The year of Baptism By Fire and Newness of Life has come to a close, and for supposed “recovery” from such upheaval in 2015, it still felt very fast and very full. I didn’t sleep much. My family changed a lot – my grandpa died, but we welcomed a brother-in-law and two nephews. The daily needs of my children still feel constant, but these little kids are breathtakingly bigger and even more dear with each passing day. (Usually.) The presidential election found me casting my ballot for a third-party candidate for the first time in history, which I pledged to do without fear, but I cried quite a bit when the election results came in and it has been much, much harder to remain hopeful than I first expected.
One of my few hopes for the year was to get the whole upstairs of the new house painted and appropriately furnished, which did not happen, but I did muster the self-control to avoid spoilers for this year’s Star Wars movie before seeing it in theaters, so I’m calling my goal-fulfillment a draw. I also didn’t blog much, but I wasn’t sure if I would. I’ve had a few projects simmering in the background and I was glad to contribute elsewhere (like Christ and Pop Culture, Risen Motherhood podcast, This Village Blog, and Vernacular Pocast), but I’m itching to get more thoughts out. I’m reorganizing a few things in my schedule in order to write over here and elsewhere more often! During this year of writer’s hibernation, I’ve been able to do more reading than I expected, which has been great. Here’s most of what I read:
Theology & Christian Living
You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith. Very much a fresh articulation of Augustinian thought (“It was foul – and I loved it” … “Late have I loved Thee”), the genius of this book is that it is profound and yet not just for nerds who want to talk about St. Augustine. In fact, it’s arguing that even for people like me who like to just think about every single angle of something, being human means we are still shaped much more by our loves than our thoughts. This is a great look at how much culture shapes our hearts and our worship, and an important corrective to those who tend to equate spiritual maturity with studying theology (or, as I have seen it said tongue-in-cheek elsewhere, the idea that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy reading theology books forever.”)
Teach Us To Want by Jen Pollock Michel I read this alongside You Are What You Love and felt the combination was a little bit redundant. She says some beautiful things about desire, ambition, and the life of faith, so I don’t not recommend this, but if you are interested in the topic I would start with the Smith book first. I might try to re-read this and see if it works better as a standalone, but I’m really glad I bought it even if just for the gorgeous red apples on the cover. (Her narrative tone and our common experiences of moving frequently makes me excited to read her upcoming book about the meaning of home, Keeping Place.)
Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson I was excited to start this book because I am a huge fan of the author (remember the year I only read two books? Her first book Made for More was one of them and also earned my high praise); I knew she would give voice to the words already at the tip of my tongue to help correct a lot of people I know who really struggle with pride. Then I read it, and the words rolling off my tongue were significantly more confessional than I ever expected. Shame about the size of your jeans or dwelling on the numbers you wish to see on the scale? Pride. Overwhelmed and emotional because you always have too much to do that never gets done? Pride. That comfortable feeling of wearing your slippers and drinking hot coffee before your little kids wake up? Thankfully, that one is NOT PRIDE as far as I can tell. This theology is beautifully biblical and strong, and the application is inviting and gracious. This is a great read for anyone who “has a friend” that might need to bring themselves down a notch or two.
Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill. This book starts off pretty cerebral, so it gets lots of nerd points, which I love, but it is profoundly practical and encouraging by the second half. It also confirms some things I’ve been wondering about, like my growing suspicion about over-emphasis of family in the American church that devastates the lonely people among us. The Christian gospel, Hill argues, transforms our personal relationships and elevates deeper and profound friendships in ways that fulfill more of Jesus’ prayer, “that they might all be one.” I’m definitely going to be referring back to this book often (and exploring his other writings on celibacy and the gospel, too.)
Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield In language that is beautiful without being sappy and hardy without being brash, Mayfield shows us God’s grace in the hardest, loneliest stories from her 10-year mission to refugees in Portland and Minneapolis. Current political issues make this message even more timely and I am truly grateful for this author and her work. You’ll read it and weep, and hope.
Parenting & Life Management
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne Reading this book was very self-affirming for me: he says the typical middle-upper class American family lifestyle is basically destroying children with its excess of toys, sports, activities, screentime, and clutter, and I may have loved this mainly because it confirmed what I already thought about raising kids. Still, there were great suggestions throughout and many Simplicity Parenting – inspired rhythms have been life-giving for us. I even wrote about how this book inspired me to cull the “words” in our music and radio listening for my friend Mary’s blog over the summer. After reading several Christian parenting books, I found it refreshing to read some decidedly non-religious advice as well. (Maybe it just felt good that he wasn’t pretending his advice is the only way to honor God as a parent?) I didn’t agree with everything, but would recommend this to most parents alongside Jen Wilkin’s talk “Raising an Alien Child.” (And I will admit I’m typing this while my kids watch pirated-YouTube copies of a Disney movie on a 43-inch screen, so we aren’t fully committed here.)
Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen The pages of this book begins with commendations, including this from Peter Kreeft: “A worthy successor to C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man,” which is double praise. Esolen’s witty book expounds on similar principles of Simplicity Parenting, expressing them through the lens of his Christian faith and setting them against much of today’s modern western educational philosophy. I’ll definitely be re-reading this one as we start to make further decisions about the kids’ education.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. While, honestly, all self-help productivity books seem to say the same things… I read this one in just the right window of time this fall and was able to clearly identify some ways that I was “being productive in the wrong direction” and “robbing other people of their problems at great cost to myself.” We will see how further application towards my goal of more writing goes this year!
Kids Books We Loved
Iggy Peck, Architect and Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beatty. Engaging poetry, hilarious pictures, characters with gifts in science and technology? WINNERS all around. Both kids sit in rapt attention for both of these (which are labeled for ages 4 and up), and we’ll need to get the third book about Rosie Revere, Engineer.
Time for Bed by Mem Fox. So enchanting. I will miss this one when the kids outgrow it.
Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field. Annie has this one memorized, which saves me because I just choke up at the page that says “Bless other children far and near, and keep them safe and free from fear.” We love the gorgeous swedish cabin setting for the pictures and reciting the sweet rhymes before bed.
Woolies for the Winter by Betsy Howard and Laura Kern. In a world of inane drivel for the preliterate, this charming rhyme and watercolor is most welcome; I can hardly wait for their other three season-themed books to print!
What’s On My List for 2017
A Woman’s Place by Katelyn Beaty (started, need to finish)
What Grieving People Wish You Knew by Nancy Guthrie (started, need to finish)
Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance
Is The Bible Good for Women? by Wendy Alsup
Comfort Detox by Erin Straza
More Fiction, TBD (I am up for suggestions here! Perhaps the Kirstin Lavransdatter trilogy??)
None Like Him by Jen Wilkin
Good News For Weary Women by Elyse Fitzpatrick (If nothing else, I’ll read this because I already bought it and I am weary of it taunting me from the bookshelf since June.)
Happy New Year, friends!