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.

Review: Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker

If you’re a Christian woman in her late-twenties to early-forties, you most likely have heard of Jen Hatmaker. Funny, thoughtful, and to the point, she has a diverse following. This year, she’s used her platform to talk about things we often don’t like to talk about – race, privilege, politics. I’m always amazed at those who continue to follow her and am grateful that she is able to push the boundaries and world-views of many women.

_140_245_Book.2334.coverHatmaker’s newest book, Of Mess and Moxie just released and I was looking forward to seeing her shifting voice. In the introduction, she talks about how her theology and outlook have shifted over the years, and how this is a healthy thing. It’s true – if my views on life and faith were exactly the same as they were ten years ago, it would indicate more stagnation than steadiness.

This new collection of essays dives into some of her growth. But it also is cut off by other essays about things like How to do math homework with a middle schooler and How to find a family pet. These are funny essays but they took away from the overall depth and power of her more serious essays. I feel like Hatmaker has a great influence and a powerful way of writing. Maybe she knows the art of taking baby steps with her audience but I wish she (or her publisher?) would allow her readers to go on a deeper dive without having to resurface just as things are getting interesting.

Here’s the thing, if you’re a fan of Jen Hatmaker’s, you’re going to love Of Mess and Moxie. It’s her signature style and she feels like a buddy talking on the front porch about life and friendship and motherhood. I like Hatmaker’s message but her style at this stage just isn’t for me. It’s a reminder that not every book is for every person, and that’s ok.

How do you like your essays – deep and thought-provoking or witty and fun?

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

Review: The Light is Winning by Zach Hoag + Giveaway

It’s not news that church attendance is in decline. There are a myriad of reasons for this – from being abused and hurt to simply being done with the business of spirituality. As an early millennial, I completely connect with the experience of growing up Evangelical, burning out, and re-finding my faith in a liturgical setting. It seems to be a common theme with Christians in my age-bracket.

_140_245_Book.2316.coverWhich is why The Light is Winning by Zach Hoag is a worthwhile read. Growing up fundamentalist and finding a faith-shift in his discovery of the teachings of John Calvin, Hoag walks the reader through his spiritual journey. From Calvin to John Wesley and more progressive Christianity to settling in the Methodist church, Hoag wrestled with the mix of reconciling the faith he’d experienced in his childhood with the faith he found as an adult.

Hoag is clearly working through his faith journey still. Toward the end of the book, he acknowledges that the very act of writing this memoir has helped him sort through a lot of his experiences – and you can tell. The emotions and hurt are still very much real and at the front of this writing.

But there is a lot of hope woven in, as well. Hoag’s experience is one that likely represents a lot of church-questioners – those who are disillusioned but not quite ready to join the ranks of the dones.

For this reason, I’d recommend The Light is Winning, especially if you’re officially connected with a church. You may not agree with every single reason Hoag struggled with the church but this is his story and his journey and it is worth paying attention to. If you’re wondering why people under 40 are leaving the church, this book would be a good place to start.

How has attending a different denomination revitalized your faith journey? Have you ever felt done with institutional religion?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of The Light is Winning. Leave a comment about your experience finding a church home and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, July 14, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

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

Review: The Turquoise Table by Kristin Schell + Giveaway

When we moved to this cul-de-sac, a friend posted an Instagram picture with the hashtag #frontyardpeople. I was intrigued. Our neighborhood is one where front yard living is alive and well. Judi often sits on her porch and if we can’t find our girls, there’s a 90% chance they’re sitting with Judi. Another neighbor’s grandkids and our girls have formed a little bike gang, speeding through the street and down the spillways. Because of this front yard mentality, we have gotten to know our amazing neighbors.

_140_245_Book.2295.coverSo when I heard that Kristin Schell, founder of #frontyardpeople had written a book about her turquoise table and the start of this movement, I knew I had to read it. The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard is a timely and important book. In an age where we are constantly connected but not necessarily face-to-face, meeting people takes a lot of intention.

I’ve read other books about the importance of hospitality but this one grabbed my attention fully. Perhaps is that Schell offers such grace in the journey. She shares her own stories – both relatable successes and failures – as she found her rhythm living in her front yard. She also shares the stories of others living life with their neighbors and through this mix she gives permission to find your own path. For some, an actual turquoise picnic table in the front yard is a perfect tool to start conversations. For others, creating an intentional time to be outside may be how they connect. Schell reminds us that we are all different and our neighborhoods are different, so to try and recreate something exactly most likely won’t work.

Not only is this beautiful book filled with stories, but it’s also formatted as a guide to living an intentional life. Schell has prompts and questions to help the reader get started on a journey of living life communally. She also includes favorite recipes with each chapter to help inspire gathering around the table.

The book is filled with bright pictures and offers plenty of space for reflection. I think because it’s published as a “gift edition,” the idea of living out hospitality is acknowledged in the actual pages and style of this publication. If it hadn’t been printed as a gift book, I’m not sure I would have connected as deeply – the act of reading this book captures the idea of simple hospitality.

With summertime starting, it’s a natural time to move some of our regular activities to our front yard. Perhaps we’ll start small, with sitting on the front porch once or twice a week after bedtime. Perhaps we’ll grow bigger, with front yard barbecues and gatherings. However this plays out, I’m thankful that we live in a front yard neighborhood, and I know The Turquoise Table will infuse new ideas into our community.

