Worthy Reads of 2022

Are these going to be the best books I read 2022? I don’t know, but these are the ones that have stuck with me, that I have cried through and that have touched my heart, that I have begged friends to read so we can discuss, that I have underlined in and highlighted and will keep on my bookshelf. So I will call them worthy, and in no particular order, I will recommend them to you:

+ Freedom of Simplicity. Long before the current minimalism trend hit, Richard Foster was writing about simplicity from a spiritual discipline perspective, which for Christ-followers, is far more compelling when faced with materialism, the accumulation of wealth, and worldly attachments. He writes with humility, not as one who has mastered the discipline, but who is also on the journey. His suggestions are subversive, convicting, and practical.

+ Sheltering Mercy. This is an artful and poetic devotional, written prayers inspired by the first 75 Psalms. Having spent countless hours in the Psalms through deep grief over the past year and a half, it was nourishing for my soul to pray alongside these treasured psalms. When my words have been few in prayer, Sheltering Mercy has served as a beautiful companion, leading me to the heart of God.

+ Little Pilgrim’s Progress. I collected this stunning version when we were in the States last Christmas, Helen Taylor’s original with piercingly beautiful illustrations by Joe Sutphin. The girls and I read through it as part of school in the first months of 2022, and we were all engrossed with the story. I have never loved Bunyan’s original, but this retelling captivated my heart, and the hearts of my daughters. The plentiful themes of journeying the Christian life were relatable for children, and poignant for me as an adult, and provided countless opportunities for discipleship. The tears streamed down my face in the last pages, picturing my nephew walking through the waters of death into the arms of Christ. We will likely reread soon, and it will become a family classic in our home.

+ A Whole in the World. I had been anxiously awaiting this book, having preread a chapter over a year ago, and waited until I could hold the physical pages in my hands before reading. Amanda Held Opelt has walked through the waters of deep grief, and her writing is authentic and vulnerable. Her own story is stunningly woven throughout this exploration of how generations before us journeyed through suffering. This exploration of grief rituals of the past provided a path through the pain for her, and as I read slowly, tearfully, thoughtfully, I felt as though I was joining arms with the masses of women before me who have lost, survived, and continued to live.

+ The God of the Garden. I devoured this beautiful memoir by Andrew Peterson. If you love trees, or even if you don’t, Peterson reflects on them to draw out rich theological truths of God’s work in the world and in our lives. As I journey into midlife, I find companionship in others who have wrestled with aging, time, and the brokenness of the world, and emerged glorifying God. Peterson does, and gives us a renewed sense of purpose and significance for the journey.

+ Everything Sad is Untrue. This book has been everywhere, and for good reason. Daniel Nayeri writes a young adult style memoir, but with such feeling and prose that I laughed and I cried and I laughed again. He weaves his story with the ancient stories of his homeland, and we are left all the better for it.

+ The Time Quintet. This is technically five books, but I wanted to highlight more than just Madeline L’Engle’s first and most famous, A Wrinkle in Time. I reread A Wrinkle in Time for a bookclub this year, and so loved it again that I kept going through the rest of the series. They were lovely night-reading companions, and I enjoyed so much. These are strange, science fiction and fantasy, middle grade novels but the themes of sacrificial love and bravery and growing into oneself are unmatched. We’ve read A Wrinkle in Time together, but I can’t wait for my girls to read the whole series soon.

+ Pilgrim’s Inn. I’ve been on an Elizabeth Goudge kick for a few years, and basically, anything she writes is golden. Pilgrim’s Inn is another stunning novel by this underrated author, a story that drew me in and held me tenderly, with lines so memorable I underlined them (yes, it’s a novel). Though I went through a phase while reading where I was ready to open a B+B, I came out grateful for the home we have and thoughtfully considering how to open our doors even wider to those around us (yes, it’s still a novel).

+ Different. I’m grateful for this book this year, as we have faced some new challenges in parenting. I’m grateful to know we are not alone. I’m grateful for Sally and Nathan Clarkson sharing honestly, the good and the ugly, the struggles of family life without the sugarcoating of some of Clarkson’s previous books. I can imagine the difficulty of running a family ministry while struggling so much at home, and appreciate that they have now taken the time to let us in, to share insights from the journey, to walk alongside the many of us who have out-of-the-box children, and struggle to know how to best love them.

