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Image Credits: Kymberly Hudson

At the end of Priscilla Shirer’s Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer she states:

And I know without a doubt that God planned the chance for you and me to get together like this too – to unite through our passion for prayer. In fact, He whispered to me about you at that very first Bible study. I didn’t know it then. But I see it clearly now.

It’s you.

You’re the one He had in mind.

Shirer wasn’t wrong; this book is exactly what I needed at this stage in my life. I am so blessed and fortunate to have found this book when I did.

I’ve always been a little self-conscious about my prayer life and always felt like I wasn’t doing this whole prayer thing right. The Bible states in several verses that God hears all prayers – even our silent ones. However, silent prayers or even spoken prayer has always felt a bit awkward to me. I find that it can be hard for me to focus and to get the words out right when it comes to either silent or spoken prayers.

The prayer strategy that works best for me has always been writing down my prayers in a prayer journal and getting as detailed and specific as possible. I spend an average of two hours a day in prayer. My prayer list is ever-growing and I want to make sure I cover everything.

My prayers are powerful and always help me to feel a sense of peace and a closer connection to God. Yet I can help but ask myself the following questions:

  1. Am I doing this right?
  2. Do written prayers still count as prayers?
  3. My prayers are more like letters to God – is this okay?
  4. How do I know who to prayer for? Should I keep a limit on my prayer list…there’s always so many people that need prayers…
  5. Am I spending too much time in prayer? Should I feel guilty about not getting my chores or tasks done because I spent so much time in prayer?
  6. How often should I say the same prayer?
  7. How specific should I get?

Fortunately, Shirer answered nearly all of my questions in Fervent. Right in the second chapter of the book she states:

So with my grandmother’s keen instructions in tow, and the truth of God’s Word as my anchor on ultimate truth and reality, I’ve started the well-worn, proven discipline of writing down my prayers. I began by considering my most pressing dilemmas – the ones raging in my own heart, my family, my finances, my health, my ministry – and then started writing down my own battle plans for dealing with them, based on the truths of Scripture. I resolved to stop using physical means to fight battles that require spiritual remedies, using instead the power of prayer to do what it’s always been designed to do.

So…I’m guessing there’s nothing wrong with writing down prayers. I *AM* in fact doing it right! And as for my laundry list of people/things to pray for? There is no limit for how many people to pray for, how long to pray, and who to pray for. I am not spending too much time in prayer…if anything I should be spending more! It’s just like Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Prayer is not something that should be taken lightly. Just as all Christians are called to put on the full armor of God, they also need to make sure they have the proper weapons to fight the battles of life against the enemy. After all, as Shirer points out in no uncertain terms, this is war! Prayer is our most powerful weapon to use against the enemy, but we must be strategic in how we use it.

Shirer focuses on 10 strategies in Fervent to help you to improve your prayer life and defeat the enemy. These 10 strategies were meant to fight against the enemy in the 10 areas of life where he is most prone to attack you. They include:

  • Strategy 1: Your Passion: Getting It Back When It’s Gone
  • Strategy 2: Your Focus: Fighting the Real Enemy
  • Strategy 3: Your Identity: Remembering Who You Are
  • Strategy 4: Your Family: Fortifying the Lives of Those You Love
  • Strategy 5: Your Past: Ending the Reign of Guilt, Shame, and Regret
  • Strategy 6: Your Fears: Confronting Your Worries, Claiming Your Calling
  • Strategy 7: Your Purity: Staying Strong in Your Most Susceptible Places
  • Strategy 8: Your Pressures: Reclaiming Peace, Rest, and Contentment
  • Strategy 9: Your Hurts: Turning Bitterness to Forgiveness
  • Strategy 10: Your Relationships: Uniting in  a Common Cause

 

Shirer opens her book by stating:

Just so you know what you’re getting into…

By the time you’ve finished reading (and working) through this book, the front cover shouldn’t be able to close neatly back over on itself. It should be noticeably disfigured. Ski-ramping up from the spine at such a scooped angle that even if you laid an old-school telephone book on top, you still couldn’t smooth out what’s become so harshly, permanently misshapen. From heartfelt use. War torn. An impossible option for regifting at Christmastime.

I’m expecting grass stains. Ink smears. Dog-ears. Battle scars. A few of those little wrinkly circles that form on the page when an accidental drop of tea, if not a tear escaping from your eye, spills across two or three lines of text. Unmistakable signs that you’ve been here and been involved here, invested here.

I want pages ripped out and written on. The edges tattered and the corners curled. I want your kids afraid to  touch it without using plastic gloves. Perhaps even the salad tongs.

I think Shirer would be pretty proud of me if she saw what my copy looked like. The cover is now refusing to shut and I’ve definitely highlighted and underlined my fair share of passages including the following:

Listen to me. Nothing – nothing! – is too far gone that your God cannot resurrect it. Even your cutting edge. So go to Him to get it back. Don’t try to regain it yourself. Don’t set your hopes on other people or circumstances to fuse it back into the fiber of your being. Trust it into God’s care. Only his miraculous work can make it bubble back up to the surface where it belongs. And he is more than willing to do it.

This quote shows Shirer speaking out about what we ought to do when we lose our passion for prayer. The enemy doesn’t want us to pray and he will try to persuade us to lose our passion so that we don’t feel like praying. But we must not feed in to this temptation, we must pray anyway and pray harder than we ever had before.

I also highlighted this passage:

Here’s why: According to Scripture, the number-one purpose of marriage – more than even the unique, time-honored partnership it creates between a man and a woman, more than even the conceiving and raising of children, more than any Prince charming fairy tale in any little girl’s head – is how it represents the mystery of the gospel in active, living form.

That’s what a beloved professor of mine, Dr. Dwight Pentecost (who’d also been a professor to my father decades earlier) said to Jerry and me in a typewritten letter that I still treasure in a keepsake box of wedding memories. “I scarcely remind you,” he wrote, “that marriage was instituted by God to be an object lesson to the world of the relationship of a believer to Himself. Each of you will play a significant role in living out this lesson.

