Top 11 Favorite Books Read in 2015

Each year I catalog my favorite books read throughout the year. I try to write about them along the way in this space, and yet I inevitably read many more than you hear about – and sometimes I overlook my very favorites.

So I annually look back at the year past and record my favorite books read. For 2015 I give you not a countdown as in the past – a rating from #11 to #1 – but I’m giving you my top favorites in the five categories I read from most often.

#5 Parenting

No -Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel – This builds on his foundational teaching in Whole-Brain Child and makes it practical. Literally included are cartoons showing you as a parent how to implement his teaching on parenting. I would be lying if I told you that our home has transformed and there is never any drama ever – but this lays out a worthy goal to aim for, which has resulted in small changes. Like being emotionally more attuned to our daughters, even and especially in the midst of moments of discipline.

#4 Motivational

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – by Marie Kondo – Wow. Just wow. It has been magic in our home, and I have a long way to go before I’m at the place where I would say I’ve finished her method of home-organizing (a.k.a. “radical purging”). At least with Kondo, I have a map of what’s next and directions as to how to get there.

Rising Strong – by Brené Brown – Read my review here. I love Brown’s work, and her latest book continues in her trajectory of thought, inspiring action and courage – especially in the midst of so-called failures.

#3 Writing

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard – I felt like I was on a writing retreat with Dillard as she described her process of writing candidly. Writing can be incredibly isolating, but somehow this book makes a writer feel less so as you nod your head in agreement at the inevitable highs and lows of the writing process.

If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit  by Brenda Ueland – If Dillard’s book felt like a companion, Ueland’s book became like the writing coach I’ve always wanted. She gives helpful pointers like how to find your voice, and how good writing is best done in the midst of real-life – not separate from it on the proverbial “mountain top.” A classic and a must-read for all my fellow writers out there!

#2 Fiction

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen – Quindlen’s fiction is poetic and her narrative is gripping. You’ll savor each page – pun intended.

 The Space Between Us by Thrity Umbrigar – A piercing piece that transports the reader to another culture and unexpected joys and tragedies of a close network of relationships.

 All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – Amazing. Page-turner – beautifully written. Worth the hype and the Pullitzer Prize 1000 times over.

#1 Spiritual/Devotional/Christian Non-Fiction

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with both our Hearts and Minds by Jen Wilkin – I call this gem of a book a condensed and highly accessible version of everything I learned in seminary about studying the Bible. Jen will feel like a friend and mentor as she takes you through her process of Bible study, making God’s Word come alive in new ways and coaching you through owning your Bible study for yourself.

A Loving Life by Paul Miller – Miller’s book met me with hope mixed with challenge, giving me the push and courage I needed to depend on Jesus’ life of love within me as I loved those around me. He uses the book of Ruth as a guide for looking at what it means to lay down your life in “one-way love” – a “one-way love” that is motivated and empowered by the ultimate “one-way love” of God for us in Jesus Christ.

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily Freeman – Freeman’s book is another favorite of hers. This book more than any others I read continues to reverbate through my soul, calling me to notice the sparkle of the ordinary and the gift found in sitting and being still. The result has been a deeper willingness to embrace the mundane and a more pervasive joy in even the “simply Tuesday” moments of my life.

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Brené Brown on “Rising Strong” (a review at TGC)

Dear readers, I am thrilled to share with you my official review of Brené Brown’s latest book over at The Gospel Coalition Blog. You who have been following me for awhile know that I’ve been tracking Brown’s work for a few years now. You who are new may find it interesting to read these posts about my early encounters with her material and ideas:

As always, you honor me by your presence here. Thank you for stopping by.

*****

Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution is the third in the list of popular books written by shame-researcher Brené Brown, the University of Houston professor whose TED talks on vulnerability and shame went viral and have propelled her into the national spotlight. Rising Strong follows Daring Greatly(2012) and The Gifts of Imperfection (2010). I’m a self-professed Brown fan who’s been influenced and inspired by her work in my own thoughts about shame, which will be published as Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame (Crossway, June 2016).

As a church-based biblical counselor with more than nine years of counseling experience and a master of arts in biblical counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary/CCEF, I would like to speak into both what’s good and what’s misleading about Brown’s book. To be clear where I’m coming from, I’m speaking as one who loves biblical theology and has been changed by the gospel of grace that sets me free from my self-righteous striving. Galatians 2:20–21 is my life verse as a recovering self-righteous Pharisee who can too easily trust in her own works.