+ Cry, the Beloved Country. What can I say? This is an important read, especially for me as we live in South Africa. I have had it on my bookshelf for six years, but never felt robust enough to delve deeply into it, until this year, when our bookclub selected it. It was hard, so hard. I cried, I hated a lot of what I saw. And yet, I feel I have a better grasp, a deeper understanding, more vocabulary in which to interact. It’s a classic, deeply important, and it will change you.

Bonus: Yet We Still Hope. I felt conflicted about including this book on the list, as I am a contributor, but it was most definitely a worthy read for me. These are recent stories of modern women on cross-cultural mission fields around the world. The stories are raw and honest, full of pain and loss and fear, much of what accompanies every woman living outside her home country, and each one points back to God’s sustaining love and unending faithfulness.

Here’s to happy reading in 2023!

Home as a Holy Space

Recently, with winter approaching, I pitched the idea to Ben to open up the long, unused fireplace in our school room. At some point, many years ago, there was a working fireplace in that room, but it was sealed and stacked with shelves where we’ve kept the kids’ toys and puzzles for the past five years. Always the pragmatic one, Ben responded with a look and few words addressing the obstacles, largest of which is that we do not own this home. After countering back with my thoughts on these practical concerns, I asked, with emphasis, “But how would having a fireplace make you feel?” (To which, he laughed, I being the more feeling one of us).

But the thought of the heat a fire could bring, the crackling of wood, the smokey aroma, the overall vibe – he could feel that, as we talked. And the thoughts of the warmth and joy and comfort it would result in, beyond the aesthetic beauty and practical concerns, led us to begin working on it.

Homemaking – that is to say, the making of a house into a home for our family – has mostly been my responsibility over the years. And it’s one I have embraced. From my earliest days as a wife, I loved making our first apartment feel like home to us, back in the days when red was my accent color of choice. In all of the many spaces we have lived over the years, I have not grown tired of the joy and challenge of making our homes warm and pleasing spaces, where our family could dwell together and grow and invite others into our life.

Decorating spaces is not new to humans; as far back as biblical times, we read detailed descriptions of the elaborate tabernacle and temple decorations, and of the artists who were commissioned to work on it (Exodus 31; 1 Kings 6-7; 2 Chronicles 3-4). And we know that heaven will one day be a place of unimaginable beauty (Rev. 21), most of all because Christ will dwell with us there. Beauty and creativity are intricate features of God himself; creating is his work and cultivating is the work he gave to Adam and Eve and all of subsequent humanity.

In other words, when we create spaces of beauty and cultivate our homes as places where the people of God can dwell here on earth, we are imaging our Creator and honoring him.

This is vastly different from the purpose of creating a home that is “on trend,” not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with trendy spaces. The difference is in the purpose; if we are using our creativity only for the end result of how it will look and appeal to our followers on Instagram, we are missing out. But if we are using our creativity to construct beautiful spaces that will better enable us to live in joy and peace with one another, God is honored. If our beautiful spaces facilitate the kind of hospitality which truly welcomes the whole person, where they can feel at rest, at peace, at home, amidst the storms of this world, God is honored. If our beautiful spaces can be a refuge for ourselves and our families, a small kind of tabernacle where God is dwelling among us here on earth, he is honored.

The making of this kind of home takes time, and creativity, and consideration for all of the many purposes for which it may be used. Though a white rug may appeal to me, it will not foster peace when my children come inside with mud-caked feet from their latest adventure. Likewise, though turquoise may not be my wall color of choice, if it makes my daughter feel as though she has a space to call her own in this world, a place where she can retreat and rest and foster her own little sense of creativity, it would well be worth it.

Creating this kind of home can happen anywhere, in any kind of space. We do not need the newest, most spacious home; or the trendiest pieces of furniture or accents. In fact, I have found that creativity blossoms when resources are scarce; I have learned skills I would otherwise have not needed, like woodworking and using power tools. Creating this kind of home is also not only about the aesthetic; it is also about the attitudes and aromas we cultivate. We can create home wherever in the world God has us.

“Remember that He who created you to be creative gave you the things with which to make beauty and gave you the sensitivity to appreciate and respond to His creation. Creativity is His gift to you and the ‘raw materials’ to be put together in various ways are His gift to you as well.”

Edith Schaeffer

To this end, I am convinced that homemaking is a holy pursuit; as I create a whole space where my family can live together in peace and harmony, where we can grow in faithfulness to God and live in obedience and joy, where we can pursue peace and restore fellowship, where we can relish beauty and develop creativity, where we can welcome others with warmth and kindness, and from which we can go out with courage and bravery to love the world in which we live… this home is indeed a holy place.

