The Power of the Voice

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I'm very excited to share that an essay I wrote about my life as a homeschooled student has been featured in Wild + Free's most recent subscriber bundle, Wander. Wild + Free is a beautiful homeschool community. I have benefitted from their conferences, digital bundles, Instagram, and podcast.

I was thrilled to write about one of the most treasured memories from my days as a homeschooled student when my mom read to my siblings and me after lunch. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next to my favorite character, while being transported to another time or place by the power of Mom’s voice. These books were dubbed 'family books,' and we continued to read aloud together even long after I was old enough to read on my own. The power of the audible voice captured any wanderings of my mind, making the stories dance off the page and into my imagination.

To illustrate this article, my friend Molly Balint of The Farmhouse Creative photographed our own read-aloud moments. It's so special to have these images, not just for the article, but to treasure and document our days.

I also got to chat with Jennifer Pepito about reading aloud as a family and how to know whether we're doing too much or enough in the podcast portion of the bundle.

If you are interested in subscribing to the bundle (which is basically a digital magazine), check out the details here. You can even try one for FREE!

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What I'm Into Right Now (July 2018)

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July is almost over (can you believe it!) and since I wasn't able to post in June I have a nice round up of favorite things for you this month.

Watching:

We've been watching When Calls the Heart for all five seasons as a family because it's a clean show the kids enjoy. Kind of reminds me of Christy or Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, remember those? Season five, however, ended in a very un-Hallmark manner with a shocker that left the kids in tears! What!?! Definitely will be interested in what plays out next season!

I still am enjoying Father Brown on Netflix. It's my laundry-folding show and it's a comfort that the bad guys are always caught and the mysteries are tidily solved each episode.

Listening:

I've become a Patron of Cindy Rollins' podcast, The Mason Jar and am enjoying the exclusive content from her site. I am literally taking notes, the content is just that good.

Also, I just finished the fourth book in Alan Bradley's charming Flavia de Luce series. I adore them on audio. I don't know anyone else personally who has read them, however Cindy Rollins and Jen Hatmaker are fans. I was really happy to hear Jen rave about them on a recent episode of What Should I Read Next. These books really need more people to discover them!

Reading:

I've read some good books lately, one of my favorites was this psychological thriller I Found You. Caveats include strong language and an especially icky assault scene, but overall I just couldn't put it down. Can't wait to try more of her books. A Murder for the Books has been a fun cozy type of mystery. Think a Hallmark movie in book form, so at times, it verges on cheesy, but a nice summer-type of read.

Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And 8 Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt was one of the best parenting books I've ever read. Seriously, there's not many more books you need to read besides this one. It was my first introduction to Leslie Leyland Fields, but I definitely plan to read more of her work!

I picked two books this summer to be my "professional development" to help me become a better homeschool parent to my kids. The first title, The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain has been hugely helpful and encouraging as I look to more year helping the boys thrive not only in spite of, but because of, their dyslexia. The other is Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass which I'm busy highlighting. It will be helpful in not only our narrations at home, but as I teach a Writing and Rhetoric class at our local co-op.

Eating:

I made these Stuffed Sweet Peppers (by one of my favorite Instagrammers) for a party and man, were they delish! Also easy, which is always a plus. The other night we also tried these Korean BBQ Burritos which were quite tasty and had a unique blend of flavors.

What are YOU into right now?

Literary Ladies: A Picture Booklist

My daughter is my mini-me. She spends her days drawing and writing books. When I say she writes books, I means she truly is crafting books just like I did when I used to create slightly plagiarized versions of Beatrix Potter's stories. She folds and staples the pages together to make the cover and pages for the inside of her latest title. Maybe "Fitz Learns to Swim" or "The Lost Tea Cup," which have been two of her latest endeavors. You can imagine her excitement when I bought her these.

And so, I think it's important to encourage her imagination not just with quality art products and quality literature, but also the stories of women who've gone on before her. Women who were once girls and were equally enchanted by stories and scribbled away with ink and feathered pens.

So today, I'm rounding up some of my favorite picture books about literary ladies to share with you, just in case you have your own authoress in the making.

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Agatha Christie (Little People Big Dreams series) by Isabel Sanchez Vegara

The Little People, Big Dreams series is delightful and I was so pleased to find Agatha Christie's biography included. We discover how she became something of an expert at poisons (as a nurse during W.W. I) and how she came to develop her famous sleuths, Poirot and Miss Marple.

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Lucy Maud Montgomery by Alexandra Wallner

When Montgomery rediscovers an old manuscript that she had tucked into a hatbox, little does she know it will be the making of her career. Anne of Green Gables is such a favorite book and TV series it's wonderful for kids to find out the "story behind the story" and where the idea came from, as well as more about Montgomery's life.

