Review: Unashamed by Christine Caine + Giveaway

When I was in fifth grade, I tried out for the school choir. When I didn’t make the cut, my music teacher told me I probably shouldn’t sing anymore. I went from loving to sing to mouthing the words in the back row, worried I was throwing off the angelic voices of my classmates. To this day, I only sing in large, loud groups, where I’m sure no one can hear me.

Shame comes in many forms and spans a wide spectrum. My shame (which would be more on the embarrassment end of the spectrum) doesn’t compare to someone’s shame of childhood trauma or abuse. But, the root of shame, the feelings of inadequacy, of not being enough, are similar.

_140_245_Book.1940.cover.jpgChristine Caine is no stranger to shame. As she tells stories of her childhood in her new book Unashamed, I wonder at how amazing her journey is. Growing up, she was told again and again that she wasn’t good enough because she’s a girl, because she’s smart, because she’s a leader. She endured sexual abuse from a young age. She was even adopted from a place of shame, not one of joy and expectation.

And yet, she overcomes. Through friends who are daring enough to be honest, through counseling, and through years of work and recognizing that life isn’t about arrival but about journey, Caine learns to reconcile her shame. She learns strategies and attitudes that help overcome the deep-rooted shame.

While Caine’s experiences may be on a different end of the spectrum than mine, her wisdom and encouragement are for anyone. She offers solutions rooted in scripture that speak to anyone who has ever felt shame.

I gave this book 3 stars because, while I was inspired by her story and appreciated her advice, the style was a bit too charismatic for me. I also felt that there was an assumption that we all have experienced extreme levels of shame, and that simply isn’t true. (Thankfully.) But, overall, this was an encouraging book.

And maybe, I need to get over my shame and join the choir again…

Have you ever had an adult tell you to stop doing something you loved? How did you overcome that?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Unashamed. Leave a comment about why this book speaks to you and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, June 10, 2016. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: NIV Study Bible for Women

I have two book goals for this year: Read through the Bible (or at least get started… I began reading in April and I’m only in March of the reading plan) and reading War and Peace. I still have some time for that one, but book clubs and other interesting reads keep getting in the way. We’ll see if this is an achievable goal.

I’m using the same study Bible I’ve owned since before college. I’ve always wondered about themed Bibles, but have never identified with the pink floral women’s Bibles that line bookstore shelves.

_140_245_Book.1719.coverWhen I saw the new NIV Bible for Women on the BookLook Blogger’s site, I didn’t think much about it – until I started seeing the Instagram feeds of some of my favorite bloggers and writers…. When I saw that this Bible was filled with strong, intelligent women who speak of today’s issues, I wanted to read more.

The subtitle: Fresh insights for thriving in today’s world is a perfect description of the essays featured in this Bible. Part blog post, part reflection, part devotion, the essays reflect the authors’ voices and experiences while linking to the featured verses. They are interspersed throughout the Bible, breaking up the text and giving modern insights into the ancient Scripture.

The Biblical text itself is the standard New International Version. It contains no notes on the Scripture or any other maps or references. It’s more like a devotional Bible than a study Bible. You’ll get great insights from women about the text, but none of the essays really helped me understand a particular passage in more depth.

It’s a bit difficult rating a Bible, so my rating is solely on the essays. I went through and read ones by authors I recognized as well as ones I randomly flipped to. There are two reasons I gave this a 4/5 star rating: First, I wish the essays were a bit more spread out. For the most part, they are sprinkled throughout the Bible, but there are several sections with 3-4 essays all in a row. It seemed to interrupt the flow. But, as a devotional book, I’m not sure the flow is necessary.

The second is a small criticism, but many of the essays were republished from blog posts and books. I was hoping for all new content. (Though that was never advertised.) Especially for authors who I have followed for a while and whose books I’ve read, it didn’t feel fresh.

I’d recommend this version to women who already know the Bible and are looking for insights and ideas from contemporary thinkers.

