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Review: Overcomer


When the town’s main factory closes, John Harrison, basketball coach, loses his main purpose in life. Family after family relocates and one after another of his great players move away. His hopes of a championship disintegrates as the team does, and it is hard. To make matters worse, he is asked to coach the cross country team instead, and he knows nothing about running.

Hannah Scott runs because it is the only thing she is good at, but she also has asthma.

A basket ball coach, a very unlikely cross country ‘team’, and an unexpected hospital visit lead to startling outcomes for both John and Hannah. Overcomer presents a thoroughly satisfying story, with solid characters that breathe life into a somewhat predictable plot. There is excitement, yes, but I left satisfied with something far more impactful than action—this movie shows God at work, and it can do God’s work in those who watch it as well.

This beautiful movie shows what happens when we truly understand what it means to be God’s child. We are wanted, we are loved, and we are forgiven. Families can be broken, but they can also be resilient when God is at the center. People can be broken, but in Christ they can be made whole. Because of his goodness to us, sinners can repent.

Without being sentimental but with a full presentation of the gospel, Overcomer filled my eyes with tears and my heart with hope and gratitude. Jesus has died for our sins. We are loved despite our sins. And we can pass this on, once we learn what it means to define ourselves as children of God.

Another thing that Overcomer does is this: It shows people making a decision for Christ, and then it turns to Ephesians 1 and 2 which clearly point to God’s prior work in our salvation and in our good works. For those who take the effort to read and think, the two sides of the one glorious truth of salvation are brilliantly presented in an action and emotion filled story, hinting at one solution to a long-standing controversy: stop being abstract, and instead see God’s story in action.

I have been a Christian my whole life and I was blessed by Overcomer. I image new Christians would be, too. Because it is a good story with talented acting and directing, I suspect non-Christians would enjoy it as well, and for them the potential blessing is greater than for anyone else. I highly recommend it to almost anyone—runners, coaches, Christians, non-Christians, married people, abandoned people, those facing despair, those who have been wronged, parents—anyone who enjoys a good story with a good message. For more, watch the trailer.

The same day my husband sent me a link to a talk by Paul Washer discussing how Christians can learn to love God more. It is an excellent accompaniment to this movie. Although both the movie and the talk, being limited, miss important nuances, they both remind us: read the Bible, read it a lot. Read it for what it tells us about God—and for what it tells us about us, and for whatever else it has to say. This will require reading, rereading, and thinking, but it is the way we learn to love God and understand how to obey him.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read or friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up. 

Disclosure: This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and is available at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Review: On a Summer Tide by Suzanne Woods Fisher

On a Summer Tide by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Camden Grayson and her sisters Maddie and Blaine were curious why their father had called them together. When he told them, they were shocked. Of all things, he had sold the house and bought an island! Three Sisters Island, indeed. What was going on with him? Was it a delayed reaction after their mother’s death?

Paul Grayson insisted he was well and that he wanted his daughters to be a part of it of this dream he had shared with their mother. So the girls headed down to check out the island: Camden, an overscheduled businesswoman with her adopted seven-year-old son Cooper, Maddie, an almost-qualified therapist looking for a place to intern, and Blaine, a drifting student addicted to her cellphone.

The island turned out to be worse—and better—than expected. The people were certainly interesting, from the terrible cook who ran the diner to the mayor’s deadbeat sons and the outdoorsy schoolteacher. And, as life unfolded for the girls and Cooper, the island turned out to be a blessing to them all in surprising ways.

Even go-getter Camden began to feel peaceful about her new life but then she was faced with a revelation that shocked her to the core. Could she forgive this?

Suzanne Woods Fisher has written a gentle novel of family ties, reconciliation, and coming to terms with the past. More than that, it is a novel of understanding God’s forgiveness and learning to model it.

If you have time for a pleasant excursion to a distant island, I think you will enjoy On a Summer Tide.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read or friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up. 

Disclosure: This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and is available at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

This may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.


How to Choose Curriculum that Works for Your Family

Recently a new homeschooling mom contacted me with one of the usual new mom questions. What curriculum should we use?

The young mom who was talking to me had some exposure to one curriculum and wasn’t satisfied with it. Her husband had heard of another that sounded good, and they weren’t sure what to do next. So they asked me which of the two should they use, fully assuming that I would be able to help them choose one or the other. But things don’t work that way.