Pitfalls to Sidestep

In reading Rising Strong, it seems the most obvious pitfall could be outright dismissal by the Christian community and particularly church leaders because of its raw language and failure to speak explicitly about Jesus. Brown cusses throughout the book, and does so unapologetically. This may well be a stumbling block for many readers. However, if you’re able to move past that problem, there is much here for us to learn. Much of her material maps onto a gospel-grace framework—if only Brown would follow the trajectory to its conclusion. She gives words to and speaks boldly about vulnerability (which 2 Corinthians 12:9–10 calls “strength” through boasting in weakness); about the value of owning our failures (instead of hiding them) and then learning from them; and about the importance of examining the default stories we tell ourselves when we experience failure and shame.

[To read the rest of my review at The Gospel Coalition Blog, click here.]

Konmari and my bookshelf

On my birthday, my best friend gifted me with a magical book, titled “the life-changing magic of tidying up” by Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing professional. It had already been buzzing around my circle of friends when Mary told me about it at a spring baby shower. She described it in those very terms – “life-transforming!” and summarized the book by saying, “You clean out your house by asking the simple question of every item in it: does this spark joy?” I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about it. It sounds a bit too simple, and “magical” and organizing don’t seem to fit together in a book title. Plus as a Christian who puts value in the spiritual and eternal over the temporary and material, none of my stuff *should* spark true joy, right?

Yes, and no. Of course possessions shouldn’t spark true, lasting eternal joy, but the things I choose to invest in should bring some measure of meaning and beauty into my life. Beauty reflects God’s glory wherever it is found. And shouldn’t I want my house and closet and bookshelf to only be filled with what seems beautiful (and useful) to me/our family? Additionally, if my energy and time and attention is consumed with maintaining all my “things,” I have less of it to devote to what is truly and most important in my life – relationships, service, justice, mercy, kindness, God’s Word, to list a few.

So I read the book this summer, and decided that when my 5-year-olds started 5-day preschool this fall, I would give the “Konmari method” a fair shot. I’ve sorted through clothing and books so far, with three categories remaining: paper, miscellany, memorabilia. And it has been pretty darn close to magical in terms of how liberating it feels to get rid of things I do not want or need. I can feel my mental capacity increasing as my things in my closet decrease and as my bookshelves open up. For me as a self-professed bibliophile, that says something.

  

And an important caveat: no method is 100% effective, nor can it be for all people. I’m not following all of her suggestions, and there’s a few sections I’m amending or omitting entirely. Like emptying my purse every day and thanking all of my things for serving me each day. Or her instruction not to roll up socks because they’ve done so much work during the day and need some rest. I’m not an animist, and parts of her book sound a bit like animism and a mixture of her Japanese Shintoism. But I as a Christian should be first in line to care for things better, and to live life more simply and with greater joy. Plus – for a second post in the future – all the things I’m purging from my house can be put to better use and shared with those who need them more than I do.

If you’ve tried the Konmari method, has it worked for you? What’s been your experience? I’d love to hear from you. It’ll give me the courage I need to tackle the piles and piles and piles of papers scattered throughout my house as next week’s Konmari task … !

summer book report, a trio of “ordinary” books, part 2

image from emilypfreeman.com/simply-tuesday/

image from emilypfreeman.com/simply-tuesday/

Following up from part 1 of my summer book report of “ordinary” books comes part 2 with a review of Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman. I had to review it on a Tuesday. It was released on a Tuesday, and the premise of the book is that Tuesday is the most ordinary of days. It’s not the beginning of the week like Monday is, nor the happy weekend or almost-weekend days of Thursday through Sunday, nor is it celebrated as the half-way-through-the-week that Wednesday is. Tuesday is just simply Tuesday. And these are the type of moments and living that Emily writes about as where life happens which we too often overlook in our everyday hustle and bustle. Her ideas of this book are imaged by “bench living,” taking a moment to stop and sit and observe, sometimes solo and other times beside someone sitting next to us on the bench. Emily introduces her thesis this way:

I’m paying attention to the small ways that Jesus — and his kingdom — shows up in the daily ordinary, in the actual places where I live. When I think of where to find “the kingdom of God in our midst,” Tuesday comes to mind. This is the day of the week housing the regular, the ordinary, the plain, and the small. … What if we stopped asking God for big ways to serve him and started walking with our friend Jesus into the next simple moment in front of us?

