Good Reads

As and when I get the chance to read a decent book, particularly one which helps me with parenthood, I will be telling you about it here.  It’s not really a book review page, but a book recommendation page.  So if I come across a bit ‘gushy’, please know that I am not exaggerating.  I actually can be quite a harsh critic I’m afraid, so if I’m saying something is fab then it’s because I really think it is. Hope you find this useful.  If you’ve read any of them too, please feel free to comment at the bottom.

Hope When it Hurts, Kristen Wetherell & Sarah Walton

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There is one great sign that you are loved more than you thought.  It is the cross.  And there is a still further sign that you will live in tis love forever.  It is the empty tomb.*

The cross is so precious to Christians – to those who know what it means for them.  But it seemed at the time to be a catastrophic end to a promising life.  Shattered dreams, hope lost.  And yet, the cross is where our King triumphs.  He pays our debt in full.  He breaks the power of death: our great enemy, our big problem.  Our God’s greatest victory was won through agony and apparent weakness.  And so it’s not surprising that as Christians, we suffer.

There are those who will tell you that suffering only comes from lack of faith, or disobedience, or even God’s mistakes.  But it’s a lie.  In this broken world, we should expect to suffer.  That’s why I want to recommend this book to you, Hope When it Hurts.  It’s a series of short chapters meditating on 2 Corinthians Chapters 4 and 5.  You could read one a day, or read big chunks at a time.  Either way, I think it’s a really precious resource.

This book explores the value of weakness: not only is weakness inevitable but it is also used by God to show his power and to bless us.

This book explores the blessing there is in suffering, as it draws us nearer to the all-sufficient God.

This book is honest about life – written by two women who are learning these lessons as they go along – and points us to the good, sovereign, gracious God who has a plan and will not abandon us.

If you’re not suffering right now, it’s likely that you will do in the future and/or that someone close to you is.  It’s also really important that we don’t trust in our earthly comforts but that we trust in God, through the “easy” times as well as the “hard” times.  Yes, we’re heading for a perfect world, but since we’re not there yet I think you will find this book to be worth its weight in gold.

If we think that suffering and blessing can’t co-exist, we will always be seeing shallow pleasures and comforts, and we will miss out on the deep blessings of walking closely with Christ in suffering.  The world to come means that we can be pained and privileged at the same time. (Hope when it Hurts, p.82.)

*From Jared Wilson, The Wonder-Working God, quoted in Hope When it Hurts.

 

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross – Carl Laferton & Catalina Echeverri

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The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Mark 15:38)

This Bible verse is underlined in the copy of the Bible I had years ago, when I first became a Christian.  At some point I must have really pondered how utterly staggering it is that the physical reminder of the barrier between the perfect God and sinful humanity was destroyed, just at the moment the perfect Son of God was murdered for humanity’s sin.  If you find that confusing, a: it’s my fault, and b: you should read this book.

I’ve waxed lyrical before about Catalina Echeverri’s illustrations in The Storm that Stopped and the One O’Clock Miracle, so needless to say this book is beautiful to look at, and not just that but the illustrations also really help children to understand the story.

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Photo doesn’t do it justice, sorry!

As you’d expect from the title, the book retells the story of creation and the fall, and then it jumps to the meaning of the curtain in the temple, and then skips ahead to the cross, and how the death and resurrection of Jesus opened the way for us to be with God again.

I think Carl Laferton has done an exceptional job of simplifying an essential truth which (as I unintentionally demonstrated above) could easily come across as very complicated.  I won’t give it away because I do think you should buy this book, but he makes articulating doctrine seem like child’s play.

I hope to use this book to teach the children about the cross and resurrection this Easter, so I will let you know what I come up with.  Last year I focused on blood, but this year I might try a more curtainy approach.

If you don’t think your children need to know about the fall, or about sin, or the consequences of sin, or why Jesus died, or what his death achieved, or what heaven will be like, or what our response to Jesus should be for what he’s done for us, then perhaps don’t buy this book.  But if you do think those things are important, it’s probably worth getting this instead of (another) easter egg.  It will last much longer and won’t rot their teeth.  You can buy it here from the Good Book Company.

God Made All of Me – Justine S & Lindsey A Holcomb

‘Have you talked to your children about boundaries so that they know how they should and shouldn’t be touched?’

I was chatting to a friend about when it’s right to talk to your child about s.e.x.  We both agreed it’s probably good to introduce it earlier than you might think, because you don’t want them hearing about it from someone else in the “school playground.”  Then she asked me the above question about boundaries.

Er… no.  I’d never thought about that before.  Cue panic!

To me, the idea of anyone touching my child in an inappropriate way is SO horrific that I dare not even think about it, never mind talk about it.  But obviously, that’s not much use to my children.  I’m so glad my friend raised this with me, but then I was left with the question of how to approach the topic with my children.

