resources and reviews

Book Review and Giveaway! Our Daily Bread for Kids

This is an exciting day, my friends. I have in my hot little hands not one, but two copies of the brand spanking new Our Daily Bread for Kids. For years our churches have had those little booklets from Our Daily Bread tucked in random spots all over the building. You can find them in restaurants and next to the Bibles of adults across the world.

But never before has there been an edition just for the kids– until now!

If you could imagine me typing away at my kitchen counter while a fog machine billows out a lot of smokey air and I fling my arms towards the ceiling dramatically, that would give you a better feel for the excitement at the moment.

I am flinging my arms around, but I don’t have a fog machine. That’s an expense I can’t justify for the blog. Yet.

But back to the point– a few weeks ago Our Daily Bread Ministries contacted me and asked if I’d like to review the book here on the blog. And since Josh (employee of said ministry) and I have known each other for many years, I cheekily demanded giveaway copies too. (Full disclosure– ODB is the parent company of Discovery House, which publishes my books.)

Our Daily Bread for Kids Giveaway

Because I love you, my loyal readers. I want you to join the fun, too! So Josh and Denise (another ODB employee) stole (or maybe borrowed/begged– I don’t know how these things work) copies and mailed them to my house and then I eyed them with distrust as they sat in my kitchen.

Because here’s a little backstory for you. I don’t trust children’s devotionals anymore after a little incident we had a few years ago when a well-known Christian children’s show put out a book of so-called devotionals. It started out okay, right at the kids’ levels, but then I realized that many days didn’t actually have anything to do with the Bible. We were reading inspirational thoughts and quotes from famous people who did nice things.

If I wanted to teach my kids nice thoughts from famous people we could simply watch a Saved by the Bell marathon and let Screech and Kelly Kapowski teach us important lessons.

I’m going for eternity here, people. I want these children to know and love the Bible and know and love the Savior who fills its pages. I don’t have time for nice thoughts and moral lessons because in a few short years these kids are out the door and I’m out of time to teach them.

I threw that other book right in the trash. I didn’t even want to give it to friends. So, therefore and thus, you see why I was eyeing Our Daily Bread for Kids with a little skepticism. I handed it off to my son, who’s at the upper level of the recommended age range (six to ten years old), before I read any of it. I said, “Honey, I need you to read five of these pages.”

He was almost done with his homework and was trying to beat his sister to the TV, so he wasn’t super happy about the assignment. A little struggle ensued, but I won because children don’t win struggles in this house.

(Usually.) ((Unless it involves an extra cookie and their father isn’t around to protest.))

But after he settled down and started reading he looked up and said, “Mom! This is good!”

“What are you learning?” I asked/demanded.

And then he listed off few things about sin, and taking a bath, and lying. For a nine year-old boy who was dying to get to his video games, it was pretty impressive.

I picked up the book where he abandoned it and gave it the hairy eyeball, still expecting little. I grew more and more excited when I realized many of the devotions are simple, age-appropriate retellings of actual Bible stories. Some days have a little visual illustration built in or an explanation of biblical culture, which is pretty crucial for kids who only know the modern way of life.

I couldn’t be more pleased. The authors, Crystal Bowman and Teri McKinley, have done a wonderful job.

I leave us with a little quote from the December 26th entry:

People make their own plans and try to take control of things– but nothing can stop God from doing what He wants. God is bigger than anything people try to do to change His plan. You can trust that God will save you through Jesus. You can always trust in God’s power and love to protect you.


GIVEAWAY UPDATE: We have two winners– Deb W and Susie F! I’m mailing out their copies this week. Congratulations, ladies. You’re the best!

A Short Explanation on Your Missing Blogger

Dear readers,

Precious, wonderful, lovely readers.

I miss you! But our computer is still in the shop, waiting for the technician to return. They said the earliest he could repair it would be tomorrow, which means we’ve been computer-free for a week. In theory I could blog from my phone while we wait, but now the poor thing is getting so old that “social media” is more of a concept than an actual thing it does.

I’ve spent my extra time–wait for it–reading. I’ve been reading actual books! It occurred to me that maybe you’d like to read them too, assuming you might be interested in slowing down and paring your life down to what matters.

Here’s what’s been occupying my mind this week:

  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. Do you ever step back, look at your day, and wonder: Why am I doing all these things? Do they even matter? This is the book for you! Greg Mckeown will help you chop out the stuff that doesn’t matter.
  • In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honore. I am loving this book! Carl Honore’s writing style is just so…compelling. I’m learning so much without feeling like he’s even teaching. He has a few other books I’m adding to my reading list as soon as I finish this one. (P.S. There’s an entire chapter on slowing down in the bedroom. Worth the read, my friends!)
  • Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World by Lee Camp. You may have noticed there’s a huge divide between cultural Christianity and oh, you know…what Jesus told us to do. This is driving me crazy, and Lee Camp has hit the proverbial nail right on its proverbial head. Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow Him, and many other things we completely ignore as we build a protective nest around our religious beliefs. Christ-followers– this is a book you must read.
  • Romans, chapter 12 by the Apostle Paul. If we’re not supposed to build those protective nests, what are we supposed to be doing? Romans 12 gives us a good start. I’ve been reading and rereading it this week, hoping to soak more of it in.