Ouch. This really gets me. I want the next big moment or milestone for my kids, and I want the next big thing for me or our church or for our family. I can’t wait for my first book to release (next June 2016), or to be on a panel at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference next summer. Surely, these will be the big moments God will show up to me and through me. And while I hope and pray so, I also want to be someone who notices God showing up in the ordinary days, moments, and conversations between now and then.

I’ve never been good at that. Just ask my parents what it was like the week after I got home from a church youth retreat. I had experienced a spiritual highpoint, where God met me in new ways, but I struggled to put truth into action through loving my family in the day-in and day-out. As I write this, I wonder how much has changed.

I need Emily’s book and more books like hers which highlight the life-changing power of our daily moments, and the reality of God’s presence here, too. Her book talks about the gift of smallness, that home is what happens as we’re waiting for the next big thing,the importance of releasing outcomes to God, the problem of success and envy, how to lean into our limitations instead of resist them, relationships where we seek to know and be known rather to impress, and letting my soul speak its truth. Simply Tuesday is the third of her books I’ve read, and like the other two, Grace for the Good Girl, and A Million Little WaysI come away feeling like I’ve walked a journey with a friend who speaks the words I couldn’t quite articulate myself. As she is honest with her heart and God’s presence in her ordinary moments of life, I find myself drawn to follow her down this path.

A few of my favorite quotes:

Until we begin to be honest about how these small interactions are shaping and forming us into either the ways of our earthly kingdoms or the ways of the eternal kingdom, we won’t know how to move into the brokenness of the world simply because we haven’t let Christ move into the brokenness of our own souls. (153)

Fear pushes both ways, you see — keeps you from doing things you might want to do and convinces you that you have to do things you don’t want to do. (208)

On the benches of community, I’m learning what it means to be honest and mature with myself first and then in the presence of others. I’m learning that I won’t move perfectly, but that must not keep me from moving at all. And my movement needs to be focused on building benches of connection rather than building walls of protection. If I’m competing with you I cannot connect with you. (211)

When we sit, we let what is be, we remember to release outcomes or at least finally admit how tightly we are clinging to them. When we sit, we let ourselves be human. (230)

If you haven’t bought this book yet, don’t wait! I’d love for you to share with me what you’re learning, and I’m sure that Emily would be even more honored.

***

One disclaimer: I received an advance reader’s copy of this book in order to help promote her book upon its release. I’m a few weeks late since it released three weeks ago but better late than never, right?!

On my bookshelf, summer 2015 edition

Last year, I was a bit ambitious about my summer reading list. Therefore, I’ve paired it down a bit this year. These seven should be do-able. Here is what I’m looking forward to about each one:

1 – Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin: This is a primer on how to read and study the Bible. From what I’ve read so far, it’s like my seminary courses in one much-easier-to-read place. I’ve met Jen through The Gospel Coalition and heard her speak a few times. I love her passion for people and for women to be biblically literate. Amen to that!

2 – Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card: My husband is a sci-fi guy, and he told me that since I liked Ender’s Game so much, I would also enjoy Ender’s Shadow. It’s been a page-turner so far, one that keeps me up way later than my bedtime.

3 – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo: This Japanese organizer’s primer is making its rounds among my friends and the top-seller lists. I was thrilled to receive this book as a gift from my BFF and hope that it will help me to simplify my home as its radical premise claims.

4 – Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman – I’m reading an advance copy and you will be hearing more about this as the publication date draws near (early August). Freeman is a favorite author and blogger, and I can’t wait to enjoy this new book of hers. It made my day when it arrived in the mail yesterday.

5 – Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist – Her writing style is vividly poetic and her stories ring true and honest. After enjoying her first book, Cold Tangerines, I had to put this one on my list, too.

6 – Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson – She’s the co-author of a favorite motherhood book, Desperate (with Sarah Mae). And full disclosure: as a Tyndale House Blogger, I chose this one to review. Several months ago – so it’s time! She’s a veteran mom with biblical wisdom and a mentor’s heart, and the title alone begins to help me show up in my life as it is.

7 – The Writing Life by Annie Dillard – As a writer, I need to read Annie Dillard. And what better place to start than this collection of her writings about writing?

the value of the hidden work of love

“How do you do it all?” It’s a question I often hear in response to the oh-so-complex question of, “What do you do?” When I reply that I’m a mom to 4-year-old twins, pastor’s wife, part-time counselor at our church, and writing a book – it does sound quite “impressive” (or overwhelming). I often reply tongue-in-cheek – “Not very well!” – to the aforesaid question. Most people don’t believe me. Except for those closest to me.

