Christmas Time – a book review and giveaway!

I received an email offering to let me review a new Christmas book titled Christmas Time – It’s All About Jesus!. Since my daughter is newly home from Taiwan, I thought it would be fun to have a children’s book about Christmas to read to her.

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My favorite part about this book is the illustrations. The cover is beautiful and each page is colorful and cute. It’s definitely a warm feeling book. The little mouse on each page was a cute touch! The story is simple while still covering all of the basics. The angel’s visit to Mary. Mary visiting Elizabeth. Joseph’s dream. Travel to Bethlehem. Jesus’ birth. The shepherds hearing the angels’ song and visiting baby Jesus.

My daughter seemed slightly interested in the story. When the book arrived, she pointed at the cover and said “Jesus.” She’s not a Christian and recognized that this is a story about the birth of Christ. She listened as I read and followed along. The word choice was too complex for her, though, as she is still learning English. Miracle, wonder, engaged, greeting – all words too hard for her. She was more interested in the illustrations than the actual story.

I wish the publisher had chosen a simpler font for the text on each page. It’s kind of hard to read. The R’s and N’s look very similar and a couple times I had to pause to make sure I was reading the text properly.

I will try rereading this book to my daughter closer to Christmas, as I’m sure her English will improve between now and then. Maybe she’ll enjoy it more once she can understand more of the story.

Aneko Press was kind enough to provide me with an extra copy to give away! Just leave me a comment and I will draw a winner on Tuesday, November 17th.

Nightstand – Taiwan style!

I really wanted to participate in this month’s Nightstand post, even if my reading plans are a bit unorthodox. I am a die-hard library user, preferring to lose myself in the stacks and smell all the books. I love being surrounded by hardcovers and paperbacks and shelves and shelves of books.

Well… I’m headed to Taiwan tonight to pick up my daughter. I have a luggage weight limit and cannot afford to take a bunch of books. So, I have bit the bullet, pulled up my big girl panties, and succumbed to an e-reader. If I have to be honest and admit that there are positive aspects to an e-reader, I suppose I can do that. The biggest advantage is that I can take as many books as I want. So, I borrowed the max that my library will allow and took screenshots of what is loaded on my Nook.

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I also downloaded a few public domain books from Project Gutenberg. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Pygmalion, A Woman of No Importance, Around the World in Eighty Days…

I am under no delusions that I will read all of these books, much less finish more than one or two. Traveling to Taiwan to pick up your child is not a vacation. However, there are two VERY LONG flights and I desperately need something to read. With all of these options, I can try a book and ditch if it isn’t engaging on a 12 hour long flight or sitting in a hotel room. Most of these books have been on my to-read list for a long time so I will revisit them at some other time if I don’t get to them on this trip. However, I love having options!

Happy reading!!

Break my heart, Lord, for what breaks Yours

Awhile ago, I asked God to break my heart for what breaks His. That’s a very dangerous prayer. If you can honestly pray that prayer, you have no idea what God will do. He has broken my heart again and again. When my heart was first opened toward adoption and orphan care, I had no idea where God was going to take me. But over the past two years, He has shown me story after story after story of children who desperately need a family. Children who desperately need to understand what unconditional love is. Children who need to know that they are loved. Valuable. Priceless.

I recently came across a description for the book titled Ghost Boy (Martin Pistorius, Nelson Books). I thought it would be an interesting book to read and review but had no idea it would move me to tears repeatedly.

In January of 1988, Martin Pistorius came home from school complaining of a sore throat. He never went back. Within a year, Martin had degenerated into a mute quadriplegic. By his fourteenth birthday he was a hollow shell, unseeing and unknowing; he spent his days at a care center, sitting blankly in front of the television while his family waited for him to die.

And then his mind came up for air.

For an unimaginable ten years, Martin would be completely conscious while trapped inside his unresponsive body, secretly aware of everything happening around him and utterly powerless to communicate it.

Ghost Boy is a memoir written by Martin after he learned how to communicate again. His story is absolutely heartbreaking. It is terrifying to hear the things that people will say or do to someone they can overpower. Because Martin didn’t have control of his body and was unresponsive when talked to, people believed he was brain dead. So they abused him both verbally and sexually.

