white space, children’s edition

photo from hamptonroads.com

photo from hamptonroads.com

I have a difficult time with white space – those pauses between activities and stress to simply “be” – and this spills over to the way I parent, too. One of my twins constantly asks me for a plan for the day, and usually for the next day, too. “So what are we doing after that?” she will continue to ask even when I don’t give her an answer. It annoys me, if I’m honest, but I’ve also created the conditions that cause her to expect constant activity. I am a mom who enjoys taking my girls with me to fun places and to do enjoyable activities. They absolutely loved our trip to New York City last December at Christmastime. They often seem to be happiest when we’re out – whether it’s flipping through their favorite “Frozen” books at Barnes & Noble, or selecting a new round of library books, or the rare treat of getting donuts or frozen yogurt together, or going to a friend’s house for a playdate.

But in all things, moderation. There is a dark side to my overplanning of our lives, and it looks like stressed out kids who forget how to play by themselves creatively on a rainy afternoon. Or it might be the constant need to have to have something to do (and so they do not enjoy the moment, nor do I).

Enter the current book I’m reading, Simplicity Parenting, on loan from my dear friend and fellow blogger Mary and recommended by her, Maria, and BFF Katherine. It is a powerful corrective to our culture of “too much, too early, and too fast” as author Kim John Payne, M.Ed., terms the overscheduling of childhood. I love, love, love the way he describes the essence of this chapter:

“Activity without downtime is ultimately – like a plant without roots – unsustainable.”

Consider a few suggestions Payne presents of how to make “fallow” time for your child within your family’s daily and weekly rhythm:

  1. It begins with awareness: “We’ve worshiped at the altar of scheduled activities so dutifully that some parents only think of play in terms of playdates. … If we begin to recognize the value of leisure time and creative time, we’ll make space for them.”
  2. View boredom as a gift, and refuse to fill the space for them with parent-directed entertainment. Payne suggests to “outbore their boredom with a single, flat response: ‘Something to do is right around the corner!'”
  3. Build in a balance of days. If there is a highly active, stimulating day (like their school Christmas program or a birthday party), balance this with a few calm stay-at-home days to allow them to regain their equilibrium.
  4. Practice Sabbath. This harkens back to the way God created a rhythm for humanity of six days of work, one day of rest. Payne (who is not writing from a Christian framework) acknowledges the value of Sabbath, defining it as “distraction-free zones.” Perhaps it is a day when you decide you cannot be reached on your mobile device, and you won’t check email. Maybe it is a Saturday afternoon or evening devoted exclusively to an all-family activity – like making pizza together, going for a hike or a walk in the park, building a Lego village in the play room. “If life is a run-on sentence, then these ‘moments of Sabbath’ are the pauses, the punctuation.”
  5. Limit organized sports for young kids. “When I speak of the problems with early sport, I’m referring to children younger than ten or eleven years old who are playing formal team sports more than twice a week….When kids younger than ten or eleven become occupied with organized sports, especially to the exclusion of time for free, unstructured play, that involvement can cut crudely across their progression through a variety of play stages that are vitally important to their development.” This is hard, isn’t it? We achievement-oriented parents want our children to likewise be achieving, successful sports and dance stars. It seems like waiting and wading in slowly are key to allow their natural interest to develop at its own pace, and to provide space for much of the “normal” play in life.

What will be the result of more “white space” for our children? They will learn to appreciate the ordinary days (and life exists in the ordinary much more so than the extraordinary). Free(er) schedules foster an ability for them to reach “deep play,” in which their natural imagination and creativity can thrive. We may even uproot potential “seeds for addiction.”

“So much activity can create a reliance on outer stimulation, a culture of compulsion and instant gratification. What also grows in such a culture? Addictive behaviors….[Overscheduling] can establish a reliance, a favoring of external stimulation over emotional or inner activity.”

