My October Book Stack

Okay, y’all, I warned you. My October book stack can barely be called a “stack”…

A duo, maybe. A couple. Two books.

Seriously?

Yep, seriously. Two books. And if I’m honest, I still have a few pages left in one of them!

I have two other books I started reading last month, but they are both part of group studies, so I am still in the process of reading them. Hopefully they will make it into my November book stack.

At this rate, who knows?

But the good news is this will be a short blog post and a quick read! Let’s go!

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Experiencing God at Home by Tom and Richard Blackaby

If you are anywhere near my age and were involved in church in the 90’s, you are probably familiar with the “Experiencing God” Bible study and the Blackaby name.  The youth version of that study is by far the best tool I have found to help teenagers learn to hear God’s voice and recognize Him at work around them. So when I saw this book written by two of Henry Blackaby’s sons, I was immediately interested! This was not my first time reading it— I actually pulled it out as a resource for an online parenting discussion Jeff and I were involved in last month. It is on my bookshelf for a reason!

Experiencing God at Home takes the seven basic steps from the Experiencing God study and uses them to help parents recognize and join God in how He is working in their children’s lives. It also provides tools to teach their kids how to apply these principles themselves. The authors provide plenty of personal illustrations from their own families, which are easy to relate to. Each chapter ends with questions for reflection/discussion, making this a great book for parents to read together or to study with a small group. This is actually one of my top 5 favorite parenting books, so if you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend it!

Guy’s Guide to God, Girls, and the Phone in Your Pocket: 101 Real World Tips for Teenage Guys by Jonathan McKee

I know, I know, this is a really weird book for a 47 year old woman to be reading! But I have preteen boys, y’all, and growing up is a thing whether we like it or not. I have read a couple other books by Jonathan McKee, and he has a great grasp on the current teen culture. Not only that, but he does a terrific job relating Biblical truth to teens in a way that comes off helpful and appealing, not preachy. This book is no different.

I REALLY like this book! It is set up in one-to-two page chapters, making it perfect for teen guys to use as a daily devotional. Each chapter includes questions to think about which help the guys apply what they are reading to their daily life. It would be easy for a leader to pull some of these questions out and use this as a guide for a small group or accountability group. The topics are super relevant, and McKee’s approach is both Biblical and authentic. He comes off like a big brother or older friend, giving guidance on subjects such as technology use, friendship, dating, prayer, and making wise choices.  

What age is this book geared towards? Well, our oldest son, Eli, is twelve and in 7th grade. I read this book with him in mind, and honestly, I think he would love it. There are a few chapters about girls and sex-related themes that I don’t think he and many other boys his age are quite ready for. At the same time, I know there are some who are. It is definitely appropriate for high school boys. However, if your son is in middle school, I encourage you to preview it yourself first. You know your boy and what he is ready for. This might be a little too much, too soon, or it might be exactly what your son needs to draw his heart towards Christ! Either way, it should definitely be on your radar for the teen boys in your life.

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Well friends, that’s it! I was only able to get through two books last month, but don’t worry- November’s book stack will be larger! I should have at least four books ready to review when this month is over. (Spoiler: I hate one of them! And I rarely say that!!)

As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to pass on suggestions of books you think I might like!

What’s on your nightstand?

September Book Stack

Well friends, here we are in November. When I sat down to write about my (really small) October book stack, I realized I never posted my books from September!

What? How did that happen? 

Honestly, y’all, October was just a really strange month for me. First, we kicked it off with our annual family Disney trip; except Sarah had to quarantine at college at the last minute, so it didn’t really feel like a family trip for any of us. Then, the temperature outside kept bouncing between highs and lows, which was totally reflected in my mood. And because I couldn’t get out of my own head, I ended up spending WAY too much time scrolling on social media, and very little time reading or writing (or doing anything remotely productive).  

Thankfully, Sarah finally made it home for her first visit last weekend, and suddenly I feel like I can breathe again! Isn’t it crazy how we can be dealing with emotions internally and have no idea how they are affecting us? Apparently I was missing our girl way more than I realized. 

Anyway, a weekend of Heath Fam adventures was good for my soul. So, I am back in the game again! And my September book stack seems like a good place to start.

Here you go!

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Memories of Glass by Melanie Dobson

I added this book to my 2020 reading challenge after a friend recommended it. When I picked it up from the library, I was a little disheartened. I’m not sure if you can tell from the photo, but the cover consists of several old-fashioned glass perfume bottles, which screamed cheesy romance novel to me. Ugh! 

