Heart

January Reading Pile Update

I’m still getting lots of questions about the reading pile pictures I’ve been sharing on Instagram the last several months, so I thought I’d take some time here, at the end of the month, to go back through, tell you what I’ve actually finished and what I thought of them.

img_20170102_161908_717

Book: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe // C. S. Lewis
Progress: Read aloud to the boys; finished
Thoughts: What can I say? This is one of my all-time favorite books, and I’m considering making reading it aloud an annual family Christmas tradition. If you’ve never read this book, please do so immediately.

Book: Not By Sight // John Bloom
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: It has short chapters, I read one or two in the mornings before the boys were up. I read the follow-up, Things Not Seen first, and loved it. This one totally lived up to my expectations. Highly recommend.

Book: The New Year’s Quilt // Jennifer Chiaverini
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: I learned about this series a little over a year ago from a dear friend, and have loved these stories about quilting, especially the ones that are historical fiction. This is the eleventh both in the series.

Book: The Unschooling Handbook // Mary Griffith
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: Totally disagreed with some of the principles in this book: I don’t think it’s right for parents to let kids have complete say over their curriculum. Sometimes, kids need to know something they may not want to learn, and I want my children to understand that doing things that are hard or not our favorites is a part of learning perseverance and self-discipline. But this book also speaks to the thousands of ways kids learn all kinds of things without our help, and how children are really learning all the time, that was encouraging and helpful.

img_20170112_110410_090

Book: The Fellowship of the Ring // J. R R. Tolkien
Progress: Still reading (Still on chapter 1, actually)
Thoughts: The last time I read this I was in college. I’m really looking forward to rereading it, but it just keeps getting pushed to the bottom of my stack. I hope to get a little farther next month!

Book: Wingfeather Tales // Andrew Peterson
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: Such a delightful follow-up to the Wingefeather Saga! What I wasn’t expecting is that it’s a compilation of stories by multiple authors; I discovered a few new ones through this collection, and my reading list exploded.

Book: The Winding Ways Quilt // Jennifer Chiaverini
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: Devoured it. Can’t wait to read the next book in this series.

Book: Jane Steele // Lindsay Faye
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: Just (finally) finished my reread of Jane Eyre, and was excited to dive into the stack of adaptations that came out last year, this one included. It had some elements I’ve come to expect from most mainstream books (a little language, and some bits that touch on physical intimacy) but was much cleaner than some I’ve picked up unaware. If you can imagine Jane Eyre as a thriller, you’ll like this one.

img_20170120_084423_978

Book: The Great Divorce // C. S. Lewis
Progress: finished
Thoughts: I think I mention this book in conversation one more time, I might drive my husband crazy. But it is SO GOOD, you guys. I just can’t stop thinking about it.

Book: The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic // Jennifer Trafton
Progress: still reading this one aloud to the boys
Thoughts: We haven’t finished it yet, but this feels destined to become a new favorite. Jennifer Trafton’s writing is silly and poignant at the same time. We are having such fun reading this aloud.

Book: The Long Winter // Laura Ingalls Wilder
Progress: Reading aloud to the boys, and listening to the audiobook, narrated by Cherry Jones; still reading
Thoughts: This is a classic that I’ve read several times, but it’s the boys’ first time through the Little House series, and they like it more than I was expecting. This is one of my favorites in the series despite the fact that the words always make me feel cold to the bone. If you’ve never read it, it’s a fantastic story of triumph in the midst of hardship. Very inspiring.

Book: Good Enough Parenting // John Philip Louis and Karen McDonald Louis
Progress: Finished
Thoughts: So insightful about breaking dysfunctional patterns in families and making sure your kids’ emotional needs are met. Also, while I was reading it, I learned that it’s a textbook for some family counseling programs, so that makes me even more confident in recommending it. I’m sure this is one I will come back to again and again.

img_20170124_112625_285

Book: Different // Sally Clarkson
Progress: Still reading.
Thoughts: LOVING it so far.

Book: Reader, I Married Him // Tracy Chevalier
Progress: Still reading
Thoughts: I just got started on this one last night, but I like it so far. This is the second short story collection with multiple authors I’ve read already this year, and some intriguing names contributed to it, including Francine Prose and Audrey Niffenegger. I’m genuinely excited to read this.

Book: The Madwoman Upstairs // Catherine Lowell
Progress: Just finished this one yesterday!
Thoughts: Another great take on the Jane Eyre story!

