Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Criticizing ourselves

We are our worst critics. We criticize ourselves constantly and harshly. And in terms of our relationship with others, this causes us to do one of two things to other people: 1) Criticize them just as bad as we do ourselves, or 2) Idolize them because we find them to be everything we are not. Either way, our relationship with our family, friends, and acquaintances is damaged; the image we have of one another is crooked. And it all starts with how we see ourselves. However, I’m not going to start talking about how we need to have high self-esteem. No, because I think that the focus on self esteem might actually be part of the problem.

You see, we focus too much on ourselves, and that is not what God intended for us. God commands us to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). God wants us to focus on Him, to think less about ourselves, and more about Him and His will. Some of us focus too much on what we don't like about ourselves, the parts of us that we just can't stand, that we want to change. On the other hand, some of us focus too much on what we like about ourselves: how beautiful we are, how smart, how talented, how athletic, how savvy we are. And here's where our high or low self esteem comes into the picture. But that is not what God intended for us to do.

Do you know what is the chief end, the purpose, of men and women? Do you think it's to look ourselves in the mirror and criticize or admire what we see? Do you think it is to constantly think about ourselves and how awful or great we are? No. The chief end of men and women, our purpose, our reason for living is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. It's that simple. So simple. Too simple for some. We are not called, were not created to focus on ourselves, to compare ourselves to others, to look to others as idols or as people to put down.

It is not a matter of having a better esteem of ourselves. It is a matter of stopping to look for esteem in ourselves. Focus on God, on what God wants you to do. Focus on loving God and loving your neighbor. Focus on your relationship with God. Focus on serving others.

Strive to be like Christ; don't compare yourself to anyone else. Don't waste time looking in the mirror. Look to God, fix your eyes on Jesus, and live according to His Word. If you have your eyes on God and your heart set on serving others, your perception of yourself will change. You'll be able to see yourself as God sees you and you will be freed from criticizing yourself and criticizing or idolizing others. Live for God by His Spirit.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Hoodwinked: Ten Myths Moms Believe & Why We All Need to Knock It Off, by Karen Ehman and Ruth Schwenk

When my son was a toddler I went to one of my friends at church, who had a 7 year old boy, and told her that sometimes (maybe most times) I really had no idea what I was doing. Were my husband and I raising him as we should? Were we doing it right? What were we doing wrong? How could we do it better? She looked at me, nodded and said, "I feel the same way."

Ever since my son was born, I've always asked for advice, I've always sought help, I've always listened and tried to put in practice the sound advice I got. But I still had that nagging voice in my head, that doubting Debbie downer asking, Am I doing it right?; saying, I really have no idea what I'm doing. My son is six years old now, and I still have these doubts. Every time he talks back at me I think, What did I or we do wrong for him to be so disrespectful? I should be a better mom, because a better mom wouldn't have a disrespectful child.

Enter Hoodwinked. I didn't have high expectations when I first began reading this book. The authors sometimes try too hard to be funny and witty. Some of the motherhood myths were not myths for me at all. I thought I wasn't going to be able to relate. But I was wrong. It took me a while to get there, but I did right when I got to chapter 7. Yep, it got me good. Up until that chapter I was going to recommend this book to women thinking about becoming moms, to those who are pregnant and the ones who are just starting now. But Hoodwinked was written with everyone and almost every motherhood problem in mind. The advice given is biblically sound, based strongly on Scripture, always taking us back to God, His mercy, His grace, His plan and purpose for us.

The authors did a great job focusing on what really matters (our relationship with God) and redirecting the readers' attention to our need for God's wisdom and strength when raising our children. Also, exaggerated wittiness aside, the book is written so that you feel as if you were among friends, wise, caring friends. A great book to read before having children or if you're raising your kids right now.

We always have doubts, nagging little voices telling us we don't know what we're doing, or that we are doing it wrong. And it's a good thing, too, because it means we care, it means we want to do our best. But my big take away with this book was this: I am not perfect and I cannot do it all. If that were the case, I wouldn't need God and my son wouldn't need God. Through my imperfections, I pray that my son can see God's grace, mercy, and providence. That gives me peace in this motherhood journey.

4 stars out of 5

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dear Daphne

Before I (unintentionally) took two years off from reviewing books, I had requested a copy of Lock, Stock and Over a Barrel, by Melody Carlson, from the publisher through NetGalley. I, however, didn't read it at the time because, to be completely honest, Carlson is not an author I 'click' with. So imagine my surprise when I finally signed into my NetGalley account and saw that book waiting there. Reluctantly, I downloaded it and read it.