Thankfully, though, it turned out to be a historical fiction novel after all, with a little bit of mystery thrown in (and a smidge of romance on the side). The matriarchal grandmother and CEO of the family business has secrets from her youth that slowly begin to leak out, threatening the family’s reputation and relationships. As usual, secrets have a way of being found out, and in this case, they end up bringing people together. This story does contain some overt spiritual witnessing, for lack of a better phrase. Y’all know I am a Jesus girl and I am all for weaving Jesus into one’s writing, but in this case, several of these moments seemed to be awkwardly inserted, and more glaringly obvious than necessary. It would have been more effective, I think, to take a less obvious and more natural approach to the character’s faith. However, that’s a minor point for sure! If you like historical fiction, this was an enjoyable story and worth a read!

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. Most people have read or are at least aware of Passion and Purity and Sense and Sensibility. However, Persuasion is not as well known, even though it was her last completed work. There is so much I love about this book! While I have read it before, her books never get old to me.

Anne Elliot is Austen’s oldest protagonist, and as so, brings such depth to the story. I love the premise of an unrequited love given a second chance, particularly when those involved have such strength of character and integrity. I find myself rooting for them all the way through the novel, no matter how many times I read it. If you don’t know the story, Anne and Frederick Wentworth were acquainted in their young adult years and formed a strong attachment. However, Anne’s father, Sir Walter Elliot, and her guardian, Lady Russell, did not approve of their union, feeling his financial and social status were unworthy of her position in society. Though Anne very much loved him, she felt it was dishonorable to continue the relationship without their approval. In letting him go, she felt as though she were doing the right thing, while also wondering if she had given up her one true love in life.

The actual story begins seven years later, with both characters still unmarried. Circumstance finds them once again dancing in the same circles, but this time with walls of hurt and regret between them. Austen has a unique and wonderful way of peeling back the layers of her characters throughout the novel, slowly revealing their strengths and weaknesses, and weaving their stories together as she goes. People are never quite what they seem, and in the end, their true character is revealed. Persuasion is no exception. By the end, Anne learns that while it is important to seek wise counsel, sometimes the best counsel comes from your own heart and mind. If you are an Austen fan but have never read Persuasion, put it on your list!

Into the Book of Light by Ted & Kara Dekker (Book 1 of the Series)

This middle grade book is the first in a series by Ted Dekker and his daughter, Kara. It reminds me quite a bit of Priscilla Shirer’s Warrior Series, which y’all already know I loved! In this series, the main character, Theo, is a middle school boy who is plagued by fears and finds himself the target of a mob of school bullies.  As he seeks refuge in a secret room in the library, an ancient book falls into his lap, and he soon finds himself transported to another world. 

In this new world, he meets strange creatures and new friends, and is sent out on a quest to find the 5 Seals of Truth. The authors use wonderful imagery to describe everything Theo encounters on his search for truth. There are dark bat-like creatures who aggressively hinder his progress and seek to deceive him. There is a black fog of knowledge which, when breathed in, only increases his knowledge of fear and blinds him to the truth. There is cleansing water and the characterization of God as a lion… and a boy. After a powerful encounter with Elyon, Theo is able to respond with courage in the face of fear, earning the first seal—the seal of Light.

It is a great allegory for many Biblical truths, and teaches children to turn to God with their fears, trusting He is big enough to handle them and take care of them. I have no doubt that my boys will enjoy this book, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series!

Mansions of the Heart: Exploring the Seven Stages of Spiritual Growth by R. Thomas Ashbrook

I absolutely loved this book! It is the kind of book that resonates when you read it and then stays with you, begging you to pull it back out and read it again. 

Based largely on the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross, Mansions of the Heart describes a modernized ancient framework of spiritual growth for Christian believers. It is, perhaps, the best book on spiritual formation I have ever read.

Asher takes great care to point out that spiritual formation is not linear in nature, while still giving us a basic road map to use as a guideline. He emphasizes that we can be in more than one stage at the same time, and that we often move in and out of a given stage for a period of time. Most churches and books on spiritual growth direct us towards prayer, Bible Study, and other spiritual disciplines, but with no clear path or picture of where/what our relationship with Christ is going. What often happens, in my experience, is we find ourselves in that stage, vascillating between periods of  silence from God and closeness with Him. When we are hearing Him clearly, we feel like we are growing, but in long periods of silence, we may question what we are doing wrong or if, perhaps, we’ve had it wrong all along. Most of the believers I know never make it any further than this, and live with ongoing frustration sprinkled with moments of closeness, or worse, settle into an apathetic faith.