A man chooses a bride, loves her, makes a covenant with her, and gives himself completely to her. The woman responds by receiving his love, surrendering to him, entering this covenant bond with him, and becoming one flesh with him. It’s not a perfect representation, of course, since the best marriage we can possibly make on earth still involves a pair of fallen, broken people. But in its deepest sense, at its deepest level, this primary human relationship between husband and wife is meant to be a living witness to others of the love of Christ for His church (Eph. 5:22-33).

Marriage stands for the creation of unity among two people who were once separated in every way before love reached out and found the other – the way God reached out and found us, and covenanted with us, and loved us, and despite who we are, despite what we’re like, still loves us. This image, more than almost anything, is exactly what the enemy wants to denigrate.

Wow, powerful stuff. These passages really stood out to me since my boyfriend and I have been dating for going on two years now and talking about getting engaged within the next year or two and then married of course. This really puts into perspective what a Godly marriage is and it’s such a different and better view than what the world tries to define it as. As we break it down we must first remember the roles and orders of the husband and the wife and Christ in the midst of it all. Christ rules all people and his bride is the church. The church submits to God. Since God made man first, he is closer to God than woman. Man must therefore serve as a reflection of Christ. Man marries his bride who must reflect the church and submit to Him. It’s not perfect the way God and his bride are, but we must strive to represent Christ and the church as accurately as we can. Since we must choose to follow God, we are not born saved and knowing God. God finds us. Man is not born knowing his wife, he must find her. They are separated and then joined together as one flesh in marriage. The church was separated from God until God (who is also love itself) finds them and unites with them in their own form of marriage. What a beautiful definition and view of Christ-centered marriage!

There are two more passages I highlighted that further feed into this view of marriage:

The more you pray for your husband, the more the Spirit will shine a spotlight on the places in your own heart and actions that need a bit of work too.

 

And:

And prayer is also how God gets through to us, even while we’re praying for our husband, convincing us that maybe what our husband needs most right now is for his wife to become a soft, safe place for him to land, rather than a prickly, nagging source of contention that only agitates him and makes things worse.

 

Even though Evan and I are not yet married, we still pray for each other every day and Shirer is absolutely right in what she says about prayer helping us to see our own flaws and what we need to work on, too. One thing I often pray for Evan, especially before we go out somewhere is that he won’t stress out too much about staying on schedule and doing things at specific times and planning everything so much. The Lord has recently showed me too that I need to work on being more patient and considering others needs and perhaps I should plan more to make sure everyone’s needs are meant and not just my own. The more Evan and I pray the more comfortable we become with our relationship and discussing our needs and also things we need to work on together. This has helped to strengthen our love for each other and our relationship tremendously.

One of the things we talk about a lot and have always been open with is our past mistakes. I have made so many mistakes in the past especially with my past relationships and sometimes I struggle with it quite a bit. I am ashamed of my past and even though I know God has forgiven me I struggle to forgive myself but I need to move on and accept my past. As Shirer states, the enemy wants me to believe I am not worthy of forgiveness. If I don’t forgive myself than the enemy wins. She says:

First, God doesn’t live in the past. Because God – your God – exists outside of time. To him, the past that so haunts and hamstrings you, the past that so ruffles and frustrates you, is not in the past at all. In prayer, you are alone with a God who sees you only as you are and have always been since that beautiful moment when you placed faith in Him – holy, righteous, and blameless; past, present, and future. He forgives your guilt, removes your shame, and declares His work an established, all-the-time fact. Prayer does a complete end run around Satan’s pitiful accusations, ushering us into an eternal realm with God where “the past” doesn’t even compute.

 

It is such a relief knowing our God exists outside of time! Since he has no record of our past, why should we spend so much time dwelling on it and regretting the bad decisions we’ve made? We can’t change what happened back then, but through prayer we can ask for forgiveness and help with making better decisions in the future.

I could go on and own and on and on about all of the wonderful quotes Shirer drops in Fervent and the amazing life-altering advice she gives, but I’ll spare you from spoiling everything. Trust me though: Priscilla Shirer’s Fervent : A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer is a must-read for any Christian woman looking to transform her prayer life and her entire life in general. A+, 5/5 stars.

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Image Credits: UnplannedFilm.com

WARNING – THIS POST CONTAINS MAINLY SPOILERS.

On Friday night the pro-life Christian movie from PureFlix, Unplanned opened up in 1,000 theaters for a limited release. Now, just a few days later it’s taken #5 in the box office, which is pretty impressive considering this is a Christian film (Christian films sadly don’t typically perform well at the box office…) and had such a limited release.

This film is beautiful even in it’s ugliest parts as it unveils the truth about Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. I am impressed about every single aspect of this movie, including how it seemed to have been produced in secret and released at the perfect time – a time where many laws are being passed that make late-term abortions legal. This is a heartbreaking time in our nation. I always held the belief that life begins at conception. With that being said, I always held the view that abortion is murder – especially when the baby is developed enough to survive without the mother’s womb, such as is the case of a late-term abortion.

Going into this movie many people would say my views are biased and this movie served the purpose of confirming what I already believed about abortion – and for the most part people would be right in saying that. However, while I have always been anti-abortion and skeptical of Planned Parenthood I still tried to keep a somewhat open mind about the organization and the other services that they offered. I also never really fully understood what an abortion entailed, other than knowing it would terminate a pregnancy.

Unplanned was POWERFUL. It was extremely raw, honest, uncensored, and open. I can truly say I can’t imagine how someone could see this film and still support abortion and/or Planned Parenthood.