Most interestingly in Payne’s book, he discusses how a more simple schedule can deepen the gift of anticipation for our children. (What an appropriate time to focus on this as every kid counts down to Christmas!) I close with his words on the value of anticipation, words that echo timeless truth of Scripture on the value of waiting (Advent means waiting):

“Anticipating gratification, rather than expecting or demanding it, strengthens a child’s will. Impulsivity, wanting everything now, leaves the will weak, flaccid. As a child lives with anticipation, as it strengthens over time, so too does their sense of themselves…Unchecked, our wills are like weeds, threatening to take over our whole spirits; invasive vines of desire for what we want (everything) when we want it (now). Anticipation holds back the will; it counters instant gratification. It informs a child’s development and growth and builds their inner life.”

So what are you waiting for? Time to go create some white space with your children and for your children, so that you and they will thrive.

September Book of the Month

photo credit: thegospelcoalition.org

photo credit: thegospelcoalition.org

All of you who follow my blog know how much I love to read and how much I love to write about what I’m reading. I want to try something new and do an online book report of my favorite book each month. For September, I’ve chosen Made for More by Hannah Anderson (2014: Moody Publishers).

Her subtitle says it all: “an invitation to live in God’s image,” and her book delivers just that. I’ve 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. Have you considered this lately? What dignity that gives you and me! And how far we fall from our destiny every day! But Anderson’s book invites you back, invites me back. To live out of my identity – who I truly am. She takes what’s a basic theological truth and states it in new ways. No small thing for this raised-in-the-church seminary grad whose biggest downfall is that I know it all while my life is far from the truth I profess. Passages like these have given me reason to ponder and to live differently:

“…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.”

A natural question that follows is what am I reflecting if not God? In looking at my life, too often I see my gaze shift to materialism, success, and productivity. When I image these “gods,” relationships become transactional, time shrinks to my to-do list, and failure causes me to erupt in frustration and anger.

Anderson calls me back to who I am created to be – who Christ has recreated me to be – with the following:

“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.”

A close corollary and outflow to identity as those reflecting Jesus more than the god-of-the-hour is that it changes how and what we love. We pursue what we love and “what you love will determine who you are and what you do.” How are we changed into our true selves? By loving truly because we know we are truly loved.

In a word, this will look like grace. Generous grace. Anderson again pierces my layers of cynicism as she writes –

“In a world where we routinely hurt each other and where little is certain, being generous is risky business. So we refrain from giving; we hold back; we protect ourselves. And in the process, we become cynical, hopeless people who cannot believe in grace for ourselves because we refuse to offer it to others. …nothing could be more damaging to a society than walking away from grace. Because when we walk away from grace, we walk away from the only thing that has the power to heal our brokenness. … we walk away from the only thing that can make us human again.”

Amen, sister! I would go on, but then you would miss out on journeying along with Anderson through this exquisite invitation to your truest identity. Made for More is by far the best book I’ve read about identity – both identity lost through our false image-bearing and identity found in the hope and grace of Jesus as he restores and transforms us to who we were created to be.

on my bookshelf, summer’s end edition

Way back in June, on the 12th to be precise, I presented my (ambitious) list of summer reading. It included the following:

  1. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller
  2. Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung
  3. Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair by Anne LaMott
  4. Perfecting Ourselves to Death by Richard Winter
  5. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  6. The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick
  7. Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller
  8. Death By Living: Life is Meant to Be Spent by N.D. Wilson
  9. How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber & Mazlish
  10. Running on Empty: The Gospel for Women in Ministry by Barbara Bancroft
  11. Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle
  12. Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

Here’s what I’ve read of the list above:

  1. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller
  2. Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung
  3. Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair by Anne LaMott
  4. Perfecting Ourselves to Death by Richard Winter
  5. Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller
  6. Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle

Six out of 12 isn’t bad … at least for a mom whose summer was far from those of my youth when I would spend hours upon hours holed up in my room or out on the beach reading novels to my heart’s content.

books

I do have a few new ones on my current shelf, which perfectly illustrates my ADD tendencies when it comes to reading. I’m always hearing about great new books, or running into them at the Barnes & Noble or my Amazon “recommended” list and I can’t resist. Almost *every* time, I succumb to the allure of the fresh, new, yet unread book. And I add it to my ever-overflowing bookshelf.

