Reviews

Book Review: Refresh

Today I am reviewing Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by Shona & David Murray.

Today I am reviewing Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by Shona & David Murray.

description of the book from the publisher:

Life can be overwhelming. Sometimes it feels as if everything and everyone demands all of our time, our resources, our energy, and our very lives. Writing to women in the midst of this busy, do-it-all culture, husband-and-wife team Shona and David Murray offer practical tips for living at a more sustainable pace and avoiding exhaustion, depression, and anxiety. Sharing personal stories of their own struggles with overwhelming demands, they give counsel on everything from sleep to social media, relationships to recreation, and exercise to eating. This book encourages women to cultivate a healthy approach to life motivated and moderated by Christ’s transforming grace.

As usual, my five point review:

The premise of Refresh focuses on evaluating our lives through various lenses such as rest, relaxation, reduction, etc. Each of the ten chapters begins with the letter R and is called a “station” at the Refresh Gym. If you read the introduction, you’ll note that Refresh is a feminized adaption (by Shona, presumably) of of a book that David Murray wrote for men, Reset. I found the gym analogy a bit cheesy and did wonder how many women that imagery would appeal to. That aside, I would recommend the book. It began with Shona’s story, detailing her journey towards burn out. The trajectory introduced by the book argues that most (Christian) women are somewhere on this spectrum: stressed –> anxious –> overwhelmed –> burned out –> sad –> depressed –> suicidal (p. 24). I would agree with that notion; I think in our culture it is tough to not fit into one of those categories. I wasn’t clear if that trajectory was research based or not, because I would perhaps organize the spectrum differently, but for the sake of this review: I don’t think it matters.

Though I did not find the majority of this book to be “new” information, what I did wholeheartedly appreciate was the balance between psychological/medical research, self-help tips and tricks, and Gospel truth throughout this book. This was particularly poignant in discussions of physical and mental health, areas that the church doesn’t often address.

The Bible … guides us to care for both the body and the soul. The apostle Paul presents his theology of the body in 1 Corinthians 6:9–20. He starts by admitting that the human body has been damaged by sin (vv. 9–10). However, that doesn’t mean we just forget the body. No, Paul says Christ’s redemption is not just for the soul but also for the body. It’s a full-body and a full-soul salvation. “The body is . . . for the Lord,” insists Paul, “and the Lord for the body” (v. 13). He made it, saved it, and maintains an eternal interest in it. (p. 68)

One of the aspects of the book that I did not like was the approach to relaxation. There was great conversation about the Sabbath, but otherwise the application of annual vacations and daily personal times was a bit too privileged, specific, and (in my opinion) did not give room for factors such as family preferences, finances, and circumstances that do not allow for this. For instance, staycations were not encouraged because “being home” and “not doing anything” was not restful enough. I love vacations and I love personal time, but I know many people who logistically and financially cannot make things like that work, so the chapter seemed a bit exclusionary.

The number one thing I appreciated about this book was the recurring theme about vocation and work. This is so rare in Christian books written for women! Again, there was some privileged discussion here–a “choice” to work (not reality for all women, I know). Priorities in the workplace, balancing family and ministry and personal faith and work, and also accepting imperfection are all addressed at length. Other chapters addressed friendship, family matters, raising children in the faith, and our own personal relationships with God.

In general, I found Refresh to be thought provoking and helpful, a good analysis of how we can deal with life in our busy culture in a healthy, Christ-centered manner. The book closed with some thoughts for living the grace-paced life. So encouraging!

But God has taught me that, no, the grace-paced life is not only his will but more honoring to him. For me, to pace myself means less of my efforts and more of God’s grace. I have had to learn to fight hard against unbiblical, false guilt and personal expectations. I have learned to look up to God before looking across to people and ask: “What does God want me to do right now?” The key is to grasp that pacing ourselves is biblical, whereas living the fast, frantic life is not. It takes faith to believe that and to follow through with it. To live it is in fact a dying to self—a dying to our self-will, our self-sufficiency, and our self image. Have you understood frantic living versus grace-paced living in that way before? (p. 173-174)

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Crossway. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to Crossway Blog Review Program for the chance to read this great book!

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Reviews

Book Review: The Sound of Rain

In search of a wonderful book to read during the upcoming holiday season? The Sound of Rain by Sarah Loudin Thomas is just what you’re looking for! 