The movie opens with a flashback of Abby Johnson, former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan Texas. In this early scene Johnson helps with an abortion procedure that uses an ultrasound for guidance. Even though Johnson has had two abortions prior to this point in her story (one via a pill and one via an actual procedure) she was never shown her ultrasounds and never fully understood what happened during these abortions. This scene shows the unborn child on the ultrasound fighting for it’s life as chemicals are injected into the woman in order to terminate her pregnancy. It is visibly clear that the baby is alive at this point, but through the procedure the baby is literally sucked out of the mother’s womb, killing the baby in what looks almost like a bloody massacre. The scene ends here, only to return later in the film.

The rest of the movie tells Johnson’s story almost chronologically. Viewers see how Johnson had her first abortion as a teenager, a secret she kept between herself and her boyfriend at the time. Her boyfriend talked her into it as neither of them were prepared to handle a pregnancy. It is assumed that this abortion takes place at a non-Planned Parenthood clinic and may not have been the safest abortion clinic around, but one that she could afford. This is something Johnson seems to have been ashamed of, but at the same time is something she buried in the back of her mind and was able to move past.

Johnson later becomes involved with Planned Parenthood at a college fair where she begins to volunteer for the organization. She brings up her conservative up-bringing and the way her and her family has always been pro-life when questioned by the recruiter. The recruiter promises Johnson that Planned Parenthood works to limit the number of abortions and to provide more resources to women. She hooks Johnson by saying they are pro women’s rights. The next thing she knows, Johnson is working as a volunteer at Planned Parenthood.

Johnson starts off as an escort helping to lead women from their cars to the clinic. This is not an easy task as Planned Parenthood frequently has many Christians on the other side of the fence trying to talk women out of getting abortions. At times, Johnson’s boss, Cheryl, will come out to yell at the protesters to go home. However, she forbids her employees from calling the police saying they don’t want “bad press”.

While working as a volunteer Johnson realizes that she is once again pregnant with her abusive husband, a husband whom she just caught cheating and had planned to leave a day prior. She simply cannot have this baby. Using her new resources, she decides to get an abortion. Since she is only a few weeks pregnant they tell her she is eligible for the abortion pill. They warn her that it will make her bleed but no more than if she had her period.

They lied.

There was blood every where. Johnson explained that at this moment she felt that this is how she would die, and she hoped her pro-life mother wouldn’t find her like this. The bleeding and blood clots go on for 8 consecutive weeks, far longer than what Johnson was originally told.

It takes her awhile, but once she heals Johnson places all blame and loathing on herself and forgives Planned Parenthood. She returns to the clinic and becomes really good at her job and quickly climbs the ropes at Planned Parenthood. In the beginning her and Cheryl hit it off well and Cheryl asks Abby if she’d like to become a counselor, to which Johnson quickly agrees. As a counselor Johnson finds herself lying to women that their baby won’t feel anything if they get an abortion. She promises them that an abortion will be their best option, especially if they are at a risk of becoming a teen mom. These girls trust in Johnson and her comforting nature, and one girl who doesn’t look a day past 16 even asks Johnson if she will be with her in the operating room, to which Johnson politely declines by explaining she’s only a counselor.

As Johnson begins to advance as a counselor it is revealed that Cheryl is being promoted and moved to the Houston clinic. She has hopes that Johnson will take her place, making her the youngest director in the history of the clinic. But she has one task for her to complete first: she needs to go to the P.O.C. room and not cry.

The technical term for what “P.O.C.” stands for is “Products of Conception”, but one of the workers at Planned Parenthood jokes that it really means “Pieces of Children”. Unfortunately, this is no joking matter – it’s the actual horrifying truth.

A lifeless fetus lays on the table. Johnson is giving a set of tweezers and explained that she must identify all of the child’s parts. Here the fetus is clearly a developed, now deceased, child. Cheryl explains to her employee that she must identify all of the parts to ensure that they “got everything” during the abortion procedure. If anything is missing it means it’s still inside the woman and they need to take her back into the operating room. After Johnson confirms that they have all of the parts Cheryl congratulates her and explains that Johnson is the first one to do this without crying, which is how she knows that she’ll make a great director.

Feeling sick yet? It only gets worst.

In the next scene a worker dressed in blue like a janitor wheels out a full garbage can, ready to dump it into his truck.

“Is that what I think it is?” asks Shawn.

The worker essentially confirms that it very likely is, and he asks to pray over it with his wife. The worker asks if he’d like to wait since a second can is on its way. They agree and then Shawn and his wife and the other 40 Days for Life volunteers all pray over the aborted babies. These are two trashcans full of aborted babies. Murdered babies. Is there anything in the world sadder than this?

This is one of the final scenes before it goes back to the earlier scene where Johnson is called to help assist an ultrasound abortion. She is called in for help because the abortion is going horribly wrong. After having the abortion the young teenage girl begins to bleed uncontrollably. Johnson notices and has her rushed back into the operating room so they can fix her up. This is the first time that ever assists with an ultrasound abortion and she is horrified by the sight of the living fetus fighting for its life. It reminds her of her own two abortions – the two children she had killed. Horrified by what she’s done, Johnson runs out of the operating room and cries in the bathroom before leaving and walking next door to Shawn’s 40 Days for Life organization.

It is at that moment that Johnson decides to resign from her position. The 40 Days to Life Organization helps Johnson to safely resign and look for a new job. They even support her when Cheryl and Planned Parenthood sue her and try to destroy her, a lawsuit in which Johnson is declared innocent.

Don’t let the ‘R’ rating scare you; Unplanned is an excellent and important film that all young adults and even teens should see. If children are old enough to know about and talk about sex, then they are old enough to see this film. It is an important film that will change how you view the abortion industry, and if you’re anything like me it will encourage you to get involved and to fight for the lives and the rights of the unborn.


 

Image Credits: GoodReads

Last weekend Evan and I had plans to eat dinner at Bennigan’s in Vineland. It was St. Patrick’s Day, after all.

