2014 reading (so far).

Monday, September 22, 2014

At the start of 2014, I had a lofty reading goal in mind: 24 books. I haven't reached it and probably won't because life happens. But I wanted to chronicle and celebrate the books I have been able to read so far this year, because each one has somehow offered something valuable to my mind and my heart. I've written about some of these at other times on the blog, but have shared a snippet of those reviews here to keep them all in one place. I've also given each one a starred review to keep track of my favorites. Maybe it's a good list to save for Christmas this year? Click on the book titles to take you to Amazon where you can purchase them, if you're interested.

1. Chasing God by Angie Smith 
If you're looking for casual, sit-over-a-latte-and-chat style writing that deals with theological topics, you may really love this. There were moments I laughed out loud and others that caused deep conviction. However, the abundance of jokes peppered throughout and blog-style writing wasn't really my cup of tea.
2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett  
Perhaps you've seen the movie, so the book moved off your radar. I was completely enthralled by this book, and it feels like an instant classic to me. It's a bit of a commitment (450 pages), but reads quickly. When I read the final pages through tears at 1am, I didn't want it to end. What Kathryn Stockett attempted in this book was gutsy: writing in the voices of one white woman and two black women. As one who lived with "colored help" and grew up in Jackson, Mississippi where the story is set, she handles the subject with honesty and grace. This was her first novel, and it was a masterpiece.
3. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd 
Kidd's writing is as delicious as the sweet honey she describes. The story is complex, her characters well-developed, and I'd read it again and again. I felt like I was there, sitting under the sweltering South Carolina sun, watching August and Lily check on the beehives and wrestle with big life questions. The undertow of "female power" feels preachy at times, which is the only reason I don't give it five stars.
4. Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton 
I read this in 3 days, which is testament to her beautiful writing, but her murky theology made me sure to not read it again. She claims Christianity, but it feels much more like some thoughts of Jesus mixed with Oprah-like, self-help, zen religion that is very far from what I believe Christianity to be. I read it because of an abundance of other bloggers who loved it, but I wouldn't recommend it.
5. Love Story by Nichole Nordeman 
Considering Nichole Nordeman's music was basically the soundtrack to my middle school years, I had a feeling I'd love this. I did. Nichole's writing is witty, poignant, honest, and bold... many qualities I hope my own writing possesses. She had an incredibly daunting task before her: writing each chapter about a familiar Biblical character (Mary, Paul, Daniel, David) that is fresh and somehow relates that person to our modern lives. She handled her task beautifully. Any book that refreshes my take on Scripture is a worthy read, in my opinion. I didn't love the song lyrics posted after each chapter - they felt a little like filler - but that's a small complaint.
6. Comforts from the Cross by Elyse Fitzpatrick
This is a thirty day study that celebrates how the cross changes our lives. It affected me deeply. Elyse's books are excellently written and theologically profound, yet personal enough that the words move from your head to your heart. I plan to read this one every year.
7. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls 
I gobbled this one up. It's a phenomenal true story that had me spellbound from the first chapter. If you haven't heard of it, it's the story of a girl who grew up "with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation" (Amazon review). She grew up as a nomad in her family of 6, then settled in a poor mining town in West Virginia, where she and her brother and sisters basically raised themselves. To see where they are today and how they persevered is inspiring. I recommend it to anyone. It's hard to read in parts, acknowledging the truth of what they endured, but it's also incredibly redeeming.
8. Wonder by R. J. Palacio 
This book captured me from page 1. It's children's lit, recommended for elementary age kids, but I've read it twice now and can't wait to read it with Liam someday. It's impossible not to fall in love with Augy, the main character who was born with a disfigured face and a vulnerable heart. It speaks a much needed message about kindness that I'll read again and again.
9. A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman 
I wanted to love this book, but to be gut-level, I just didn't. It felt fluffy to me, and I slogged through it. Perhaps "uncovering the art I was made to live" isn't really my struggle right now. Making a living with my art? Finding time for it? Those might be more pertinent. I think Emily is a wonderful writer and reminded me of Ann Voskamp in ways, but it was difficult for me to finish.
10. A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller 
This book revolutionized my prayer life. Prayer has never come naturally to me - does it to anyone? - and, honestly, an entire book on prayer isn't the first thing I'd choose off the shelf. Spending time alone in prayer often feels forced, plastic, or like I'm just talking to myself. Instead of feeling my true need for fresh, daily communion with God, it feels more like a dry task on my to-do list. Maybe this speaks to you, too. Maybe this book would be as soul-refreshing for you as it has been for me. Yes, it's a book devoted to prayer. But because prayer is simply our communication with God, it's truly about the heart of God toward his children. And there's nothing more encouraging than to grasp how much he loves us.
11. When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert 
I read this one alongside our Sunday school class and loved it. The tagline is "How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself" and the chapter on short-term missions was especially challenging. I definitely recommend it if you're wrestling with issues on how the Bible says we should truly help our neighbors (as individuals and as church bodies) in sustainable ways.
12. When Others Shuddered by Jamie Janosz 
This is written by a professor from the Bible college I graduated from, and I love the thought behind it: snapshots of eight women who lived around the turn of the century who "refused to give up" and shaped the evangelical landscape of their time. While I did enjoy reading it, the historical fiction-style writing wasn't my favorite. I did appreciate learning about brave, believing women I had mostly never heard of.
13. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes 
You've heard of this one, right? I feel like it's all I've been hearing about from friends who read popular fiction. No one spoiled anything for me, so I won't spoil anything for you, but this book brought out just about every emotion I have. Joy, anger, deep sadness. When I discovered what the controversial topic was a few chapters in, I didn't know if I could finish it. I ended up finishing it - and I'm glad I did - but can't say I'd recommend it.
14. Eight Twenty Eight by Ian & Larissa Murphy 
I read this one in about 3 days. I couldn't put it down. Out of all the books I've read so far this year, it's near the top as far as challenging me in my faith and relationships. (If you haven't heard their story, watch the video found here.) The naysayers to their relationship run rampant online and they're easy to find. But two of the many things I think they're missing (that could be easily seen if they read the book) is that a) she wasn't guilted into marrying him, and b) this life - this unmistakably difficult life she has chosen by marrying Ian - is a calling from God and can only be endured with God. Her love for Ian points to Christ's love for us, and also really challenged me to love my own husband sacrificially.
15. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken 
This book holds its place as one of my top 5 favorite books. It's a true story of a couple who meets C.S. Lewis at Oxford and develops a friendship with him. The book contains a series of letters between the author and C.S. Lewis that ultimately lead the author and his wife to faith in Christ. It is an exquisitely written, tragic story that will undoubtedly bring you to tears, but will also encourage your faith. I can't recommend it enough.

