Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2018

Fiction

A Refuge Assured – Jocelyn Green

Released February 6

Green’s latest releases this winter with great pre-release reviews. I love her attention to detail in her beautiful and sweeping historical fiction novels. This colonial-set work promises to keep rank with her Christy-Award-winning Mark of the King.
Read and excerpt here.

Iron Gold – Pierce Brown

Released January 16

I’ve so enjoyed Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. I honestly don’t know if this novel is part of that series or a new story set in that world, but I don know Darrow’s in it and I’m down. I am so down.

Murder at the Flamingo – Rachel McMillan

Released July 10

Rachel McMillan debuts her new protagonist Hamish DeLuca. That last name might ring a bell—he’s the son of Jem and Ray DeLuca of Herringford and Watts fame. A mystery set in Boston in the thirties—I am all about this book! Also, have you seen that cover?

Noir – Christopher Moore

Released April 17

Moore always makes me laugh and his so clever in all his creative choices. I’ve been drawn into the pulp genre thanks to Lord Huron’s album and can’t wait to get Moore’s satirical take.

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre – Gail Carson Levine

Released May 2

Ella Enchanted is probably my favorite book of all time. The Two Princess of Bamarre is the first book I hated. Both are by powerhouse YA and middle-grade author Gail Carson Levine—my fairytale retelling hero. So you can see why I’m on pins-and-needles to see which end of my book-spectrum this novel lives up to.
Read an excerpt here.

Non Fiction

Party of One – Joy Beth Smith

Released February 6

Joy Beth Smith is someone you need to follow on Twitter. Like now. Her book—which I’m sitting on an advanced copy of—is fabulous and I can’t wait to dig deeper into it over the break.
Access the first chapter here.

Even In Our Darkness – Jack Deere

Released March 6

Love heartbreakingly true stories? Then this memoir needs to be on your list. I’ve been saving it for the long winter days ahead and have the kleenex stocked to go.

Title yet unreleased – Anne Bogel

Released September ??

It doesn’t even have a title, but I’m so ready for Anne’s essays on the reading life. Her charm and bookish knowledge blow me away weekly on her podcast. And who doesn’t want to read more about reading?!

Books Out and on My TBR List

Recapturing the Wonder – Mike Cosper

This is my book club’s next pick and I’ve already cracked the spine. It’s a call back to the wonder and mystery of our faith in the everyday. I fully stand by the intro, and hope to stand behind the book as a whole soon!

American Wife – Curtis Sittenfeld

I plan on catching up on her fictional take of Laura Bush’s life before she tackles Hilary Clinton’s life if she had declined Bill’s proposal. (That’s what she’s writing next!!!)

My Name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok

A friend recommended not that I simply read this, but that I go out and buy a good copy because I was going to want it around for a while. I respect this friend’s recommendations and I do what she says, dammit!

Catch Me If You Can – Frank Abagnale, Jr

This one is for new-project research. That’s all I’m gonna say.

Just Write – James Scott Bell

This one’s for new-project motivation.

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Most Read Blog Posts of 2017

This year has probably been the most rewarding when it comes to blogging. I have loved the conversations many of you have started with me based of what I’ve written and I’m so grateful.
Here are 5 of the top posts from this year:

1. The Metaphor and Blood-and-Guts Reality

For the last nine months I’ve been wrestling over the question, “If marriage never happens for me, will I be okay?”

And the answer varies day-to-day, I’ll be honest. But it struck me the other morning in a big way. I was lamenting the fact that I may never experience that kind of intimacy and then a new thought emerged. Maybe I was very wrong.

Continue Reading…

2. Marriage, Idolatry, And The Church

Once upon a time, I was very passionately involved in the purity culture that was so active in the late nineties and early two thousands. I had kissed dating good bye and embraced authentic femininity with Jesus as my prince charming. (And I have lots of thoughts about that time in my life, but that’s a different blog post.) There was so much teaching I subjected myself to that were, frankly, lies verging on spiritual abuse.

We were taught—and many are still taught—that we need to be sexually pure for the sake of our future spouse—not for the sake of godliness or obedience. But what if there is no spouse ahead? Then what was the point?

Continue Reading…

3.What I Wish the Church Had Taught Me about Singleness By Gina Dalfonzo

When I was in my mid-20s, I started work at a place where one of my colleagues was a 40-year-old single woman. She was a very nice woman—good at her job, easy to talk to, and pleasant to work with. But—true confession time—for a long time I felt a little bit freaked out whenever she was around.

