Category Archives: Book Recommendations

Looking for a good read?

The past few months brought me two great memoirs – seriously, I am in love with these books:

iu-1Educated, by Tara Westover. This is an incredible story of a girl raised in a chaotic family by parents who didn’t believe in school or traditional medicine. She describes working in her father’s junkyard, watching her mother treat severe burns and life-threatening injuries with herbs and hand gestures, and being abused by her brother while the rest of her family looked away.  As harrowing as her story is, it has a redemptive through-line, as she discovers school at seventeen and goes on to study at some of the best universities in the world. The best part however, is Westover’s unflinching chronicle of what it cost her to walk away from her family and build a life of her own.

iuThe Book of Separation by Tova Mirvis. I’m a fan of Mirvis’ novels, so I was in line for this memoir from the moment I heard she was writing it. It exceeded my expectations. She writes so beautifully about the betrayal and heartache of leaving a tribe you’ve grown up in…and yet describes how the hope of something better pulled her, encouraged her, and helped her believe in herself and the God she was trying to find.

These books make me want to write :)

You’ll Need to Escape

This will seem like a lighthearted post about hobbies, but it’s actually about survival.

It’s only in hindsight that I recognize the unexpected things that kept me sane during the tough parts of our foster care/adoption process, and what I see now is that when things get tough, I pick up a random hobby. It’s never a conscious decision. I suspect it’s God. But there’s a definite pattern where periodically, some random thing will catch my attention and give me an alternative world to dive into.

Why am I telling you this? Because if (WHEN!) you become a foster parent and/or adopt, you will have NO TIME for hobbies, and you certainly won’t have the energy… but you will need them desperately. So I’m giving you permission, now, to dive into ridiculous things when they catch your eye. This will feel like you’re giving up, admitting failure, and turning your back on all your responsibilities. But what you’ll really be doing is giving your heart, body & mind some room to reset, so you can think creatively again.

Lest you be tempted to feel embarrassed by the distractions that catch your eye — BEHOLD some of the strange worlds I’ve inhabited since we began this journey:

One summer I did nothing for three months but make beaded jewelry. I had my own tools. The ladies at Michaels knew me by name. I went to bed at night strategizing multi-strand necklaces with sea green matte crystal beads as a unifying theme.

This was phenomenally  unproductive. I was not good at it, so most of what I made was really terrible. But as I planned and beaded, I wasn’t thinking about death or loss or miscarriages, or how betrayed I felt by God. So in that way, those hours of shopping, stringing, learning and vacuuming (beads were EVERYWHERE) were well spent.

To give you an idea of how deep I was: My second book came out in the middle of this season, and the main reason I remember it is because I made a necklace to wear the launch party. I was in so much pain at that time, I hardly remember anything. But making necklaces – even ugly ones – gave me a tangible thing to focus on when I wasn’t sure life was worth the effort. And I say, if your will to live can be resurrected by $25 worth of beads and a 40% off coupon? That’s a good investment!

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This past holiday season, I read 42 works of apocalyptic fiction. I learned all the acronyms (The End Of The World As We Know ItSh*t Hits The Fan). I discovered what paracord is and wondered Where WOULD we get water if we lost power for an extended period of time? I bought a water filter. I considered installing solar on our roof. It was bananas. And so much fun. This is embarrassing, but I LOVED these books. I felt like a whole alternate universe opened up for me to escape into, and I jumped right in.

Both Steve & I LOVED One Second AfterOne Year After , and The Final Day by William Forstchen – they were intense and well written, and I’m so glad our reading coincided with the release of the last book in the series.  I was obsessed with Elle Casey’s YA Apocalypsis series about a gifted girl who befriends a young neighbor and joins an Indian tribe after all the adults are wiped from the planet.  And #2 Cherub is waiting along with me for the final installment of the Pulse series by L.R. Burked, which is also YA.

I read a few other books by well known authors, but mostly, I read dozens of fast-paced self published books that lacked some finesse but made up for it with passion. (And yes, when you eagerly hit “Buy Now” on a book with the subtitle, A Novel of Societal Collapse, you’re ready for the holidays to be over!)  One series was set in southern Maine, with a Dad trying to get to his kids trapped at Boston College; it was cool to read a book set in places I know so well.

