English Lessons: A Review

What is it like to go from a Bible-Belt Texas home, where your father is a local pastor and world-renowned Christian author, to a historical, yet predominantly atheist, English town? Scary? Exciting? A little bit of both?

In Andrea Lucado’s first book, English Lessons: The Crooked Little Grace-Filled Path of Growing Up, Andrea gives readers a glimpse into her time as a student studying English Literature in Oxford, England. In the 221-page memoir, she shares the challenges faced and conquered, the lessons learned, and the person she became while living in Oxford. This is a story of doubt, questions, loneliness, identity, and confusion penetrated by heavenly answers, comfort, and strength.

Andrea Lucado grew up with church as her life. Could you expect any less from the daughter of Max Lucado? Andrea’s life in her Texas hometown was centered around the Christian faith. She attended a Christian school. She went to church camp every summer. All of her friends went to church. So, when Andrea moved to Oxford for a study-abroad graduate program, the cultural barrier was only part of her problem. Andrea felt alone in her faith in England. What is more, this loneliness and constant bombardment by a secular, atheistic culture left her questioning her faith. Yet, in the midst of her questioning, Andrea found strength in God.

Although this memoir chronicles the serious issue of Christian identity in a lost world, the book is not without its light side. Andrea also details her trip’s some amusing perks. In the book’s 14 chapters, she discusses

  • Suffering caffeine withdrawal symptoms while fasting coffee for Lent (“In Oxford I resolved that if I could make it in life without coffee for forty days, I could do anything.” -Page 85)
  • Having one, only ONE, battery stolen out of her bicycle headlight
  • Meeting an Austrian-Korean soulmate
  • Surviving in an English cottage with no microwave
  • Experiencing a Thames River moment or two
  • Arguing with a statue of Christian martyrs
  • Visiting a variety of movie-worthy British pubs

Andrea’s story is a testimony of God’s faithfulness in the midst of doubts and weaknesses. Her coming-of-age story is not your typical self-reliance, be-yourself mantra we find in society today. Rather, it is a story of Christian identity, of finding faith beneath the doubt, of facing fears and overcoming them in the grace of our Savior.

Pros:

  • Illustrations – I have to admit, one of my absolute favorite things about this book are the illustrations. The cover of this book immediately led me to anticipate great things inside. The black and white, watercolor-esque headings of each chapter are distinctly British, yet feminine and modern. Illustrator Hannah George’s contributions to this book add a new dimension to the memoir.
  • Use of Metaphors – From bicycle front lights to field crickets, Andrea utilizes a variety of metaphors to connect more strongly with her readers.
  • Writer’s Humor – Although this isn’t a comedic memoir, the reader gets a nice taste of Andrea’s youthful humor. Not too much for the seriousness of the memoir, but enough to bring a smile to your face.
  • CS. Lewis References – Can you really write a Christian memoir about studying at Oxford and not mention him? Bonus points in my book for bringing one of my favorite authors in on the action!

Cons:

  • Imagery – Although imagery is employed, I would have liked to have been able to visualize Oxford a little bit better through the descriptions written in the book. I think the book’s cover and the blurb on the back had me setting my hopes a little too high in this department, so I was a tad disappointed that I couldn’t quite get a full “mind’s eye view” of Oxford. Imagery is definitely used in the book, just not as much as I would have liked.

English Lessons is set to release on May 2nd in both hardcover and e-book editions. For more information, visit Waterbrook Multnomah or Amazon. For more information on Andrea Lucado and to get some behind the scenes coverage of the book, visit her blog.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Enjoy – A Review

Have you ever felt guilty for enjoying something innocent, like one chocolate chip cookie, a favorite TV show after a good day’s work, or time out for coffee with a friend? Has a fear of idolatry or a sense of legalism been tying you down from enjoying the good things in life God has given you? If you’re like me, these factors have plagued you at least once in life. But, in Trillia Newbell’s new book, Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts, we see the Biblical reason why we do not have to succumb to guilt, fear, or condemnation as we embrace the gifts of our Lord. In this 212-page book, Newbell explores how we can biblically enjoy things like friendship, recreation, and fellowship with Christ. “We enjoy because we know that the gift is given by God for our enjoyment,” Newbell explains. “The gift starts with God as the Giver. If we believe this and see all things as his gifts to us, we are free to abandon our man-made rules and self-imposed guilt and simply enjoy” (10).

