Monday, February 20

Making Marriage Beautiful: A Book Review


The title of Chapter 1 (posed as a question) in Dorothy Littell Greco's new book, Making Marriage Beautiful, says it all:

Marriage Will Change You: What Do you Want That Change to Look Like? 

This is a convicting question, and I'm not sure that the answer is immediately clear for many of us. Of course marriage changes us, but often those changes result in division and tension in our relationships, rather than deeper connectedness and reconciliation. 

So, how can we create positive change and stronger marriages? Reading Making Marriage Beautiful is a good place to start.


Dorothy is a talented and honest writer. She is genuinely self-aware and willing to share with her readers what the difficult bits of her marriage have been. You often laugh along with her as she shares stories about things like "not putting extra spaghetti sauce on the table" when she and Christopher have one of their first dinner parties-- a choice that led to a huge argument early on in their marriage. 

We laugh genuinely with her because as ridiculous as it sounds, we all know that it's often the smallest things that lead to the biggest fights. We also know, it's never just about the 'spaghetti sauce', so to speak. 

So, what is at the root of those arguments? If we can gracefully and humbly dig deeper, reconciliation and unity can be the outcome rather than ongoing divisiveness. In this particular case, it was differing cultural "norms" that both Christopher and Dorothy carried into their marriage. While neither "norm" was "right" or "wrong", our pride can often let these small issues become big problems.  

Throughout the book, Dorothy humbly and with great wisdom, digs into important issues that impact our marriages: Things like gender expectations, disappointments and anger, addictions, confession, forgiveness, choosing joy, and so much more. She offers a good balance of scripture (both convicting and encouraging) and personal story. She also includes one marriage story, outside of her own, to each chapter to help reader's connect to whatever the topic of that chapter is. 

I happened to have the privilege of spending some time with  Dorothy and her husband Christopher at a church in the Boston area many years ago. They are a great couple, who love Jesus, and are passionate about ministry and helping other people in their journeys towards healing. This book was certainly born out of that genuine and authentic passion. 

While there are plenty of "fluffy" marriage and self-help books out there, this is not one of them. Many of the chapters prompted me to really take a look at the "baggage" I carried into my own marriage simply from my upbringing, and several unhealthy patterns I saw modeled in my parent's marriage. While none of this is to cast blame (my parents were living out of their own woundedness brought on by their own families of origin), the book encouraged me to take an honest  look at these things in an effort to move more towards God's design for marriage, and in effect establish a new and healthier legacy for my own children. 

Amen to that, right?! 

So, if you're ready to answer that question, "What do you want that 'change' to look like?", grab this book and dive in. You won't walk away, unchanged. I promise. 


Here are a few (of many!) underlined quotes from my first reading of this book.  It is a book I'll put on the bookshelf in our office and refer back to for years to come. 

"Regardless of how we got our scars and how they manifest, they don't magically disappear when we get married. We bring all of who we are into our marital covenants: our gifts, talents, and strengths but also our weaknesses, limitations and brokenness. Our spouses are typically the first people who have gotten close enough to notice those scars."    (Chapter 2, "Not Your Mother's Lasagna") 
"Maybe I was withholding a key detail when I wrote that joy is a gift from God. Receiving a gift implies opening up our hands and accepting what's being offered. Living in joy requires something from us: we must push back against the darkness through worship, gratitude, and prayer."      (Chapter 9, "Choosing Joy") 
"Being on the receiving end of sacrificial love is amazing. However, as many of you know, giving sacrificial love can expose our limitations like nothing else. In order to succeed for the long haul, we need grace, mercy, patience, humor, shared mission and intimacy."      (Chapter 11, "Made Beautiful") 

To learn more about Dorothy and her book, Making Marriage Beautiful, check out her website at:



About the Author: 



Dorothy Greco and her husband, Christopher, have spent their entire twenty-five-year marriage helping men and women create and sustain healthy marriages. They have served numerous churches in the Greater Boston area for thirty years. Dorothy's writing has been featured in "Relevant Magazine," "Christianity Today," "Sojourners," and "Her.meneutics." She is a regular contributor for "Gifted for Leadership," "Today's Christian Woman," and "Start Marriage Right." The Grecos have three sons and live near Boston.







Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through the Litfuse Blogger program. There was no requirement for a positive review and the views expressed are my own.







Saturday, February 18

Control Girl: A Book Review and Giveaway!

Controlling? Me? No…definitely not!

Of all the words I might use to describe myself at times (sensitive, anxious, sometimes impatient) “controlling” would not be a word that fell into the list. Most of the time, anyways. 

However, after recently reading Control Girl, by Shannon Popkin my eyes have been open to the many subtle, and sometimes not so subtle ways, I have fallen into the control trap in an effort to manage circumstances in my life. 

The moment I read the description of the book and watched one of Popkin’s Facebook videos, I knew I had something to learn from her story.  The way she effectively grounds her own experiences with substantive evidence from seven Biblical women who had control “issues” themselves (Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel and Miriam). 

As an aside, I had the privilege of meeting Shannon at the Breathe Christian Writer's Conference last October. She was sweet, nurturing, and spent a few minutes authentically listen to me as I talked about the bazillion writing ideas that I'd love to pursue, but how it's hard to find time to pursue many of them during these years of stay at home motherhood. She was so kind and encouraged me to continue persevering-- that it is a worthy call to be a writer, but an even worthier one to be a mother. I left the conversation with nothing but respect and admiration for her as a Christian woman, mother and writer herself. I knew when her book came out I wanted to be one of the first to read it! 

Truthfully, from that meeting, I would not have guessed that her book would be about how control issues show up in women's lives, but I suppose that is part of the point. Sometimes they are subtle and unrecognizable unless we take an honest look at ourselves in the mirror, or consider our circumstances through the lens of some else's story. That is what this book does so well. 

The reality is that while many of us do not intend to be controlling, when our daily circumstances start tipping out of “control” for whatever reason (and they will!)—sick kids, differing opinions with our husbands, a messy house (messes not made by you!), parent-child tensions between your own children, or sometimes your adult parents—our flesh begins to concoct all sorts of ways to pull things back together…to get things back on track. We women are good at putting a plan in place when any of these things (and many others!) start to feel like they need fixing! 

And, while problem solving is good, especially when done with God, that’s not often where we start. We often start, in the heat of the moment, by plotting our own “take control” actions inspired by our own angry, frustrated, discouraged or anxious hearts.

If I’ve learned one incredibly important thing in my time as an adult, in my season of mothering, in my role as a wife—it’s that planning to do anything out of a place of fear, anxiety, discouragement, or even just being plain tired—is never, EVER a good idea…and, quite frankly, usually leads to plenty of bad ideas! 

So, as we learn to pause, and to not react or “manage” out of our frustrations, what is the next step?
It’s God, of course. Taking our “stuff” to him. Laying it out in prayer and patiently waiting for a response.

In the book Popkin says, “As we try to control things we can’t control, we tend to lose control of the one things we can—ourselves. God invites us to reverse the process…”

Several pages later, she goes on to say (and I LOVE this!): 
“Some mornings, I wake up with agonizing Control Girl regret, then I trip back into the same rutted-out behavior even before making breakfast…The Bible not only instructs us to stop our sinful habits, but also says we must start doing the opposite, correct things. So, to curb greediness, we practice generosity. To reverse selfishness, we practice putting others first. And to overturn a pattern of control, we practice surrender.
Surrender is counterintuitive to a Control Girl. We have a natural posture of holding on to control rather than releasing it to God. In order to reverse our natural bent, we have to cultivate a new demeanor toward God: surrender.”


I love that word…surrender.

Well, the truth is, I love the idea of surrender. The actual act of following through is sometimes another thing all together.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of this book and learn a little bit about surrender, too. You won't be disappointed. 

The book is laid out in 38 lessons, making it easy to read and digest. Each lesson starts with a suggested scripture reading, offers insight into the Biblical story, shares personal lessons, and ends with suggestions for further scripture reading, some questions and a final mediation. 

The book would work well as a daily devotional, particularly for busy moms wanting some depth of scripture and a structured lesson to focus their thoughts for the day.  