What’s your neighborhood like? Do you think it would be easy to start a front yard community?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of The Turquoise Table. Leave a comment about your experience connecting with neighbors and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, June 9, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

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

Review: The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd

As a new mom, my favorite books were not instruction manuals or sleep guides. Though these came in handy, the ones that I needed most and resonated with most were ones about the history of parenting (bottom line: you’re doing good) and raising kids the French way. They didn’t necessarily shape my own parenting practices but they reminded me that I was normal and tired and doing a pretty good job.

_140_245_Book.2209.coverThe Magic of Motherhood is a compilation of essays by the team at the collaborative mothering blog, Coffee + Crumbs. I’ve clicked over to this website a few times and I like the honest, chatty style. The authors do a good job of normalizing motherhood and reminding women that this is a tough road without much instruction. And that’s part of the magic.

Most of these essays focus on the little years. A few touch on the shift to mothering tweens, but most of the contributors are in the infant to early elementary school years. They are messy and emerging from sleep deprivation and close enough to the newborn years to not romanticize their sweetness.

Some essays were heartbreaking, of loss and infertility and navigating diagnoses. Others were funny and filled with wry observations of life with crazy small humans. My favorites were the ones in which I found myself nodding along. The one in which a stroller careened down a hill toward the river, babies strapped in, mom racing behind. I’ve never experienced this exact story but that feeling of, WHAT have I just done?! has definitely defined more days than I’d like to admit. Or the essay that reminded me that my husband and I really are in this together, even when we feel like ships passing in the night.

I think, as moms (both new and seasoned) we need to remember that there are more me too moments than we realize as this collection reminds me that I’m not alone and that I’m doing a pretty good job.

With Mother’s Day coming up next weekend, I’d highly recommend The Magic of Motherhood to a new mom in your life. I already know I’m gifting my copy to a friend celebrating her first mother’s day. I know she’ll laugh along and appreciate these essays as much as I did.

What is your favorite parenting book? How do you remember that you are not alone on this journey? 

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

Review: The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb by Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel + Giveaway

One of the things that I love about our church and, that I forget makes it unique, is that we have three equal copastors. There is no lead pastor and each of the copastors depend heavily on the help of our community to make our church work. It’s an interesting set-up and one that seems to be a best practices way of running any organization. When you get rid of the sole “sage on stage,” you make room for many voices, talents, and gifts.

_140_245_Book.2132.coverIn The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb, Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel look at ways in which we allow power to corrupt our churches and communities. Often the power comes from having a lone pastor as the brand of a church. But often, it comes from the church community expecting one person to meet the needs of so many.

The authors interview seven leaders in the evangelical church and ask how they reframed their idea of power. From Jean Vanier to John Perkins to Eugene Peterson, we gain glimpses into what it looks like to give up prestige and follow a different path.

The interviews are interesting but they seem a bit disjointed. There is very little background or lead-in as to the reason these particular men (and one woman) were chosen as examples of leading without power.

This book was definitely written for pastors or people who are in places of power. Goggins and Strobel try to make their message more universal – at one point they mention that even stay-at-home moms struggle with power. But, all their experiences and examples are for people who are in a place of leadership.

Overall, I think this book is good for the target audience of pastors, professors, and people who are given a lot of power over others. For me, it fell a bit flat. But as I read, the disconnect was definitely from my own place in life and not because the general topics aren’t important.

How do you view power? If you’re not in a traditional leadership role, how do you balance your expectations of those in charge?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb. Leave a comment about your experience in leadership and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, March 17, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

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

Review: What Falls from the Sky by Esther Emery + Giveaway

In less than a month, we’ll be entering one of the most popular seasons of the church calendar, when Jesus asked his disciples to give up Facebook for 40 days. (Excluding Sunday check-ins, as part of breaking the fast, of course.) I can’t condemn this practice at all – I have given up or put extreme limits on social media during Lent and it’s always been a needed breath of air.

_140_245_book-2130-coverGiving up social media for a month or a short season is one thing. All internet (and internet related conveniences) for a year? That’s an entirely different sort of fast. This is exactly what Esther Emery does – no internet, no cell phones, no debit cards for an entire year.

When I first read the synopsis for What Falls from the Sky, I wondered what kind of “year long experiment memoir” this would be. I should have known better. Emery’s honest writing and keen observations on life made this much less an experiment in living without internet and much more the type of memoir that makes all other memoirs pale in comparison.

Emery’s story of moving from Southern California to the Boston suburbs while simultaneously making ties to community – both old and new – much more difficult in this technology age is not at all what my current life looks like. And yet, the lessons she learns and the powerful storytelling she uses drew me in. I felt like I was walking alongside this year of challenges and struggles. I found myself assessing our own life choices in new ways and through a different perspective.

Emery gracefully blends her own story into a greater picture. She draws the reader into her own details without ever making it seem like her choices should be anyone’s but hers alone. There is no pressure to live life by her choices – this is a tale of what happens to Emery and her family because of those.

I haven’t enjoyed a memoir like this in quite some time and Emery restored my love of this genre. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking, beautifully written story, I’d highly recommend What Falls from the Sky.

What is your relationship with the internet? Do you need to take intentional fasts from social media or have you found a natural balance?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of What Falls from the Sky. Leave a comment about giving up the internet and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, February 10, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

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