On Mother’s and Compassion

There was some point during the course of my first college heartbreak that I realized that my mom wasn’t going to be there to pick up the pieces and make me feel better—it was all on me. This certainly cultivated a dependence on faith in times of mourning, but I’ll be honest, it was an isolating realization.

I was a little embarrassed to have to admit to myself that I wanted my mommy, but it was true. And that season of my life was important—that realization that I was on my own and that was okay. Maybe not my ideal at the time, but okay.

That was a big season of change and transition—moving out of my parents house, cultivating friendships in a brand new community, learning to care for myself. But never once did it really enter into my eighteen-year-old brain to think about the amount of change my mom was experiencing through that season.

Even in moving back home, there were bumps to weather and boundaries to set with four adults living in a single space as opposed to what had been two adults and two children only a few years before.

Brenda Yoder’s Fledge was an eye-opening read for me and I’m grateful.

This exploration of letting one’s children grow up and handling the transition with grace was relatable and knowledgable. Written from a mother’s perspective, Yoder does not shy away from being honest about her own experiences, while giving practical advice for those trying to settle in to an empty nest.

I’ve been thankful to have stayed local and have a healthy relationship with my parents as an adult. Yes, my mother and I have had our challenges—like most mother’s and adult daughters. (Hey, ma!) Reading Yoder’s book gave me an appreciation for the challenges my mother walked through in my late adolescence. Even though I couldn’t express it at the time, this book has certainly given me a dose of compassion for the road mother’s walk when letting go of their children.

If you’d like to pick up a copy (don’t forget, Mother’s Day is coming up!), get one here.

If you’d like to enter to win a copy, show Brenda and I some love on social by clicking the button below!

A winner will be randomly selected next Monday, March 12. There are multiple ways to win, so be sure you click your way down the entire list!

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Book Review: Party of One

For over nearly two years now, you have all helped carry a great conversation around the Bible College Spinster series. I have loved hearing your hearts as we talk about the challenges of singles in the church and how best to love those in different seasons than our own.

Are you ready to take this conversation to your small group or book clubs?

Joy Beth Smith’s Party of One is a much needed exploration of modern singleness in the church. Her wit, wisdom, and honesty will resonate with anyone trying to lead a content and well-rounded life in the tension of longing for a significant other.

So many of the topics we’ve tackled on this site are expressed, but JB also isn’t afraid to go where I am. Her discussions on sexuality and cringe-worthy dating stories will be a comfort with any reader who has wanted to have this discussion, but never had a church community in which to do so.

Party of One had me laughing, giving poetry-slam snaps, and crying all in turn. I have not nodded along with a book in so long and it really is the desire of my heart that those struggling in their faith as a single read this book. I would also hope that any married folks or church leaders that want to care for the singles in their communities well pick up a copy.

I was reminded of my significance and encouraged by so many chapters of this book. You as a single are an important part of your circles. You are not in a waiting space and if you’re waiting for Jesus to make you not lonely, honey, you’re going to be waiting a little while. JB’s Party of One is the book I’ve been waiting for for so long. I’m thankful that Thomas Nelson recognized the importance of this topic and can’t wait for others to begin reading.

You can pick up your own copy here and don’t hesitate to tell me what you think in comments!

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.

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.

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.

Book Review & Giveaway: The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

Readers bring so much to the table when they pick up a book, whether we realize it or not. Our expectations, experiences, and tastes determine so much what we receive when we’re reading.

I was reminded of this when discussing recent release The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck.

When the opportunity to review Bethany Turner’s debut novel came up, I jumped at the chance. I had been told that this was an edgy approach to Christian fiction, that Turner’s voice was fresh and funny. It had been pitched to me as a perfect read for the fans of Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding (of Confessions of a Shopaholic and Bridget Jones’s Diary fame respectively)—two of my favorites, so I figured this book was pretty much my guilty pleasure cup of tea.

Here is what I loved about The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck:

  • Turner is a just-plain-talented writer. Her voice is strong, especially for a debut novelist.
  • I laughed out loud a lot—something I’ve never done with a Christian fiction novel (at least not when I was supposed too…)
  • The fact that it’s was a light, slightly-edgy, fast-passed, romantic comedy in Christian fiction! The publisher taking a risk in this direction was encouraging.

This said, I was a little thrown that the plot was perfectly set up to subvert the usual Christian romance formula, but then ran into it’s arms…quite literally.

There is nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just not my preference as a reader.

So fast forward a week and I’m discussing my disappointment with a friend who works in the industry who I knew had also read the book. She is much more critical of what she reads than I am, so expected her to be “on my side” in this.

My friend very much enjoyed the book. She also found it fresh and funny. She was pleasantly surprised to see the boundaries the book pushed in Christian fiction.

See, my friend did not have the same pitch I had before the book came out. She instead had it come across her desk while she was working. No expectations—just the book itself. In the midst of Amish and prairie romances she often works with came a smart, modern book with an honest, funny, and relatable protagonist.

And it was true! The book may have been what I thought was formulaic, but it challenged a lot of the genres “rules.” The protagonist was actually broken and relatably flawed. She and her love interest felt sexual desire, but were convicted to actually be aware of it and deal with it—something authors just pretend isn’t a factor in a Christian relationship. The protagonist was divorced and unsaved at the beginning of the novel and her conversion was not an overnight now-she’s-perfect kind of thing. I saw myself and my friends in Sarah’s character and so did my friend.

I had put expectations on this book to be something I don’t think the Christian fiction genre is ready for. But after talking with my friend, I see great value in the strides this book has taken to bring the genre forward, and that I can respect.

