Tag Archives: Christian living

Review: Grace for the Good Girl, by Emily P. Freeman

Grace for the Good Girl, by Emily P. FreemanGrace for the Good Girl, by Emily P. Freeman (Revell, 2011)

This is a book for all the women whose honest desire to be good sets up impossible expectations and leads to hiding behind facades and fearing to be found out. Anxiety grows, and we struggle in our own strength instead of learning to rely on God. Hence the subtitle: “Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life.”

The author says, “Somewhere along the way, I got the message that salvation is by faith alone but anything after that is faith plus my hard work and sweet disposition” (page 13). Many of us fall into that trap, and Grace for the Good Girl can help us reset.

One of my favourite lines is about giving ourselves “permission to sit down on the inside and live like I have a God who knows what He’s doing” (page 65).

The book is in three sections: the hiding (in which we find out how we’re not alone in this after all), the finding, and the freedom of being found. It ends with a small group leader’s guide for an eight-week study.

Emily P. Freeman writes with transparency and candour about her own struggles, and shares the stories of other “recovering good girls.” The book is easy to read and encouraging. It points us back to relying on the character and grace of God, and to learning to live by faith instead of by feeling. It addresses core issues like anxiety, identity, emotions, and self-reliance, and while you likely won’t recognize yourself on every page, don’t be surprised to relate to at least a few of the stories.

The “try-hard life” is exhausting. Grace for the Good Girl points to freedom. Emily P. Freeman has also written A Million Little Ways and Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World. For more about the author and her ministry, visit emilypfreeman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: A Traveler’s Advisory, by Marcia Lee Laycock

A Traveler's Advisory, by Marcia Lee LaycockA Traveler’s Advisory, by Marcia Lee Laycock (Small Pond Press, 2015)

These fifty-two “stories of God’s grace along the way” include tales of travel by air, on land, and on water. They’re drawn from the author’s experiences in Canada (including the Yukon), the US, and more exotic locales like Papua New Guinea.

Marcia Lee Laycock writes with a clear, practical style, sharing travel anecdotes and drawing common-sense spiritual parallels for life’s journey. The readings are a good length for a daily burst of inspiration that’s relevant to readers – be they seasoned travellers or homebodies.

A Traveler’s Advisory is a great little book to keep handy for a quick pick-me-up or as a discussion starting-point for a group.

Canadian author Marcia Lee Laycock is known for her devotionals as well as for both contemporary and fantasy fiction. For more about the author and her work, visit marcialeelaycock.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Escaping Captivity (Guest Post)

Escaping Captivity

by Steph Beth Nickel

Because of Jesus... we can escape captivity.Many of us have read books or watched movies in which the main character is taken captive, books such as Janet’s own Heaven’s Prey.

While few (if any) of us have experienced this horror, we have all been held captive at some point. Some such occurrences seem almost too insignificant to mention: that bad dream that leaves us in a funk for the rest of the day for example. Some we seek to keep hidden: that bad habit we can’t seem to shake perhaps.

And what about that careless choice that makes us want to relive even a few seconds that would change the course of our lives for several days, months or even years to come?

Our Response to Captivity

Do we get tied up in knots? Do we obsess over negative feelings or less than stellar choices? Or do we actually believe Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV).

Many Christians have memorized this verse and quote it often. But do we cling to this promise when we’re at a low point?

Do we quote this verse and others like it to reassure ourselves, to pull ourselves out of emotional captivity or simply as a declaration of truth?

Our Response to Truth

If we don’t instantly feel better, will we still cling to the truth?

If God doesn’t “fix” everything in the way we want Him to, as quickly as we want Him to, will we still believe?

Will we allow our captivity to keep us bound in knots, making us ineffective?

Or will we deliberately look for the good in every situation? Will we pray for those involved? Will we see it as one more step on the journey to spiritual maturity, to authentic freedom?

Our Response to Promises

Will we rejoice in the midst of everything? (See 1 Corinthians 5:18.)

How can we, as Christians, escape captivity? We can hold onto 1 Peter 5:6-8 with both hands. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (ESV).

And when we can’t hold on, we can trust that our great God will always, always, always hold onto us.

No matter what happens, whether because of our choices or the choices of others, we can trust God. Even in the midst of apparent captivity, we can live in the freedom there is to be found in a growing relationship with the Lord.