Hello from 2022

Hello reader friends. It’s been several months, not that I expected for it to be. But sometimes life happens with such speed and force, that we are wise to pause other endeavors and lean into it, no?

For a personal update, we wrapped up our homeschool and college school years in November, and headed back to the States for the holiday season. It was a trip of stress and difficulty, and also of meaningful time together and grief and gratitude. Half of our family tested C*vid positive, and could not return when planned. But now, at the end of the first month of 2022, we are home in South Africa and all together again. We are grateful for the opportunity and privilege to be with our families this year, and grateful to be back and settling into our normal routines and rhythms.

A new year always offers a certain energy and clarity for me; what is this year going to bring? What goals might I set? What will we do as a family? This new year, I am entering with a sense of timidity. It’s difficult to put words to our last year; still pain a bit fresh, and grief very real. Still sore from loss, sore from life. Certainly this year must be better than last year, whatever that means. Right, God?

But who are we to bargain with God? I do not know what this year holds any more than we knew what last year would hold. And perhaps it was a gift that we did not know. It’s a gift that we do not know. Rather, we entrust this year to God, we entrust our loved ones, our families and marriages and churches and ministries and work all to God, and we seek to be faithful in this day.

So here I am, on this side of 2021, easing into 2022 with a face toward faithfulness, finding God gently nudging me toward fresh goals, fresh hope, fresh movement. Asking him for wisdom, for direction, for faith, for encouragement. And trusting that he will be with us, whatever 2022 might hold.

Peace to you today, friends, wherever you find yourselves.

Turning to God in the Anxiety

One night last week, around 2:30am, I dreamt a horrible dream. No matter how hard I tried to turn over and dream of something happier, I could not. So I got up, drank some water, and sat in our living room with my Bible. “Help, God” was the only prayer I could offer in the midst of that paralyzing anxiety, prompted by an unwelcome dream. Eventually, I fell back asleep until morning, feeling nearly tangibly wrapped in the arms of the Father: “I remember you upon my bed, meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy” (Psalm 63:6-7).

As often happens though, the morning after a dark night like that, I woke feeling fragile in mind and sore in heart. My emotions were raw, my eyes weepy. I felt almost violated, that in the peace of my sleep, such horrible thoughts can enter my mind and deeply disturb my heart at rest. It can be tempting to welcome the light of the sun, the dark night leaving; to enjoy the first cup of coffee, the sounds of our happy home, and attempt to push out of the fragile place on my own.

Trusting God isn’t about never experiencing anxiety – it’s about turning to him in the anxiety.

Though it’s easy to move straight on with our lives while anxiety lurks in the depth of our minds, the habit of addressing our anxiety can be deeply helpful. I’m learning that it is better if I take the time to sort out with God what is happening on these dark nights, with these unwelcome thoughts. I do not expect to ever completely resolve anxiety this side of heaven, but rather to learn better how to deal with it through the power of the Spirit. Trusting God isn’t about never experiencing anxiety – it’s about turning to him in the anxiety.

What does it look like to turn to him in the anxiety? Let’s look at Phil. 4:5-7 as we think on this:

“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

+ we name our requests to God. Is this because he doesn’t know them? By no means; but in the naming of our requests, of our anxiety, we acknowledge our total dependence on him. It also usually helps me to name my anxiety to someone else I’m close to, and ask for prayer.

+ we pray, in everything. A former pastor of mine once said, from this passage, that “anxiety and prayer are opposites… instead of being anxious, pray.” From my experience, I cannot be actively engaged in grateful prayer to God and be crippled by anxiety at the same time. As I mentioned above, in acute anxiety, sometimes the prayer is as simple as “help, God.”

+ we focus on thankfulness, particularly for who he is: “to begin by praising God for the fact that in this situation, as it is, he is so mightily God—such a beginning is the end of anxiety” (Karl Barth). We can proactively address anxiety by engaging in prayers of gratitude.

+ we let peace rule in our hearts. This is easier said than done, no? I’ve found that setting good boundaries around news and social media help tremendously as I fix my eyes on Christ (Heb. 12:2) and my mind stayed on him (Is. 26:3).

We recognize that fighting anxiety requires strength from God and his Spirit in us. But just as we are spiritual beings, so too our physical habits matter.