Seth, my husband, sees the dishes and laundry piling up alongside my frustration to try to do it all. My daughters experience the always-weary mama who too often opts for screen time so that I can finish a writing project or just get a nap. (They’ve almost completely dropped their afternoon nap.) My parents and in-laws and siblings and siblings-in-law and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and cousins don’t get as much “Heather time” as I wish I could give them. Life right now feels like a delicate balancing act that I can’t do too well.

loving lifeAnd, true, I need to learn to prioritize (and identify “posteriorities” as DeYoung describes in Crazy Busy). Yet I also need to learn to embrace the hidden work of love that is my life with a family of young kids. To see this as a grounding point of my life rather than a distraction from work/writing/etc. Enter the so-good and so-convicting words of Paul Miller in A Loving Life

We usually recoil from the cost of love, thinking it is an alien substance, but it is the essence of love. … True glory is almost always hidden – when you are enduring quietly with no cheering crowd. … We experience a strange and powerful presence of God during those moments of hidden love. When you hang in there on the journey of love, when you endure and don’t take the exits of distance and cynicism, God shows up.

The parts of my life that are public are quite frankly, the easiest parts of life right now. Sure, it takes time and thought and work to prepare a talk for women, or to write the next chapter of my book, or to teach Sunday school, but I always get affirmation in these public areas of service. Motherhood and marriage? Not so. If I am loving my daughters and husband well, there is not an adoring crowd to let me know. If I’m not loving them well, I can hide this from others or gloss over my failures as “hard days/weeks/stages.” For me, it is this hidden work of loving family that shows me where I most desperately need the grace of a Savior and the endurance of the Spirit. 

Miller talks about this in his own life, capturing it in this sentence that aptly describes the past few weeks after a great deal of public ministry:  “God was giving me a hidden work of love to balance out the public ministry of teaching.” He talks about this in the life of Ruth, saying that in relation to Naomi, she “cheerfully pursued the bondage of love.”

It is so counter-cultural and counter-self-actualization to love like this. Which is why I cannot love like this without Jesus’ life at work in me. As Jesus’ love takes deeper root in my heart, there will be more joy in the hidden work of love – which will have the happy effect of enriching the public ministries of love, too. I end with this description:

…if I love only when I feel like it, then I’ve really not understood love. … Love like this strips us of self-will and purifies our motivations. It is surprisingly liberating because we’re not trapped by either our feelings or the other person’s response. When neither preserving the relationship nor our feelings is central, we’re free to offer the other person a rich tapestry of love.

A Lenten prayer: prone to wander

This prayer is from a favorite book that I “happened” to be gifted with by dear friends just as Lent was beginning: Prone to Wander, by mother-son co-authors Barbara Duguid and Wayne Houk. I have found its call to worship, specific gospel-saturated prayers of confession, and then assurance of pardon to be spot on for my heart this Lenten season (and really any time!). I also love that there are suggested songs listed at the end of each entry. It’s been a personal worship guide – although written to be for a church, there are multiple uses to be sure.

And having some bit of personal interaction with both Barbara and Wayne through CCEF courses we’ve been a part of together makes the writing sing even more so. They are both tremendously gracious, and incredibly gifted at putting gospel truth to words.

 

Top 14 books of 2014, part 2

This is part two of my countdown to 2015 in book list form. Read part one here (#s 14-8), and then follow along below for #s 1-7. Happy reading! Slide2

#7 The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom (2001) This book is quite simply a gift to therapists, counselors, psychologists, and all other helping professionals. Yalom draws on his vast experience, using stories and honest sharing to pass along what he’s learned to “a new generation of therapists.” His conversational tone makes it feel like you’re talking with an old friend, or better yet, a mentor who’s been there and will guide you in your practice of caring and counseling. 

#6 In Our Lives First by Diane Langberg (2013) Langberg is a professional long-distance mentor for me. Her work on helping victims of abuse and trauma has been formative for me as a counselor, and I’ve had the privilege to hear her speak a few times. She is a Christian psychologist in Philadelphia, and this book is a 6-week daily devotional written for helping professionals. It can be too easy to get lost in the problems of those I’m helping and neglect my own life and heart. Her words here called me back, with paragraphs like this one: 

Do we really believe we can lead another to freedom from bondage when we are enslaved to something ourselves? … How can we cultivate purity, holiness, patience, endurance, and self-control in the lives of those God brings to us when such things are not truly present in the recesses of our lives? .. We must be what we would have those who follow us become. … wherever you need to go, I must be willing to go first in my own life. If I do not, though I may bring skills and techniques that may be helpful, I will not bring them infused with the life of God.

