Reviews/Resources

A Review of Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

On a scale of 1 to 10, this book was about a 6 for me. I was pretty excited to read this book as I had heard some great things. It was on sale through Bookbub, so I jumped on it.

Let’s Start With the Good Stuff

First of all,  I want to share the good stuff. I appreciate Shauna’s story, and I do think the book has some good seeds of truth in it.

One of the things I took away from the book was how important it is to know WHY you are doing something – even when you are serving others. It’s really easy to get tangled up in filling our own needs even when we outwardly appear to be serving others.

Another great takeaway from this book is the idea of being still and quiet – even if it makes you super uncomfortable. Personally, being an introvert, I find I need to have time by myself in order to recharge. My quiet time with Jesus every morning is not a luxury but a necessity for me. So, I love that the author really stresses how important it was for her to get still even though she personally found it very hard and uncomfortable.

I also liked how she very honestly shared her struggles of putting aside opportunities and the feeling that she would somehow miss out if she wasn’t connected 24/7. As someone who is a creative, I get how challenging it can be to feel like you might miss a big opportunity if you aren’t always plugged in and available all the time. It’s not easy to say that you were putting opportunity over your family. The truth is though, I think that probably happens in different ways for all of us way more than we’d like to admit.

What Didn’t Work for Me

So, there were some good things in the book, but for me, it wasn’t earth shattering or life changing really. For one thing, I’m not sure how many people can just take off for a month to hang out at a lake house. That would be wonderful, but it isn’t something most people can do.  Shauna had the flexibility to change her work life to make more time for her family. There are a lot of women for whom that is impossible. So, I can see where this book might feel a bit frustrating for them.

I also felt that while Shauna shared her own story, she didn’t really expand that to principles we can all use. I mean, there is value in reading someone else’s story, and we can definitely learn from what others have gone through. But, I kind of expected to actually learn how to move from trying to be perfect to being present.

The book was also very thin on how Jesus figured into all of this change. Yes,  the author was obviously burnt out because she was striving to be all things and do all things for all the wrong reasons. But, the truth is, sometimes God calls us to hard stuff. I don’t know that the Apostle Paul got a month off or could change his work hours to be less stressful.

My friend Erin is a case in point. As a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mom of three, she is busy. Yet, she feels called not just to those things, but also to write. To do that, she has to squeeze writing into the margins of her life. The woman gets up regularly at like 4:30 a.m. (as a non-morning person, this leaves me in awe!). She has shared with me (and on her blog), about how she feels stretched very thin, but doesn’t feel God is telling her to give anything up.

There are just going to be seasons where we are busier than others. This book kind of leaves the impression that if you are busy, then you must be doing something wrong. That life should be peaceful and well, easy in many ways. I’m not sure how Biblically accurate that is.

My Final Thoughts

So, overall, I’m not sure I can recommend Present Over Perfect. While it definitely has some good ideas in it and I applaud Shauna for honestly sharing her own journey, I feel like others have done it better. Lysa Terkeurst’s book The Best Yes is a more useful book on this topic, in my opinion.

Have you read either book? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Review of Storm by Jim Cymbala

Is the light of Jesus that we shine before people growing dark?

Has a storm cut us off from our power source?

Is the church of Christ disappearing into a dark night?

Those three questions on the back cover of Storm by Jim Cymbala caught my eye. Our local Christian bookstore was going out of business, and as I perused the shelves, looking for ways to spend a gift card I had, those words caught my eye.

I’ve read other books by Jim Cymbala, so I knew this one would probably be just as good. I wasn’t disappointed. The truth is, in recent times, the Church’s light seems to have grown dim in our culture and society.

Storm points out the warning signs that the Church is in trouble, the current problems within the church, and things both church leaders and members can be doing to fix or reverse those problems.

Throughout the book, Cymbala shares personal stories of members of his own Church who have seen God work in and through them. While I enjoyed the entire book, the stories were some of my favorite parts.

Out of all the chapters, I found the list of warning signs to be some of the most alarming. Cymbala points out three warning signs. The first is dwindling numbers. While some statistics list almost 80% of Americans as being “Christian,” the real data doesn’t back that up. In fact, the real percentage of true believers in America is shockingly between 7 and 8.9%.

The second warning sign Cymbala mentions is that personal transformation is rare. A recent Barna Group survey found that 46% of regular churchgoers said that their life had not changed at all as a result of attending church. Yikes.

Finally, the third warning sign Cymbala shares is that Biblical literacy is declining. Americans who are hostile to the Bible rose from 10% in 2011 to 17% in 2013. Those numbers continue to grow.  While lack of Biblical knowledge or even hostility is understandable for non-believers, only 1 in 5 self-proclaimed Christians actively read their own Bibles.