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Vineland isn’t the closest town to us. It’s not necessary far, but it is a good 30-45 minutes away depending on traffic, so we don’t get around to the area very much. With the weather being so cold we have been limited in the activities we can participate on our days off. It’s been way too cold to go to the park or do anything outside and we’ve already been to our local mall (Deptford) plenty of times and the only decent movie in theaters (Run the Race – highly recommend!) we’ve already seen. In order to make our trip more worthwhile (not that traveling 30-45 minutes to go to an Irish bar isn’t totally worth it…) we decided to hang out around the Cumberland mall before dinner.

Now I know some people have different opinions about the Cumberland mall. It’s not very big and those who live in the Vineland area don’t tend to like it too much. I suppose if this is your local mall and one of the only things around it can be a bit limiting, but for Evan and I it offers something different and it provides us with a sense of nostalgia since many of the stores are no longer in business around us (such as FYE, one of our all-time favorite stores).

The Cumberland mall also has a book store which sadly our mall hasn’t had in years. This mall has a Books a Million (BAM) and it is fantastic.

If you know me at all you know I lack the ability to simply walk past a book store without stopping in and checking it out. If you REALLY know me you also know I lack self-control and even though I have a million unread books all over my house, I still can’t resist buying a new one every time I’m in proximity of a book store.

This time was no different. When I saw a collection of Emily Dickinson poems published by Arcturus Publishing titled, The Poetry of Emily Dickinson, I just HAD to buy it. For the amazing price of $5.97 how could I possibly pass it up?

The cover was really beautiful, too which further made me want to buy this book. It’s simple with a plain black background and a single daisy on the front, but this is very fitting for Ms. Dickinson. Dickinson was a pretty dark poet. She often wrote about death and came off as being depressed/depressing. However, she also wrote about many beautiful things and as a transcendentalist/Romantic era writer, she embraced nature and frequently wrote about it.

This was surprisingly my first collection of Dickinson poems. However, it’s definitely not my first encounter with the poet. I studied her extensively in college and have always been a huge fan of her work. In fact, it is my dream to visit Amherst, Massachusetts to see her house and to further study her.

One thing I love about reading and re-reading Dickinson’s work is that I always learn something new or see something I didn’t notice before. There’s always something new to consider, analyze, research, and ponder of. This time was no different.

The things that stood out to me the most as I read through this collection were:

  1. Dickinson’s religion, or lack thereof.
  2. All of the references to death.
  3. The countless references to the angel Gabriel.
  4. Dickinson’s mental health.
  5. The poem “You cannot put a fire out…” (often referred to as “133”).

Many critics would agree that Emily Dickinson was an atheist or at the very least that she didn’t believe in God. However, I’m not so sure I believe that. In this collection of nearly 315 poems I think she references God more often than not. If someone was so unsure God didn’t exist, why would they spend so much time writing about him? Also, many of the references of God ask questions that allude to Dickinson not understanding why God seemingly wasn’t there for her in tough times or why God doesn’t give her strength she needs to get through her day. In “I took my poem in my hand…” (often referred to as “59”) Dickinson states, “Was it Goliath was too large,/Or I too small?” as she discusses her struggle to maintain power and control and to overcome a challenging time in her life.

Similarly, Dickinson also references death in my poems that not. This could be due to the fact that throughout her childhood many of her friends and family members died tragic deaths from various illnesses, some at young ages. In many of these poems she also touches on the afterlife and appears to question the existence of heaven or her ability to get to heaven. However, I wouldn’t say she feels it doesn’t exist; she merely seems as though she is unsure. She also appears to be struggling with the deaths of her loved ones as she questions mortality and what it means for us to die and what we’ll leave behind.

Dickinson also specifically references the angel Gabriel in multiple poems. Gabriel was viewed as a guardian angel and a saint. He was also the angel who told Mary she’d give birth to baby Jesus. People in the Bible often feared Gabriel. In some of these poems she compares elements of nature, such as the robin in “The robin is a Gabriel…” (often referred to as “4”) to Gabriel. This suggests that nature brings her closer to her God, just as Gabriel warned his people of Jesus’ coming. One may also suggest that perhaps this is Dickinson’s way of expressing her fear of God and uncertainty surrounding his presence just as people were uncertain of what Gabriel was telling them when he said Mary would give birth to Jesus. Gabriel is often associated with heaven as well, so for Dickinson to dismiss Gabriel (as she often does throughout her poems) is perhaps a way for her to dismiss or question the existence of heaven as well.

After reading a majority of these poems I also suspect that Dickinson suffered from many mental illnesses. I see a combination of anxiety (which makes sense given how secluded she chose to be), depression (especially through her frequent writings on death and mortality). Other critics believe she may have suffered from bipolar disorder and I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of her suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well. Dickinson seems to acknowledge that she is not mentally well in many of her poems, too. Poems such as “I felt a cleaving in my mind…” (often referred to as “106”) express the idea that Dickinson feels her mind pulling her in multiple directions. This poem states, “I felt a Cleaving in my Mind – / As if my Brain had split – ” which may loosely be a reference to the possibility of Dickinson suffering from bipolar disorder.

There were many poems in this collection I was less familiar with that really stood out to my favorite poem was probably “You cannot put a fire out…” (often referred to as “133”). I felt that this was one of Dickinson’s most passionate poems where she expressed the idea of being inextinguishable. After focusing so much on death, depression, doom and gloom, this poem seemed much more uplifting and optimistic. I felt that Dickinson was saying that no matter what life threw at her, she would rise above it and overcome it. She was a burning fire that could never be put out. I thought this poem had such a strong and powerful message and I was surprised it wasn’t taught in schools more often.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this collection of Emily Dickinson poems. There was only two things that annoyed me with this edition of Dickinson’s poems:

  1. I hated the formatting. The poems were separated by little squiggly line breaks but some poems carried on to another page and sometimes it was confusing to know whether or not a poem was continuing over or if it was an entirely new poem altogether.
  2. They didn’t use page numbers for the titles. Dickinson’s work is typically referred to by number since she didn’t give titles to her work. Not having these numbers on hands makes it difficult to reference.