A side benefit was how these books helped me understand the mindset of super-conservative America, a world I’m not all that familiar with. It humanized that part of our country, and gave me much-needed perspective on the unfolding political developments. My one regret is that I didn’t do the free trial for Kindle Unlimited (Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial) It would have saved me about $200. Still, the combined entertainment & distraction value? Worth every penny.

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Right now, I’m not under any real stress, except that it’s March in New England. All of us have dry skin and weird breakouts, so I’ve been going down the rabbit hole of making lotions, lip balm, sugar scrubs & cleaning products.

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Mostly, I’ve made gloppy messes. But there’s one hand cream concoction everyone in our family uses, so that’s cool. #2 Cherub has asked for a strawberry flavored lip balm, so I’ll give that a try today, and I’m looking for a way to make hair conditioner. If any of this comes out well, I’ll share the details. (And if it comes out poorly, expect some funny pics)

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One word of caution about all this: Whatever your hobby is? Do not try to become an expert at it. By all means, do not try to make it into a business – When something becomes your job it stops being your escape.  Just enjoy the season while it lasts and accept the gift of distractionI have three wearable necklaces, a bunch of good titles on my Kindle, and one non-gloppy hand cream that fixed my grim cuticle situation. And I’m still in it to win it with our Cherubs, and that’s a big deal. Sometimes you’ve gotta retreat in order to advance. I give you permission to be okay with that!

Keep Calm and Embarrassing Hobby on :)

Blizzard Prep

We’re expecting a ridiculous snowstorm tomorrow, so all of my plans for today were put on hold while I crammed three days of getting stuff done out in the world into one. I hope to post a full blog tomorrow (in between shoveling & chasing THIS DOG as she gallops through the snow). For now I thought I’d share three books you might like if you’re enjoying our adoption story. You know, in case you’re snowed in tomorrow, too :)

Reading is how I process things, how I figure them out. When some new subject catches my attention, the first thing I do is go get every memoir I can find (along with a novel or three) so I can see how other people handled the challenges. Here are three different perspectives on foster care & strangers-as-family that earned a permanent place on my bookshelf:

This book is just so good. I reviewed it here and could not rave about it enough. I love stories where the grim parts aren’t sugar coated and the happy ending feels earned.

If you help foster kids in any way, this book will reassure you that everything counts and you are making a huge difference, probably way more than you realize.

 

A YA novel about a girl in foster care – it sounds sad, but really isn’t.  #2 Cherub told me about this one – she’s read everything in the genre – and this did not disappoint.

I love how it reminded me that kids in foster care are KIDS, with the same array of everyday life questions, dreams, ambitions, and goals as other kids.

 


This one’s a heartbreaker, but in the best way. It’s not about foster care. It’s the memoir of a young woman who moves to a new city and meets a woman from Somalia, along with her five daughters, on a bus.  Her descriptions of the woman’s struggles to learn American culture and survive are compelling.

 

Stay warm! And if you ARE someplace warm, please send pictures! :)

Celebrating The Good Moments #1

EARLY Sunday morning, I saw a post from my friend Stephanie Elliot  on Facebook that inspired me to ditch the whole second half of my sermon to make room to share the story of how she handled years of rejection and disappointment in her writing career.

Her book comes out today :) 

I know Steph in real life (if you’re a longtime blog reader, you may remember this road trip from Chicago to Wisconsin in a tornado with my friends Manic Mom & Swishy? Manic Mom = Steph!) She overcame SO MANY NO’s to get to this very big YES in her writing career. She inspires me with her perseverance. She understood that if anyone was getting their books published, then it was possible for her, too. And here she is!  I’ll be waiting out on my porch all day for my copy of  Sad Perfect to arrive. It’s YA, a hardcover book for just over $10, and has GREAT early reviews. Looking to escape into a good story with a personal connection? You should click over and grab a copy, too. Congratulations, Steph! xoxo

On a related note…Lent begins tomorrow!

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In He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, I devote a whole chapter to my first experience of Lent and how pivotal it was early in my faith. There have been some rocky years since then, but this year, our church is reclaiming this observation as an opportunity to take a chance on God once again. If you don’t have plans for Lent, join us!

Everything you need is on the Greenhouse Mission Site:

The Study Guide tells you a bit more about my experiences with Lent, as well as how we’re approaching it this year through three traditional practices: Bible Study, Prayer & Fasting. You can do these on your own, or with friends. (I do better with the buddy system to keep me afloat, but it works with just you & Jesus, too.) Each week we’ll post a Weekly Bible Guide  with links to the daily reading, along with some thoughts on the passage and ideas for prayer. There will also be sermons you can listen to, book recommendations, and – God willing – some cool testimonies of what God is doing in our lives. I hope you’ll join us from wherever you are (and I mean that both geographically and spiritually :) )  Let me know if you’re joining in, and how it’s going. It’s good to cheer each other on and believe together.