And I found myself, not only liking it but also looking forward to the next book of the series, Dating, Dining and Desperation, because, yes, unbeknownst to me, this is a series, the Dear Daphne series. And, of course, once I finished reading that one, I didn't waste any time buying the third installment, Home, Hearth and Holidays, because, you see, this may not be a 5 star series, but it's addicting. Once you start reading, you just have to know what's going to happen to Daphne.

In true Carlson style, the Dear Daphne series is narrated in a way that feels as if a friend was telling you the story. I like that. What I usually dislike about her books is the way Christianity is portrayed, superficially, and as an afterthought, basically saying that the character did this, said that, felt this way and, oh, by the way, she also prayed. So, when reading a Carlson book, I have to somewhat put my expectations of Christian fiction aside and read them as just contemporary fiction with a sort of Christian vibe, which is sad to me but still manageable.

Daphne Ballinger is a 34 year old woman who moves from New York to Appleton, her hometown, when she inherits her favorite aunt's house, along with everything else in her estate. However, that inheritance comes with strings attached in the form of a few conditions Daphne has one year to comply with or she looses the inheritance to an animal shelter. One condition is that she has to continue writing her aunt's advice column, Dear Daphne. Another condition, and the most implausible and baffling one, is that she has to get married. I know it sounds silly and it is. But, somehow, it works.

Daphne comes off as immature and boy crazy, mainly because she knows she is in a race against time, but it is still irritating. Every time she meets a guy she thinks maybe that's the one, and it doesn't help that every guy seems to fall for her or at least really, really like her. From the beginning, it's pretty obvious who is the guy she will choose (well, it better be Jake!), but she second guesses herself, and the guy, all the time. She also second guesses her own intentions, her talents, and her abilities, which is very frustrating. However, as annoying as Daphne can be, one can also identify with her, and her struggles and insecurities.

The secondary characters —her love interests, her family, and friends— are mostly well written, even though a few of them feel a bit cartoonish, especially the guys interested in Daphne. There's also the addition of a little girl in the middle of the series that sort of confused me at first, and I thought it would hinder the story, but it turned out to be surprisingly sweet and endearing.

Finally, the theology here is good in some parts, terrible in others. For instance, the experience Daphne has in a singles group at church in the first book is very good and enlightening. But what she writes as Dear Daphne in book 2 saying "But you cannot control other people. Not even God can do that!" was terrible and far from true (see Proverbs 19:21; Proverbs 21:1; Daniel 4:35). And the mention of karma really bummed me out. When you have such good, biblically sound teachings such as "You reap what you sow" (Galatians 6:7), using the word 'karma' is unnecessary, at least in a Christian fiction book.

Lock, Stock and Over a Barrel —3.5 stars
Dating, Dining and Desperation —3 stars
Home, Hearth and Holidays —4 stars (Here, Daphne was very irritating, but Jake was great. Loved him!)

All in all, I give the series (although I have not read the last book, which is set to come out in April 2016) 3.5 stars out of 5.

Friday, January 8, 2016

New Year, new purpose, new books!

Happy New Year! Yes, I know I'm a little late, but in Puerto Rico we still say "¡Felicidades!" to one another until next week, more or less. We are definitely party people, with our Christmas starting in early November and ending in the middle on January.

Today is my first day at work, after a great Christmas vacation. And this year is my "No Procrastination" year at work, and in my direct sales business. But I have named this year "The Year Of God" for all areas of my life, meaning that my focus will be on God, and His purpose will be my purpose from this year forward. In the past, I have sought God, I have aimed to follow Him faithfully, but I have failed many times because my mind has wandered, because I have let my mind wandered, because no matter how hard we try, as R.C. Sproul would say, we fail miserably in complying with the most precious commandment of loving God above all things with all our strength and minds and hearts. Because, in my case, I like to waste my time on Facebook, and Instagram, and reading the comments sections on polemic articles, and watching mediocre TV or bad movies just to pass the time, when I could be doing something much more productive and edifying.

So in this year of reforming my faith and myself, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, I will focus on God, I will seek Him first and everything else will fall into place. Thus, there will be no procrastination at work or in my business. Of course, I know I will need to remind myself this; I will need to read this a few times during the following months. But I pray, I hope God will give the strength and diligence to follow through and I pray He uses me to bless others, inspire others, counsel others. This is His Year, not mine. He will do great things through me, for me. My focus is on Him for this year and the rest of my life... So I think that instead of calling it The Year of God, I will call it The Time of God. Yes. This is His time.

And a little heads up on what's coming next: reviews! "Joshua's Mission", "Lock, Stock and Over a Barrel", "Renovating the Richardsons", and "Dating, Dining and Desperation" are next, just to name a few. Also, I'm reading "Competent to Counsel" and will review it, as well as a new cookbook, so stay tuned!