Favorite reads of 2017

Other than gathering with my church fam to worship, my favorite way to spend a day is curled up, under a blanket (or by a pool, depending on the season), with a good book. Friday afforded me a day of such luxury. We had finished all our school for the week, we had nowhere we had to be, and we all indulged in a day of sewing, Legos, and, of course, reading. I devoured a fabulous book called Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and it got me considering what books were most impactful from 2017. I’ve shared my favorite reads from the last five years here –click the year to read the list. (2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012)

My Top Seven from 2017:

1. If You Can Keep It:The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxes. FABULOUS! Metaxes talks about the great experiment of American democracy, and what must be in place in order for true freedom to flourish. He explains the Golden Triangle of Freedom, borrowed from Os Guinness. Basically, true freedom requires virtue, and virtue requires faith and faith requires freedom. He shares historical documents that reveal some of our forefathers’ roots of virtue, humility, seeking God’s guidance, and relying on His grace, and explains that if we depart from those roots, we will never be able to recover the true freedom we have lost. Metaxes doesn’t take sides, he encourages both conservatives and liberals to work together for the common good of our country.

2. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey. This one felt like an answer to my heart’s cry. It’s a challenging read–it’s huge and I had to re-read a lot of portions of it to understand, but it’s so powerful, well-worth the work. Pearcey was a student of Francis Schaeffer, so her book is makes many of his ideas attainable for regular people like me. 🙂 I have tried to read Schaeffer and felt lost (Jeff loves him!). It’s basically a study of the history of secularism, darwinism, and how infiltrated our entire culture, education, and society has become as a result. I was reading this right as Dutch was engulfed in Is Genesis History study, so the timing was perfect. She argues that the gospel doesn’t begin in Matthew 1, but in Genesis 1, and how critical it is that we embrace God as our Creator. Highly recommend!

3. You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis Chan & Lisa Chan. This is a quick read, but probably my favorite marriage book. It’s simple and straightforward: wholeheartedly following Jesus with reckless abandon is the only way to be the best spouse. Ultimately, we love our spouse not because he or she is lovely, or because we feel like it, but because our marriage is a picture of God’s love for his people, and I have been given the responsibility of helping my spouse come to know, love, and follow Jesus fully. Great for engaged couples too!

4. Every Woman’s Battle: Discovering God’s Plan for Sexual and Emotional Fulfillment by Shannon Ethridge. I read this and was like, “Whoa. Why does no one talk about this??” I knew about the men’s book on sexual purity, Every Man’s Battle, but I never knew there was a women’s version. I came across it because someone recommended Preparing your daughter for every woman’s battle which is for moms to go through with daughters in the 9-13 age range. I have to say, I absolutely recommend women read this book. It is so eye-opening. So often, sexual purity is talked about from male perspective, and usually seen as a “male struggle”–but Shannon is an incredibly honest, straightforward, insightful voice for women, she has a powerful testimony, and she deals with the emotional and mental side of things. Excellent read, especially if you work with women in any kind of ministry setting.

5. Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxes. LOVE!!  I want to buy a copy of this book for every woman in our church, it’s so inspiring. Metaxes shares brief biographies of seven women: Joan of Arc, Susannah Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie Ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Theresa. So inspiring! If you love biographies, but have a hard time wading through looooong ones :), this is a great solution. He does a fabulous job summarizing each woman’s life and the essence of God’s work in and through their lives. Even though I was familiar with most of these women, I learned new things about each one, and gained an all-new level of respect for each one. Plus, they are each SO DIFFERENT from each other. It was very inspiring that God uses women from all different backgrounds, abilities, seasons, and classes in order to accomplish His purposes. And… I want to be Susannah Wesley when I grow up. 😉

6. How Children Fail by John Holt. The timing for reading this book could not have been more perfect. I was frustrated by our workbook-driven educational existence, and felt like we were expending a lot of energy without getting much of anywhere. It was like Holt was exactly answering my fears and frustrations with wisdom and research that confirmed exactly what I was suspecting. In short, Holt shows how simply stuffing children with content will never produce great thinkers. He opens our eyes to how fear cripples our ability to learn, and demonstrates how to cultivate a love of learning, rather than just a desire to get right answers.  It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t love Holt’s other books, but this one is a powerful! If you are attempting to educate your children (whether public, private, or at home), I highly recommend.

