Review: A Standard of Grace by Emily Ley

Even as an avid journaler, I love the idea of a guided journal. I use journals to mark my days, make lists, sketch out ideas, and keep track of our rhythms but having something to stretch my thinking or turn my ideas in a different direction is appealing. I’ve browsed question-a-day journals and idea books in the aisles of Target and at stationary stores but nothing had ever jumped out.

When I saw A Standard of Grace Guided Journal by Emily Ley, my curiosity was sparked. I love Ley’s clean layouts and planner designs (though have never used one myself.) I decided to give it a try and have enjoyed her prompts.

The journal is divided into fifty-two sections with two questions per section. Because of my perfectionist tendencies, I decided to start the journal mid-April and complete two questions every week and a half or so. I knew that if I boxed myself into finishing it in a year, it would become a chore. For others, that sort of structure may be just what you need to cement a practice of journaling.

The prompts are geared for people who find themselves in the trap of perfectionism over grace. The themes and questions all revolve around letting go, leaning into the mess, and giving up the idea that life can be controlled. As someone who fits all those personality types, the questions are easy for me to think about and respond to. For those who don’t struggle with ordered tendencies, I’m not sure the journal would be as helpful.

My other caveat is that Ley’s audience is narrowed to married women of a certain economic bracket. The photographs scattered through the journal are all of families in environments that evoke middle and upper-middle class spaces. There are questions about spouses and children and an assumption that your home is large enough for hosting and entertaining. While the questions themselves are helpful, I wouldn’t gift this to any of my single friends or friends who may be struggling with dreams about children.

I’ve enjoyed responding to Ley’s prompts and will most likely finish this journal in the coming year. If you are someone who seeks the balance of perfectionism and grace, this would be a handy tool. I do wish the questions and structure were inclusive of a wider audience.

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: I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers

Without a doubt, we live in a divided climate here in the United States. Churches are making decisions about inclusion and who can participate; business are reckoning with gaps in pay; and our political parties seem more extreme than ever. I’m not sure if this is actually true––America has been divided before to the point of going to war and literally fighting neighbors. But there is no doubt that our divisive opinions have framed the current narrative.

Cover: "I Think You're Wrong (But I'm Listening)" by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers.
The top half of the book is blue with a coffee drink showing the image of a donkey in the foam. The bottom half of the book is red with a coffee drink showing the image of an elephant in the foam.

In I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening), Sarah Stewart Holland, a Democrat, and Beth Silvers, a Republican, talk about their journey toward understanding. Politically different but with numerous similarities, these two started a political podcast to talk about current issues with perspectives from “the other side.”

I don’t listen to Pantsuit Politics so can’t comment on the tone of the show but as I read this book, I kept thinking that it would be more appropriate in conversation form. The topics are rooted in headlines of the past year or two. Even the format of co-authoring seems better suited to an audio conversation.

The book has practical and applicable advice on how to start your own political journey. Holland and Silvers give concrete examples and steps to remembering that the other side isn’t as evil or as different as you may think.

Perhaps that’s the point. Holland and Silvers may align with different political parties but for all other categories, they are the same: white, (upper?) middle-class, Christian, mothers, living in Kentucky. My guess is that both of them are more in the center of their parties so it is very easy to find commonality. I have a feeling that for the majority of us, this is true about those we disagree with––there are far more similarities than differences.

I wasn’t looking for a fighting book but I kept thinking about Desmond Tutu’s observation, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I think it’s important to see the humanity in all people but I don’t think it’s important to simply “agree to disagree” or to let “you do you.” There are policies and points of view that cause actual harm to large swaths of our population. Part of aligning with a political party is supporting the tension of keeping systems in check and holding people and institutions accountable.

If you’re at a loss for how to have an enjoyable dinner with friends or family from “the other side,” this book may offer helpful advice. If you’re looking for perspectives on policies and politics from opposing points of view, this is a lukewarm offering.

Do you find it difficult to engage with “the other side”? How do you have political conversations? (Or do you avoid them?)

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: Sparkle and Change Bible

I still remember my first “real” Bible. It was a Precious Moments illustrated version, either with a white or pink cover. I loved having what felt like a grown-up Bible. The only downside was that the translation was the New King James Version and as a young reader, it was hard to connect with this language.

In this past year, Bea has become an avid and independent reader. Not only can she read the words in her favorite chapter books but she understands the story and themes. I’d been wanting to find a new Bible that would better fit her reading level but was having trouble finding a kid-friendly cover that wasn’t the New King James Version.

Enter: The Sequin Sparkle and Change Bible not only is the cover that fun “mermaid sequin” that is on everything but the translation is the International Children’s Bible – specifically translated with young readers in mind. I love that it isn’t a paraphrase but the actual Bible, just in language that is slightly simpler. In fact, at first glance through some of my favorite verses, I had trouble distinguishing the differences between “adult” translations.

But my 6-year-old notices the difference! She loves reading the verses, especially those highlighted for memorization. We’ve had the Bible just over a week and the pages are already dogeared. She sleeps with it at night at reads it first thing in the morning.

I love that this translation is building her confidence as a reader and in turn, building a love for reading the Bible. If you have a young, independent reader in your life, I’d highly recommend this translation!

Do you have any favorite Bibles for young readers?

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: 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: 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: 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.