2016 wrap up (& what I read)

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.

we just saw Rogue One. these are our "excited" faces.

here we are after seeing Rogue One. we really liked it. these are our respective “excited” faces.

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!

reading round-up (4.25.14)

This week feels a bit like recovery of an excitement overdose. After months of life in the doldrums, we had lots of company and a fun Easter trip to Wisconsin (because moving to Minnesota means we are closer to one little branch of our family and we want to take advantage of that!). Now we’re getting ourselves straightened out again. It’s been a classic rainy April, at least this week (better than snow!!), and it is hard to motivate myself to walk the pup with all the puddles and raindrops. He’d probably love it, but then I’d end up needing to bathe him every day… so complicated. I play lots of running games in the house, but I can tell it’s not working as well as a good, exhausting, hour-long romp through the neighborhood.


[One] Stuff From People I Actually Know In Real Life: There are some practical and thoughtful tips on clothing and freedom here from Mary, which I’m finding encouraging while trying to tackle looking fabulous with a changing body, small budget, and small wardrobe. I nosily asked her to share some thoughts on the topic and I am very glad she did! I also appreciated her guest post “We Sleep Well with Tired Bodies,” from our friend Hannah’s blog.

[Two] I thought these articles on miscarriage from Verily Magazine were excellent. (Be sure to check out Part 1, too.) Though this speaks mostly of women without referencing the fathers, the points about depression, and anxiety statistics for women/couples who are recovering from a pregnancy loss are particularly important. (I know I often get blank looks when I tell others that the rates of divorce, suicide, and all sorts of anxious/depressive/compulsive behaviors skyrocket for several years after a miscarriage, and the numbers are even higher with a stillbirth or infant death… This is uncomfortable to talk about, but it’s true. I think more people will get the help they need if everyone knows how much this impacts parents!)

[Three] Perhaps this past week’s birthday of The Bard may encourage you to Brush Up Your Shakespeare?

[Four] Our new house (yes, yes, yes, more pictures coming soon!) is overrun by… I can’t even say it… spiders. Icky ones. Crawly ones. BIG ONES. Aaron said he was more scared of Iraqi camel spiders than the possible loss of life or limb during his deployment, so we are a sorry match in this department. If we still had chickens they would eat the spiders, but Max is no help. I may resort to other extreme but still rational measures.

spider


[Five] In case you are interested in
boosting church attendance… Stephen Colbert has some friendly commentary about those not interested in sharing the regular messages of unconditional love and eternal salvation and turn to Mixed Martial Arts. (This is a joke, of course!)

[Six] This is a helpful radio interview on infertility and God’s will from He Remembers the Barren. And while I don’t necessarily ascribe to everything  in this article about fertility and God’s will by Leila at Like Mother, Like Daughter, I think she has written a very thoughtful and worthy read on the topic of family planning. Maybe the best encouragement for people thinking about expanding their family is when she says, “I just would rather not have the kind of suffering that comes from trying to avoid suffering by refusing a treasure.”


[Seven] Aaron and I have found versions of Lady Gaga’s song Bad Romance that speak to each of our nerdy, specialized fields of study.
For research scientists, rated Pg-13: “Bad Project.”
For classical musicians, no objectionable content: “Fugue on Bad Romance.”


[Easter Bonus — 8] This is your reward for getting to the end of this week’s reading round-up: my favorite Easter meme! One of my BFFs knows the person who runs this blog, so I feel sort of famous when I read it. I’m not Catholic so half the posts totally blow over my head, but the ones with universal Christian jokes are usually hilarious.

Have a wonderful weekend! We’re looking forward to enjoying some downtime and dinner with friends… And May!? Is it going to be May by next weekend? What? Maybe by then we can figure out what our bulb flower situation is here at the Coon Ranch. There are leaves poking up, so I am hopeful! 

[As always, more Friday links and quick reading over at Conversion Diary!] 

shooting for the moon

My summer reading plans are always a bit, uh, ambitious, and I don’t usually get anywhere close to completing the list before I get distracted by other books or run out of time. I’ve accepted this. At least when I shoot for the moon, I’m likely to land among the stars.

summer reading

Especially when I’m working and there is always stuff to do around the house, it can be too-tempting to be in the middle of a book when I get bored with a project, like transplanting hostas or demolishing something in the bathroom. I usually just make myself some iced tea and finish my book so I only have one project left incomplete. As you can imagine, this doesn’t always go over well with Aaron at the end of the day. But I am really, really, really grateful to be self-employed and less busy in the summers, and part of that privilege gives me extra household responsibilities on my off days, so in an effort to stave off boredom AND live responsibly, I have been devouring audio books.