Why? It’s hard and embarrassing to explain. Frankly, I’m ashamed when I look back at my own naïve and immature frame of mind. I felt freaked out simply because she was single and 40—and there were not many voices in my life telling me that this was a good or even an okay thing.

Continue Reading…

4.What’s on Your Summer Reading List?

I could review a book I’ve read…OR I could share with you what some lovely bookish ladies in my life are reading this summer. I am so excited about what is on my reading list for the next couple months and I knew a few people who would be equally excited about their own list.

The following are the five books on the summer reading lists of a series of folks in the writing and publishing world! I have linked to all of them so can check out these titles and add them to your own list.

Continue Reading…

5. I’m Cranky and I Know It

If I were to describe my relationship with faith and the church in this season of my life, I think there is an overarching theme that would emerge: I’m cranky.

There are parts of what I’ve grown up with that feel like a sweater I’ve grown out of—the hem doesn’t meet my jeans any longer and the sleeves are tight around my upper arms and it just feels uncomfortable. I read a book on spiritual formation for women and I wonder why so much of it is based on feelings and why it had to be directed at women instead of all of us. I leave a church service feeling grippy about the amount of first-person-personal-pronouns used in so many Christian songs today. I cross my arms feeling like I will never be respected or taken seriously in an evangelical community unless I am married with children.

Continue Reading…

My Favorite Reads of 2017

I’ve read more this year than I have since high school and I have loved it! This year has introduced me to genres I wouldn’t have otherwise touched and has added many new favorites to my shelves. Here are my top books from the year in no particular order:

Fiction

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

If you asked me in January, I would have said I was the farthest thing from a sci-fi fan. And then I encountered Pierce Brown’s debut, Red Rising. High stakes, highly original world, great themes of loyalty, love, sacrifice, and war. I would recommend this for fans of The Hunger Games and The Warded Man.

What To Say Next – Julie Buxbaum

Buxbaum writes with such strong voices for her two POV protagonists. I loved the unreliability of  both narrators without this being Fight-Club situation. YA in all it’s relatable-yet-dramatic glory. A great, short read for fans of John Green or Jennifer E. Smith’s books.

Landline – Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell has a collection of work I aspire to—great YA novels on top of funny contemporary novels, one with a dash of magical realism. Landline is packed with great pop-culture references, great character predicaments, and a magical phone. Seriously, could you want anything more? Perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella or Meg Cabot.

A Trail of Crumbs – Susie Finkbeiner

The sequel to A Cup of Dust, Finkbeiner ups the ante in Pearl Spence’s world in the most heartbreaking and best way. I love the warmth of her historical fiction paired with characters that make me think of home. And one in particular that may literally harken back to yours truly…The second in a great series for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird or Jocelyn Green.

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

As I said with Red Rising, before this year, I did not have a high view of science fiction, but you’ll notice that 2 are on my list of favorites for the entire year. Dark Matter was a relentless sci-fi thriller that I am still thinking about. Crouch’s concept was so original and mind-bending and his breakneck-pace was perfect. I have had so many great conversations about this novel and would highly recommend it for an unconventional book club pick. Great for fans of  Ernest Cline or Westworld (yes, I’m recommending a book based on TV interests.)

Non Fiction

You Are What You Love – James K.A. Smith

This book has changed my life and I’m not just saying that. Smith calls for a contemplative and intentional approach to faith that touches every aspect of life. This book has been a call back to quiet, daily faithfulness. I have been challenged and convicted by this book so many times since reading and am loving his backlist. Must read for readers of Alvin Plantinga or Augustine

Beyond Colorblind – Sarah Shin

Another convicting read, Shin’s debut book brings our culture’s racial tensions to the forefront of the church with such grace and wisdom. I think every believer needs to read what she has to say. This book is a worthy discussion about our full identities—ethnicity included—being valued in the diverse body of Christ. Great follow up read for those who enjoyed The Myth of Equality or The New Jim Crow.

Reading People – Anne Bogel

I’m a total personality nerd and have loved Anne’s podcast. Reading People was the best of both worlds—Anne’s wonderful insights and so much personality discussion. Because of this book, I’m now aware I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)—which those closest to me have apparently known and assumed I knew as well. A great book for those obsessed with Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram.

The Imperfect Disciple – Jared C. Wilson

Wilson’s humor and insight into the gospel have made this book one of my most recommended of the year. With snark and wisdom, he sets forth a call back to simple, gospel living. I’ve found his work so refreshing in a publishing landscape so saturated with a feelings-based theology. I would recommend this one for readers of Mike Cosper or Jen Wilkin.