Actually, experienced homeschoolers often ask themselves the same question every summer; even I am doing that, and we have been homeschooling for over two decades!

Other people, also, have asked me similar questions and often the question isn’t about only two curricula but about everything in the vendor hall as well as everything discussed by their friends. There isn’t enough time in the world to go through all these options even if you know what you were looking for and, let’s face it, often there’s barely time to get supper on the table each evening, let alone to study all sorts of curricula. The choices can be overwhelming to the point of tears, and there seems to be no way out.

But there is a way out. It involves two steps:

  • First you need to understand what kind of curriculum would suit your family. Your family, not your friend’s or the nice lady in the vendor hall’s family. This step is by far the most important.
  • After that you need to choose specific curriculum to match those criteria.  Or, if you are confident and have lots of time and energy, you can design one.

What Kind of Curriculum Would Suit Your Family?

You and your husband need to consider your values, what education means to you, your educational priorities and goals, how much time and energy you have, each child’s personality, and your own personality.

The simplest way of going through this is to follow the process outlined in one of Cathy Duffy’s books. The most recent one is How to Choose Homeschool Curriculum which is apparently identical to the first chapters in her three earlier Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum books. (She has written three editions, 100 Top Picks, 101 Top Picks, and 102 Top Picks and this vital section is identical in each of them. Note that these links are to my reviews.)

What you will need to do is study the first section of one of these books, ponder the questions, actually write down the answers, and fill in the tables. (I highly recommend not writing in the book itself but photocopying those pages since you may want to reuse the book. I go through this process every few years, filling out the worksheets as I go, because our education style changes as the children grow.) If you do this carefully and thoughtfully—beware that it may not be easy to think so deeply and that it will take some time—you will have a good idea of what kind of homeschooling family you are or perhaps what kind you are not.

Going through this process diligently will save your family an enormous amount of frustration, second-guessing, time, and money in the long run. Yes, it is so tempting to skip ahead to the curriculum reviews, but that often leads to disaster. As I’ve said a few times already and will repeat because it is so important: You need to know exactly what you are looking for before you start looking for it.

Making Curriculum Choices

After this, you can begin to look at curricula. Here again, Cathy Duffy’s books and website will help, because they analyse top quality curricula according to the different kinds of homeschooling families’ needs. Once you have studied the review section of the Top Picks books, you will also be better able to make decisions about other curricula that are not in the books. There are many more than 102 great homeschooling curricula out there, and Cathy Duffy reviews many of them on her website.

If you wish a different viewpoint, you could look at all my homeschooling reviews. To find them easily, click on the ‘Reviews for Homeschool’ tab at the top of the screen, above the sunflowers. Or you can click on the desired topic in the word cloud in the right side bar. You can also see some of our annual curriculum choices for various ages if you click on the ‘Our Curriculum’ tab at the top of the page. Finally, there is one article in which my five children share their favorite resources: “Our Children’s Top 30 Homeschool Resources.”  

The Curriculum Choice is also full of excellent reviews from a variety of viewpoints.

As you consider the options, remember that an enormous amount can be learned from hands on activities, play, library books, and volunteer work. You do not need curriculum for everything.  Also remember that the most expensive option may not be the best one for your family; price and effectiveness are not always related.

After all this thought you will need to make your decisions. Now you will be able to do this confidently since you will know what you are looking for. You won’t have to second guess your choices or worry that you are wasting your money.

And then, once your decisions are made, stick with them for the year at least. One of the grandmothers of homeschooling, Ruth Beechick, apparently said that any curriculum will work if the teacher does, and she is right.

If you’ve followed Cathy Duffy’s advice, you will have picked something that should work for your family. You will still need to put in effort yourself, though, and so will your children. It might not feel right or easy immediately, but perseverance is important. Learning how a curriculum works can take time, but putting in that time will almost certainly pay back handsomely for both learners and teachers.

One more thing. Just because everyone gets sick of a curriculum in the winter doesn’t mean you should get rid of it; perhaps you just need a break. Try a reading week or an art week. Go on field trips or ski trips. Visit a warm pool. Winter is hard and it is not a good time to make expensive curriculum changes that will involve weeks of adjustment when the only problem may be cabin fever.

