• Top Books in 2018

    My annual favorites list of the books I read for the year is coming a little late. I could blame it on the children, but that's not really fair. I'm just out of the practice of putting anything down on "paper" [or screen] so I had to work a little harder at finding the motivation to get to work.

    These are in chronological order of when I read them, not in order of my favorites.

    The Connected Child by Karyn B. Purvis --If you're a parent at all, this is an excellent and helpful read. If you're a parent of an adopted or fostered child, this book is especially helpful. I happened to read it just 3 months before Roux joined our family. I know I will get the good out of the book as we continue to parent this extraordinary boy. Read the book! It's 100% worth your time and attention.

    The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt--This is a book that a year later I am still thinking about. I developed such a care for the characters throughout the reading. It's a big book with suspense, relational discord and dysfunction and I couldn't put it down.

    The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown--This crew team who went to the Olympics in 1936 will pull at your heart as they overcome financial, political, and familial conflicts to reach their goal. It's an inspiring story of pushing past limits to accomplish what everyone says you cannot do.

    The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson--The title alone pulls you in, doesn't it? You'd think this elderly man, being celebrated by the mayor of his small town would have lived an upstanding life worthy of celebration, but his antics show you a completely different history for this 100 year old man. 

    A New Kind of Normal by Carol Kent--When her idyllic life and dreams for her son come crashing down after a violent murder, Carol Kent and her husband have to create a new kind of normal for their life. Visiting her son in jail wasn't want she had in mind, but her stories interwoven with unchosen new normals of others tells a story of hope.

    Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan--Going to movies just isn't a reality of our lives right now, but I'm pretty sure this would have been a classic case of, "the book is better than the movie" anyway. What a fun book! I'm sucked into this drama.

    Refugee by Alan Gratz--This is a fictional story telling the perspectives of different families at different times in history suffering through political unrest in their countries. The stories collide in a beautiful weaving of heartache, hope and honesty. If you wish to understand the more personal side of the currect refugee crisis, this book is for you. 

    Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger--This is a beautifully written novel about a small town family wrestling through unexpected challenges. Told from the perspective of a teenage boy, you can see parts of what he's missing as he processes the unexpected deaths of those in his community and family.

    What should I put on my list for 2019? I'm always looking for something good!


  • 10 Best Books of 2017

    Every year I do my favorites list of the books I read that year. I have to confess, this year I did a lot of "fluff" reading....lots of mysteries. They're fun and easy. But here are 10 I read that actually meant something to me.

    The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp- She tells in her signature autobiographical way about how God chooses to take our brokenness and make us beautiful. Even through some of the heart wrenching difficulties in life, she challenged me to look deeply into the eyes of my Savior and trust His goodness over my circumstances.

    Love Lives Here by Maria Goff- She and her husband have lived a bigger story that most ever do. But what struck me was her simplicity. She loves her family and desires for them to flourish. I was challenged to cut out the noise and simply pursue the things of God that feed my soul. 

    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain- I was transported to my childhood reading this book again. It's funny and exciting and I enjoyed every page of Twain's storytelling. As a kid I used to listen to a yellow cassette tape of the reading of this book. I would sit in the basement and turn off all the lights with my friend Emily and soak in the story. Reading this book took me back to the dark basement all over again. 

    Hearts of Fire by The Voice of the Martyrs- This book shares the stories of 8 courageous women living their faith amidst harrowing difficulty. It challenged me to think deeply and conscientiously about my faith and to be prepared to talk about it even when it's uncomfortable to acknowledge God out loud.

    The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell- My sci-fi nerd is showing. This book involves space travel, aliens, Jesuits, guilt and grief. It was a very good book. And I feel nerdy enjoying it as much as I did.

    Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty - After working in a school this book hit a little close to home. It was a great reminder that no one is how they appear on the surface. It's also funny, suspenseful and unexpected.

    The Good Girl by Mary Kubica- Also suspenseful and unexpected. It is a book told from the perspective of several people. All except the main character. You want to hear from her the entire book, but Kubica makes you wait until the end. The very end. And then when you do it's not one thing that you thought you'd hear.

    Under the Same Sky by Joseph Kim- This is an autobiographical work about childhood in North Korea. I'm not sure how Kim remembers exactly all he does from his childhood, but even if bits and pieces felt repeated it was fascinating to read and learn more about. It gives a new perspective on freedom and poverty. And just when you think Kim is safe in the US American poverty also stares him in the face.