Each of the book’s 11 chapters (with the exception of the introductory chapter) explores a different gift God has given us to enjoy. The topics covered include:

  • Friendship
  • Marital Intimacy
  • Work
  • Rest
  • Money and Giving
  • Food
  • Nature
  • The Arts (literature, art, music, dance, theater, etc.)
  • A Relationship with Jesus
  • Our Eternal Hope

In each of these chapters, Newbell ties the pure enjoyment of these things back to the Garden of Eden and God’s original purpose for them. She then goes on to explain how they have been affected by the Fall, the redeeming work of the cross, and the wait for total redemption with Christ’s return. A recurring theme in each chapter is God-centeredness over self-centeredness. Newbell explains that as we remember that every good thing is a gift from God, we come to focus on the Giver instead of fearing or idolizing the gift.

Throughout the book, Newbell also challenges her readers with what she calls “The Enjoy Project.” This is a list of 7-8 reflection and practice activities at the end of each chapter, meant to maximize the lessons for that chapter’s topic. This feature makes this book ideal for a weekly women’s group or Bible study. Each chapter could easily constitute a week’s discussion, and the activities in “The Enjoy Project” could easily become each day’s homework (1 activity per day).

Pros:

  • Numerous personal anecdotes and connections make the author seem much more personable and relatable.
  • The Enjoy Project makes the application of each chapter’s concepts easier and more meaningful.
  • Each topic is explored in a theologically sound manner, with evidence cited from Scripture to support the author’s claims.
  • This book is a refreshing weekend read. At 212 pages, it’s a fast book to read, and the content is refreshing to the soul. It certainly brightened my weekend!

Cons:

  • Although “The Enjoy Project” and the chapter content provide a few strategies for how to simply enjoy the gifts of God in light of the Giver, I wish there were a few more. This is merely personal opinion. I happen to be a very “How?” driven kind of person, and bulleted lists and structured procedures are my “thing.” I understand, however, why these were excluded from the book. Mrs. Newbell is trying to eliminate any legalistic attitudes from her readers’ minds, and the addition of steps/lists would likely hurt this goal. Still, I would have liked a few more suggestions, or even anecdotal examples, of how people practice enjoying the gifts of God.
  • This book is marketed as “Christian Living,” but it is written specifically for women. Just a heads up!

Enjoy is still a fairly new release, having made its public debut in December 2016. The book is available in both print and e-book forms. For more information on the author, visit her website at www.trillianewbell.com. Enjoy can be purchased on Amazon or through the WaterBrook Multnomah Publisher’s website.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

Is the Bible Good for Women? A Review

Photo: Amazon.com

The title of Wendy Alsup’s book is all revealing – Is the Bible Good for Women? Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture. In the 199 pages that follow, Alsup identifies the questions many women have been asking about what God expects from them, and then she answers them by allowing the “Bible to be its own best commentary” – in other words, using the Bible to understand the Bible.

What does the author mean by the question, “Is the Bible good for women?” Aslup explains that many people consider some of the passages in the Bible directed at women – such as 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11 – to be restrictive of what the author calls “the inherent dignity of women.” How can a Bible that calls for submission and identifies women as “helpers” to men be good for the female sex?

What follows is a masterful exploration of Scripture that clarifies so many misconceptions we as Christian women may have held about how God values us and what He expects of us.

Each chapter focuses on answering a single question. The answering of each of these question prepares the reader for the following chapter’s question, so this book builds upon itself. In the first chapter, Alsup establishes what she calls a “Jesus-Centered Approach” to Scripture – that is, seeing the Bible as a whole document that testifies to the need, appearance, crucifixion, resurrection, and anticipation of the return of Christ. Then, she delves into Genesis 1-3 in Chapters 2, 3, and 4. Here, she unpacks God’s purpose for the female sex (spoiler alert: This totally changed my outlook on womankind being “simply” a “helper”), the Fall of man and how that marred the fulfillment of that purpose, and finally, the need for a Redeemer, the coming of Christ, and the restoration he provides towards fulfilling God’s original purpose for womankind.

After establishing this key understanding of Scripture, Alsup then moves on to address the main question of the book – “Are women blessed or harmed by reading, understanding, and obeying Scripture as it has been handed down for generations?” (76). In Chapter 5, Alsup points out the need for defining “good,” explaining the world defines the word based on a temporal perspective, but God defines it based on eternity.