Book: Felicity’s Surprise // Valerie Tripp
Progress: Haven’t started
Thoughts: If I have time, I’m going to read this today. (It’s only 70 pages). I read all of  these as a kid. I am rereading them now because I would love to find something similar to read to my kids that features little boys in similar historical fiction (if you have any recommendations, please pass them my way), but in the meantime, I may see if these hold their interest, and I wanted to preview them first.

Heart

Unity: Is It Really What We Need?

rock-1573133_1280

I’ve been seeing and hearing the word “unity” tossed around a lot lately.

In this volatile cultural and political climate, it seems like many of us want the arguing and tension to go away. I totally get it. I tend to avoid conflict like the plague, and while sometimes this leads me to making mature and unselfish decisions, more often it leads to a place where I am making my decisions based on fear.

And that’s not a good thing, but that’s a post for another day.

Today, I want to talk about unity. And I don’t think I can avoid the tension here any longer without addressing it.

Do you know what story I thought of first when I was thinking about unity?

It’s a Bible story, where people banded together with a common purpose and accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. And it’s not the story of Nehemiah I’ve seen shared on Facebook recently. The story I thought of portrays unity, but not in a positive light. I’m talking about the story of the tower of Babel. Genesis 11 describes it this way:

“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the earth” (Genesis 11:4).

I’ve heard lots of reasons this was the wrong move for the early residents of what would one day be called Babylon.

I’ve heard they were literally trying to reach heaven, like the ladder Jacob dreamed up seventeen chapters later.

I’ve heard that with the flood such a recent memory, they were trying to secure their own safety against God’s righteous judgment.

I’ve heard they were wrong because of the simple pride of their boasting.

I’ve heard they were disobeying God’s command to spread out throughout the earth by gathering in a city.

I don’t know which of these was the real problem, but for one reason or another, God disapproved of their tower. He says “If as one people speaking one language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6) So God disrupted their unity by scattering their languages.

There’s a lesson to learn here friends, and it’s not that unity in and of itself is a bad thing. But we can see clearly from this story that unity is not the most important thing.

There are times and places where unity is important, even essential, because of the goal that unified group is trying to achieve. Having unity in my marriage gives my kids security, makes my family strong, and brings me a lot of joy. Having unity in my church allows us to glorify God, demonstrate Christ-like love to the world, and testify to his coming kingdom.

When our hearts cry out for unity with our culture, however, we have been deceived. Unity within the church is possible because of Jesus. Unity in the world, as we see in Genesis 11, is possible because of sin. Unity between the two is impossible.

This reminds me of another passage of Scripture, one we usually just use to talk about romantic relationships, but I think it is especially relevant here:

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said, ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ ‘Therefore, come out from them and be separate,’ says the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17).

It is not God’s will for us to be unified with those outside the church. We don’t hate them. But if we really love them them, we cannot try to yoke ourselves together with them. If you try to bring light and darkness together, they cannot both continue to coexist.

Either the light will illuminate the darkness or the darkness will snuff out the light.

Heart

A Prayer for Inauguration Day

Father God, I look to you on this day, when power over earthly kingdoms is transferred from one man to another.

May your sovereign will be done on earth as is it in heaven, today, and always.

I lift up Donald Trump to you, just as you commanded me  to do (1 Timothy 2:1-2). May I live a “peaceful and quiet [life] in all goodness and holiness” during Trump’s presidency, and may it lead many to the saving knowledge of Jesus.

May I rightly understand the role that earthly authority plays in the life of a Christian. Help me not fall into the idolatry of worshiping my leaders as the ones who save. But also protect me from thinking I can call them my enemies and get out of loving them.

I am humbled by your unmerited favor towards me on this day, God. Your mercies are new every morning. Why me, God? Why was I not born in an impoverished African village or a war-torn Middle Eastern country? Why now? Why wasn’t I born in the middle ages or in the 1930s?

Help me to discern my right now purpose, in this nation, in this time in history.

Bless my president, Lord Jesus. Bless him with your wisdom and grace.

And may our hope ever rest in you, our steadfast, unchanging God.

Heart

Rafts and Routines: How We are Surviving This Transition

You guys, moving is not for the faint of heart.

This part of January always drags for me anyway; Christmas is solidly over, but there’s still very little sunshine and lots of cold (although this year has been pretty mild on that front–thanks, Missouri!). But combine those winter blahs with grief over upcoming goodbyes, most of our school materials still being in storage, and an unfamiliar bed, and it’s kind of a perfect storm of motivation killers.