The two other chapters in the book that really resonated with me were “Tempest Within,” which discusses the failure of church fads and trends, and “Storming Heaven,” which talks about the power of prayer.

In “Tempest Within,” Cymbala touches on some of the most popular trends of the church. He also points out something very interesting. “In the last twenty years there have been more conferences and more books published on church growth than in all the prior history of our country. As new models of how to grow your church have increased in popularity, we have actually witnessed a precipitous decline of Christianity in America.” Makes you think doesn’t it?

“Storming Heaven” was a chapter that reaffirms a message God has been teaching me all year – the importance and power of prayer. One of my goals this year was to fully realize and live out what it means to be a daughter of the Living God. The one thing God keeps bringing me back to again and again is prayer. It is something that is conspicuously absent in many churches.

If the vast changes you are seeing, not just in the culture around us, but also inside the Church have you feeling bewildered and anxious, Storm is an anchor in the swirling waters of change we now find ourselves in.

What book have you read this year that has really made you stop and think? I’d love to hear about it!

Review of Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

Remembering the Early Days

It’s been a long time since I had a baby. My youngest will be 16 in a few weeks (and just got his driving permit today – yikes!). So why I decided to pick up a book my son Brock was reading to complete an assignment in one of his education classes is beyond me. But for some reason, Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing up Bebe: One American Woman Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, called to me

The bigger mystery  is why I proceeded to read the entire thing rather than just flip through it, but read it, I did.

 

My Guilty Secret

The funny thing is, as I read about the French way of parenting, I recognized a lot of my own parenting in it. Maybe that was why I read the whole thing – sort of confirmation that I didn’t completely stink as a mother.

As I said, I’m long past the days of diapers and sippy cups and toddler tantrums. But here’s my guilty little secret – when I look around at everything mothers do with and for their kids now I feel a tiny bit guilty. Like maybe I wasn’t engaged enough or intentional enough.

The truth is, I’m a whole lot more like the French mothers described in Bringing Up Bebe than many of the American moms I see and ready about today.

Mothering Has Changed In Recent Years

I hang out a lot in the blogosphere. I blog. I have friends that blog. I read blogs. And one thing I’ve noticed is that motherhood has become sort of a competing sport.

The pressure on moms is enormous and the guilt that goes along with it is also pretty huge. From throwing the perfectly, pinterest-worthy birthday party, to cooking organically from scratch, to bubble wrapping their child’s apparently fragile esteem, it’s no wonder exhaustion is rampant.

In fact, it’s become kind of a badge of honor to say how exhausted you are, how few hours you’ve slept and what a complete wreck your house is. Why? Because by not focusing on anything but your kids, you’re winning at this whole motherhood competition. 

The French Are Doing It Differently

It’s not like French parents aren’t into reading their kids books or giving them lessons or letting them play sports. But French parents have kids who eat normal foods, sleep through the night by 3 or 4 months and seem relatively well-behaved in public. French parents have actual lives. They sleep and have sex and do fun, adult activities without children tagging along. (On a sidenote – for YEARS I tried to have a New Year’s Eve party with just adults, and never once managed it in about a 10 year span. I finally gave up and just invited families instead).

While I can’t say either of my boys are foodies, I also have never been a short order cook. The other things, I can say WERE true about my kids (well, besides that unfortunate year when Brody decided to assert his desire to rule the world. He took a bit of convincing that he actually wasn’t the next Mussolini).

Bringing Up Bebe is about American Pamela Druckerman’s own experience having and a daughter and then twin boys in Paris where she lived with her British husband. It didn’t come easily, but the book is both informative and entertaining as she shares her fumbling attempts to figure out what the French were doing differently. And then her more fumbling attempts to imitate them. This is not a Christian book, but it is so full of commonsense wisdom, I had to review it!