The governance of our lives is not to be compassion, but rather the God who is compassionate. The difference is profound.

#5 Made for More by Hannah Anderson (2014) As my September book of the month, you’ve heard me rave about this book before. Her subtitle says it all: “an invitation to live in God’s image,” and her book delivers just that. I found on every page a call to reexamine what it means personally and relationally that we as humans are made to image God. To literally be a reflection of the divine. She takes what’s a basic theological truth and states it in new ways. 

…we are by nature image bearers. So when we turn from God, when we refuse to base our identity in Him, we are compelled to find it somewhere else because we must reflect something. … And as we image this false god, our very personhood crystallizes around it. … When we center our identity on these ‘lesser glories,’ we become defined by them, and we end up defining reality by them as well.

The paradox of personal identity is that once we accept that we are not what we should be, we are finally in a place to be made what we could be. … Once we admit the inadequacy of our lives, we are finally able to discover the sufficiency of His. And this is what Christ offers us. He offers us His identity; He offers us Himself. When we are joined to Him, when our lives are ‘hidden with Christ in God,’ we can finally die to our old selves because as His image bearers, we become whatever He is.

#4 Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung (2013) I picked up this book at the perfect time: in May of this year after an extremely season of being too busy. It is short, practical, and convicting. Full of zingers written not from “above” (meaning the place of “here’s my wisdom for all of you down there who struggle with overcommitment and lack of margin in your life”) – but right alongside. I found his honesty refreshing, and his insights convicting. For example, his one sentence diagnosis of the problem of our busy lives:

We are so busy with a million pursuits that we don’t even notice the most important things slipping away.

Not until they’re absent, that is. DeYoung speaks to this:

Most of us fall into a predictable pattern. We start to get overwhelmed by one or two big projects. Then we feel crushed by the daily grind. Then we despair of ever feeling at peace again and swear that something has to change. Then two weeks later life is more bearable, and we forget about our oath until the cycle starts all over again. What we don’t realize is that all the while we’ve been a joyless wretch, snapping like a turtle and as personally engaging as a cat. When busyness goes after joy, it goes after everyone’s joy.

He discusses the question of why with seven diagnoses, and presents  the quest to let go of “crazy busy” as a community pursuit. If you want 2015 to be less busy than 2014, I cannot recommend this book highly enough for you.

#3 Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne (2009) Close on the heels of “Crazy Busy” is this book on the value of simplicity in parenting. I wrote more about it here in a post on “white space, children’s edition.” In our more, more, more! culture, we need to read more about the power of less. This book provides a good, do-able starting point for that journey. It has already shaped what I’m doing with my girls’ toys (purging and storing more of them); how we are rethinking our schedules moving into 2015; and helped me to re-focus on what’s most important to me in this unique, short season of parenting young twins. 

Having done the hard work of simplifying, you’ll see when ‘must-have’ things or activities are really just new variations of ‘More!’, bound to be quickly forgotten or discarded. … Rescue their childhood from stress, and they will inevitably, remarkably, day by day, rescue you right back.

#2 A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman (2013) Freeman continues to be a favorite author and blogger (see last year’s list – a previous book of hers was #1 for me in 2013), and this book was no different. She invites me to see myself as God’s poem – his artwork – and a fellow artist along with him in my world, whether my “medium” is setting the table, cleaning up preschoolers’ messes, counseling, writing, etc. All of us are artists, and our art will be expressed in “a million little ways.” 

Christ is in you and wants to come out through you in a million little ways – through your strength and also your weakness, your abilities and also your lack. … God calls us his poem. And the job of the poem is to inspire. To sing. To express the full spectrum of the human experience – both the bright hope that comes with victory and the profound loss that accompanies defeat. We must make art, even in our weakness.