You can imagine how relieved I was, then, to discover this book: God Made All of Me by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb.  The subtitle is ‘A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies,’ and that’s what it does.  I read it to my (VERY sensitive) children, aged 5 and 4, and they weren’t in any way disturbed or upset by it but it definitely taught them some extremely valuable lessons.

The book is told through a family having a conversation about how precious our bodies are and that some parts are private and some are not, and some touches are appropriate and some are not, etc.  There’s also an important bit about the difference between a surprise (fun) and a secret (not fun).

As I read this book, I found myself feeling quite traumatised at the thought of anyone trying to harm my child.  It’s difficult to read as an adult because you have the background knowledge that some people do terrible things to children.  But my children don’t really have any such knowledge or awareness, so for them it’s not a scary or upsetting book at all – and as I said, they are very sensitive children.  Disney gives them nightmares.

The book also uses the foundation that God made our bodies, and that’s why they’re precious.  This is always an important truth for our children to return to if they are ever unsure about how valuable they are.

The only downside of this book for me was that in the back it has a double page list of ‘Ways to Protect Your Children from Sexual Abuse,’ which is very helpful but not something I want either of my children to read.  Which is why the book now lives on Mum and Dad’s bookshelf, not theirs.  However, when you do read these pages you realise that the book covers this list in a clear and child-friendly way.

So I’m really thankful for this book, not least because it helped me to teach my children the right names for body parts.  They were unimpressed.  Even my four year old son, who would gladly talk about willies all day, when confronted with the word ‘penis’ said ‘Urgh!’

The link above tells you more about the book; I bought my copy from Ten of Those.

King’s Cross, Timothy Keller

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Without realising it, I seem to have read quite a few Tim Keller books.  He’s Tim to his friends, and now that I’ve listened to some talks by him and read some of his books, I feel we’re on quite familiar terms.  I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to him speak – he’s the pastor of a church in New York, but he speaks at conferences and stuff – but it always feels like you’re the only one listening to him.  He’s relaxed and informal, which really helps when he’s telling you something mind-blowing about God.  That’s how he writes, too, so if you’ve been intimidated by hearing some people call him the CS Lewis of our generation, then please believe me when I say you can read a Tim Keller book with a baby on your shoulder.

If you’re following my blog then you knew I was reading this because I kept telling you about it (e.g. here and here), and now I would urge you to read it. You can borrow my copy, although I’ve scrawled all over it and underlined several life-changing quotations.  So maybe buy your own.

Keller goes through Mark’s gospel, looking at what we learn about Jesus’ identity and why Jesus came.  It’s challenging to read as a Christian because it gets you into the gospel of Mark and helps you to see again how glorious the Lord Jesus is.  And it would be a brilliant book for someone who’s not yet a Christian (if that’s you, please read it right now!) because it doesn’t assume anything and it’s really clear about what this Jesus is about and what it would mean to follow the King.

There are heart-warming encouragements, ‘The only place you’re safe is in the will of God’ (p. 55) and jaw-dropping challenges, ‘You can’t come to a king negotiating.  You lay your sword at a king’s feet and say, “Command me.”‘ (p. 107).  So if you don’t want to fall more in love with Jesus, I would warn you to keep away!  I read a bit each day along with a bit of Mark’s gospel and found it so accessible and relevant to my day-to-day life.  I find books like this hard to come by, so thank you Pastor Tim.

As you read it you see how Christ came to call us to give our lives to Him, the One who obliterates idolatry and religion and all our preconceptions about what God is like.  And we see how, wonderfully, He only ever calls us to do less than He Himself has done for us.  This God-Man demands a response, and whether we’ve been a Christian for decades or we know nothing about The Bible, there’s always more to see and marvel at when we turn our eyes upon Jesus.
“Either you’ll have to kill him or you’ll have to crown him.  The one thing you can’t do is just say, “What an interesting guy.”  p. 162.

Everything a Child Should Know About God, Kenneth N. Taylor 

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This is a book of Bible doctrine for kids.  Sounds a little dry, if not to say over-ambitious, doesn’t it?  But it’s excellent. Each page explains a Biblical truth in child-friendly and simple language, accompanied by a beautiful illustration by Jenny Brake.  At the bottom of the page is a question to ask your child, to help you to know whether they understand (or were even listening). It’s a great one to use at mealtimes, because each page is short and simple.  My kids love it (and they’re probably quite similar to your kids).
When we started this book, I thought it was so simple that my children might not learn anything.  But as we thought about each truth I realised that they are actually mind-blowing in depth.  For example, the page ‘God is Everywhere’ seemed very simple when we read it, but led to a follow-up question from my 5-year-old, ‘When Jesus was dead, was he still everywhere?’  (Thankfully I live next door to my Pastor, which is great back-up at such times!)
I hope you can make out the page in the picture above, which was just to show you what it’s like inside.  Miriam was reading that to me yesterday while I cooked the dinner.  It links well to my most recent post, Learning to Wait.  God really is trying to drive that one home at the moment it seems!  In case you can’t see it, the text says:
“Jesus is in heaven now, but on day He will come back again through the clouds.  We will see Him and He will take us to heaven to live with him.  What an exciting day that will be!  Perhaps He will come today!  In the picture this family is talking about what it will be like to see Jesus come back from heaven.” p. 176.