My 5 Top Takeaways From the Book

  1. Babies aren’t just blobs. The French believe babies are sentient humans from birth. They believe babies are rational and can communicate (sort of) what they are thinking and feeling. Suggestion: Talk to your baby in a normal tone, and be polite. Let the baby know what you are doing and why. It will probably feel a bit silly. On a funny sidenote, the book describes the French’s penchant for giving a new baby a tour of their new to them home. I have an actual recording (on an ancient VHS tape) of me taking Brock around our tiny apartment and “showing” it to him. True story.
  2. Babies can sleep through the night at a relatively early age (or permanent sleep deprivation isn’t a badge of being a good parent). The French call it “doing his nights.” They believe that a baby has to learn how to connect his or her sleep cycles. So, when a baby wakes up and starts to fuss a bit, they pause for about 5 minutes to see if the baby will go back to sleep. Babies are notoriously restless sleepers, sometimes thrashing all over the crib, but often, they aren’t really awake. Sleeping like a baby is a very misleading cliche! If left to themselves, they will often transition into the next sleep cycle. The French also tell their babies why they need to sleep and how confident they are in the baby’s ability to do just that. (see above)
  3. Kids don’t actually need kid foods. Yes, the French use pureed foods, but they start with flavorful veggies, not bland cereal. They see it as their job to cultivate a wide palette in their children. They also do not allow their children to snack continually throughout the day. Go to any American playground, and baggies of puffs and yogurt dips and all manner of food is on display, but at French playgrounds, they are conspicuously absent. The French also get their baby on a eating schedule that closely mirrors the family’s eating schedule pretty quickly. This means 3 meals plus one snack each day.
  4. Children have the ability to be patient. The French believe coping with frustration and delaying gratification (see above on snacks) is something that every child has the ability to learn. Patience is expected and calm is desired. French parents teach their children accordingly. French parents have a philosophy of very firm boundaries but then giving their children a lot of freedom within those boundaries.
  5. Children are encouraged to be independent. In France, children often go on week-long overnight field trips away from home at young ages like 6 or 7. Parents also place their children in public daycares as  infants. They are called the creche and are staffed by highly trained professionals.
  6. In France, there isn’t a smorgasboard of parenting styles and philosophies. Everyone generally sticks to the same formula, including the daycares, preschools and schools. They do this because it works. Children know what is expected and usually live up to that expectation.

After reading Bringing Up Bebe, instead of guilty, now I feel a tiny bit like I was ahead of the trend. What is your favorite parenting book? I’d love to hear about it!

Are You Stretched Too Thin?

Lately, I’ve been feeling stretched way too thin. I signed up to be an affiliate for the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle, and I had big plans (even though I was a bit late joining the party – yes, I signed up 2 days before the sale started. Oops!).

And yes, there are affiliate links in this post. If you purchase through these links, I will receive a small commission from the sale at no extra cost to you! Total win-win!)

But the truth is, as I came into this week, I was already over-scheduled. I teach middle school English,  teach an adult Sunday school class, write a weekly newsletter for a local non-profit ministry, write monthly articles for another newsletter, and blog here. I’m also working on writing a series of devotional journals and children’s fiction. This doesn’t even take into account my family and running my home.

So, this morning, when I went to put the finishing touches on this big post I had written reviewing the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle, I was a bit panicked when my computer crashed and I couldn’t get on it. At all.

Then my mom texted me that my dad had a bad reaction to his new chemo treatments and they were in the hospital. Suddenly, the perfect post and compelling emails took a back seat.

Since I had a few minutes and could get on my computer again, I decided, instead of a super long, salesy post (which isn’t really my style anyway) to share with you the one ecourse that I am really enjoying out of the homemaking bundle. It’s called Stretched Too Thin by Jessica Turner. Kind of appropriate isn’t it?

The truth is, I just can’t do all the things. I’d really like to because I have a lot of interests and a lot of ideas. Not only that, but I tend to be very curious and have a relatively short attention span. You know that dog in the Pixar movie UP!? He is talking and then all of a sudden, he shouts, “Squirrel!” randomly throughout the movie? Yep, that’s me!

So, as I dive into this course, I’m feeling my soul giving a little sigh of, “ahh” because I really AM stretched too thin right now. That’s the main reason I wanted to share the bundle with everyone – because I always find a book or course that really helps me wherever I happen to be. So, you can click the graphic below and check out the bundle and buy one for yourself (or ask for it as a Mother’s Day gift like I do!) or you don’t have to. I”m totally okay with that because sales isn’t really my thing anyway.

I also wanted to share with you the things I am most excited about.

 

  • A Mom’s Guide to Better Photos: A Beginning Photography Class for Moms With Any Type of Camera by Meg Calton  – I’m always looking for ways to improve my photography!
  • Adventures in Bible Journaling: An Extensive Beginner’s Guide to Art and Bible Journaling by Bethany Floyd – I’ve been journaling my prayers for a while, but I’ve started incorporating a bit of art. So, I’m excited to learn more.
  • Praying the Promises of the Cross: A 40-Day Prayer Journal by Arabah Joy – I discovered Arabah’s blog late last year, and she has quickly become someone I read regularly. I frequently participate in her prayer challenges, so I can wait to dive into this since learning about prayer is something I’m focusing on this year!
  • Matters of the Heart: a 52-Week Scripture Memorization Journey for Women by Carlie Kercheval – The older I get, the harder it is to retain what I memorize. So, anything to help with that I am pretty stoked about!
  • Don’t Wait, Decorate!: An Encouraging Guide to Decorating by Chelsea Coulston- Maybe it is the years of bringing up two boys (and all their friends plus a dog) in our small-ish house, but decorating has taken a back seat (like maybe in the Uhaul attached to the back). Now that I am getting into a new stage, I’ve circled back around to wanting to decorate a bit more – but I’m a bit challenged in this area.
  • 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life by Crystal Paine – I have about zero self-discipline so this one is self-explanatory!
  • Productivity and Well-Being eCourse by Lisa Grace Byrne – I’m always looking for ways to be more productive (see above!).
  • The Temper Toolkit: How to Take Control of Your Temper Before You Lose it! by Lisa-Jo Baker – So, I’ve got a bit of a temper. Strangely, it is all the little things that drive me over the edge, but I’d still like to conquer my temper and not have it reach out and bite anyone!
  • 14 Days to Opening Your Front Door to Guests by Dana White – One thing I’d like to do is be more hospitable and have more people over, but I don’t feel like my house is ready (see above on decorating). I really want to challenge myself in this area.
  • Speed Clean the Deep Clean: A Collection of Time-Saving Cleaning Tutorials and Tips for Busy Moms by Katelyn Fagan – I”ll be honest – I really don’t enjoy cleaning. So, anything that shows me how to get it done more quickly and efficiently I’m on board with!

