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.

#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.

#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 …

#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:

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!

The one voice that matters most

Today I had a conversation with an old friend who’s a new mom, and something she said really struck me:

You know, I’m learning to listen to my intuition. That I really do have a mother’s instinct that I can trust.

Two things struck me about this: (1) How I wish I had begun learning this as soon as she is (her baby girl is 5 months old) (2) Why on earth are we as moms so quick to listen to other voices and opinions on how to parent our child(ren) and so slow to listen to our own? Before you classify me as some motherhood mystic telling you to tune in to your inner voice, let me pause and say that I believe as people created to be like God, He is the one who is the ultimate author of this inner voice. He’s the one who gives us as moms the ability to nurture helpless babes into mature, independent adults (or so we hope and pray).

I’ll go a step further and say that for those of you who call God your Father through faith in his son Jesus Christ, you and I are promised that we will have all that we need for life and godliness. This isn’t found in myself and my own resources, but in the life of Christ living within me through the Holy Spirit. It’s in being connected through vibrant relationship to God that I will have the love and patience and grace and forgiveness and, yes, even mother’s intuition, that the journey of motherhood requires.

But I get distracted so easily. I tune in to 1000 other voices, and I can’t hear the one voice that matters most because I’m listening to all the wrong voices. The guilt from the voice in my head that says I’m not living up to my image of “ideal mom.” The experts offering their research on every topic from nursing to sleep training to discipline to creative development and everything in between. The well-meaning friends who give unsolicited advice when what I really wanted was empathy and support. [And I have certainly fallen in this category myself – forgive me, please?]

Another good friend who does in-home counseling for troubled families was teaching about discipline and said,

Let me start by reminding you that you are the top expert on your child.

I forget that, and then I go frantically looking for someone else to share with me something that may or may not fit my particular situation with this specific child who lives with a mom and dad with our distinct set of strengths and weaknesses. I’m not saying that I am stopping my research. Far from it. I am saying that I want to trust God and His Spirit at work in me shaping me and giving wisdom that I’ll need for parenting. This wisdom certainly includes the humility to learn from others who have gone before, who are walking alongside, who may even do it differently from me. But it’s a wisdom growing from within, supporting and bolstering my God-given shape as a mom and the one Voice that matters most.

I am deeply indebted to Sarah Dunning Park, who first began me on this journey of realizing I was listening to all the wrong voices as I read her beautiful book of poetry, What It Is Is Beautiful. Specifically her poem, “Book Learning.”  If you don’t own this book yet, order one now – and go ahead and order 5-10, for the reasons stated in my review below:

In reading through this poetry book, I literally couldn’t put it down because what she’s writing is my story. I saw my frustrations about motherhood in black and white, as well as the tender moments, and the trying, and the grace. You will be refreshed as you savor the language and the topics, ranging from a hilarious piece entitled “Mom Jeans” to “Book Learning” that will move you to tears – and everything in between. It’s a book you’ll return to again and again to make sense of your daily ups and downs of motherhood, and you’ll want to share it with all your friends.





For the love of poetry

232323232-fp537-5-nu=32-6-572--77-WSNRCG=336548-63532-nu0mrjThere is something about poetry that has a way of taking the ordinary and opening your eyes to the beauty hidden within the otherwise mundane, that can provide you with the words to express what you’re longing but couldn’t find words to fit. I love how Mary Oliver puts it in her poem “I want to write something so simply” (from Evidence, 2009):

I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be,
my story
it will be common,
though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think–
no, you will realize–
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself
out of your own heart
had been saying.

Which is obviously something I really love, given the title of my blog and its tagline. And yet it is hard to find the mental clarity and quiet needed to express in words how my heart is journeying through this unique season. Enter a perfect lunch in Williamsburg yesterday.

My good friend from grad school and counseling colleague, Mel, introduced me yesterday to Sarah Park, who is not only another fellow twin mom but also a published poet. And what’s her subject? “honest poems for mothers of small children” Really? When she handed me her book of poetry entitled “What It Is/Is Beautiful”, I took in my hands a gift. A gift of words to express what I feel and words to help me see what’s hard to see some days. (Like on Tuesday night when we put the twins back in their big girl beds  and found a string of *dirty* diapers they had retrieved from their *childproof-but-not-twinproof* diaper pail, and yes, we both stepped in poop as we entered their nursery-turned-modern art-display.)

While you may not be hearing a poem from me about poop or the angst of big girl bed transition for twins, you will be hearing more from me about Sarah’s book as its release date draws near (April 6th).

One of the few lines that’s already becoming a favorite is below, from “Already But Not Yet”. Join me in savoring the art of words that flow and words that fit –

I have already

drawn my children near,

tucked their hair behind their ears,

told them how much

I love them;

but I have not yet

made it through a day

loving perfectly,

free of discontent, guilt,

or fear.