At Home in the World – Tsh Oxenrieder

I love a good travel story and Tsh Oxenrieder has a few. Her memoir documenting her family’s around-the-world adventure was the perfect vacation read, especially as I got to walk in their footsteps through Italy. Her insights on home and place have stuck with me. This is a great memoir for those who enjoyed Chasing Slow or Bread and Wine.

What were your favorite reads of 2017? Share in the comments below.

People Who Walked in Darkness

I think it’s about time we all admitted it: We suck at lament.

As a culture, we’re just really bad at it.

We live in an age ruled by the power of positivity and silver linings. We’re looking for the bright side and chasing our bliss. We don’t sit still, we distract. We don’t allow things to sink in, we stay at the surface.

But we can’t. Not all the time. At least not forever.

And I think it’s during the holidays that we feel the tension of that. And I think this year more than ever, we’re all tired of pretending the tension isn’t there.

Can I just say that it’s okay that you feel tired. It’s okay that you feel sad, or hurt, or angry, dismissed, disenfranchised, unincluded, forgotten, or unloved. It’s okay to acknowledge your pain. Because if it didn’t matter, then it wouldn’t hurt.

Our world groans. In our own neighborhoods, across the globe. And we ache for a wholeness that we feel was supposed to be ours.

We feel that loss when someone hurts us, or we destroy something that was good. That hole gapes at us in the darkness and we have an innate sense that this wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

I mourn that with you, friend. We mourn it side by side and we need to. We can’t hold that much pain on our own and we were never meant to.

So why say this at Christmas?

Because this is the season where we carry the already and not quite yet. We carry the knowledge that things may be bad, but they will not always be. We hold the burden of waiting together.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.

I lament beside so many of you and I’m grateful for those of you who mourn beside me. And we look at our brokenness and the darkness that surrounds. We don’t pretend it’s not there. But we also hold it up to the light.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called[e]
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Book Review: An Enchantment of Ravens

This fall I made a more conscious effort to read books for just the fun of it. Mostly, this meant a lot of YA novels.

Growing up, I was a sucker for fairytales. Hours upon hours of Disney princess movies led to bringing home fairy tale collections from the school library. Once I had read through all of those, I traipsed all about the yard in my moms old bridesmaids dresses making up my own. Eventually, this evolved into writing my own.

And somewhere in the past few years I had let myself forget that.

And then I read Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens.

Rogerson’s debut novel is a splendid new fairytale set in a world of old folklore with a fresh twist.

The fair folk are a fairy race who cannot create anything lest they die. As a result of their limitations, they will pay great amounts for beautiful handmade goods. Isobel is the best portrait artist the fair folk know, and it’s not a surprise when a fairy prince, Rook, comes to have her paint his portrait. Isobel paints the human emotion of sorrow into his picture—a crime punishable by death. To be tried for her crimes, Rook takes Isobel captive and she discovers the fair folk’s world isn’t everything her world has come to think it is.

Rogerson’s artistic background is a major asset to the telling of this novel, not only in the realism she brings to Isobel’s abilities, but also in the beautiful world within the book. It takes something special for the book to have a strong aesthetic, but Rogerson sets scenes with great strength. The images are not over-described, and yet so vivid.

The story keeps a quick pace and the tension rises nicely. Her characters are strong and believable and her world is one I would love to return to. I would have not guessed this was her first novel.

Reading her book reminded me of a love of fairy tales I haven’t returned to in too long a time. I’m now revisiting old favorites and why I was inspired by them in the first place.

You can get your own copy of An Enchantment of Ravens here.

Book Review: Called to Create

As a creator and aspiring entrepreneur who gets to work a day job supporting other creators, I was so excited to get my hands on Jordan Raynor’s book Called to Create, out this month from Baker Publishing.

Raynor presents the biblical case for creators, innovators, and risk takers to fulfill their callings not just in service, but in the marketplace.

I have been blessed to be part of creative Christian community that has fostered many of the concepts Raynor discusses as I’ve developed as a writer and content creator. Many are not as fortunate because, frankly, the evangelical church is not always the most encouraging a creative pursuits. The misconception that to serve God, you must be in full time ministry is tossed out Raynor’s front door on it’s ear before his introduction really gets rolling. What replaces it is the beautiful truth that God is a creator and therefore, we are also called to create.

Raynor writes in a simple and to-the-point fashion that can easily encourage and equip those for whom the discussion of creativity and innovation are not as encouraged, especially from a Christian perspective.