It complicates things a bit that I have to get CD’s from the library and listen on a huge boom box that Aaron had in high school, because our technology situation is laughably behind the times due to our grad-school/self-employed set up. (The CD driver on my six-year-old laptop is uncooperative and my iPod has buttons.) And audio books are hit-or-miss because sometimes the people who read them have overly boring or soothing voices. The best ones are usually read by the authors, because they have the most authentic vocal inflections and they have a vested interest in hooking readers. So far, though, I’ve been enjoying the Harry Potter series because the story is engaging without being overly complicated. Aaron and I were a little curious about this because we grew up evangelical, which meant JK Rowling was probably a demon based on how everyone’s mom talked about the evil books. After starting them now, I can see why parents would hesitate to permit young kids to read the series, but I would definitely call these “fantasy” and not “occult,” probably in the same category as Chronicles of Narnia,  Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc. I think it’s also pretty telling that I’ve never talked to someone who has read the books and still condemns them; it’s always someone who is just guessing on the content. (The books are so interesting when you know Latin, too. It adds another layer to the plot if you know the Bad Guy’s name, Voldemort, means “Will of Death,” for instance.)

Other than that, I’m a huge fan of GoodReads to keep track of books I’ve read and get suggestions from people I trust. (The GoodReads site makes it easy – I can tell if I trust someone or not based on their “shelves” and “book ratings.” It will also probably put me on a government watch-list.)  I’m keeping a summer reading list there, and so far I’m working through Nancy Guthrie’s Lamb of God Bible study, some Wendell Berry essays, and a book about the Russian aristocracy right before the Bolshevik revolution. You know, to keep things interesting.

My favorite things to read are suggestions from friends, so I’d love to hear any other suggestions! Do you like reading in the summer? Are there any books you keep returning to re-read as years pass? (Is anyone else really excited about another season of 24 returning?)

Friday Five: books I’ve read lately

This week I realized I’ve read 14 books already during 2011. I’ve made an effort to read “real” books this year, and I believe this is already much more than I got through in all of 2010. I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to make this a priority! The five books I’m sharing here are some of my favorites, listed here in my own chronological reading order.

1) Orthodoxy
by GK Chesterton. This book is a great look at how Chesterton came, intellectually, to accept the Christian faith. I devoured this immediately after re-reading Mere Christianity, where CS Lewis similarly reconciles his academic intellect and confession of faith, and enjoyed the way they told almost the same story in two very different ways. I especially appreciated his discussions about the way modern thinking (that is, modernism and humanism) affect human belief:

“Everyday one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. …Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought… Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.” (Orthodoxy)

*****

2) One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp is really popular right now and I normally shy away from “those” popular Christian books because I prematurely assume they are fluffy and not interesting, but this one is on fire for a reason. This book was passed on to me by a brilliant woman, a dear friend who assured me it profoundly blessed her on the path to recovery from a life-altering betrayal, and I am so grateful I didn’t brush this off! It is anything but superficial. Her lyrical style is almost burdensome at first, if you’re not normally reading much poetry, but after the first chapter I found it easy to connect with her writing about a life of thankfulness in the midst of heartbreak, disappointment and unhappy circumstances. I loved this quote about reversing your heart in a typical “go-go-go” busy life of ungratefulness:

“The real problem of life is never a lack of time. The real problem of life – in my life – is lack of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving creates abundance; and the miracle of multiplying happens when I give thanks – take the just one loaf, say it is enough, and give give thanks – and He miraculously makes it more than enough.”  (One Thousand Gifts)

*****

3) The Scent of Water by Naomi Zacharias. I enjoyed this book immensely and thought it could be a great companion to the book above. Where Voskamp’s book is framed into her life as a farm wife and home-schooling mother of six, Zacharias uses her experiences of traveling the world in Christian ministry to tell the stories of how God reaches to us in suffering – both the hot-button exotic type, like refugee camps, orphanages and brothels and the every-day challenges we brush off because they seem so common, like rejection, death, and divorce. And what I really, really, really love is that she doesn’t say “I am so glad these awful things happened, and as a Christian you have to be thankful that you are suffering.” Instead, she reflects about the sorrow of her broken marriage:

“I am not in a place where I can say I am grateful for all that has happened. Given the choice I still wish very much that it could have been different, that there had been another way to have learned the lessons. I struggle to accept the life that is mine because it is not the story I wanted. And not a day goes by that I don’t notice it still hurts inside…. But now I see the world with perspective; I view people through vastly different lenses and recognize beauty in things that once escaped my notice. God seems more mysterious – sometimes mysteriously confusing, absent, and maddening. But always mysteriously true. …I opt for a life that is extraordinary over a life that is simple.” (The Scent of Water)

*****

4) Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Aaron actually read this one first and convinced me to try it, too. It’s the only real “story” I read, and it’s still a biography! Apparently there isn’t much fiction being read around here. It was great to talk about this tale of Louis Zamperini, a troublemaker-turned-Olympic-athlete-turned-Japanese-POW, in the context of our own life. While, thankfully, there was no capture and imprisonment business during Aaron’s deployment to Iraq, there’s no denying that any experience of war profoundly affects everyone it touches and we were both blessed by this testimony of the invincible dignity of the human spirit, created in the image of a gracious God:

“Resting in the shade and the stillness, Louie felt profound peace. When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that [his captors] had striven to make of him. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation.” (Unbroken)

*****

5) Here and Now by Henri Nouwen. I loved these short devotionals, especially his urging to consider the importance of communing with God in the midst of each moment:

“The real enemies of our life are the oughts and the ifs. They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. But real life takes place in the here and now. God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful or painful… God is not (just) someone who was or will be, but He is one who is. …Prayer is the discipline of the moment. When we pray we enter into the presence of God whose name is God-with-us. To pray is to listen attentively to the one who addresses us here and now. When we dare to trust that we are never alone but that God is always with us, always cares for us, always speaks to us, then we can gradually detach ourselves from the voices that make us guilty or anxious and thus allow ourselves to dwell in the moment. …If we could just be, for a few minutes each day, fully where we are, we would indeed discover that we are not alone and that the One who is with us only wants: to give us love.” (Here and Now)

*****

I hope you’ll take an opportunity to read some of these yourself if you’re looking for straightforward and thought provoking summer reading!

these have i loved

I’ve rediscovered Rupert Brooke’s poem The Great Lover this weekend. No, it’s not scandalous. It’s about finding delight in the simple details of life. I read it in college and now I tend to think of the line about “the strong crust of friendly bread” when inhaling the yeasty aroma of baking bread and slicing into a loaf of fresh whole wheat.
Along with re-reading this poem, I’ve been considering the importance of contentment, choosing to be happy and joyful in the midst of the life I have right now. It’s a life with lots of house work, job work that I don’t particularly enjoy, frugality/scrimping, and I’m often very far away from people I love. At times it is easy to focus on what is “missing” from my life, like new clothes, a remodeled bathroom, babies, a master’s degree, chances to travel as much as I prefer, ministry opportunities, a housekeeper (ha). But I am so very blessed; I have much to be thankful for; and I’m so much more joyful when I focus on the delights of the life I do have.

So here is my too-short list of the small and significant delights of my heart:
warm cowls and recycled yarn to make a sweater
celebrating Aaron’s 26th birthday
letters and cards ready to be mailed
friends H and B coming for dinner tomorrow evening
summer sausage from Aaron’s big deer
gray nail polish on my toes and fingers
finding new jeans with tags on from the gap at goodwill for $5.00
singing “Be Thou My Vision” in D-flat after dinner
writing in my journal
preparing birthday gifts for Aaron, N, E,  and others
reading my new ESV Bible from JB. This makes me feel extra spiritual. It is purple, which makes me feel extra special.
being married to someone who loves guacamole and fine cheese as much as I do
learning/trying to love Lord of the Rings
humming “Morning Has Broken” as the sunrise streams into our bedroom
fresh snow on our yard
Prairie Home Companion
bananas and greek yogurt
our fireplace
friends A and J, who share good news with tact and consideration
anything and everything by gf handel
heavy blankets over me in bed
cute stickers and stamps
handwritten letters
soaking tired feet in a bathtub full of hot water
the light of the lamp in our living room
freshly wiped counters
tablecloths
finishing projects; anticipating the day I will be a finished project (he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it)

He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. …The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. -ps 111.
Lord, cause your wondrous works to be remembered in our hearts this day. Give us grace that we might trust in your precepts and your faithful work on our behalf for salvation and sanctification. Make us great lovers – of others, of what you have given us, and of you.

The poem is such a worthwhile read: The Great Lover
This article is also wonderful, along the same line of thought, and written by a dear mentor and professor from college: The Romance of Domesticity