2017 Reading List

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Thanks to a vacationing husband who is encouraging me to get some “me time,” I just spent two hours this afternoon making my 2017 book list. So, my goodness, I feel compelled to share it after all that work. I also think it’s worth mentioning that about halfway through my list-making, I realized that I was enjoying the anticipation of all these new ideas as much as the reading itself. Please tell me I’m not alone here? Anyway, I used Tim Challies’ Reading Challenge to jump-start my list, and then I took some creative liberties to adapt it to my interests and season of life (Ahem. Parenting books, I need you to keep preaching those themes of sovereignty and grace to me again and again. I can’t hear it enough these days.).

Anyway, without further ado, here’s THE LIST, which comes out to 36 books. May the odds be ever in my favor for staying the course, but not becoming a slave to lofty expectations. I will lay out my road map, but refuse to feel guilt-ridden should I start lagging because either chaos is reigning my household, someone is yet again puking, or I just really like that particular book and need to soak it in a bit more. I’m determined to focus on process not the destination. Knowing myself and my schedule, I can fairly resolve to reading/listening 45 minutes a day with a book on this list, and it’s in those efforts that I will find joy. Not in saying “done.”

  1. A biography (of sorts): The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman
  2. A classic novel (As I mentioned, I’m taking a little liberty here to call this one “classic”): The Handmaid’s Tail by Margaret Atwood
  3. A book about history: Seeds of Turmoil: The Biblical Roots of the Inevitable Crisis in the Middle East by Bryant Wright
  4. A book targeted to my gender: Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst
  5. Apologetics: Why Trust the Bible by Greg Gilbert and Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell D. Moore
  6. Theology (Theology nerds, I know this is “superficial,” but just go with it!) : One Minute After You Die by Erwin Lutzer and Jesus, Continued…: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You by J. D. Greear
  7. At least 400 pages: Divergent by Veronica Roth
  8. 100 pages or fewer: The Hospitality Commands: Building Loving Christian Community; Building Bridges to Friends & Neighbors by Alexander Strauch
  9. A book your church recommends: Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love by Edward T. Welch
  10. A book published in 2016: Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul
    by Hannah Anderson
  11. A book for children or teens: The Green Ember by S. D. Smith
  12. About a current issue (I’m halfway through this one, so this should give me the nudge to finish!): They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run from ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East by Mindy Belz
  13. Written by a Puritan: In Love with Christ: The Narrative of Sarah Edwards
  14. By or about a missionary: Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D. L. Mayfield
  15. Self-Improvement: Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
  16. Recommended by a friend: The Harbinger: The Ancient Mystery that Holds the Secret of America’s Future by Jonathan Cahn
  17. Recommended by my spouse: Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting by William P. Farley
  18. A book with a great cover: Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna
  19. On the current NYT list of bestsellers: A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman
  20. A different perspective: Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen
  21. About leadership: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown
  22. Based on a true story: The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines
  23. Author I’ve never read before: Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most by Wess Stafford
  24. Humorous book: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
  25. A memoir/autobioraphy: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
  26. Productive living: Minimalist Living: Decluttering for Joy, Health, and Creativity by Genevieve Parker Hill
  27. About racial issues: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
  28. About poverty: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Steve Corbett
  29. About science: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  30. Parenting: Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp; The Heart of Anger: Practical Help for Prevention and Cure of Anger in Children by Lou Prioli
  31. Teaching: The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel; The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer; The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition by Jim Trelease

Also, this seems like as good of a place as any to give a quick nod to some books I read in the latter part of 2016, but never had a chance to write about. So, here’s my quick summary: The Girl on the Train (meh, but super fast-paced), Teaching from Rest (So, so fabulous. I’m planning to read it again.), The Kitchen House (It wrecked me, it read quickly, and I’d recommend it with caution.), Hinds Feet on High Places (It’s now one of my all-time favorite books. That should be enough of an endorsement!).

Happy reading, friends!

What Do I Do With Santa?

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Before I share my thoughts, please don’t miss this overarching sentiment: This entire conversation is a matter of conscience. Whether you reject Santa like Ebenezer Scrooge or embrace him with Polar Express wonder, have fun and know there is no judgment. I offer tacit affirmation to all people who will take time to thoughtfully find their way in holiday celebrations and traditions.

First things first.  I’ve found it necessary this year to grapple with how to handle Santa now that my children are old enough to swallow and feast on this cultural phenomenon. I’ve been told by experts that I should’ve figured this out before the actual moment arrived, but it just didn’t happen. And, you know what? It still worked out. No one has died from lack of a plan over here. Please take heart if you, like me, often feel behind the eight ball.

