them could reach alone.  I love that.  I believe that all of us were made to do something greater than just strive for our own success on earth - I believe we were made to bring glory to God, and we were made to do that together with others, and there is something about sports movies that speaks to that truth that God hid inside us.  

With fall and football season coming up, I am ready to break out all my sports movies and be inspired!  And if there is one sports movie that encapsulates everything I listed above, it is the new film, GREATERThis movie follows one of the greatest walk-on stories in college football, how Brandan Burlesworth went from an underdog to an All-American football player.  

The Brandon Burlesworth story incorporates everything I love about sports stories, and his story in GREATER makes the perfect inspirational sports movie.  It reflected the support Brandon had from his mother and family in achieving his dreams, and how he supported his teammates and they supported him in the wins and losses.  It showed his consistent hard work it takes for players and teams to be great.  It showed how respect and friendships develop among teammates.  But my favorite part of GREATER was the reminder that our lives serve a greater purpose than just what we can see on the surface.

GREATER was such a moving movie for me, and a wonderful one for a date with my football-loving spouse!  When the kids are a little older, I am going to love watching this movie together as a family!  There are so many good lessons and examples in GREATER, and I think it is a wonderful way to teach our kids about what is most important. After watching the movie with Derek, I was inspired to put together a few discussion questions to get the conversation going.

GREATER Discussion Questions:

1. When Brandon was a child, he was discouraged and bullied.  When did things start to turn around for him?  Do you think he would have been able to achieve so much if he hadn’t had some voices of encouragement around him?

2.  Brandon was told over and over again that he didn’t have what it took to play college football, and he experienced some failures - but he used that to inspire him to work harder.  Even if he was never successful on football, what other advantages do you see from his determination to work hard against the odds?

3. Brandon’s coach said character is what you do when no one is watching.  How did he display good character?  How does a person develop good character?

4.  Brandon faced a lot of bullying and name-calling, but he persevered in kindness and doing what was right.  Why do you think he did that?  What effect did it have on his teammates?

5. One quote from the movie is “Our loss is great, but God is greater.”  How did Brandon’s football journey serve a greater purpose beyond himself?

GREATER comes out on August 26th in select theaters (check to see if it will be available in a theater near you) - just in time for football season!  I highly recommend this movie and hope you all get a chance to see it!  Come back and tell me what you think when you do - this is definitely going on my list of favorite sports movies.

Watch the trailer below, and follow GREATER The Movie on social media for updates on when and where the film is released! 

What is your favorite sports movie?  Are you planning on seeing GREATER?

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Three Go-To Looks For Early Fall

(Note: This post on pieces of clothing that work for warm early fall days was sponsored by NIC+ZOE.  All opinions are my own.)

August is upon us my friends, which means that fall is right around the corner!  I (like so many people) love the fall.  Not only do all the cozy flavors come out, but layers are back in as the weather gets cooler.

Except when it doesn't.

An Inside Look At My Party Planning Process (With Grit & Grace)

My baby girl just turned ten months old and I have to tell you, I am feeling the first birthday party pressure.

There is a lot of pressure to have Pinterest-perfect birthday parties for our kids these days, and it would be a good thing if we all just relaxed a little bit.  You know what my favorite birthday party memories were?  Decorating with whatever we could find in the cupboard and having relay races with my little group of friends.  I think it doesn't have to be big and fancy to be memorable and fun.

Five Books To Give As Baby Shower Gifts

When I was registering for my first baby shower, I had one strategy - register for only the things I absolutely need.

No cutesy outfits.  No blankets. No stuffed animals.  No Sophie The Giraffe or womb-sound alarm clocks or knit hats.  Only the necessities.

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