In Chapters 6-10, Alsup begins to explore specific passages of Scripture that spark controversy about the rights of women in the Bible. These passages include sexual ethics in Deuteronomy 22, the rape of Dinah, commandments for women to be silent in church, and the command for women to wear head-coverings in church. Alsup explains these passages to her readers in a way I really admired. I have noticed, often times, these passages are explained based on the culture of the day. While there is nothing wrong with this, I’ve often wondered if that’s really how the authors intended for them to be understood. If it was, why didn’t they offer a further explanation when they were writing the Scripture? Alsup approaches these “problem passages” differently. Instead of citing secular source documents or historical data on the culture of the Bible, she pulls passages straight from the Bible to contextualize Scripture. The connections she draws among passages, I feel, is theologically sound. No passages appear to be taken out of context or manipulated to woman’s advantage. What results is a clear, Jesus-centered, Biblical understanding of women’s God-given, “inherent dignity” and a deeper revelation of how much God loves us and seeks to protect us.

Pros of the Book:

  1. Each chapter is set up to answer a key question. This question-posing format makes for easy comprehension of a topic that has been muddled over the years.
  2. Alsup’s entire approach on her key question is strictly – and I mean strictly – Jesus-based. Although the law is referenced, it is viewed in light of the fact that Jesus has fulfilled it. This is fleshed out at the beginning of the book (Chapters 1-4) to allow the reader to approach the “harder” passages with a clear and Biblical understanding of truth.
  3. The beginning of each chapter features a summary of the previous chapter. This allows for more thorough comprehension and absorption of the material. It also makes it easier to set the book down and come back to it. This isn’t a book you have to read through all at once in order to really “get it.”
  4. The end of the book features a series of discussion questions to accompany each chapter. This makes this book an ideal resource for a women’s Bible study group or book club!

Cons of the Book:

  1. Some of the sentences are syntactically confusing due to long strings of prepositional phrases. Several times, I had to back-up and re-read a sentence or just slow down and mentally “sound it out” to make sense. However, this didn’t distract me very much from comprehending the argument.

Is the Bible Good for Women? is set to come out on March 21st, 2017 in both print and e-book editions. For more information on the author, you can visit her blogs – theologyforwomen.org and gospelcenteredwoman.com.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

I’m-A-Back!

Obviously, it’s been some time since I last posted. Lately, God’s been teaching me some things – mainly about how to seek Him first and how to set aside selfish ambition. Because I now realize that I started this blog for my own glory, maintaining it has not been in God’s plan for me these last months. But, I am learning and asking God to change my motives to ones that will bring Him glory. For right now, I’m only going to be blogging when I feel my motivations are aligned with what pleases Him. And I want to also change the tone of this blog. From now on, this blog is for Him, not about me. I want to focus on His goodness and the ways He works in the smallest things of my life, including the talents and interests He has entrusted to me for use in building His kingdom. Over these last few months, as God has turned my heart more towards Him, I have found my creativity level has been enhanced much more so than when I pursued creativity alone. How awesome is our Heavenly Father? What a testament to Matthew 6:33 – “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

All that to say, I’m back for today! One of my friends recently inquired about what kinds of projects I had been working on lately, since I hadn’t updated the blog for a while. So, I thought I’d organize and condense the last month or so of my “fun stuff” into one blog post.

During the month of December, I decided I wanted to de-clutter, organize, and update the look of my bedroom. One of my ideas was to start a hoop-art gallery on one of my empty walls, to create a bright, yet vintagey, feel. Well, I lost interest in re-decorating after a while (I’m blaming Pinterest for starting the whole idea in the first place!), but I did come out with a few hoop art pieces.

100_4642

 

100_4643

 

100_4645

 

100_4644

This is a “portrait” drawn by Vera Neville, the illustrator for my favorite book series – Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series. I used a transfer pencil to trace the back of a print-out of the image, then just ironed it onto some stabilized fabric. Viola! A pseudo-version of paint-by-number, embroidery style.