Anyway, before Thanksgiving can even commence, we notice Santa awaiting us at every store, on every commercial, and in so many interactions (“Have you been good this year?” “What will Santa bring you?”). During a mid-November shopping run with the kids, I found myself standing in the middle of a festooned Christmas aisle with my children staring at Santa. They were making observations about what he would and would not do for them this season. My eldest (4) even mentioned that Santa must not be available to poor kids. Have mercy. Where did they hear this?!

At that point, I realized I had to face my lack of commitment on the issue, and I needed to find a proper place to put Mr. Santa Clause. I didn’t want to go in Scrooge mode and reject him altogether, nor did I want to distract from the true meaning and miracle of Christmas: Jesus’ birth.

After some more grappling, we (meaning my husband and I) decided to strategically let our children choose where their imagination dictates (Don’t we let them do this with all their other play when they want to be a princess or a ninja?), and have chosen to not make a big deal out of it. One of my favorite teachers, Jen Wilkin, elaborates on this point. And while culture steadily tries to infuse their diet with mostly Santa, we’ve found our way of embracing Santa by focusing on his historical character of Saint Nicholas. It’s more profoundly simple than I could’ve imagined because I’ve learned that Saint Nicholas is far more Jesus-centered than I ever knew.

His testimony, in fact, points to the true meaning of Christmas,  Whether my children want to believe Saint Nicholas still exists or not, I can certainly get on board that the spirit of his gift-giving does exist. They know him for the beautiful, gracious, Jesus-serving character that he is. They also know that the historical legend filled stockings nearly 17 centuries ago, and that’s as far as the spirit of his gift-giving crusade will go here. It’s what works for us. And our budget.

But, my point is not to get caught up in the details for how we can all logistically handle and personalize Santa, but to encourage anyone who feels uncommitted and questioning to face the hard questions and realize that it leads to a great reward. Questioning Santa and learning his story does what any healthy learning endeavor does: It points us to the greater love story of all time. A story that prompts us to give in thanks and worship because of the gift of Jesus.

“Over the years, people imagined stories about Nicholas–exciting, magical and sometimes silly stories. Some people gave him nicknames, like Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, or Santa Claus, and they started to forget the true story about the real person called Nicholas.

At Christmas, when you celebrate Jesus’s birthday and open your presents, remember the true story of Jesus, God’s greatest gift, who died for you so that you can be friends with God.

And when you see pictures of Santa and reindeer and elves, remember the true story of Nicholas. Nicholas was so thankful for what God had given him that he gave what he had to help others.

He didn’t have magical powers. He was a real person.

He was just Nicholas.” from Just Nicholas

I’ll end my thoughts by linking to some of my favorite resources I’ve found this month on this topic of Saint Nicholas confirming the true meaning of Christmas. I’m always up for more suggestions, so please share!

Christmas Is… by Gail Gibbons (great for toddlers and preschoolers)
Santa Who? by Gail Gibbons (great for preschoolers and beyond; fairly in-depth historically)
Just Nicholas by Annie Kratzsch (great for preschoolers and beyond and my personal favorite with its emphasis on the Gospel message)
The Legend of Saint Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving by Dandi Mackall (great for preschoolers and beyond; a story-telling emphasis)

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The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus by Adam C. English (at-length reading for super inquisitive adolescents or adults)

 

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Present Over Perfect: A Too-Long Book Review

present-over-perfectOK, hang with me, people. I’d like to sit down and process some wonderfully lucid, succinct thoughts about Shauna Niequist’s recent book Present Over Perfect, but that’s not on the dock for another five years, at least.

However, I can’t let this one sit too long due. First, I’m tired, and my memory is short. Second, my reaction needs to take some verbal flight for processing purposes. So, I’m going to offer a quick smattering of thoughts on this book, and also on this sort of genre in general: one that speaks to the burnt-out woman, encouraging her to say “no” and instead find her inner peace and purpose. Most of these books are marketed to Christian women, so I’m going to assess it from that angle with that audience in mind.

Also, I listened to this on Audible, which I’m obsessed with at the moment. The author herself read it to me, and it was great. You should check it out. Anyway, here we go.