Looking past these style decisions, this is still a solid collection of Dickinson’s finest poems that contain much beauty, thought, and expression. These poems are wonderfully crafted and thought-provoking and highly enjoyable to read. 4 out of 5 stars.

 


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Image Credits: ChristianBook.com

Confession: when a friend of mine recommended I read books and commentary by and listen to sermons from John Piper, I initially wasn’t a fan.

I was in my early-mid 20’s and made a lot of recent mistakes with sin. I knew I needed to transform my life and to re-evaluate my relationship with God and change my ways, but I wasn’t quite ready yet. Piper seemed to me like a harsh, bitter, old man who was always yelling at me not to do things.

Fast forward now to my life as a 28 (almost 29 year old) and I can’t get enough of Piper!

Piper hasn’t changed at all, but I have and for the better. I have grown in my walk with God and discovered just how much I need him in every aspect of my life. I didn’t want to listen to Piper and how he was always telling me what not to watch or read or think or do, but I’m ready to hear it now. Now I understand that Piper isn’t trying to yell at me at all; he’s simply trying to get me to correct my behavior and turn away from sin and deny myself so that there will be less of me and more of Him.

Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life really narrows in on this idea. I was initially drawn to this book due to the title. I, like many other 20-30 year olds who pick up this book for the first time, was looking for answers. I feel as though I am never completely satisfied with my life. I always feel like I’m missing out on the next big opportunity or falling behind in different aspects of life. I always question what God’s will is for me and how I can fulfill it. As a little girl I thought that I’d get married by 18, have two kids (hopefully twins) by 21, and be living in New York City, well on my way to becoming the CEO of Rolling Stone Magazine. Laugh with me now.

The second thing that drew me in to Don’t Waste Your Life was it’s simple brown no-frills cover. It reminded me of the brown bags I’d use as book covers for my school textbooks back in the day before Book Sox were a thing. Piper didn’t need to impress me with a fancy cover or marketing. He came to deliver a message and he wanted to get me by reading the book. The simple cover also reminded me a lot of the plain red (or white, depending on your version) covers that J.D. Salinger used for my all-time favorite novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger taught me that some of the best books are the ones that don’t need a fancy cover. This philosophy held true for Piper as well.

I didn’t find the answer I was looking for regarding where I should work or when I should get married and have kids or what I should do with my life or how I could know what God’s will for me was.

But at the same time – I did learn all of those things and so much more – just not quite in the way I was expecting.

I have been wasting my life, and I need to stop that immediately.

According to Piper, the number one way a person can waste their life is by living in a way that does not make God a priority. By priority Piper means that everything we do in life should reflect back to and glorify Him. Our lives are not for us, they are for Him and living in a way that is pleasing to us but does not reflect Him and his glory is sin and the very foundation of a wasted life.

One of the earliest points that Piper makes is how we should avoid boasting and basking in our accomplishments. Now this doesn’t mean we can’t be proud of our work and things that we have achieved; we should be proud of these things because we should be doing them to bring honor, praise, and glory to God. However, we don’t want to live off of our accomplishments and to lose focus on what or who we’re working for – our heavenly father. We want to be humble and to avoid being prideful or selfish.

Piper also stresses the importance of magnifying Christ through both pain and death. This reminds me so much of the Biblical story of Job which I have recently been reading through. Job went through many hardships, but he still held on to his faith and refused to curse God during these difficult times. We need to be more like Job and to learn to thank God not only for the good times, but the trials and hardships in life as well because they remind us who is in control and they make us stronger in our faith.

Furthermore, Piper reminds us that our main goal in life should be to make others glad in God and that this may involve taking some difficult risks in life for the reward of God’s glory. We need to constantly reflect Christ and to live our lives in a way that helps others to see Christ in us. If we are constantly miserable or questioning God and failing to praise him during hard times, others will see that and may be turned away from following God. However, if we are able to maintain our faith and to thank Him even during these times of trial others will see that and see that we are set apart from the rest of the world and they will want to know why and they will want to learn more about Christ and how they too, can be followers.

As for risks? It is our job as Christians to bring others to Christ and this may not always be a fun or easy or even safe task. Piper reminds us of Philippians 1:21 which states, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” We must live our lives for Christ, even if doing so results in our death. Piper further reminds us of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 10:22, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” We may die in our faith in Christ as we work to share the good news with others who are not yet saved. We will be persecuted and many have been already. But dying in the name of Christ is not a wasted life, it is a noble, honorable life that God will reward.

However, Piper is quick to point out that this does not mean that everyone is destined to devote their lives to becoming a missionary. While missionaries live noble, God-serving lives and it’s one of the most honorable professions a person can have, God has other plans for some of us. That doesn’t mean that we can’t serve, honor, glorify, and worship God in our secular lives. Not only can we do those things, but we should. Some ways in which we can honor God is by performing our jobs to the best of our ability, thanking Him for providing us with the job, and searching for opportunities to witness onto others in the workplace and to also allow others to see Christ in  us through our work ethnic, positive attitude, and the way we choose to live our lives both inside and outside of work. Additionally, we can honor him with the income we receive from our jobs by choosing to spend our money wisely and to always be giving and generous with our money. Before we buy more materialistic things that we don’t need, we should use our money to help those who are poor or are in a greater need than us.

I don’t know about you, but I know I have some major life changes to make. I need less of me and more of Him. I need to make changes to make sure I am constantly living my life for God, because otherwise my entire existence will have been nothing but a waste. Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life stirred up something deep within me and encouraged me to get up and make a change in my life. That to me is a sign of not only a good book or author, but a good pastor and an even better follower of Christ.


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Image Credits: ChristianBook.com

For the past 3 or 4 weeks my young adult Bible study group has been going through Gary Chapman’s famous book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. I was super excited when Pastor Eddie suggested that we go through this book together. I have heard many great things about the book but never read it. In fact, when Evan and I first started dating, even before we were officially an item, he revealed to me that his primary love language was Words of Affirmation. He also mentioned that one of the ways he preferred to give love was through Acts of Service. This all sounded good to me at the time, but now that I’ve actually read the book and discovered my own love language I am able to fully understand what it means.

