{Mommy Journal} Our Current Top Five Picture Books

Both our moms taught us to LOVE books, so Andrew and I were determined to make them a big part of our children’s lives. :) We are so thrilled that our little Monkey absolutely adores being read to. I thought I would share some of our current favorites that may be a little more obscure. It’s hard to narrow it down, but here are our current Top Five. These are affiliate links to Amazon. :)

All the Places to Love by Patricia McLachlan

Brought to you by the author of Sarah, Plain and Tall! This was a favorite of mine growing up, and it just so happens that the little boy’s name is Eli, so now it is even more dear to me! The paintings in this book are truly stunning and the nostalgic tone with which it is written might bring a tear to your eye. It does to mine, but I’m not even two months postpartum. ;) Caleb is completely enraptured by the pictures!

 

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton

This author has several cute books, and this is Andrew’s and Caleb’s favorite. The fun plot and quirky illustrations make it a hit, especially for boys!

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

This title is just plain cute and heart-warming. Caleb loves to point out silly things in the peculiar illustrations, and I enjoy reading it in exactly the way that the narrator did when we had it on tape growing up. ;)

Lentil by Robert McCloskey

Robert McCloskey is one of my all-time favorite authors, so be sure to check out his many other picture and chapter books! His black-and-white drawings are full of sweet details and great facial expressions. Lentil is Caleb’s favorite of our McCloskey collection: the story of a little boy who can’t pucker his lips to whistle, but can play a harmonica…and how that skill saves the day!

 

Paddington by Michael Bond

I love this picture book version of one of my favorite chapter book characters, and Caleb requests it often. The pictures are darling and it is well-written, so it’s fun for a grownup to read. Sometimes I practice my poor British accent for added interest. ;)

Next on my list to purchase is Nine for California...yet another favorite from my childhood! What’s the current favorite picture book in your home?

{Reading Report} What I Read in 2014

My five favorite books I read in 2014 were:

The Hole in Our Holiness
The Gospel at Work
Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home
Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus 
Creative Counterpart

I didn’t exactly meet my goal of reading 48 books. I read 33, and that was only thanks to the book review job I started in the spring. Below is what I read. The books in bold are what I read independently, the others I was paid to read and review. For those I read on my own, you can find some of my reviews here.

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem 
A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger than You 
I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy 
When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty 
Creative Counterpart : Becoming the Woman, Wife, and Mother You Have Longed To Be
Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home 

Unbroken (audiobook)
For Women Only 

First We Have Coffee
Reckless Abandon 

A Cup of Cold Water: The Compassion of Nurse Edith Cavell
Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow
Passion: How Christ’s final day changes your every day 

The Hole in Our Holiness
A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships 
The Intolerance of Tolerance
Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus Death and Resurrection

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full
Jesus or Nothing
What Every Woman Wishes Her Father Had Told Her
Everyone’s A Theologian
Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus 
The Doctrines of Grace: Student Edition
Suffering Well
The Witch of Blackbird Pond (audiobook)
The Gospel at Work
Now That I’m a Christian: What It Means to Follow Jesus
Stepping Heavenward: One Woman’s Journey to Godliness
Al Capone Does My Shirts 
Al Capone Shines My Shoes (audiobook) 
On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the GIFT of Nighttime Sleep

            

What I Read in March/April

Well, thank goodness for my book review job, where I get paid to read several hours a week. Without that, my reading goal would have gone to pot over the past month, between moving, new job, and pregnancy sickness. Here’s what I read in March and April.

In March, I read the middle grade book A Cup of Cold Water: The Compassion of Nurse Edith Cavell. Obviously it was an easy, breezy read. I also read the very small Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow by R.C. Sproul, which was short and fundamental but excellent. Beyond that, I’ve read the following books for my review job:

Passion: How Christ’s final day changes your every day (excellent)
The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (favorite!)
A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships (could take it or leave it)
The Intolerance of Tolerance (academic in nature but definitely helpful)

I won’t be reviewing those here since I was paid to read them, but I do have to say that The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung is hands down the best book I’ve read in the past two years, jam-packed with Scripture and brimming with hope and biblical exhortation. READ IT.

On my own, I’m almost finished with Stepping Heavenward, have a few chapters left in Trusting God, and am about 25% through the massive Bonhoeffer. You can expect to see a shift in my reading choices toward baby and parenting related materials shortly! =)

   

{Book Update} Mid-Way Through March

My new-found love for reading hasn’t dwindled yet! I’m discovering that reading simply doesn’t get old. I’ve made a few changes to the initial list I posted in January, which I’d formed before I decided before I set my 48 book goal. I’ve read a few books that weren’t on the list, and I’ve scratched Crossed (Matched Series) off my list. I really enjoyed the first audio book of the trilogy, but I got partway into listening to the second and disliked it, so I ditched it. I’m currently listening to The Book Thief.

I picked up Stepping Heavenward and I can hardly set it back down. More on that later. I’m about 140 pages into Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, which is over 600 pages total. (A good stepping stone to Les Mis, perhaps?) That should make up for Crazy Busy and For Women Only, two short books I read earlier this year. I’m nearing the end of Trusting God and have fully loved it all.

There’s so much I can’t wait to dive into soon, which is excellent motivation to keep traversing what I’ve started! One classic I decided to return to this year is Jane Eyre. I cannot wait to relive the drama within those old pages, and I hope it is as gripping as I recall.

Do you tend to reread books, or is once through good enough for you? What “classic” do you return to time and again? Do tell! For me, growing up, one of those books that never got old was Snow Treasure.

  

{Reading Report} For Women Only

for-women-onlyFor Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn promises to take its reader “beneath the surface into the inner lives of men”. Its information is based on a “national survey and personal interviews with over one thousand men.” This book has its helpful qualities but also its flaws. Let me try to explain.

For Women Only is primarily based on secular information and psychology, not on the Word of God. I do not mean to imply that it is unbiblical, but rather that its starting point is not one that would lend itself to changing a marriage from the inside out. One of the endorsements on the inside cover claims that the book has “the power to change you and your relationship”. I strongly disagree with that statement. The power to revolutionize you and your marriage in a lasting and God-glorifying way lies within the gospel. I would encourage anyone reading this book to put it in its rightful place: that of one that may help you to understand your husband in a new way. To read it apart from the Bible and other gospel-grounded resources could result in a list of “dos and don’ts” with little perspective or help for the root of our marriage problems. Understanding that your husband desires respect may help you to bite your tongue when you feel harsh words coming on, but does nothing to change your heart.

I also have a slight issue with the author’s insistence that men need this and men need that. I realize that she is writing to women, and authors have to shout to be heard. At the same time, if a Christian man’s whole morale system comes crashing down with a disrespectful comment from his wife, as this book implies, he has serious identity issues. My identity should not be wrapped up in whether my husband loves me, neither should his be wrapped up in whether I respect him, see to his physical needs, etc. I am commanded to honor him in many ways, yes, but he is also commanded to delight himself in the Lord, and not in my behavior as a wife.

I know that was a lot of critical nit-picking. But I believe we should be careful when staking philosophies or belief systems on a book–any book other than the Bible. All of that said, I did find For Women Only helpful in understanding more of how many men think about different issues. I specifically appreciated the chapter on romance, which helped me to see how a guy views this part of the relationship and how it can complement my idea of romance. I also found the chapter about his inherent drive to provide useful in understanding the responsibility and pressure husbands feel in taking care of their families. And there were plenty of other helpful tidbits to glean along the way.

I could definitely see myself giving this book to a wife and encouraging her to read a specific chapter that might shed light on an issue in her marriage. I would not recommend it before first promoting What Did You Expect, which is extremely gospel-centered, and The Excellent Wife, which feels like Scripture with a few thoughts thrown in on the side. In balance with books like these, For Women Only is a useful tool in growing into women who love and understand the men in our lives.

{Reading Report} Unbroken

unbroken-cover_custom-0a55df2637ae96369dd0302be5ad4de816c6b0ab-s6-c85I am not going to tell you much about this biography by Laura Hillenbrand, which I enjoyed via audio book, because I would very quickly spoil pieces of the plot. It is well-worth the time, but not for the faint of heart. The terrors of World War II, especially as pertains to POW camps, are not skipped over, and for chapters on end, there is little to smile about. But it really happened, not all that long ago, and it is a story that needs to be heard. The movie comes out on Christmas Day, so you may want to read Unbroken before then. I sincerely hope they do this incredible book justice.

Spoiler Alert! Perhaps this quote will entice you to find out everything that led up to it.

At that moment, something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over.

{Reading Report} First We Have Coffee

Mama’s young face had a quiet peace, for she had dealt with her grief at the throne of grace. God’s promises would never fail! She had looked unto the hills and found, in God, a very present help in her time of trouble.

Delightful. Peculiar. Old-fashioned. Nostalgic. Simple. Heartwarming.

51SX83DTZML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_These are some of the words that come to mind when attempting to describe the unique read First We Have Coffee by Margaret Jensen. It is an appreciative daughter’s affectionate tribute to her mother’s full and unselfish life. “Mama” was a lovely Norwegian girl, married to a pastor–a passionate, God-fearing man who loved his family but adored his theology and books even more. Mama’s faith and charitable heart blessed not only the precious children whom she served and trained in righteousness, but also strangers, neighbors, and church members alike.

Just as the landscape of rivers, trees, villages and people, clouds, and sky blended into one moving picture, so the scenes from home blended into one picture–Mama. That must be why Papa needs her so desperately, I thought. She is his home, his roots, his source of life and meaning, for she continually directs his steps back to faith in God.

Life lessons could be found in everything Mama encountered, whether it be the worn shoes received in missionary barrels, the severe illness of a child, or Papa’s impetuous decision to purchase pearls instead of food during a time of financial difficulty.

Mama never allowed sympathy to obscure a deeper lesson.

Like everyone, Mama had her weaknesses. I am not holding this book or her life up as the perfect role model or theological standard; but I would be thrilled if I left a legacy similar to hers in the lives of my children and grandchildren. A large part of why I found First We Have Coffee so heartwarming and inspiring is that Mama’s characteristics and steady presence were much like those of my own mother, who set the tone for our home as my brothers and I grew up (although her marriage is much more harmonious and mutual than the one told of in this book). We came and went, traversed seasons of rebellion or disinterest, experienced highs and lows, and through it all, Mommy was always there for us, ready with Bible truths, a listening ear, and countless hot meals. In fact, she is there, still…not just for those yet in the nest, but for me as well, even though we are states apart.

This story would make a delightful read aloud for the family, or an inspiring break for the tired mom.

Home was Mama! The kitchen was a coffee pot. Security was the rocking chair. We were home!

{Reading Report} I Will Carry You

To hurt so deeply is a sign that we live in a fallen world, not that we serve a small God.

In 2008, Angie Smith learned partway through her pregnancy that her fourth baby girl, Audrey, was “incompatible with life.” I-Will-Carry-You-002Contrary to the doctor’s recommendation to abort, Angie chose to embrace whatever life God would allow Audrey. I Will Carry You is her story.

It is raw with the deep emotions of saying goodbye to a baby.

I clung to her, staring at the door, keenly aware a part of me was going to go with her, never to return.

I appreciated this book for many reasons.

First, I find it encouraging and convicting to read about trials much greater than what I am going through. It puts life in perspective and increases my thankfulness to God for His earthly blessings in my life. It is also a reminder that we never know what tomorrow holds, and we should pursue God in the smooth times, preparing our hearts for potential valleys.

Second, Angie’s trust in the Lord’s plan for her life shines through in her account, providing an example of faith and obedience worth following in our own struggles.

Third, I Will Carry You helped me get an inside look at the grief involved in losing a baby, hopefully equipping me to be more empathetic toward ladies who have miscarried or lost an infant.

I so respect the purposeful decisions Angie made to choose joy and trust while in the middle of grief.

Part of trying to cultivate a grateful heart is looking for opportunities to share the gospel through my loss and seeking ways to bring God glory through the loss. When I feel like hiding in my room and ignoring the world, I start to feel depressed, and resentment sinks in. Picking yourself up and going about your life as if it’s all a gift isn’t easy when you have lost something precious. But that’s just it; I can either focus on what I have lost, or what I have gained, and I choose the latter. Sometimes I have to choose it a couple of times an hour.

Without downplaying the intense difficulty of losing Audrey, Angie kept her sorrow in perspective and grounded herself in what she knew to be true of God. She also chose to see her loss as an opportunity to share the gospel–what an unselfish and beautiful response to suffering. For that reason, among others, I recommend her autobiography.

What the Lord has given us can either be taken into ourselves as pain or given back to Him as a holy offering, one that glorifies His name and gives meaning to our loss.

From Lazy Reader to Book Worm

Photo courtesy of elizabethannedesigns.com.

Photo courtesy of elizabethannedesigns.com.

Five weeks into my 2014 reading challenge (forty-seven to go, haha…check back with me next month) and I’m having a blast. I thought I’d offer some encouragement and tips to anyone else who wants to read but finds it a difficult discipline. I’ve been there for, oh, the last six years or so. Here are a few things that have helped me leave the lazy reader behind and start working toward becoming a book worm.

1. Make a list of what you want to read.

If you know ahead of time what you’d like to read, and you’ve even written it down, you won’t waste time in between books.

2. Get lost in several books simultaneously, preferably of varying genres or depth levels.

I wasn’t always in the mood for Paul David Tripp last month, and that was okay. I could take up I Will Carry You or Creative Counterpart instead and carry on with Tripp another day, without “losing” those opportune moments.

3. Choose to make reading your new go-to leisure activity.

I’m picking up my phone a lot less and grabbing a book a lot more these days. If I have ten spare minutes in between commitments, I squeeze in a chapter instead of scrolling Facebook.

4. Tell your friends about what you’re reading and encourage them to do the same!

Selena and I have formed an unofficial book club of two, and it’s motivating both of us to read more. You could also have a formal accountability partner if you’re really struggling.

5. Use Good Reads.

This is a great, free system for tracking what you’ve read, what you’d like to read, and what you’re currently reading. You can also create a reading challenge for yourself, and as you complete books, your challenge completion percentage will increase. Talk about incentive!

6. Watch for Kindle deals and use your library system and friends’ bookshelves.

You don’t have to pay list price for everything you pick up. I watch Amazon’s Monthly Kindle Deals for savings, buy their books used, and borrow from the library or a friend when I can.

7. Mark up those pages. 

I find that highlighting a book helps me get more out of it and remember more when I’m finished, and provides me with an easy way to go back to what I appreciated afterward. This makes reading feel more worthwhile and also makes writing book reviews less painful.

8. Remember that man’s words never trump God’s Word.

What we read, including devotional books, should never replace consistent time directly in the Bible. This is for many reasons, one of them being that if we are not in the Word regularly, we will lose our ability to discern truth from error in the books we read. We must make the Bible the standard against which we measure everything else we take in.

In conclusion…

If you’re someone who, like me, has wanted to read more but simply hasn’t made it happen, I hope some of these tips will help you carve out the time. Remember to keep reading in balance with the rest of life. Even a good thing can become an idol when we let it grow too important or cop an attitude when we can’t have it.

Happy reading! =)

{Reading Report} Glimpses of Grace

glimpses-of-grace_1As I ate up the reasonably sized chapters in this book by Gloria Furman, I was happy to find a balanced view of salvation and its affects on our thoughts, motives, and behavior as Christian women. Glimpses of Grace offers theologically sound but practically helpful counsel for cherishing Jesus, Who He is, and His beautiful gospel in the midst of the mundane moments that a woman’s life is made up of.

The balance of this book is clear throughout, including in the following quote from Chapter 3:

I believe it is helpful and necessary to retreat to quiet places to pray and read God’s Word. But silence is not necessary for you to have a vibrant relationship with God. your spiritaul life is not restricted to early mornings before the noisemakers in your life wake up. If you feel that God meets with you only when the house is empty or quiet, you’ll view every noise and every noisemaker as an annoying distraction to your communion with God.

Here we see the well-rounded philosophy that it is helpful and even necessary to retreat to quiet places for quality time with God. Yet if we legalistically believe that we can only commune with Him in that setting, we are opening ourselves up for a lot of unnecessary frustration and wrong reactions to the interruptions He has ordained.

One of my favorite things about this read was Mrs. Furman’s emphasis on the Person of Jesus Christ as our object of contentment. I’ve realized in recent months how easy it is to think I’m content because I’m choosing to enjoy my housework, my job, and the other mundane pieces of life. That’s great, but I really need to take it a step further. Mrs. Furman explains,

Surely these things–a cheerful attitude and sense of hopefulness–are wonderful by-products of rejoicing in God while in the midst of our homes. But that’s just what they are–by-products. The source of our faith, hope, love, joy, and gospel-grounded optimism is God Himself and not our stuff or our circumstances.

I also love the connection drawn between dwelling on Jesus and becoming like Him.

We study Christ because we’ve been saved for the purpose of being transformed into His image, and in our beholding, the work of transformation occurs.

In terms of practicality, Chapter 7 “All Grace and All Sufficieny for Every Dinner Guest” was my favorite. Serving through hospitality must, like everything in our lives, must be done out of a deep-rooted love for Jesus. I’m sure every woman can relate to the fear of man that is shown in letting earning the satisfaction and admiration of our dinner guests become an idol as we prepare to open our homes.

When we serve with the strength God supplies instead of from our own energies or motivation, we can serve with cheerfulness to the praise of His glory. We don’t have to be embittered martyrs on the altar of hospitality.

Quite possibly my favorite quote from the book is also in Chapter 7:

When grief over our sin and thankfulness for the gift of grace meet together at the cross, a powerful work of transformation occurs in our hearts.

I hope these few quotes whet your appetite enough to compel you to pick up Glimpses of Grace. As a young wife looking ahead to, Lord-willing, many years of serving primarily from my home, the truth and encouragement Mrs. Furman had to share rang true in my heart when held up against Scripture. Her sense of humor and realism kept the book light and enjoyable, and her illustrations and real-life examples skillfully brought heady theology down to a practical level, while not trivializing the magnitude of the Cross. I believe this is a book I will return to in years to come as I fight carnal thinking in the mundane moments of life, and I highly recommend it to any woman seeking to love Jesus through her day-in, day-out routine.