1. I love what The Gospel Coalition has to say; however, I think it was a bit too positive. Please don’t mistake this for judging. I know it’s tough to be a writer and have your soul bared for the world to critique. We need to show grace to the extent that it doesn’t overreach into accepting lies. The bone I have to pick is with the fact Niequist has set herself up as a teacher of biblical truth. She (along with Jen Hatmaker and Glennon Melton) markets herself to evangelical women as a spiritual adviser. Heard of the Belong tour? Its reach is huge; I can’t stress enough that it has huge influence that makes its way into our homes. We have women thirsty for soul food, and polls and social media numbers show that the majority of them are turning to these women and the like for their theology. To that end, Niequist has set a higher standard for herself. 

2. All that being said, this book appealed to me because I feel burnt out and exhausted. Although her struggle resonates with me, I do not think it would resonate with a lot of people. If you’re a hustler, dreamer, activity-driven, task-oriented type, it will resonate with you, too. I feel like the woman Niequist describes throughout the entire piece: The woman that people depend on because, simply put, she gets things done. I’m often described as capable and strong, and I’m tired of these labels. I want to be known/loved for who I am more than I am appreciated for what I can do. I also struggle to say “no.” All that self-revealing being said, I need a biblical lens to make wise, loving decisions that allow me to be Christ to others, but also preserve my sanity and keep my purpose. And, that’s why I picked up this book.

3. Niequist’s solutions come back to finding ourselves and listening to ourselves. It takes on a very mystical feel and lacks gospel-centered thinking. There is almost no Scripture involved. I kept thinking about Jen Wilkin’s wisdom from Women of the Word: “There is no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God.” Niequist continuously points to herself and tells me to do likewise. This book doesn’t leave us knowing more about God, but instead leaves us knowing a lot about Niequist and feeling more unclear about God’s character. It also seems counter-biblical in many places. For example, she says, “How we live matters, and what you choose to own will shape your life, whether you choose to admit it or not. Let’s live lightly, freely, courageously, surrounded only by what brings joy, simplicity, and beauty.” Hmm, I’m not sure how this exactly jives with the call to take up our cross, lose our lives, and embrace suffering (Matthew 16:24-26, Philippians 1:29, Luke 9:23, all of I Peter, John 3:30, Galations 2:20-21, I could go on and on.). Well, it doesn’t, and this is problematic.

4. It sounds cliche, but this book needs to check its privilege. Niequist makes wild declarations about being able to make the life you want to make. She says everyone can write her story and choose where she wants to be and what she wants to do. I feel she needs to go interview some inmates for the day. I think their sordid tales would tell her it’s just not that easy. Or, at the very least, consider a single mom who doesn’t have the privilege of choosing when to say “no.”

5. And, LAST (Thank you if you’ve hung on this far), I get the need to rest, find true meaning, fulfillment, reflection, and peace. But, I think–especially given her audience of upper middle-class suburban womenshe flings it too far in the other direction where she’s encouraging us toward more self-absorption, giving more reasons to justify not reaching out to neighbors because it doesn’t meet our purpose and inner heart desire. I would have greatly appreciated her addressing the question of “How can we die to ourselves in the midst of this pursuit of a peaceful lifestyle?” So, in short, I think it’s dangerous to put this spiritual advice in the hands of the wrong people, as it will simply confirm their desires to be more inwardly focused.

Overall, I would be amiss to say the book wasn’t extremely thought-provoking for me. She crafted many profound quotes, but they sort of stand alone when given the greater context. If she simply claimed to be a psychologist and not a biblical teacher, I could certainly read this with less critique. I’m also challenged to think of creative ways in which I can make sure my daily choices are not adding to the noise which I crave, but are instead adding to Kingdom living. So, that’s a plus, for sure. She had some promising lines, indeed (“Be very careful that you are not giving yourself to a pale imitation of life with Christ—life about Christ, or life generally near to Christ.” ), but she never took them and ran with them, and it was a lost opportunity. Like most self-help books, there’s some good we can take from it, but we need to be careful and look through the lens of Truth.

 
 

Reading: Simply Tuesday // The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society // All the Pretty Things // The Loney

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To be truthful, I read Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World at the end of this summer, and it took me all the live-long day to finish it between unexpected traveling and some crazy work scheduling. But, ironically I didn’t feel hurried. Every time I started reading it on my device, it felt like I was taking a long, soul-quenching drink. And, I would feel full from just a few pages. Emily Freeman spoke my soul’s language, which I can’t exactly describe in a short space, but can say it spoke to me on a deeper level that many self-help type books do not. She beautifully expresses the need to see our mundane Tuesday moments as divine moments that have extraordinary purpose in them. She calls it bench-sitting in many chapters. To bring it home, she says things like, “It’s easy to fight for a cause when the stakes are high—freedom, rights, life or death. It’s way harder to fight for moments, to fight to see meaning on a Tuesday afternoon around the homework table.” This is me, needing to be reminded that my dish-washing, snack-providing, early-morning wake-ups are all divine and purposeful.

