Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fully Known...and Fully Loved

"Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, 'He told me all that I ever did.' So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days" (John 4:39-40).

I feel flabbergasted every time I read John 4 and encounter the enthusiasm over the Samaritan woman's line "He told me all that I ever did" (John 4:39). I would not be at all excited to meet a man who knew and could broadcast all the sordid details of my life! What was going through the Samaritans' minds as they rushed to see Jesus--and what was going through the infamous Samaritan woman's mind?

The whole account seems so strange. Jesus calls the woman out on her shady relationship history. She hardly seems to blink; she merely, swiftly, changes the subject from her seedy past to worship controversies. How was she feeling; what was she thinking? Ashamed? Too amazed and bewildered to feel embarrassed? Perplexed by all of His mysterious talk? A growing excitement and anticipation, a hope that there was something about this Man...could He, maybe, be...?

So she runs and tells the whole town that He exposed her. Did they all already know her as the local whore? If she was ostracized, as I think I've heard in sermons but don't necessarily get just from this text, why would she want to tell the people who shunned and shamed her? Would there have been a kind of glory in knowing Him first, being the bearer of good news--that just having met and talked with Him and being branded as having more intimacy with Him than anyone else in town would somehow redeem her?

Why did the people care what she had to say? If her reputation was already well-known, how would it be so impressive if Jesus knew the details? I guess maybe because He was a Jew, so just because all the Samaritans knew about her, doesn't mean He would ever have talked to them to find out.

"He told me all that I ever did." A strange testimony. But what else could she have said that would convince them, capture their attention and their curiosity, draw them to Him? "I met a guy who says He is the Messiah!"--so what? Hadn't they heard that line before? Any crackpot can make such a claim, unsubstantiated. His prophetic knowledge of the woman's life would give him credibility.

So she celebrates that she is known. Announces it to the world. And the people flock. Do they, too, really want to be known?

There is one thing that would change my statement, "I would not be excited to meet a man who knew all the sordid details of my life." Simply add four words: "...and loved me anyway."

Is it true that we all want to be fully, deeply KNOWN? Perhaps, but half-true. I think we want to be known and loved. What good is being known if the knowledge makes a person turn away, repulsed?

But this Jesus...He knows, and loves. He knows, and invites. He knows, and has compassion.

That is the gospel.  

"God demonstrates his own love for us in this; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  

"In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ..."

"Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did." Jesus knew every deed, every thought, every motive of my heart. Further, he interpreted all these in light of ultimate truth; He told me all that I REALLY did: how I loved my own glory and robbed God of His. How sins that I thought were "no big deal" led to the shameful slaughter of God's Son. He told me all this...and yet He loved me. Chose me. Called me. Adopted me. Betrothed me to Himself. Redeemed me. Freed me.
No one knows our hearts better than you, Father; and you search our hearts to care for us, not chide us; to deliver us, not shame us; to parent us, not embarrass us. You’ve never surprised at what you find. There’s no search and discovery; there’s kindness and engagement.

You know the best and worse about us—our fears and our foolishness; our struggles with sin and our standing in Christ. You know us better than anyone could and you love us more than anyone would.
(Scotty Smith, "A Prayer for Days When You Don't Feel Like Praying")
Known fully. And loved perfectly. Good news.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 234

I hit ten thousand gifts this past week. 10,000. Have you ever counted ANYTHING that high?

I've been blogging a weekly thankful-list for several years (it was Thankful Thursday back in the day), but I never actually counted until much later. Inspired by Ann Voskamp, I began a visual homemaking journal in July 2009, and that became the home for my ongoing list of gifts (I pick a few highlights from there to post on the blog each week--which is why I'm only at 2600 here). At some point, I read Ann's rationale for actually *counting*, rather than just listing, and so I went back (anal-retentive as I am) and numbered them all from the beginning of that first journal. The numbers climbed, slowly at first and then piling up more and more each day (giving thanks is addictive, the best kind of habit-forming). After just two and a half years, I hit 10,000.

Kind of puts life in perspective. Ten thousand gifts from the generous hand of my Father. Ten times ten times ten good things He has put in my life over the last two and a half years--vastly more than that, for sure, but these are just the ones I wrote down. Can I doubt that He loves me, that He cares, that He is for me, that the lines around this life of mine have fallen (no matter how much I'm tempted to believe differently) in pleasant places?

And yet--even in the face of this reality--I still do doubt. I still do chafe against the boundary lines. So I keep counting. I keep forcing myself to stop and look and give thanks, in the hopes that when I do, I will be better equipped to choose hallelujah. Praising helps me see, and seeing helps me praise.

"Gratitude is a lifestyle. A hard-fought, grace-infused, biblical lifestyle. And though there's a sense in which anyone can be thankful--for God has extended His common grace to all--the true glory and the transforming power of gratitude are reserved for those who know and acknowledge the Giver of every good gift and who are recipients of His redeeming grace."
--Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Gratitude

Thanking God this week for...