I will give you a review of my current ones:

1. Made for More by Hannah Anderson – I had the privilege of meeting Hannah in Orlando at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference. She is warm, inviting, and was incredibly encouraging as I asked her questions about her path to publication of this book. I’m only a few chapters in, and I love what I’m reading so far. It’s a fresh approach to the identity question we all struggle through as women. She wisely says in her introduction, “good times can initiate the search for identity as often as the bad,” and goes on to lay out how searching for identity is a search that will land us at the feet of our Maker, Christ himself. I can’t wait to read more!

2. Surprised by Motherhood by Lisa-Jo Baker – My latest in the favorite of new genres of mom memoirs. So many, and so many good ones. Lisa-Jo’s stands out from the rest in her poignant descriptions of her reluctance to be a mom and the grief of losing her own mom years before becoming one herself. Beautifully written and heartfelt. It’s a page-turner for this mom’s heart! A favorite thought from yesterday’s reading – “Becoming a parent is a lot like breaking up with yourself. … Children arrive and blow through what used to be your routine.” 

3. Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson, M.D. – The professional book on my shelf recommended by several people. The thesis in the intro says it all: “I believe our lives will be abundant, joyful, and peaceful only to the degree that we are engaged, known, and understood by one another. I also believe we cannot separate what we do with our brains and our relationships from what we do with God.” Amen!

4. How Toddlers Thrive by Tovah Klein, PhD – Oh, yes, added to my very-long-list of parenting books, this one I picked up on a whim from the shelves of our local library and it’s a fascinating developmental study with practical tips on connecting with my seemingly inexplicable preschoolers. For example, she suggests the best way to conquer meal-time battles is to stop talking or focusing on what your child is eating and use meal times as a time for conversation about the day (novel concept, ha!). A good summary of what she says is helpful to remember in parenting preschoolers is to remember that, “Every time your child takes a step forward toward growing up more …, they are also reminded of how much they need you.” 

5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – My novel I’ve been enjoying this summer. A bestseller that I’d heard a lot about before beginning, and I have not been disappointed in the writing itself. The story itself has a tragic beginning and some dark places in the middle, but I am hoping redemption is coming (about 2/3 done … we shall see). At 771 pages, the only way I could stick it out is with the writer’s compelling style. And the plan to meet up with a few friends to discuss it. 

Anything you’re reading now? Have you read any of the above? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you. 

on my (summer and maybe fall, too) bookshelf

First, a disclamor: I still think of summer as “prime reading opportunity” as I remember summers as a child; coming home from college each year; the summer break between seminary terms when my equally-nerdy-husband and I would spend hours on the beach reading our books side-by-side. Now that I am a mom to twin preschoolers, summer actually (likely) means fewer reading opportunities rather than more. Because (a) preschool is on break and (b) beach time is spent on the verge of fear that my overconfident daughters will plunge into the ocean or run away if I really get “lost” in a book. Aah, well. One can still dream, can’t she? And goals are *always* good!

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Without further ado – here is my (very idealistic) summer reading list:

  1. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller – the title says it all!
  2. Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung – already read this one and reviewed it here
  3. Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair by Anne LaMott – this one I added on after processing the heaviness of Mark Rodriguez’ death with his community
  4. Perfecting Ourselves to Death by Richard Winter – doing this with a group of fellow perfectionists and, yes, it is quite relevant!
  5. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – inspired by my friends who love this classic novel so much that they’re naming their firsborn son after the main character; in honor of his pending birth I want to read it this summer.
  6. The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick – an important topic that I encounter way*too*often in my work as a counselor
  7. Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller – because I can never read too much about “the empty promises of money, sex, and power and the only hope that matters” in our culture that constantly bombards us with the “life” offered by this trifecta
  8. Death By Living: Life is Meant to Be Spent by N.D. Wilson – recommended by a friend who knows how much I enjoy narratives and creative writing and how much I need this message!
  9. How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber & Mazlish – because, let’s be honest, this will be what I get the *most* practice with this summer!
  10. Running on Empty: The Gospel for Women in Ministry by Barbara Bancroft – I just heard about this one last week and oh, how I need this message! (see #2 above …) I’ve also met Barbara previously through my work with World Harvest Mission (now Serge) – she struck me as one of the most real ministry wives I’d ever met and one of the most gracious. Yes, those two go together!
  11. Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle – an easy-to-read and down-to-earth memoir written by a mom. Yes, please.
  12. Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne – because I’ve heard so many good things about this from Katherine and Mary