Dishes pile up in the sink, and it’s hard to care enough to wash them when they aren’t even mine.

I stay up way later than I should for “just one more?” episode because I know that tomorrow doesn’t have much in the way of  plans or structure.

And anytime getting Andy’s frozen custard comes up, I’m all “why not? It’s probably our last chance….”

Suffice it to say that I understand why people say they don’t want to move ever again.

To anyone who has ever been in any transitional housing for any length of time, my heart goes out to you. It is just plain hard to keep my chin up and keep pressing forward in the midst of the chaos that is our life right now.

I knew in my head, from the time I spent right after college working with missionary families, that transition is rough and it’s important for the well-being of your family to handle it carefully.

But I didn’t really know what that meant until now. So I revisited some of the strategies we used to share with missionary families, and I’ve found a couple things that are really making a difference for our family right now.

  1. R.A.F.T. transition model

    While I won’t go into all the details here, RAFT is model that was designed by third-culture kid expert David C Pollack to help families in transition. (You can read more about how it works here and here.) The letters stand for Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, and Think Destination.

    For us, this means we are making lots of time right now for the special people and places we will miss when we leave the Springfield area. It means we are not shying away from the pain of goodbyes, but giving ourselves space to grieve.

    It also means we are talking a bunch with the boys about what we think Nashville will be like, and what we are looking forward to about living there. We even brought them along on a whirlwind weekend trip out to Tennessee so they could be with us when we walked through the house we are trying to buy. It will be their home, too, and to us, including them in the process was worth two full days together in the car.

  2. Basic family routines

    And when I say basic, I mean basic. Please don’t imagine this means we are rising before dawn and accomplishing some long list of chores every day, because that is so not what our life is like right now at all. (Case in point: It’s 1:30 in the afternoon, the boys and I are still in pajamas, and the Chex Mix we’re snacking on will probably end up counting as lunch.)

    But I am trying, as best as I can, to mostly keep doing a handful of normal things that mark our days and weeks when life is more stable. I’m making my bed every morning, we are eating our normal, go-to breakfasts most days (oatmeal or scrambled eggs), we are reading Bible stories every night before bed, and we eat pizza and watch movies together at least one night over the weekend, preferably Friday.

 

If you have any type of transition coming up for your family, I hope these simple suggestions are helpful for you. They are sure helping me right now.

Of course, now that I’m looking at what I’ve written, it’s occurring to me that a made bed and a Friday pizza is all that stands between me and complete anarchy, so maybe pray for our family if you think about it? I know lots of you have been, and I can’t tell you enough how much that means to me and Jason.

We are blessed to have so many wonderful friends surrounding us during this season, and if you’re reading this blog, that includes you. I love you all!

 

Heart

Picture Books We’re Reading This Christmas

img_20161207_073357

I mentioned last week one of my favorite things we are doing for Advent this year: a Christmas picture book every day. In case you were curious, I thought I’d share the full list of titles we are reading. Most of these we own; a few of the early ones we got from the library. There are new favorites on here, along with books the boys have been reading every Christmas, and even a few that were mine when I was a kid.

I wrapped up all the books back in October, when our schedule was a little calmer, and wrote the names on the spines in pencil. Then on Thanksgiving night, I pulled them all out and numbered them.

Here’s what we are reading each day:

Nov 25: Christmas Trolls // Jan Brett

Nov 26: Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree // Robert Barry

Nov 27: Christmas Cricket // Eve Bunting

Nov 28: Good King Wenceslas // Jane Seymour

Nov 29: Fletcher and the Snowflake Christmas // Julie Rawlinson

Nov 30: The Legend of the Poinsettia // Tomie dePaola

Dec 1: Snow Day! // Courtney Carbone

Dec 2: The Polar Express // Chris Van Allsburg (The version we have came with the audiobook, which is read by Liam Neeson, and it is fantastic.)

Dec 3: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey // Susan Wojciechowski

Dec 4: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! // Dr. Seuss

Dec 5: The Hat // Jan Brett

Dec 6: Santa, Are You For Real? // Harold Myra

Dec 7: The Legend of the Candy Cane // Lori Walburg

Dec 8: Merry Christmas, Curious George! // H. A. Rey and Catherine Hapka

Dec 9: Wild Christmas Reindeer // Jan Brett

Dec 10: The Night Before Chrsitmas // Charles Santore

Dec 11: A Charlie Brown Christmas // Charles Shulz

Dec 12: The Bears’ Christmas // Stan and Jan Berenstain

Dec 13: The Nutcracker // Ronald Kidd (I’ve also heard good things about this version of the story, and this one.)