2634. babysitter reading dozens and dozens of books to my boys
2635. email inbox cleaned out
2636. Jude jabbering and giggling at bedtime, Elijah shushing him
2637. hard but really good conversations
2638. Jude's hair in a soapy mohawk

2639. dinner with our dear friends on Wednesday nights
2640. our turn to be family of the week on our church's prayer list
2641. the joy of keeping track of His gifts
2642. a trip to Adventure Science Center with some of our favorite people
2643. their coming to stay with us all weekend

2644. a house full of friends and laughter and conversation
2645. new and old board games
2646. Steve getting beaten by a seven-year-old at a strategy game :)
2647. vivid reminders that this season of parenting won't last forever
2648. lunch out with Diane while the guys watched the kids

2649. the fact that my apparent food poisoning was short-lived
2650. Steve babying me when I am sick
2651. Grandma June's old rocking chair in the boys' room
2652. the ability to breathe through my nose
2653. Steve praying for me

2654. hearing my cries and answering me
2655. being slow to anger
2656. being full of compassion and mercy
2657. Steve preaching the gospel to me

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I Am Not the Christ

We tend to identify ourselves in positive terms. But when John the Baptist is asked who he is, he offers the following unusual response:

"And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, 'Who are you?' He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, 'I am not the Christ'" (John 1:19-20).

The most important part of John's identity here is what he is NOT: I am not the Christ. Such adamance here--confessed, did not deny, confessed--making it absolutely clear that this is not the Messiah. And in emphasizing this, it heightens expectation that there IS someone coming who fills this role.

How would it benefit me to echo John's testimony? "I am not the Christ."

I am not the Christ. I am the mother. My job is not to save my children, to transform their hearts through the perfect discipline methods and make them follow Jesus. I am simply a tool in His hands to point them to Him, the Savior whom they need more than they need me.

I am not the Christ. I am the wife. My role is not to change my husband, but to respect and encourage and pray for him, trusting that God wants him to grow in Christlikeness even more than I do and knows how best to make that happen.

I am not the Christ. I cannot save myself. I cannot at any moment, before or after regeneration, earn God's favor and acceptance. I cannot change my own heart; I cannot walk in perfect obedience; I cannot make myself holy enough to enter His presence. My hope is not in my willpower, my knowledge, my success.

But I *have* a Savior, thanks be to God! There IS a Christ--Jesus the Christ--and He came for me! He had and deserved God's favor, and bestowed it on me. He sent His Spirit to breathe life into my dead soul and replaced my heart of stone with a heart of flesh. He walked in perfect obedience, and imputes that righteousness to me. He sits at the right hand of God and invites me to come boldly to the throne of grace. I am NOT the Christ--my hope is in the true Christ, Jesus the One and Only.

[edited repost from the archives]

Monday, January 23, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 233

"And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace" (John 1:16).

The fact that I have breath, that I woke up today, that I am not suffering eternally for my rebellion and idolatry--pure grace. The countless, endless gifts He gives me instead--material and intangible, great and small, people, things, experiences, fleeting and lasting--all undeserved blessings from God's generous hand, from His full-to-overflowing goodness and glorious grace.

Thanking Him today for...

2606. grace to stay on track with my Bible reading plan
2607. Elijah helping me bake cookies
2608. Qdoba, courtesy of a Christmas gift card
2609. a new-to-us couch
2610. someone from Freecycle hauling away our old couch

2611. rechargeable batteries
2612. kitchen timers
2613. bandaids
2614. dinner and prayer with dear friends
2615. clean sinks and toilets and bathtubs

2616. clothes hamper filled with board books, courtesy of Jude
2617. grilled cheese and tomato soup
2618. photos a friend took--usually I am behind the camera, so it is fun to have some of me *with* the boys!

2619. the fact that my hair grows fast
2620. a visit from my parents

2621. their babysitting so Steve and I could go on a date
2622. time for uninterrupted conversation with Steve
2623. Jude asking to be read to
2624. Pops reading to Jude

2625. Grammy reading to Elijah

2626. a fridge full of leftovers
2627. tornado sirens we can easily hear
2628. a basement in which we can take shelter
2629. flashlights
2630. His protection in the storms last night

2631. our power didn't stay out very long
2632. His protection, shelter and refuge in metaphorical storms
2633. His unlimited power

Friday, January 20, 2012

Faith, Hope, Love

"So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Who hasn't heard this familiar verse in this familiar chapter a thousand times? And yet, what does it really mean? What makes love greater than faith or hope? Why would Paul rank them like this?

I hadn't necessarily thought about these questions until my grandmother's funeral, when the officiating pastor referred to Martin Luther's insight on this verse. He pointed out this simple yet profound truth:

Love is the only one of these three that lasts eternally.

In this life on earth we need all three: Faith to be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hope to trust that what we long for will come to pass, that the promises will be kept. Love for the One who first loved us, to enjoy Him and adore Him and exult in Him.