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Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird by Bethany Hegedus

Harper Lee is somewhat of a literary mystery. She withdrew from any sort of publicity after To Kill A Mockingbird and kept to herself the rest of her life. I really enjoyed this picture book and the wonderful illustrations. I didn't realize how much the characters mirrored her own life. My favorite little tidbit the book shares is that Lee and Truman Capote, as children, took turns dictating stories to each other while the other typed them out.

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Ordinary Extraordinary Jane Austen by Deborah Hopkinson

Deborah Hopkinson is the queen of biographical picture books, so you will find more than one title by her on this list. This new book about the life of Jane Austen is made even more charming by the ink and watercolor illustrations of Qin Leng.

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Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker

My boys loved all of Virginia Lee Burton's books when they were little. Anything that had big machines in it inspired interest. Also, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel was one of the first books we bought them, because it was also one of the few picture book my husband remembers and loved. This a lovely whimsical story that shares how Burton's two boys inspired her interest in picture book writing. I had no idea she was already an accomplished artist and dancer too!

Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of the Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson (Not pictured)

Before Beatrix was a famous children's book author she was just a girl who loved to draw animals. Charmingly told, this is the mostly true story of how she borrowed an guinea pig and it all went terribly wrong.

What I'm Into Right Now (May 2018)

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Today I'm sharing what I've been into this month. My reading slump in fiction kind of continues, but everything else was great!

Watch:
We watched a new Agatha Christie adaptation of the novel The Crooked House on Amazon Prime. I must admit at first it was a bit of a snooze, maybe the first twenty minutes or so. I might have been tempted to give up, if it wasn't that I knew Agatha Christie would deliver. And she sure did! The end was quite a shock as you figure out what's about to happen! 

Listen:
Ever since we saw The Greatest Showman we've been listening to the soundtrack. We all love it. It's so cute to listen to Ava sing, "every night I lie in bed, the brightest colors fill my head . . . "

Read:
Since my last post I've read Rules of Civility by Amor Towles and The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan. Both were "meh" to me. The writing was great by Towles and the concept of the story was interesting by Hogan but I just couldn't love the characters or get caught up in the story. I am listening to the next Flavia mystery on audio, however, and am enjoying it greatly! I'm really loving the characters and setting in this series and the author really captures the time period. I'm sure a lot of research goes into these books but it never feels that way. 

Eat:
We've been eating some really yummy stuff. A friend texted me this recipe for a white pizza and we've made it twice. These Greek Lamb Meatballs with Green Goddess Dressing were amazing! I used ground beef instead of lamb and couscous and got my Green Goddess Dressing from Trader Joe's. Also, strangely enough while getting oral laser surgery done the doctor's office had the Pioneer Woman's show on and she made these Cherry Pie Cookie Bars while my mouth was open and numb. They also made my mouth water and immediately went home and bookmarked the recipe and later made it. It was such a easy but delicious recipe that can easily feed a crowd. The orange zest really makes it!

Also, while at Trader Joe's I picked up a bar of their Cold Brew Coffee Chocolate Bar. Oh my, is it ever good! I've also been paging through Joanna Gaines' new cookbook Magnolia Table. So far we've only made her overnight French Toast but it was hands down the best overnight french toast I've made. Nice and crunchy on top. Delicious and fed us for two mornings. With my crowd, that's 

What have YOU been into lately?

Non-fiction I Read in 2017

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester****
If you love history and literature, this is for you! Totally fascinating history. Also, creating a dictionary makes my head spin!

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson*****
This book is NEEDED in America right now more than ever. And the work Bryan Stevenson is doing is incredible. Stevenson's non-profit works to challenge wrongful convictions, as well on behalf of juveniles and those with various mental handicaps in the justice system. Stevenson makes it personal by telling one main overarching story that is just makes you shake your head because you know that this stuff just can't be made up! At once heartbreaking, somehow the book doesn't bring you down, but makes you see the hope.

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin****
A good book about study methods that take you from reading the Bible at the surface level or through a lens of emotion and "what it means to me" to historical context and meaning.

No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God by Aimee Byrd****
This is a great "discussion" book. I went back and forth between 3 or 4 starts but finally landed on 4 because it was so thought-provoking, although I found her tone a little condescending at times. There was much I agreed with and much I did not agree with too. A full review can be read here.