Pick one? And read with me? And let me know in the comments – would love to discuss it together.

 

 

 

reflection on “crazy busy”

crazy busyHow many times this month, this year, my lifetime have I answered the question, “how are you?” with a one word response and a glib smile, “Busy!” We wear busy like a badge of honor at times. I’ve worn busy like a shield. It “protects” me from engaging relationships and my heart. Busy is not an answer to how are you. Busy is a status update and a state of mind. Busy has kept me from needful reflection. Busy fills in the gaps I don’t need to fill. I need margin in my life, and so do you. 

Enter in Kevin DeYoung’s brilliant and appropriately titled book, “Crazy Busy.” I think this will be my #bookofthemonth. (or better yet, #bookofmylife) 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. Like for me most recently as I emerged from a three-month period of time where I had overcommitted to work, and I found that I’d missed so much in terms of connecting with my family and friends, and nurturing physical health, and saw abundant evidence that I’d been running on empty in terms of emotional availability to those I love most. 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. Why so busy? Why do we (you, me) get into these cycles of crazy busy? And not seem to fully disengage from busy? What gets me so often is the lie of indispensability. That I am irreplaceable, and that if I don’t do [fill-in-the-blank], then it won’t get done – or it won’t get done well. And he rightly says, “the truth is, you’re only indispensable until you say no.” This is under Diagnosis #1 of “You Are Beset with Many Manifestations of Pride.” And in case that doesn’t get you, wait until Diagnosis #5 – “You Are Letting The Screen Strangle Your Soul” and #6 – “You’d Better Rest Yourself before You Wreck Yourself.”

DeYoung presents the quest to let go of “crazy busy” as a community pursuit. And how that resonates with me! I need the example of friends who say “no” graciously and who live joyfully within their limits. I also need to learn to give others space to not reply to my email or text right away. And I need you to remind me of these words I’ve placed before you – a resolution to say “no” to crazy busy and “yes” to life. Real life. I end here:

The antidote to busyness of soul is not sloth and indifference. The antidote is rest, rhythm, death to pride, acceptance of our finitude, and trust in the providence of God. The busyness that’s bad is not the busyness of work, but the busyness that works hard at the wrong things. It’s being busy trying to please people, busy trying to control others, busy trying to do things we haven’t been called to do.

 

“what’s your story?”

The following is the manuscript for a devotional I gave at the conclusion of my church’s week-long women’s Bible study yesterday morning. 

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I’ll never forget the first time I met her. I was a brand new staff member at her church, freshly graduated from seminary, and she was hosting a kids’ vacation Bible school at her gorgeous, historic Philadelphia home. And I’ll admit that I felt intimidated. She was outgoing and funny – clearly “the life of the party.” She leaned over after introducing herself and took me aback with her atypical first question, “So what’s your story?” She later told me that she intentionally asks this question rather than the more common, “So what do you do?” because she finds that typical opening question to be rather off-putting. You’re immediately put on the spot and labeled and categorized based on what you do (or you don’t do). And how many of us feel comfortable claiming our profession as our primary identity? Of course you and I are much more than what we do. The opening, “what’s your story?” captures this so much better.