What about you? What’s on your reading table?

Romans 12 10

Books: Causing Thinking People to Think Even More Thoughts

Bear with me, here. I promise I do have a point but it’s going to take me a minute to get there. Let’s start with this: I am quite finished with the concept of an over-booked schedule.

Do you hear me? I mean it. I’m tired of cramming too many things into every day and feeling like I’m wrung dry by the time I crawl into bed. This is no way to live.

If I’m understanding the cry of the culture, I’m not alone. Michael Hyatt’s talking about this problem, Lysa TerKeurst just wrote a book about it, and the faces of my friends who are caught in their own endless busyness clearly indicate that we are a culture who has lost its collective mind. We need to slow down. We need to stop doing it all. We need to catch our breath.

Part of my new campaign (such a fancy and official word– campaign. Heh.) on this blog is that we’ll be doing less and listening more together. I want to have less things to own, less things to do, and more time to build relationships that matter. So I’ve been picking up a few books here and there to help us refocus.

These books have failed me. Oh, if you could only peek in to my anguished, swirling mind. Because here’s the thing– you can take back a schedule and cut out the things. You really can. But then what? What are we really supposed to be doing with our time? Are we supposed to be cutting everything out so we can nap more? I don’t think that’s the point, either.

Busyness keeps us moving, so we never have time to consider this. The frantic pace shuts out the real question, which is what are we really supposed to be doing?

Jen Hatmaker’s book Interrupted was one of the books I thought would clear my head. Instead I’ve spent the last few weeks with increasingly crazy thoughts as my mind bounces from one option to another. At first, I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t buying Jen’s argument of what a Christ-centered life and church is supposed to look like. Her church is deeply rooted in service to the poor and needy in their community, and while that is certainly a crucial part of a church’s purpose, I don’t buy into the idea that the church is supposed to become another homeless shelter or social services agency or even a hospital.

Yes, Jesus fed people. And he healed the sick. He was adamant about social justice. But none of those issues was his main focus. A few years ago our church tried an outreach where we went down to the homeless shelter in Kalamazoo and had a cookout for anyone, in or out of the shelter, who wanted to eat with us.

Agonizing. The experience was agonizing. Because I am all about building relationships, but I am not at all excited about hopping in and out of someone’s afternoon with a hot dog in my hand.

The memory of how I felt completely inadequate and quite stupid and bulbously overfed rings in my mind years later. I wished I could have walked into the kitchen and spent an entire week washing the dishes. Then I would have had a chance to serve, but more importantly, to truly get to know those exact same people at the shelter.

This leads to the important question– so why didn’t you, Jess? Why didn’t you spend a week working in the shelter’s kitchen? The truth is simple. I didn’t have the time. I didn’t have the time then, and I don’t have the time now. I could make the time, but then I’d be right back to the main issue which is that my schedule is out of control. And, quite possibly, yours as well?

There are hundreds of good and worthy things we could all be doing right now. Feed the hungry, volunteer at the hospital, visit the elderly, read to the children, pick up the litter, counsel the youth, save the earth… But we also have jobs, we have children, and we have lives to live. How do we balance the needs of the world with the needs in our own lives?

Just as the crazy voices in my head were reaching a fever pitch, I found this in Interrupted and suddenly Jen Hatmaker and I were best buddies again:

How much more tangible is the gospel when someone experiences it over weeks and months with a real believer whom he or she can ask questions of and learn from by observation? When a Christian consistently treats someone with compassion or demonstrates integrity at work, the gospel wins a hearing. We can continue to invite unbelievers to church, but we must first invite them into our lives. Have them over, go to dinner, welcome them in. (pg. 205)

And then, a few pages over:

Believer, your pastor or your church can never reach your coworker like you can. They do not have the sway over your neighbor who has been entrusted to you. No one better than you can love your wayward brother. One decent sermon cannot influence a disoriented person in the same way your consistent presence in her life can. (pg. 207)

And suddenly my path was clear again. I don’t need to add more things into my schedule. I can love others right around me, right in the midst of my pared-down, sane schedule. So, be prepared. If you’re standing next to me after school as we wait for the kids to be released– you’re my new mission field. If you teach my kids–blammo! You’re up. Next door neighbors, consider this your fair warning.

Quote from Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker

Maybe one day, when my kids aren’t so little and I have a chunk of time, I’ll add in a new service project at the shelter. Maybe you have that block of time available right now, and if so, go for it! Reach out. But until that time, I’ll be focusing on the people right around me.