Don’t Call Me Lady: The Journey of Lady Alice Seeley Harris by Judy Pollard Smith****
I had NEVER heard of Alice Seeley Harris before this book, which is too bad. Alice was a missionary to the Congo who soon discovered the atrocities of the rubber trade, which mutilated, maimed, and murdered the indigenous people of Congo for the harvest of rubber under the rule of Belgian King Leopold. She began documenting what she saw with her Brownie Kodak camera and eventually used her slides as evidence to crusade against the Belgian government alongside her husband.

I was fascinated by Alice as a person and the tensions in her life. One of the biggest tensions was that of mother and missionary. To be an effective missionary as well as to go on a speaking tour to raise awareness to the Congo atrocities, she had to leave her own children behind for years to be cared for by others.

Alice was a woman ahead of her time and more of us should know about who had a heart for social justice.

At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer by Sarah Arthur****
A unique devotional guide literary types would appreciate.

The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Literature by Nancy Guthrie****
A great study that I did over the summer with some friends.

Gracelaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart by Ruth Simons*****
I loved this book and it's so unique. You can read my complete review here.

The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life by Ann Voskamp***
I love Ann Voskamp's heart and writing. She is so genuine in her faith.

However, I had a hard time with this book. I had a hard time tracking with it and it felt scattered. Although each chapter holds is about the "brokenness" theme, I had a hard time following what the point was, most of the time. Each chapter seemed more like a stand alone narrative essay and I think I was looking for more of a narrative arc in the book overall. So as a whole, I found it a scattered reading that lacked cohesion.

I did find gems and nuggets of wisdom that I highlighted throughout. 

Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, & My Journey Toward Sanctification by Cindy Rollins****
This book was a lot more fun that I imagined. It took a minute to get into the rhythm of Rollins "voice." It reads like a conversation with lots of dry wit and sarcasm. She makes fun of herself a lot but it's encouraging too.

A Lamp unto My Feet by Elisabeth Elliot****
This was a reread for me but perfectly timed. I read it as I experienced severe anxiety for the first time in my life over a health issue. Reading this book felt like it literally physically bolstered me each day as many a topic it came back to again and again was fear.

What was your favorite non-fiction read in 2017?

Fiction I Read in 2017

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Last year I read some real duds when it came to fiction. I'm realizing my taste in fiction most often runs counter to "popular" in a lot of cases. Not always, but you won't find me loving Me Before You or The NightingaleBut this year there were a lot of hits! I'm glad to share them with you.

You already know of my love for Inspector Gamache. We'll start with him:

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny****
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny*****
The Long Way Home by Louise Penny***
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny*****
The Great Reckoning by Louise Penny*****
Glass Houses by Louise Penny*****

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry****
Poignant is what comes to mind. I wrote more than one quote from this book. A fast read but thought-provokingly beautiful.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly****
You know I loved this one. Check it out on audio if you like to listen to your books.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah**1/2
I barely made it through until the end. It was just blah. Reading it right after Lilac Girls highlighted it's flaws. I felt like modern women were superimposed back into the W.W. II era. I had a hard time caring about the characters because they just didn't feel real. Lilac Girls was like a fine crafted award winning movie and this felt like a Hallmark version.

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood****
This book got a lot of love and I wasn't so sure about it . . . until the end. Oh, the end! It was superb!

The Dry by Jane Harper****
A gritty Aussie murder mystery.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan****
Delightful on audio! Such a fun romp!

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh****
Kept me guessing right until the end!

The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay***
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I loved the literary references. But, it just didn't grab me. The dialogue wasn't very natural and I thought the characters made really big deals about small things which struck me as a plot device to keep it moving.

As a side note, I did love that the character worked for a design firm. It's been a long time since I've heard a reference to "Scalamandre." I used to work in a museum and we used their fabrics all the time. So there were some fun side aspects to the book.

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon****
It was more the history than the book that I enjoyed about this. It was slow to start but it did grab me in the end. I was captivated by the real people who were on the airship and watched the footage that was captured of it's destruction. It is truly amazing so many people actually survived.

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson*****
Favorite stand-alone novel of the year! The audio version really was excellent!

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson****
Quirky, funny, and delightful. I'll read any thing Simonson writes!

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen*****
I listened to this like I'd never heard it before. Rosamund Pike was just a terrific narrator bringing out all the drama and comedy. A fun "reread."

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart***
This was an interesting book, mainly due to the true events described. I looked up with interest the real Constance Kopp, who became the first female deputy sheriff. She defended her home against a man--a wealthy factory owner and his gang--who begins maliciously threatening her sisters by throwing rocks and shooting through their windows. The writing was a bit witty and the history was interesting. 