Dec 14: Gingerbread Baby // Jan Brett

Dec 15: Bear Stays Up for Christmas // Karma Wilson

Dec 16: Christmas in the Big Woods // Laura Ingalls Wilder

Dec 17: The Night Before Christmas // Clement Clarke Moore, illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Dec 18: Country Angel Christmas // Tomie dePaola

Dec 19: The Night of Las Posadas // Tomie dePaola

Dec 20: The Tale of the Three Trees // Angela Elwell Hunt

Dec 21: The Crippled Lamb // Max Lucado

Dec 22: Humphrey’s First Christmas // Carol Heyer

Dec 23: Cock-a-Doodle Christmas! // Will Hillenbrand

Dec 24: Song of the Stars // Sally Lloyd-Jones

Like I said, some of these were from the library, and so I had to just go with what was available, but for the most part, these books are ones I love and heartily recommend. There’s a good mix here of books that mention Santa, and books that don’t, so whichever is your persuasion, hopefully there’s plenty here to suit you.

And if you need more recommendations, there are more great lists of Christmas picture books at  All About Reading, Brightly, the Read-Aloud Revival, and Money-Saving Mom.

What are your favorite picture books to read at Christmas? Share in the comments below!

Heart · Holidays

How We are Celebrating Advent with Waiting

Back in August, I read that in some liturgical traditions, they don’t begin to decorate or celebrate Christmas itself until December 24 or 25. These weeks between Thanksgiving and the celebration of our Savior’s birth are reserved for waiting.

As the calendar neared December, and I started planning the ways we would observe the holidays as a family, I kept coming back to the idea of waiting until it was actually Christmas to do any celebrating.

My temptation is always to try to do too much. Other familys’ traditions all sound so wonderful, I’m afraid to leave anything out. I want to make Christmas candy and bake a birthday cake for Jesus, and go to all the parties, and teach my kids about Hanukkah, and go caroling, and celebrate St. Nicholas day, and do an advent wreath, and attend a cookie swap, and make a Jesse tree.

But I can’t do all of it. So as I sifted through all the ideas and my own desires, I wondered: what would it look like for our family to obverse Advent as a time of waiting?

To intentionally delay our celebrations and live in the tension of the now-and-not-yet Kingdom of God?

To seek out reminders that this world is not our home?

To store up treasures in heaven instead of earth?

I couldn’t move my friends’ parties, obviously, or ask the city park to wait six more weeks to put up their lights. And I could only avoid Caleb and Garrett seeing the Christmas displays at Walmart for so long. But I could figure out ways to bring an intentional waiting into our home.

As it turns out, forgoing the holiday trimmings has been a necessity as much as it was an intentional choice. When everything else is going into boxes, I can’t really justify bringing the Christmas things out of their boxes.

While moving at Christmastime has been stressful, I couldn’t ask for a more poignant reminder of waiting.

Truth be told, we’ve been waiting all year for the Lord to move in one way or another. Back in January, we had revival services at our church, and we knew then that this year was going to be a hard one of transition for our family. When we finally sensed the Lord leading us to close our church plant, we did so in faith, not knowing what would be next for us. When we sensed His leading to Nashville, we put our current house on the market, and made an offer on one in Tennessee.

Now, even though we have two houses under contract, the closing dates keep shifting, and the Lord is still, after eleven months, saying wait.

We are doing a few small things as a family to look to Jesus in this season, to anticipate His coming and joy that will be ours on Christmas Day:

We are unwrapping and reading one new Christmas picture book each day. (I’ve discovered a bunch of new-to-me treasures this year; I’ll share a full list of what we’re reading soon!)

We are lighting Advent candles every morning at breakfast.

We are listening to music that reminds us of the yearning the Israelites felt for the coming Messiah.

And tonight, we will begin this Christmas devotional during story time before bed.

That’s it.

Christmas is in twenty-four days, and I’m not exaggerating a bit when I say I do not know where we will wake up on Christmas morning. We could still be in our familiar Ozark home. We could be in our new house in Nashville. We could be somewhere in between. I really don’t know. I don’t know if we will have a chance to put up a tree or not.

God knows, though, our job for now (for always) is simply to wait on Him.

We won’t have to wait forever. At just the right time, Jesus came and broke the 400-year silence of God towards His people. When the time is right, He will come back for his church. And at some point in the meantime, I do believe that we will eventually, finally, get to Nashville.