I thoroughly enjoyed the interviews and input from the likes of classic writers as well as successful business people and entrepreneurs. C.S. Lewis and Chick-Fil-A in the same book is always a win.

The book is broken up into four parts: calling, creating, challenges, and charge. Each unpacks a discussion about the philosophy and reality of the creative life. He addresses the need for risk-takers and innovators from the church. The book is a call to rally, renew, and flourish as artists, entrepreneurs, innovators, and world-changers. I was encouraged and empowered by Raynor’s book and I am so thankful.

I would recommend Called to Create for those who don’t yet have or are looking to foster a creative Christian community. I also think Raynor speaks firmly but encouragingly to the struggling innovator.

Filled with inspiration, experience, and evidence, Called to Create will have you ready to dig your hands into your next project.

Read an excerpt here.

Get your copy here.

Reflections at the Close of Ordinary Time

I’m a Baptist born and bred, but I have begun observing the liturgical calendar within this year. There is something grounding in reading the Bible seasonally alongside believers around the world.

This week—the week before Advent—marks the end of Ordinary Time, a portion of the liturgical calendar I didn’t even know existed. This season is not named because the season is average or boring. Instead, it is named for the latin word ordo from which we get our word “order.” It is a season of ordered life in the church—neither feasting or fasting, but faithful watchfulness for Advent.

There has been something resonant as I have read about the journey of Israel out of Egypt, or David’s path to the throne. Israel had escaped their season of suffering, but had not yet arrived  in the promise land (this was pre-40-years-of-wandering). David had been promised the throne by God, but Saul was not ready to hand it over. These were times of hope ahead, but also mourning was at bay for a moment.

And we know how things turned out. Israel had to wait longer than expected to take the promise land. David had to run and hide lest he be killed before he even go close to fulfilling his calling. But for a time, there was a time of faithful trust—a stewardship to be where God had placed them despite the average order of that time.

I find myself in a season of neither great joy or mourning, neither change or stagnancy, neither stressful or restful. My season in life is in and of itself an Ordinary Time. So what do I do in this time?

Honestly, I don’t totally know. I feel a little guilty not experiencing anything too traumatic or going through a huge life transition after a season of seemingly endless transition. I know this isn’t the case for most of you. But in a season to be marked by faithfulness, how does one seek to cultivate that faithfulness.

It looks like making space and time for practices that make me more like Jesus. It looks like reimagining a Sabbath focused more on reflection over my week and the week ahead and less like focusing on the inside of my eyelids. It looks like serving in and pursuing a community that is broken, but still where I am called to be. It looks like finding new ways to express gratitude. It looks like learning to lament with those who mourn and celebrate with those who are joyful.

According to Eugene Peterson, it’s long obedience in the same direction.

There is an order in this time in my life—a call to stay the course and faithfully look forward to whatever God may have ahead. I can so easily look at what has passed and want to dwell on its pain or cling to its victories. I can desperately race to what I think the future should hold for me, attempting to grasp or control.

Or I can do what is hard. I can dwell in the season God has placed me in for his purposes. Faithfulness and hope. That is what is being cultivated in these days.

As Ordinary Time comes to a close, there is an excitement to moving in to Advent. There is also the reminder to enjoy and rest in the order of my current days. I do not know what lies ahead, but God can be trusted in the order.

How has God met you in the Ordinary seasons of your life?

How to Pray for Singles

I am so grateful for the vibrate community God has blessed me with. I am surrounded by sisters and brothers in Christ who encourage me creatively, socially, but especially spiritually. God has gifted wise older women to speak truth and provide wisdom during my dark days. He has given me a family who show me grace and forbearance and love daily.

As such, there are many people who know I would like a spouse and who would also like for me to have a spouse. And I think we all know and love some singles that would love to be bringing someone home with them this Thanksgiving, but for many of us, that’s just not going to be the case.

So here is what I have to say on behalf of those just waiting to be asked the question over dinner on Thursday, “So, are you seeing anyone?”

When the answer is “no, not at the moment,” let your answer not be, “Well, I’ll pray that you will!” (And certainly don’t let it be, “Why not?” Seriously. Just don’t.)

Don’t only pray that the singles in your life find a spouse.

Pray that with or without one, they will pursue a relationship with God. Pray that they find encouragement in the word, Spirit, and people of God. Ask that there be fruit in their personal pursuit of holiness.

Pray that they will find a community that builds them up and encourages them to thrive where God has placed them. Pray against feelings of inadequacy, incompleteness, or loneliness in the body of Christ. Ask that they be surrounded not only by other singles pursuing godliness, but also believers in many different season that they may bless and be blessed by the beautiful diversity of the Church.