This book is not designed to replace Bible reading, but is an excellent tool to use alongside regular Bible time.  I really do recommend it.  Perhaps if you find mealtimes tough, as I do, this could be a ray of light.  You can buy it at 10ofthose.come.

Keep the Faith, Martin Ayers – reviewed by Ta, mother of 2 under 4.

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“I am a doubter by nature. A disbeliever; a second guesser.

And, of course, this painfully carries true into my Christian faith.

Doubt isn’t dissimilar to pain. It might just be a little infrequent niggle, but it also has the power to overwhelm and shake us violently. Or numb us into resignation. Either way, it is very real.

And whether we acknowledge it or not, doubt saturates the air we breathe.

But, rather than letting our faith be suffocated, may I recommend this book to you? Of course, it isn’t going to magically fix all of our issues of doubt in one sitting, however well-penned, but it does offer succinct, sympathetic support on how we might tackle the issue.

Martin Ayers explores what the Bible itself says on the matter, dissecting doubt at its root, by taking us back to “The Fall”. He shows that objectivity is really an impossibility – despite what the current trendy philosophies of “relativism”, “secularism” and “atheism” would have us believe.

We are truth suppressors. God rejectors. This is not due to a lack of evidence or intellectual ability. In fact, faith and doubt are not primarily issues of intellect, reason or science. Faith and doubt are spiritual issues, and it is only God’s gracious revelation that allows us to see things as He does.

Perhaps it is time we doubted our doubts and shifted our thinking. The stakes are indeed high, no less than a matter of life and death.

In the face of doubt, Martin Ayers delves into the Bible. Yes, reading the Bible in the face of doubt is counter-intuitive and, frankly, down-right hard. But persevere, and you may be surprised to find reassurance in the consistency of God’s Word.

So don’t shy away. Let this book guide you to the Bible. No amount of doubt, disbelief or scepticism can weaken or break any of God’s truth or promises.”

A Girl Called Jack – Jack Monroe

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This is a cookbook, so not intended to be primarily a good read – although if you’re like me you’ll enjoy reading it like a novel.  I wanted to recommend it to you because it’s been a huge help to me.  If, like me, you find sticking to your grocery budget difficult (and getting more difficult by the week!), you’ll enjoy this book.  It’s full of realistic, cheap recipes.  Yes, realistic!  Usually the ingredients consist of items like stock cubes and chopped tomatoes – things you are likely to buy.  And yes, cheap!  I’m tired of ‘budget’ recipes which include taking 6 chicken breasts and a jar of expensive sauce.  I was beginning to think I was the only mum in the world who couldn’t really afford fillets, but of course I was wrong.
If you don’t know Jack’s story, she became famous when she started blogging recipe ideas when living off £10 a week for her and her son’s meals.  You can tell when you read this that she’s lived it out – with tons of practical tips that actually work.  And I was worried when I bought this book that the portions might be small and the meals depressing, but I needn’t have.  We’ve been eating Jack’s meals for a couple of months now and I haven’t had any complaints from the hubby.  Some of the food is not really stuff my children would enjoy, but they’re fussy and it’s still saving us money so I am very grateful.  Plus if you buy this from thebookpeople, it’s only a fiver.  Champion.

Compared to her… Sophie de Witt

Theodore Roosevelt said ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’  I don’t know anything else about him but just for that he’s now my second favourite US president (I’m fickle).

If you like short books (which if you’re a mum I’m guessing you’re forced to) then you should definitely get hold of a copy of this.  It’s a good one to read through with a friend or two and discuss because it will probably unearth uncomfortable truths about your heart that you’d rather ignore!  I read it in a book group and I think we all realised that we’re much more badder than we thought we were.

But this isn’t a book designed to condemn you!  Far from it.  As the strapline says, this book is about ‘How to experience true contentment.’  Who doesn’t want that?  Sophie de Witt writes in a simple, readable way, with loads of anecdotes to help you to apply what she’s saying.  She also uses the Bible well to support her argument, particularly in the second half of the book.  And it doesn’t just present you with the problems of comparisons, but also the solutions, including the positive, helpful types of comparisons we can get into the habit of making.

I’ve heard some people say about this book that they think that comparing oneself is a culture-specific problem.  However, I actually disagree.  I think that the nature of your comparisons is culture-specific, but actually most people do it, whatever their culture/age/class/ethnicity.  I think the Biblical examples are quite persuasive.