But take heart!

Monday, September 15, 2014

via Instagram @whitneynewby
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." - John 16:33
From a Charles Spurgeon sermon... "I note how He bids me 'be of good cheer.' [In some translations, the imperative to "take heart" is translated "be of good cheer."] Alas! I am far too apt to be downcast. My spirit soon sinks when I am sorely tired. But I must not give way to this feeling . .  . What is the argument which He uses to encourage me? Why, it is His own victory. He says, 'I have overcome the world.' . . . See, my soul, the enemy has been once overcome. I fight with a beaten foe. O world, Jesus has already vanquished thee; and in me, by His grace, He will overcome thee again. Therefore am I of good cheer and sing unto my conquering Lord."
This is a lesson I'm learning daily, a reminder I need daily. Take heart! Be of good cheer! As a Christian, the battle against the world (or, more specifically, against the Enemy and against the deepest, darkest desires of my own sinful flesh) has already been won for me. So I have to "take heart" and rest in the finished work of Christ on the cross. I can only conquer my circumstances and my sin because He's already won the war. I rest in His righteousness alone. Or, as our pastor said yesterday in his sermon, I take my heaping platter of sin and He exchanges it for His heaping platter of righteousness. What a gift.

On another note, it was truly therapeutic to sit down and embroider this by hand. It's far from perfect as this was my first foray into hand embroidery, but I had so much fun working on it and meditating on the words as I stitched. If you're interested in teaching yourself a bit about embroidery like I did, this website full of basic tutorials was so helpful.

For Little Rascals fans.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Were you guys fans of the 1994 Little Rascals movie like I was?! My sister Kelsey and I were obsessed. And I don't say that flippantly. We probably have about 90% of the movie memorized.

Add to that the fact that we got to meet Blake Ewing, who played "Waldo Aloysius Johnston the Third" (and was a frequent guest star on Full House). The movie had just recently been released when we met him, and later, he (or probably his mom) sent us each an autographed Little Rascals poster that I'm pretty sure hung in our closets until high school.

So when Kelsey sent me this, with updated photos of all the main cast members, I was elated. Embarrassingly so.
Click on the picture for a link to more photos of the reunion. It looked pretty sweet to me.

A letter.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A few months ago, I penned a letter to a friend. It had been years since we'd been in touch, but when I heard of a recent struggle of hers, I couldn't rest until I'd written her. It was one of the rare moments where I felt the Lord whispering words of truth and asking me to write them down for her to read. I felt more like a Penman, and less a Giver of Advice. I sat down, wrote the words through prayer, and hardly went back to edit. They just came. And reading them now, I realize they were just as much reminders for me as they ever were for my friend.

