Favorite reads of 2017

Resurrecting the blog to post my contribution to my favorite among all the year end lists: favorite reads of the past year. I can’t help myself; I will click on every link to every such list. I love knowing what titles were most liked among what was read, as well as adding new books to my ever growing “want to read” list!

According to my Goodreads list, I read something like 50 books in 2017. Here’s my list of those I enjoyed the most, in no particular order, fiction and non fiction both. I’ve included the publisher’s description and a brief word about my impressions of the book:

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren.

Hands down my favorite non-fiction / spiritual life title. Tish is a fantastic writer and her examination of ordinary life in light of extraordinary grace was beautiful and thoughtful. I loved it.

In the overlooked moments and routines of our day, we can become aware of God’s presence in surprising ways. How do we embrace the sacred in the ordinary and the ordinary in the sacred?

Framed around one ordinary day, this book explores daily life through the lens of liturgy, small practices, and habits that form us. Each chapter looks at something―making the bed, brushing her teeth, losing her keys―that the author does every day. Drawing from the diversity of her life as a campus minister, Anglican priest, friend, wife, and mother, Tish Harrison Warren opens up a practical theology of the everyday. Each activity is related to a spiritual practice as well as an aspect of our Sunday worship.

Come and discover the holiness of your every day.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

How much did I love this book? More than I can express to you. So, so good. If you’ve read it and you didn’t like it, by all means don’t tell me. My favorite fiction read of 2017.

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared Wilson

Grace for the imperfect? Hello, Jared’s telling my story and singing my song. Very encouraging read!

Too many discipleship books are written for clean, perfect people who know all the right Sunday school answers. The Imperfect Disciple is for the rest of us–people who screw up, people who are weary, people who are wondering if it’s safe to say what they’re really thinking.

For the believer who is tired of quasi-spiritual lifehacks being passed off as true, down-and-dirty discipleship, here is a discipleship book that isn’t afraid to be honest about the mess we call real life. With incisive wit, warm humor, and moving stories, Jared Wilson shows readers how the gospel works in them and in their lives when

– they can’t get their act together
– they think God is giving them the silent treatment
– they think church would be better without all the people
– they’re not happy with the person in the mirror
– and much more

Wilson frees readers from the self-doubt and even the misplaced self-confidence they may feel as they walk with Jesus down the often difficult road of life. The result is a faith that weathers storms, lifts burdens, and goes forth to make more imperfect disciples.

Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry

Berry is always, always a favorite. Hannah Coulter is one of my all time favorites and I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about her husband Nathan. Beautifully written with a simplicity and honesty that is a joy to read. I loved it.

When young Nathan loses his grandfather, Berry guides readers through the process of Nathan’s grief, endearing the reader to the simple humanity through which Nathan views the world. Echoing Berry’s own strongly held beliefs, Nathan tells us that his grandfather’s life “couldn’t be divided from the days he’d spent at work in his fields.” Berry has long been compared to Faulkner for his ability to erect entire communities in his fiction, and his heart and soul have always lived in Port William, Kentucky. In this eloquent novel about duty, community, and a sweeping love of the land, Berry gives readers a classic book that takes them to that storied place.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Horrifying and compelling, this memoir is definitely a book I won’t forget. Plus, Walls can write.

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing—a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty by Robert K. Massie

My friend Melissa Kruger recommended this to me after I gushed on twitter about my great affection for A Gentleman in Moscow. Her recommendation was spot-on; I loved reading about this era in history that I knew nothing about. Fascinating and sad, this book spurred me to begin reading other Russian literature (meaning I started but have to yet to finish War and Peace, just keepin’ it real).

The story of the love that ended an empire

In this commanding book, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Robert K. Massie sweeps readers back to the extraordinary world of Imperial Russia to tell the story of the Romanovs’ lives: Nicholas’s political naïveté, Alexandra’s obsession with the corrupt mystic Rasputin, and little Alexis’s brave struggle with hemophilia. Against a lavish backdrop of luxury and intrigue, Massie unfolds a powerful drama of passion and history—the story of a doomed empire and the death-marked royals who watched it crumble.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke

We read this book for our summer book club and I don’t think I’m overstating when I say this book should be read by anyone with a smart phone or a social media account or access to the internet. Read it and be sobered.