Her teaching shaped and inspired my series that will be ongoing of “embracing imperfection.” Her 4-week art course based on this book is amazing, too, and available for free here

#1 Teach Us To Want by Jen Pollock Michel (2014) Desire and the life of faith – how often I’ve wanted a book that addressed this without minimizing the power of desire or God’s power to shape our desires. Enter this amazing book that is in my #1 place for 2014. She uses the Lord’s Prayer as a guide to discuss various aspects of, “longing, ambition, and the life of faith.” She does not shirk the hard, difficult parts of desire and faith, talking openly about her own struggles in her marriage and church, and her attempt to make sense of difficult tragedies in her life. She’s a brilliant writer, and I look forward to many more books from her in the future. I’ll end this incredibly long post (thanks for sticking with me!) with a few of the MANY underlined portions of my copy of this book:

Here is how desire becomes corrupt: wanting derails into selfishness, greed and demanding ingratitude when we’ve failed to recognize and receive the good that God has already given. Trust is at the center of holy desire: trust that God is good and wills good for his people.

And though it would seem that the forces of evil desire are strong, the Lord’s Prayer is one force of resistance: these words are the arms we bear, this prayer is ground we stand when the lure of east [of Eden] feels almost irresistible.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Unlike a prayer of moral resolution, this is our white flag of moral surrender. We face our depravity, even in the face of our desires — and we embrace the good news of first-century miracle. Jesus has exchanged death for life, love for indifference, sacrifice for selfishness, innocence for guilt, and looking back at the moment of historic exchange and his faithfulness, we learn to pray, Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. To this prayer, Jesus joins his own faithful intercession: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they want. 

Our desires say something about us — who we have been, who we are and who we are becoming. They tell a part of the story that God is telling through us, even the beautiful and complicated story of being human and becoming holy.

*note: some affiliate links included (for the books – if you click on them and order them through Amazon, I’ll get a very, very small percentage of your order from Amazon)

my favorite 14 books read in 2014, part 1

I tried to pick out 10. I really did. Ten is such a beautifully poetic number … but I just couldn’t narrow it down. And so I offer to you my top 14 books of 2014, in countdown order (as is appropriate for New Year’s Eve). The first seven are featured today, and part two will follow tomorrow.

Slide1#14 A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg (2009) Reading her book of memoir/recipes made me nostalgic for family meals of childhood and newly resolved to offer similar meal-time rich memories for my family. Good writing, and recipes that made me want to get back into the kitchen (and typically I don’t enjoy cooking). Her chocolate cake recipe is amazing. Truly.  

#13 Surprised by Motherhood by Lisa-Jo Baker (2014) She writes with beauty and refreshing honesty about her experience of motherhood and the grief of losing her own mother. It’s full of pithy truths about motherhood that you’ll underline and star and want to share on Instagram and Twitter. Like the following:  

It’s a relief to know that motherhood is hard. This is the gift girlfriends can give one another – the 2 a.m. truth about parenting.

Becoming a parent is a lot like breaking up with yourself. … Children arrive and blow through what used to be your routine. It takes courage to say no to yourself and yes to someone else.

Motherhood is a sacred marriage of the mundane and the eternal.

#12 The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (2002) I am late to the Gladwell game, and I found this book of cultural commentary intriguing. He explores what causes a trend to pass the “tipping point” into mainstream, and his findings will surprise you. You’ll learn about the importance of “mavens,” the real reasons crime dramatically decreased in New York City, and what helps marketing to “stick.” 

#11 The Andrew Poems by Shelly Wagner (1994) Shelly is a dear friend and writing mentor for me, and I have the privilege of attending church with her. This collection of poems written after the drowning death of her 5-year-old son are heart-wrenching, therapeutic, and exquisitely beautiful – all at the same time. She gave words to what I was feeling as we communally grieved two tragic deaths of a mother and daughter this summer. 

#10 The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller (2012) This short booklet packed a powerful punch, mainly to my pride, defined as: 

Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning without God.

Yet true to Keller’s style, the conviction comes right alongside the hope of grace found in Jesus. We can’t save ourselves, and God has saved us in Jesus Christ.

In Christianity, the verdict [of being justified and loved entirely] leads to performance. It is not the performance that leads to the verdict. In Christianity, the moment we believe, God says ‘This is my beloved son [or daughter] in whom I am well pleased. … In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into His family.

#9 The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (2013) My husband and I are huge Harry Potter fans, and so of course we had to also try Rowling’s books written for adults. Her first, The Casual Vacancy (2012), was a huge disappointment, but I loved this one. I saw that the next one in this mystery series, The Silkworm, came out a few months ago, and it will be on my 2015 reading list. 