Amy Gannett recently articulated the importance of daily disciplines to combat anxiety in a short Instagram post, and provides practical ideas to do during the day. She writes, “God has seen it fit that the choices that we make in our practical lives deeply affect our experience of the work he is doing in the world.” I recommend her list here; perhaps we each take a few minutes to articulate our own practices on days in which we are struggling with anxiety.

How have you turned to God in your anxious moments? What practices have helped you when you awake from anxious nights?

On New Years and Some of the Same

It can feel as though not much has changed since the calendar turned, am I right? COVID is still raging in many areas around the world, the US is still highly polarized politically. We know many people who are suffering, and are still in varying levels of government-mandated protocols. Here in South Africa, our church is not meeting (again), we are staying home (mostly), and it’s tempting to look at 2021 with the same weariness in which we finished out 2020.

However, I can’t help but feel a sense of hope as we begin afresh. I’m reminded of one of my favorite Scripture passages, in Lamentations:

“the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3:22-23)

We have this framed on our living room bookshelf, and I am grateful for the daily reminder that God’s faithfulness has carried us through all these days before, and his love and mercy will carry us all the days forward. I am prompted to think through the ways God has shown his steadfast love to us, his unending mercies. Here’s some of what’s on my list from 2020:

  • the consistency of our already homeschooling life
  • sweet times of fellowship with our church family in November and December
  • a family getaway (rescheduled twice!) that finally happened in early December
  • regular craft and story times for the girls with my parents via Facetime
  • our new family routine of Sabbath every week
  • further developing our principles on wise technology use
  • the intentionality of making Saturdays fun (and a bit different than every other day 😉 )
  • our growing garden which has fed us well this season
  • forest walks and the extra urge to be outside

And so many more! What good gifts from the hand of God, even in a difficult year. I would love to hear what’s on your list for 2020, as you take time to see God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in your life this past year.

And what can we anticipate for 2021? Is our hope in vaccines, a new president, declining numbers, continued good health? No, we hope in God. We can expect that God’s love will continue no matter what, his mercies will extend beyond what we face, his faithfulness will be our safe place. Here’s to 2021, friends! He is good!

10 Books for your 2021 Reading List

I’ve always been a bookworm. Some seasons of life have made this habit easier, some not so much. But reading is important and life-giving for me, so I make time for it. Fortunately, this year I had more time than expected, which means I got through my list and far beyond. In total, I read 51 books this year. One highlight to 2020, no?

I read widely, across genres, worldviews, and topics. I do not agree with everything I read, and I am intentional about interacting with different perspectives, as you’ll notice. Without further ado, I thought I would share ten of the best reads from this past year.

1. With. Most formative book of the year, and most spiritual forming of my life. Author Skye Jethani outlines the ways we live our lives under, over, from, and for God, rather than according to the design of Eden, which was life with God. In the process of reading this book, I gratefully evaluated many foundational mistruths I’d held for a long time when it came to my relationship with God, and, from the core, reformed my fellowship with him. Ben and I have both led others through this book this year for discipleship.

2. The Remarkable Ordinary. Frederick Buechner was a treasured discovery for me this year. I listened to this book last Febuary, while we were in major life limbo before returning to South Africa. The timing was perfect, as I needed that reminder to stop, look, and listen. He writes whimsically, sharing life stories, and encourages us to see the hand of God in the ordinary events of life.

3. Between the World and Me. If you’re interested in truly trying to understand, to get inside the world of an American man of color, this is a great read. It was not comfortable, nor did I agree with all of it, but that’s not the point. I wanted to better understand, and Ta-Nehisi Coates helped me. I’m so grateful for that.

4. The Lord of the Rings series. I don’t read a lot of fiction, but it had been at least 15 (?) years since reading these, and I was eager to reread. They were the perfect companion in April when we were in the midst of our strictest lockdown. Tolkien’s writing requires attentiveness and his storytelling is brilliant. I cried at the end, naturally. This series forces you to read carefully, as the writing is old and intricate, unlike so much fiction today. But I also reread the Harry Potter series in May for my light fiction flicks, so, you know, balance. 😉

5. Subversive Sabbath. One of our family goals this year was to implement more of a Sabbath routine (more on that sometime soon). A.J. Swoboda, in ministry himself, powerfully reminds us, “Sabbath is an action of great purpose, one that demands feisty intentionality. It requires us to live in a rhythm that squarely opposes the dangerous pulse and the habits of our world.” Sign me up for this resistance movement. Observing Sabbath has been life-giving for our family this year, and honestly, I can’t believe we have gone so long ignoring God’s beautiful design for rest. I’ve read three books on Sabbath this year; start with this one.