Perhaps my expectations were not met, but I honestly look forward to Turner’s next book. Her wit and voice are a great contribution to Christian fiction and I can’t wait to see how she will continue to push boundaries.

I would recommend The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck for readers of Christian fiction looking for a good laugh and a great character. This is a quick read, perfect for upcoming holiday travels.

How have your expectations or preconceived ideas effected how you’ve approached a book? Tell me on the comments below!

Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by giving Bethany or I some love on social! There are multiple ways to enter. The winner will be randomly selected on Saturday, November 18, 2018 and contacted via email. Must be within the U.S. to be eligible to win.

Book Review: Fiercehearted

I work in publishing and I love it. But if someone was to ask me what I disliked about the industry I’m in, I would complain about the quality of content being produced for women.

It’s a trend within Christian literature—particularly that targeted at a female audience—that’s pushed more of a feelings-bases theology than I’m comfortable with. I’m not going to name authors or dig into that frustration here.

Instead, I want to talk about a different voice in the conversation for women that has brought me a little hope this month.

Holley Gerth’s latest, Fiercehearted explores the wonder, pain, beauty, and brokenness that makes up the Christian walk of a woman. In short, personal—sometimes deeply so—essays, Gerth explores what it means to lean fully into the call to be a woman of God.

I’ll be honest, I was a little hesitant to pick up another book on faith targeted solely to women, but when I read the back cover copy, I had to be in.

In a season in my life where I feel tired, cranky, and like I just don’t fit it, it takes a little more courage to step beyond the pages of my Bible to live out what the words say.

For example, the author describes her struggle to have children and her journey to surrender that longing. I resonated deeply with her struggle to feel like her life needed to fit a certain mold. As I struggle to surrender my own longings, it was a comfort to hear of God’s faithfulness in her story, seeing how he met her in such an unconventional and beautiful way.

I would recommend Fiercehearted for those feeling worn by the season they currently find themselves in, those struggling with significance, and those looking for short bits of encouragement in a dark season. I think Gerth’s readers will find her relatable, honest, and wise.

Book Review: Warcross

It has been my goal this fall to get more in touch with Young Adult literature since that is the sphere in which I would ultimately like to write.

I recently subscribed to Uppercast Box (which is AWESOME, by they way) and the first book to come my way was Warcross by Maria Lu.

Warcross takes place in a very near future where we have discarded social media and video games for the brilliant and revolutionary replacement of virtual reality—namely, the game Warcross. It’s in this sphere that we meet Emika Chin—a talented hacker and gamer who has been dealt a bad hand and a criminal record. The annual Warcross games (think the Olympics mixed with the Quidditch World Cup) are coming up and Emika plans to watch, despite the eviction notices showing up on her door and her meager income from bounty hunting not taking care of her debts. She performs a hack during the opening games that launches her into the limelight and catching the attention of her hero and Warcross creator Hideo Tanaka.

Sound like fun?

Here’s why I enjoyed it:

  • Diverse cast: the characters of the book span numerous cultures and ethnicities—something that you didn’t see very often ten years ago. I loved learning about Japanese cultures and relating with characters that didn’t look like me. I was also touched thinking of the young women who did connect with these characters because they looked like them. I love that!
  • Smart, savvy female protagonist: Emika is resourceful, flawed, vulnerable, and strong. I loved how Lu pulled back the layers of her main character in a way that was intriguing and relatable. Our culture demands strong female leads, but we are often given women who do not feel or are just fighting machines. Emika can handle her own battles, but isn’t afraid to lean into a potential romance, or feel loss. She was so different from me, but I connected with her immediately.
  • Dilemma not one of love, but morality: I won’t spoil the big conflict of the novel, but I will say that I really respected that it did not center around the romance of the story, but instead the integrity of the characters. This was fresh and very discussable.

I would recommend Warcross to those who enjoyed the Hunger Games or Divergent series—a tough female lead who actually has a heart and discernible skills. I also would recommend this to gamers who love to read. I have it on good authority that Lu threw in all kinds of great gaming easter eggs that were completely lost on me just because that’s not part of my world.

I cannot wait to see where the sequel leads and which path Emika chooses to take.

Book Review: Reading People

“I think I might be a highly sensitive person,” I told a close friend as we were prepping to co-work for the day.

She looked at me confused. “Uh, yeah. You didn’t know?”

I didn’t! I honestly didn’t until reading Anne Bogel’s new book Reading People. We’ll get to me in a moment. (Because I know that’s what you’re all dying to read about…) First, the book:

The subtitle, How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, pretty much give you the rundown. As a longtime personality-nerd, I was fascinated to dig in and read what Anne, one of my favorite podcasters and bloggers had to say.

Each chapter captures the purpose and basics of the most popular personality frameworks out there including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Enneagram, Strengthsfinder, the 5 love languages, and more. Her goal is to help unpack why we behave the way we do and how to better understand the behavior and preferences of those around us. She often discusses understanding how these frameworks work together—a concept I never thought of. Once these lenses are no longer compartmentalized, you find a better vantage point from which to view the complexity of ourselves and those around us.

After reading her book, I understand why the Passion Conference was a miserable experience for me despite being a great time to learn. I know I’m not crazy for feeling anxious in a room filled with lots of people. I have better terms to describe why my first response to insecurity is to overcompensate. I also have a much better understanding of my friends and family members and feel better equipped to walk into moments of conflict.

Reading People is a great book for anyone trying to gain a deeper understanding of what makes them and those around them tick. Anne gives great tools and personal examples for digging deeper into these frameworks to engage in relationships better, be that marriage, friendships, parent-child dynamics, and even work place atmospheres.

You can pick up your copy here.