#8 Out of the Spin Cycle by Jen Hatmaker (2010) A 40-day devotional on motherhood and grace that I cannot highly recommend enough to all my mom friends out there. She is witty, realistic, and calls us to savor God’s merciful love for us as moms in the midst of our experience of loving (and struggling to love) our children. Enjoy these gems – 

on discipline: Disciplining toddlers and preschoolers is like every mother’s personal, daily Armageddon. When we held our innocent babies, who knew we’d encounter a will of iron just fifteen months later? Who knew that they would dig their heels in and die on every hill? No one told us we’d put our children in time-out thirteen times in one day for the same offense. The obstinacy of a two-year-old can make a grown woman weep. [Can I get an Amen?]

on the problem with perfectionism: As mothers, many of us love our children exactly like we ‘love’ ourselves: critically. The standard of perfection by which we measure our own performance is automatically used on our kids.

on God’s love for us: The adoration you feel when you watch your sleeping cherubs? God has it for you. Your pleasure at fulfilling one of their little dreams? Jesus shares that feeling for you. Your bursting heart when your kids laugh? God feels the same way about your joy.

Part two will be here tomorrow – check back then. And happy New Year’s Eve!

Link to part two: My favorite 14 books of 2014, part 2

*note: some affiliate links included (for the books – if you click on them and order them through Amazon, I’ll get a very, very small percentage of your order from Amazon)

devotionals worth reading in 2015

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/1bc/1176043/files/2014/12/img_7639.jpgAs this year draws to a close, I am preparing a list of my top 10 books of 2014 (drumroll, please?), as I did at the end of 2013. In the meantime, I wanted to offer you a few recommendations if you are looking for a devotional reading for 2015. What I’m referring to is a resource written to help you understand the Bible and the Christian life, giving you daily encouragement for your journey of faith. I have found a good devotional and a daily Bible reading plan to be essential to nurture my faith. It provides a space for me to bring my questions, doubts, joys, and sorrows; and I know that I am heard by God and through the Bible, God speaks to my heart. Some favorite words on the value of daily time spent in prayer and study of God’s Word from spiritual director and author, Henri Nouwen:

“When we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. … solitude begins with a time and a place for God, and God alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that God is actively present in our lives– healing, teaching and guiding– we need to set aside a time and space to give God our undivided attention. (Matt 6:6) … We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with Him and Him alone. Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature. Solitude is a place where Christ remodels us in his own image and frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world.”

365-day devotionals (note: it usually takes me way more than one year to get through one of these!) –

  • Grace Through the Ages by William P. Smith – I’ve written about this one in the past. It’s incredibly rich, and it’s written by a friend and former counseling colleague and supervisor. I love the way Bill discusses grace, and the way he shows how grace is on every page of Scripture.
  • Heart of the Matter by CCEF – I am planning to read through this one in 2015. I’ve read excerpts here and there. It’s a compilation of writings by biblical counselors who seek to connect God’s Word to the heart.

Topical devotionals –

  • For moms – best one is Jen Hatmaker’s Out of the Spin Cycle. Witty, encouraging, practical, and short. Blessedly short.
  • For counselors/pastors/other helping professionals – In Our Lives First by Diane Langberg. Soul-refreshment that helps carry you in the burdens and dangers of  being on the “front lines” of caring for others.

Yearly Bible reading plans –

  1. A reading from Old Testament, New Testament, and Poetry for each day (you print out the three bookmarks for each section of your Bible – PDF here.)
  2. Chronological Bible Reading Plan – read the Bible in the order in which it was written. I did this last year with my friend Kiran. We both said the downside of this plan is that you don’t reach the New Testament until October though!!
  3. Read Me Bible Plan – similar to #1 above, but without the Poetry section.
  4. Customizable plan here – choose whether to do chronological, historical, or another assortment, and select whether to start on the 1st or the 15th of the month.
  5. 5x5x5 plan – 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week, with 5 suggested questions. It takes you through the entire New Testament in a year. I think I’m going to go through this plan for 2015 since I tend to fall behind a traditional (long) reading plan fairly quickly, and then the perfectionist/performance-oriented part of me feels guilty. When the main point is to spend time reading the Bible regularly so that I can soak in God’s love for me and be equipped to pour out his love to others. If a plan helps you do this, great! If not, find something else. I offer these merely as suggestions and guides.

*note: some affiliate links included (for the books – if you click on them and order them through Amazon, I’ll get a very, very small percentage of your order from Amazon)