Shannon's publisher and publicity group are currently offering a giveaway package with some super cute stuff. Click on this link to read more about the giveaway (which ends on 2/21!!). 





{MORE ABOUT SHANNON POPKIN}

Shannon Popkin is a wife and mom, a speaker and teacher, and a leader of small group studies. She’s been published by “Family Fun,” “MOMsense,” “Focus on the Family Magazine,” and other outlets. She is a contributing blogger for True Woman.com and has blogged for several years at shannonpopkin.com. “Control Girl” is her first book.
Find out more about Shannon at http://www.shannonpopkin.com.





Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through the Litfuse Blogger program. There was no requirement for a positive review and the views expressed are my own.





P.S. I don't usually post book reviews back to back, but I happen to have another one coming for you on Monday! 

If you want to hear more about the book Making Marriage Beautiful (another fabulous book by a writer I happened to go to church with in Boston years ago!), stop back on Monday. Or, hop over to Dorothy's website to read about it now!










Monday, January 23

When Everything Comes Undone




It happened again.

Scott and the girls were all out of the house , so momma did what momma does best-- put on some loud music, jumped into crazy-cleaning-Ninja-lady-mode and got down to work.

 I folded blankets, lined up shoes, wiped countertops, vacuumed the mudroom, swept the floors, put toys away, threw toys away (shhh, don't tell anyone, it's part of the undercover Ninja bit), stuffed coats in closets and socks in drawers, and anything else I could see to do in the short time I had. That place (the downstairs, anyways) was spic and span by the time everyone came home.

"Wow, mom, the house looks so nice and clean!" Ava and Ella side, with big shiny eyes, like they were surprised that our house looked like that.

Ahhh, proud mom moment.

You know the feeling, don't you?

Everything was nice and shiny. It felt orderly and tidy. I found myself actually thinking clearly for a few moments, and knowing just where each item was as I pulled out napkins, plates and forks for the Italian take-out dinner they had brought home  (the only thing better than a clean house is take-out in a clean house!). We enjoyed our dinner and Scott and I even found ourselves relishing a few quiet moments to read the paper and watch TV after the kids were in bed because the house was already picked up.

You all know where this is going, don't you?

Fast forward to Monday morning when everyone is barreling out the door for school. Folders, socks, sneakers, violins, lunch boxes, hair ribbons and pencils fly through the kitchen like confetti on New Years Eve. Apparently, in the 36 hours that had commenced since our nice tidy dinner, a small wind gust had whipped through the kitchen and living room, which now looked more like the aftermath of a large garage sale than an orderly home.

All of my work, completely undone. Surfaces recovered, coats evidently grew legs and walked back onto the floor, school papers flew from folders and onto the kitchen table. There was a colorful menagerie of socks, hangers, tights, and headbands everywhere the eye could see. 

When I opened the refrigerator after everyone left for the morning (which I had neatly organized just a few weeks ago) to put all of the breakfast and lunch makings away, I realized that over the last few weeks, despite my instructions to everyone about where the ketchup was to be stored and how the "yogurts should go in that little container I had purchased from Home Goods", the insides of the fridge were were  a disheveled heap of produce and condiments, mixed together like some abstract art installation.

 All undone.

Why? Why do I bother? I thought.  Doesn't anyone in this house know where anything belongs?! 

My heart quickly moved from graceful to grumpy.  It was in that moment that I realized how undone I can become internally when things start to come undone externally. 

In the life of a mom we can tend to exert a lot of effort on things that inevitably become undone: a clean kitchen, the blankets we fold so nicely and drape over the couch, the bathrooms we clean out of love, with secret hopes that someone else would follow suit (or at least put their toothbrush away!).  There's the laundry, and the clean windows, the vacuumed car, the basement stairs...we all know the list is endless.

On many days, I tighten up my proverbial laces and keep running through the tasks repeatedly.  I get it. I have young children and young children require lots, and lots, and LOTS of extra guiding, teaching and training. I gracefully re-tell them all where the containers go, and their coats, and toys, and all the other trinkets around the house.