It was an incredibly hard story to read because it happened. It’s reality. Martin is now safe from such abuse but these atrocities still happen every day to people like Martin. To children and adults who are unable to defend themselves. These events tell the victims that they are worthless, that they don’t matter. And yet they do matter. They are human beings, someone’s son or daughter or mother or father. And they are children of God.

There’s a song by Hillsong called Hosannah. The lyrics say:

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me

Break my heart from what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause

I know that God called us to adopt Cin-Ru, to make her part of our family. We have many hopes and dreams for her but one of them is to give her a haven. She’s an orphan no longer and will always have our protection. Be careful when you ask God to break your heart for what breaks His. He’s broken my heart and I have no idea where He’s calling us next.

Taken – A Book Review

Earlier this week I received a rather interesting email from Goodreads.

Goodreads Challenge

According to my logs, I have read:
76 books
18,348 pages
with a 2.88 average rating

That rating is not very good. I’ve read a few amazing books this year but a slew of books that I determined weren’t really worth reading. The second half of the year will be better than the first half, right?

One of the books I accepted for review has slightly boosted that average rating.

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Anything by Dee Henderson is almost guaranteed to be a four star read and this book was no exception. I believe I have read all of Henderson’s books and this one was fantastic. What makes it so unique is that the entire book takes place after Shannon escapes from her kidnappers. She seeks out Matthew, a private investigator, and slowly shares her story with him as they both attempt to right wrongs that have taken place over the last twenty or thirty years. I really appreciated how this story unfolded as Shannon and Matthew use the information she provides to track down the kidnappers so that justice can be served.

As I read the story, I was surprised to find something that may help with my parenting. We are traveling next week to adopt a 13 year old girl who has had a history of loss. She lost both her parents at an early age and now she’s losing her birth country, her caretakers, her language, and everything else that is familiar to her. We will be doing our best to help her feel safe and loved from day one but I am sure she will eventually share stories with us that will break our hearts. In the novel, Matthew is offered some advice about how to best help Shannon as she shares her very emotional history. He is told, “But I’d stay with the basic three rules – listen, try not to react, and keep your reply at the same emotional tone she sets” (59).

This advice really makes sense to me. When my daughter shares something emotional from her history, I have to first listen to her. Truly listen. I have to try not to react to the story she shares because otherwise I may unintentionally discourage her from sharing more details. And I need to respond with the same emotional tone she uses to share. I don’t want to burst into tears if she matter of factly drops an alarming detail while we’re playing a game. If that happens, she may feel that she’s a burden or that I cannot handle what she’s sharing.

In a later section of the book, Shannon shares some of how she feels about God. She attempts to answer the age old question of why God allows suffering. I thought her explanation was rather insightful.

He did [allow the kidnapping]. And I wondered for a time if God still loved me… I’d like a featherbed world where falling out of a tree didn’t break a bone, where a guy couldn’t land a blow on someone smaller than himself, where no one ever got to touch me without my consent. That’s the world I would have created. But God decided to create a world where free will was more important than no one ever getting hurt. There must be something stunningly beautiful and remarkable about free will that only God can truly grasp, because God hates, literally abhors, evil, yet He created a world where evil could happen if people chose it. God sees something in free will and choice that’s worth tolerating the horrifying blackness that would appear if evil was chosen rather than good. I find that utterly remarkable…

God gave Adam and Eve that free will and a choice. He gave them one warning: eat of any tree that is here, including the wonderful tree of life, but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I wish Adam and Eve had thought more about what knowledge meant. … But how do you really know something? You experience it. … The sad thing about evil, we did this to ourselves. It wasn’t God’s plan. God expected, fully intended, for Adam and Eve to obey what He had said, to leave the tree of good and evil alone. We’re Adam and Eve’s children, reaping their decision. We chose the knowlege – the experience of good and evil – and we found out just how bitter and dark evil really is. We experience it now. That’s our reality. There’s probably not a person alive who wouldn’t want to go back and see that decision changed, now that we have tasted how bad it turned out to be. My faith survived because I realized God didn’t want this for us, He never had (107-109).

Definitely a thought provoking summary of free will.