Do You Control Your Phone—Or Does Your Phone Control You?

Within a few years of its unveiling, the smartphone had become part of us, fully integrated into the daily patterns of our lives. Never offline, always within reach, we now wield in our hands a magic wand of technological power we have only begun to grasp. But it raises new enigmas, too. Never more connected, we seem to be growing more distant. Never more efficient, we have never been more distracted.

Drawing from the insights of numerous thinkers, published studies, and his own research, writer Tony Reinke identifies twelve potent ways our smartphones have changed us—for good and bad. Reinke calls us to cultivate wise thinking and healthy habits in the digital age, encouraging us to maximize the many blessings, to avoid the various pitfalls, and to wisely wield the most powerful gadget of human connection ever unleashed.

It was a good year of reading! Other books I read last year that I also liked very much:

  • Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep by Christine Hoover
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry (a re-read or it definitely would have made the above list of favorites! As I said, Berry is always, always a favorite!)
  • Experiencing the Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God by Joe Thorn
  • Is the Bible Good for Women? Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture by Wendy Alsup
  • We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
  • Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul by Hannah Anderson
  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

What about your favorites of 2017? What did you read that you loved and you would recommend? Let us know in the comments!

Note: This post contains affiliate links

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On friendship and complicated awkwardness

Reading Recommendation: Messy Beautiful Friendship by Christine Hoover

I think I was in eighth grade. I don’t remember the specific contributing factors but I do remember that it was at church on a Sunday morning just before Sunday school. I remember thinking my heart would break over a friend’s betrayal. I remember sobbing unconsolably while one of the Sunday school teachers attempted to comfort me, no doubt assuring me that the sun would come up tomorrow, that the world had not, actually, ended.

Here was our problem: there were three of us middle school girls attempting a BFF trifecta, which, as anyone who has been around preteen girls knows, is an utter impossibility. Someone is always left out or hurt or betrayed. That Sunday it was me and I was utterly heartbroken.

It was my first taste of the complications inherent in friendships between women.

Though I no longer find myself weeping on the Sunday school teacher’s shoulder–one reason being I am the Sunday school teacher after all–I continue to find friendship awkward and complicated, still, all these many years later. I understand that the common denominator has been me and I freely confess:when it comes to finding and being a friend I am awkward and I am complicated.

When I was a young woman–be it college student, newlywed, or young(er) mom–friendship was fairly easy and free and abundant and without all the drama of middle and high school (yes and amen). My friendships then were born of proximity and commonality. Whether it was in the dorm or over playdates at McDonald’s, we were doing life together and not as a catch phrase but for real. It was life, real life, spent together, hours chatting on the phone, hanging out, taking trips even. True, we were an homogenous group but our common experience and circumstance provided a rich foundation for friendship.

As my kids grew older, friendship became more difficult, no doubt due to the general busyness inherent therein. On top of this, not one but two sets of our dearest friends moved away. Left to my own devices I began to realize how bad I was (am) at forming deep friendships. I discovered I had no idea how to make friends, true friends, apart from the ease that comes with proximity and commonality, not to mention the always surprising grace of someone seeking to be my friend first. Hello, awkward and complicated, with a little diva on the side.

I have lots of “reasons” for my complicated awkwardness. I mean, being friends with women can mean comparison and jealousy and cattiness as well as work and vulnerability and time. Not only that but I’m an introvert. I’m a homebody. I’m independent. I think too much. I crave solitude. In other words, I’m not exactly the stuff your dream BFF is made of.

So when a friend suggested we read Messy Beautiful Friendship for our first summer book club title, I knew I needed it. But I was also wary and maybe even a little frightened of what the book might expose in me.

Christine Hoover’s book is a treatise on the importance, nay the necessity, of Biblical, gospel friendships. We need each other, not in the idealized sense of The One True Bestest Friend Over All Others Forever and Ever Yes and Amen, but in the fellowship and accountability as prescribed by the Word of God. She writes,

[T]he goal of friendship is to secure ourselves to the sure, steadfast anchor of Christ and, while holding to that anchor, give and receive the gift of friendship as we have opportunity. The goal is to enjoy God together with others and, as we move through life, to sharpen and allow ourselves to be sharpened by friends. We imitate Jesus with one another, willing to face the stark realities and consequences of sin, all the while persevering in our efforts to offer love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, comfort, and care to one another. In doing so, we display to one another the world how God loves and, through this, bring him glory.