What I appreciate most about this book is that it gives a further path beyond just prayer and Bible study. It validates these periods of silence, termed “dark nights of the soul,” and encourages us to not only expect them, but even to appreciate them for their place in the process of drawing our hearts to Jesus. Asher points out the stages often coincide in many ways with our overall maturity and the life stages we find ourselves in. I definitely find this to be a true and logical correlation. I am both intrigued by and somehow hesitant to embrace the mysterious, mystical elements of the later stages he describes. As a culture, we do not like to embrace things we don’t understand and can’t explain… and yet, isn’t that exactly who God is and how He works? Having experienced personally a few spiritual encounters of this nature, and having read of significantly deeper encounters than mine by “spiritual greats” who were much purer in heart and faith than myself (Amy Carmichael, C.S. Lewis, Brother Lawrence, etc.), I am compelled to believe there is certainly a path forward beyond what many of us ever realize. Reading this book has encouraged me to continue pursuing communion with God at a deeper level than I was beginning to think was possible.

All that said, this book is not for everyone. If you are fairly new to the Christian faith (or to actively growing in your faith—ie., Stage 1 or Stage 2 of spiritual growth as described in the book), I am afraid you will find this book overwhelming and largely irrelevant. In my opinion, it is better suited for people who are further along in their faith journey and already practice spiritual disciplines fairly consistently. Additionally, if you have a strong negative opinion of any sort of mystical element to Christianity, you will likely find this book a waste of time.

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Well, friends, those are my books from the month of September: Historical fiction, a Jane Austen novel, middle grade fantasy, and Spiritual formation. How’s that for variety? Ha! 

What’s on your nightstand?

Feel free to share suggestions or feedback in the comments! 

My August Book Stack

Hi Friends!

There are two things you will probably notice very quickly about my August book stack. First, I finally made it back to the library, as you can tell by all the stickers. And making it back to the library means my August book stack is full of fiction! Whoo hoo! 

Incidentally, that’s also why there are seven books. 

Want to know a secret? I am able to read fiction books much more quickly than, say, biographies, so they really help me reach my end-of-year reading challenge goal.  Shhhh! We all have our secrets, after all…

Anyway, let’s get started! Here are the details on the books I read in August.

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The Entitlement Cure by John Townsend

This book was not at all what I expected. Having four children and working with teenagers like I do, I honestly expected it to be targeted more towards the younger generation. While these principles can definitely be applied to teenagers, they are actually written more for adults, making it more difficult to apply them to children. That said, I really enjoyed this book!

I think understanding the principles of how to counteract entitlement can definitely re-shape the way we parent, which will be beneficial to our children. I also found it helpful in revealing my own entitled attitudes in ways I would not necessarily have noticed on my own. And because Townsend uses so many workplace illustrations, I think this book is particularly helpful to those in leadership positions in the workplace. So while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for someone struggling with an entitled 8 year old, I did find it worth reading for the general public and especially for those in the workplace.

False Memory Series by Dan Krokos

As most of you know, YA dystopian fiction is my guilty pleasure. I came across this series at the library and quickly checked out all three books. Oh, how I missed the library during quarantine! I was so happy to have a little mindless reading again. Well, this series did not disappoint on the “mindless reading” front… It turned out to be a YA science fiction series instead of dystopian, which is not really my jam. Still, the overall plot was interesting and the characters were likeable enough to keep me reading.

It has a kick-butt female protagonist with two heroic guy friends, forming the expected love triangle. As it happens, the teenagers were created (cloned) to “save the world,” but end up embarking on their own mission to save the world from their creators. For my teen friends, be aware there is some language and pretty intimate physical contact between the characters on multiple occasions. While it doesn’t come close to making my favorites list, it was still fun to have some mindless YA fiction to read again for a change!

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck

This book has been on my list for awhile, so I was glad to finally be able to get it from the library. For some reason, the description led me to believe it was historical fiction, another favorite genre- a vintage wedding dress is found in an old trunk at an estate sale, which leads the protagonist on a search to find out the mystery of it’s origin and reappearance. She traces the dress to three different women, seemingly unconnected, from different generations. Intriguing, right?