Do you use a study Bible or a devotional Bible? What is your favorite translation?

Usually I do a giveaway, but mailing a Bible would break my budget. If you live in the Denver area and are interested in this Bible, I’d love to meet up and hand it off. 
I review for BookLook Bloggers

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans + Giveaway

My faith journey is very typical of my millennial generation: I grew up in the church; was hurt by it; found healing in a liturgical environment; stopped going for a while; have found my way back. Obviously details and order may be different, but over and over I hear people with a similar storyline. At my most critical, church seems antiquated and unwilling to consider that change is an important part of growth. At my most generous, I recognize the community that church provides and that most believers really are trying to emulate the message of love Jesus gave his followers.

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I’ve connected with Rachel Held Evans‘ blog for many years, as she is an eloquent voice for my generation. I’ve read her other books, but Searching for Sunday is by far her best. It’s a good balance of memoir, theology, church history, and practical observation. Written in an easily accessible style, Searching for Sunday examines Evans’ journey of leaving the church, but not being able to let it go. Evans describes her process of being too immersed in evangelical culture and being unable to ask questions or accept doubt.

What I appreciate most about the book is that Evans doesn’t attempt to speak for an entire generation – she tells her story. But, in doing so, she captures many of the feelings and experiences of the millennial generation. This is not a theology text, but a story of journey and discovery. Anyone who is critical of or curious as to why millennials are leaving the church would benefit from the insights and questions this book brings up.

Evans’ undertone of grace and reconciliation is what makes this book stand out. Rather than simply complaining about how the church has hurt her, she seeks to find restoration in her experience. She never gave up on the idea of church, but just needed to take time to find a space that works for her at the moment. She doesn’t hold one denomination higher than another, but finds hope and love in many different settings. I feel that if the church remembered this – that we are all looking toward the same end, but with a different approach – perhaps so much of the infighting in the Christian church would cease.

As Evans says,

Our differences matter, but ultimately, the boundaries we build between one another are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace. (185)

This is a book of hope for the future and one in which I think many Christians will identify.

Tell me about your faith community. What makes it work for you?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Searching for Sunday. To enter, leave a comment about an experience of searching for the “perfect” community. I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, April 17, 2015. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Scary Close by Donald Miller + Giveaway

When I read Blue Like Jazz years ago, I immediately formed a view of Donald Miller that was probably unfair. I had just spent a few months dealing with insecure male Christians, so to read an entire book about it was terrible timing. I pretty much boxed Miller into a specific category and forgot about him. Last year, a friend invited me to the Denver Prayer Breakfast where Miller was the keynote speaker. I went, curious to see how he would be in real life. He is an engaging, thought-provoking speaker and I was very impressed with all he’s done to build stories and mentoring. He has built a brand that is important and it helped me see beyond his early memoir.

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In his newest book, Scary Close Donald Miller uses his gift of storytelling to take the reader through his journey into vulnerability. Using the pursuit and engagement of his now-wife as a framework, he tells small stories and moments from his life to build examples of ways he has found helpful in overcoming a fear of intimacy.

Scary Close is a fast, easy read. Even while battling a cold and with an active child, I managed to read it in a couple of days. While I don’t think the speed at which I read a book is telling of its quality, I will say Miller’s style is approachable and engaging. His stories follow a definite theme, but also stand alone, which makes the book easy to pick up.

This is the third book by Miller that I’ve read and each time I finish, I feel slightly disappointed. Yes, a good story has been told and I’ve found some connections to my own life through it. However, Miller always flirts with the idea of going deeper into his story, of making a broader connection to humanity, and of taking the book beyond a memoir. He just never does. I keep waiting for more depth and maturity in his writing, but it continues to feel just like a conversation. And not a particularly life-changing conversation, but just one I might have in passing with an acquaintance. For a book about vulnerability, I was hoping for Miller to be a bit more, well, vulnerable.