Yes, Christine discusses awkward and complicated and repeatedly encourages us (me) to vulnerability. She is honest about the reality of disappointment and hurt and that friendship is risky and, as the title suggests, messy. She warns against comparison and harboring an idealized BFF wish-dream. She addresses conflict and confrontation and how to do both well in the spirit of love and gentleness. She advocates for wisdom, especially in our social media pursuits, one of my favorite chapters in the book. She reminds us that our friendships point to the greater and true Friend who laid down His life and who will one day, one glorious Day, answer all our longings with Himself.

I am continually surprised that there are those who genuinely want to be my friend and I am grateful for the women who come alongside me in companionship and fellowship. However, I want to be a better friend. Thank you, Christine, for your guidance and wisdom to that end. I needed this book and I daresay I’m not alone.

Talking on the phone and learning to be needy

My friend called me this week and when I first saw her name on the caller ID, I admit my first thought was that she was calling with bad news. She lives out of town and we rarely talk, like with our voices, so for her to call, while welcome, was also disconcerting.

It wasn’t bad news but rather the best sort of happy news and we chatted and laughed and talked, like with our voices, for quite some time. It was great.

I once talked on the phone all the time. Way back when my babies were just that, I had friends with whom I would talk on the phone about everything and anything. For instance, I had one particular friend that either she or I would call the other right at 9 am nearly and we would proceed to talk for an hour, sometimes more. Every day.

This is crazy, particularly in comparison to my current phone talking habits which are nearly nonexistent. I’m not (exactly) a hermit; I do converse with people but with the more narrow medium of text messaging.

And I love it. Text messaging, as I’ve asserted often, is an introvert’s dream. Short, direct conversations which can be easily avoided or abandoned, what’s not to love?

Years ago I was on the phone with a friend, conversing like with our voices, me bemoaning the general state of my life. I can’t remember my specific circumstances but I do know that the laundry wasn’t done and the dishes were piled in the sink and I sighed and whined and complained about both and probably a wealth of other things besides.

About fifteen minutes after I hung up with my friend, my doorbell rang. It was my friend and she walked straight through my front door to my kitchen sink and began to wash the dishes. THE NERVE. Not only that but she refused to leave without taking a few loads of laundry with her to wash. I allowed her the boys’ laundry and some towels but not my or my husband’s dirties. My dignity, what was left of it, compelled me to draw the line somewhere.

I was mortified. And embarrassed. And utterly humiliated.

Evidently I reserved the right to complain but not the right to accept help. And there was no quid pro quo here. Her kids were grown and out of the house and she had all the time in the world for a friend’s need as well as her dishes and laundry. In the end I could only receive her help and I hated it.

In Sunday School I am teaching through the book Side By Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love. Author Ed Welch asserts that in any healthy community, the members both give and receive help. This process of walking with another begins with each of us realizing we are needy.

I am needy and that truth rankles, as was so obvious when my friend administered very real, very practical help to me all those years ago. I don’t think I’m alone in my dislike of my helplessness. We all would rather appear strong and like we have “it” all together, whatever “it” may be.

Admitting our need feels risky. We conceal our neediness, or we revel in it, like some kind of weird misery contest, but in reality, we are embarrassed by our weakness, we are afraid of what others may think, and we fight to appear competent.

Welch states the obvious: in order to receive help I must admit my neediness. But there’s a less obvious dynamic at work: in order to effectively give help, I must also admit my neediness. In fact, my honest admission of my weakness, according to Welch, is one of the greatest gifts I can give the church. Wait. What?

Honestly assessing who I am and living in that honesty make me a better helper. Self sufficiency, on the other hand, may really be arrogance. Our community will grow together in love and humility as we each of us understand our weakness and our need for each other. This is the grace of the gospel, is it not, that I am so weak and flawed I needed rescuing and the Lord did just that. It is humbling and humiliating to be so weak and so needy but it is also beautiful.

Help is given and I only receive. I cannot earn it and I cannot repay it. My friend taught me as much all those years ago and I am grateful for her example of friendship and of gospel grace.