 

 

The Book That Terrified Me!

  Parents Need to Be Informed

As a parent, my goal has always been to work myself out of a job.

As parents, we spend 18 or 19 years preparing our kids to step out into the world, to live out the beliefs we’ve instilled and to make good decisions.

However, a lot of the statistics surrounding millennials don’t leave Christian parents feeling very confident. Not only are millennials dropping out of organized church in droves, but they are also espousing beliefs very different than their parents.

On a recent trip to the library, I saw a book entitled, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus. Having one son who is a freshman in college and another who only has two more years of high school, I felt like I should probably read it.

I will warn you, this book is NOT written by a Christian. The author, Lisa Wade, is a professor of sociology at Occidental College with a string of degrees behind her name. The text contains not only swear words, but also a pretty blunt discussion about the sexual activities of college students.

Despite the rather raw contents of this book, I highly recommend Christian parents get over their squeamishness and read it!

A Look At American Hookup

Wade used a group of her first-year students as case studies. The students had to collect data about sex and romance on campus, writing as much or as little as they wanted about their own experiences. The students then recorded it in a journal that was submitted every Tuesday. The project lasted through the semester. Wade hoped that the students would consent to allow her to share their facts and quotes in her research.  Out of 110 students, all but nine consented to have their information included. While Wade keeps the students’ names confidential, their stories make up the backbone of the book.

The two things that stood out to me the most were the widespread and accepted view on drinking (even under age) and casual sex. According to Wade, the prevailing attitude that you haven’t done college until you’ve drank until almost blacking out and had sex with as many people as possible is present on all college campuses. This includes even denominational campuses, with the exception of those that are evangelical and Mormon. It didn’t seem to matter if it was an Ivy League school or a state college, partying and hooking up were not only accepted but expected.

While hard partying is not actively sponsored on campus, I think it could be safe to say that most colleges appear to turn a blind eye to the amount of drinking and drug use that goes on at campuses across the United States. One researcher coined the word Drunkworld to describe the corporate state of drunkenness encountered at most parties and events. One girl said that she went to a concert sober and described the experience as, “horrible and awful and no fun.”

How Hooking Up Works

The drinking on campus is one way the students facilitate hookups. Hookups don’t necessarily include actual sex, and can be anything from kissing to intercourse – and often anything in-between. The rules for hooking up include six steps that Wade outlines in detail. I’ll just give you the highlights.

  1. Pregame – basically this is when students get ready for a party and get a bit drunk so they are in the “right frame of mind” to party. This is also the time when girls dress in outfits that are designed to show they are up for anything sexually.
  2. Grind – grinding is dirty dancing. Basically, the women get in the center and the men circle around the outside. The men come up behind a woman they are interested in and grind their pelvises against the girl’s backside. The women usually have no idea who is behind them.
  3. Initiate the hookup – they will ask their friends if the guy is “hot.” If he is, the girl will turn around and look at him. Looking at the person grinding against you basically “seals the deal,” according to a girl named Miranda.
  4. Do…something – as I stated before, a hookup can be anything from kissing to actual intercourse and anything in-between.
  5. Establish meaninglessness – According to a student named Ruby, the goal in a hookup is “fast, random, no-strings attached sex.” Unfortunately, this idea of meaningless often translates to partners being cold and callous toward each other. Kindness to the person you are having sex with is seen as a form of weakness. To facilitate that the encounter was indeed meaningless, students engage in several steps. First, it’s important to establish that you were completely drunk when this hookup occurred. According to Wade, “When students talk about meaningless sex on college campuses, they are almost referring to drunk sex.” It’s also important that two people don’t hook up too many times. Otherwise, it might mean something.  Another way students enforce the idea that the hookup was meaningless is to create emotional distance afterwards. Wrote Wade, “After it’s all over, students confirm that a hookup meant nothing by giving their relationship – whatever it was – a demotion. The rule is to be less close after a hookup than before, at least for a time.” Interestingly, being nice to someone you hooked up with immediately afterwards is considered rude since it might give that other person the wrong idea.