So I want to pose the same question: what’s your story? My story this morning is of a mom who feels tired with trying to balance mothering twin daughters with the demands and privileges of a job I love as a counselor; and mine is the story of a woman learning to find my voice and seeking to explore my creativity through the art of writing. My story is of a daughter who misses her parents in South Carolina, of a sister who feels too far away from her brothers and their families, of a wife whose husband is a pastor and all the dynamics that this entails. My story is of a woman who longs for summer and spring with all my heart – who still associates summer with “free time” although having preschoolers at home means summer will be the opposite of this. My story is of a friend who wants to do more story-telling and story-listening than tasks accomplished and projects completed.

Studying Romans with my church’s women’s Bible study this year has given each of us a new angle on our story – a new way of understanding our stories – and this story is the best ever told. God’s story, or the shorthand Paul uses throughout the book “gospel.” Let’s think of the thesis in Romans 1:16-17 –

for I am not ashamed of [God’s story], for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in [God’s story], the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’

What’s your story when you’ve read and studied Romans? Maybe one of the following –

  •  the story of someone who’s trusted in your own goodness too much and so Romans is a story of being beckoned out of your self-righteous judgment and hypocrisy into the freeing grace of admitting your sin and your need for grace found only in Jesus and HIS perfect goodness
  •  the story of someone who has found grace and power for salvation for the first time – who has found God’s story of grace, forgiveness, and righteousness in Jesus to be THE story your life needs
  • the story of someone who thought your badness was too bad for God – that your rebellion was too much – and God’s story beckons you to come home. To be truthful with where you’ve wandered far from him and to find refuge in grace.
  • the story of someone who’s found Romans to be profoundly and deeply unsettling as you’re confronted with a God who is not as we would make him to be – a God whose character seems harsh or even capricious at times if what Romans says about him is true. So perhaps your story is one filled with questions that feel haunting.

There are parts of my story that fit with all of these scenarios, but I find myself identifying most with the story of my goodness and judgmental heart exposed AND the story of unsettling questions weighing heavy on my heart. Whatever has been stirred up in your story during Romans, don’t leave it here. Don’t end that for the summer.

Maybe you could find a few friends or people you connected with from your table and meet regularly throughout the summer at someone’s home or a park or a coffee shop for the purpose of sharing stories – either your own and/or the stories God tells in His Word. Perhaps you could find a book or resource to read on your own that will help you to grapple with your questions and your story. I’ve brought a few that I would recommend: Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid, The Prodigal God by Tim Keller, To Be Told by Dan Allender; Grace for the Good Girl & A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman; Grace through the Ages  by William Smith and/or Out of the Spin Cycle by Jen Hatmaker as short devotional thoughts. For exploring some of the hard questions raised by Romans, these are two of my favorites: How Long, O Lord? by D.A. Carson and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer.

Although WBS ends today, your story doesn’t and neither does the community you’ve found here. Join us for Easter week celebrations – Maundy Thursday, 12pm or 6pm Good Friday service, 9am or 11am Easter Sunday. Help out with CAMP/Camp JR. (and send your kids!); join a community group that meets weekly; if you’re a mom, contact me to be added to the list to be informed of Nurture events and meet-ups throughout the summer.

Live into your story – tell your story – listen to others’ stories. That we may live out the truth of God’s story as seen in Romans more truly through stories of more grace and less judgment, more freedom and less condemnation, more acceptance and fewer barriers to love, more of trusting in God’s goodness for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and less of trusting in our own.

 

On my bookshelf

20140227-134653.jpgIt’s been awhile since I’ve written about what’s on my bookshelf, and as I have picked up two books recently which I absolutely love, I thought that today’s a good time to pick up the “on my bookshelf” series. Without further ado …

1. Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid is one I haven’t yet started. But I have heard so many raving reviews about it, both on Amazon and through friends, that I am featuring it in faith that I’ll also love it. Another reason I’m confident that I’ll love this book is because the author was one of my distance-ed students through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. The class was no easy one – “Counseling and Physiology,” taught by Dr. Mike Emlet, exploring the connection between soul and body through a variety of counseling situations including bipolar disorder, OCD, and depression. Her papers were the top of the class – beautiful writing, grace-infused, thoughtful and our emails back and forth were characterized by the same gracious quality. I cannot wait to read an entire book by her. Want to join me? Leave a comment – and/or send me your thoughts/review for a future post (counselinginhope[at]gmail[dot]com).