Favorite reads of 2016

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the “best of” reading lists. I voraciously and carefully read each one I come across, often comparing my favorites (and my non-favorites) and always, always adding to the ever growing list of books I want to read. Someday, one day, maybe.

I read fifty some-odd books so far this year; a few I loved, some I hated, some were surprisingly good, some surprisingly disappointing. Apparently there were many I was just ambivalent about. For those of you who may be curious about my “best of” list, I offer the following favorites among the books I read this year, in no particular order…

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. I can’t stop talking about this one. If you’ve had any sort of extended conversation with me about politics or culture or anything really, I’ve probably mentioned this book. It will open your eyes, break your heart, and make you think. Related: I also appreciated Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates, a look at the black experience in this country, equally eye opening and heartbreaking.

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy by Tim Keller. I think the title says it all. You can read this little book in one sitting and be convicted for a long time after.

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. Loved it. My favorite novel I read last year, and one I keep recommending, is A Man Called Ove. This story evokes a similar sense of hope amid grief. It is not as sad as the description may make it sound!

Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Killing Glory of Christ by Matt Papa. I need to have this one on re-read yearly, monthly, weekly maybe. So, so good.

Honorable mentions:

I read a lot of fiction this year; no newsflash there as I read a lot of fiction every year. I don’t know if my standards are getting stricter or if I just had an off year, but only the one novel stands out as a favorite. In fact, I track my reading at Goodreads (otherwise I could never remember if I read any given book much less how many and which I might have liked); only a handful of the fiction titles I read I deemed a four star or higher. Interesting.

What about you? What did you read this year that stands out as a favorite? Have you posted a year end favorites list? Let me know in the comments so I can check it out!

Note: this post contains affiliate links.

Seeing grace

My church girlfriends and I often exhort each other with the reminder that “there’s _________ grace,” grace for fill-in-the-blank with whatever challenge or insufficiency the other is facing. There is dirty-dishes-piled-in-the-sink grace and there is moms-of-teenagers grace and there is I-cannot-do-this-one-more-day-grace. We sometimes laugh in our exhortation but deep down we know it is sometimes hard to see the provision of grace that is ours.

I wonder why I am so blind to the graces in my life. It is true we are all busy, life is hard, our struggles blind us, and we need the gentle reminder of friends to slow down and see grace. Grace also demands I own my insufficiency and my inadequacy as well as my outright desperation and depravity. I must acknowledge the end of me before I begin to see grace in all its beauty.

Same for receiving grace. It is humiliating to freely receive a kindness, a kindness wholly undeserved and with no quid pro quo attached. For some of us, it’s even a little embarrassing. But that is grace, is it not? Free, humbling, even humiliating, openhanded goodness we could never repay.

Recently I read Kara Tippett’s book The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard. It was not exactly the funnest book to read because it’s about cancer and death and because of the nearness of Kara’s story to that of my friend who also lost her life to cancer last year. But it is a hopeful book and a beautiful book, hopeful and beautiful in that it is an unwavering testimony to the goodness and sufficiency of the grace of God even in the worst of circumstances.

Kara talks of receiving graces from friends and church members, gifts she could only receive and could never repay. She writes:

Seeking grace has been a theme since I met Jesus, but it wasn’t the very air I breathed to get through each moment—each scary, hard moment. The looking has now become my practice. The names of the graces, the gifts I don’t deserve, is new to me. But I do not believe you need to face cancer to see the value of looking for and naming the graces in your own moments, days, weeks, lifetime. To capture this beauty in this weariness, even if your story doesn’t look like mine, will enrich your moments, give you a new perspective, and help you lift your head in the impossibility and pain in living. Hard is hard.

What gave Kara the clarity of vision to see these graces? Cancer.

Cancer has given me the freedom to see my story with me utterly not in it. Sans Kara. I saw the grace of care and community when I could not reciprocate my love to the givers. Cancer showed me the beautiful community that could be built into a church that didn’t have me doing anything. Cancer showed me the gift and strength of weakness, that in the place of utter inability, Jesus was able. The beauty of the broken was the gift cancer gave to our family. Suffering taught us a new song of what ministry could be. How do I communicate that gift and help you see the love in the lack of the expectation without you facing such devastation in your own life? How do I communicate the gift of weakness, neediness, and utter dependence for each moment and the beauty it brought to our community? How do I encourage grace and the freedom to exhale from the endless expectations you place on yourself?

