Simply SenseSational Decorating
By Terry Willits
Zondervan, 144 pp. Decorating Your Heart and Home
By Brenda Gay Shumaker
Harvest House, 80 pp.

Walk into a big Christian store, like Family Christian Store, and check out what marketers sometimes flippantly refer to as "Jesus Junk." T-shirts, pencils and erasers, stuffed animals, jewelry, dolls, all kinds of neutral objects have been "Christianized" by being branded with a cross or fish symbol, a Bible verse, or the name of Jesus. You can even buy tea bags with Bible verses printed on the side. With Terry Willits' "Simply Sensational Decorating," has home decorating fallen into this category, a nonreligious topic "christianized" by the addition of a few spiritual ideas?

Maybe, but then, maybe not. It's perfectly true that, apart from the introduction and a few occasional references to God, the design principles and instructions in Willits' book are just as clearly presented in numerous secular (and more generously illustrated) decorating books and magazines.

But Willits, an interior designer whose business, SenseSational Homes Inc., is based near Atlanta, does have something to say, and there are Christians who need to hear it.

Willits reminds us that the Creator God was orderly and creative, giving plenty of attention to beauty and detail. This could be a freeing idea to Christians who have so rigidly disciplined themselves to the worthy goals of, say, evangelism and service, that they haven't given much time to notice or pursue the aesthetic opportunities around them.

I've had a friend disparage the time and attention my husband lavished on refinishing an old bureau because his work accomplished so little in terms of furthering "the kingdom of God." I've also bitten my nails in frustration during a 20-minute debate in a church meeting over what seemed a no-brainer to me: whether or not to replace ancient, shabby, aqua carpet in our pale blue-and-white sanctuary. I've seen for myself that evangelical believers can focus so much attention on ministry or mission that we neglect the arts and the artistic.

Willits brings us only so far, though. Once she develops the idea that God appreciates what's beautiful--she offers pointers for beautifying a home's structure and surfaces, from how to select a whole room full of fabric patterns that will work together to how to display hobby collections, and reassures those who are uncertain about their own design abilities, she fails to examine what makes a home "God-centered." Curtains, rugs, or throw pillows aren't the clue that you're in a home where the people honor God. There are dirt-ugly homes where grace is in evidence by the occupants' acceptance and forgiveness, where God's love is shown by the attention lavished on guests to discover and meet their needs. Willits gives Christians a great push in the right direction by encouraging them to beautify their homes sensibly and affordably, but the book doesn't establish where paint and wallpaper belong in alignment with glorifying God or caring for others.

"Decorating Your Heart & Home," by interior designer Brenda Gay Shumaker, is about "bringing joy into your heart and life." Shumaker, whose Designs for Living ministry has earned her fame on the speaking circuit, uses a home design element like balloon shades or skylighting as a jumping off point to offer a simple, encouraging life teaching gleaned from scripture. A discussion of unique chairs, for example, leads into a lesson about the Christian's position as part of God's family, "seated with him in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 2:6).

There's nothing deeply convicting here, and no riveting theological discussions, but new believers or women who are die-hard home decorators might enjoy the simplistic presentation of a small nugget of truth, one at a time. These "Devotions Lite" are happily married to Susan Wheeler's dainty, detailed illustrations and page borders to make a real hot-chocolate kind of gift book: one that tastes sweet and goes down easy.

An endorsement from Willits appears on the jacket of Shumaker's book, and it's easy to see where these women's purposes overlap. Willits and Shumaker would agree that beautifying our homes can make us more comfortable, and equip us for whatever ministries we pursue. A nice home, furthermore, can make the Christian life appear more useful and attractive to those on the outside looking in. Both urge Christians to make the home an operational base from which to reach out to a world that's accepted substitute joys and realities rather than truth.

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