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Book excerpts, Book Reviews

Beautiful Brianna

An excerpt from David Murray’s Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen's Guide to Freedom from Anxiety and Depression  **** Dr. David Murray is a professor at the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and also a counselor. He has authored a set of books for parents to use along with their struggling son or daughter. The first, Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen's Guide to Freedom from Anxiety & Depression is for teens to read on their own. It has 18 chapters, each one detailing a particular struggle with anxiety. All but one of these accounts is fictional – the author’s despairing doubt is the exception – but all are relatable. “Circular Sarah” in chapter 1 is overwhelmed by her schoolwork and extra-curriculars, and starts having sleep problems, which leaves her even more exhausted, and even more overwhelmed. Chapter 4’s “Imaginative Imogen” has a vivid imagination that might be a blessing in many circumstances, but has Imogen putting herself in the shoes of every victim she reads about in her social media feed. Whether it’s a school shooting, or some other tragedy, she feels it, and it’s leaving her fearful and depressed. In chapter 9 we meet “Negative Nicole” who can’t help but see the bad side of everything. Even when she’s having fun with her friends, she feels guilty about not working harder on her school work. These are personalities we’ve all met, and to some extent been, and Dr. Murray doesn’t simply capture what’s going wrong, but gives solid steps for how teens can redirect their thinking, learn to know God better, and otherwise start really addressing and contending with their anxiety. The parallel text for parents, Why is my Teenager Feeling like This? A Guide for Helping Teens Through Anxiety & Depression, covers the same personalities chapter by chapter, but offers more depth, and is written to equip parents to talk to and help their anxious teens. There’s some repeat from one book to the next, but not that much, so parents may even want to read both. It is an amazing set, with counseling that takes the best secular insights and filters them through the lens of Scripture to keep what is true and dispose of the bunk – this is thoroughly grounded in Scripture. It is also immediately applicable, and I can imagine parents being so very encouraged. Battling anxiety might be a battle indeed, but in crafting this set, Dr. David Murray has given parents and teens an amazing tool they can both use together as a team. To give you a taste of what’s inside, the publisher has given us permission to share Chapter 11, about “Beautiful Brianna” from the teen book. – Jon Dykstra BEAUTIFUL BRIANNA I spend a lot of time on my appearance. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up. I have a part-time job, but I’m struggling to save up for a car because I spend all my money on new clothes and makeup. I’m always fighting with my mom because she says my jeans are too tight, my tops are too low, my shorts are too short, and so on. It’s so stressful. My friends say I’m gorgeous, and I get a lot of attention from the boys, but I’m not happy with myself. I can put on a smile when I’m with people and act confidently, but deep down I don’t think I’ll ever be pretty enough. —Brianna The Key of Identity What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about yourself? What do you answer when you ask yourself, “Who am I?” This can be difficult to answer in our teen years because these are often times of great change and confusion as we transition from childhood to adulthood. Like Brianna, we can end up adopting a false and harmful identity. Here are some common examples: I am my body. Do you define yourself by your body, like Brianna did? Nine out of ten girls are unhappy with their body. “I’m fat... skinny... tall... small... ugly... beautiful...” I am my grades. Do you get your sense of worth from your performance at school? If you get good grades, you feel good about yourself and look down on others. If you get bad grades, you are a failure, and are jealous of others. I am my friends. Do you build your identity around having friends – online or real life? The more friends you have, the better you feel. Or is your life worthless unless you have a boyfriend or girlfriend? I am my sin. Is there a sin in your life that dominates your thinking? You cannot think about yourself without thinking of that sin, that habit, that incident. I am my sport. If you win, or your team wins, you feel great. If not, life’s not worth living. Your mood depends on medals and trophies. I am my anxiety/depression. Have you let your anxiety or depression define you? When you look at yourself, all you see is depression or anxiety. I am my past. Maybe you’ve been the victim of abuse. I’m so sorry. It was not your fault. It should not have happened to you. It was wrong. But are you allowing that abuse to ruin the rest of your life by letting it dominate your thoughts and define who you are? I am my sexual desires. God created us so that sexual