Sometimes, I Read Things

Last fall, I realized that if I didn't change certain habits, Kyle was going to walk in one day and find me mindlessly staring at a Daniel The Tiger episode while my brain, in liquid form, was puddled about my feet.

In an attempt to keep that from happening, I have been reading more this semester. I never had a specific goal in mind, but with the general guidelines to avoid novels and pick up a book every once in awhile that was outside of my normal interests.

Not because I think novels are evil or beneath me, but because they usually draw me into a hole where I eat, sleep, bathe, and drink as little as possible until I'm finished with them. Since I am largely responsible for the existence of an almost three and one year old, I figured this was slightly unwise.

Here are the books I've read and my very intelligent & cultured opinions of them:

Jesus Feminist // Sarah Bessey

Several years ago, this would have been my favorite book in the entire world. I imagine I would have waved it underneath everyone's noses and demanded they read it so it could change their lives too.

It may have helped me avoid a few unnecessary detours on my "Jesus and The Church and Women" journey. Bessey does an amazing job of approaching this topic with a lot of grace and an, "Everyone just calm the heck down and let's have a conversation about this, shall we?" mentality. I wish I could have read it when my soul felt a little dry and brittle from going full DaVinci Code on Scripture, trying to squeeze hidden meanings out of the Greek and scrape absolutes from verses that bless us all, just don't seem to have it.

All that being said, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I wanted. I felt lost, at times. In the back of my mind I kept thinking, "Yes... that's all so good, but what's the point of saying all of this, again?"

In this season, I've come to a place in my own journey of wanting more practical, hands-on, tangible things to chew on. This book, at least for me, didn't really provide that. Analogy time? It felt a little bit like a cup of hot tea with lemon when what I wanted was a protein shake.

Fierce Convictions // Karen Swallow Prior

First, I love biographies. Some people don't, I get it.

Second, I love history. Some people don't, I get it.

These two facts predisposed me to enjoy this book. It's the story of Hannah More. Who was a prolific social justice writer in Britain during the turn of the nineteenth century. She was a peer of William Wilberforce, and on top of being involved in the abolitionist movement, had her hand in well, pretty much every social issue of the time. I found it interesting, though, that More was pretty conservative. She presented a dynamic personality to read about. I didn't always like her that much, to be honest. There were times I thought, "I don't know if I'd really want to be friends with you;" however, what she accomplished demands respect. In her time, it was not for nothing that a single middle-class woman of less than stellar parentage come to a place where she was financially independent. And, obviously, her role in abolishing the slave trade is an amazing story.

It's definitely worth the read, but if you're not one to pick up a history book and naturally enjoy it, this book may be a bit dry.

Unbroken // Laura Hillenbrand

I didn't read Seabiscuit, because I find it hard to engage in stories that center around animals. This may make me an unfeeling block of no emotions, but it is what it is. To this day, even after becoming a parent, I do not understand the hype over Finding Nemo.

ANYWAY, I say all that so you can understand the impact of this next sentence: After reading Unbroken, I might read Seabiscuit.

You see, Seabiscuit, too, was written by Hillenbrand, and Unbroken might be my favorite book I've read this entire semester. It's the biography of Louis Zamerpini, a Japanese POW survivor from World War II. The story itself is amazing, but in the hands of a less capable writer it could have easily crumbled; or, heaven forbid, had it been made straight into a movie and the story never given the due diligence a book can afford to give it. I'm not even going to tell you anything about it because I don't want to ruin anything.

Okay, yes I am: at one point Zamperini, while holding his breath underwater to escape being shot at, punches sharks in the face. IN. THE. FACE.

More analogies? The movie was car repair shop coffee to the book's french press. Do. Not. watch the movie without reading this book. If you have to choose one, read the book. Please, for me. Thank you.

Maude // Donna Mabry

I have a rule about sad biographies or memoirs: I will read ones written by Frank McCourt, and that's it.

Because a sad biography, no matter how fascinating, makes my heart feel like a flat balloon for like three days after I'm done with the book. Unless it's written by Frank McCourt, who is incredibly good at writing purpose into pain, in my humble opinion. Maude kind of ended like this:

So she laid down and thought about how if she had been a better/different/braver person her life would not have absolutely sucked. The End.

I won't go all the way and say that I shouldn't have read it, because I enjoyed the realistic look at a woman's life during this specific time period in our country, but it was by far my least favorite book on this list.

I Want My Hat Back // Jon Klassen

My sister got this for Zeke last Christmas, I believe. We pulled it out sometime in February and it is hands down my favorite children's book of the moment.

Probably in part (spoiler alert!!) because the bear totally eats the rabbit who stole his hat. Finally, a book that more appropriately displays a predatory animal's capabilities.

Plus the illustrations are not a visual equivalent to eating an entire can of icing. I enjoy kids books that are a little less stimulating.

