Review: The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin

One of the best things I’ve learned in the past six years of staying home is that glory is found in the ordinary. Maybe it’s that I became a mom at a time when we were busy rediscovering what Madeleine L’Engle and Kathleen Norris had found the generation before: That our deepest connection to spirituality happens in the small, quotidian spaces of our very ordinary lives. We encounter God in the rhythms of folding laundry, planning meals, and leaning into the tiredness of early motherhood.

In The Ministry of Ordinary Places, Shannan Martin adds her own observations to this practice of remembering that loving our neighbor means stepping out onto our front porch. That God’s goodness is found in taco meals and walking to school.

While I was reading The Ministry of Ordinary Places, I found myself nodding along and connecting with Martin’s story. We don’t interact with folks coming out of incarceration and addiction but we do interact with our very ordinary neighbors. Martin does a good job of bringing her reader into the story, regardless of the similarities. I appreciate that I could connect even though the details may look different.

But when I put the book down, I’d easily forget about it. The lessons and takeaways just didn’t stay with me. I have a feeling this is a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” Some books come to us at exactly the right time and this can make the most ordinary of books life-changing. Because so many of my peers have written about the ordinary spaces of life, I’ve immersed myself in this thinking. This was a good book but Martin didn’t push my thinking or make me respond with any life altering epiphanies.

I think this is fine. Some books are good in-the-moment reads. Not all books should be life-changing. (That would be exhausting!) If you’re looking for a good reminder of living a neighborly life, I’d recommend The Ministry of Ordinary Places. The very ordinariness of this book is what gives it strength.

What books have helped you remember your ordinary place? How do you connect with the everyday moments of life?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Review: All the Colors We Will See by Patrice Gopo

One of my favorite genres is essay collections. Whether narrative or expository, a well-written essay is incredibly powerful. It’s also a genre that is overdone and I’ve read my fair share of mediocre collections, making me cynical of the style as a whole.

_240_360_Book.2632.coverWhen I heard about Patrice Gopo’s debut collection, All the Colors We Will See, the reviews were high. I knew I had to check out her collection and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Gopo renewed my love of this genre.

This stunning collection of essays about identity and culture drew me in and has become one of my favorite reads of the year. Gopo grapples with the big ideas of raising multicultural children, finding her own place in American culture, and reflecting on her role as a mathematician-turned-writer. And yet, she invites me into this conversation beautifully. Her own reflections helped me dig into my own labels and identity and how those impact my worldview.

If you’re looking for a collection to make you think about what identity means in today’s culture, I couldn’t recommend All the Colors We Will See more highly. And, if you’re looking for more backstory, check out my interview with Patrice over at SheLoves Magazine!

Do you read essays? What are your thoughts on the genre?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Review: Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

It’s easy to dismiss the Bible and Christianity, isn’t it? I was about to say “these days” at the end of that sentence but I have a feeling that every generation has grappled with interpretation and misinterpretation of this ancient text. Of course, I want the story of God, in whose image I was created, to reflect me and my values. And everyone, from the Attorney General to atheists to theologians interprets this text through their own lens.

_240_360_Book.2605.coverIt’s a fine line between asking questions to dig deeper and questioning with a framework of cynicism. One is productive, the other can be frustrating. In her newest book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again Rachel Held Evans does her best to remove the cynicism and ask the questions for what they are: To learn and grapple, often without a specific outcome.

I’ve read every one of Evans’ books and this one is the most inviting in this divided world. She reimagines stories in modern settings, helps us see familiar characters in a new light, and links these ancient narratives to modern lessons.

Evans provides deep research and insight while loving the questions themselves. You won’t find answers in this book but you’ll learn that asking questions is a vital part of engaging with this text and tradition.

If you’re looking for a book that helps you experience the Bible through a fresh and forgiving lens, Inspired will give you hope and encouragement.

What books have helped you see the Bible from a fresh perspective? How do you balance the ancient text with modern interpretation?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Review: NKJV Reader’s Bible

Now that we’re a full week into summer, I’m slowly finding a routine. My favorite part of school being over is a slower start to our mornings. The girls are still up before 7:00 but we don’t have to be anywhere for a while. I’m enjoying a cup of coffee while still in my pajamas, reading a poem or two, and starting to read a chapter from the Bible.

_240_360_Book.2523.coverA couple years ago, I set a goal to complete the Bible in a Year and when I was done, I wasn’t really sure what to do next. My big goal had been achieved and it felt a bit strange to just start right back in Genesis. But I’ve missed the daily rhythm of reading from the Bible and was having a hard time finding a good fit.

I’ve been using the same New Living Translation Study Bible since college and love it. But when I saw Thomas Nelson’s Deluxe Reader’s Bible, my interest was piqued. I haven’t read the New King James Version since my first Precious Moments Bible and I’ve enjoyed rediscovering this poetic translation.

IMG_9363I also enjoy the “reader’s version” formatting. This means it reads like a book: One column formatting without verses. The chapter titles are printed at the top of each page and the chapter number is printed in the margins but otherwise, those key markers are unobtrusive or missing altogether. There is no commentary, concordance, or references.

As the description reads,

The NKJV Deluxe Reader’s Bible is an invitation to get caught up in the story of Scripture, as history, poetry, and prophecy come to life on pages designed for people who love a good book.

