2017 Reading List


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!

A Flood of Thoughts About the Ark Encounter


Our family decided to take advantage of the half-price days this week at the Ark Encounter, and so we found ourselves awash with excitement as we were carried away to Williamston, Kentucky, on the evening of December 26. I didn’t at all plan to write about the experience. However, in my conversations with others, I realized I couldn’t find an article that described my feelings about the experience. It appears the Interweb is either absolutely glowing about this theme park, or derisively critical. So, here are my two cents, and I’ll try to not drown anyone with too much verbiage (I’ll also try to stop with the water puns).

What are you seeing?


On the outside, you’re seeing a magnificent life-size Noah’s ark that matches the biblical dimensions found in Genesis 5:32-10:1: 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high. The inside of the ark is full of impressive craftmanship, as well as what my husband refers to as proof of concept models.

One of the many, many animal exhibits
One of the many, many animal exhibits

As many people know, the Bible tells us a lot about the Ark (dimensions, how may animals to take, the type of wood, how many decks, to store food) but it doesn’t go into great detail about how this actually happens. Enter the engaging Ark Encounter. The exhibits cover everything from waste removal to the theology of suffering. And a lot more in between. Please note, some of this is extra-biblical, but certainly not anti-biblical. And, mostly, it’s quite thought-provoking.

A glimpse of a possible animal feeding system
A glimpse of the animal maintenance system

Also, the Ark does make some obviously modern improvisions: concession stands, indoor plumbing, and HVAC. And in December, Christmas lights.

Who is the Audience?

A glimpse of the Ark's suggested storage system
A glimpse of the Ark’s suggested storage system

Context is everything with a visit to a “religious theme park.” We are biblically-centered Christians, so for us, we see this as an engaging way to further explore the biblical recounting of Noah’s Ark, which we believe to be historically and scientifically accurate. And the Ark delivered that. I do realize that many people mock the idea of taking the Bible at its word. I also believe a lot of other culturally unacceptable things, but I will wear my tinfoil hat proudly, and I’ll be open-minded and gracious with other viewpoints. I’d expect the same from others.

But, my point in saying all that, is that someone’s enjoyment level of this place (believer or not) would depend on his or her level of open-mindedness and acceptance to religious teachings.

Also, there are two areas of the Ark that I would not recommend for children: (1) The Pre-Flood World exhibit, due to its graphic illustrations, which are spectacular and breathtaking, but potentially nightmarish for sensitive children; (2) The Fairy Tale Ark exhibit, which we found quite disappointing. The exhibit’s point is to show that the cultural depiction of a cute old man and smiling animals (although with good intent) deceptively distorts the truth. I get the point. I really do. But, I think it’s a tad ironic to use a deceptively inviting kids’ exhibit to tell them about deception. And, the more I ponder that irony, I think it’s ironic to point out that deception while also building a theme park on the tragic story. I don’t know, really. It just struck me the wrong way, and it didn’t really have much to offer my children, like its facade indicated.

The rest of the Ark Encounter was fairly kid-friendly.

Pre-Flood World exhibit intro illustrations
Pre-Flood World exhibit intro illustrations

What are some potential criticisms?

A glimpse of the models found throughout
A glimpse of the models found throughout

It’s pricey, but not terribly unreasonable. It’s free for children under the age of 5 (yay for us), but it’s $40 for each adult, and then $10 for parking. It would have been $90 for all of us to go without the discount, which isn’t terrible, but as any parent of small children knows–it’s a discouraging cost when you know you are very limited in your ability to explore due to the limitations of small children.

I won’t even pretend to understand it, but there’s been some media backlash about how the Ark has been financed, in terms of tax status, etc. Others look to this to say it’s an example of how state and church shouldn’t intermingle. However, I’d like to remind the critics that no one has ever claimed that the Ark is a church with its own congregation. It’s a parachurch organization, so I think a lot of these criticisms are unfounded. In addition, the Ark has brought economy and jobs to a region that desperately needs it, so I’d say it’s all a wash.

The immensity and complexity of the how suggestions actually made me less convinced of the potential manpower and more convinced of the supernatural power at play on the ark. To think eight people could pull this off and have time to enjoy nice living quarters propelled me to think that while they could’ve pulled all this off, it’s far more likely that God intervened to simply make the animals more sedate versus building this complex tending structure. And much to the Ark Encounter’s credit, it makes it very clearly that it takes artistic license.



And, last, I read a few quotes from Ken Ham, the creator, that a goal for the Ark project is evangelism.  I feel a tension with having someone pay to be evangelized. I am passionate about my faith, and therefore would love to see people have that same experience; however, I’d be very careful about considering a theme park as a primary evangelistic tool for those seeking the truth of Jesus and God’s Word. The bottom line is that the Ark is a great place to come and have continued, up-close conversations with either like-minded or open-minded friends about this biblical story and all its implications, such as judgment and redemption.

What is my overall recommendation?

A good gauge for any experience is to simply ask, “Would you do it again?”

I absolutely would.

Upon leaving, I told Josh that my four-year-old and I could’ve EASILY spent two days there just studying every animal and exhibit (Notice: I did not include the 3-year-old and 1-year-old in this wish, ha). I could figuratively see his little mind exploding at all the “super cool” info and all that God could do! And, if you were within 20 feet of us, you could hear his enthusiasm.

It was chock-full of information and plausible conjectures, so it’s a feast for conversation and thought. I do wish we could’ve made it to the petting zoo, camel rides, fossil find, and donkey rides. I’m also a sucker for any kind of zip lines or aerial adventure, which is also part of the Ark Encounter, but time and money simply wouldn’t allow for those things since we were dealing with small children and the after-5 pm pricing.



What Do I Do With Santa?


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)

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



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.