Another thing I unexpectedly enjoyed about the book are her prayers at the end of each chapter. In particular, this one profoundly spoke to me at this season of life.

We confess our fear of trying new things, hard things, and scary things. We also recognize how we sometimes despise the idea of staying where we are. May we be open to discovering home right here instead of wishing for something different. May we release our tight-hold on what could be and be willing to sit on a bench in our front yard in the midst of what is. Be our courage and wisdom as we discern when to stay, when to move, and what it means to bring you with us.

So, are there any caveats to reading this book? Well, I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who wasn’t like-minded and doesn’t enjoy wading around in word visuals. I read one review that says Emily gets lost in her metaphors, which I could certainly see. But, honestly, I appreciated her verbose comparison and found it helpful in context. If you’ve read any of my reviews before, you know, for instance, that I love Ann Voskamp as a speaker, but not as a writer. I find it hard to grasp her message in the forest of her words. At least not easily. I don’t think Emily goes that far at all. She took me to the brink perhaps, but I really felt her language solidified the visual for me.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (“Potato Peel” for short) was a much-needed reprieve from some heavier World War II era novels that I’ve read in the past year (Unbroken, The Nightingale, All the Light We Cannot See). Don’t get me wrong. This had the same level of depth and character development, but it’s clever epistolary style, particularly from the story’s main character, Juliet, kept me entertained throughout. If I were to describe it in short, I’d say, clever, witty, and engaging. And, I would even enjoy reading it again.

The setting of the story is the aftermath of World War II where Juliet, a writer, starts corresponding with a diverse group of people from Guernsey, located on the British Islands. It holds much merit from both a literary perspective and a historical perspective. If I had to think of any caveats, it would be that the many allusions to famous authors and pieces, as well as the many characters, might find some readers feeling a bit confused. Also, three months out from reading, I don’t remember too much about its plot twists. That realization was a bit disheartening, but I’d still give it a hearty recommendation.

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I’m just not even sure to start with The Loney (you can read the description at the link if you’re really that curious) except to say it outright.  Just don’t read it. It’s truly not worth your time. I know, I know. Stephen King is quoted on the front. That fooled us, too. If I really must expound, I will say that the writer certainly knows how to wield his descriptive pen, and he has promise. But, the book meanders. It goes beyond a Gothic horror novel to just flat-out being strange to where you finish reading and go,” Huh?” but not in a let’s-expound-and-pontificate way.

It holds merit in that it further educated me about the Catholic church, since its Catholic characters are all central figures in the novel. For those who are Catholic, you may find many disturbances in his unforgiving portrayal, but I will throw Hurley a bone and say I appreciated the nearly buried point that rituals are ultimately a hopeless faith that followers struggle to face. And as a Christ follower myself, I would say that in his attempt to illuminate the dead end of religion, Hurley opens up the conversation about freedom that comes from truly trusting alone in Jesus.

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Saving the best for last is All the Pretty Things: The Story of a Southern Girl Who Went through Fire to Find Her Way HomeI got wind of an opportunity to read this book for free as part of a launch team. When I heard about a memoir, with an Appalachian perspective, plus a story of redemption; I knew it was going to be good. But, since this is Edie’s debut piece, I didn’t expect it to be that good. Her words are still lingering, long after I set the book down. She’s also prompted me to revisit pieces of my own story that I’d pretty much shoved aside and unsuccessfully tried to bury. Another author said of Edie’s style was “part Southern Gothic, part C.S. Lewis, part pure poetry,” and I’d have to agree.

In Edie’s intro she says, “Your Father who has baptized you with water and blood and fire will turn your sorrow to joy, your suffering to gifts of grace, your terrifying deep waters into soul-quenching cisterns that refresh us all as we walk through fire.” This framing sets the scene for her riveting and often harrowing tale. One that I could completely visualize as a Southerner myself, and often witnessing (thankfully, not experiencing) the lifestyle unique to that Appalachian poverty mindset. It was also reminiscent of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castleexcept there the Father of the universe comes in and rescues her story–a far better closure than Walls’ memoir.

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So, for a little, much-needed accountability, I’m hoping to finish up the following by the end of this month. I know, I know. The Girl on the Train is so last year. Well, I suppose it’s time to see what all the hubbub’s about. Here’s to hoping I can check back in before October!

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