But in the age to come, eternally in Heaven, we will no longer need faith or hope! What we hoped for will be reality. We will see Jesus, not dimly through a mirror, but face to face! Everything we longed for will be fulfilled. All the promises will be proven true! We will love--better and more fully than we ever could here on earth--but we will not have faith or hope. Instead, we will celebrate and bask in the actual presence of the Father in whom we placed our faith, the Savior who was the ground of our hope.

The greatest of these is love.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


They say the days are long, but the years are short. I try to cherish this fleeting time while they are small, but as one blogger so eloquently put it, "Carpe diem? I can't even carpe fifteen minutes."

The whining grates. Work and death to self and work and sacrifice and work stretch out in a gloomy, endless prospect before my selfish, lazy heart. I grow weary in the well-doing.

But I am reminded of some truth God graciously spoke to my heart in the last weeks of my pregnancy with Jude, when I was also fearful and weary, when I didn't yet know how that story was going to turn out:

This won't last forever.

The shrieking and lack of verbal skills won't last forever. Sleep deprivation won't last forever. Potty training won't last forever. Nursing pain won't last forever. Dining room table buried under clutter and bathtub you'd be ashamed to let your mother see and kitchen floor you don't even want to calculate how long since it's been mopped won't last forever. Not even having time to shower during the day, let alone string together one coherent thought? That stage won't last forever.

This season of waiting and waiting for that blessing you have longed for your whole life--it won't last forever. Your unemployment won't last forever. Your chronic pain, your tragic marriage, your unbearable grief, your overwhelming struggle with that one besetting sin...none of this will last forever. I can say this with absolute certainty.

If you do not know and love and trust the Lord, far worse things even than these *will* last forever. But if you are in Christ--if your hope is in Him alone--all of the grief and pain in your life, all the things you fear, all the suffering because of others' sins and all the suffering you've inflicted on yourself, it will all pass away. However endless this season seems, it is a season. It will not last forever.

Obvious, I know--yet somehow reassuring. Better yet, to think that while these painful things will definitely come to an end, some things *DO* last forever and ever, without end:
"His steadfast love endures forever" (Psalm 136)

"...Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end" (Isaiah 9:6-7)

"the word of our God will stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8)

"My salvation will be forever" (Isaiah 51:6)

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever"
(John 6:51)

"He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever"
(John 14:16)

"The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever"
(Revelation 11:15)
Today, in this season, I am needing to remind myself of this truth. The struggle with sin, the trial, will not last forever. But my Father's love and mercy and faithfulness will last forever. His Word will last forever. His perfect reign of righteousness and grace and peace will last forever. His Holy Spirit will be with me forever. And I will live forever with Him.

[P.S. - If you skipped over it, I recommend going back and reading that "Don't carpe diem" post I linked at the beginning. It's not just a whiny "motherhood is awful" post--it's a beautiful exhortation to exult in the glory moments of raising children, the sweet spots that make all the work worthwhile.]

Monday, January 16, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 232

“Joy is always a function of gratitude — and gratitude is always a function of perspective. If we are going to change our lives, what we’re going to have to change is the way we see.” --Ann Voskamp

Thanking God this week for...

2582. chiropractic care
2583. spinach quiche with puff-pastry crust
2584. Jude trying to climb into the bathtub, gleefully pounding the side
2585. early morning quiet time
2586. cell phones when you're lost in the middle of nowhere

2587. the fact that I actually had a signal in the middle of nowhere
2588. a local farm where we can get fresh chicken and pork
2589. the sweet family who runs it and their showing us around to see the animals, including...
2590. a gentle horse
2591. seven nursing piglets climbing all over each other

2592. freedom to be real and raw and vulnerable with dear friends
2593. their hugs, tears, encouragement, prayers
2594. their love even when seeing the ugliness of my heart
2595. the moments God enables me to believe truth
2596. His unfailing love in the face of my unbelief

2597. His grace, sufficient in my weakness
2598. renewed resolve to fight for joy, fight to trust
2599. reading We're Going on a Book Hunt with Elijah and doing the motions
2600. cinnamon dolce latte
2601. Elijah's fast and furious, crazy dancing feet

2602. encouraging emails and a snail-mail card
2603. sausage and white bean soup
2604. getting to sit through all of Sunday school and church, uninterrupted
2605. providing the Savior we need, given that our efforts fall short every time.

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Name, Same Great Taste

So. It's a new year, I turn 30 in a couple of months...I think it's long past time for me to abandon "Lavender *Sparkles*". I've wanted and needed a blog name change for years now, but my terrible-at-titling self was completely at a loss for ideas. For lack of creativity, Lavender *Sparkles* it was, long after I'd outgrown the silly name, despite the fact that it's the blog version of Grape-Nuts.

The name Choosing Hallelujah came to mind several months ago, the last time I was tossing around the possibility of officially changing names. I wasn't 100% sold on it, and I just left it be. But the more I think about it, the more I think it's really appropriate. It captures one of the main themes God has been writing on my heart over the last several years. It really crystallized through my pregnancy with Jude and his birth, as I explained when I wrote about how he got his name (which means "praise," fully "This time I will praise the LORD"). 