In search of a wonderful book to read during the upcoming holiday season? The Sound of Rain by Sarah Loudin Thomas is just what you're looking for!

description of the book from the publisher:

After a terrible mine accident in 1954, Judd Markley abandons his poor Appalachian town for Myrtle Beach. There he meets the beautiful and privileged Larkin Heyward, who dreams of helping people like those he left behind. Drawn together amid a hurricane, they wonder what tomorrow will bring—and realize that it may take a miracle for them to be together.

As usual, my five point review:

  • From the opening pages, you will be pulling for the main characters–Judd and Larkin alike. Both characters, though remarkably different, with various goals and motivations, are passionate through and through. They are likable and you will be rooting for them to succeed. The romance element is sweet, believable, and present in the story without being the sole focus.
  • The secondary characters are also incredible. Granny Jane, Ben, George… though each has their own strengths (and weaknesses!), their role in the story was instrumental to its conclusion. I wish there was space for their motivations to be shared more! Especially George’s. Maybe a space for a sequel?
  • Christian fiction as a whole has changed substantially over the past few years (maybe longer?). I appreciated this book and the author for crafting a story where the characters’ faith did play a role in their life via convictions, priorities, and decisions but the telling of the story did not at all appear preachy.
  • I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a side of drama and romance. Larkin is a strong female lead and her struggles epitomize the challenges women have faced throughout history, so I think her character would be a great influence for many.
  • All in all, I just have to say: what a beautiful book. From the gorgeous cover to the lyrical writing to the great sense of place (1950s Myrtle Beach and Appalachian West Virginia and Kentucky), this book is unmatched. The author is also a wonderful storyteller, dedicated to the craft of writing and not just churning out the next book. I can’t wait to read more by Sarah Loudin Thomas!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to Bethany House for the chance to read this great book!

Give your Christmas a makeover with this practical approach to help your family learn what it means to truly celebrate their Savior. Learn more in my review of Total Christmas Makeover.
Reviews

Book Review: Total Christmas Makeover

Give your Christmas a makeover with this practical approach to help your family learn what it means to truly celebrate their Savior. Learn more in my review of Total Christmas Makeover.
Give your Christmas a makeover with this practical approach to help your family learn what it means to truly celebrate their Savior. Learn more in my review of Total Christmas Makeover.
description of the book from the publisher:
In the bustle of the Christmas season, it can be easy to get swept up in all of the things to do. But it’s important to pause and remember that our priority should be to spend time celebrating Christ’s birth and not forget to invite Jesus to his own party.
Christmas is far more than a celebration of an event from long ago or a modern holiday centered around shopping. Mindfully take time to listen to how God continues to speak through the Christmas story as the Gospel narratives centered around the birth of Jesus provide encouragement and revelation concerning the love of God and his wisdom for us today.
In Total Christmas Makeover, author and Bible teacher Melissa Spoelstra provides a practical approach for you and your family to turn your attention toward God’s grace day-by-day as you prepare for Christmas. This 31-day devotional presents key scriptures, ideas to implement with each reading, and questions for reflection to guide you in rediscovering rituals, relationship, and rest to connect you more deeply with Christ this holiday season.
As usual, my five point review:
  • Devotionals can be really hit or miss–they can be too serious, too fluffy, too focused on a particular audience, or so many other “toos.” There are several times of the year where devotionals can be really helpful, in my opinion. Without going into too much detail about the church calendar, I believe that God has given us times of the year to refocus on Him. Christmas is one of those times! Melissa Spoelstra’s devotional is a great way to not just get “into the holiday spirit” but also keep Christ part of your celebration.
  • The book is divided into three sections: rituals, relationship, and rest, with ten days of devotionals that relate to each theme. These themes are extracted from the author’s study of Biblical celebrations (Passover, festivals, Day of Atonement, etc.). She explains, “these were times of remembrance to help focus on God’s character and historical moments of His faithfulness” (p. 2). That’s not how we celebrate holidays, is it? But that’s how we should… how I would like to.
  • Each devotion begins with scripture, printed right in the book to make it easy to read. The devotion itself is about two pages long and has a short prayer. The next two pages include reflection questions and practical application points. Though much of the “devotion” portion itself is directed towards women, the scripture, reflection questions, and application points could definitely be used in a family setting to encourage your family to seek after Christ during the Christmas season.
  • As with all devotionals or “Christian” books, good ones make you think. While I haven’t read every devotion yet (I wanted to save some for December!!), the ones I did read have caused me to consider what our family’s holiday celebration will look like as our son grows up. Of course we still want to be part of our family of origins’ celebrations but we also want to make our own rituals in Nashville… with our church, our neighbors, our friends, and as our own family. Balancing that is hard, and I don’t have any answers except to say that things will come naturally in time. I hope. 🙂
  • All in all, Total Christmas Makeover is a great devotional for the upcoming holiday season. It is short and sweet, but thoughtful and practical. Best of all, it is Christ-centered. I hope you will find a copy to read with me this Christmas season!
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About the author:
Melissa Spoelstra is a popular women’s conference speaker, Bible teacher, and writer who is madly in love with Jesus and passionate about helping women of all ages to seek Christ and know Him more intimately through serious Bible study. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Bible Theology and enjoys teaching God’s Word to diverse groups and churches within the body of Christ. She is the author of the “First Corinthians: Living Love When We Disagree,” “Joseph: The Journey to Forgiveness,” and “Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World Bible” studies and “Total Family Makeover: 8 Steps to Making Disciples at Home” book. She lives in Dublin, Ohio, with her pastor husband and four kids.
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Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Litfuse. However, I was not required to write a positive review and received no compensation. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks for the chance to read this great book!
Do you know how to make rest a reality? For Christians, Sabbath rest is what God calls us to and what He wants for us... but it's hard. This book is a great read on Sabbath rest--it is practical, encouraging, and challenging all in one! I highly recommend it! Rhythms of Rest by Shelly Miller
Reviews