Tweetables:

Because of Jesus, we can escape captivity. (click to tweet)

God’s promises believed bring freedom. (click to tweet)

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

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Review: The Menopause Guide, by Danna Demetre, RN

The Menopause Guide, by Danna Demetre, RNThe Menopause Guide, by Danna Demetre, RN (Spire edition, 2009)

I picked this book up years ago from a sale bin ($3 well spent) for reference “someday.” The cover offers help to “manage hot flashes, increase your energy level, understand hormones, reduce mood swings, and live with new purpose.”

What it doesn’t say is that this is a book for Christian women. I was delighted to find, along with the practical physical information, advice that integrated the spiritual dimension of our lives.

Each chapter addresses a relevant topic with compassion, humour, and a sense that the author and/or the women she quotes have “been there” and survived. Chapters end with health tips and a quick checklist where readers can make a note of the one thing that impacted them most in the section. So often we finish a book like this and have already forgotten the things we meant to put into practice.

The book includes tips on vitamins and natural supplements that may help manage various symptoms, always with the caution to consult with a health-care professional before making any changes.

My favourite part of the book focuses on how we may need to change our thinking (and the way we talk to ourselves) – renewing our minds as Romans 12 instructs. New to me was the candid assessment of how long it takes to regularly practice a new thought pattern before it becomes habit. Most of us give up way too soon.

Prayer is also mentioned as an integral part of a healthy journey through menopause. My favourite line:

My personal prayer for this season is to have a heart of contentment and an attitude of surrender at all times. [page 72]

Women struggling with specific symptoms may find help in the nutritional, exercise and supplement information. They’ll definitely find encouragement, a laugh or two, and reassurance that they’re not alone. And that menopause is not a sickness – it’s a natural part of life.

Danna Demetre has a background in health care, personal training and fitness. Her stated mission on her website is “transforming lives: body, soul & spirit.” Visit dannademetre.com for more about the author and her books, and to explore the free content she offers to help women find balance in their lives.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Heart”wings” Blog

Just letting you know about a blog for Christian women: Heart”wings” began as a private Facebook group and has grown into a public blog as well. The writing team posts Monday through Friday as follows:

Monday Memories
Tuesday Testimonies
Wednesday Words
Thursday Thanks
Friday Focus

For a healthy dose of Christian fellowship, pour yourself a refreshing drink, navigate to HeartWings Blog, and get acquainted.

Review: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter ScazzeroEmotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero (Zondervan, 2006; paperback version 2014)

The subtitle says, “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” The book implies that this may be the key reason for lack of growth in our churches, and for people drifting away from church. While I think there’s more to the issue than that, there’s no denying that emotional immaturity will be the root of the problem for some or many believers.

In alerting readers to areas of our lives that haven’t grown well, the author offers the chance to allow God to “re-parent” us so we develop according to the ways of His Kingdom instead of perpetuating the behaviours and attitudes we learned in our formative years.

The first three chapters reveal “The Problem of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality,” and the rest of the book addresses “The Pathway to Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.” Part of that pathway is recognizing the impact of our family history, choosing what we want to keep, and choosing to grow away from what’s unhealthy.

The author advises adopting more of a contemplative approach to faith, listening to God and to our emotions, and establishing daily rhythms of prayer and devotional times. He encourages us to “practice the presence of God and to practice the presence of people” [page 180].

We do come into Christianity with assumptions and attitudes formed by our families and by the world around us – and we don’t often apply our spiritual regeneration to these areas because we don’t even see them. It makes sense that we need to discover and grow into our true identity in Christ, and I found some helpful insights in the book.

For more about Peter and Geri Scazzero’s ministry, visit emotionallyhealthy.org.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Worship Changes Everything, by Darlene Zschech

Worship Changes Everything, by Darlene ZschechWorship Changes Everything, by Darlene Zschech (Bethany House, 2015)

Note the subtitle of this book: “Experiencing God’s Presence in Every Moment of Life.” Worship Changes Everything is about far more than the music we sing on a Sunday morning.

The book is divided into two sections: The Heart of Worship and The Hands of Worship. First, it focuses on God’s nature and our response to Him from our hearts, and then the bulk of the chapters explore how we can live our worship in all aspects of our lives.

Those aspects include things like service and mission, but also our words and attitudes, suffering, money, and relationships.

The author shares personal examples as illustrations, but the book’s teaching basis is clearly Scripture. She includes numerous quotes from the Bible as well as some from respected teachers.

I found much in these pages to encourage and challenge me. Practical and biblical, Worship Changes Everything is a book I’d recommend to anyone who’d like to live closer with God.