It comes from a song I love--one that was on my birth playlist for Jude, actually. Bethany Dillon's album Imagination includes a lovely song called "Hallelujah." Oh, how this chorus needs to be my theme song: Hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah
Whatever's in front of me
Help me to sing hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah
Whatever's in front of me
I'll choose to sing hallelujah

Choosing Hallelujah summarizes what I am often trying to do in my more thoughtful blog posts: preach truth to myself as I fight for joy. Motherhood has been for me a journey of choosing to trust, choosing to praise. So I think changing the name of my blog will first of all better describe what my blog is about (and be less awkward for people who link to my blog...I imagine my pastor, for example, feels a little weird when he shares an article on Facebook from someplace called "Lavender *Sparkles*"!).

And I think it will be yet another way to preach to myself--a built-in reminder, every time I open Blogger, that this is what I am called to do, this is what I want, this is what God will provide grace for: to choose hallelujah, to say in my weakness, Lord, I trust that You are good. In Your presence there is fullness of JOY. Give me grace to praise You. Or in other words, "Whatever's in front of me, help me to sing hallelujah."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Five-Star Books

My 2011 reading roundup posts were pretty long and perhaps overwhelming. I thought I'd pull out a list of the five-star books, just in case your eyes glazed over and you missed the really great ones I'd recommend most:

Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand

One Thousand Gifts – Ann Voskamp
A Praying Life – Paul Miller
The Meaning of Marriage - Tim & Kathy Keller


The Help – Kathryn Stockett
The Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
The Monster in the Hollows – Andrew Peterson
Uncle Tom's Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2011: The Year in Fiction

I read more fiction this year than in previous years--a nice mix of juvenile and adult, old and new. And I loved almost all of it. My rating system:

***** Loved it, would definitely read again
**** Liked it, would recommend
*** It was OK
** Didn't like it
* Hated it

Favorite novels this year:

The Help – Kathryn Stockett*****
This book also goes on my all-time favorites list. One of those that you can't put down, and then when you finish, you feel sort of sad because it's over and you don't get to read it anymore. I just absolutely loved it.

The Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling*****
I am eating a big helping of crow this year and admitting that I've been sucked in. I rolled my eyes at the Harry Potter craze for over a decade--and then I gave it a chance, and what do you know? By the end of book three, I had a sense for the huge scope of this story and had fallen in love with the world of Hogwarts. I adore Harry and Hermione and the Weasleys and Dumbledore; I love to hate Malfoy and Snape and Lord Voldemort. It's a good thing I'm listening instead of reading, so that I'm not so tempted by the "can't put it down, just read one more chapter" phenomenon. Unfortunately, because I am about a decade behind with this craze, I am very afraid of inadvertently reading spoilers somewhere! PLEASE don't tell me how it all ends!

Other fiction read:

Tess of the d'Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy****
Tragic. It somehow doesn't seem appropriate to say I *enjoyed* this one, but I found it very absorbing and read it quickly. It was also while reading this that I had this realization of, “You know, I'm starting to understand more and more why the classics are classic.” Just a timelessness and depth to the story. I found the portrayal of God, religion, etc., disheartening...but provocative all the same.

 A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens****/*****
The first half of this book was torture. I was barely able to force myself to plod through it. A friend urged me to press on, so I did—and she was right, the last third of the book was worth it. I don't know why the setup had to be so long and arduous, but after I finished I almost started over to better appreciate the first half, the end was that good. So really, the first half would get two stars and the last part would get at least five!

Hinds' Feet on High Places – Hannah Hurnard****
Same idea as The Pilgrim's Progress—except I liked this version much, much better. The protagonist, a female, starts out as “Much-Afraid” (instead of simply “Christian”) and as she journeys with the Shepherd, she is gradually changed into “Grace and Glory.”

The Magician's Nephew – C.S. Lewis (audiobook) *****
I can't believe it took me so long to get to the first book in the Narnia series. Wonderful Lewis, as expected. Several profound quotes I had to copy down. I look forward to revisiting these as read-alouds with the boys.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness
North! Or Be Eaten
The Monster in the Hollows – Andrew Peterson*****
I read the first two Wingfeather Saga books in 2009, and decided to reread them before starting #3, which came out last spring. The third book in this series was as delightful as the first two and better. Surprising, stirring, deeper and more brilliant than a simple children's book...Peterson is an astoundingly gifted storyteller, along the lines of C.S. Lewis. He writes for children but not down to them, and thus adults find themselves captivated by his words. I can't wait until my boys are old enough for these as read-alouds. And I hate having to wait for the fourth and final book!

Uncle Tom's Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe*****
I absolutely loved this classic! It was so fascinating to get a glimpse of slavery not just in the abstract, but in terms of real people. And the Christian overtones were beautiful and moving.