I’ve written a couple of posts in the past about comparisons, and I only scratched the surface so if you read them and they resonated with you at all, please read this book.  I learnt most of what I know about comparisons from this book – it’s been an enormous help to me.

Warning – something that came up in our book group when we were discussing this book:

De Witt refers to the ‘Compulsive Comparison Syndrome’ as a female problem: ‘I’ve rarely met a woman who doesn’t struggle with it.’  I’m sure she’s right, but I think it’s fair to say that ‘CCS’ is not exclusive to women (de Witt would probably say that too, but this book is written for women).  In fact, the Biblical examples she uses of people sinfully comparing themselves are of men as well as women (e.g. Adam and Eve; Cain and Abel; all of humanity in Romans 1).  Some friends who read this found it raised their feminist hackles, so please try not to let that put you off this extremely helpful book.

Shopping for Time – Carolyn Mahaney, Nicole Whitacre, Kristin Chesemore & Janelle Bradshaw

Appropriately I don’t really have time to write a proper review of this book right now, but I just wanted to recommend it to you because some of the stuff in my post ‘Fight for Your Life’ is what I learnt from reading this book.  It’s really short and very practical so if you don’t read much you should still give this one a go.  It helps you to plan out how you should be spending your time, which is very liberating.  Hopefully you end up feeling less guilty about the stuff you’re not doing and more content with what you’re able to do.

As well as the practical stuff, this book really encourages you to prioritise Christ above all the other things in life which make you busy.  Sometimes you have to take the principle and not get upset if you can’t see yourself waking up at 5am (not voluntarily, anyway), but it truly is well worth a read.  Well done Mahaney women, thank you again!  (Photo to follow, but I’m sure you’ll just Google it anyway!)

Practicing Affirmation – Sam Crabtree (Crossway)

Blurred I know - sorry.

Blurred I know – sorry.

How does your child respond to praise?

‘Well done!’

‘Clever boy!’

‘Oh, that’s brilliant!’

I’m guessing pretty well.  We’re always told to praise our children, aren’t we?  Weirdly though, my daughter doesn’t really seem to like it.  Often when I make a fuss about something good she’s done, she just squirms and gets annoyed.  This has made it hard for me – how do I encourage her in a way that will, well, encourage her?

Enter Sam Crabtree.  I don’t want to overstate it, but I do think that reading this book has helped to change my relationship with my daughter.  I’ve learnt to praise her in a way she can handle, and as a result she responds better to me when I’m correcting her too.

Practicing Affirmation is not a parenting book.  It was recommended it to me by the staff team at my church, none of whom are parents, who had been reading through it together.  That being said, I’ve found it massively helpful in relating to my children.  And sometimes it makes a nice change to read a Christian book that’s not about parenting!

The book is largely based on the principle that we should be in the habit of affirming people in a God-centred way.  In other words, we should point out good things about people, and in turn point them to God, who is the source of everything good.  Anything good in a person is a result of God’s grace, and so as Crabtree says, ‘God is not given the praise he deserves when we ignore or deny the work he is doing in people.’

I think it’s fair to say that English people are not generally very good at praising people.  (You might not be English, in which case you probably agree with me!) But if we are Christians, we should be making a habit of pointing out the good God is doing in people, whatever our temperament or culture.  Reading this book has caused me to think more about how God is working in people, so that I can point it out.  This leads to more praise for God – ideal!  It also means that when I encourage people I’m steering away from ‘Nice Bible study, thanks’ or ‘Ha ha, you’re funny,’ and pointing out more specific, God-glorifying things in people.  ‘You really made me think about how God is…’ or ‘Thank you for your cheerfulness when you serve.’  I need to work at this much more, but the book gave me loads of practical help – I just need to get on and do it.

In terms of my praising Miriam, I think that I’ve started to say things like, ‘Good sharing’ which doesn’t really draw as much attention to her as ‘Good girl, what a lovely sister,’ but still affirms the good quality.  I can also try to point out to her God’s working in her (however much she understands at this age) – such as:

‘I’m really pleased to see you not joining in with that behaviour because I pray that God would help you not to follow the crowd.  This means God is answering my prayers and working in your heart.’  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t say things like this to her often, but as I try to find opportunities to do it I am giving God more praise and slowly teaching her that God is shaping her character, by his grace.

If you choose to read this book – which I do recommend! – please don’t be discouraged if you find it a little bit tricky to read.  It’s not long, and Crabtree’s examples and illustrations are helpful and straightforward, but I found the style of writing a little dense.  Please don’t let that put you off – I’m merely saying it so you won’t be put off if you begin reading it.  As I flick through it now to refresh my memory of the book, I’m reminded of how excellent it is.  Stick it on your Christmas list!

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