The five different love languages are as follows:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Quality Time
  4. Receiving Gifts
  5. Physical Touch

 

Words of Affirmation means that you prefer your partner or peers show love to you by giving you compliments or saying nice things about you. Being told that you look nice or that you did a nice job on a task are the kinds of things that would make you feel the most loved. In contrast, if someone uses words against you such as by saying negative things about you or being overly critical of your work you will not feel loved. I originally thought that this was my primary love language. It turns out it was neither my primary or secondary love language. However, it’s one I still find to be important.

For Evan, having Words of Affirmation as a primary love language means that I need to choose my words carefully when I communicate with him. It’s very important for me to send him texts throughout the day to let him know I am thinking of him and that he means a lot to me. For Christmas this year I wrote him a series of letters to open during different times of his life. These are letters to help him through bad or tough times, to lift him up and help him to feel encouraged or to simply make him feel good. With Words of Affirmation as a primary love language, these series of letters were the perfect gift for Evan.

On the flip side, if I were to get in an argument with Evan my words could become my most powerful weapon against him. Speaking out of frustration and using negative words and phrases like “How could you be so stupid?” Or “I really hate when…” would severely impact him and likely send him into a state of depression for days, even if I didn’t mean what I was saying at the time. Knowing this will make me much more cautious of how I speak to Evan even when I am angry. This will help me to love him better because I will be loving him in his own love language.

Evan always mentioned that Acts of Service was one of his favorite ways to show love. I’ll admit I didn’t quite understand what that meant until I read this book. Acts of Service means essentially helping your loved one with chores or tasks around the home; things that aren’t much fun but need to get done. Evan will often ask me if I have any errands I’d like him to take care of for me if he’s off of work on a day that I’m not (such as MLK day). I always say no, but I appreciate the gesture.

Evan also always says how he likes to imagine in the future when we’re married him going out and doing things for me such as picking up groceries or helping with laundry or dishes. These will all be considered Acts of Service.

However, Acts of Service is not my primary or secondary love language. I appreciate it, but to use Chapman’s own metaphor it’s not what’s going to “fill my love tank”. Evan might like to perform acts of service to show his love for me, but I’ll need something more to feel loved by him since Acts of Service is not my primary or secondary love language. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts taught us both not just how we prefer to be loved, but how we need to communicate love to each other in order to strengthen our relationship.

Quality Time is Evan’s secondary love language and mine as well. This took me a little bit as a surprise since I didn’t expect it to be either my primary or secondary love language. Prior to dating Evan I dated a truck driver that was never home and prior to that I was in a long-distance relationship with someone who lived over 1,000 miles away, so naturally I never saw him either. Throughout most of my relationship with Evan so far I’ve spent a lot of time both working and in school, so I don’t always get to see Evan as much as I’d like to. For these reasons I assumed quality time must not be quite as important to me and I definitely assumed wrong. Suddenly it makes a lot more sense why my past relationships didn’t work out and why I get so excited to see Evan and why I literally crave our Friday nights in when it’s just the two of us and we don’t see our friends or leave the house or do much of anything.

Quality time is about seeing each other and spending time together of course, but it’s about so much more than that. It’s about really being with each other – really focusing on each other and not letting the outside world distract you when you’re together. It’s about making memories together and having a strong emotional bond, even when you’re not doing anything at all.

I always feel loved and cherished when I get to go on a special trip with just Evan and they always leave me feeling closer to him. So far we’ve been to Philly a few times, the shore, DC, and NYC together. I am hoping to go to Baltimore with him for my birthday and we’ve talked about taking some other trips together in the future.

Also, as I already mentioned our Friday night dates always mean a lot to me because we get to just focus on each other. Normally we stay in on Fridays and eat at home and just watch TV/movies together. However, last Friday we decided to go out after having a stressful week and desperately needing a release. Because our phones wouldn’t stop ringing and stressing us out, we made the joint decision to both turn out phones off for the night. We had a fun, stress-free night out where we were solely focused on each other. That is the definition of quality time.

For Evan he just wants to see me. He doesn’t care if it’s 5 minutes or 5 hours. For him getting to see me is what will calm him stories, make him feel loved and simply make him feel better. Just as words of affirmation can be used negatively and cause pain, so can quality time. I remember times when Evan got very upset because he was hoping to see me but unfortunately I couldn’t see him because I was too overwhelmed with work or school.

On the flip side, we’ve both had times where we met our secondary love language needs of quality time when I was having a bad day and he came over for twenty minutes just to pray with me and spend time with me until I calmed down and felt a bit better.

Receiving Gifts is the love language I always felt the most weird about and never imagined would be even remotely close to being my primary or secondary love language. I thought that Receiving Gifts was selfish and that if that was someone’s love language it meant that they were a spoiled brat that was simply using their mate for money and presents.

Boy, was I wrong. I am thankful that Chapman was able to open my eyes and help me to realize it’s okay to like and appreciate gifts and to feel the most loved when someone gives you a gift. Not all gifts have to cost money, and most of the time the very best gifts don’t cost anything at all.

After realizing this I am no longer ashamed to admit that Receiving Gifts is actually my primary love language.

I feel the most loved when people give me gifts because it shows me that they went out of their way to do something special for me to make me smile. If it cost money, I was worth the investment. If it didn’t cost money, then chances are it still involved a lot of time, thought, and consideration.

Evan has given me some really nice gifts over the past 16 or so months such as my Tiffany’s charm and my silver pendant. He’s also done some smaller things that mean just as much to me like writing me a lovely poem and buying me a gallon of ice cream (and then driving all the way to my house to deliver it) when he knew I was having a bad day. To me these are some of the sweetest gestures and these are things I think back and reflect on that make me feel the most loved.

