Review: Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy + Giveaway

Even though I could tell stories of not being popular in school or of not feeling quite at home as I questioned the theology taught by my very young youth group leader, I never felt completely rejected by school or church or society. I grew up flying under the radar, content with my small group of friends, ready to grow up and find my own path.

With that in mind, reading books like Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack by Alia Joy are important for me. They remind me of the very real struggles many in my peer group lived through as they fought for a faith that supported them.

Alia Joy tackles a host of weaknesses in her book: poverty, mental illness, body image, and physical health problems are all referenced as part of Joy’s faith journey. As she leans into a life that doesn’t fit the mold of an American Dream, Joy realizes that maybe her spiritual gift is the gift of weakness. Maybe the beatitudes are true – that those who seem rejected by society are the ones who are truly blessed.

I especially appreciated her reminders that the Bible is filled with characters we often overlook. I was especially impacted by her chapter called “Uncomfortable Love.” In it, she recalls the Bible story of the Good Samaritan, who cares for a beaten Jew (and his enemy) on the side of the road. Joy reminds us,

What is hard is not the man robbed on the side of the road, beaten and left for dead. I have felt those wounds in my very soul. What is hard is loving the priest and the Levite who crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by, presumably on their way to do their holy work (pg 105).

Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy

I’ve been thinking about that all week. Who are the holy people I have trouble loving? Often, it is easier to love those who are vastly different than me than to love those who look like me but have different political views. Joy reminds us throughout Glorious Weakness that we are all weak and in need of love; that our neighbors are those who are easy to love and those who are difficult. That God’s glory stretches to the most likely and unlikely of places.

Unfortunately, these stories of strength and perseverance are scattered in such a way that made reading Joy’s memoir difficult to follow. A lot of assumptions were made: That the reader has a fluent knowledge of evangelical language; that the reader has followed Joy’s journey on the internet so can fill in personal references easily; that the reader understands the wobbly timeline presented. I felt like I was always a few steps behind on the journey, struggling to keep up and follow along.

There was enough beauty and truth in this book to make me hope to read more from Alia Joy. I think she has more stories to tell and I hope she continues to hone her craft and strengthen her voice.

Giveaway! I believe this is a powerful book and will be an encouragement for the right person, so answer my question below and I’ll send one person my copy. (Giveaway closes on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.)

How have you leaned into your own weaknesses? How have you found strength from embracing those weaknesses?

I received this book free from the publisher via Baker Books 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, 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: A Pocketful of Seeds by Debbie Johnson + Giveaway

One thing I hear over and over when grappling with how to live out justice in my everyday motions is to start small. Find what I can get behind and do that. For some, they have the energy and passion to call their representatives every day or to attend town hall meetings. For others, writing postcards or op ed articles is the best use of their time and resources. Some find inspiration through book clubs or small groups. But still, doing justice every day can be overwhelming.

51k3ZY2-VcL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In the midst of writing about doing justice in my daily life, I received a copy of A Pocketful of Seeds by Debbie Johnson. She understands the challenge of staring at the thousands of avenues of spreading hope so she breaks down Bible verses, encouragement, and practical ideas into daily “seeds.” The idea is that when we start with a small seed, life grows.

With a background in social work, Johnson knows first-hand best practices for helping those in our neighborhoods, as well as across the world. Because of her experience, the advice and suggestions given come from a place of expertise.

What I appreciate about A Pocketful of Seeds is that each day is truly a small nugget. They’re an easy couple paragraphs to incorporate into my routines – whether first thing in the morning or during those first few minutes of nap time. Johnson also gives incredibly practical suggestions for how to begin, from ideas for how to help local food pantries to what joyful giving looks like for you and your family.

If you’re looking for a practical way to explore what doing justice can be for you, I’d recommend this daily devotional.

How do you incorporate justice into your daily life? What are some small seeds that have worked for you?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away a copy of A Pocketful of Seeds. Leave a comment about how you are pursuing justice and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, November 10, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

I received an advanced copy of this book 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: 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.

Review: Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist + Giveaway

We’re in the midst of a chaotic season. Our house is rarely tidy – and when it is, it’s a short-lived phenomenon. Even though I’m active in book clubs and volunteering and teaching, I’m also in the midst of identifying mostly as a mom. Which is both beautiful and boring. While I’d love to one day clean the house and have it stay that way for an hour or so, I also recognize this fleeting stage in our life. So, when you come to visit, you’ll see a messy playroom and most likely stickiness under Elle’s chair at the table. And right now, I’m ok with that. It’s who we are.