2. A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman is no surprise to those of you who have been following my blog for at least the past year. I loved Grace for the Good Girl (it was my #1 for favorite books read in 2013), and this one is following suit. Her honest writing and poetic invitation to “uncover the art you were made to live” is compelling and finds me (yet again) right where I am in life. It’s in the category of “books I wish I had written but someone beat me to it.” I hardly know where to begin, so here are a few of my favorite quotes so far:

Perhaps those who make art in the ways we traditionally think of art give the rest of us a framework from which to live our lives. They offer a gift of knowing what life could look like if it were handled more like a mysterious piece of art rather than a task-oriented list. We may not all have the same skill or training as do the painters or the musicians, but we all bear the image of a creative God.

…being an artist has something to do with being brave enough to move toward what makes you come alive. … Art is what happens when you dare to be who you really are.

For me right now in this season, I’m seeing that nurturing my art and moving toward what makes me come alive has hundreds of applications including:

  • being brave enough to say “yes” to speaking at a women’s retreat or teaching a difficult passage of Romans at our women’s Bible study
  • being brave enough to say “no” to what isn’t my art or to distractions from the art of living
  • blogging even when I doubt I have anything new to say
  • taking time and space to BE with my family and friends and listen to their stories and help them make sense of them, or at least let them know I want to be with them there in the midst of the confusion or the joy or the sorrow
  • stopping the tendency to schedule-to-the-brink-of-every-hour so that I can have an afternoon where I enjoy my children, laughing at their preschool jokes and delighting in their imaginative play and reading stories with silly voices

3. The New Strong-Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson. The title truly says it all. I love my daughters dearly, but parenting them has been one of the biggest challenges of my adult life. I think simply being three-years-old and being twins qualifies them for strong-willed, because that’s how it feels when they conspire on some new “project” that results in a mess (like using diaper cream to “paint” their nursery or writing their “signature” on every item of white furniture using red marker – thankfully the washable type). They’re spirited; they’re stubbornly independent; they want their way all the time. Kind of like me. In the first few chapters I’ve read, I think there will be many good nuggets of how-to’s as well as insight and understanding into what to expect of them and what makes them the way that they are. If you live locally and want to read along, let me know! I mentioned this book to another friend, so we may end up doing a one-shot book club in a few months …

Ok, back to reading!

Countdown to 2014: top 10 books read in 2013, part 3

If you’re just now joining in, this is the final part of my “top 10” countdown. Click on the links for part 1 and part 2.

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#4 The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (2011)

I blogged a good bit about this one already during the summer, so it will come as no surprise that this made my top 10 list. I found Rubin’s suggestions and reflections based on her “happiness research” to be intriguing to read about and formative to practicing happiness in daily life. She reminds us that happiness is found not in the all-inclusive week at a Caribbean island, but that it awaits us around each quite ordinary corner of our own homes. Happiness is a practice and a mentality more than it is a set of ideal circumstances. As one who can be overly critical of my own life, always waiting for “better” around the corner, I appreciated the push to stop and engage in looking for happiness here and now. One of the best take-aways was to begin blogging more regularly (daily at first in June), refusing to wait for “perfect” to attempt something I’ve wanted to do for awhile.