But something about it didn't quite do it for me. I'm not sure what, but I didn't LOVE it. I probably won't be reading the rest of the series.

What about you? What fiction did you enjoy last year? I'd love to add your recommendation to my ever-growing TBR list.

Me Too

I've known Ashleigh for a long time. She was one of my first "blog friends" back when I got started in this thing called blogging, and we've been able to meet in person twice. She was my editor when I contributed regularly for her website, Ungrind and now she's just published her second book, Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard.

To go along with this new release (and it's so good--I'm still in the middle of reading it) Ashleigh is giving away a copy of her Ebook, Me Too: More Stories of Faith, Community, and Braving Sorrow Together to those who subscribe to her mailing list for weekly encouragement.

I was privileged to contribute my own story to this free download. In this companion publication to Ashleigh's new book, you'll discover the power of hope and community in the lives of those of us who've experienced divorce, infertility, caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's, and cancer, among other struggles and difficulties. 

If you or someone who know is experiencing sorrow in their life, I highly recommend Ashleigh's book and this companion Ebook.

As C. S. Lewis wrote, when "grief is great. Let us be good to one another."

Get your copy of Me Too here.

Gracelaced: A Review

 Gracelaced Ruth Chou Simons

I was excited to receive an advanced copy of Ruth Chou Simons' book, Gracelaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart. I eagerly sat down to read the first chapter, "Dwell" and it hit me right where I needed encouragement.

The scripture was from Psalm 91:1-2: 

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

In that chapter Ruth asks, "What are the false shelters in your life?"

I immediately knew the one I was struggling with the most.

Over this past summer two of our children were diagnosed with learning disabilities. My emotions have been a mix of grief, relief, disappointment, as well as seeing a new path forward.

But what was also revealed to my heart was that I have a false shelter of education. 

Don't get me wrong, education is important. And I already knew I struggled with this in my own life. I'm aware I have a driving desire for productivity and accomplishment. This propelled me to be on the Dean's List every semester in college, to graduate magna cum laude, to enjoy a job in an academic institution, and to continue my creative pursuits after having children. Nothing is wrong with any of that! But my default is to feel "less than" when I'm not being productive.

I didn't think I'd put this on my kids. But I had. Even if only in my own mind. And this summer definitely revealed that I'd made a false shelter out of academic accomplishment. And it's been a good journey to let that go.

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I interviewed Ruth back in 2015 for my Women Who Create series. You can read that interview here. I have long been a fan of her writing and beautiful art work. So I was super excited to get ahold of an advanced copy to review. 

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from the book. I knew it would be beautiful, but what would the content hold? I more than pleased to discover it is an exquisite book with 32 short devotional readings arranged by season.

Ruth encourages readers to become deeply rooted in God's faithful promises by:

resting in who He is
rehearsing the truth He says about you
responding in faith to those truths
remembering His provision to sustain you, time and time again

It's definitely a book I'm going to come back to again and again. Because I know my journey in getting rid of false shelters isn't over yet.

 Gracedlaced Ruth Chou Simons

BOOK DETAILS

Ruth's book releases September 1, 2017 (this Friday!).

If you are interested, pre-order today and you can register to receive some wonderful pre-order goodies right here.

You can get your copy by going to gracelaced.com/gracelacedbook
Amazon book link http://amzn.to/2mWkp8N
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/2u25odf
ChristianBook.com: http://bit.ly/2v5kH1F
Target: http://bit.ly/2u6wMpW

Ruth Chou Simons is an artist, writer, entrepreneur, and speaker. As creator of the popular GraceLaced online shoppe, blog and Instagram community, she shares scriptural truths daily through her hand painted artwork and words. Ruth and her husband, Troy, live in New Mexico and are grateful parents to six sons- their greatest adventure.

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What I'm Into Right Now (June 2017)

Summer is in full swing around here! The days have been pleasantly warm with not too much heat and humidity so often experienced here on the East Coast. We've been enjoying swimming lessons, playdates, and outdoor movies. Staying up late and lazy mornings are our summer vibe.

 What i'm into right now by Danielle Ayers jones

Listening:
I listened to Clare Mackintosh's I Let You Go since my last post. Wow, what a ride--and the end! Totally implausible, but hey, the book was completely suspenseful and entertaining if you like a suspenseful crime thriller.

Otherwise, I'm just keeping up with my podcasts and totally excited for Constitutional to start up. I absolutely loved Presidential. In such a stressful election year it gave me such perspective and hope for the future. Also, it reminded me how far we've come as a nation and that there's certainly been more historically contentious campaigns than we just experienced, like this one. Basically, the podcast is a mini history of America through the lens of the American presidency. Super fascinating to this history buff! So I can't wait until Constitutional begins.

