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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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!

A book review about a topic that is recently near & dear to my heart... how to feed my baby!
Reviews

Book Review: The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers

Now that #BabyVolde has been eating solids for about a month, this is the perfect time to share my review of the book The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers by Anthony Porto, MD and Dina DiMaggio, MD. I received a complementary copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

A book review about a topic that is recently near & dear to my heart... how to feed my baby!

A description of the book from the publisher:

A comprehensive manual for feeding babies and toddlers during the crucial first years of life, written by a team of medical experts who are also parents.

All Your Questions about Feeding, Answered.

The choices of when, how, and what to feed your baby can be overwhelming. With The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers, you have the expertise of a team of pediatric medical and nutritional experts—who also happen to be parents—in a comprehensive manual that takes the guesswork out of feeding. This first-of-its-kind guide provides practical, easy-to-follow advice to help you navigate the nutrition issues, medical conditions, and parenting concerns that accompany feeding. With recipes, parenting stories, and recommendations based on the latest pediatric guidelines, this book will allow you to approach mealtime with confidence so you can spend more time enjoying your new family.

#BabyVolde making short work of some butternut squash!
As usual, my five point review:

  • From the first time I opened this book, the format drew me in. Each chapter discusses a specific age group: 0-3 months, 4-6 months, etc. And, the chapters are broken up by sub-headings in the table of contents so it is REALLY easy to find what you need. Topics include developmental milestones, medical concerns, and nutritional needs… as well as healthy recipes for you and your baby/toddler [once they are in the solid food stage, that is]. I also appreciated the length of the book: at 256 pages long, it’s a good size to share a lot of information but it doesn’t feel overwhelming.
  • My overall favorite part of the book was the perspective from which it was written: a team of pediatricians, a dietitian, a lactation consultant, and two family chefs who all happen to be parents. The result is a wonderful evidence-based yet realistic perspective about how you can feed your child at different stages AND how to deal with tricky situations like picky eating. You can read more about their goals here. As a librarian and a new mom, the evidence-based perspective was particularly important to me. There’s so much information available online that it can be hard to sift through, and this book took care of some of the legwork for me. I haven’t read it cover-to-cover [and it’s not really a book that you would do that with, anyway] but so far it is pretty unbiased especially about hot button issues like breastfeeding vs. formula feeding or when to start solids. I’m breastfeeding my baby, and didn’t start solids until he turned six months old but even if your baby eats formula and started solids at four months, this book will still be useful because it is not biased or judgy.
  • Also, the book is such an easy read, even if the medical field is unfamiliar and/or scary to you. There isn’t any medical jargon or technical details, and there is even a section about what to expect if you have to visit a specialist and how to prepare for that visit. Including details like that makes the book even more accessible and useful. I also appreciated the section on food allergies: what reactions to look for, what to do if a reaction DOES take place, etc. Calmed my nerves before giving my baby his first taste of solid food: sweet potatoes!
  • The recipes are simple and use real ingredients–I appreciate that so much and think other busy parents will too. I’ve only tried one recipe so far–the zucarrot puree [zucchini + carrots, roasted and pureed] but look forward to trying more as #BabyVolde expands his food horizons. 🙂 Right now, aside from his favorite mama milk, he eats: sweet potatoes, butternut squash, avocado, zucchini, carrots, oatmeal, some herbs and spices, and on Thanksgiving he tried turkey! While I know I can’t control whether my son will become a healthy, adventurous eater or not, I can introduce him to a variety of real foods to encourage him towards that end as much as possible. Some of the recipes for older babies/toddlers may seem a little too “adult” for them, but I think it’s always worth a shot introducing new foods to kids. If all we give kids is chicken nuggets, that’s all they will know and want. Some of you experienced parents might be laughing at me [and maybe I will laugh at myself in the future too], but I am pretty set on this. And I’m not going to be a short order cook, so this baby better learn to like a variety of foods. Ha! 🙂 Just kidding, but really…
  • Overall, this book is a great addition to any baby book and/or cookbook libraries. It includes a wide variety of information on nutritional needs, child development, as well as providing easy recipes that are realistic for busy parents to make for their kiddos. Since I love food and cooking so much, and value healthy eating for myself and my family, I want my son to grow up with that mindset as well. This book will surely help in that quest! I definitely recommend it to anyone who has or works with babies and toddlers.

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!

Reviews

Book Review: Delighting In God

Find out all about A.W. Tozer’s Delighting In God. It’s the intended follow-up to The Knowledge of the Holy and it’s powerful!

Find out all about A.W. Tozer's Delighting In God. It's the intended follow-up to The Knowledge of the Holy and it's powerful! - a book review on thepajamachef.com

A description of the book from the publisher:

Understand Your Life’s Purpose by Better Understanding God

“My worship grows and grows as my perception of God grows. God cannot grow. My perception of God grows as I experience Him day after day. I should be more capable of worshiping God today than I was ten or twenty years ago.”

Delighting in God is the message A.W. Tozer intended to be the follow-up to The Knowledge of the Holy. He demonstrates how the attributes of God–those things God has revealed about himself–are a way to understand the Christian life of worship and service. Because we were created in the image of God, to understand who we are, we need to understand who God is and allow His character and nature to be reflected through us.

We are here to serve and adore Him, and we can only fulfill that role by acknowledging who He is. This is the essence of the Christian life and the source of all our fulfillment, joy, and comfort.

As usual, my five point review:

  • Tozer’s classic The Knowledge of the Holy has been a book that has had a meaningful impact on my life. I think sometimes Christian women especially can have a more “emotional” approach to faith and can forget that we need to engage our minds with God too. The Knowledge of the Holy challenged me to do that, so I was interested in reading this “follow up,” published long after Tozer’s death. I was not disappointed–but keep reading to find out why.
  • Since this is a posthumously published book, I always am interested to know how it came together. With editor James L. Snyder, this book is a compiled collection of selected sermons preached late in Tozer’s life. Like with The Knowledge of the Holy, this book focuses on the attributes of God and our perceptions of him. But it’s not just a repeat of the former book, but rather a refined call to examine these attributes based on what Tozer learned as he continued to know God more.
  • This book is challenging, so I’ll be honest: it took me awhile to get through it, but it is worth it. Sermons can be hard to read, especially when they were prepared in a different era. But that is the beauty of Tozer–he is very timeless and his call to the church to follow God is still very relevant today.
  • One issue I have to mention with the book [that really could go either way, depending on your perspective] is that it’s edited–and by someone from the current era. This can be good because it can make it more readable, but it can also be bad because I think some of Tozer’s voice [but not his perspective] gets lost. Not a huge deal to me but some may be irritated by this.
  • All in all, this is a powerful and convicting book and is recommended for those who are fans of Tozer, especially if you want a more accessible way to read his sermons.

What are you reading lately?

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!