It may seem strange to share this (and I've edited a bit to maintain privacy), but for some reason, it feels appropriate. Like there might be someone who stumbles on this post someday and needs to hear these words now. They are words I've revisited myself, because leaning on my own accomplishments and resources instead of resting in the finished work of Christ is something I struggle with daily. My prayer is that these words bring hope.

Sweet friend,

I know just a little bit about your recent reality, and you've been heavy on my heart. I've been praying bold and fervent prayers for you, and I wanted to share them with you with hope that you might be encouraged in this battle. 

I know it's been a while since I've gotten to see you, but I think we have a lot in common. And I could picture that the world would look at you right now and say, "But you're {insert name}! You are beautiful, popular, incredibly talented, compassionate, and such a hard worker. You have such a bright and promising future ahead of you. You have no reason to have these feelings." And actually, they'd be right. You are beautiful in so many ways and you've accomplished so much. From what I can see, even from afar, you're an exceptional sister, daughter, and friend.

But here's the thing. In these darkest moments of your life, I don't think that's what Jesus would say. 

"Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." 

"My grace is sufficient for you, and my power is made perfect in your weakness." 

There's a huge chasm between the advice the world gives and what God offers. The world says, "Pull yourself out of this! I believe in you. You can do this!" 

God says just the opposite: "I know how you are formed. I remember that you are dust." With the Lord, it's perfectly ok to not be perfect. He says, "I know you are little and you are needy. Come to Me to take care of you, to fight this battle for you. You are weak, but I am strong." Let Him remind you of your identity in Christ: that you are altogether more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet at the same time more loved and accepted in Christ than you ever dared hope. 

He doesn't expect you to be strong, sister. He expects just the opposite: that you realize your weakness and lean hard into His perfect strength. There's abundant freedom in what He offers! Freedom to not have to walk through these valleys alone. Freedom to not rest in your pursuit of perfection or your accomplishments. Freedom to rest in His finished work on the cross that changes everything. 

So that is my prayer for you. That you would rest in the strong, capable arms of the Savior who loves you and is transforming you into His image. That in your brokenness, He would shine. That as you heal and find victory in this dark place, your testimony would be of the unfathomable grace He has shown you and how He met you in a place where no one else could reach.

You may have seen this little book before (The Jesus Storybook Bible). It's actually a child's Bible that I read to Liam every night. But as he's babbling on and usually trying to rip the pages, the words I read are transforming my own heart, bringing me back to the simple truths of the gospel. I hope it will be an encouragement to you. 

So, dear friend, rest in Christ and His eternal comfort. Remember that you are both weak and worth everything to Him. Let Him feed your soul from the rich nourishment of His Word. Let Him clothe you in robes of His righteousness and not your own. I do believe in you. But I believe so much more in a God who pulls us out of pits, who rescues us out of deepest waters, when we couldn't have saved ourselves. And I so look forward to the day that you can testify to just that! Until then, I will continue to pray.

With much love and great hope,

Many hats.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In the past week or two, I've worn more hats than usual:
wedding photographer
real estate photographer
registered nurse (I finally transferred my temporary license so I can practice in North Carolina!)

I don't say this to brag. Because if you're a mom, this is nothing new or impressive to you. We all wear many hats, whether we're staying home with the kids full-time, working from home, or working outside the home.

Last week, I had to bring Liam along to a real estate photography shoot. The realtor needed photos last minute, saying, "We have to have this on the market by tomorrow," and I had no childcare options at the time. I figured Liam could play a game on my phone while I photographed my way around the house. Ha! Wishful thinking.

As soon as we walked in the house, the homeowner asked if Liam was ok with dogs. "He loves dogs!" I said, just as a little white dog charged at Liam, jumped up and licked his face, traumatizing him forever. Or at least that's how he sounded. For the next 30 photos, I balanced a whimpering child in one arm while trying not to drop my heavy camera with the other. When he finally regained composure, I sent him into a spare bedroom to play with a toy truck. I finished my work quickly, went to find him, and found that he'd made his way into the office and dumped a thousand tiny paper circles from a three-hole punch all over the carpet.

I know he wasn't trying to be difficult, and it wasn't fair to bring him and expect so much. But wow. When I see these real estate photos online, all I can picture is the sweaty, crying child in my other arm. We made it through, only by the grace of God. And I'm sure someday I'll think about it and miss these days of crazy.

I got to thinking, there must be a hard working mom behind just about everything. Maybe she's spending 9 to 5 in the office, missing her kids in daycare and rushing home to cook dinner each night - or maybe she's working from home during naps. Perhaps she's got 2 or 5 or 8 little ones running around and she's raising the next senator or pastor or social justice activist. Keep going, moms. Keep up the insanely hard but incredibly rewarding work. We're in this thing together.
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