I am so glad that I accepted this book for review. My only complaint with the novel, and it’s a flaw that I feel runs throughout Henderson’s books, is that the characters are too perfect. They have challenges, yes. Bad things happen to them. But overall, they handle life perfectly. Even when they make a mistake, they bounce back immediately and learn deep, valuable life lessons that they are able to apply from that moment forward.

Still, it was a fantastic read and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to read and review Taken. Many thanks to Bethany House for the opportunity. All thoughts are my own!

May Nightstand – full of books!

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It has been ages since I’ve participated in a Nightstand post but I finally remembered to write up a post on the correct day!

I have two shelves full of library books. The top shelf is mostly adult books whereas the second shelf is full of kids’ books that I am previewing for my future daughter. I’m slowly starting to build up a personal library of children’s books but want to make sure they are quality books.

This first book is one I am most excited about – Dinotopia. I’m not familiar with it but a friend recommended it. We’ve flipped through it and the artwork is fantastic! I can’t wait to read the story.

Kisses from Katie has been on my to-read list for ages and I finally borrowed it from the library. Hopefully I can finish it before it’s due next week.

This last book is one I definitely need to buy. You’re Loved No Matter What has been powerful and I’m only 50 pages in. I have struggled to feel worthy of love as far back as I can remember. I’m still trying to find my worth as a daughter of the King and hope that this book helps a bit.

Last but not least, I’m working my way through Christy, this month’s Reading to Know bookclub selection. I definitely won’t be finishing it by the end of the month but I’m glad for the chance to reread it.

What have you been reading lately? I’ll be taking a flight to Taiwan later this summer and am in need of a good book, something engaging but that doesn’t require a lot of thought. It’s a 12 hour flight so a thick book would be great! Anything you’d highly recommend?

Mothering From Scratch – A Book Review

A quick side note – three book reviews in one day! I promised myself no more borrowing books from the library until I finished all of the books I had accepted for review at home. This is my last one and then library freedom! Woohoo!!

In preparation for adoption, I keep reading parenting books. Some are about child development, some are about discipline, and some are general motivation with a lot of rah rah. Some of the books are fairly general parenting books and others deal with a specific issue or topic. Based on the book’s subtitle (Finding the Best Parenting Style for You and Your Family), I expected Mothering From Scratch to be one of the books that digs into specific parenting philosophies. While there were a few nuggets of wisdom, overall I felt like I was promised something that was never delivered.

First of all, I felt like the authors assumed that my reading material primarily consists of magazine articles or blog posts. Each chapter contains a “Lovin’ Spoonful” which is a small sidebar of information. There were also numerous small quotes along the margins scattered throughout the book. The co-authors alternated who shared personal stories, which felt disjointed and kept me from really getting to know which kids belonged to which mother.

Second, the book wasn’t really about finding the best parenting style for your family. I was hoping that the authors would present various parenting styles and discuss which styles are best for different personalities and temperaments and life experiences. Instead, the basic message of the book is that you should just do whatever you feel is best for your family. I agree with that but it’s such a basic idea that I felt I wasted my time reading an entire book about it.

Scrolling through the Amazon and Goodreads reviews, it seemed most readers really enjoyed the book. It just wasn’t a good fit for me. Thank you Bethany House for the free copy in exchange for my honest opinion. All thoughts are my own.

And just because this amuses me, I have to share this photo. This is the first time I’ve ever noticed the same stock photography being used on two different book covers.

Your Life Still Counts – A Book Review

I’m going to let myself be vulnerable for a moment and share my biggest struggle in life. I’m currently reading a review book titled Your Life Still Counts by Tracie Miles. I can’t tell if this book is helping me or kicking me while I am down. I requested it for review because of the subtitle: How God Uses Your Past to Create a Beautiful Future. My past is rather “tame” compared to some. I’ve never smoked, never gotten drunk, didn’t have premarital sex, never used drugs, have never stolen anything… and yet I’m still a sinner in need of a Savior.