The Dangers of Hookup Culture

I don’t know if this information is new to you, but it was certainly eye opening to me! I mean, I was aware that partying took place on campuses, but the prevalence and expectation has changed. Despite Wade’s progressive views on casual sex, even she points out the inherent hazards and pitfalls of this hook up culture.

Even students that “opt out” for whatever reason, have the hookup culture shoved into their faces. One student, Jimena, opted out due to her faith (yeah, Jimena!). However, her roommate was often visibly drunk when she left for parties. Her roommate also brought guys back to the room and had sex – even when Jimena was in the room. The result was that Jimena felt like an outcast in her own dorm room. She often had to go elsewhere to avoid the culture that had invaded her personal space.

Sadly, even students who started by opting out to the hookup culture, ended up capitulating in the end. Wade did say that those students who regularly attended church services were less likely to end up opting in. For parents, we need to really encourage and helping your college student to find a good church nearby!

Knowledge Is Power

As a parent of one college-aged son and one in high school, I found this book not just terrifying. I also found it important.

As parents, we can’t stick our heads in the sand. For many students, especially those who have grown up in a church culture, campus life will come as a shock. We need to prepare our kids for that.  Acting like somehow partying and casual sex won’t effect our child doesn’t just isn’t an option.

How are you preparing your child for the culture shock of college life?  I’d love to hear about it!

Become Scripture Confident

The Importance of Studying the Bible Yourself

Learning to study the Bible for myself changed my life. I grew up in a Christian home and accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was 5 years old. After going to a Christian school and spending two years at a Christian college, I knew A LOT about the Bible. I could tell you the history of Israel from Abraham to their times of captivity and beyond. I had heard a zillion sermons on various passages and read tons of books about the Bible.

But when I stopped reading about the Bible and dove into it myself, I was blown away. I still get ridiculously excited when God reveals a new truth. I’m still amazed when I reread a story I’ve read many times before and God shows me something new.

I met Ellen Hopkins in a Facebook group to which we both belong. When I heard that she had written a three-part Bible study that taught how to develop the confidence to study the Bible for yourself, I knew I wanted to share them.

Ellen’s studies, Scripture Confident through the Old Testament, Parts 1, 2 and 3, gently introduce you to various study methods, all while taking you through key passages in the Old Testament.

Scripture Confident Through the Old Testament, Part 1


Part 1 helps you to develop the habit of Bible study and prayer, while showing you how to make basic observations, understand the importance of context, detect conjunctions and when and how to use cross referencing. While you learn these study methods, you will also be diving into the Old Testament from Creation to the judges.

 

Scripture Confident Through the Old Testament, Part 2

 

In Part 2, you will learn the fine art of interpretation, using outside sources and how to determine the implications of what you are reading. This study takes you through the united and divided kingdoms of Israel. Personally, I really love these passages because there is so much to learn from the parade of kings in the Israel’s history.

Scripture Confident Through the Old Testament, Part 3

In Part 3, you will learn how to apply what you are reading. You will also take a look at the various Biblical genres which play a key role in how you interpret and apply a passage of the Bible to your own life. Ellen also takes time to review what you’ve been learning. While you get Scripture confident, you’ll be studying about the captivity and restoration of the nation of Israel.

 

Get Started

While you can do the studies yourself, Ellen (and I), recommend finding a few friends with whom to go through these studies.

If you are thinking that there is just no way you could possibly have time to really study the Bible for yourself, the great thing about these studies is that you can do most of the daily lessons in about 15 minutes. Quite honestly, if you are too busy to spend 15 minutes with God, may I gently suggest that you are too busy, period.

You can find Ellen Hopkins at Scripture Confident Living where you can check out more of her resources. Personally, I’m super excited to have met Ellen (virtually, anyway) and find her Bible studies. I hope you’ll check them out, too!

A Review of Beauty and the Beast

Disney’s 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast will always hold a special place in my heart. It came out the same year I graduated from high school, and I really identified with Belle. Not only was I a fellow bookworm, but I too had a thirst for adventure and seeing new places. When she sang, “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere; I want it more than I can tell,” it was like she was singing for me, too.

Not to mention, for anyone who loves to read, who can resist the Beast’s awesome library?

Ahem, anyway, last year, when Disney made their live action Cinderella, I wasn’t sure what to expect. There have been numerous live action incarnations of the story of Cinderella, but this was, by far, the best one I had seen. It was truly a gorgeous movie both in its cinematography and in the beautiful lesson in forgiveness it shows.