7. The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson (4 books): Kind of cheating here, because this is four books, but this is a young-adult series that, if I can be so bold, ranks even higher than the Chronicles of Narnia in my book. I honestly think CS Lewis would say the same, I think he’d tip his hat to Peterson and congratulate him on a brilliantly-written saga that ties in fantasy, wit, virtue, and the gospel. At the end, I sobbed, so grateful for Jesus’ free gift of salvation. Dutch read these first and then I quickly became enraptured as well. A great read-aloud for kids in the 10-year-old and up age group. They are intense, but virtuous and inspiring. Would be a set worth buying.

Other great reads from 2017:

1. Sacred Privilege: Your Life and Ministry as a Pastor’s Wife by Kay Warren: This one almost made the top 7, but it’s for a pretty narrow audience, us pastor’s wives. It was a super encouraging read, and really helpful to get an insider’s glance into the life of Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren, perhaps the most influential pastor of our time. She’s raw, real, honest, and very hope-filled. I highly recommend to any pastor’s wife.

2. The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp. To be honest, I have a hard time connecting with the way Ann writes, only because I prefer a more straightforward style, but of course Ann is amazing and any book that highlights the power of brokenness, choosing the low seat, and pursuing a path of humility is always going to be worth your time. Personally, this book helped me not be afraid of getting hurt in relationships, but to move toward people in love even when you feel hurt.

3. Til We Have Faces by CS Lewis. This is considered by many (and Lewis) his best novel. A bit disturbing, but fascinating too. It’s a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, and gives piercing insight into our own brokenness.

4. Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible by Shannon Popkin. This dear girl is a new friend of mine, and she’s NAILED this topic! She’s been speaking and writing on this topic for years, and this book totally gets to the heart of all our control-issues.This has a Bible study that goes with it and would be great for a small group Bible study.

5. Be Fruitful and Multiply: What the Bible Says about Having Children by Nancy Campbell. I had to chuckle while I was reading this, because it’s SO FAR off the normal beaten path of what I read. But it was given to us, and honestly, I really enjoyed it and it was eye-opening. The author basically builds a case for how our society has lost our biblical understanding of what a blessing children are, from God. Instead we’ve come to see them as a hindrance, costing too much money, cramping our style and stealing our freedoms. She goes through the biblical evidence of how God feels about children, and some interesting evidence about the dangers of permanent forms of birth control (vasectomy & hysterectomy). Considering our recent journey, it served as much-needed encouragement to persevere.

6. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May. Well my oh my. Natural-childbirth proponents likely know about this book. It was … wow! Very informative, worth reading.

7. Supernatural Childbirth by Jackie Mize. So glad I read this! I had heard bits and pieces about the “supernatural childbirth” movement, but most of them all revolved around having a pain-free childbirth experience. But this book is SO MUCH more than that! It’s about, again, seeing what God says about children and then believing His Word and His promises regarding our own conception, pregnancy, and delivery experiences. This might sound crazy, but I have this book to thank–by God’s generous power and leading–for the conception of our child. This isn’t the place to get into it, but this book fanned into flame the faith that had dwindled, and allowed me to re-approach God from a correct mind-set, resting on His Word.

8. Different: The story of an outside-the-box kid and the mom who loved him by Sally Clarkson. This is the story of Sally Clarkson and her son, Nathan, who has OCD and sensory disorders. Together they share about his childhood and the challenges of homeschooling, coming into adulthood, and the lessons they both learned as a result. I read it because Dutch is certainly an out-of-the-box child but honestly, my takeaway was that he’s not THAT out-of-the-box. Ha! We actually have things pretty easy compared to some of the challenges that Sally and Nathan had. In the end, it’s her encouragement to love our kids just as they are, and to be patient and gracious with their quirks.

9. French Woman Don’t Get Facelifts by Mireille Guiliano. Are you laughing yet? Right after a book on supernatural, miraculous childbirth is a book on facelifts? A few weeks after my miscarriage, we were spending the day at the river with my mother-in-law, and I just desperately wanted something light. Everything had been so heavy, and I wanted to laugh, so I borrowed this book from my MIL and enjoyed it while basking in the sun. Nothing earth-shattering, of course, but it’s just about aging gracefully and not trying to be something your not, vainly clinging to some 20-something image of yourself. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin (and taking care of that skin!), and eating to live, rather than focusing on diets and body-obsession. Of course, this is not written from a Christian perspective, I don’t endorse everything in it, but it was a quick enjoyable read.