I take deep breaths and practice gratitude for all of the stuff and my beautiful kids. I remind myself that these "messes" are all reminders of an abundantly full life.  I thank God for the groceries, and the dishes and His presence in my life, guiding me when I don't have the type of structured plans I'd like to have in place to do this job called "mom".

But some days, all of the undone, it starts to tug on my spirit like the loose thread on a sweater. Slowly, one tug at a time, my emotions start unwinding on the inside. One mess at a time that string unwinds, and unwinds, and unwinds until my heart doesn't resemble that peaceful, gracious, heart anymore--it's a mess of thread that leaves me graceless and impatient, in a tattered heap on the floor.

I'm working on not letting that string come undone so often. On letting go of my expectations, and perhaps even my perceived sense of control over the house management stuff. 

In the brilliant book Triggers, co-written by Wendy Speake and Amber Lia, the authors (both moms) brilliantly outline 31 different "triggers" that tend to trip us up as moms. Everything from backtalk and sibling rivalry, to lack of personal space and, yes, messy homes.

This excerpt from "Triggers" goes straight to the heart of what so many of us feel and experience on a daily basis:

"Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest." 
(Proverbs 14:4)
Some of you married farmers. Most of us did not. Still, the imagery here is full of application for every mother in every messy home: You want a fruitful family? Then you're going to have a messy house! You want your little people and their friends and neighborhood kids dropping by? You want to host home group with your church friends? You want children who have the freedom to finger paint at an easel and play in backyard dirt? Then you're going to have to deal with muddy shoes, sticky fingerprints and careless spills. 
You can wrap your mind around that concept, can't you? And yet, there reality feels overwhelming in your day-in and day-out lives as dishes and laundry pile up...You set a plan in place, how you're going to get it all done after you tuck your children in bed for the night. All eleven loads of laundry are piled in a wrinkled mound upon your bed, and you have vowed to get every last piece of it folded and put away before you hit the sack! Except the youngest keeps coming out crying about "scary thoughts," and the oldest has leg cramps, and your husband texts asking you to send him the phone number scribbled on a scrap of paper three weeks ago that he's sure is on the back, right-hand corner of his desk. So you snap! 


Oh my goodness. Am I the only one shouting amen to that?!

Yes, yes, yes! The desire to create a bountiful, playful, creative home. The hope that my children would be free to express their creative and artistic interests. The anticipation of fun, laughter and camaraderie in every nook and cranny of the house. And, the plan. Oh, the plan. I always have a plan for how I'm going to get it all done, pull it all back together and how the "messy" things we like to do won't be so messy if I'm super organized about it all, right?

But alas, as Wendy so aptly reminds us, thats not how it usually goes.

She finishes the chapter with a quote that I have written on a fluorescent orange index card and posted on the bulletin board in my office, right under a favorite family picture-- a picture that reminds me of the joy of family life.  The quote says, "Embrace the harvest in your home, and thank God for the strong little creatures who are with you in the field everyday. It's all perspective!" 




Here's to refining our perspective. Here's to letting go of our ideals of what we thought life would like while we are raising little ones, and embrace the reality of what it really is. It is in this gracefully living together, even in messy homes, that we will begin to really demonstrate to our children what real abundance, blessing and love look like. I certainly don't want my kids to remember me as a nag, or with that "look" on my face. I want them to remember the joy and the laughter that were present in our home-- I kind of think that's what God wants for our family too.

Now, excuse me while I go reorganize the refrigerator (;



Tuesday, December 20

Book Review: Waiting for Wonder


What if, in this waiting, God is calling us to more?

This is the question at the heart of Marlo Schalesky's new book, Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God's Timeline. 

I confess, when I first read the title I wasn't sure I  wanted to delve into the topic of waiting. Waiting is hard and it takes intentional soul work (and a whole lot of prayer!) to wait well. We all tend to start out waiting well-- with hope, grounded in our faith, with expectation for God to meet us in our place of need and answer our questions, our prayers, to bring our dreams to life.  We like to think we are o.k. with God's timeline, but when days turn into weeks, which turn into months, which turn into years...sometimes many years...do we still wait well? Or, do we become discouraged?