Favourite lines:

Praise is our stance of faith. Praise is a weapon. Praise announces God’s reign in our hearts. [p. 60]

Our attitudes are transformed as we decide to let go and let the Holy Spirit do His work in us. This means replacing negative thoughts and mindsets, arresting our attitudes that we know will not be of benefit. [p. 113]

Darlene Zschech is most known for her contributions to contemporary worship music, but she’s also the author of books on Christian living. For more about the author and her ministries, visit her website: darlenezschech.com.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Guest Post: Memories of Christmas Past

Memories of Christmas Past

by Steph Beth Nickel

About this time of year I get the warm fuzzies. Today I’d like to share six of my favourite memories and what they can teach us about the Greatest Gift of All Time, the reason for that very first Christmas so long ago.

A Much-Too-Large Christmas Tree

I remember my dad hauling in a freshly cut Scotch pine each Christmas—only to have to drag it back outside to cut off several inches of the trunk and a number of the bottom branches. Funny how it didn’t look near as big in the forest!

Philippians 5:17 says we are to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (ESV)

To fulfill our God-appointed purposes, we must be pruned and reshaped. As in everything, Jesus set the ultimate example.

Shimmering Tinsel … Hung Strand by Strand

Each year we would carefully place the tinsel on the tree two or three strands at a time. Sure it would have been easier simply to toss it on, but the end result wouldn’t have been near so lovely.

That first Christmas was a long time coming. God’s people had been waiting for centuries, eons even. Galatians 4:4 says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” (ESV) (emphasis mine)

Things aren’t always as easy or as immediate as we’d like, but we must trust the Lord to work out His plans and purposes in His perfect time.

An Overflowing Stocking

My parents were incredibly generous. My stocking always had to be taken down from the doorway in which it was hung (we didn’t have a fireplace) and placed, stuffed to overflowing, on the couch. It was usually topped with a stuffed animal that peeked over the back of the couch at me when I padded down the hall early Christmas morning.

This reminds me of the prodigal. When he returned to his father to beg for a position as one of his servants, he was in for a welcome he never expected. His father poured out abundant gifts on his undeserving son—and threw a huge celebration to boot.

My parents were generous, but it’s nothing compared to the lavish gifts the heavenly Father pours out on His children.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Christmas Lights

Well, back in the day, our Christmas lights weren’t exactly little, but “twinkle, twinkle chubby Christmas lights” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

At any rate … the multi-coloured lights that adorned our Christmas tree and the front of the house lit up the dark, cold nights of December.

In John 8:12, Jesus tells us, “I am the light of the world.” (ESV)

In Matthew 5:14, He says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (ESV)

Again, He sets the perfect example for us. We must shine brightly and add beauty to this dark world.

Fun with My Father

I still remember the snow forts and non-traditional snowmen my dad made for me. He had old metal drums that he would fill with snow, invert, and carefully remove. Viola! Who says snowmen have to be made of three snowballs of various sizes? And you mean other kids didn’t have snowmen sporting the occasional fleck of rusty metal? (Ok, so it’s a wonder I didn’t get tetanus, but hey, Dad and I had a good time.)

Sure it’s serious business being the Saviour, but Jesus was approachable. After all, moms and dads brought their children to Him to be blessed. And the Lord didn’t send them away—like His disciples tried to. Instead, Jesus gathered them to Himself and blessed them. What a beautiful picture!

Romans 8:15 is a wondrous verse.  “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Abba is a familiar term, the equivalent of “Daddy” or, as one of my friends puts it, “Papa.” Is that not mind-boggling?

My Precarious Uphill Climb

My dad had a friend who owned several acres of woodland, but my favourite portion of the property was a long sledding hill free of trees. I could ride my Crazy Carpet down, down, down. But when my dad wasn’t around to shuttle me to the top on his massive Snow Prince snowmobile, I had to make the trek to the top of the hill on foot.

One winter we experienced some freezing and thawing and there was a layer of ice over several centimetres of snow. The only thing … the ice wasn’t of a consistent thickness. I never knew with each step if it would support my weight. Sometimes it did. And other times, I broke through and sank up to my thigh. It was slow going but fun nonetheless.

Life’s like that sometimes—minus the fun. We take a step forward and we’re not sure if life will support our weight. Will we stand tall or break through? But, as Christians, we have one of the most amazing promises ever uttered.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV)

All things … let’s hold onto that promise as we go forward.