10. Sacred Mundane: How to find freedom, purpose, and joy by Kari Patterson. Ha! Yes, I re-read my own book because it reads differently when it’s actually on paper. You can get get it here for cheaper than Amazon, with free shipping: https://squareup.com/store/sacred-mundane

Re-reads that I thoroughly re-enjoyed:

1. Mere Christianity by CS Lewis (one of my all-time favs)

2. The Great Divorce by CS Lewis (hadn’t read since college–so good! Fascinating.)

3. Educating the Whole-hearted Child by Clay & Sally Clarkson (one of my favorite homeschool reference books)

4. High Call High Privilege by Gail MacDonald (LOVE THIS BOOK!!! A must-read for every pastor’s wife. I hadn’t read it since we first got married, so it was a completely new experience, almost 15 years later. Highly recommend.)

Whew! There you have it. Now, I would LOVE to hear your favorite books from 2017. Will you please share? Thanks so much for reading.

Why we don’t need to surrender to God

We say it all the time: “You/I need to surrender to God.”

We sing about it.  It might just be one of our most oft-repeated phrases, in our spiritual conversations with each other. My own book sure contains references to it!

But … to “surrender” (to God) does not appear in the Bible.

Ever.

In the entire Bible, there is not a single command, reference, even mention of surrendering to God. 

So why have I spent so much of my life exhorting others and myself to surrender to Him?!

To be fair to us all, I think it’s just an unfortunate misnomer, that’s gained acceptance over the years, for a concept that is in the Bible.

In short: The Bible never tells us to surrender to God because the word surrender is always, ALWAYS used in reference to an ENEMY. 

God is not our enemy.

God is NOT OUR ENEMY.

If there is one thing I have learned this year, through the various heart-ache and disappointments we faced, it is that GOD IS NOT MY ENEMY.

GOD IS FOR ME. Even the hard is for my good

I wish I could shout from a world-wide megaphone and somehow convey to this aching, bewildered, lost and hurting world: GOD IS FOR YOU!

God LOVES YOU!

God is not your enemy!

Just this morning Jeff read it in church:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom 8:31-34)

Friends, I honestly believe that if we had ANY INKLING how FOR US God really is, we would never doubt, never fear, never struggle to trust. We would be mind-blown at His goodness.

We would fall on our faces in grateful adoration. 

Now, what words are in the Scriptures? From what I understand, the idea of surrender really comes from two concepts: Submit and obey.

Submit

James exhorts us to “Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (4:7) The context is pride and worldliness. Interestingly, James says that although God is not our enemy, we can make ourselves enemies of God by befriending the world. But even then, the exhortation isn’t to surrender but to submit.

Is it just splitting hairs? I don’t think so. While surrender refers to an enemy, submit speaks of loving, voluntary, glad deference to a GOOD HEAD, a GOOD leader, a superior officer of sorts who is ON THE SAME SIDE. It’s always used with regard to two people on the same team. 

While surrender is always used of an enemy, submit is always used of a comrade or spouse

Because of Christ, and this is MIND-BLOWING, you are a friend of God. God is your Heavenly Husband. He’s a good one. He’s a GOOD leader who ALWAYS has your best interest in mind.

Submit actually doesn’t occur that often as well. James is the only one who uses it in reference to God. The other references are to fellow believers, spouses, or church leaders. The word that does occur a LOT, although it isn’t as popular nowadays, is obey.

Obey

This might be our culture’s least favorite word. I recently read about a popular children’s book where the plot-line was a girl who had to “overcome” a curse that over her that made her always obey any order given to her. Yikes! Obedience is called a curse?! Of course, obedience to evil is a curse, but in our day and age we’re almost afraid to use the word. We teach our children to be “good listeners” but if I can be so bold, I don’t think anything is wrong with their hearing, obedience is what our children desperately need!

And while surrender occurs zero times, obey and obedience occur 180 times!

Now, the bottom line of this is so significant I can’t help but get excited. While the word surrender carries connotations of an enemy, the words submit and obey carry the connotations of …

Loving relationship. 

Submit speaks of a loving husband-wife relationship, of friends and comrades, of voluntarily deferring to one another, out of love and mutual respect.

God is our husband and friend. 