My religious upbringing left me with a very distorted view of God. By the time I graduated from high school, I was a very judgmental person. I fully believed that God required His followers to live perfect lives or else they wouldn’t be allowed into heaven. I believed that meant that everyone should live a conservative lifestyle and eliminate all sin from their lives. Otherwise, there was no way that we could stand in front of God. Because God is perfect, we must be perfect to be in His presence.

I know my view of God is wrong and yet I still struggle with overwhelming shame because of my sins. I forever fear that God will not accept me as I am, that He cannot possibly love me. So when I fail, which is daily, I despise myself. If I am unloving toward my husband, I will mentally berate myself for hours because I failed yet again. How can my husband still love me when I act like such a jerk? How can God still love me?

So I requested this book in hopes that it would help me in my journey to better understand God’s character and teach me how to move beyond my past. I’m only half way through the book but wanted to write up my review now because I have no idea how long it will take me to actually finish it. More than anything, the book is helping by pointing out Bible verses that show just how much God loves us. This was the passage I read yesterday:

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars;
He gives names to all of them.
Great is our Lord and abundant in strength;
His understanding is infinite.
Psalm 147:2-5
In the chapter titled “Your Pain Was Not for Nothing,” Miles points out a lesson I am desperately trying to learn. She writes:

In Isaiah 43:18, it is obvious God wanted them (the Israelites) to look at what was to come and what was ahead of them, not behind them: “But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.” The NIV puts it this way: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”

God wasn’t most concerned about what they had done but about where they were going and how they would allow what they had been through to fuel their faith and propel them to spread the knowledge of Him. He wanted them to seek a new interest in Him and embrace a new vision for their future – not be paralyzed and fixated on their past mistakes and circumstances, or even their long-term patterns of sinful and idolatrous living. Although they couldn’t erase the past completely from their minds, they could learn from it and move forward and be used for God’s kingdom. He wanted them to focus on new miracles, new accomplishments, and new victories in Him, while looking to Him for direction and guidance for the future.

So far I have not internalized this lesson. I am too busy looking backwards and feeling shame and rejection for all of my past mistakes. Hopefully I can learn to move past the shame and find forgiveness. I know God forgives when we ask, and I have begged for His forgiveness, but I am not letting His love reach beyond my past perception of His character.

Again, many thanks to Bethany House for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. I hope that I can continue to learn from the book and learn that God does have a beautiful future in plan for me.

Like a Flower in Bloom – A Book Review

I had the opportunity to read and review Siri Mitchell’s newest book titled Like a Flower in Bloom. I believe I had now read every single one of Mitchell’s novels. I’ve enjoyed each of them, though to varying degrees.

It’s all her uncle’s fault. For years Charlotte Withersby has been free to pursue her love of plants and flowers by assisting her botanist father. But now that she’s reached the old age of twenty-two, an intrusive uncle has convinced her father that Charlotte’s future–the only proper future for a woman–is to be a wife and mother, not a scholar.

Her father is so dependent on her assistance that Charlotte believes he’ll soon change his mind…and then Edward Trimble shows up. A long-time botany correspondent in the South Pacific, Trimble arrives ready to step in as assistant so that Charlotte can step out into proper society–a world that baffles her with its unwritten rules, inexplicable expectations, and confounding fashion.

(description from the back cover)

Like a Flower in Bloom was fairly entertaining. Sometimes I feel like I can literally run through a novel. Other times it feels more like a leisurely walk. This novel felt like I was skipping down a dirt road the entire time. I couldn’t quite pinpoint what was causing that feeling, but it was a bit disconcerting. Some of the dialog reminded me of The Importance of Being Earnest, which is one of my favorites.

The story, however, was rather frustrating. I am not a feminist but I do believe that women should be valued. When the men in her life believe that it’s time for Charlotte to find a husband, they take away all of her duties. Charlotte loves working with flowers and helping her father and feels completely bereft when she is no longer allowed to do either. It was frustrating to see how many people would not listen to Charlotte as she tried to explain how useless she now feels without something productive to do each day. Instead, she is told to learn to dress pretty and to fit in with society so that she can snag a husband. It felt like much of the conflict could be resolved with some simple communication.

It’s not a novel that I will return to but I’m glad I took the time to read it. Much thanks to Bethany House for providing a free copy in exchange for my honest opinions.