May God bless us all as we put in the effort to teach the children he has given us.

Related Articles

“Our Children’s Top 30 Homeschool Resources”

“Oops! Minimizing Planning Blind Spots”

“33 Reminders for Homeschoolers”

“Quotations from 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

“One of the Best Homeschooling Books: 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum”

Review of 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

Review of 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

Disclosure:  I recommend Cathy Duffy’s resources wholeheartedly but am not compensated for doing so.

Unplanned, The Movie

Unplanned, the Movie

The other day I saw Unplanned. Actually, I didn’t see all of it—often my hand was over my eyes—but I certainly experienced it.

This intense movie tells the story of Abby Johnson a naïve young woman who joined Planned Parenthood in order to help women in crisis. Abby was very dedicated to the organization because she was convinced that one of their goals was to reduce abortions by reducing crisis pregnancies. However, she was also completely convinced that she was doing the right thing as she counselled girls and women to have an abortion. Her confidence and naïveté even allowed her to be kind to the praying prolife people outside the gate. It also made her the youngest ever director of a Planned Parenthood clinic.

And then, one day, she was asked to help with an abortion….

What happened next shocked Abby and all those around her.

Despite traumatic scenes and content, this is a worthwhile and potentially life-changing movie. It gives insight to those considering abortions, hope to those who have had one, guidance to prolife prayers and activists, and support to abortion workers who want to leave the industry.

Unplanned producers Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman and actors Ashley Bratcher, Brooks Ryan, and Robia Scott tell Abby Johnson’s true story sensitively and with emotional impact.

What’s more, movie theatres are bravely standing for freedom of speech by showing this movie despite the fact that some have apparently received serious threats. The very fact that there are threats says something: this is an important movie and some desperately want to supress its message. It makes one wonder why.

Trigger warning: abortion, medical trauma.

For more information see the Unplanned trailer or read my review of Abby Johnson’s book, also called Unplanned, on which this movie is based.  The DVD will be released next week according to Amazon.ca.

Related and on my to-watch list: Hush, a documentary that attempts to start a conversation about important health information that has been hidden by the political furor about abortion. Without this information, informed consent is not possible.

I have written repeatedly on prolife issues and many of my posts are linked in “Defending Life: Let Us Not Become Wearing in Doing Good.”

Disclosure: I watched Unplanned when it was showing at theatres.  I am not compensated for my reviews, as always.

Our Summer So Far

The first month of summer has drifted by like a river, unstoppable.

Most days I was out in the garden first thing in the morning, the time I used to use for writing, and on the days I didn’t garden, I went for a walk. So instead of writing, I breathed in fresh air, wrestled with weeds in the garden and in my soul, and kept my eyes open for the surprises God had hidden away for me.

A kingfisher waited for its breakfast on a branch over the river. I surprised a family of turkeys out for a walk to our compost pile and they scurried away, single file, in agitation. A wasp crawled into a hole in the dirt, and another one (or perhaps many different ones—I can’t tell wasps apart) kept on worrying over a tiny nest that had fallen onto our deck. Gold finches dropped from branch to branch in a willow tree, betrayed only by patches of moving leaves. Flowers budded and bloomed and went to seed. Fuzzy bees tumbled and bumbled in our wild roses, intoxicated by their spicy scent. A small poppy bent down under the weight of a honey bee and our lacy wall of purple hosta blooms buzzes with them. Clouds billowed and drifted and burst open in downpours.

In the evening, when the sky was painted, adolescent cedar waxwings filled the air above the river with giddy bedtime antics and ventured close to gaze at us. When they were herded off to sleep, playing and swooping all the way, the fireflies came out and filled the air with flashes of joy. And then the bats careened above our heads, eating their evening breakfast.

So, we were busy outside, enjoying God’s world.

We have also been busy inside. I’ve taken a cooking challenge from Traditional Cooking School and made all sorts of yummy foods the traditional healthier way—from cheese and soaked grains to fermented apple chutney and sour cream. We used some delicious recipes—the cheese, the salad dressing using homemade mayonnaise and sour cream, the homemade larabars, as well as baked oatmeal, sprouts, and muffins. It was fun, I feel healthier, and now I’ve signed up for a 14 day fermenting challenge to keep on learning. If you are interested in traditional sauerkraut, kimchi, fruit leather, salsa, and more, here’s where you can sign up, too.  (It is my understanding that you’re better off buying a month’s membership in the school, since the challenge is included in the membership.)