The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver*****
Spectacular storytelling. Depressing and heartbreaking in its portrayal of an ugly pseudo-gospel preached by ethnocentric, pseudo-Christian missionaries—but really masterfully told from the perspective of five different narrators. Though it was fiction, it made me intrigued to know more of the history of Africa.

Handle with Care – Jodi Picoult****
After finishing this novel in less than a week, I concluded that I should probably not read Picoult's novels while I have little boys at home to care for. She can spin such a compelling tale that I have a hard time prioritizing. This one was heartbreaking, and I definitely didn't agree with her portrayal of some of the morals and ethics, but undeniably she always makes you think hard about that stuff—and I couldn't stop reading because I really wanted to know what happened to the characters.

The Red Tent – Anita Diamant**
I picked up this retelling of the story of Dinah (Jacob's daughter) expecting it to be like the other biblical-historical fiction I have loved (the Thoenes' A.D. Chronicles series; John Piper's Advent poems). It totally wasn't. Rather than adding dimension to the characters and imagining details that *could* be true, Diamant took the angle of “here's the REAL story,” flat-out contradicting the biblical account. This wasn't a story that edified me and glorified God; this was a story that, while interesting, revolved around false gods, sex, and celebrating women. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was barely a minor character. Disappointing.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling**** (audiobook)
I had absolutely no interest in all the Harry Potter hype until a few months ago when I read Andrew Peterson’s article “Harry Potter, Jesus and Me” about how wonderful the books are. Having loved his Wingfeather Saga books, my interest was sufficiently piqued, so I finally checked out the audio version from the library—and very much enjoyed it.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling (audiobook)*****
In Andrew Peterson’s recommendation, he said that an author gets better with every book she writes, and I’d agree that I enjoyed the second Harry Potter book even more than the first. I find myself looking forward to long car rides so that I can listen to these books—Jim Dale, the man who performs them, is quite excellent.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain***
Eh. I started this one and then abandoned it in favor of other more pressing books, and only came back to it out of a desire to finish, not because I really cared so much about what happened.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling (audiobook)*****
After finishing this one in the car late one night, I walked into the house and immediately sat down to admit on Facebook that I am officially hooked. You know it's a good book when it makes you *eager* for long car rides and when it elicits physical reactions: at various times I laughed out loud, my eyes widened, I gasped, and at the end of the book I broke into several delighted, satisfied grins. I love this series so much more than I thought I would.

Mudbound - Hillary Jordan****
From a purely literary perspective, I thought this book was excellent. The voices of six different narrators (three white, three black) and their 1940s Mississippi landscape came to life in a vivid and gripping way. Jordan explores the same era and subject matter as The Help, but this novel is darker and more complex--and ultimately, from a Christian perspective, I am hesitant to recommend it. It is gritty and real (painfully so), and while I'm comfortable with that, I'm not so comfortable with the characters' defiant attitudes toward a God of absolutes who would judge their unrepentant sins. The realism is without redemption, and that left me squirming in the end. So while I found it a terrifically well done story in one sense, I don't think I personally can really endorse it.

Your turn to weigh in: What novels did you enjoy in 2011 (or what are some all-time favorites)? What should I add to my list this year?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2011: The Year in Nonfiction

The start of a new year means it's time for my annual reading roundup! I'm so glad Danielle got me started doing this a couple of years ago. I wish I'd always kept track of what I read!

I absolutely devoured books this year, more than I have since I was in grade school and blowing through the Baby-sitters Club or Sweet Valley books :) Reading is my nursing activity--a baby who loves to nurse plus one laidback older child meant lots of time to sit and soak up books of all kinds this past year. I am in no hurry to wean Jude, for many reasons, but one of them is that I will desperately miss my reading time!

My rating system follows the one on Amazon:
***** Loved it, would definitely read again
**** Liked it, would recommend
*** It was OK
** Didn't like it
* Hated it

My two favorite nonfiction books this year were:

Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand*****
This book is all of those obnoxious, cliched phrases book reviewers use: a spellbinding story told in sparkling prose...riveting...soaring...gripping...could not put it down...etc, etc. Truly, it is that good. One of those books that I absolutely devoured, yet toward the end, did not want to finish because then it would be over and I wouldn't get to read it anymore!

Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl – N.D. Wilson*****
Brilliant. Just brilliant and delightful. This is a wildly weird and wonderful book—the subtitle “wide-eyed wonder at God’s spoken world” captures it well. Funny and poignant and true and beautiful. I’ve never read anything quite like it—part philosophy and apologetics, part science, part poetry, part memoir—all Jesus-magnifying. This is going on my all-time favorites list.

I also read...
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game – Michael Lewis**** (audio version)
I've wanted to read this book ever since I read the New York Times excerpt a few years ago. I was dismayed to discover that the audio version I got at the library was abridged, but I did still love the story. I also enjoyed the details about football interwoven with Michael Oher's story.