I can spot myself in so many mamas I come in contact with daily. I see so much going, doing, and wearing out in the effort to find grace. My heart is so full of love for the overachieving mom, and I long to share the heart of slowing and hearing. I see my former self in the mama who is doing every activity, seeking acceptance in her ability, and striving to capture goodness in her going. I recognize the tired eyes and the efforts at speaking with an energy she cannot feel. I want to encourage her to slow down, to rest, to stop—but I know I would not have listened to me. I would have politely smiled and kept moving to the next thing—the endlessness of the next thing.

May I slow down and look for and name the multitudes of blessings, of graces, the Lord grants me each day, each moment. I want to see grace, the beauty of the Lord’s mercy and provision in Christ no matter my circumstance. We value those testimonies of problem -> grace -> presto! no more problem. But, as Kara and others have testified, sometimes there is only the beauty of grace and glory of sharing the suffering of Christ and knowing His sufficiency in weakness. Life is hard and may not get easier yet there is always, abundantly _______ grace. Yes and amen.

Thank you, Elisabeth

The first Elisabeth Elliot book I read was Passion and Purity. I was in college, no doubt brokenhearted over some boy, and I grabbed my roommate’s copy not knowing who Elisabeth was nor anything of her story. I think perhaps I was hoping to find the secret to finding love, true love, and the kind of happily ever after that had thus far eluded me in my twenty years of life.

I read the book in one sitting. Yes, Elisabeth spoke, and quite directly I might add, of relationships but it was her passion for Christ that captivated me. She and Jim so young, so in love, their story so tragic, their abandon to the cause of Christ so complete–I saw in their testimony the beauty of a surrendered life and I wanted it.

I’ve since read several of Elisabeth’s books. As a matter of fact, I’m fairly certain I’ve bought–and lent out–Through Gates of Splendor twice. The pictures and images of that particular book stay with me: those young men full of zeal for the Lord and love for all the peoples of the world, the widows and their babies waiting for news, any news, Elisabeth returning to that same people group who had murdered her husband. Here’s Elisabeth describing how they viewed the possibility of danger:

God gave us peace of heart, and confidence that whatever might happen, His Word would hold…God’s leading was unmistakable up to this point. Each of us knew when we married our husbands that there would never be any question about who came first–God and His work held first place in each life. It was the condition of true discipleship; it became devastatingly meaningful now.

It was a time for soul-searching, a time for counting the possible cost. Was it the thrill of adventure that drew our husbands on? No…their compulsion was from a different source. Each had made a personal transaction with God, recognizing that he belonged to God, first of all by creation, and secondly by redemption through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. This double claim on his life settled once and for all the question of allegiance. It was not a matter of striving to follow the example of a great Teacher. To conform to the perfect life of Jesus was impossible for a human being. To these men, Jesus Christ was God, and had actually taken upon Himself human form, in order that He might die, and, by His death, provide not only escape from the punishment which their sin merited, but also a new kind of life, eternal both in length and in quality. This meant simply that Christ was to be obeyed, and more than that, that He would provide the power to obey. The point of decision had been reached. God’s command “Go ye, and preach the gospel to every creature” was the categorical imperative. The question of personal safety was wholly irrelevant.

I pulled Passion and Purity from my friend’s shelf because I desperately desired true love and the happily ever after of a fairy tale story. Yes, Elisabeth taught me the love of a godly man was worth waiting for, and she was right. She also taught me that true love, sustaining love, the love that will never fail, is found only in Christ. Happily ever after is no fairy tale and its reality is costly. In fact, it will cost my life. “Take up your cross and die” is Jesus’ call to any true disciple. For Jim Elliot it meant martyrdom. For Elisabeth it meant a long obedience in the same direction until, finally, yesterday, the gates of splendor and the glory of her Savior’s presence.

I am indebted to Elisabeth Elliot and her unwavering testimony of the power and sufficiency of the gospel. I am thankful for her life and that she has now received her reward.

Well done, good and faithful servant. Thank you.