(Looking for today’s Adoption Answer? It’s here, in a second post!)

 

Made Well by Jenny Simmons

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Made Well: Finding Wholeness in the Everyday Sacred Moments by Jenny Simmons

This book was a highlight of my summer. It is so honest, real & encouraging. These are the words I wish I’d had five years ago, back when everything collapsed like so many endless dominoes, back when I wondered how on earth I could keep believing in a God who stood by and let so much be ruined. I sat down on the couch to read it, and didn’t move for the next 27 hours. (Okay, that’s not exactly true. But that’s what it felt like. I was immersed in this story, and that eager to get back to these hope-filled pages.)

Jenny Simmons has known some ruin, and her words are that rare mix of honesty, encouragement and knowing. She writes heartache so well…but then she captures the moments when redemption comes: how it’s real and surprising, and how God really can make us okay again, even when okay seems completely out of reach.  She blows past platitudes and easy conclusions, and yet somehow I ended each chapter feeling encouraged, even with stories that didn’t wrap up neatly. This is what Christian books and music need now, and I hope this will be on the cutting edge of a new approach to writing about faith, showing how God is very much alive and at work in the middle of even the biggest loss and devastation. She put words to my experience of God coming through, and I’m so grateful to have experienced this book. (Also, Jenny is really funny. Thank you Lord, for Christians with a sense of humor…)

This is the second book of Jenny’s I’ve had the chance to read – I’ll post to her first book here, too, because after you read Made Well, you’ll want to circle back to The Road to Becomingthe story of how she figured out how to build a new life after her band, Addison Road, stopped touring and recording after 10 years together.  (And if you didn’t know about Addison Road beforehand, you have another treat ahead of you.)

Basically, reading Jenny Simmons has lead to much wonder and delight in my life. I think it will do the same for you. Pre-order Made Well (that helps authors SO MUCH in the publishing world), soak up this wisdom, laugh with her, and ponder the truth: that in the midst of the chaos of life, we are both well made and made well.

Thank you, Jenny Simmons.

(And thank you to Jenny’s publisher, Baker Books, for giving me the opportunity to read Made Well before it’s release date in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Report

In the midst of a CRAZY couple of months, I’ve read some good books. Some offered wisdom, others stirred up my imagination for how things might really work, and a few just let me escape for a few hours. Here’s a rundown in case you’re looking for something to read as we head into summer:

GRIT: THE POWER OF PASSION AND PERSEVERANCE by Angela Duckworth. I expected to like this one because I’m hearing about it everywhere, but I didn’t expect it to prompt an immediate change to my daily routine. There’s a lot to like in these pages, but my personal takeaway was about the power of a certain type of practice – where you have goals that are a bit beyond your capacity, keep track of how you practice each day, and look for outside help to get better.  Highly recommend.

WAKING THE DEAD: THE GLORY OF A HEART FULLY ALIVE by John Eldredge. This was a re-read for me, prompted by a friend who shared how a retreat led by Eldredge helped her through a really thorny patch in her life. I hadn’t realized how deadened my heart had become from so many years of loss and stress. This book helped me recognize the dead-ness and believe for resurrection. Such powerful stuff here. I’m going back through all the sections I underlined and asking God to heal those broken places. If you could use some help getting back to abundant life, this is a good one to read.

THE VERITAS CONFLICT: A NOVEL by Shanti Feldhahn.  And imaginative look at the spiritual battle over Harvard. A fast-moving plot held my interest, and I was intrigued by this attempt to show how angels and demons intersect with our everyday human lives. Fun to read, especially if you have a connection to Cambridge. Now that our church meets in Kendall Square, I’d love to see a similar story set at MIT.

DISRUPTED: MY MISADVENTURES IN THE STARTUP BUBBLE by Dan Lyons. Dang, this guy is funny. This is a grim, hilariously sarcastic look at the tech bubble from a former Newsweek writer who worked at Hubspot. It’s billed as “old guy works in hot young startup,” but the book goes way beyond that basic premise.  If you’re connected to tech, this is worth a look.