6. Simplicity Parenting. While we come out very different worldviews, Kim John Payne and I see eye-to-eye on many parenting points, which is maybe why I liked this book so much. 😉 His gentle writing style and counseling experience help tremendously as he points out that many children today are completely overstimulated. He encourages parents to simplify their children’s schedules, belongings, and commitments, and rather choose to intentionally be together as families, to allow a child’s boredom to blossom into creativity, to create routines that support priorities (ahem, Sabbath. See how these books fit together?). He points us back to connection, relationship, love: “When your child seems to deserve affection least, that’s when they need it most.”

7. Digital Minimalism. If you’ve read my blog much at all, you will know that two of my favorite topics are minimalism and wise technology use. So naturally, when I saw Cal Newport’s book on both of these topics, the stars aligned and I added it to my library holds list eagerly. It did not disappoint – it’s one of my top books of the year. Newport proposes that we need: “a full-fledged philosophy of technology use, rooted in your deep values, that provides clear answers to the questions of what tools you should use and how you should use them and, equally important, enables you to confidently ignore everything else.” Yes and yes. He will help you to do just that, as he writes with conviction, interesting anecdotes, stories, and practical helps.

8. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This Barbara Kingsolver book was a reread, and it’s so fun. As a family, the Kingsolvers vow that they will only eat what they can grow themselves or source locally for an entire year. It’s written in memoir style, sprinkled with informative essays on the state of food in the US, recipes, and detailed, laugh-out-loud insights on turkey sex, if you ever need a resource for that. Our family deeply values eating locally, humane treatment of animals, and healthy cooking, and this read prompted us to think anew about making better consumer choices with regard to food.

9. Rising Strong. Ah, love me some classic Brené Brown. If her other writings are about being willing to show up and step into the arena, this one is about how to get back up after falling on your face. She addresses failure, self-righteousness, and the question that haunted me for weeks, “are people doing their best?” And of course, shame and vulnerability. It’s made me pause and think about conflict in my marriage, how I parent my children, and how I respond in other relationships. Brené reminds us, “The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens” and encourages us to slow down, be aware, and let growth happen in those messy middles of life.

10. 31 Days to Great Sex. Full disclosure: Ben and I did not read this book in 31 days. In fact, we’ve stretched it the whole year. Recently in the Intentional podcast, Phil Comer points out that never in his years of pastoring and counseling has he come across a couple with marriage issues whose sex life is healthy and thriving. We have been thankfully reminded that this is a worthy pursuit in our marriage, and a fun one: “Sex is the physical acting out of… marriage. We become vulnerable with one another. We become naked with one another completely–and that means real intimacy, not just physical intimacy. We cherish each other. We protect each other. But we also have a ton of fun with each other!” Ben and I have been married for almost 12 years, and we are committed to continually investing in each other, and in our marriage, because it’s such a gift!

Bonus: Tartine. If one book got an award for most time spent in it, this would be it. We bought this gorgeous cookbook in February, and every week since then, I have spent hours learning the art of sourdough bread baking. We have a couple of children who are gluten-sensitive, so I’m highly committed; so much so that I may have snuck my sourdough starter through international airports in a pocket in one of our large suitcases (it made it, raise praise hands). Chad Robertson chronicles his engaging story to find the perfect loaf of bread, and proceeds to give the most detailed instructions to enable you to create your own (beautiful pictures included). *Fun fact: when Ben and I were in San Francisco in 2019, we stumbled into the Tartine café without realizing it was THE Tartine café. I may have geeked out just a bit.* To tie it all together, this year has been one of learning Sabbath routines; of minimizing digital input; of seeking connection and meaningful relationships; of the pursuit of quality leisure; and of the development of artisan craft. For Ben, this looks like woodworking (and I couldn’t be more excited about that). For me, it has taken me nearly ten months to perfect my sourdough loaves for my family, and the process has been a complete joy.

There it is: bread, Sabbath, routine, rest, connection. Our year in a photo.

Well, that’s a wrap. Hopefully you’ve been motivated to read a bit more this next year, to read something new. I’d love to hear what you’ve read recently!