Book Review: Rhythms of Rest

Do you know how to make rest a reality? For Christians, Sabbath rest is what God calls us to and what He wants for us… but it’s hard. This book, Rhythms of Rest by Shelly Miller, is a great read on Sabbath rest–it is practical, encouraging, and challenging all in one! I highly recommend it!

Do you know how to make rest a reality? For Christians, Sabbath rest is what God calls us to and what He wants for us... but it's hard. This book is a great read on Sabbath rest--it is practical, encouraging, and challenging all in one! I highly recommend it! Rhythms of Rest by Shelly Miller

description of the book from the publisher:

“This book breaks all your preconceived notions about Sabbath.”–Mark Batterson, New York Times bestselling author of The Circle Maker

This book is for anyone who is weary–who longs for rest but doesn’t know how to make it a reality. Shelly Miller, a sought-after mentor on Sabbath-keeping, shows how even busy people can implement a rhythm of rest into their lives–from small windows of time to a whole morning or day. With encouraging stories from people in different stages in life, Miller shares practical advice for not only finding physical refreshment but also restoring your soul. You will learn:

· Simple ways to be intentional about rest
· Ideas for tuning out distractions and tuning in to God
· How meals and other times with friends and family can be Sabbath experiences

Sabbath is a gift from God to be embraced, not a spiritual hoop to jump through. Discover how genuine rest is possible today.

“Shelly Miller writes from her soul–one that has been seekingrest in the midst of heavy transition and the busyness of life. What you learn will help you love God more deeply.”–Margaret Feinberg, author of Live Loved and Fight Back With Joy

As usual, my five point review:

  • When you think about the concept of Sabbath, what are your initial reactions? I don’t think American Christians practice Sabbath very well. I know I don’t–though I have tried to change routines of my week so that things like grocery shopping and cleaning don’t get pushed to Sundays after church. When I’ve talked to my friends about Sabbath, words that come up often include legalistic, difficult, rigid. What I love about Rhythms of Rest is that Shelly Miller encourages us, as Christians, to push back against these notions and embrace the rest of Sabbath through grace.
  • What exactly does that mean, embracing the rest of Sabbath through grace? Miller encourages flexibility and grace with the hows of Sabbath in your life. She doesn’t read the Bible as saying that we need to do x, y, and z to experience and practice Sabbath rest. As I am rereading that, I realize that could look to some as a misinterpretation of scripture… but I don’t think it is. The timing of your Sabbath can vary depending on your profession, family life, and weekly schedule. God isn’t legalistic and His call to rest may vary depending on your stage of life: caring for babies can’t stop on Sundays, after all. Those in ministry work on Sundays, so their day of rest should be a different day. The author gives lots of great examples of how you can rest in Sabbath, and also encourages you to seek God to see how He is calling you to do so.
  • The examples are one of the best parts of this book. Each chapter includes various stories and situations (many gleaned from the author’s Sabbath Society) about Sabbath rest, challenges, and suggestions. The suggestions are simple (move your chores to Saturday, make soup on Saturday to eat on Sunday, etc.) but they are powerful: great illustrations of how one act can set the stage for rest.
  • The end of the book has a section with questions for each chapter. I think these questions could be used in a variety of ways: a Bible study or small group (maybe even read some of the scripture passages in each chapter to enhance your discussion), personal journaling, family conversation… lots of options! Though Miller provides simple suggestions for change, these questions are not simple–many are deep and thought-provoking.
  • My one caution with the book has to do with how the author interprets the hows and whys of hard life situations, like miscarriage and illness. She shares so many personal stories from her own life (like her desire to move to London) and from her friends, acquaintances, and participants in her Sabbath Society. Her understanding and explanation of the situations can be a little harsh and perhaps(!) not entirely Biblical. At the very least, her views, to me, are not theologically sound and could be discouraging, triggering, or offensive to some people. I’m not saying she’s right or wrong–it’s hard to know without more information. But putting them in print seems a little iffy to me, and was my one hang up with the book. Overall though, I found Rhyhms of Rest to be encouraging and challenging. I would definitely recommend it to others.