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#3 The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown (2010)

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a few months will find this to be no surprise either. I am a huge Brene Brown fan. Her work has shaped and influenced other writers and bloggers I enjoy, notably Glennon (and her book I reviewed yesterday). I read Daring Greatly after this one, and I have to say that I prefer The Gifts of Imperfection for its concise and practical summary of all of her shame/vulnerability/empathy research. She condenses it into “10 practices of Wholehearted people,” and each chapter spells this out along with suggestions to put it into practice. The one that’s stayed with me the most is the need to cultivate creativity. Hence my desire to embrace the messiness that IS art with my preschoolers, like the 15 minute finger-painting session yesterday which left red, yellow, green, and blue paint everywhere. And, yes, it was only 15 minutes. Long enough to do about 4-5 “paintings” each and to empty each of their 4 jars of paint to 15% or less. Astounding …

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#2 What It Is Is Beautiful by Sarah Dunning Park (2013)

I received an autographed copy from the author of these beautiful poems about motherhood, and she is one of those truly filled-with-beauty women whose poetry pours forth onto the page as a balm for the soul. My soul as a mother has often needed to stop and savor and read these poems which put words to my own experience of the tender and excruciating journey of motherhood. I cannot recommend her book highly enough, and I have given at least half a dozen (if not more?) copies to friends this year as gifts. Love these poems, love the author, love this book. It’s part of the beauty and creativity we need for our souls to thrive.

Drumroll, please?? And #1 book read in 2013 was … 

photo credit: thenester.com

Grace for the Good Girl by Emily Freeman (2011)

Have you ever read a book that’s your story, put into book form? This is it for me. I have my whole life been the quintessential “good girl” (with a few covert “rebellious” breaks that included slamming my door in high school after yelling at my parents and listening to Nirvana on full blast). My first deep encounter with grace the summer after my sophomore year in college transformed me – for I realized for the first time in my life how much I, Heather Elizabeth Davis, goody-two-shoes, needed grace. I couldn’t be good enough, no matter how many hour-long devotions I had or small groups I led or people I shared my faith with. In fact, some of these endeavors were actually in fact ways I sought to hide from my need for God. I would feel self-sufficient after a “good” quiet time and wouldn’t turn to him throughout the day. I would feel superior and self-righteous to others who weren’t as “holy” and judge them. For I was out of touch with my own neediness and I was blind to my own blindness. Even our goodness is worth nothing to God – no one can be good enough for a 100% holy God. Yikes. But he has made a way to bridge the gap. Jesus! Grace, mercy, clothed in Christ’s righteousness so that I can stop hiding behind my own attempts to be good. I can receive help from others instead of having to be the helper always. I can be honest about being hurt and weak and vulnerable and shame-filled. There is always grace. All is grace. Emily writes beautifully about these truths through the lens of her own story. What a good place to end for 2013, and what a good place to begin in 2014!

Countdown to 2014: top 10 books read in 2013, part 2

The countdown continues from yesterday. Without further ado, here are the next three:

goodreads.com

#7 Gospel in Life by Tim Keller (2010)

Our community small group from church did this study together this fall, and it was excellent in every way – from the “homework” to do on your own each week to the DVD we watched together and discussed each week. We were challenged to see how faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ should make a difference in our hearts’ affections and attentions, resulting in a changed perspective in our work so that we would make noticeable, positive differences in our neighborhoods and cities. Keller began with the thought-provoking idea that as much as our cities need the gospel,  we Christians need the city in order to more deeply and fully live out the gospel in our own lives (through meaningful engagement in the issues of our city, especially regarding mercy and justice). Well worth a read!

 

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#6 Seven by Jen Hatmaker (2012)

This book talks about ways to be engaged in social justice and pursuing less – rather than the “more” I assumed I’m entitled to when I live by the American dream.  Hatmaker takes readers along on her journey through seven radical experiments of “less is more” including these particularly hitting-close-to-home areas for me: clothing, waste, spending, and technology. I wish I could say that I’ve continued to live up to these ideals she discusses, but I haven’t. What I have started is being mindful about small choices in all areas, and to begin considering how to make “less” on earth translate into “more” for the kingdom of heaven. I probably should re-read this one every year to be shocked out of my comfort zone and reminded of a bigger perspective. 