Obey speaks of a parent-child relationship, of a loving dad giving good and beneficial boundaries to His children out of deep love for them.

God is our Father. 

Dear, dear one: God is not your enemy. It might be a subtle shift, but I pray it is a real one. I pray you know the loving leadership of a good God who is FOR YOU, who knows that your best life is found in Him, that apart from Him there is no joy, no good, nothing of any lasting value.

No surrender. Submit yourself to a loving God, and obey His good and loving leadership in your life.

Thanks for reading.

Sacred Mundane available here! https://squareup.com/store/sacred-mundane

The Comfort of Obedience

“Are we in a hurry??”

Dutch’s hackles are up anytime he sniffs out a hurry. I smile. Our Sunday morning routine is always the same. My answer is always the same.

“Nope. As long as you promptly obey me, there’s no rush.”

I kiss the top of his head and send him off to get ready. Funny boy. 

It’s a lesson I’ve reinforced more times than I can count: As long as you obey, there’s no rush. It’s the dawdling and disobedience that cause delays, that leave everyone scrambling to get out the door on time. He hates being hurried, I hate being late, so I’ve learned to give clear directions and adequate time, but also to insist that obedience is prompt.

Prompt obedience … was there ever a more important lesson to learn and more difficult to teach?

This simple principle has been a comfort to me recently, in far more significant ways. I’m reading Genesis again, and am always picking up tidbits of wisdom from Noah’s remarkable Ark adventure. This time around, I scribbled into the margin:

“As long as he obeyed, there was no hurry.”

See, God is SO GOOD at time management. 🙂 He was the only One who knew the exact day and time that the flood would come. Noah didn’t know. But God knew, and He allowed exactly the right allotment of time for Noah to build the ark, and gather the animals. Though the ark-building process was long, Noah stayed on track, diligent and obedient. As far as we know, he didn’t have to rush, stress, hurry, or frantically finish. As the time drew near, God told Noah that he had 7 days to gather the animals. Not a rush, but Noah would certainly need to stick to task in order to be ready on time.

No time for dawdling and disobedience. 

Sometimes I get these ideas, thoughts, dreams, of things God might do. It seems like a near-infinite number of tasks to complete, things we need to do, ways we need to prepare. We’ve wrestled through decisions on how to allocate time and financial resources, because a lot depends on a future we do not know.

But God knows. And recently, I was praying through all these things, and sensed this truth again:

As long as you obey, there is no hurry.

Quite frankly, it is impossible to prepare for a future you do not know. I don’t know what our country will be like, what the economy will be like, what my children’s educational needs will be, who all our property will need to house.  We do not know the future, so it’s futile to rely on our own limited knowledge in order to prepare.

But as long as we obey, there is no hurry. 

Perhaps the most critically important skill to learn, as a follower of Jesus, is prompt and unquestioning obedience.

Right??

Now, I still have far to go in teaching–and practicing–this, of course. But I was reminded the other day of a game I used to play when the kids were toddlers. During the day, I would practice giving them a command, out of the blue.

“Dutch, go touch the front door! Heidi bring me that blue block!”

Yes, they were arbitrary commands, but it was an opportunity for them to learn prompt obedience, and for me to praise their efforts, in an environment that wasn’t rushed, stressed, or public. And when they didn’t obey (which was plenty), we had ample time to practice. I had forgotten all about those little games, but the other day, a friend sent me a note:

I’m reading a book called Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by astronaut Scott Kelly. It reminded me of you talking/writing about helping Dutch & Heidi learn obedience by having them go and touch the front door when you asked. This astronaut wrote, “It occurs to me now that following directions that seemed arbitrary was good early training for being an astronaut.” Besides faithful servants of the Lord, perhaps you have some astronauts in the making. 🙂

My kids and I are far from perfect in this area, of course, but what’s struck me recently is that there is comfort in obedience.

As long as I obey, there’s no rush. My Father has me on His Timeline. If I’m listening, He’ll tell me what to do and when. I don’t have to fear that I’ve missed it somehow. I don’t have to fear being unprepared for His call. As long as I have a heart inclined to obedience, I can rest. I can find comfort in that.

Anyone else need that reassurance???

Friend, take comfort in obedience. If you lean in close, kick sin to the curb and listen carefully to His Word, HE WILL LEAD YOU. He will light the way, make your path straight, and give you the step-by-step instructions that you need. There’s no rush. He’s a Good Father. You don’t have to have the future figured out, just promptly obey His voice today.

{Thanks for reading.}

Sacred Mundane available here! https://squareup.com/store/sacred-mundane

 

 

I am the Cloven, I am the Loved.

I looked down at Dutch, concerned:

“Is Kalmar going to die?”

He smiled but his eyes told me nothing. He’s a stickler for unspoiled endings.

Then I reminded my heavy heart, It’s just a book

Just as certain songs mark seasons of some people’s lives, so books do with mine, and this has most certainly been the Wingfeather month. Dutch devoured the 4-book series and was so completely enchanted by them I thought I’d join him on the journey.

I’m so glad I did. I was quickly swept along in this breathtaking story, and it carried me swiftly through the weeks of morning sickness and made my couch-ridden afternoons a glorious retreat.

They may not have the same effect on you. They’re kids’ books.  The main character is 12. But I’d venture to say even C.S. Lewis would tip his bowler to Andrew Peterson because this Narnia-esque series speaks to deeper places of my heart than any other book has in a long time.

In them I learned that I am the Cloven.

I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that the dark and evil enemy captures victims and drives them to desperation, then exploits that desperation by promising them power, beauty, glory. When they succumb, which they all inevitably do, they are melded with a wild beast to become a hybrid — the Cloven.

His army.

But in this clumsy diabolical process, many are warped, misshapen, left longing for wholeness but unable to go back, left forever bearing the image of their failure, their weakness, their shame.

This happened to Kalmar, the eleven-year-old boy we follow through the Wingfeather Saga. There are times his shame is so painful it is difficult to read. Strong people—unbroken people—can be so mercilessly cruel and the weight of our failure can lead us within a hairsbreadth of abandoning our calling altogether. But every day his mother reminds them,

“Remember who you are.”

Indeed, this remembering becomes the most critical battle plan. Rehearsing your name, your place, the truth of who you are.

But just when the shame seems unbearable, Kalmar meets Elder Cadwick, another Cloven, who reminds him:

Being broken isn’t always a bad thing.”

And then.

The glorious redemption unfolds. Not just for Kalmar, but for the entire Kingdom. For all the poor and powerless, for all the lost and lonely — for every Cloven whose very appearance smacks of failure, weakness, shame.

Only a Cloven could reach the Cloven. 

All the whole and strong people, the unbroken people, they built their fences and set their guards and sharpened their weapons and rightly so, because the Cloven were … monsters. But only one who was also broken could hear the hearts that cried inside and recognize the evil done TO them.

With judgement gone then righteous revenge could be carried out against the source of evil.

And there’s only one. 

Now, as I curl up with the last few hours of 2017, I reflect on this year. There’s never been a year like this year. So much loss and struggle, not just for me but for those I love most. I’ve shed more tears this year than any other, hands down. I’ve struggled and stumbled, grasping for His grace. It’s been there, all along, but I end this year very different than I began.

I am the Cloven.

I’m broken a bit, many more lines adorn my face.

I’m no longer enamored with myself. 

But that isn’t the end. The story isn’t, “Let’s just celebrate our brokenness and learn to love ourselves.”

That isn’t it.

The story is Redemption. The story is a Savior. The story is the Innocent in place of the guilty. The spotless, perfect, righteous One, choosing death for love … for us.

I am the loved. 

You are too. 

So, broken friend—there may be a bit of Cloven in you too, eh?  There’s good news: The broken can hear the hearts that cry inside monsters.

You have a calling, Broken Friend. You have a world to love, Good News to share. You have wounds to heal, lost to find, foes to slay. You have little warriors to raise.  You must be brave. You must be fierce. You must be a fighter, a peace-maker, a dragon-slayer, a Jesus-Lover.

You are the Cloven, you are the Loved. 

Here’s to a 2018 unmarked by our own selfish achievements but shining brilliantly with the love and courage of Christ. What might your brokenness enable you to do? How might Christ be mighty in your weakness? How will you devote yourself completely to His cause, come what may? And how will you remind yourself, daily, who you really are? You are Loved. 

{Happy New Year. Looking forward to journeying with you into the great unknown. Thanks for reading.}

*I found a few more boxes of books in my garage! If you’re still looking for Sacred Mundane you can order here, cheaper than Amazon, with free shipping. https://squareup.com/store/sacred-mundane Happy reading!