To sum it up…

Following God’s call to Sabbath has become something I have felt more convicted about in recent years, especially since the birth of my son. My husband and I work full time so it’s hard to get everything done around the house AND spend quality time as a family on the weekend AND carve out space for the Lord. I’ve especially been thinking about how I want to model my faith for my son. I think practicing Sabbath and teaching rest is so important.

Recently I read an article about Sabbath that has GREAT suggestions for celebrating the Sabbath with kids. Many of them will have to wait until my son is older, but some are still doable now. I’m going to close with a quote included in that article that has really stuck with me.

“Did it ever occur to you, as a parent that between the birth and the age of twenty-one years there are three solid years of Sundays — an amount of time almost equal to the number of years given to an entire course of college training? The Creator has not laid upon parents the responsibilities of parenthood without giving them ample time and opportunity to discharge these obligations to Him, to themselves, and to their children.” 

— Sylvanus Stall, D.D.

Things to think about! Even though the reality of implementing rest is challenging, it is so important! I’d love to hear your thoughts about Sabbath in the comments.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to Bethany House for the chance to read this great book!

When God Made You - a book review on thepajamachef.com #bloggingforbooks #bookreview
Reviews

Book Review: When God Made You

Read on to learn about a wonderful children’s book, When God Made You. I know we’ll read this over and over and over again to our little one! I received a complementary copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

When God Made You - a book review on thepajamachef.com #bloggingforbooks #bookreview

description of the book from the publisher:

YOU, you… God thinks about you.
God was thinking of you long before your debut.

From early on, children are looking to discover their place in the world and longing to understand how their personalities, traits, and talents fit in. The assurance that they are deeply loved and a unique creation in our big universe is certain to help them spread their wings and fly.

Through playful, charming rhyme and vivid, fantastical illustrations, When God Made You inspires young readers to learn about their own special gifts and how they fit into God’s divine plan as they grow, explore, and begin to create for themselves.

‘Cause when God made YOU, somehow God knew
That the world needed someone exactly like you!

When God Made You - a book review on thepajamachef.com #bloggingforbooks #bookreview

As usual, my five point review:

  • What a QUALITY book. Christian kids’ books are always a toss up in terms of quality and imagination… sometimes they try too hard to incorporate scripture and therefore lose their audience–but the quality of the story here is just great. Obviously from the title you can tell that it’s a faith-based story… but that doesn’t mean you lose anything. The story as well as the construction of the book means it’ll be appreciated and read for years to come.
  • What a BEAUTIFUL book. You’re always told to “not just a book by the cover.” But we’re human–we do. Oops! The illustrations in this book are gorgeous and really engaging with kids–you can find samples on the Amazon page (p.s. not an affiliate link). David Catrow did a great job! Even though my son doesn’t have the attention span (yet) to read/listen to every word on every page, he loves looking at the beautiful drawings. Pointing to the little girl dancing is his favorite so far.
  • What a FUN book. The rhymes, the illustrations, everything just draws you in. My son is one and while he loves books, whether he will enjoy reading a book that I won’t let him eat, wave in the air, or otherwise play with (aka anything that’s not a board book!) is a toss up. When we’ve read this book, he’s engaged and interested. Sure, we sometimes skip ahead a few pages to find his favorite pictures, but that’s to be expected. I’m just impressed that he stays engaged with as much of it as he does. Kudos to Matthew Paul Turner!
  • My only complaint about this book is how repetitive it is. Some parts seem almost word for word identical. I guess that’s the style though. A few of the rhymes seem awkward to read aloud too, but that’s not a huge deal for me.
  • All in all, this is a great book that families will enjoy reading again and again. It has a wonderful message and great illustrations. This would be a great gift–baby showers, birthdays, Christmas, you name it!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to for the chance to read this great book!

When God Made You - a book review on thepajamachef.com #bloggingforbooks #bookreview

What children’s books are you loving lately?