So, I was super excited when I saw Disney was doing the same with my favorite, Beauty and the Beast. I’ll admit, I might have squealed just a little when I saw they had cast Emma Watson as Belle. She was the perfect choice.

Then I read the blurb about Disney introducing homosexuality into the classic story line. Everyone online had an opinion about it, and it turned into kind of a hot topic in some circles. I even read one post lecturing on the moral depravity of the actual story of Beauty and the Beast as it promotes bestiality. Um, okay. I think someone totally missed the moral of that fairy tale.

By this time, I had already bought tickets for my son and I to see it. (Got a GREAT deal through Groupon and scored two tickets for less than $7!). My son is almost 16, so I thought we’d go and see for ourselves.

So, here is my review of the movie. (This contains a few spoilers so be aware of that before you read further!)

 

The Things I Really Liked

This is a classic retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Those who are fans of the animated Disney version from 1991 will not be disappointed. The story line sticks very closely to that movie with a few minor changes which didn’t take away from the movie at all and made the story richer.

This version, however, gave more of a nod to the original French fairy tale. If you have read that fairy tale, you will know that what actually caused the father, Maurice, to get on the wrong side of the Beast was picking a rose for his daughter Belle. That minor crime lands Maurice in the Beast’s dungeon. I really liked that the movie goes back to its French fairy tale roots.

The other thing I thought this movie did better than the animated one was to explain why nobody in a village only a few miles away has any idea that a PRINCE that has been turned into a BEAST is in a giant castle and all of his servants have been bewitched. I mean really? Nobody noticed that? In this new version, that backstory is explained in a very satisfactory manner. (I hate plot holes, so I felt very happy with this change!)

In the live action version, the Beast’s character is much more fully drawn. He has some great one liners, and we get to know him a bit better than in the animated version. The CGI on this was very good, as well. His transformation is all the more poignant in non-animated form.

Another great addition is an explanation of what happened to Belle’s mother. Since in most Disney movies, the mothers are missing and there is never an explanation, this addition of some background really helped to round out the story. Not only did we get to know Belle and her father better, but we start to see the Beast in a new light.

There were also a few new songs in this version. They were very enjoyable. My 15 year old has been walking around singing the Beast’s solo all week, so I guess he enjoyed the addition of the new songs too!

The Elephant In the Theater

Honestly, I really enjoyed this version, and there wasn’t anything that stood out as jarring. Going into it, I knew that Disney themselves were saying there was a “genuinely gay moment.” I had no idea what that meant exactly, and I have to admit to some trepidation.

Supposedly, LeFou is in love with Gaston. One of the producers of the movie said, “LeFou doesn’t know if he wants to be Gaston or kiss Gaston.” Another review I read before I went to the movie, said that some of LeFou’s actions make it somewhat obvious he likes Gaston as more than just a friend.

However, although it is clear that LeFou is a devoted sidekick and he does come across as a bit flamboyant at times, I didn’t feel that it was obvious that the character was supposedly gay and longing after Gaston. If I hadn’t read the original article stating that LeFou was supposed to be gay, I’m not sure if the movie would have given me that idea or not. It’s hard to say, since I knew going in so I couldn’t help viewing the movie through that lens.

There were only two moments in the movie that were at all questionable, in my opinion. The first happens when the villagers storm the castle, and all the various castle occupants fight back. When the wardrobe whips a bunch of dresses at three village men and they end up dressed as women, two of the men yell and run away. But the third guy, smiles and then minces down the stairs.

The other moment comes at the very end. Everyone is dancing and people are whirling around. LeFou and the character that enjoyed his makeover end up dancing together. They smile at each other. It is literally less than 10 seconds of film. A small child would probably laugh and think it was funny that a boy got stuck with another boy with which to dance.

My Overall View

Overall, the movie was excellent and was very well done. Young children probably won’t pick up on anything that is obviously homosexual, and I never felt that there was an agenda being pushed. If your child is a bit older, they might. Then again, my son’s friend watched the movie, and he had no idea when the movie was over. He’s 16.

One warning for parents of small children is that since this is a live action movie, the scenes are a bit more intense and dramatic, which might scare younger viewers.

One of the things I love about the story of Beauty and the Beast is it is one of transformation and redemption. The Beast, who once was a handsome yet very unkind prince, had his exterior transformed to reflect his heart – beastly. In a beautiful twist, the Beast finds love changing him, so his face no longer reflects his heart, and his beauty is hidden inside an ugly shell.

At the same time, the village hunk, Gaston, never changes. His handsome exterior hides an ugly heart, and the only one he ever seems to love is himself.