What are some of your favourite Christmas memories? Have they taught you anything about the Greatest Gift? If so, we’d love to hear about it. [Scroll down to join the conversation.]

[English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.]

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Thought Defense

There’s a scene in one of the first Harry Potter books that speaks to our daily thought life. It’s been a long time since I read it, but I can paraphrase.

Young Harry is at wizard school [please, let’s not get into an argument about the pros and cons of magic in fiction] and the lesson is on controlling another person’s thoughts. The aim of the class is to learn self-defense against such a thing, because there are villains on the loose.

When it’s Harry’s turn, he experiences a sudden desire to do something. I don’t remember what, so we’ll say it’s to stand on a chair. It makes perfect sense for him to stand on this chair, and he really wants to do it, even though, as in any other school, chairs are for sitting.

He’s really thinking about it, how important it is to stand on this chair.

He’s about to move when a puzzling thought strikes: why? Why should he stand on the chair? He doesn’t have to do that, and the professor, who hates him, would probably give him a detention. He doesn’t want to get up on the chair anyway.

So he doesn’t. The attack is broken.

As Christians, we’re to “take every thought captive to Christ.” Part of that is choosing not to contemplate what’s unwholesome or sinful. I think part of it is also realizing that we don’t have to accept those negative or hurtful thoughts that the devil – or our past – tries to make us believe.

Some of them are outright lies (“God’s holding out on you”) that we can refute with Scripture, out loud if necessary. “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19, NLT)”

Some of them are vague feelings or fears. It’s easy to believe them because feelings seem real, but “we live by faith, not by sight” – or by feel.

I’m finding the more I work at submitting my mind to Christ’s, and at speaking truth against the negatives that have ruled me in the past, the easier it is to recognize an attack in progress. And sometimes, before it takes hold, I notice the initial malaise and find that incisive why? rising in my thoughts. Not in defiance, but in curiosity. Why should I accept the idea to feel bad about myself because someone else is x, y, or z? Why compare? Let them be who they are. And let me look to God and find my sufficiency in Him.

Maybe if I live and practise long enough, this won’t be such a rare experience that it inspires a blog post!

In each of my Redemption’s Edge novels, at least one character ends up confronting negative thoughts or fears with truth. Maybe it’s because it’s something I need to learn personally, but I think it’s because a whole lot of people, Christians and non, are walking around believing lies they don’t have to accept.

What about you? Is this something you ever struggle with? Or do you know people who do?

Why accept negative thoughts and fears, when Jesus speaks truth?

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Review: Simply Tuesday, by Emily P. Freeman

Simply Tuesday, Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World, by Emily P. FreemanSimply Tuesday, by Emily P. Freeman (Revell, 2015)

Subtitled “Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World,” Simply Tuesday calls readers to live in the everyday moments without the pressure to perform or to push on to the next big thing. Even the cover art, a quiet bench with birds and dragonflies, calls us to slow down.

Sections consider our home, work, relationships and souls, as well as a vision for what’s ahead. Readers are invited to find ourselves and our loved ones in the present, and to be present to Jesus with us. The book is part memoir and part an exploration of Christian living, shared by one who’s still learning through life (as opposed to one who’s nailed the answers).

It’s approachable and easy to relate to, an invitation to embrace and celebrate our smallness instead of condemning ourselves for our humanity. My favourite lines:

What gives moments meaning is not the moments themselves but the presence of Christ with us in the midst of them. (p. 47)

True belief is movement toward God even in the midst of confusion or frustration or fear. (p. 78)

I can’t prevent storms from coming, but I can decide not to invent my own. (p. 209)

Emily P. Freeman writes with a transparency and a conversational style that will be familiar to anyone who follows her blog. Something I hadn’t noticed in her blog posts that made the book a little harder for me is the fluidity with which she shifts from past to present and back again. We do this in conversations, to add immediacy: “Fifteen years ago, I’m working at a local high school… It’s morning and the bell rings…” (p. 206) In printed form, I find this jarring. Maybe it’s the editor in me.

Simply Tuesday offers refreshment for anyone struggling in the try-hard life while her soul aches for a simpler pace and a bit of fresh air. It’s not anti-performance or opposing busyness. Instead, it’s a glimpse of what life might look like if we began to nurture the small things in our lives and if we accepted ourselves as who we are instead of always pushing to be more than we are. Highly recommended for weary souls.

[Review copy from my personal library.]