But for today, we wait.


I know many of you are still praying for our family as we walk through time of transition. Thank you so much. Now that I’ve shared where we are at, I want to know: how are you celebrating Christmas with your family this year? 

Books & Reading

My Reading Piles: The When & How

I’ve been sharing on Instagram lately, every week or two, the stack of books I’m planning to read. I’ve been getting lots of questions about them, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to share about my reading habits, for those of you who were wondering.

img_20161012_154112

1. Do you really read all those books?

Yes and no.

I’ve been including four books in every picture, because I like the consistency and it’s a manageable size: not overwhelming, but enough to show variety. But because of the way I read, no, I do not always read those exact four books from start to finish that same week.

I’m always reading several books at once, and at several different paces. I may devour two whole novels over a weekend, and take months to get through another book I want to really process as I read. (For example, I am still slowly plodding through Jane Eyre and Emily Dickenson’s poems from the picture above.) So when I post a picture of a book, I may have started it earlier, and am still working on it, I may plan to start it later, I may be planning to finish it that day. I’m a little all over the place.

However, I do strive for the pictures to be as honest as possible: I won’t include a book if I don’t at least plan to pick it up at some point during the week. And though I don’t post pictures every single week, it’s not completely unusual for me to finish three or four books in a week. I do occasionally abandon titles once I’ve started them, but this doesn’t happen often. So in that sense the answer is yes. If I post a book on Instagram, it’s pretty safe to assume that I’m going to read the whole thing at some point.

img_20160912_100214

2. How do you have time to read so much?

This is probably the question I get the most. There are a few things I do to fit in so much reading. First, reading is my very favorite hobby. I like to bake and I like to sew, but neither of those is nearly so delightful to me as curling up with a good book. It’s my go-to free time activity.

Second, reading isn’t something I only do by myself. I get to read tons of books that I enjoy because I read them aloud to my children (or listen to the audiobooks with them in the car!). Homeschooling has given us even more time for this, of course, but it’s something I made time for before we were a homeschool family.

Last year, we read Charlotte’s Web, The Wizard of Oz, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Little House in the Big Woods, just to name a few. Those are all books I would have loved to read all by myself anyway, and enjoying them with my family made them that much better. If you need encouragement and suggestions for reading aloud, this podcast is one of my very favorites.

Third, I carve out time for little snippets of reading that add up over time. For example, I am almost always working my way through some sort of devotional or Christian living book in conjunction with my devotional time of a morning. It takes maybe five or ten minutes a day. I don’t read through these books very quickly, but I probably get in an extra ten or twelve books a year that I wouldn’t get to read otherwise by doing this. If you had a book you read consistently in the pick up line at school, in the bathroom, or during your break at work, you’d probably be amazed at how many more books you could read, too.

img_20161026_102616

3. How do you decide what to read?

This is actually evolving for me, and I’m planning to share soon about how homsechooling is changing the way I read, even for fun. But as far as finding good things to read, I’m never without ideas. I keep a pretty extensive list of what I want to read at Goodreads, and add to it as I get recommendations from people I trust.

For family reading, the Read-Aloud Revival is my go-to resource, but I recently discovered Brightly, and really like it, too. There are also several fantastic books that are full of lists of good kids’ books. A few of my recent favorites are Honey for a Child’s Heart, Give Your Child the World, and Read for the Heart.

For myself, when I was still working at the library, I read reviews of new books in Publisher’s Weekly almost every week. Now that I’m not there anymore, I get my information about new books from Book Riot, Goodreads, and Modern Mrs. Darcy.

If you’re looking for your next book, any of these would be fantastic places to look. Or ask me – I love recommending books to people! (And please note: the book stack pictures on are not meant to be recommendations. I can’t vouch for these books personally until I’ve read them, and some of the books I share in those photos turn out to be duds.)

img_20161003_120002

4. Where do you get all your books?

I get almost everything I read at the library. I make liberal use of our inter-library loan programs, and have found, at least for our library, that there are very few titles I can’t get that way if it’s something our library doesn’t carry.

I do buy books occasionally, when it’s something I want to mark up or think I will read over and over again. I like to buy used when I can, and am always on the lookout for favorite titles when I’m at garage sales or thrift stores. But when I want a specific title, my default is Amzaon. We’re Prime members, and I can wait two days for almost anything if it means I don’t have to leave the house.

Do you have more questions about my reading habits? Or suggestions of books I should read? Share them in the comments!