The fairy tale is not a spiritual one, but it can remind me of some spiritual lessons. The first being that I need to remember to look deeper than someone’s exterior, and that even someone who is seems snarly has more to offer. It’s a big reminder that while man can look at the outside, only God sees the heart.

Finally, this story reminds us that love is transformative in so many ways. Like the Beast, we are ugly inside and out until God’s love gets a hold of us. When it does, it can truly change our whole world and those around us.

Have any of you seen Beauty and Beast? What did you think? I’d love to hear about it!

 

When You Walk Through the Valley It’s Nice to Have Someone Go With You

I don’t personally know Kelly Minter, but I will be forever grateful to her.

In the months following my brother’s death, I did one of her Bible studies with my Sunday school class. I wasn’t in a place to really come up with my own lessons, and I had done several of Minter’s studies in the past. All of them had been excellent.

Minter is a quietly intense teacher, and her studies have space for both digging deep and quiet reflection. Stepping into I, II and III John was just what my tattered soul needed during that valley time.

It is always amazing to me that God brings what we need when we need it. In Psalms 119, it says over and over that His Word is our strength and our help. I know, for me personally, it was a deep balm that helped to heal the deep wound in my heart.

The Bible study came with videos that I showed in class, but you certainly do not need them to do the study (although they are very good!).

Minter spends the bulk of her time in I John which is the longest of the three epistles. I John can be a bit convoluted, so walking through the book with Kelly was a great way to dive deep and really get a lot out of it.

I have also really loved Minter’s other studies which include Ruth: Loss, Love and Legacy; No Other Gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols; and Nehemiah: A Heart That Can Break.

She has a new study that came out this fall that I am looking forward to doing called All Things New which is a study of 2 Corinthians.

So, what are some Bible studies you’ve loved? I’d love to hear about them!

A Review of The Real God

I’ve always wondered if you visit what is now Israel and surrounding countryside, if you’ll find piles of stones scattered in odd spots. I don’t know about you, but whenever I read about the Israelites, it seems like every time God delivered them from something, He told them to build a memorial by piling up stones which I always found a bit odd.

I mean, how do you forget that God parted the Red Sea? How do you forget that He changed bitter waters into sweet or defeated an enemy? It’s always seemed strange to me that the Israelites seemed to have such short attention spans.

But I’m the same way. Chip Ingram’s latest book, The Real God: How He Longs for You to See Him, has been like those piles of memorial stones for me.

While the book is well-written and engaging, if you have been a believer for any length of time, nothing in it should be new.  After a few introductory chapters – mostly on how important it is to have a clear view of who God actually is and not how we imagine Him to be – the book hits seven main characteristics of God.

These characteristics include God’s goodness, sovereignty, holiness, wisdom, justice, love and faithfulness. These are not new concepts to me, and they aren’t even just head knowledge either.

I have personally experienced God’s goodness. I’ve witnessed His faithfulness firsthand when my brother died almost two years ago (you can read about it HERE). I’ve been blown away when I glimpse just how big and holy God is, and I remember being weepy for a week when I truly understood just how much God loved me – not the whole world but me.

Yet, my memory is short. Daily life intrudes and the amazing grows familiar. The loud voices of this world shout down the quiet truths. My heart knowledge drifts back to head knowledge.

I took my time reading Ingram’s book, devoting a week to each chapter on God’s character. I read through the verses in those chapters and wrote them out. I looked up original meanings and meditated on what God’s Word had to say about Him.

You see, this book was very timely for me. One of the things I want to really explore this year is what is truly means to be God’s daughter. So often, I think we, as believers, don’t step fully into the role God has for us. When we don’t do that, we miss out on so much

I know not everyone will want to spend that long on this book, but it was a huge blessing to me. The Real God brought me face to face again with just who God is. The book pressed His reality more deeply into my heart – my own little stone pile memorial in book form.

The thing is, before I can truly step into what it means to be God’s child, I have to know the Father. It makes all the difference! I think Ingram says it best.

“Nothing in all your life will impact your relationship with God , your relationship with people, your self-view, your decisions, and your purpose like the way you think of God.”  ~Chip Ingram

 

It’s Almost 2017 – Are You Ready for a New Year?

I’m going to let you in on my dirty, little secret – despite being somewhat of a free spirit, and naturally unorganized, I really love this time of year with all the planners and checklists and spreadsheets and goal-making series. It makes me giddy with the possibility that this year I’ll find the perfect planner or system and suddenly become a productive whirlwind!

For many years, I would sit down on or around New Year’s and write out detailed resolutions – usually with main categories and subcategories. Looking back now, it’s kind of laughable that I thought it was possible to accomplish two pages full of goals. Nevertheless, each year,  I’d carefully record them in a pretty notebook. Then I’d tuck the notebook away on my bedside bookshelf, and promptly forget about them. I don’t think I ever opened those notebooks up again all year. I had dreams, but no plan to reach them. Because I had no plan, the urgent often muscled out the important.