For fans of his work, Scary Close will deliver. It is true Donald Miller and he is very honest about his journey and process. This book is definitely geared for people who are in long-term relationships or are pursuing long-term relationships. Miller touches a bit on vulnerability within friendships, but I would imagine this book would fall a bit flat for a single person.

One thing that did stand out for me (and earned it an extra star in my rating) is that it prompted deeper conversation. As Frank and I processed themes in Scary Close, our own conversations went all over – from what intimacy looked like in the Garden of Eden to how vulnerability and intimacy differ between friendships and marriage relationships. Maybe this book would have been better suited to a book club environment rather than an individual reader.

How do you best connect with people? For me, it’s while I’m walking or hiking.

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Scary Close. To enter, leave a comment about how you connect with others – do you like to be active, enjoy a cup of coffee, or have a shared experience? I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, March 13, 2015. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Hope Rising by Scott C. Todd

Do you ever read books thematically? I don’t usually notice until the trend has been set, but often I’ll read a series of books about a certain topic. This is usually a good indication of when a family change will occur. In 2010, I read quite a few books on responsible growing and eating practices. As a result, we planted a backyard garden and have been more intentional about buying local and organic foods.

This year, the trend is toward money and poverty. From memoirs by those who work with the poor to business books like Conscious Capitalism, I’ve been intrigued by how our systems work and can be changed to include ensuring that those in poverty have access to resources.

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In Hope Rising, Scott C. Todd of Compassion International addresses important mindsets among Christians that need to change in order to alleviate the world’s extreme poor (those who live on less than $1.25 per day). He contends that it is possible to end world poverty in the next 30 years, but in order to do so, Christians need to raise their expectations toward that goal.

In a clear, concise, yet powerful manner, Todd breaks down various reasons Christians have not taken action: From misunderstanding Matthew 26:11’s “You will always have the poor among you…” to the zeal against works-based faith (pg. 35), he explains why Jesus has called Christians to actively use their resources to rid poverty. He reminds readers that the Kingdom is now and that, “We don’t do anti-poverty work and share the gospel. Sharing the gospel is anti-poverty work.”

There are quite a few things I like about this book. Todd is optimistic but breaks down poverty alleviation into practical numbers. He praises recent efforts in cutting diseases like measles by 78 percent between 2000 and 2008 (pg 53). Yet, nearly one billion people are still without clean drinking water. Providing that would cost about twenty billion dollars – half of what Americans spend on Black Friday (pg 52).

Todd also warns against using poor as a metaphor for broken relationships. He says, “using poor as a metaphor dilutes its hard meaning…” (pg 76). I am glad this was addressed. As Americans, we are wealthy. Whether or not we are as wealthy as our neighbors or wealthy enough to own our own homes dims when compared to those who are not able to buy a $5.00 mosquito net to prevent malaria. I feel that we often try to soften the disparity between our wealth and other’s lack of basic resources. Living in a country with clean, running water, access to health care, and a variety of resources to put food on our tables, we need to remember the extreme poor.

Todd also gives some practical advice for how we can help. The average American churchgoer only gives 2.9% of their income to charitable causes. Reevaluating spending and how we use our resources is an important beginning. Choosing to spend more on fewer items at stores like Ten Thousand Villages is a way to ensure a fair wage to artisans (pg 139). Sponsoring a child is a way to ensure education and access to opportunities in developing countries. Todd suggests fasting as a way to find income. Maybe it is a traditional food fast, or perhaps a fast from sports or new cars (pg 158). One year, Frank and I fasted from wine during Lent and used our budget to fund Kiva loans. If we are creative and willing, there are ways to support the poorest among us.

This book is an important look at how we are going to address the global issue of poverty. In Todd’s view, if we are focused and willing, extreme poverty will be part of history as we live a Kingdom-is-now lifestyle.

Do you think about world poverty? What are some ideas you have for helping the world’s poorest?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Hope Rising. To enter, leave a comment about your experience with making conscious choices to help the poor. I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, June 6, 2014. (US & Canadian addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.