 

Vulnerability and self-worth

I am (finally) reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. I say “finally” because astute readers of the blog will know that it has appeared on my “to read” list many times over the past year or two and I am only now getting around to it. It’s not my typical reading material but it has been suggested to me by readers and thinkers I respect so here I am. Finally.

I’m only a third of the way in and, frankly, I’m not sure what I think about it. Maybe because it’s not my typical reading fare but I have a hard time figuring out what the author means. Or maybe I’m just dense. It occurs to me maybe that’s why it’s not my typical reading fare: I’m not astute enough to figure out what the heck the author is talking about.

Anyway, while this post is not a review nor an endorsement (nor a critique), I’d like to share a point or two from the book about vulnerability that keep echoing in my mind. Actually, it’s more like an extended quote using creativity as an example but I think the application can obviously be extended…

You’ve designed a product or written an article or created a piece of art that you want to share with a group of friends. Sharing something that you’ve created is a vulnerable but essential part of [engaged] living. It’s the epitome of daring greatly. But because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached to your self-worth to how your product or art is received. In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless.

One of two things happens at this point in the process:

1. Once you realize that your self-worth is hitched to what you’ve produced or created, it’s unlikely that you’ll share it, or if you do, you’ll strip away a layer or two of the juiciest creativity and innovation to make the revealing less risky. There’s too much on the line to just put your wildest creations out there.

2. If you do share it in its most creative form and the reception doesn’t meet your expectations, you’re crushed. Your offering is no good and you’re no good. The chances of soliciting feedback, reengaging, and going back to the drawing board are slim. You shut down. Shame tells you that you shouldn’t have even tried. Shame tells you that you’re not good enough and you should have known better.

…Everything shame needs to hijack and control your life is in place. You’ve handed over your self-worth to what people think…You’re officially a prisoner of “pleasing, performing, and perfecting.”

I understand this process. It’s happened to me a million times. Blogging is an obvious example but there are countless others. From teaching to the most mundane of conversations, I well know the thread that ties my self-worth to my sense of vulnerability and shame.

Brown will also make the rather astute observation that we consider vulnerability courageous in others but an embarrassing weakness in ourselves.

Interesting stuff. You might think there would be some of the self-help rah rah of “if you believe it you can do it”–and there may yet be–as I said, I’m only a third of the way in. But instead of asserting that failure will not be option, Brown does nearly the opposite. Failure comes, shame will descend; what then? Are you shame resilient? She will, I think, give her conclusions about combating shame as well as make the case for embracing the vulnerability to dare greatly. She asks early in the book: what is worth the risk of doing even in failure?

Have any of you read it? What are your thoughts?

Favorite reads of the summer

I, like all true bookworms, make reading a priority all year long, sometimes all day long if it’s an especially good day! However, there are those times of year that seem naturally suited to reading. The week between Christmas and New Year, for example, is a stretch of days where I tend to do not much more than lounge on the sofa with a book or two or five.

Summertime is another season that seems all the better for the happy enjoyment of a good book. Since we are now in September and at the close of another one of those perfectly suited reading spells, I thought I’d offer to you a list of some of the best of the best of the books I read this summer and I read some really good ones!

Read my list of summertime favorites at Out of the Ordinary.

What’s on my nightstand

Once a month 5 Minutes for Books hosts a What’s On My Nightstand carnival where participants share books they are currently reading. It’s been my goal to do a little more reading this summer than the school year afforded me and despite our travel and other general busyness I’ve been able to do just that! I have high hopes for July to have even more time to devote to reading some really great books. So here’s my list of titles I’ve read recently, what I’m currently reading, and what I’m thinking of reading next…

RECENTLY COMPLETED

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett. This is a beautifully written, thought provoking memoir that I enjoyed very much. I think Micha and I might disagree on a couple of things but what’s the fun of only reading authors you completely agree with? And do we really all of us agree all of the time on every thing? But, I digress. I may share more about this book in a later post but Micha’s journey surprised me by how much it resonated with my own despite she being a young mom in San Francisco and me being, well, not a young mom in a small town in Alabama.

Me Before You: A Novel by JoJo Moyes. Loved it and hated it. My friend named it one of her most favorite and least favorite novels she read last year and I totally see what she means. It’s a compelling story, well told, but, well… (And, by the way, some readers will want to know there is some language and adult situations).