Evan would never guess that receiving gifts is my primary love language (heck, I wouldn’t have even guessed that – it took me by surprise, too!). It might take him some time to adjust to this knowledge. The last thing in the world I would want for him would be to see him run out and by me some elaborate gift because he thinks that’s the only way I’ll feel loved by him. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Something small like picking up groceries at the store for us to have dinner or writing another poem or a love letter or even picking me a flower from his own front yard would all be very much appreciated gifts for me. I like these physical, tangible objects that I can touch, feel, smell, or look at. Little reminders that they came from him and he bought/made/created it because he loves me.

Last but not least is the love language of Physical Touch. This is another love language that made me feel awkward because I, like many others, typically think of Physical Touch on a sexual level. Knowing that Chapman is a Christian and that his book is possible in Christian circles (hence why my Bible study group chose it) made it even more awkward. Maybe it’s because I’m not married, but I can’t help but view sex as being sinful and having that as a primary love language being lustful.

But the truth is, it’s not like that at all. Sure, sex falls under the category of Physical Touch, but it’s not the only form of physical touch. There’s hugging, kissing, cuddling, and even just the brush of the cheek or the gentle pat on the shoulder or back rub. While physical touch is neither my primary or secondary language, it is still one that is pretty important to me. There’s nothing better than that moment where I see Evan for the first time in a week and he gives me a big hug and kiss to greet me. I will also never grow tired of constantly holding his hand or falling asleep in his arms when we watch TV together after church on Sundays.

I think that all five love languages should be spoken in every relationship for the greatest chance of success. However, knowing you and your partners primary and secondary love languages and choosing to speak them to each other will certainly make your bond much stronger and will keep what Chapman defines as the “love tanks” constantly full. You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. You also don’t necessarily need to be in a relationship. This is a book that anyone can benefit from as it will teach you to love and understand everyone better – from your spouse to your friends to even your children or co-workers. 5 out of 5 stars, highly recommend.

 


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Image Credits: Amazon

Broad Street is a novel that focuses around the life of Kit Greene and her new-found best friend, Margo Bevilacqua. This novel opens up by telling the story of how Kit recently broke up with her cheating boyfriend, Dale. Dale has always been a musician and Kit has always been in the background. Through Dale, Kit has gained valuable experience regarding the ins and outs of the Philadelphia music scene. On the downside, through Dale, Kit seems to have lost two very valuable things: 1. Her sense of identity and 2. Her voice.

Breakups are hard for everyone, especially when the relationship was long-term, and Kit is no exception. Weiser does an excellent job setting the mood and showing the emotional side of Kit’s breakup in a way that is not self-depreciating or self-pitying. Sure, Kit has a broken heart and is making some stupid decisions as she tries to pick up the pieces, but the last thing in the world Kit wants is your sympathy or worst yet – your pity. Instead, Kit is determined to move on with her life and recreate her new Dale-free identity.

In order to help  Kit out of her slump her friend Noelle invites her to a party at her friend Pete and his girlfriend, Margo’s house. Kit and Margo immediately bond over their shared interest in music and their love for female musicians. The solution to all of Kit’s problem seems to rest in the creation of a new all-girl band, one that includes her as the bass player and backing vocals and Margo as the lead singer.

But starting an all-girl band is not as easy or as simple as it sounds. It involves constantly going through drummer after drummer, a fierce cat fight with another competing band, the Pussy Willows, endless dates and night of regret, friendships and love and heartbreaks and fights. The music never stops, but neither does the drama.

At it’s surface, Broad Street was exactly the kind of novel that I should have loved. It was set in Philadelphia, the same city I live twenty minutes away from and travel to each day for work. I saw much of myself in Kit – she worked in Philadelphia as a copywriter and loved music. I work in Philadelphia as a Web Content Writer and love music as well. We’ve both made out fair amount of mistakes with dating and relationships in the past and seem to be searching for something more in life.

Also, the book was published by Philadelphia Stories and dedicated to Carla Spataro. Many of my professors at Rowan University worked for or were somehow involved with this publisher and Carla Spataro used to be a professor in my department. Although I don’t know Christine Weiser and am not familiar with any of her other works, I am very familiar with the publisher and Carla Spataro.

However, the book ended up falling flat and being a bit on the disappointing side. It wasn’t completely terrible, but it did seem a bit long-winded and pointless at time. I kept waiting for something big to happen, but nothing too interesting ever really did happen. The band practiced and had drama. They got a show and their was drama but they still played. Kit got drunk and had sex with someone from one of the bands and woke up with a lot of regret the next day if she remembered it at all. Charlie is some guy who is sweet that she never gives a fair chance to who is always kind of in the background. Margo always has a big mouth and is kind of bad ass but not the main character. The end.

I really wanted to see Kit make a name for herself or find herself but I’m not sure she ever really did. It seems like the band is close to getting a record deal at the end of the novel, but you’re not entirely sure if they do or not. It kind of seems like the end of the band may be within hindsight since Margo wants to go back to school to study agriculture. Margo seems to find herself more than Kit ever does. Margo is also in many ways a much more interesting character and I almost wonder why she wasn’t the main character to begin with. I would definitely be interested in reading a sequel if it was told from her point of view.

Another thing that turned me off with this novel is the writing itself. The writing was very clumsy at times, especially towards the end. There were many typos especially in regards to having some missing words. I liked the first person point of view, but I think it could have been stronger. Despite being in Kit’s head through the entire novel I still felt like I didn’t really know her or what she was thinking or feeling. She still felt really distant to me and again I’m not sure this was the right character to use as the narrator; the novel probably would’ve benefited from having Margo as the main character and narrator.

I don’t regret reading Broad Street, but it’s not something I’d recommend running to the book store or going out of your way to read, either. 3 out of 5 stars.


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Image Credits: Amazon

When Amanda McDonough was four, she was diagnosed with mild hearing loss. Her hearing loss didn’t require any special treatment – yet and Amanda made it clear to her parents that she did not want to be treated any differently. Furthermore, Amanda begged her parents to keep her hearing loss a secret.