As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda – Catherine Claire Larson****
This book helped validate why I have had such an interest, for more than four years now, in Rwanda and the 1994 genocide: “With the gift of listening comes the gift of healing, because listening to your brothers or sisters until they have said the last words in their hearts is healing and consoling. Someone has said that is is possible 'to listen a person's soul into existence.' I like that.” --Catherine de Hueck Doherty / “listening is the greatest form of loving. ...In a place where everyone has a story of horror to tell, people become so accustomed to it that few stop to ask or listen to the pain of someone else.” For me, reading about Africa is a way to listen--and listening matters. Powerful stories not just of the horrors, but of the beauty that God has wrought from the tragedy.

I Will Carry You – Angie Smith****
The word that comes to mind here is “fierce.” Angie loves her daughter fiercely...she clings fiercely to Jesus...and she is fiercely passionate that others see and trust Him through the heartbreaking story of baby Audrey. Beauty from ashes in this book.

Adopted for Life – Russell Moore****
An inspiring treatise on adoption, both the earthly reality and the heavenly doctrine. Moore masterfully weaved the two together, making a strong case for the way our adoption as sons of God is inextricably linked to the call to care for orphans. This book definitely fueled my interest in and passion for adoption.

Anonymous: Jesus' Hidden Years...and Yours – Alicia Britt Chole***/****
A quick read—the structure was sort of odd and choppy, but I enjoyed it. I was convicted and encouraged by her exhortations to be faithful and diligent in the small, hidden seasons of life, but also found it lacking in gospel. It tended to emphasize works an awful lot as the author stressed the importance of using anonymous seasons well. Still, the exploration of “Jesus' hidden years” (the first 30 years of His life, before His public ministry) was fresh, thoughtful and compelling.

The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Fasting and Feasting Toward God  – Leslie Leyland Fields****
Like any compilation, this one had delightful essays and others that left me nonplussed. It also had the unique feature of recipes at the end of every essay—some I'm dying to try and others at which I didn't look twice. This anthology's thoughtful lines and lovely stories provided a helpful balance to the “sinful eating issues” books I've read, helping present a positive picture of how eating and drinking can point to and glorify God.

The Innocent Man – John Grisham****
A completely maddening true story about a man sent to death row for a crime he did not commit. This book had me praising God that in the end, justice will reign and truth will prevail—and in the meantime, feeling furious at the injustice committed by humans. Though after finishing, I discovered a website run by the prosecutor of the case and was reminded that there is more than one side to every story and that even the “villains” we love to hate are human, perhaps more like us than we'd care to admit.

Choosing to SEE – Mary Beth Chapman****
Mary Beth is raw and real; her faith in the sovereignty and goodness of God after the tragic death of her daughter is a faith that has wrestled and doubted, not a sugar-coated Sunday-school-answer faith. This portrait of a woman who frankly doesn't like all that God does, but plows through her pain to trust and praise Him anyway, was compelling and beautiful.

The Gadarene – John Piper/Drew Blom
I vastly prefer Piper's original poem to this graphic novel version—but if graphic novels are your thing, this is really well done, I think. Great illustrations, I just prefer the words.

 Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) – Gavin De Becker*****
An expert on predicting criminal behavior dismantles the familiar safety rules like “Never talk to strangers” and offers instead a host of practical, proven advice for protecting your kids. Disturbing (I don't recommend reading it alone in a house after ten p.m.!) but also very empowering. I'll be revisiting this as my boys grow older.

Craving Grace – Lisa Velthouse****
See my full review as well as parts one and two of my interview with the author.

The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood – Meagan Francis**
See my full review.

One Thousand Gifts – Ann Voskamp*****
What can I say? I adore Ann, I expected to love this, and I absolutely did.

Real Food for Mother and Baby – Nina Planck****
Maybe if I'd read this during pregnancy, I would have acted on what I know deep down and actually eaten better! This was kind of guilt-inducing, but also informative and helpful. I'm a big fan of the laid-back, no-rice-cereal, eat-what-the-rest-of-us-eat approach to introducing solids, so I liked what she had to say about that.

A Praying Life – Paul Miller*****
Inspiring without being condemning or burdensome. A great mix of practical helps and down-to-earth theology and real-life examples from the author's own experience. Not just “you should pray more, and here's why and how,” but a deeper, “this is how prayer has changed me. This is how it can transform you.”

King's Cross – Tim Keller****
Classic Keller, full of the gospel where you've never seen it before. I actually went through this twice--once just reading it cover to cover, then again later as a commentary while reading through the book of Mark. As usual, Keller is excellent.

From Fear to Freedom: Living as Sons and Daughters of God – Rose Marie Miller***
This memoir didn't really grab me, but I have a feeling that may be as much about where I am in life as it is about the quality of the book. I could see it having a huge impact on someone who's just at a different point in their spiritual journey than me. For whatever reason, where I am right now, it just didn't particularly connect with me.

Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches – Rachel Jankovic****
I was eager to pick this up after discovering Rachel Jankovic's online writing and loving it. Her book wasn't as gospel-centered as I expected or would have liked--and to be honest, Jankovic's tone rubs me the wrong way sometimes--but it was still full of poignant, encouraging, and challenging words for moms. It was a short, quick read, so I imagine I'll revisit it.

Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters – Joshua Harris****
An engaging “first taste of theology”/argument for the study of theology. I liked the unique way Harris mixed personal anecdotes in with the more technical explanations, not just talking about but actually making connections between theology and life.

Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men – Leonard Sax*****
This is a really, really important book for parents of boys. It's a startling examination of our culture's male “failure to launch” phenomenon and some of the underlying factors, from video games and changes in schooling to ADHD and endocrine disruptors in plastics. It was disheartening and overwhelming, to think of the challenges my little sons face, but I'm glad I have this information.

Playful Parenting – Lawrence Cohen****
I definitely had to read this with a filter, as it does not espouse a biblical worldview—but I found so much wise and even indirectly biblical advice here. Fascinating and very helpful thoughts on connecting with and nurturing your kids, and on gaining their cooperation and compliance.

Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions – Greg Koukl*****
I had to pick this one up since Steve read it last year and is constantly going all Greg Koukl on me :) It’s a really insightful treatise on the HOW of apologetics and arguments—not just being able to defend your own position, but shifting the burden of proof to the person making the claim, listening well and asking good questions, spotting and exposing weaknesses in other worldviews. I’ll need to revisit this for sure.

God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology – Michael Horton**
This was BRUTALLY unreadable. It’s packaged as a layperson’s introduction, but written like a stiff, dry, overly formal and complex academic textbook. I mean, I’m not a stupid girl, but I found it difficult to press through and comprehend. Still, it had good information, and the second half especially provided some fresh perspectives and food for thought, especially pertaining to communion and baptism. I’m at least intrigued to learn more about covenant theology.

Give Them Grace – Elyse Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson****
Elyse characteristically soaks the reader in the wonders of the gospel, and her take on how the gospel profoundly changes our parenting was (unfortunately) unique (why do most "Christian parenting" books seem to totally miss the gospel?) and refreshing. Very encouraging, and very successful in pointing me to Christ, urging me to depend on Him and to point my children to Him constantly. Wonderful and definitely recommended, though not *quite* the book I hoped for. TulipGirl's review pretty well sums up my thoughts.

Firehouse – David Halberstam***
Nothing spectacular here, but I appreciated this quick read—a collection of portraits from an NYC fire station which lost a dozen men in the 9/11 attacks. I borrowed it from my brother, whose career as a firefighter makes me especially drawn to learn about the lives of heroic men who pursue this calling.

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies – Jared Diamond***/****
Diamond seeks to answer a question I have often asked: WHY did European societies conquer African and American ones, rather than vice versa? Why have certain civilizations dominated/colonized/enslaved others? It was fascinating to learn about the big picture of world history, combining all kinds of disciplines (anthropology, biology, geography, climatology, history) to understand how different societies and people groups advanced.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin – Erik Larson***
Nothing spectacular here, but it held my attention. Chilling to read about the developments of 1930s Germany with the privilege of hindsight. I really enjoy this genre/style of history written like a novel. Amazon reviews indicate that this book is actually much less enjoyable than Larson’s Devil in the White City, so I hope to pick that one up next year.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot****
This is my new favorite genre: a wonderful mix of history, biography, and various other subjects—in this case ethics, biology, medicine, race, poverty, etc. Fascinating exploration of the first line of immortal human cells (HeLa) and the woman and family behind them.

Baptism: Three Views – David Wright (ed.)****
This was definitely an example of that proverb about “the last to speak seems right, until another opens his mouth.” I’d be reading and think, “oh, hmm, that’s a great point, I have to agree.” And then I’d read the rebuttal and go, “oh. I guess that first argument wasn’t so unimpeachable.” I never knew there was a third view for baptism, but Anthony Lane makes an intriguing case for the idea that we need *both* believer’s baptism and infant baptism in the church to provide balance, each side bringing helpful correctives to the other. I still don’t feel completely settled or certain of my views here, but I’m glad I read the book.

The Meaning of Marriage - Tim & Kathy Keller*****
If you haven't noticed, we're big Keller fans around here, so picking up his newest was a no-brainer. Surprisingly, this book made me want to read more from his wife :) Her chapter is the most compelling, persuasive, and inspiring take on gender roles I've ever read. I also loved the big-picture view of marriage, the grand and glorious vision Keller casts. A marriage book I would wholeheartedly recommend to people in all seasons of life.