Someday, Someday, Maybe: A Novel by Lauren Graham. A fun, light, enjoyable read about a wanna-be actress trying to make it in New York City. Though it was somewhat predictable, I thought the funnest part to be all the 90’s pop culture references.

CURRENTLY READING

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy’s ability to evoke a sense of place through the beauty (and sometimes the sparseness) of his prose is masterful.

Gospel Amnesia: Forgetting the Goodness of the News by Luma Sims. Though we only know each other through our blogs and social media, I count Luma a friend and am ashamed I am only just now getting to her book. So far I have been greatly encouraged by her call to forsake gospel amnesia and to cling to Christ as our only hope.

READING NEXT (maybe)

What about you? What are you reading? Do you have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments! And be sure to visit 5 Minutes for Books and check out other Nightstand posts.

What’s on my nightstand

It’s spring break this week. I’ve been attempting some spring cleaning (and those of you who know me in real life just gave a collective gasp). In my scrubbing frenzy, I’m realizing that cleaning like a madwoman and writing anything profound are mutually exclusive. Not that my usually posting is anything remotely resembling profound but sometimes I like to try.

Anyway, it’s been awhile since I’ve participated in 5 Minutes for Books’ “What’s On Your Nightstand” carnival so I thought, hey, since it’s spring break and I’m spending my day cleaning without any thought about any other subject other than my total lack of housekeeping skill and discipline, today’s a good day to join up. Participants in the Nightstand carnival post their current and recent reads on the last Tuesday of each month. As you may have realized, today is Wednesday but I figure I can still crash the party. So here’s what I’m reading and have recently read…

CURRENTLY READING

The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance by Leon Morris. So good. My friend Rebecca at Rebecca Writes has recommended this title many times and I’m embarrassed I’m just now reading it. Morris examines various Biblical concepts used to describe and portray the atonement: covenant, redemption, sacrifice, propitiation, and so on. I echo Rebecca’s recommendation: get it, read it.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs: A Novel by Anna Quindlen. I grabbed this one at the library last week not knowing much about it. I generally plan my trips to the library in advance, checking availability and reviews and such. I know, I know, I am such a nerd. I’m also cheap (when it comes to fiction) and I have little patience for not-very-good books. I’m a little more than halfway through this novel and am enjoying it very much. It is beautifully written and (so far) quite engaging. I won’t say if I recommend it or not until I’m finished.

RECENTLY READ

The Gospel-Centered Woman: Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel by Wendy Alsup. Wendy is one of my favorite authors/bloggers/thinkers. I appreciated this book and its consistent, deliberate focus on Christ. I thought the chapters “Godliness with Contentment” and “The Gospel in Your Context” to be especially strong (read: convicting).

Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel by Maria Semple. Fun, satiric, and hilarious.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. A haunting YA novel about Stalin’s Russia.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs. I liked Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children but it had been awhile since I’d read it and this, the second book in the series, picks right up where that novel left off with no helpful review information. After a quick Google search for a synopsis of the first book, I was then able to read and enjoy Hollow City and I even think it may be the stronger of the two books.

READING NEXT

So much of what I read is subject to whim and availability. I do have something of a “To Read” list but I rarely have a firm plan of what I’m reading next. I am expecting a couple of resources about the Sermon on the Mount to arrive today so I will certainly be reading and referring to them in the coming days and weeks as I prepare my Bible study lessons each week. Other books I’d like tackle soon:

  • Gospel Amnesia by Luma Sims. Luma is twitter and blog friend and I’m looking forward to reading her book.
  • The Storytelling God by Jared Wilson. All of Jared’s books I’ve read are fantastic and this one about Jesus’ parables looks to maintain that standard.
  • How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek Thomas.
  • Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. My friend raves about this title so I’m excited about reading it.

As far as fiction, I don’t know what I’ll read next. I do have a stack of books I grabbed at the library when I checked out the Quindlen novel. That being said, I’m always a little afraid to broadcast what novels I’m reading before I finish them in case they are really bad and someone misconstrues my reading them as my recommending them! Is that weird?

What about you? What are you reading this month? You can link up your list at 5 Minutes for Books as well as check out what other readers are reading!