Reading:
I'm reading too many books right now! I finished up The Brontë Plot because I was looking for something fun and breezy, but it was a bit of a let down. I've moved onto the historical fiction tale of the Hidenburg in Flight of Dreams and the biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings. I'm also reading Eighty Days, which is the story of Nellie Bly's race around the world but I'm seriously annoyed by the small font in this book, what was the designer/publisher thinking? Hopefully I can get used to it because I love Nellie Bly!

Watching:
A new season of Grantchester is back on Masterpiece, so you know where I am on Sunday nights! Anyone ever try the books this series is based on?

Eating:
We went to a friend's for dinner and she made these. My kids couldn't get enough of them. And these are kids who usually won't eat potatoes at all! I made this for dessert. Ohmygoodness, creamy summer minty chocolate! And my new summer pasta salad is definitely this tortellini yumminess.

What are you into right now?

What I Read in 2016 (Non-fiction Edition)

I really enjoyed my non-fiction picks this year! So many good ones! I think my highlights were Roots & Sky, A Scandalous Freedom, Be Still My Soul, and Dead Wake.

It wasn't until I was putting this list together, however, that I realized I only read one narrative history the whole year (Dead Wake)! I found this surprising, given how much I love that sort of book. (Think Destiny of the Republic and The Immortal Life of Hennrietta Lacks.) So my non-fiction goal for next year will be to read more narrative history. I already have my first title waiting for me: Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World.

But first, what I read last year:

Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons by Christie Purifoy*****
I just loved this book! A full review here.

Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image by Hannah Anderson****
A thought-provoking book about where we as women find our identity.

Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes the Soul by Hannah Anderson*****
I love that Hannah doesn't give us one more thing "to do." Instead, she reminds us of what we can become in Christ. It really is about identity. Instead of giving us an extra burden of needing to "put on humility" she offers the freedom to let Christ work in us. I wrote a full review over on Goodreads, so check it out!

Christ in the Chaos by Kimm Crandall****
"Jesus is not my example . . . He is my replacement," is one of the many great quotes I highlighted in this book. That said, I couldn't relate with the author constantly beating herself up. And the fact that she struggled in this way simply highlights the need for thinking of ourselves through the lens of the gospel and God's grace, not legalism. This is part of the story she's in process of sharing. I'd just say our starting places are different and I'm coming to this book from a place of already understanding God's grace in my daily life (although not completely or perfectly, of course!) thanks to the awesome teaching I get in my local church.

Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon****
A little book packed with inspiration for the creative person!

Wild in the Hollow by Amber Haines****
A beautifully written spiritual memoir.

Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading by Lawrence Goldstone***
I read this in preparation for our homeschool kids book club this year, but it is great inspiration for reading with and discussing books with your kids.

The Satisfied Heart: 31 Days of Experiencing God's Love by Ruth Myers***** (devotional reread)
Ruth Myers begins the book by sharing how she's grown in the love of God through her life: in losing her husband to cancer on the mission field, single parenting two small children, and remarriage. Through it all, Ruth grows in understanding and resting in God's love. So by the time she gets to the 31 days of devotionals, you feel like you know she's sharing from a deep, well-tested place of faith in Christ. Ruth is a warm and engaging writer. She doesn't just demonstrate head-knowledge of God's love but experience too. And she wants her readers to experience the satisfaction and joy of God's love in their daily lives.

A Scandalous Freedom: The Radical Nature of the Gospel by Steve Brown*****
I highlighted and dogeared this book up! Like this quote: "The only people who get better are people who know that, if they never get better, God will love them anyway. God will not only love you if you don’t get better; he will teach you that getting better isn’t the issue. His love is the issue."

Refreshing, funny, thought-provoking. For the past several years I've been slowly peeling layers of subtle legalism off and gaining a deeper more faith-filled approach to my spiritual life. My pastor referenced this book several times in his sermon series on Grace and it is been a big help in exploring the topic further. 

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson***** (audiobook)
I was enthralled from beginning to end. I loved learning about all the passengers on the ship, Room 40, and all the details of early submarine warfare.

The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming by Sally and Sarah Clarkson****
Inspiring book about the culture of home.

Be Still My Soul by Elisabeth Elliot*****
After reading so much contemporary Christian non-fiction Elliot's book felt very fresh. Her writing style is so simple and straight forward yet profound and wise. She is more down-to-earth than I remembered from my teenage days. I highlighted so much to go back and reread and remember. 

A Very Present Help by Amy Carmichael*** (devotional reread)

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