    The Lucky Few by Heather Avis- This memoir captures the story of a mother's unconditional love as God brings 3 children into her family via adoption. It was especially poignant as Jason and I have begun the adoption process. I couldn't wait to hear every story of how her family grew and it increased my anticipation for our own family's growth.

    Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas- First of all, anything by Metaxas that I have read has been worth the time. This gigantic biography was riveting. It brought Luther's humanity into the forefront and increased my understanding of the time period and the reformation. It's worth it.

    There you have it. These are my favorite 10. What did you read? What should I dig into during 2018? I'd love to have your suggestions.

  • 10 Best Books I Read in 2016

    2016 afforded me a tiny bit more time for reading. This year I've completed 26 books. These are 10 of the 26 that left me thinking afterwards... In no particular order.

    -7 Women by Eric Metaxas: I've read other books of Metaxas and I am always so impressed by his research and observations. This book highlighted 7 women in history who he believes were some of the most influential. It was inspiring and thought provoking.

    -To The Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson: This biography blew me away. I wrote an entire blog post about it. I love reading about the true inspiring lives of others and this book challenged my faith and my comfort in 100 ways!

    -The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo: This whimsical children's story got my heart all in mood for having children of my own to read it to, so they could enter into the magic and love captured in this story. 

    -With by Skye Jethani: Where do I begin?! This book has had me thinking since I finished it back in April. Do I walk WITH my Savior or am I usually posturing to earn, deserve, or even put God in my debt? It questions motives at the deepest level.

    -Contentment by Richard Swenson: This book was nothing revolutionary so to speak, but it was wonderful to read as it's a consistent cry of my heart. It's also a necessary reminder in the journey. I long to live a life of contentment, pleased with what I have and seeking simplicity. 

    -The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett: Take this one with a grain of salt. It mostly makes the list only because as different scenarios come up, I am morphed back into the world created for me in this book. It was long and at times tedious. Sometimes the intensity of the storyline forced me to put the book down for a week at a time before I had the courage to pick it up again. But it was masterful story telling.

    -Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist: I'm not a "read everything she's written" kind of reader of Niequists, but this book hit me at exactly the right time. I could relate to her stories and struggles and appreciated her humor and yearning for connection amidst hard situations. 

    -Wind Sprints by Joseph Epstein: This book is a book of short essays he had published elsewhere. I loved how easy it was to pick up and read and essay or two and I'd be laughing out loud with his cleverness. He has a wonderful way with words. Sometimes completely random and sometimes completely heartfelt. I loved reading his view of the world.

    -The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber: I'll lead with how I didn't enjoy the way the book ended. But I enjoyed everything else. This work of science fiction was beautiful and heartwrenching. I found myself challenged in how I talk about my faith because of this story. 

    -The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges: He created a picture of humility that you can sink your teeth into as he talked through the Beatitudes. His own vulnerability and humility was a welcome gift of insight into what it looks like to live a life of humility.

    These are my top 10! What did you read in 2016? I love getting your suggestions because I am about to embark on 365 days in 2017 that I'd love to fill with good reading! 

  • To the Golden Shore

    To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson
    by: Courtney Anderson

    My sister loaned me this biography ages ago. So long ago, in fact, I moved it from Atlanta to Minnesota. It's been sitting on my "to read" shelf and it's just taken me a long time to actually buckle down to the task of reading it. I was intimidated by it's size and the largeness of the man the book is written about. But finally, in desperation to read something that would keep me engaged, I picked it up.

    And then I couldn't put it down.

    It's a beautifully written book. Anderson doesn't miss a detail and he knows just what his readers care to learn. He's well versed in the life of Judson and his writing only worked to clarify details, he's never a distraction.

    Now, onto the life of Mr. Judson. In 500 pages there would be a lot to recap, so I'm whittling it down to the 2 things that have stuck with me the longest after finishing the book a month ago. Although, in various conversations, I'm consistently drawn back to his life, so there are I know there are many more than 2 things that have stuck with me.

    1. Judson didn't know how to let fear make his decisions. Adoniram's main goal was his dedication to His Savior. He stood before governors, kings, faced illness, the death of 2 wives and multiple children, translated the Scriptures into Burmese, wrote the first Burmese dictionary, and suffered a tormenting imprisonment. Through all he endured, he first and foremost trusted His Savior. Every page is drenched with his dedication. He lived through things you and I could never imagine, yet he never allowed fear to make his decisions. He had 1 year after the death of his first wife, where he sent himself off to the jungle to seek God and heal. But even in that time, he placed himself in the center of a tiger infested jungle, trusting in God's care for him, and he returned home more committed to his cause, with a heart softer than he had before, and a renewed dedication to the work at hand. Fear was not his friend. He would not submit to it.

    2. Obstacles are only obstacles. Judson came up against a million obstacles in his life. Before he ever left the U.S. for the first time, he faced the obstacle of financial and familial support for his endeavors. Then illness, imprisonment, death, rejection, few converts, and whatever else you'd care to name, followed him through Burma. But still, obstacles did not automatically mean for Adoniram, that he was to give in to them. Sometimes the obstacles slightly changed his course, but he never let them keep him from his calling. He continued to move forward and pursue his Savior with ever increasing fervor. 

    You'll be astounded by Adoniram's committment and dedication to One Thing. He stuck by people who took years to gain the courage to forfeit their previous lives. Even in the midst of pain and suffering, he painstakingly translated Scripture so the Burmese people could experience God. His translation is still the main Burmese translation of Scripture used today. Finally, he was constantly changing his perspectives. As he matured, he learned to admit his own failures, and grow from them. Read the book. 

  • The Best 8 Books I Read in 2015

    This is my annual tradition: to read books then share the ones I especially enjoyed. I have a few this year that were especially influential and wonderful.

    Prayer by Tim Keller. This book changed how I pray, study Scripture, and approach God. I HIGHLY recommend this book if you have an interest in spirituality and are looking for ways to deepen your connection to God.

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I should have written an entire review of this book. I had NO idea about many of the concepts of science and medicine that this book explored through a very personal lens of a family affected by research.

    The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. I was wandering the aisles of Goodwill hoping to find this book and then I did, and was thrilled. The book was engaging and suspenseful. 

    My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. What an imaginitive and adventuresome book. You maybe read this in middle school, but it's worth taking another look at, or if you have kids, reading it out loud to them. Their imaginations will run wild.

    The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson. Another children's book, but if you've kept up with my annual lists, this shouldn't surprise you. The story explored the life of a girl being raised in foster care. It was funny, honest, and sobering exploring how our choices change our lives. Such a good book!

    I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer. Jason and I read this book so we could become church members. We didn't know what to expect going in, but if you're committed to your church or want to be, this is worth your time! It's a different look at how to approach church.

    The Cure by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, Bill Thrall. I wrote an entire review about the book here. It's too much to cover here. 

    Come Be My Light by Mother Teresa. I also wrote an entire book review here. 

    What are your best book recommendations? Did you read any of these?

  • Come Be My Light

    A friend and I just finished reading this book which includes many of Mother Teresa's private writings. They were writings she BEGGED would never be published, so I felt I was invading her privacy as I read, but I was also so grateful the writings were shared.

    She was a brave woman who lived a dark interior life. Never wanting to cloud others' love of God, she shielded her darkness with "a big smile." She viewed her darkness as sharing in Christ's sufferings. If I were to undergo all she did, I would have a hard time not viewing the darkness as being abandoned by God, but she never gave into that lie. She continued to seek God. She encouraged others frequently to "Give Jesus a free hand and let Him use you without consulting you."

    At one point she was speaking of her love for Jesus and for those around her, "how my soul longs for God for Him alone, how painful it is to be without Him how my thoughts are only the Sisters the Poor. Is this distraction [or]are these thoughts the cause of my praying? They are my prayer they are my very life. I love them as I love Jesus, now as I do not love Jesus I do not love them either. I know this is only feelings for my will is steadfast bound to Jesus so to the Sisters & the Poor." 

    We often talk of "not being used" of "making agreements" of "not being taken advantage of." We speak of "following our hearts" or of "experiencing God." Mother Teresa did not have these phrases as part of her vocabulary. She welcomed what it meant to be spent for her Savior. She became empty so every bit of what she gave could be credited to her Savior. She would say, "I accept whatever He gives and I give whatever He takes." Her very life she held open handedly so God could do as He pleased in and through her.

    Even at the end, when she could no longer speak, she would gather her strength to write on a note, "I want Jesus." She didn't ask for visitation of those she served, of the priests, or of her sisters. She asked for Jesus to visit her. Her plea never changed. The darkness did not overcome her. Through every page my own faith was put to the test. Could I walk with God for 50 years without experiencing Him? Would I commit to such suffering without the visitation of God? Would I give the fullness of myself to ease the pain of others? I think the answer lies in what my life looks like. I don't live as she did. My faith hasn't withstood what hers required of her. I'm challenged by this mighty woman of God who spent herself for her love of God.

  • THE CURE [Nothing Hidden]

    The Cure: What If God Isn't Who You Think He Is And Neither Are You 
    by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall

    My friend Andre started reading this book after she had gotten a few chapters in, she wondered if I'd be willing to read it with her. The book takes a simple approach to some pretty hefty issues and I was thankful to have her to talk it through with. We savored every page, wrestling through issues of vulnerability, identity, trust, forgiveness, and taking a good hard look at how God honestly views us. We agreed this will be a book to read again and again.

    Sometimes in our faith we take the approach that if we work hard enough, if our intentions are good enough, if we just do a little more, we'll find God's pleasure. But the book was about allowing the Spirit to guide our hearts and transform our behavior. It's about giving God credit for the good in us and allowing Him to do the work. It's about forgiving ourselves and others for the wrongs done against us and the wrongs we've done ourselves. It's about being honest before others without masks to cover the parts of us we hate the most. It's about looking at our sin WITH God, instead of consistently believing He's standing on the other side of it waiting for us to tackle the mess by ourselves.

    I haven't begun to scratch the surface of all the complex yet simple lessons in the book, but I wanted to take a second to hit on the one that I can't stop thinking about. Here's the quote,

    "What if it was less important that anything ever gets fixed than that nothing has to be hidden?"

    We are taught to hide from a very early age. We hear and believe statements such as: "People will love us more if we follow the rules, if we overcome our flaws, if our good outweighs our bad, if we treat our inadequacies as strengths." But what if part of the grace offered to us through Jesus, is that He can look on our sin with us and still stand in our presence. And right along side this, if Jesus can sit with us in our failures, what if we sat with each other in ours and believed God big enough to transform us all instead of taking it on ourselves to fix them? 

    This lesson alone is one I am working to get my hands around. How many times have I tried to fix the sin of others instead of trusting God to work in them? How many times have I spoken when I should have sat in silence praying and listening to the aches of others? How many times have I told myself, "Just do better. Memorize more Scripture. Pray harder. Sin less," instead of in humility and honesty, coming to my Savior and begging for His presence, mercy and transformation? He sees it all anyway. Why would I try to hide from the only one who has made a way for my sin to be taken care of? Why would I think it's up to me?

    We have long since finished the book, but my heart keeps coming back to the truth, that God doesn't ask me to hide. It's something I'm going to have to work on learning my whole life, as I move into unknown territories, fall into new sins, and practice forgiveness. I don't want to hide and I don't want to ask you to either.

  • MWF Seeking BFF

    MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche

    It seems appropriate that after my last post this book review and my next post about learning would be on this book. To be honest, I started this book in May of last year. Shameful. It took me so long to get through for 3 reasons.

    1. In reading the book it felt most of the time, like she was writing a high school research paper but didn't know how to smoothly actually incorporate her research. If she said "as research shows" one more time I might have tracked her down so I could bite off her main typing finger. But this was more of a minor annoyance.

    2. I started reading the book before I had left my dear friends in Atlanta. I felt like a traitor reading the book while I was still with friends who are very dear to me. I didn't WANT new friends, I just wanted all the cities where my dear friends live to not be so far away from Maple Grove, MN. BUT I also knew my tendency to take too long to make friends and was trying to head it off before it happened.

    3. I was in the process of dating, getting engaged, planning a wedding, and then moving across the country, so it didn't leave a ton of time to finish a book I was only sort of excited about.

    All this to say, I set out this year to be open to learning things from unlikely sources and this is a prime example.

    As I was reading the book I found myself hungry to know some sure fire ways to build relationships, but also hesitant to approach the task so scientifically. I did learn a couple important things from Rachel Bertsche's journey to friendship. Don't be timid. Rachel unashamedly and openly asked gals to hang out with her all. the. time. She wouldn't be shy about making friends and she found that generally, people are open to advances of kindness. They are flattered by them. People want friends.

    I also learned that there's a cap to how many friends one can have. Rachel cited Robin Dunbar who believes the number is around 150 people. This includes long distance friends, family members, and any relationships that are dependent on an actual extensive understanding of each other. Which explains a lot. Have you ever felt like you're trying to enter a new group of people and there's just not room for you? Well, it might be because people have met their 150 cap and literally don't have space for new friends unless some of the old get shoved out. It's not a pretty reality, but good for me to consider as I work my way into an already very established community here in Maple Grove. The same tensions were overcome in time in Atlanta.

    I've been very thankful for our neighbors who have been so welcoming, friendly and intentional about reaching out to us and being our friends, for a couple of gals who have been important friends to me in Omaha and Atlanta and also happen to live in Minneapolis, and for a friend blind date I was set up on who led us to the church we now attend. Friends are important. And without reading a book about it, I think we could all agree on that fact. We need each other, and even though the friend-making process may not always be an easy one, it's worth the outcome.

    So back to the book review, if you're looking for a light-hearted book about moving halfway across the country and building new relationships, you might have fun with this book. If you're looking for your next favorite book, I would recommend something else.

  • 7 Best Books from 2014

    I pride myself in the amount that I read. I love reading, I love being the person people ask book recommendations from, I love reading books others recommend, and this year I've felt like a bit of a failure. My year was a whirlwind and reading was the primary thing I had to let go of a bit, so I only read about 1/3rd as much as I usually do. 

    All this said, there were a few favorites I had from my year. Not as many as usual, but these are ones I believe are worth the time.

    I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak [He also wrote The Book Thief]. He finds himself on an adventure of righting wrongs. He is a teenage adult who begins to find purpose. I loved the concept and was drawn into the story.

    Almost Amish. I had a love/hate relationship with the book. When I could get over the "ought to" language, I could really enjoy her simplistic living and the tips she gave for releasing our attachments to convenience and things. It's sort of a beginners guide to simplistic living for people who may not have considered it before.

    Girl With A Pearl Earing. I'm ashamed I haven't read it before, as much as I have heard about it, but it was worth the wait. It's a combination of protecting and risking and the story is beautifully written. By the end I'd fallen in love with the hard, independent, needless main character.

    The Christian Mind. I was skeptical for the first few chapters. It seemed heady and difficult to get my mind around. But by chapter 4 I was excited to keep reading and learning about how the transformation of the Spirit also transforms how I think about a myriad of topics. 

    Wonder. Hands down this was my favorite book from 2014. It quickly has made it's way among my favorites and I'm having my neices and nephews read it. It's a beautiful story explaining the perspective of someone with differences and the perspectives of those around him. I LOVED every page.

    The Giver. I'd read it before but began it all over again when a friend told me it's the first of 4 books. I didn't realize. Now I'm finishing book 4 and have an even greater love of the original. 

    The Cure. I'm nearly finished with this book, so I'm jumping the gun a little, but it's been transformational. It's caused me to slow down and think about how I view God and myself. It's teaching me to have grace for others and for myself.

  • Yes or No by Jeff Shinabarger

    I've had the privilege of working with Jeff Shinabarger for the last 5 years. Two projects we've worked hard on during that time are the writing and release of his two books, More or Less and Yes or No

    Yes or No released on Labor Day.

    When thinking about making decisions that will change the trajectory of life, it’s easy to throw in a bunch of heady analytical practices, formulas to follow, or content that tries to tell people what they SHOULD do.

    What is more difficult is creating an understanding of WHY we make the decisions we do, and letting our loves shape our decisions. This book is not a bunch of how-to’s, instead it asks the hard questions about our loves, our fears, and our dreams. 

    Making good decisions is less about following a formula, and more about determining who we want to be, and the story we want to tell with our lives. Once I know what I love the most, I’ll know what to prioritize. It’s a simple concept, but not an easy path to follow. Yes or No has challenged me to live more intentionally by taking a second to answer if saying yes to something truly matches what I want my life to look like.

    There are 7 decision-making styles outlined in the book along with an assessment to determine how we make decisions that I found incredibly helpful in working with others. I may best come to my conclusions through making a list but a friend might want to talk it through with several trusted confidants. Tell me how you came out on the quiz! I would love to know!

    The book has become a trusted resource for me, in reminding me what I love the most and that I want my decisions to reflect my values.