One quote from her that bears repeating (from my initial reflections when reading this book earlier this year):

Jesus’ kingdom continues in the same manner it was launched: through humility, subversion, love, sacrifice; through calling empty religion to reform and behaving like we believe the meek will indeed inherit the earth. We cannot carry the gospel to the poor and lowly while emulating the practices of the rich and powerful. We’ve been invited into a story that begins with humility and ends with glory; never the other way around.

goodreads.com

#5 Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton (2013)

Not many books are laugh-out-loud funny, deeply insightful, and thought-provoking all at the same time. Glennon has done this beautifully in stories from her own life that are real and honest and brave, as she calls her readers to do the same. “We can do hard things,” is a favorite line that I need often, and that I try to give to my daughters, too. Equally important, if not more so, is how she talks about the practice of being kind (in contrast to how we often teach our kids: “be right! at all costs! no matter who gets in your way!”). My friend-in-real-life who’s also a talented blogger, Mary, gave a favorite review of this book on her blog here

 

Stay tuned for more of the countdown tomorrow …

 

Countdown to 2014: top 10 books read in 2013

Those of you who follow my blog and know me in real-life know this about me: I love to read and am constantly reading something. The books I finish compared to those I start is a bit disproportionate. I am usually reading at least 5+ books at any given time, of various genres and topics – parenting how-to, Chrstian faith, marriage, counseling, fiction, cultural reflections, etc.

My goal for 2013 Goodreads was to read 40 books this year. And wouldn’t you know, out of all of my 2013 resolutions, this is the one of the *few* I completed (ok, maybe it’s the only one completed). So I thought it would be fun to do a countdown to 2014 of a review of my top 10 books read in 2013. Without further ado – here are #’s 10, 9, and 8:

#10 – Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman (2012)

Expect to be challenged if you are an American parent reading. Expect to laugh out loud and also scratch your head at how different French parenting is. And expect to be insanely jealous about how well-behaved French children are described to be. For example, take Druckerman’s observation that all French babies “do their nights” (meaning sleep 8-9 hours at a stretch) by 4 months old, at the latest. And that they know how to eat multiple course meals in public as toddlers tantrum-free. Then there’s the idyllic “creche,” a government-subsidized childcare option for ages 3 and under that’s a far cry from our public daycare systems. They serve the children 3-course-meals including a “cheese course,” that are prepared by in-house chefs who take great pride in their meal plans. This book made it to my top 10 list because of what an entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking read this was in our American parenting culture that seems too characterized and defined by competition, comparison, and perfection (expected both of ourselves and our children).

photo credit: goodreads.com

#9 – Making the Terrible Two’s Terrific by John Rosemond (1993) [note-I just saw that there’s an updated version from 2013 available here. I’m sure it’s even better than the original!]

The best book I’ve read on specifically parenting two-year-olds, of which we had TWO for over half of 2013. (And to be honest, I haven’t found age 3 to be that much easier yet …!). He’s down to earth and practical and keeps in balance a parent’s authority and the developmental reality of age 2. Such as saying it’s more about “containment than correction” at this age. It’s made me think of how I can be more proactive in parenting instead of reactive. He gives a variety of suggestions for parenting and natural consequences that I found helpful to implement (not easy but helpful to at least have a game plan!).

#8 – Desperate by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson (2013)

What a great book on motherhood that balances both its reality and joy! I appreciated hearing the two stories weaved throughout of Sarah Mae who’s “in it” (with 3 young kids) and her mentor, Sally Clarkson, who’s been through motherhood (and thrived).  Sarah’s perspective resonated with me since this is where I am, too, and it gave me hope to hear of someone struggling in motherhood in similar ways (while loving her children). Reading of their interaction gave me a vision for being this type of mentor when I am out of this young kids stage, and it reminds me that the first steps to take when feeling desperate as a mom is to admit you are and to reach out for help. I am thankful for so many mentors and fellow young moms past and present who have been there for me in these moments of desperation to remind me that I am not alone. Reading this book in the beginning of this year when I did feel more desperate than I do today was a significant part of helping me to carry on. (speaking of that last phrase “carry on” … ok, spoiler alert for the next segment!)