desire, intimacy, and enjoyment would be part of human experience. Sin, however, has distorted this good gift, with the result that what God designed to be a part of us can become the whole of us. We’re especially vulnerable to this in our teen years when we experience the awakening of sexual desire. This can become so powerful that we allow it to define us at times. However, it’s a big mistake to let extreme, confusing, and temporary emotions define us for the rest of our lives. What’s so bad about all these identities? Some are simply false; they just aren’t true. Others are based on factors that are constantly changing. Some of them give power to other people to define us. Others are given first place when they don’t deserve even tenth place. And all of this creates a lot of mental and emotional distress. So we’re going to replace these false and shaky identities with a true and strong identity, one given to us by the God who made us and knows us best. We do this in four steps. STEP ONE: I AM AN IMAGE BEARER OF GOD God made you to bear his image (Gen. 1:27), to show who he is to the rest of the world. That’s your fundamental identity and purpose. Therefore, before you even answer “Who am I?,” you need to find out who God is. Often we go wrong on the “Who am I?” question because we’ve got the wrong answer to the “Who is God?” question. STEP TWO: I AM A SINNER Although God originally made us to carry and show his image to the world, we are now sinners and our sin has distorted that image. That’s why we need the Bible. It shows us who God is and who we are. STEP THREE: I AM A CHRISTIAN To fully recover your God-given identity and replace all false identities, you need to become a Christian through faith in Christ. Faith in Christ gives you a new identity in Christ. Think of all that becomes true of you when you can truly say, “I am a Christian.” I am loved by God. God has loved me from eternity past and will love me forever (Jeremiah 31:3). Therefore, whoever else loves me or doesn’t love me matters much less. I am a child of God. It doesn’t matter who my natural family is if I am a child of God. As part of God’s family, I need never be lonely because I have brothers and sisters all over the world (Romans 8:14–17). I am accepted by God. Others may be cast out and reject me, but God accepts me 100 percent (Romans 15:7). I am forgiven by God. Yes, I am a sinner, and I have committed terrible sins, but Christ’s blood washes and cleanses me from all sin and makes me clean in his sight. I am white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). I am the body of Christ. If my body is a member of Christ’s body, what more can I ask for? It may not be the most attractive or desirable body to others, but Christ has shed his blood to make my body part of his body (1 Corinthians 6:15). I am a joy to God. God doesn’t just tolerate me; he enjoys me and sings songs over me and about me (Zephaniah 3:17). None of these things ever change if you are a Christian. They don’t depend on your feelings or on other people. You are not defined by your body, your grades, your friends, your enemies, your sin, your sports, your successes, your failures, or your sexuality. You are defined by God, and with this God-given identity in hand you can defy every other attempt to define or identify you. Let God’s voice silence all the other voices. If you are not a Christian yet, I hope you will read about this incredible identity and say, “I want that for myself.” STEP FOUR: I AM UNIQUE Steps one through three are equally true of all God’s children. However, that doesn’t mean that God just turns out Christian clones, look-alikes in every respect. No, God has made each of us different with unique personalities, characters, gifts, graces, and callings. We make a big mistake if we make our uniqueness the most important thing about us. However, we also err if we ignore or downplay our God-given uniqueness. That’s why we come to God and ask him—not our parents, our culture, or our friends— “Who do you want me to be?” If we answer this right, so much else will be right. Update from Brianna I was definitely defining myself by my looks. My identity was tied up with my body. Through counseling, I came to see that this was causing me to be depressed. I could never be beautiful enough. There were always going to be lots of girls prettier than me. Once my counselor introduced me to the four steps, I had a plan to recover my stolen identity and replace my false identity. I thought this would work quicker than it did, but it’s taking time because I had embraced a false identity for so long. I do have more good days than bad days though, especially when I consciously work through the four steps. The key thing has been to get my identity from God, not from my body, not from my looks, and not from other people. I don’t think so much about how I look now, and I’m happier. I spend a lot less money on clothes and makeup. I might even save up enough money for a car by next summer. Content taken from “Why Am I Feeling Like This?”  by David Murray, ©2020. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers....

Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

Daughters of God: Finding our identity in Him

by Christina Feenstra 2022 / 198 pages This workbook of six chapters is “a course to help young women find their value and self-worth in God and what He says, instead of in the world.” Christina Feenstra is a grade five teacher in southern Ontario and has developed this course for young teenage girls to find their way in the world. It is primarily meant as a group study but can be used singly. Feenstra uses many Scriptural passages and the Three Forms of Unity for the girls to look up, to study and apply to their own lives. As daughters of God, we are created in His image, living for His purposes to the glory of God's Name. We belong to the body of Christ and thus are members of a community of believers.  This book teaches young girls how to love God and to show thankfulness by loving their neighbor. Each chapter begins with a Bible reading and a prayer, followed by questions and a study, and ends with things to focus on during the week.  Feenstra makes good, practical suggestions such as keeping a journal to record devotions; to record five things daily for which we are grateful.  Because we are temples of the Holy Spirit, we need to take good care not only of our spiritual needs but also of our physical needs by eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. I highly recommend this book for the young sisters in our churches. I'd even recommend it for the older sisters, especially the chapter on forming good habits, to review their own lives in the light of God's Word....

Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

Risk is Right: Better to lose your life than to waste it

by John Piper 2013 / 51 pages How often do you take risks? If you’re anything like me, it’s not often. I like to maintain the status quo and to never feel that knot in the pit of my stomach when the outcome of a decision is in limbo. I like to feel safe. John Piper in his short book, Risk is Right, sets out to destroy this myth of safety. We live in a world full of uncertainty. No matter how hard we may try to eliminate risks from our lives, it is impossible. But as Christians, we need never be afraid of risk, for we have the ultimate security, salvation through Jesus Christ! This one thought should release the chains that hold us from risk: we have been freed to honor Christ in this life and in death.  That is not to say that safety is wrong. We don’t need to be adrenaline junkies, looking for the next adventure to get our blood pumping. Rather, it's the safety that comes from cowardice that is wrong. Queen Esther risked it all when she approached King Ahasuerus without being called. Esther did not know the outcome but trusted that God was powerful enough to save both her and her people. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have bowed down to Nebuchadnezzar's statue and guaranteed their safety. Instead, they refused, handing the outcome of their lives to God. It is right to risk for the cause of God, and refusing these risks because of cowardice is wrong.  I recommend this short book to everyone. We live in a culture that is so risk averse that “two weeks to stop the spread” became two years. We wanted safety so badly, that even as it became evident the government wasn’t able to provide it, we settled for having at least a false sense of security. This book knocks away such crutches so we can live a life worth living, by finding our security in Christ.  A bonus: you can download it for free here....

Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction


by Jacob Abbott 2009, 202 pages How do you make history come alive for teens? Sometimes it means turning to an author long dead. Jacob Abbott died 125 years ago, but a quick read through this volume explains why his books endure. The original 1853 edition of Nero is available for free in many places online, and is well worth downloading to your Kindle. But it does benefit from the updating that publisher Canon Press has done to their version. Some longer 70-word sentences have been broken up and editor Lucy Zoe Jones has also replaced a few obscure words like "declivities," "salubrity," and "preternatural." Little else was required. Now, Nero's life might not seem like appropriate material for a biography aimed at teens – this Roman emperor indulged in every sort of immorality. However Abbott is both a tactful and talented writer. He doesn't delve into the salacious details, so younger readers will only encounter a broad overview of Nero's wickedness. But Abbott does tuck in a bit more information in between the lines, there to be read and understood by older, less naive readers. It's an impressive feat. Like many good teen books, adults will enjoy this as well - it is a engaging introduction to a key figure in both Church and Western history. For Canadian readers, this edition is available at In the US you can find it at where you can also check out the first chapter. You'll also find there more great updated Jacob Abbot biographies like: Cyrus Xerxes Alexander the Great Hannibal Julius Caesar Cleopatra Alfred the Great William the Conqueror Elizabeth I ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

Just do something

A liberating approach to finding God's Will or how to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc. by Kevin DeYoung 128 pages / 2009 What does God want me to do with my life? It’s a great question but not one we should get stuck on. Some folks sit around waiting for a sign from God, instead of using the brains they got from God. DeYoung wants Christians to stop contemplating whether this, that, or that other thing might be what God wants most for our lives, and wants us instead to “just do something.” Does that sound...flippant? Careless even? DeYoung's point is that God's will for our life isn't that hard to figure out. We are to: Live for God. Obey the Scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, wherever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God. It’s that simple. But because we do complicate things, DeYoung spends another 100 pages, explaining why various approaches to fathom God’s will get it wrong, and then he outlines “the way of wisdom”: using Scriptures to rule out some options (don’t date pagans) and to establish proper priorities (will this job be near a good church?) turning to our parents and other wise counsel for advice asking God for wisdom in prayer proceeding in confidence that we are honoring God in whatever decision we then make There is an older book, a classic by Garry Friesen called Decision Making and the Will of God, that covers the same ground, but what takes Friesen almost 500 pages to tackle, DeYoung does in just 128 pages. It is that conciseness that makes this so very valuable: I've shared it with both young and old, and gotten rave reviews all around. So two thumbs up for a very readable, biblical, and helpful book for this most important topic. A version of this review first appeared in the February 2014 issue. Jon Dykstra also posts reviews at the Dykstra sibling book blog where you can find his brother Jeff's longer take on "Just Do Something." R.C. Sproul's "Can I Know God's Will" is another concise excellent book on this subject and while I think it not quite as good as DeYoung's effort, Sproul's is free as an ebook. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels, Teen non-fiction