Well, it turns out the book is really a Christian romance novel, so I was a little disappointed. However, it was well written and the mystery of the dress was still a fun story line, so I’m glad I read it! Again, it won’t make my list of favorites, but if you like Christian romance, you should definitely check this one out.

The Raft by S.A. Bodeen

I also found this book at the library, and honestly, I was drawn in by the cover. A girl floating half-dead on a raft in the middle of an ocean screamed high adventure.  After months of being confined in the same place, that was just what I was looking for! This is a YA fiction book, definitely intended for a middle to high school audience. It was a quick read, and enjoyable, though very predictable. There were some political agendas woven pretty obviously throughout, but I have come to expect that in YA fiction. Overall, it wasn’t a very-well developed book, but it was a quick read and an enjoyable story! (FYI- there is a mild “attack” encounter in the beginning which may be a trigger for girls who have been assaulted)

Intimate Moments with the Savior by Ken Gire

I have read this devotional book multiple times over the years. I bought it shortly after I graduated from college and find myself drawn back to it every now and then. Ken Gire has a beautiful writing style, which brings the Scriptures alive. He has a unique way of drawing a bridge between people who encountered Jesus and how we encounter Him in our own lives. In this book, we come face to face with Peter, Mary and Martha, Nicodemus, and others, and are able to learn from their experiences how to become more intimate with Jesus. I pulled this out after reading an excerpt in an old prayer journal about His encounter with Peter, and after all these years, that particular chapter is still my favorite. This is not deep, theological reading; it is the kind of writing that draws your heart to the Lord in an intimate way. It’s a classic, and you can be sure it will end up in another book stack of mine down the road.

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Well, as you can probably tell, August didn’t turn out to be my favorite collection of books. It has actually dampened my desire to read this month, so you can expect a smaller selection for September. But as far as I’m concerned, an okay book is better than no book! Just like you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince, maybe you have to read a lot of books to find those few that really resonate with you. It’s worth it!

So friends, what’s on your nightstand? I’d love to know what you’ve been reading lately! Share in the comments!

My May Book Stack

Friends, the past few weeks have been crazy, to say the least!

There is a lot going on, and it has been difficult to know what to post. Then suddenly I realized I had not yet shared my May book stack with you!

So here it is. 

Monks and Mystics, Volume 2: Chronicles of the Medieval Church 

I bought this series by Mindy and Brandon Withrow many years ago as part of our Church History curriculum when were homeschooling. This is the second book in the series, and it relates the stories of medieval Christians such as Boniface, St. Francis, Thomas Aquinas, and John Wyclif, as well as outlining events like the Crusades, the forming of Universities, and the Councils of the Medieval Church. Since it is written with the intent of making history come alive for older students, I find it is very readable and way less boring than most church history accounts! There were several stories I was not familiar with that were quite encouraging. This is a great book (and series) for anyone wanting to learn about the path of Christianity through the ages or for middle/high schoolers studying Church history.  

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman)

This was such a fun book! It reminded me quite a bit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It took me a bit to get into it, but I’m so glad I stuck with it! The character development was terrific, and it was thick with British humor. It covered the subject matter brilliantly, and while I had a pretty good idea where the plot was going to end up, it took a few twist and turns getting there. Overall, it was a beautiful tale of not judging a book by its cover, while addressing delicate issues such as depression, loneliness, and friendship in a unique and charming way. (Trigger warning: If you have suffered abuse, this book may not be for you.)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Suzanne Collins)

My oldest daughter, Sarah, made a special trip to the store just to surprise me with it because we are both big fans of The Hunger Games series. (Thanks, Boo!) In this prequel to the original book, Collins takes us back to when President Snow is a teenager, living in the Capitol, struggling to survive after losing both parents in the war. He is chosen to be a mentor in the 10th annual Hunger Games and is assigned- you guessed it- the girl from District 12. Y’all, I loved this book! I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I’ll stop there, but Collins does a great job of weaving in so many elements from the original series, which made it an extremely fun read. The climax at the end felt just a little bit rushed (kind of like the end of Mockingjay, in my opinion), but overall, I definitely recommend it to Hunger Games fans!

The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman

This book has been on my list since I joined Hope*Writers a few months ago. The title stems from a poem often quoted by my favorite author, Elisabeth Elliot: “Do the next thing.” Freeman takes it a step further by reminding us that there might be many good choices in front of us, so we need to find the next right thing. While this is a book about making life decisions, I love that it is not a “5 step formula to choosing the right thing” type of book. Instead, each chapter shares a different approach for discerning your next right step. So while they may not all apply to every individual, something will surely apply to everyone! Some of my favorite chapters were Name the Narrative, Look for Arrows, Know what You Want More, Quit something, and Stop Collecting Gurus.