Over the past few years, I’ve been slowly learning narrow down my goals and then figuring out the steps that make those dreams a reality while still doing the daily stuff -like cleaning my house once in a while and making sure my family doesn’t have to wear dirty clothes or go naked.  As a dreamer, an idealist and an optimist, I have a very bad habit of underestimating how much time things take and am notorious for overbooking myself. Practical has never been my strong suit. It’s taken me a long time to understand that focus is my friend when it comes to accomplishing my goals – not trying to do ALL the things.

But before I ever sit down and work on my goals and the steps towards achieving them, I’ve found it’s important to look at five things. Whether you use a fancy planner (I bought PowerSheets for the first time this year and am in love!!!), or you just pull out a single subject notebook and jot things down, the whole reason to even have goals is to live the one life God has given you with intention – not just do more stuff.

Look Behind You

It’s really hard to know where you are heading, if you have no idea where you’ve been. Take a morning or afternoon to really assess this past year. What worked? What didn’t work? What’s weighing on you and what has brought you joy? Make a list of things you feel proud to have accomplished. Make a list of things you said yes to, but wished you hadn’t. Really evaluate what worked and what didn’t. This isn’t an exercise in beating yourself up. This is an exercise in simply seeing what worked and what didn’t, so you can better craft your days this year. Pray that God would open your eyes to things you need to let go of or move on from. You might be surprised at what He shows you!

Look at Your Commitments.

I am a somewhat visual person, so it helps me to visually see how my hours, days and weeks are spent. Since I tend to not have a realistic grasp on time (always the optimist!), it really helps me to time block a typical week and month which gives me a visual idea of how much free time I actually have. First, I take a blank weekly grid that has an hourly agenda for each day. I use markers to color off the time blocks that are taken up by my current commitments. For instance, I teach every morning, so I would block off and color each day from 8:30 to 11:30, with a longer time block on Fridays which I use as my planning/prep day. Then, I take a blank monthly calendar and fill in the monthly/weekly commitments. By having this visual map of my weekly and monthly commitments, it is much easier for me to tell people no, rather than continuing to add to an already busy schedule. I have a really hard time telling people no. That’s why I do the exercise above. I also have a quote from Arabah Joy up by my computer to remind me to not say yes so much, that I end up inadvertently telling God no.

 

Look at Your Relationships

Are you so busy that you rarely have any uninterrupted time with your spouse? Do you always have good intentions to visit your parents or siblings, but can’t seem to get around to it? When was the last time you and a friend had an adventure together? When was the last time you just enjoyed a free evening with your family? While it is great to be productive, that is not an end unto itself.  No matter how good your intentions (you know the saying about what the road to hell is paved with, right?), if you don’t clear out some space for the people in your life, your relationships will suffer. God created us for community. If you never have time for community (or even the people in your own immediate family), that is a red flag that something needs to change.

Look at How You Want to Spend Your Days

I actually got this idea from Amy Lynn Andrews. (If you are at all involved with anything online, you NEED to sign up for her Useletter – awesome stuff and the one email I read every single week).  Instead of looking at these big, giant goals or dreams, (which can be overwhelming) look at how you want to spend your days. How are you wired? I’m not saying God isn’t going to ask you to ever step out of your comfort zone, but how has He wired you? There are clues to God’s calling in your life in how you are made and what brings you joy. For example, if you think you want to start a photography business, but you dread having to meet new people and make small talk, you might want to rethink those goals. That doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t be a photographer, but maybe instead of booking senior sessions and weddings, you need to focus on fine art or landscape photography that you can sell. By really looking at how you enjoy spending your time, it makes it easier to give yourself permission to pursue the dreams that God has planted in your heart.

Look In Front of You

Where do you want to be a year from now? How do you want your life to look? Nothing is more frustrating than feeling stuck and like you are spinning your wheels. Just as we can’t know where we’re going until we look where we are, we also can’t reach our destinations unless we decide where it is we want to go. (Say that 10 times fast!) We would think someone was crazy if they left for vacation but didn’t have any directions on how to reach that destination. Many of us, though, head into the New Year without a clue of where we are headed. As someone once said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” While God often doesn’t give us a detailed map, we usually can see the big idea of where He is point us. Look at what the steps are to go from where you are and where God is pointing you and starting heading in that direction.

It’s  NOT About Doing More

This post isn’t about adding more to an already full plate. This isn’t about squeezing one more thing into your already busy day. This is about living life on purpose.

So, how do you prepare for the New Year? I’d love to hear about it, so please share your favorite ways you are gearing up for 2017 in the comments!

Blessings, Rosanne

 

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