The life of Frederick Douglass

A graphic narrative of a slave's journey from bondage to freedom by David F. Walker Illustrated by Damon Smyth 2018 / 173 pages Frederick Douglass lived his first 20 years as a slave, then spent the next 25 speaking against the evils of slavery. After the American Civil War and the emancipation of American slaves, he spent his last 30 years fighting the bigotry that still lingered. And in his final decade, defying all social expectations of the time, he married a white woman, Helen Pitts. While a graphic novel biography can't do this complicated figure full justice – the man himself wrote three separate autobiographies in the attempt – the size of this one, and the evident research backing it make for a very good introduction to its subject. As we follow his life, from plantation to town, to escape to the North, we get to meet along with him key figure in the American battle to end slavery. He knew Harriet Tubman, the lady who repeatedly ventured to the South to bring slaves to freedom in the North. John Brown hid at his house after the white abolitionist's unsuccessful attempt to start the Civil War some six years before it eventually began. Douglass was both an opponent and then an ally to Lincoln, due to largely Lincoln's vacillating opposition to slavery. Later he became a friend and then an enemy of women's rights advocate Susan B. Anthony, the change of relationship due this time to a compromise by Douglass when he decided to support black's voting rights even when they no longer came as a package deal with women's voting rights. This is quite the story, and it is well told. CAUTIONS Its important readers understand that some of what's depicted is deduction, and not clearly established fact. But a read of the introduction will help readers tell what's what. A word of warning is due for at least a couple uses of the "n-word" in the book, though with the topic matter, that is as you might expect. There is also some partial nudity. None of it sexual, and it could even be described as modestly done: one scene is a black woman being whipped, naked from the waist up, but her front is either away from view, or hid in the shadows. There are also three completely naked slaves shown, but all are hunched over, in a seated, almost fetal position with arms wrapped around their knees so no genitals are shown, though the top of one's buttocks is. The overarching concern would be the brutality. There is no gratuitous violence - but there is violence. Finally, while we get to hear Douglass debate with himself about how slavery should be fought, and whether violence was warranted or not, and whether it was right to compromise on the women's vote, we aren't offered any other perspective. So readers will have to apply their own biblical lens to this for themselves. Altogether that would make this a book for older teens maybe 14 and up. CONCLUSION The target audience for this book, teens, aren't always fans of history books, perhaps because they've been exposed to too many of the wrong sort, texts that make it all about dates and names. What a joy it is, then, to discover a page-turning biography like this. The Frederick Douglass we meet here, while not exhaustively explored, is fleshed out, and consequently memorable. We've now met him, and won't forget him....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

What’s your worldview?

by James N. Anderson 112 pages 2014 If you’ve got fond memories of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books you’ll really enjoy this adult update. This time it’s a journey to discover our own worldview and, like the kids’ books, we keep coming to forks in the road. So, early on, we either agree there is objective truth and then go to page 22 or we say there isn’t and then go to page 91. A Christian reader flipping to page 22 will be asked to consider, “Is it possible to know the Truth?” The author James Anderson lays out the case for both options, after which we again have to choose which way we want to go. After a dozen or so steps, readers will eventually arrive at the worldview that matches their professed beliefs. Anderson is a Christian and his biases are acknowledged up front. So, even as he has challenging questions for anyone who lands on one of the other 20 worldviews, he also raises the problem of evil for Christians. He wants everyone to follow God, but he refuses to pretend as if Christians have it all figured out. That means this is a book you could give or share with people you know who aren't Christian. How's this for a conversation starter: "Hey Fred, do you know what your worldview is? Come on over, I've got this great little book that'll help us figure it out." Overall, I'd say the strength of the book is this really fun format and also it’s conciseness  – there is just so much packed in such a little space. I'd recommend it for teens as a graduation gift, and for college students and adults too. Maybe the best use of it is as a coffee table book, because it can be digested in chunks by choosing one "adventure" at a time. To get a peek at the first 20 or so pages, you can find it here on the author's website. And if you want to hear Dr. Anderson give an overview on worldviews, check out the 20-minute presentation below that he gave at the 2016 Ligonier Ministries National Conference. ...