Since the chapters are short, I decided to use it along with my devotional time in the morning, which worked really well. Each chapter ends with a prayer and a “practice” section, which helps the reader apply what they are reading.  There are so many good things I got out of this book, but if I had to pick one quote for how God spoke to me, it would be this one from p. 53:

God often gives a faint vision of things before they ever come to be. It’s not a full form, more of a shadow, not focused or clear… Instead of those black-and-white answers we tend to love so much, what if we began to look for arrows instead?”

Emily P. Freeman, The Next Right Thing

Arrows instead of answers. Yes!! This is a great book to read if you find yourself in a place of transition and need a little help discerning your next right step.

And finally, Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)

I loved this book, too! It was a good month for fiction reading. J This is the story of Kya, a young girl who is abandoned by her mother and older siblings and eventually by her abusive, alcoholic father, left to fend for herself in the North Carolina marsh. It is a coming of age tale; a beautiful story of abandonment, love, trust, betrayal, and friendship. Oh yeah, and then there’s a murder mystery, just for kicks! Seriously, the world building, character development, and storyline of this book are all top-notch, and the writing itself drew me in from the beginning. My favorite scene is when Kya’s friend, Tate, is teaching her how to read: 

“Slowly, she unraveled each word of the sentence: ‘There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.’”

(He goes on to encourage her that now that she can read, she’ll never not be able to read again, to which she answers:)

It ain’t just that.’ She spoke almost in a whisper. ‘I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.’”

Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing, p. 135 (Large print edition)

Maybe it’s the writer in me, but that is such simple and beautiful truth.

I definitely recommend this book. It would make a great read for the beach or pool!

Well, friends, those are the books I read in May! Not a bad one among them. Summer is here, and we all have a little extra daylight, which hopefully will include a little extra time to read, too!

What’s on your nightstand or in your beach bag? I’m always looking for suggestions. Feel free to share in the comments!

A BOOK REVIEW of Under Our Skin (by Benjamin Watson

Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race- And Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us is a fantastic book for anyone hoping to understand a clearer p41Y7mrZ25cL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgicture of the ongoing race issues in America.

I read Benjamin Watson’s Facebook post following the Ferguson trial results in 2014 and was impressed with his sincere, compassionate, intelligent, faith-inspired response. I try to be someone who ponders the different perspetives involved in an issue rather than reacting emotionally out of my own experience. I was not looking for an extreme perspective (black or white) on the current race issue- our media takes care of covering those “sides” all too well. I consider myself to (hopefully) be pretty open-minded and somewhat in “the middle” on issues such as race, so I wanted to read a level-headed, considerate perspective from someone whose experience was different than my own. Benjamin Watson did not disappoint. This is a thoughtful, enlightening, and challenging portrayal of what it’s like to grow up as a black man in America. I was surprised by some of his experiences and found some of my own pre-conceived ideas to be false. I appreciated his willingness to look at different angles to these complex situations and to readily admit how his own life experiences had led to bias and prejudice, even when he didn’t want them to. Those confessions resonated with me as my own viewpoints were brought under scrutiny.

The only thing missing, in my opinion, was a broadening of a police officer’s perspective in Chapter 5. Particularly after explaining how the majority of the black community is raised with a great fear of the police, it would have been so beneficial for those readers to understand what “a day in the life of a typical police officer” is like. After reading this book, I have a much greater understanding of why a young, black man’s first instinct is to run when he encounters an officer, and I think it might help the black community to understand why a police officer’s first instinct is to react (or perhaps in some minds to overreact) a certain way in certain situations. That outlook seemed to be notably missing in a book that otherwise did a great job of being open-minded and showing multiple sides of the current issues.

Under Our Skin was insightful, challenging, and thoughtful. It is not politically correct, nor is it (in my opinion) politically motivated. Watson gets to the heart of this and so many other issues that plague Americans when he names it for what it is: sin. He does not throw out easy answers or artificial solutions, but points us to the higher perspective of our mutual Creator as the starting place for healing and reconciliation. By all accounts, he seems to be a man who walks what he talks, thus earning the right to speak boldly on this subject. I see things differently after reading this book, and highly recommend it to everyone.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26167262-under-our-skin