The Wounded Heart // Dr. Dan Allender

This was my intense read of the semester. It took me the longest to finish because of the topic. Dr. Allender does an excellent job of communicating the compassion he has for victims of childhood sexual abuse, all the while telling their stories with respect.

It's an excellent book, I just had to walk away from it every once in awhile to remind myself that the world can be a good place too, as well as one that is full of very difficult, evil things.

I'll be frank, having not gone through sexually abusive experiences during my childhood, I have often been left grasping for things to say when the topic comes up with people that have. I want to emphasize that by no means was my desire to equip myself to attempt to seriously counsel people through processing something like this. That is for people (like Dr. Allender) who have given their lives to the study of helping people find healing & wholeness in the wake of sexual abuse. However, being in a job that involves talking to people about vulnerable things, where this has and will continue to come up, it felt irresponsible to not familiarize myself with it in some way.

I say all of this because if you are in my shoes, I would highly recommend this book. Empathy is in high demand and low supply these days, and for me at least, this book helped increase my empathy for those who were sexually abused as children. I also feel like it made the topic less scary to approach. Just as difficult, certainly, but less scary. I imagine it would help those who did experience sexual abuse as well, but can't speak with the utmost confidence because of my ignorance. In summary: do not pick up if you're needing something emotionally light & airy, but if you have little to no knowledge of sexual abuse and would like to educate yourself on the effects sexual abuse has on a persons mind, body, & soul, it's worth a read.

The Jesus I Never Knew // Phillip Yancey

I listened to this book, technically, rather than reading it, but I still count it. Several years ago I read Yancey's, What's So Amazing About Grace? and loved it. Ever since then I've wanted to read more by him but never got around to it.

I'm glad I did. For me, the word for Yancey's writing is refreshing. Something about the way he approaches Jesus feels like fresh air blowing through a stuffy room. I appreciated the way he highlighted Jesus' humanity, never sacrificing his deity in the process.

It's hard to write about Jesus. None of us have ever met him in the flesh, and he is - literally - the only human of his kind. Completely God, completely man. One of us, and not, all at the same time. He was holy & hungry. I felt closer to Jesus when reading (listening to?) this book, which is, obviously, a good thing.

Bread & Wine // Shauna Niequist

This was my first Shauna Niequist book, and fell into the category of "things I wouldn't normally pick up to read." She has a specific style that I happen to enjoy every once in awhile. That is, it feels like a conversation you're having with a friend that may go somewhere or it may not, but it doesn't matter because the point is to just be - not accomplish a task.

It wasn't a recipe book, at all, though it did have recipes. It felt like a combination of a spiritual memoir, a book about food and the place it has in our culture, and a recipe book all in one.

What I enjoyed was her vulnerability. She was honest about her shortcomings with food and, even more so, honest about the fact that she doesn't have everything figured out yet. She also discusses her journey through trying to conceive while three miscarriages. There were times I wished I could cry right alongside her. I think being able to write about hard things in a way that moves people to empathy, but isn't despairing or hopeless, is hard to do - but she did it. She also made me laugh out loud, and at the risk of sounding unbelievably pretentious, whenever a book can make me do that I consider it a win.

Abba's Child // Brennan Manning 

Well, I cried a lot. Recently I felt prompted by the Lord to dig deeper into the meaning of grace. I have been wanting to pick up Brennan Manning's books for awhile, and as I was reaching for a theology book to delve into grace I felt the Lord specifically put Manning's name on my heart.

I'll let you know if I should have started with The Ragamuffin Gospel after I read it. For now I'll just say, that if you have a hard time connecting with God, if seeing Him as a kind father is something you are really thirsting for, this is a good book to read.

However, I think this is also a "right place, right time" book. Where I'm at is a right place and right time for me. So if you pick it up and it doesn't do much for you, try again in a year. Just make sure you definitely try again.

The Reason for God // Timothy Keller 

Things that fall along the lines of theology and apologetics waken my heart. I have always been a student and always will be. I connect to God deeply through the study of His Person and His Word. Some of my most intense moments of worship have been over a church history book or during an exegetical teaching. I understand this is not everyone's cup of tea, so my perception of this book may be biased.

If you have an agnostic friend that genuinely is curious about this whole "God" thing, give them this book.

If you have a Christian friend that is going through a period of intense doubt, this book may not be what they need, but it might be worth them picking it up.

This was the first book I've read by Keller. I've read his wife's work before, and what I appreciate about both of them is their methodical approach. To say they're books are well thought out is an understatement.

So, if Bread & Wine was a long conversation, this book feels more like a college lecture -a really good lecture, like the kind that make you want to give your whole life to study whatever the professor is lecturing about. Both are good and needed, but very different.

What books have you been reading lately? I love any and all recommendations. :) 

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