This Bible is ideal for someone looking for a clean, simple reading experience. It has helped me remember that the Bible is literature and reading it as such has deepened my experience. I needed a refresh when it came to this familiar text and a different translation combined with a beautiful format was exactly what I needed to reignite my morning routine.

What is your favorite Biblical translation? How do you refresh your morning routine?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Review + Giveaway: Hello Mornings by Kat Lee

I love the idea of a good morning routine. In my perfect world, I’d wake up around 6:00, have a cup of coffee, read some poetry, maybe write out a few thoughts longhand. If we’re really dreaming, I’d have time for a quick devotional or reading. Maybe a chapter in a book? This sounds like the perfect way to enter the day. I won’t go into the details of my reality but I will say, my reality is pretty far from my ideal scenario.

_240_360_Book.2456.coverIn her book, Hello Mornings, Kat Lee recognizes that a good morning routine starts the day out right. She also recognizes the difficulty in setting a good morning routine. It’s the rare person who has the time and space to get up, mentally prepare for the day, get in a solid workout routine, and make it into the office at a decent time. So, she suggests starting with three minutes. Even the parents of the fussiest newborn can squeeze in three minutes, right? Lee suggests creating three categories: God Time, Plan Time, and Move Time. In the beginning, each part should take one minute: Read one verse, quickly look at your calendar, drink a glass of water.

This seems simple. I mean, I start my mornings with a glass of water. Surely I could add a verse and a look at the calendar. In the weeks since I’ve started reading this book, all I’ve added is an alarm set to (hopefully) wake me up before Elle. This is fairly hit-or-miss. It’s not Kat; it’s me.

I do appreciate her guidance to starting a routine with baby steps. If I can’t carve out three minutes, why would I be able to carve out a half hour? My problem is that three minutes is such a small goal that it seems too insignificant. And so I don’t do anything. What she’s challenged me to do is reshift my thinking. Maybe I need to diligently start a three-minute morning routine. If it’s so easy, why not? Admittedly, any new routine takes willpower and discipline and I just haven’t taken the steps to do this.

The strength of Hello Mornings is that it is a very clear and easy-to-follow guide to establishing a good morning routine. Lee takes research from other well-known habit books and incorporates the methodology into her own brand. I think it works, as she’s built an incredible community through her website, hellomornings.org. My criticism is that the website is so well run and successful, the book seemed a bit superfluous.

If you’re struggling to establish the first steps in a morning routine, Hello Mornings may be the exact formula you need to get going.

Are you a morning person? What helped you establish your routine?

The Compost HeapGIVEAWAY! I’m giving away my copy of Hello Mornings through my newsletter, The Compost Heap. This goes out on the last Thursday of the month so if you’re interested in winning a copy, sign up for the newsletter before February 21!

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Review: How to Fix a Broken Record by Amena Brown + Giveaway

I grew up in the 1980’s but have very few cultural references defining my childhood. Perhaps it was that we only had access to PBS when I was young or that we lived in Germany during my kindergarten years. Whatever the reason, I didn’t grow up watching SheRah or listening to Michael Jackson.

Ninety percent of the time, these cultural ignorances don’t impact my daily life. In fact, it wasn’t until college when people would reminisce about childhood that I realized I had “missed out” on anything.

_140_245_Book.2432.coverAmena Brown’s new book, How to Fix a Broken Record is filled with these cultural references. This memoir takes us through Brown’s journey to self-acceptance and confidence in her identity. The concept of finding God in the grooves of our life’s record is beautiful imagery but I never fully connected with this book or Brown’s story.

I was trying to figure out why because I have read other books whose cultures are vastly different than my own in which I’ve been able to connect. For whatever reason, I never found that small bit of myself in Brown’s story.

If you do connect with pop culture and its references, I think you’ll like Brown’s take on how we view our journey. Her writing is conversational and reading it feels like a conversation. I know many will find encouragement in her words.

Did you grow up immersed in pop culture? How does your experience with the culture of your youth shape your relationship with God?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of How to Fix a Broken Record. Leave a comment and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, December 15, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: The Beautiful Word for Christmas by Mary DeMuth

Advent starts in exactly one month. In some ways, I feel fairly prepared this year. We’ve been doing this as a family for a few years now, so I have an idea of what works with young kids. We’ll light the candles, maybe move the Nativity, and color some pages. We’ll read the same stories from the same book because repetition is comforting.

_240_360_Book.2375.coverSometimes, in the midst of creating a beautiful memory for my kids, I forget to feed my own spirit during this season. I often rely on familiar texts, which are comforting but rote. So, when I saw that Mary DeMuth had written an Advent devotional, I was thrilled!

The Beautiful Word for Christmas is stunning with gorgeous calligraphy and watercolor illustrations on each page. The first fifty pages tell the story from Luke, about a young virgin’s visitation from an angel to the declaration of who this child will be to the shepherds visit on that first night in the manger.

I love that the book starts with scripture for easy reference throughout this season. While devotions are powerful, remembering the Biblical story is at the core of this book.

And the devotions are wonderful. Each day includes a scripture, a story that links to an applicable lesson or thought, a prayer, and an activity. Themes include receiving, contentment, worry, and stillness. They are short enough to read in the morning but will stick with you throughout the day.

If you’re looking for an Advent devotional that is beautiful enough for display and profound enough for a meaningful guide through this season, I’d recommend The Beautiful Word for Christmas.

What are some of your favorite Advent devotions?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion.