My February 2021 Book Stack

Maybe I’m weird, but something about cold weather makes me want to read. There is nothing like curling up by the fire under a blanket with a good book!

Thankfully, there was plenty of cold weather last month. So, here’s what I read in February:

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale is one of my all-time favorite books, so choosing this book was a no-brainer. Hannah is a master at historical fiction; she is able to recreate settings and build characters in a way that completely immerses her readers in the story. The Great Alone was no different.

Set during the mid-1970’s, the story unfolds of a young family grappling to make things work. Ernt Allbright is a caring husband and doting father; but his time as a POW during Vietnam changed everything. Struggling with PTSD (long before they knew that was a thing), Ernt finds it difficult to keep a job or stay in one place too long. His wife, Cora, and 13 year old daughter, Leni, do their best to keep him happy as they cling to what’s left of him. Upon learning of some property given to him by a fallen comrade, Ernt convinces Cora and Leni to pack all their belongings into a VW van and drive to the end of the world— the wilderness of Alaska.

However, what awaits them in Alaska is more than they ever expected! There they find breathtaking views, the most loyal friendships, and a beautiful, unforgiving frontier. While Cora and Leni make preparations to survive their first winter, Ernt spends his days attempting to tame both their property and his temper. Life is better for a while, but as the weather grows colder and the nights grow longer, darkness crawls into the cracks of his soul, and the danger within their home soon overshadows the dangers outside. This is a story of the loss of innocence and coming of age, faithful friendships and tragic circumstances, survival and co-dependency. Hannah masterfully weaves her tale of love and heartbreak with threads of courage and weakness that kept me staying up way too late at night reading “just one more chapter.” 

The imagery of Alaska in this book is breathtaking and makes me long to experience it in person. The characters become friends as the story progresses, and I found myself wishing I could do something to help. Her depiction of the violence that can be associated with PTSD is difficult to read, but so very real. Anyone with domestic abuse in their past may want to skip this one or be prepared for possible triggers. For the rest of us, it is a beautiful story written with great compassion for those who wrestle with their own nightmares and experiences, while still prioritizing the safety and health of those who love them. I highly recommend this book, but only if you want to book a trip to Alaska afterwards!

The Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser

This was another fun fiction read. I came across it at our local used bookstore, and it jumped right into my pile of books! (Okay, that was super corny. Sorry.) Y’all know I am a big fan of YA fantasy, and what book-lover doesn’t love the idea of the real life and story-life overlapping? That’s exactly what happens in this story.

Amy Lennox is a teenage girl struggling to find herself amidst the cruelty that accompanies adolescence. She usually escapes into her books, but this time when her mother suffers a difficult break-up, the two of them run away to her mother’s childhood home on the island of Stormsay. Their adventure is shrouded in mystery from the beginning, and Amy could never have imagined the secrets she would uncover. 

The author did a great job of adding in enough twists and turns to keep the ending unpredictable, which added to the suspense and kept me reading. Part mystery, part fantasy, and part teenage coming-of-age, this is a fun story for anyone who loves books!

In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon

My freshman year of college, a close friend gave me this book, and it had a profound impact on my spiritual life. Though In His Steps was written in 1896, its message is just as pertinent today as it was to its original audience. It is the fictional story of a town that is completely transformed when a stranger interrupts a church service one Sunday, questioning whether or not the “Christ-followers” are actually following Jesus at all. He calmly challenges the congregation to compare their own actions to the teaching and example of Jesus, wondering if perhaps they like the idea of claiming to follow Jesus more than they like actually obeying Him.

After pondering the stranger’s words, the minister discovers his entire concept of discipleship is in disarray. The next Sunday, he stands before his congregation and issues a challenge: Who will commit for one whole year to do nothing without first asking, “What would Jesus do?” and responding in obedience, regardless of the cost? The goal is not to judge anyone else’s interpretation, but simply to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance on what Jesus would have you do in your current situation. 

The rest of the book unveils the difference it makes in people’s lives, both individually and collectively, when Christ’s followers live in obedience to the Master instead of conforming to the world. This is a life-changing concept, and one of the reasons this book has been a favorite for thirty years. If you are interested in pursuing this further, check out my 31 Day Discipleship Challenge!

Into the Region of Awe by David C. Downing

I came across this title in one of my readings last year, and since I am a big fan of C.S. Lewis’ books, I thought I’d check it out. In Into the Region of Awe, Downing challenges the modern mantra that mysticism and sound doctrine cannot coexist. What better way to do that than to use C. S. Lewis as an example? After all, he is one of our most famous apologists while also being one of our most well-loved writers of fantasy. Downing makes the case that, while Lewis was firmly grounded in his theology and never called himself a mystic, his work and correspondence are filled with plenty of mystical elements and beliefs. 

In my opinion, Downing did a great job defining mysticism and then supporting his thesis using both Lewis’s fictional and non-fictional writings. To remove any mystical element from God is to make Him merely human; and to limit Him to the realm of supernatural experience is to ignore the reality of Jesus and risk falling into the trap of false mysticism (and universalism). Through Lewis’s works, Downing introduces us to Christian mystics whom Lewis admired and the context in which they wrote and served. These are in great contrast to many modern “mystics” who seek “experience” without any notion of sacrifice or service.

This book is academic in nature and much of it reads almost like a textbook, so at times it was difficult for me to get through. But I highly recommend it for anyone seeking to find a balance between solid doctrine which is not swayed by emotion and personal encounters with the Presence of God (which, by their very nature, are mystical experiences). Downing makes a good case for not just the existence of both, but the necessity of both in our relationship with Christ.

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So, that’s what I read in February!

What about you? What’s on your nightstand?

31 Day Discipleship Challenge: How to Follow Jesus

My freshman year of college, a close friend gave me a book that had a profound impact on my spiritual life. In His Steps is a Christian fiction novel written in 1896 by Charles Sheldon. It tells the story of a town that is completely transformed when a stranger interrupts a church service one Sunday, questioning whether or not the Christ-followers are actually following Jesus at all. He calmly inquires:

I was wondering… if what you call following Jesus is the same thing as what He taught. What did He mean when He said: ‘Follow Me’? The minister said… it is necessary for the disciple of Jesus to follow His steps, and he said the steps are ‘obedience, faith, love, and imitation.’ But I did not hear him tell you just what he meant that to mean, especially the last step. What do you Christians mean by following the steps of Jesus… What do you mean when you sing, ‘I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way?’ Do you mean that you are suffering and denying yourselves and trying to save lost, suffering humanity just as I understand Jesus did?… It seems to me there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps?

In His Steps, p.8-9

After pondering the stranger’s words, the minister discovers his entire concept of discipleship is in disarray. The next Sunday, he stands before his congregation and issues a challenge: Who will commit for one whole year to do nothing without first asking, “What would Jesus do?” and responding in obedience, regardless of the cost? The goal is not to judge anyone else’s interpretation, but simply to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance on what Jesus would have you do in your current situation. 

The rest of the book unveils the difference it makes in people’s lives, both individually and collectively, when Christ’s followers live in obedience to the Master instead of by conforming to the world.

I pulled that same, worn copy out earlier this month and read it again. It challenged and inspired me just as much now as when I first read it thirty years ago! Since we are in Lent, a season of surrender and preparation leading up to Easter, and since many of you seem to be intrigued by my journey of allowing God to “transform” me this year, I have decided to issue a 31Day Discipleship Challenge for the month of March. If you desire to truly follow Jesus in a transformational way, this challenge is for you!

As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” While I continue to use Romans 12:1-2 as my theme verse for 2021, for the purpose of this challenge, I want to focus on a different verse:

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24, ESV)

Jesus is giving us the formula for discipleship: Deny yourself, Take up your cross, Follow in my steps. 

Obviously, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Jesus’ path led through great suffering and self-sacrifice, so it can be assumed ours will include similar elements. However, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit (the Presence of God within us!) to be our guide and strength. We don’t have to try to figure it all out on our own! He promises to help us. We have everything we need!

So here’s the challenge.

For the next 31 days, I challenge you to spend time with the LORD every day (preferably first thing in the morning, but whatever works best for you) and ask Him these questions:

1. DENY YOURSELF

  • In what ways/areas do I need to deny myself?
  • Another way of asking this is what do I want to do or have that I need to surrender to You instead?
  • What are you asking me to give up that will cost me something?
  • What am I afraid to give up?

2. TAKE UP YOUR CROSS

  • What is the “cross” I need to take up?
  • What do I not want to do, but need to?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • How are you calling me to suffer or sacrifice for You?

3. FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS

  • How are you asking/calling me to follow you?
  • Where do I see or sense You at work, and how can I join You?
  • What is one step I can take towards You TODAY?

I encourage you to write down your answers everyday. If you are not a journaling person, you might want to just do bullet points under each topic. At first, simply write down whatever thoughts come to mind and see if there are any patterns that emerge. 

Then spend some time on this, truly listening for the Father’s voice. You might know instantly what next step God is calling you to; perhaps this exercise will give you the courage to move forward in obedience. Or you may not have any idea what you need to surrender or where He wants to take you, and that’s okay!

It is my prayer that praying this Scripture every day will open your eyes to seeing Jesus in a much deeper, more personal way. 

James promises us, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8, ESV) If you long for God to transform your life, your heart, your marriage, your finances, etc. into all He designed them to be, draw near to Him! He will meet you where you are and walk with you from there.

Can you imagine the difference it would make in this world if all who claim to follow Jesus actually did? If honoring Christ with our thoughts, words, and actions became more important to us than feeling comfortable, making money, or being accepted? 

Let’s find out together! Who’s in? 

If you’re up for the challenge, please comment below or send me a message. I’d love to walk this journey beside you and have a front row seat to what God is going to do!

Also, if you have a minute, check out these other “Challenge”-related blog posts from some of my friends:

https://www.ashleyolivine.com/the-motherhood-penalty-challenge/

https://www.epigenwellness.com/insomnia-with-anxiety-how-to-overcome-challenge/

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