Ask that in their work, they may find purpose. Pray that in the moments they are discouraged by their job or feel that this is just a pitstop to what God may have next, that they remember there identity does not come from a job title, but from Christ. Pray that they take full advantage of the mission field where God has placed them—wherever their feet end up.

Lament that our church does not always know how to include the singles in their congregation. Pray for your own church in the singles there. Pray for sensitivity on how to welcome those who are not part of a nuclear family into the fray. Pray for leadership that looks to unify a diverse body.

Express gratitude that God does not make all of our journey’s the same! Pray that the singles in your life find contentment and beauty in this as well. Pray that they would seek God’s plan for their singleness. Pray that their longings are met in Christ before they are met in a spouse. Pray that they know they are significant with or without a significant other.

We covet your prayer just as any other brother or sister in Christ would. But I ask that those prayers be for full and missional lives over simply to be married.

Book Review: Beyond Colorblind

I don’t often review the books that I work with in my professional sphere on my blog, but this fall I worked on a contract for a book that was so timely and important, I knew I would need to share it here.

Sarah Shin’s Beyond Colorblind released earlier this month. It is a smart, gracious exploration of the importance of ethnic diversity in the church and working past the tendency to ignore it.

In portions of my circles, I have heard grumbling–people wondering why race and civil-rights issues are even being discussed in the church. The assumption from many white evangelicals is that ignoring race makes the church post-racial. In such settings, many have found it more comfortable to ignore the injustices and wounds that have been inflicted on so many of our brothers and sisters–often by those within the body of Christ.

Beyond Colorblind is a beautifully written call to reconciliation and healing delivered with grace, humility, and authority. I was so touched by Shin’s words and vulnerability in this book. She tackles a topic that becomes more heated and relevant by the day with the love of Christ.

If you are looking for a way to enter into dialogue surrounding ethnicity and the church, THIS IS IT! I highly recommend this for anyone burdened for how long our society has been silent as well as for those who are baffled as to why some feel we need to have these conversations to begin with.

Shin’s prophetic call has been eye-opening and healing to me. I know it will be for you too.

Who Am I?

Existentialism aside, I think this is something we all ask and it seems like a pretty foundational question. And once it’s answered, we usually live out from the answer.

“If this is who I am, this is how I will act in relationships.” “If these are my gifts, then this is the calling God has for me.” “If this is what I’m feeling, then this is how I should move forward.”

But here’s the problem with that line of thinking:

“If this is how my dreams/ hopes/ desires/ demands are being thwarted, then God must not be for me or just doesn’t even exist.”

Escalated quickly, yes?

I think we have embarked on our search for identity wrong. And we may “know” we are to find our identity in Christ, but do we really by-heart know it?

I was recently introduced to a line of questioning by my small group leader, but this was adapted from Jeff Vanderstelt. Here’s the order in which I usually ask these questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. So how do I respond?
  3. What did God do for me?
  4. Then who is God?

But how unfortunate is that? My self-view and behavior have no bearing over who God is and what he’s done!

For example, when I was once passed over for a professional role I had thrown my hat in the ring for, I was trying to re-examine some goals. Who was I? I was a failure and probably not meant to be where God had placed me. How was I to respond? Hide, of course! I had failed and been rejected and could not let people know I was a fraud! What did God do? He had placed me here to reveal my inadequacy. Then who is God? He’s trying to teach me a lesson about not feeling too confident in my abilities.

…There’s a lie in there somewhere. Maybe more than one.

If I truly want to understand who I am, I need to flip my understanding of myself on its head. This often means flipping my frame of understanding around:

  1. Who is God?
  2. What did God do for me?
  3. So how do I respond?
  4. Then who am I?

When these questions are answered in the proper order, I am able to live out of the story of the gospel, rather than the story of selfishness I am trying to tell on my own. Living out of the gospel gives me and outward and upward perspective, rather than trying to satisfy my inward longings.

Let’s look at that same scenario:

Who is God? He is my father and creator. What has he done for me? He as saved me and covered me in his righteousness because of his great love for me. How to I respond? I trust that what he has for me is best in both success and failure. Then who am I? I am dearly loved and no good thing has been withheld from me.

With these questions in a proper order, my view of God and view of self are also ordered properly. From there, I can respond out of truth and walk forward in faith despite the hurt of my circumstances.

Which set of questions are we living out of and how is that effecting our friendships, families, marriages, vocations, and even our self-talk?

The first question may be, “Who are you?”, but the second question must be, “How are you going to answer that?”