As Amanda grew older, her hearing loss continued to gradually decline, making conversations more and more difficult for her to hear and her secret harder to keep. By the time Amanda was seven her hearing loss required her to use hearing aids, but that didn’t stop Amanda from trying to keep her hearing loss a secret. Amanda would wear her hearing aids to please her parents, but the minute she arrived at school she would toss her hearing aids in her backpack, ashamed that they would reveal her diagnosis to her friends and other classmates. She tried her best to get by in the hearing world, the only world she knew at the time, with her hearing loss. She did not yet know that Deaf culture and American Sign Language was an alternative option.

When Amanda was in her early 20’s, after contracting an illness she woke up from a deep sleep to the realization that she was now profoundly deaf. All her life she had feared becoming deaf, but when she finally did become deaf, she felt a sense of relief. McDonough stated, “At first, I panicked. I tried knocking loudly on things. I tried yelling. I tried hearing anything. But it was all gone. I sat down at the edge of my bed, staring at my reflection in my full-length mirror as the sun came up in the window behind me, and to my surprise, the young woman looking back at me smiled. I suddenly was overcome with an overwhelming feeling of relief. I was deaf, and I was relieved.”

It was at this moment that Amanda claims to have accepted her deafness, yet she still strived to operate in the hearing world that she has always known. This is why a few years later she opted for cochlear implant surgery in hopes or regaining some of her hearing back. While the cochlear implants helped her to be aware of her surroundings and worked as a tool for her to navigate the world of sound, it still wasn’t the cure for deafness that she had hoped for it to be. Amanda still found herself struggling to get by in the hearing world, so she turned to Deaf culture hoping that she’d be able to better fit in there.

Up until this point Amanda’s only exposure to Deaf culture was through working as a background actor on the set of Switched at Birth. She had taken some American Sign Language courses in high school and observed some of the other castmates signing, but she was nowhere near fluent. She wasn’t a perfect match for the Deaf community either. By the end of the novel Amanda seems to have accepted that she will always be in between both worlds. Instead of striving to be a perfect match for the hearing world or a perfect match for Deaf culture, she lets her guard down and focuses on simply being herself and striving to use her voice to make life better for those with hearing loss no matter which world they belong to — the hearing one or the Deaf one.

Amanda McDonough has a captivating story; there aren’t many memoirs out there about deaf women, let alone deaf actresses. I was initially drawn to her story since I saw so much of myself in her. While I am not, have not, nor ever will be an actress, I still am a bilateral cochlear implant recipient and I’ve faced many of the same struggles and challenges in life that Amanda has faced. However, despite having this knowledge and knowing that I should relate to her story, I had a difficult time connecting and engaging with it.

Ready to Be Heard was self-published through Balboa Press. Amanda did an amazing job designing the cover and marketing her book to make it appear professional and credible, but unfortunately the poor writing gives away the fact that the book has been self-published. From the beginning of the book with the opening scenes focusing on Amanda’s birth readers know they will be in for a long ride. Amanda had an interesting story to tell, but she muddles it with unnecessary details including these very scenes. She continues this trend throughout the book by telling readers about every boy she’s ever dated (most of which she never gives names to), and every small and at times completely insignificant detail about her life in a linear fashion from birth to her present day. The result is a story that drags in many places and becomes slow to read, despite it only coming to a total of 232 pages.

Furthermore, Amanda positions herself as a distant narrator by using no dialogue throughout the novel and little to no scenes. She becomes the annoying friend who never seems to come up for air as she tells us everything about her life, without ever actually painting a picture for us to see the action taking place. For example, we are told that she struggled to hear her friends and to maintain her friendships in grade school once her mild hearing loss began to gradually decline. However, we are never actually shown what this looks like. We don’t get to watch Amanda struggle to hear her teachers and friends or to see her being left out from clubs or activities. We as readers are left to do the guest work on our own, which makes it difficult for us to truly get inside Amanda’s head and to feel any kind of sympathy for her.

As a fellow cochlear implant recipient, I also had a hard time believing everything that Amanda said, specifically in relations to her cochlear implants. I got the impression that Amanda was retelling information that was told to her, but that she never actually took the time to fact check. One of the biggest mistakes that Amanda makes in telling her story is explaining to readers that her internal cochlear implant was implanted into her skull. This information is not only untrue, but something I found to be widely offensive to anyone who has a cochlear implant. Often times audiologists will lie to patients who may be considering cochlear implants by telling them that the procedure is dangerous and involves brain surgery. This is a lie that I was told for most of my life and one of the main reasons why I held off from getting cochlear implants for so long. Once I got older and was told the truth I realized that I had been lied to for most of my life. The internal piece is never inserted in the skull; it’s placed under the skin behind the ear. The reason why audiologists lie about this is because they don’t want their patients to get implanted, they want their patients to continue to wear and purchase hearing aids so that they can make money off of them. Telling patients that cochlear implants are placed in the skull is a scare tactic that they use to discourage them from getting the procedure. After reading this false information I found it difficult to trust or like Amanda as a narrator; her inaccuracies caused me to shut down as a reader.

Yet, despite all of the flaws with Ready to be Heard, I still see potential. I think that the biggest issue now is that Amanda was so excited to tell her story that perhaps she rushed to publish it before it was ready. My biggest piece of advice to Amanda would be to hire an editor and do a full revision and then republish it as an updated (and improved) new edition. The things that Amanda should focus on the most in her next version are creating scenes (showing readers things rather than just telling them what happens), cutting unnecessary details (we don’t need to know about every single man she’s ever dated on how her parents decided to name her Amanda), adding in dialogue (this may require Amanda to do more research and interview people including her parents, former teachers, and former doctors), and working to clean up some of her California slang so that the book reads more naturally and smoothly.

As it is, Ready to Be Heard is a good story that simply hasn’t been told well. I would give it 2 out of 5 stars with hopes that one day it will be republished and all of the writing flaws corrected.

 

 

 



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