And, dear readers, if you’d like to join me in my crazy thoughts, I’d love to have you with me. Here’s my current reading list. I’d like two-page book reports on each tome, on my desk by Thursday morning. (If you’ve read any of these and like to comment below, I’ll let you skip the book report.)

  • Interrupted, by Jen Hatmaker
  • Life on the Vine, by Phil Kenneson
  • Slow Church, by Chris Smith and John Pattison
  • The Book of John, by John, Jesus, and of course, the Holy Spirit. 🙂
  • 1 Corinthians 9:9-27

Almost Amish: The Book That Will Make You Long for a Buggy and a Bonnet

I was trolling Pinterest the other day, looking for simple living ideas from other folks. I came across this picture and nearly dropped dead from joy at the cover of this book:Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth

The full title is Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life. Nancy Sleeth wrote it, and although I’d never heard of her until that minute I was already a fan. I peeked into Amazon and took a look at the first few pages, then bought it sight unseen.

This almost never happens. I only buy books I already know I love.

Turns out it was money well spent.

Nancy writes with something I cannot overstate: rock-solid common sense. You might have zero interest in the Amish, and you’re still going to be convinced that you need to trade in your minivan for a buggy by the end of this book.

Or at least for a Prius.

Because horses are not the most convenient option, frankly.

Anyway, on to the point. The Amish are long known for their simple approach to life, pretty much ignoring whatever the fools in the outside world are doing. Their faith is strong, their families and communities are solid, their finances are often stable, and they don’t spend their lives mucked up in buying things or impressing people. Almost Amish finances

While the Sleeth family isn’t any more Amish than you or I, they have made purposeful choices just like the Amish. For example, they raised their children to play outside and use their imaginations, instead of filling them with video games and trips to the mall.

They often invite friends and family to their home to share simple meals. (Recipes included!)

They care for the environment, own the aforementioned Prius, and often ride bikes or walk whenever possible.

And this, my favorite, jaw-dropping choice they made– Nancy’s husband quit his job as a physician and director of the local ER so he could “spend the rest of his life trying to serve God and save the planet, even if he never earned another cent.” (p. xiii)

Yes, yes. Read that again. He quit his job as a doctor to be a not-doctor.

And Nancy didn’t even have a heart attack or a panic attack or anything. At least, not for long. She embraced the change and focused on these two words found many, many times in the Bible: Fear Not.

Well, okay. I should probably try that, too.

Without setting the Amish on some sort of idolatrous pedestal, the book takes their excellent example and then translates their choices into ideas we can incorporate into our own lives. We can also strengthen our families and communities. We can shop locally to support our neighbors. We can own fewer things and enjoy our people more.

Just like the Amish.

But without the burden of buying horse feed.

I’m in, are you? What’s the one thing you admire most about the Amish? Do you ever drive to the nearest community and just pray you’ll get to see a girl riding on a bike with her bonnet strings blowing in the wind?


Well, I Still Hate to Cook, but This Cookbook Is Pretty Dang Fabulous.

Okay, the title of this post is a little misleading. I really do like to cook. But I mostly want to wander into my kitchen when the mood strikes me, whip up a little something delicious, and then not cook again for days or months or whatever.

It’s the daily drudgery that gets to me, you know? Why do these people insist on eating every day?

Not to mention our ongoing gluten-free needs, which makes it more complicated and expensive; the cost of groceries in general is, quite simply, out of control. We are coming perilously close to the brink of spending more each month on groceries than we do on our mortgage. Yikes.

I eye all the new cookbooks at the library with suspicion and low expectations. I want recipes to be delicious, cheap, and easy in equal measure. I do not want to wander around Meijer, hunting for cranberries grown in a moonlit bog and harvested by elves.

Got it, cookbook writers of the free world? Cheap, simple ingredients, easy, and delicious. Dial back on the imaginative recipes for us, pretty please.

budget bytes cover art

Beth Moncel, author of Budget Bytes, gets it. She really does. Pushed into frugal eating by her own economic needs, she has written a cookbook that checks all my boxes. She was even considerate enough to rate her recipes from $ to $$$, indicating the really cheap options. Bless her. She has an entire chapter on rice, beans, and lentils, and how to make them edible. (Don’t pretend you like lentils all on their own. I can see you shaking your head at me.)

Right now, at this very moment, I’m flipping through the book and I’m seeing ingredients like black beans, vegetable oil, basil, and carrots. I know what these things are. I even already have these things! (Okay, not the carrots.) Yes, occasionally she throws in a hot sauce I don’t have or a spice I can ignore, but no cookbook is perfect.

This one comes pretty close. Tonight we’re having Garlic Herb Pasta (page 108) with some leftover chicken thrown in for good measure. As soon as I close this post I’m headed over to Amazon to buy a copy of this book, because I’m pretty sure the library doesn’t want their book returned covered in food stains. (Here’s the link to get your own!)

Any other suggestions? What cookbook do you love?


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