The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan****
If In Defense of Food addresses how our eating choices affect our health, The Omnivore's Dilemma looks at the bigger picture: the environmental, cultural and ethical implications of our food choices. Constant references to evolution were annoying, but otherwise Pollan makes a very persuasive case for rethinking not just what we eat (whole food vs. processed junk) but how our food is produced (factory farming and the monoculture vs. more traditional and humane methods). His journalism is eye-opening and needs to be widely read and considered.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus - Nancy Guthrie (ed.)***
Some of the readings in this Advent devotional were more beneficial than others. Still, a nice collection to help focus my heart during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Parting the Waters: Finding Beauty in Brokenness - Jeanne Damoff***
I totally hate to give a negative review of someone's personal story. The Damoffs' teenage son nearly drowned in 1996, and this book chronicles his accident and recovery and their family's inspiring journey of learning to trust God no matter what. I appreciate her deep desire to magnify the Lord, and the way their family has navigated this trial certainly points to His goodness, sovereignty and grace. But the writing was hackneyed; the story dragged; I did not really enjoy reading it.

What about you? What was the best nonfiction you read in 2011? 

Monday, January 09, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 231

“To bring the sacrifice of thanksgiving is to sacrifice our understanding of what’s beneficial and thank God for everything — because He is benevolent. A sacrifice of thanks lays down our perspective and raises hands in praise anyways — always.” (Ann Voskamp)

In the midst of some difficult recent circumstances, I'm trying (however weakly and feebly) to "raise hands in praise anyways"--thanking God for...

2551. The Jesus Storybook Bible, and its words for me this morning: "'Why were you scared?' Jesus asked. 'Did you forget who I Am? Did you believe your fears, instead of me?'"
2552. oatmeal pancakes with apple butter
2553. husband loving me in spite of the ugliness in my heart
2554. a dear friend listening, loving, praying, encouraging
2555. new-to-us furniture

2556. Jesus is risen
2557. friends supporting and loving my family
2558. tenderhearted Elijah comforting me and Grammy
2559. the satisfaction of finishing a torturous jigsaw puzzle
2560. a sweet friend's engagement

2561. so many generous Christmas gifts we hardly had room to bring them home
2562. a plastic jar filled with rice: endless entertainment for Jude
2563. Jude's drunken-Frankenstein walk
2564. safe travels
2565. thick clouds rolling across a night sky

2566. snow while we were in Ohio, and the opportunity to play in it
2567. almost 30 years of knowing and loving Grandma June
2568. soft, warm scarves
2569. my niece coming over to sit in my lap without being asked
2570. my brother's girlfriend entertaining and caring for my boys

2571. hugs
2572. breakfast with my two best high school girlfriends
2573. nothing got ruined when Jude dumped water in my purse
2574. Elijah not being greedy or whiny about presents
2575. Rolo pecan pretzel treats

2576. dinner out with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law to celebrate Steve's birthday
2577. their hospitality on New Year's Eve
2578. a kiss at the stroke of midnight
2579. Elijah sitting in Pops's lap watching football
2580. grandparents babysitting

2581. mercies new not just on January 1 or Monday mornings, but every moment

Monday, January 02, 2012

Grandma June

Quiet on the blog this week as I grieve the loss of my last remaining grandparent: Grandma June, my mom's mom, passed away on New Year's Day. I appreciate your prayers for my family.


As of today, I am married to an old man.

He has more forehead than he did in high school. When I cut his hair, I notice the graying at his temples. I find both of these characteristics to be improvements. Oh yes, 30 looks good on my handsome husband. Like a fine wine, he just keeps getting better with age :)

Funny how, with my husband hitting this milestone and my turn being right around the corner, 30 doesn't actually seem old to me anymore. In fact, given that I have friends in their 40s, 40 doesn't seem old to me anymore, either! It just feels like we are officially leaving the "young adult" stage of our 20s behind--and I welcome the shift.

As we celebrate Steve's birthday, I'm reminded of a quote I read recently in Tim Keller's fantastic book The Meaning of Marriage:
"Kathy and I have a picture of us on our wedding day on our bedroom wall. It is now thirty-seven years old. Physically, we looked a lot better then. I had hair, and, shall we say, we were a lot sleeker. When I've done weddings and I look at the bride and groom standing there looking fabulous in their finery, I've often been tempted to quip, 'You look terrific, but it's all downhill from here. You'll never look this good again.'
"But that's not ultimately true, not if you and your spouse wield the power of truth and love with grace in each other's lives. Not if you are committed to the adventure of spiritual companionship, to partner with God in the journey to the new creation. Then, to the eye of God, as the years go by, you are making each other more and more beautiful, like a diamond being cut and polished and set." (p. 169)
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our slight momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Today I am thanking God for the priceless, astounding gift of my husband, born 30 years ago today. I'm thankful that I find him even more attractive today than I did when we first started dating. I'm thankful for the "adventure of spiritual companionship" with this wonderful man. I'm thankful for the ways he patiently participates in God's work of making me more beautiful--and I'm thankful to be used by God in polishing and refining him to be even more wonderful.

Happy birthday, Steve! Here's to many, many more.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year from the Kannels

Hoping you and yours had a very merry Christmas and wishing you a lovely, grace-filled 2012!