The year’s homeschool records are almost finished and planning is underway for next year.

We are considering a Shakespeare course, based largely on watching the plays as we did in the past with Hamlet, but also using Leithart’s Brightest Heaven of Invention and the 6-volume Veritas Press Omnibus series. The key to enjoying Shakespeare is to watch the plays, as one is meant to do with plays, instead of reading them painfully slowly as is done in English classes around the world. After all, ‘the play’s the thing,’ and the brilliant poetry and themes shine from the story itself, not from a sterile world of print, explanatory sidebars, and analysis. My kids enjoy Shakespeare and watch him for fun, probably because of this approach.

I am also thinking about modern poetry for English—Mary Oliver’s and Wendell Berry’s thoughtful nature poems especially, but we would need to add some more variety to that. What to choose? The next question is how to study them—immersing ourselves in many poems, or studying a few in depth, or a mixture of the two? There are so many questions and considerations.

And books, so many books! I finished The Beginnings of Western Science by Lindberg and started rereading The Soul of Science by Pearcey and Thaxton. Avicenna, a brilliant Persian scholar a millennium ago, had a huge impact on Europe; I went through Avicenna’s Medicine, a modern translation of some of his influential medical writings and was intrigued by the translators’ insistence that modern medicine can and should learn from him.

Having loved 84, Charing Cross Road, I read Q’s Legacy by the same author—a pleasant ramble through the literary world. Similarly, Traditional Houses of Rural France was a pleasant ramble through the French countryside.

Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey is full of ideas to help adults and teens focus better as well as become more creative. Atomic Habits by James Clear shows how tiny changes can lead to improved habits and result in a changed life. The Oxygen Advantage, which I’ve only dipped into, suggests that proper breathing can greatly enhance concentration as well as physical health. The Miracle Morning almost seems to be a cult book; it points out that morning habits can dramatically impact one’s life. It is one of the reasons that I decided to stop writing in the mornings and instead spend those tree-scented hours looking at and working in God’s world. I’m still thinking about this, not sure whether to continue or not. Mary Oliver’s book Why I Wake Early looks at the whole concept from a nature-loving poet’s point of view.

I dipped into a few books about Alzheimer’s: The End of Alzheimer’s, The Alzheimer’s Solution, You Can Fix Your Brain and, much earlier, Walking Through Twilight. Apparently the disease is increasing rapidly and affecting an enormous percentage of people. We can no longer help my mother, but we can perhaps reduce its likelihood in our own lives since the first two books argue that it can often be prevented. Lifestyle is key, they say.

Learning Contentment by Nancy Wilson will form part of our homeschool Bible study next year, but I also studied it with a group of ladies this summer. What a great book it is to study with others! We learned from the book, argued with it, added important points, and discussed how to apply it to our lives. I plan to write about it later. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield meshed nicely with Learning Contentment. It is an incredibly inspiring book about God’s power, the amazing results of honest Bible reading, and the impact of the gospel on lives and communities.

I watched Unplanned with a friend and hope to see Hush, about the effects of abortion on women’s health, and 180 before writing about it. (You can watch those documentaries for free at the links.)  Years ago I reviewed the book, Unplanned, that the movie is based on, about Abby Johnson, director of a Planned Parenthood clinic who became prolife after witnessing an abortion. It is a powerful story and worth knowing.

An interesting YouTube documentary, The Cloud Mystery, suggests that clouds create climate rather than the other way around. The idea is that cloud formation and climate may be more influenced by cosmic rays than by carbon. I have not reviewed the scientific literature, but I am intrigued.

And, of course, we read the Bible. This year I’m also benefitting greatly from the devotional, Christ’s Psalms, Our Psalms by P. Holtvluwer. Highly recommended, at least up until Psalm 74 which is as far as I’ve gotten.

It has been a good summer so far, with lots of work, thinking, and enjoying, some rest, and the happy promise of another warm month coming up.  I am glad to be writing again and hope to be able to figure out how best to fit blogging back into my life.

Happy August to all of you! May you be refreshed this summer so that you can live a contented God-honoring life in whatever circumstances you find yourselves.

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