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?

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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Finding Our Place | Grace Table

Have you heard of Grace Table? It's a beautiful website that focuses on food, faith and community. I'm privileged to be sharing there this week and I hope you will check it out.

 Image Credit: Grace Table

Image Credit: Grace Table

It was just a few weeks before Thanksgiving and we didn’t have a table.

Well, technically we did have table. An old one we had bought through Craig’s List that fit the small space in our old house perfectly. It was distressed cream and snuggly seated six.

But we’d moved into a blessing: a spacious house that boasted a huge dining room. We were hosting our first Thanksgiving and were expecting eight guests to add to our family of five. We didn’t have enough room around the table for everyone to have a seat.

We wanted our first official holiday hosting experience in our new home to be welcoming. I don’t think we were motivated to impress, but instead to nourish. We wanted everyone to have space, to find their place.

Continue reading over at Grace Table.

Seen and Heard

 Photo by  Patrick Fore  on  Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

There was the sound of rushing feet in the hallway. A few minutes later, a messenger burst into the room.

“A message, Sir, from the Assyrians,” he panted slightly and handed the sealed letter to Hezekiah, King of Israel.

Hezekiah waited for the messenger to withdraw before opening the letter and reading it.

The words shook Hezekiah to the core. He quickly left for the temple of the Lord, letter in hand.

Once inside, Hezekiah spread out the letter before him, smoothing the wrinkled creases with shaking hands. The dreaded Assyrians were on their way. There was no earthly help that could save Israel now. The letter from the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, was meant to intimidate him, and that it did. But it did something else too.

It drove Hezekiah in desperation to the house of the Lord.

And just as he literally presented the physical letter of his enemy before the Lord, Hezekiah also presented his worries before the God of Israel. Hezekiah acknowledged the bleak reality before him, but reminds the Lord of his own character:

“Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God,” pleads Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:20).

And the Lord responds to Hezekiah with a plan to strike down Sennacherib and defend Israel, “Because you have prayed to me” (verse 21).

Because you have prayed to me.

How many times do I not pray because I don’t think it will make a difference? I’m sure my prayers won’t move God to action. Instead of presenting my worries and concerns to God like Hezekiah did, I let them fester in my heart. But God, in his dealings with Hezekiah—not once but twice—seems to change his plans after Hezekiah prays to the Lord.

“I have heard your prayers,” God says in the very next chapter when Hezekiah pleads for his life in the face of illness. “I have seen your tears.”

God constantly reveals himself as a God who sees us. Hagar called him, El roi, Hebrew for God of seeing (Genesis 16:13). Or as David put it, a God who bottles our tears (Ps. 56:8). He sees us right where we are, is with us in our hardships, and hears our concerns.

So instead of being standoffish or thinking my prayers don't matter or won't change anything, today, I'm reminded to go to him. And by that I don’t mean to imply that my faithfulness in prayer will equal me getting answers the way I want. It won’t necessarily. Nor will my faithlessness suspend his faithfulness to me. It won’t.

But he does want to hear from me. To be in relationship with me. To like Hezekiah spread my worries before him, because he hears. He sees.

 

How to Prepare Your Family for Easter

A few weeks before Easter I start rummaging around for our Easter-themed books and decorations. I pull out picture books like The Colt and The King and The Tale of the Three Trees to stack in a basket on the coffee table. I find the plastic eggs. I cut branches off the dogwood tree.

The grey buds will be knobby and tight—not yet open. They look dead. I will pull my green pitcher from the shelf and arrange the bare branches in some water. Now they are ready to be transformed into a Resurrection Tree.

As a family, we’ve looked for ways to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection in tangible, hands-on ways. To prepare our hearts during the busy organizing of Easter baskets and planning of a Sunday dinner. Ways that build up to Easter morning, so that we have a clear idea as to why we celebrate. 

And it all starts with remembering.      

Join me over at iBelieve to read more.

The Epiphany of Ordinary Days

The knock on the door startles Mary from her housework.

She opens it to find a group of foreign men at her doorstep. They bring treasures for her toddling child, Jesus. They don’t bring rattles or stuffed animals, but strange gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts whisper clues to her child’s identity. Gold for a king, frankincense and myrrh—often burned as incense on the temple’s alter—speak to his deity.

On January 6th many churches celebrate “Epiphany” or the coming of the Magi to the Christ child. The word also can be used to describe a revelation or realization.

Mary has had a good many of these epiphanies thus far in her short life as a mother. First there was the angel Gabriel’s visit, and then Elizabeth’s prophetic greeting. There were shepherds arriving unannounced on the night of her son’s birth and Simeon’s temple prayer. She hides these epiphanies in her heart to ponder them.

As the new year begins I’m on the lookout for epiphanies too.

Join me over at For the Family to finish reading.

 

Celebrate Advent with Sacred Holidays

Less chaos, More Jesus. Would that be awesome this Christmas?

I think so. Even as I type this post I'm shocked by the fact that in 18 days, Advent begins.

18 days!?! 

This autumn season is going by like a swish of the leaves.

Every year I like to have some Advent themed book or study to go through. In previous years I read Ann Voskamp's The Greatest Gift and last year I used She Reads Truth's study.

This year I had the joy to participate in writing for Sacred Holidays' Advent study, He Is: The Attributes of God. They have studies designed specifically for women, families, teen girls, and men (I contributed to the family study). Each study focuses on the same attribute each day, allowing friends, co-workers, churches, families, and communities to gather around The One we are celebrating at Christmas--Jesus!

If you are looking for an Advent-specific devotional this year, I recommend previewing these studies over at Sacred Holidays' shop.

And to guarantee the study arrives for Advent, you must order before November17th!

Don't forget to use the promo code WELCOMEBACK to get 10% off your order.

I hope you'll join me in studying God's character this Advent season.

Gratitude Fills

Does anyone else struggle with materialism the most during this season of thankfulness? Ironic, isn't it? I wrote this article last week for For the Family and I wonder if any of you find this season a similar temptation?

They’re filling my mailbox. Holiday catalogs bursting with items I suddenly find myself unable to live without. I flip through glossy pages displaying cozy pillows on soft leather couches. I eye my own worn slipcovered couch with aversion. Ironically, the cover of the latest catalog to be stuffed into my mailbox proclaims in classy cursive script: “Give thanks!”

I feel like I could give thanks better if my house looked as nice as those between Pottery Barn’s pages.

I am an artist at my core. I appreciate beauty, the perfectly arranged mantel, and the play between textures and colors. I love to nurture beauty in my everyday life with cut flowers and lit candles.

However, there is an ugly side to my love of beauty, order, and organization.

Materialism and discontentment.

Read the rest of my article over at For the Family...

Community and Reconciliation

Despite my website being "down" I've still be sharing stories.

The first was a deeply personal story that I wrote for Grace Table's series called The Hospitality of Reconciliation. Grace Table is a beautiful website I hope you will check out if you are unfamiliar with it.

My story was called The Bitter and the Sweet and offers the hope of healing in family relationships. It is a reminder that "perhaps it's never too late to bind up old wounds. To start the work of healing them. To not let past generations of bitterness become our own. There will be scars, but maybe that's okay too."

 Image source: Grace Table

Image source: Grace Table

The second story was for For the Family and is about my attempt to create community in my own back yard. So many of us crave more connection with other people but don't know where to find it. The thing is, we will often find others desire the same thing we do, it just takes someone taking the initiative to do the inviting.

Creating Community Right Where You Are is about how I learned to take the initiative and not wait for perfect.

What ways do you find yourself creating community? I'd love to hear!

 Image source: For the Family

Image source: For the Family