I also finished my first knitted sweater in the month of December – the Monet Garden Sweater pattern publicized by Red Heart. I used their Boutique Treasures yarn in the Portrait color scheme. This being my first sweater, it has some…imperfections. It’s a little snug, but that makes it extra warm. I don’t think this yarn is going to let any body heat escape. I’m half-way scared to wear it for fear I’ll get too hot and pass out! Here’s a close-up image of the “fabric,” as I’m too embarrassed to show you the actual form of the sweater. (Positive thought to self: I will improve!).

100_4648

I also began reading more during the last couple of months, especially in late December and early January. I received several books for Christmas and have already read over half of them. The titles were simply too good to “save for a snowy day.” The books below are most of the ones I have read over the last couple of months. All of them come highly recommended! (The book spine on the bottom lacks a title. It’s MaryJane’s Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook by MaryJane Butters – the editor of the magazine, MaryJane’s Farm. This book is a great DIY manual and inspiration source for everything farmgirl related.)

100_4646

Currently, I am working through a couple of books. One is a review book, so be on the lookout for the official review! The other one is…

100_4647

Merciful heavens, this book is loooooooooong. Because I’m casually reading it in between other, “more important” materials, I’m not sure when I will finish it. But, it’s been on my mental “To Read” list for a few years now, so I had to give it a shot.

As for current projects, I’m pretty much focusing on just one right now. This is Cardigan #1 of the two I plan to make as arrival gifts for twin second cousins! It’s not finished yet, hence the quite crude appearance. It’s very much a learn-as-I-go type of project, as was the sweater I talked about earlier. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed seeing it take shape.

100_4649

So, those are the highlights of my “fun stuff” for the past month or so. Things are getting busy again, as the new year gets underway, so I don’t anticipate quite as much extracurricular indulgence in the upcoming months. But I’m excited to see where God takes me, in terms of creativity, academics, and just life in general.

 

 

Catching Up

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so I thought I’d do a brief “catch up” on some of the things I’ve been up to.

Picnic Bread

Baking bread in the bread machine is always fun. Last week, I tried out a lovely recipe for Honey Wheat bread (not pictured), and the loaf turned out so tall and brown, like a masterpiece. Again, I can’t take credit for it…the machine did all the work.

 

100_4520

The only way to make homemade bread even better is to eat it with homemade butter…and in the great outdoors. I tried my hand at “churning” butter (i.e. putting cream in a mason jar and shaking the heck out of it). The results were pretty standard. I mean, how fancy can butter get by itself? But eating it with homemade bread on a breakfast picnic was super fun.

 

Bible Cover

A few weeks ago, I noticed my Bible cover was getting a little banged up. So, I decided to turn a piece of patchwork I had done into a “quilted” Bible cover. I used the tutorial written by Amanda at Simply Homemade, highly recommended!

 

Peacock Embroidery In Progress

This peacock is just a random design I found online. I traced it onto my fabric and am doing the outline in a stem stitch with royal blue thread. I’m thinking about adding in the Chinese characters for peacock next to the bird’s head to give it a more sophisticated look. Any thoughts?

 

100_4555

And another trip to the library yielded another stack of pretty books. I haven’t been in much of a reading mood for the last week or so, hence the stack of coffee table literature. Pictures are worth 1000 words, they say, so I’ll tell myself I’m “reading” the equivalent of War and Peace. 🙂

Happy Monday!

 

Curb Appeal

100_4513

Remember those herbs I planted several weeks ago? They are still alive, amazingly. The basil came up pretty fast. After thinning it out, I ended up with five plants. Four of them went into the bed by the curb, along with some Vinca flowers for decoration. A little bit of curb appeal, and bonus points for edibility (the basil, that is)!

Basil seedling.jpg

The thyme has also come up nicely. I’ve wound up with four plants and have gone ahead and transplanted them into a larger pot along with the extra basil seedling.

The parsley is doing pretty well. I might give it a few more days before transplanting. Ditto for oregano.

The rosemary…

I hold onto hope.

I actually thought it wasn’t going to come up at all. All of the other seeds had sprouted very quickly, but the rosemary pot was still just dirt. Then, I went to water them one morning and saw one tender shoot unfolding from the soil.

I didn’t know I could get that excited over a plant. The neighbors must think I’m crazy.

100_4517

I am really enjoying the little bit of gardening I have done this year. It’s really satisfying to see the fruits of your labor, literally, growing before your eyes. And, it’s a miracle that these plants have done so well. If they have survived me this far, I think everything is going to be OK.