SPIRITUAL SOBRIETY: STUMBLING BACK TO FAITH WHEN GOOD RELIGION GOES BAD by Elizabeth Esther.  I expected this to be a memoir, but it’s more of a 12 step program for people recovering from cult-like or abusive religious situations. It’s not a light read, but I think it will be a helpful, hopeful resource for many people as Esther shares what she’s learned about moving forward.

And Here are a couple of books I’m looking forward to:

IN TWENTY YEARS: A NOVEL by Allison Winn Scotch.  I love her books.

HOW TO SURVIVE A SHIPWRECK: HELP IS ON THE WAY AND LOVE IS ALREADY HERE by Jonathan Martin. I don’t know much about this guy but I’ve heard good things.

Three Books That Surprised Me

It’s been a reading bonanza here this week. I took a chance on three books recommended by different sources, not sure I’d be that into them. How much fun is it when you’re wrong? These books were helpful, entertaining, and made me feel good about God, people & life. Prepare to be surprised :)

First, Finding Church: What If There Really Is Something More? by Wayne Jacobsen.  Jacobsen posits an end to the institutional church. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. There’s no way for me to do this wise book justice, but it’s filled with thought-provoking reality checks about how much closer we get to God through relationships rather than organizations and programs.

This dovetails exactly with how Steve & I have been thinking about the overlap between adoption and church planting. For example, research shows that children placed in foster homes learn to respond to people – looking to different relationships for help, wisdom, guidance, etc. – whereas children placed in group homes or other institutionalized settings learn to respond to programs and systems, which is far less effective. This is equally true about faith. The evidence is convincing that we all do better when learning and growth come through relationships rather than programs.

Jacobsen reminded me of the power of deep, Jesus-focused relationships: friendships that happen naturally and grow and develop over time around this one unifying pursuit. Living this way can be chaotic and messy, but is ultimately redemptive because God knows how to sort out our messes.

I’m not convinced that we need to completely abolish meeting weekly as a church, or during the week in groups to pray, consider the Bible, etc. (particularly here in greater Boston – if something isn’t a recurring event, it takes three weeks to find a time to get together with someone). But I love the way he prioritizes relationships over programs. I’d recommend this book to anyone who feels like church has become a second job because you’re there 20+ hours a week doing programs and classes.

Next, Angel In Aisle 3: The True Story of a Mysterious Vagrant, A Convicted Bank Executive, and the Unlikely Friendship That Saved Both Their Lives by Kevin West.  This is a feel-good read. West was under indictment for bank fraud and awaiting trial when he met a seemingly homeless man named Don who wandered into the small grocery store where he was working. Don brought heavy doses of scripture-based encouragement, and a wisdom that surprised West. The story is VERY black and white in terms of West admitting his wrongdoing and taking responsibility for his actions – it’s clearly writing for a conservative Christian audience that might not be very forgiving. Which is sad, in a way, because this is a story about grace showering down over these two men and their families, and grace can handle whatever we throw at it. This is a book to grab if you’re looking for a pick-me-up.

And finally, the biggest surprise of the bunch, Strong and Kind: And Other Important Character Traits Your Child Needs to Succeed by Korie Robertson. I reviewed one other Duck Dynasty based book and it was terrible. Trite and simplistic and “we’re all fine here.”  This one had way more to offer. It’s a parenting advice book, and I got some good tips here that I put into action right away (I used one – a way to nudge a fibbing child toward honesty – approximately 30 seconds after reading it.) Robertson  has a strong voice, a good use of humor, and thankfully doesn’t delve too heavily into the whole redneck thing that feels like such a facade, especially for her. My favorite part of the book is Robertson’s willingness to parent her children, rather than trying to be their friend. She and her husband (whose essays pop up in various chapters) seem very secure in their role as the adults. That’s a refreshing change, especially as an adoptive parent. My kids don’t need me to fret about their self-esteem or help them identify their emotions. My kids need me to model a functional life where things happen in an orderly way and it’s safe to be a kid because the parents are being grown ups.  The Robertsons just announced that they’re adopting another foster child (this will be their third adoption) so I suspect some of this has influenced their parenting style. I recommend this book for Moms looking for reassurance that you can be loving, tough, and have clear expectations for your childrens’ character.

Disclosure: I received copies of Angel in Aisle 3 and Strong & Kind from their publishers in exchange for an honest review. I purchased my copy of Finding Church.