Let the thought of God allure thee

Lately I have been reading The Pursuit of God. I’m not familiar with the author, though I do recognize his name. I don’t yet have any comments on the devotionals themselves, but I have discovered that I rather like 18th century Christian poetry.

Tis not enough to save our souls,
To shun the eternal fires;
The thought of God will rouse the heart
To more sublime desires.

How little of that road, my soul!
How little has thou gone!
Take heart, and let the thought of God
Allure thee further on.

-Frederick W. Faber
Beautiful!

Do you have a favorite poet? Now I want to browse my library to see if I can find some poetry compilations.

Forever Mom – A book every adoptive parent should read

I loved this book so much I read it in less than two days. I just couldn’t put it down. I laughed, I cried, and I marked sections to go back and reread later. This is more than just a “how to adopt” book. It covers the transition of a new child into the home and how to connect with your child over the next few years. It’s not super in-depth, but it covers more than most of the introductory adoption books I’ve read. Plus, the author admits her mistakes so that you can avoid making the same ones in your own adoption.

Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting, by Mary Ostyn
I loved this thought, which echoes some of the material covered in our 10 week parenting class:

But children can’t model positive behavior on the outside until their brains heal. Amy Monroe, from Empowered to Connect, said that expecting emotionally healthy behavior from an emotionally wounded child is like setting a three-month-old baby in the middle of the living room and telling him to walk to you. He’s not mature enough to do it yet.

We parents desperately need to understand the level of woundedness that drives difficult behavior so that we can remain compassionate toward difficult behavior over the long term. We’ve got to address the root of the behavior instead of focusing on the behavior. Only then can we create a healing home (page 65).

In a section that offers suggestions for bonding with a newly adopted little one:

All these activities are ones we tend to do naturally with little ones, but they’re especially important for adopted babies who need extra time and interaction to make up for the time you missed before you became a family. And don’t listen to the folks who say you’re spoiling your baby. Spoiling is something that happens to fruit that is forgotten, not babies who are well loved. So love on that new kiddo of yours. It’s one of the joys of parenthood, and it’s just what he needs (page 78).

This next quote is something I need to remind myself often.

John and I assumed that once their behavior improved, our relationship would grow too. We didn’t realize for years that we had that little equation exactly backward. It goes: first relationship, then behavior. It’s how we did it with our babies, right? We build the relatioship for many months, saying yes to their needs thousands of times before we ever add in behavior expectations. But somehow with our hurt kids, we expect all sorts of things just because they’re older. Well, guess what? Relationship still needs to come first. The more we tried to change our kids’ behavior via consequences before we had the relationship piece in place, the further their hurt hearts fled. The more I tried to encourage right behavior using typical parenting methods, the more like a drill sergeant I became. The gentle, patient, intuitive part of my soul was getting buried. And drill sergeants aren’t so easy to bond with. I had to take control of my frustration and learn a new way to relate, one that looked a lot more like the love that comes from Jesus. Instead of being a nagging taskmaster, I needed to be a channel of His grace (page 154).

That last section was reinforced by a Bible text quoted later in the chapter. Romans 2:4 says, “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.” There is a lot in this chapter to chew on, both in how I relate to God and how I should relate to my children.

Ostyn also quotes John 10:27, which says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” She adds a note to say, “our kids won’t follow us until they know us (page 162)!”

One of the last chapters includes advice directly from adoptees. I love what this adoptee had to share:

Be patient. Most older-adopted kids are broken people. We don’t trust easily and we are cautious. Once we feel secure and safe, we open up. Be kind. Harsh words and anger tend to hurt us more than the average person. For me, knowing I disappointed my parents was enough punishment. Be kind to yourself. You are going to make mistakes, but any parent will. Know that being a parent of an adopted child is harder and more emotional. Have faith in yourself and God. Know that all we as adoptees want is a loving, stable home (page 203).

Overall, I loved this book and would recommend it to any parent who is getting ready to adopt or who has already adopted but is looking for encouragement. This book is going on my bookshelf to reread right before my daughter comes home. Thank you to Booklookbloggers for a copy in exchange for my honest thoughts. I would have bought this book had I discovered it at the bookstore before being given the chance to review it!