Perhaps you are waiting for healing, or a baby, for a dream to come to fruition, for family reconciliation, for your financial situation to change, or for a breakthrough for a beloved family member who is lost and in need a hope themselves...the list of things that we can find ourselves waiting for is long and varied. Waiting with hope is a God-centered place to be, it's where we all want to be, but often not where we find ourselves.

Which is where this book offers so much encouragement. As the book states:

It's easy to believe God when a promise is new. It’s hard when the years pass and nothing changes. It’s even harder when desperation strikes, your plans backfire, and still God does not fill the emptiness. But what if, in this waiting, God is calling us to more?
Walking through the life of the biblical character Sarah, one who knows what it means to wait, you will discover a glimpse of God’s character that will give you strength to keep hoping and praying for the desires of your heart.

The book examines the lives of Sarah and Abraham in their decades long wait for a son-- a son promised by God! When their own waiting turns to fear and fretfulness, all sorts of unfortunate decisions take place, including Sarah (then Sarai) giving her maidservant to her husband to bear a child (a common practice in that day, but far from what God had planned), and eventually becoming bitter towards her maidservant for what she (Sarai) had chosen. 

While I have heard this story countless times, Schalesky offers a fresh, and perhaps more personal perspective, than I had heard or read before. It's a perspective that takes Sarah's longing for a baby and makes it more universal for those of us who have different longings, that inevitably can lead to the same crises moments in our faith. 

By the time I finished the book I felt encouraged and reminded that longing, and fear, are a normal part of the human condition. That we are not alone in our internal questions and wrestling, and that God blesses, forgives and redeems our lives even when we make a mess out of our waiting. 


A few of my favorite quotes from the book:

"God's delight has always been the full, true, complete redemption of the things in our lives that we hate the most, the things that cause the deepest sorrow, the worst guilt, the most agonizing pain. Those are the very things God longs to transform--for Sarah and for us." 


"I want to believe that when God calls, the journey will be straight, unhindered and without delays. There will be no stuck-halfway, no settling in the in-between places where the past is behind yet the promises of God still seem distant. 
       But I don't always get what I want. In Sarai's story, or in my own"


"Sometimes life doesn't turn out the way you planned. In fact, it rarely turns out that way. So often we stand hurt and frustrated as our carefully constructed plans are crushed into find sand, running through our fingers. Where is God then? Whom do we turn to? How do we trust? And what does it mean to leave the broken parts of life in the hands of our God?" 


"God gives you your true name. He knows it and declares it. He tells us who we are. Not our failures, not our faults, not our mess-ups, not our spouses, not our friends, not our enemies--none of these define us. We are who God says we are." 


And, this might be my favorite...

"Sometimes when God is saying to us, "Almost, but not yet, not quite yet" he is not simply extending our pain. Instead he is cleansing us. He is setting us free from patterns, entanglements, and sins we don't even see to become who we are meant to be." 
       


Definitely consider picking up a copy of this book. It will encourage and refresh your soul. It will water the dry places of waiting and renew your hope. It will help you to wait well, whatever waiting looks like in your life. 


You can pick up a copy on Amazon, by clicking here. 




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marlo Schalesky is an award-winning author of 10 books, including both fiction and non-fiction. Her novels have garnered the high honors of the Christy Award and ACFW Book of the Year. Schalesky’s non-fiction releases include Wrestling with Wonder: A Transformational Journey through the Life of Mary (Zondervan) and the latest, Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God’s Timetable(Abingdon Press).
More than 1,000 of Schalesky’s articles have been published in various Christian magazines, including Focus on the Family, Today’s Christian Woman and In Touch. She has contributed devotional books for couples and children. She is a speaker and regular columnist for David C Cook’s Power for Living.
Schalesky is a graduate of Stanford University and has earned her Master’s in Theology, with an emphasis in Biblical Studies, from Fuller Theological Seminary. She is the founder and president of Wonder Wood Ranch, a California charitable organization bringing hope to a hurting community through horses.
Schalesky lives with her husband, six children and a crazy number of animals at her log-home ranch on California’s central coast.

*** I received a complimentary copy of this book from Litfuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.