_140_245_Book.1995.cover.jpgI was drawn to Shauna Niequist’s newest book, Present Over Perfect because its title seemed to indicate our current season. I quickly realized that Niequist’s life and my life are vastly different. While I’m learning to live with a messy playroom, Niequist is finding balance by saying no to Big Opportunities and Flashy Job Offers. She’s learning to settle in at home with a cup of tea and her family. Perhaps it’s harder for someone with a lot of opportunities to say no and to find that balance. I’d imagine that the sparkle of recognition is tempting. In that sense, Niequist is open about her change in mindset and what that cost her family and her career.

However, as an average mom who doesn’t have a Big Career to say no to, I had trouble relating. The big ideas were powerful but the details were privileged and narrow. Niequist leads an idyllic life: Vacations at a lake house, travel, tons of family support, the ability to reimagine her work-from-home job to more perfectly fit her family’s needs. And I say this as a middle-class, educated woman of privilege. I wonder how people living paycheck-to-paycheck, without the ease of reinvention would relate to this message?

After reading all of Niequist’s memoirs, I will say this one has the most coherent arc of all her books. She stays on topic, to the point of repetition at times, but there is a consistent thread through her essays. She isn’t as vulnerable as she has been in the past, but she still approaches this book with her friendly style and descriptive language.

Niequist is a gifted writer, but I wonder if the era of an essay-based memoir is over for her? I’d love to see her develop depth and write a book about something she knows – she has the background and the experience to do it and I could see her voice adding a lot to any conversation she chose to engage with.

Do you find it difficult to say “no” to opportunities? How do you balance good things with the reality of necessary quiet?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Present Over Perfect. Leave a comment about finding balance in the chaos and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, September 2, 2016. (United States addresses only.)

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

Review: How to Survive a Shipwreck by Jonathan Martin + Giveaway

If I had to choose between mountains and ocean, I’d choose the ocean for sitting, looking, and reflecting but the mountains for interacting. I regain my rhythm when I’m hiking and exploring and find nothing more awe-inspiring than looking at the valleys from the top of a peak.

_140_245_Book.1966.cover.jpgPerhaps it’s this preference that made the first half of Jonathan Martin’s How to Survive a Shipwreck hard to connect with. I just didn’t identify with the sailing imagery. Martin begins his story with an outline of his own loss – loss of a church, loss of a marriage. At first, I felt frustrated with the vagueness of these losses, but as the story unfolded, I realized I didn’t need specifics.

Martin finds himself adrift and shares his story of regaining footing – through community, a change of scenery, and a shift in thinking as he reread the Bible for tales of shipwreck and loss.

I wish I could separate my rating into two categories: 2 stars for Martin’s personal story and 4 stars for his commentary on Biblical stories. Like I said, it took about half the book for me to really connect with Martin’s story. Once I did, it was tough to put down. But, his writing – though poetic – is meandering and I felt like he could tighten his examples.

The parts that most resonated with me are when he walked through the stories from the Bible. His thoughts on Job and the Leviathan made me eager to reread that story. Martin reminds us that sea monsters aren’t something God should save us from but rather a reminder that,

God is at home in chaos – it’s the place from which he started the universe. (129)

Had Martin made that sentence his central thesis, I think the book may have appealed to a wider audience.

I think this book will resonate with people going through a loss that is not devastating. It’s an encouragement and gives hope in the journey. Martin’s story is the one you hope for during a difficult season – of hope, seeking, and ultimately successful redemption.

Are you more at home by the sea or in the mountains? Where do you go to recalibrate?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of How to Survive a Shipwreck. Leave a comment about how a time you experienced loss and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, July 29, 2016. (United States addresses only.)

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

Review: Unashamed by Christine Caine + Giveaway

When I was in fifth grade, I tried out for the school choir. When I didn’t make the cut, my music teacher told me I probably shouldn’t sing anymore. I went from loving to sing to mouthing the words in the back row, worried I was throwing off the angelic voices of my classmates. To this day, I only sing in large, loud groups, where I’m sure no one can hear me.

Shame comes in many forms and spans a wide spectrum. My shame (which would be more on the embarrassment end of the spectrum) doesn’t compare to someone’s shame of childhood trauma or abuse. But, the root of shame, the feelings of inadequacy, of not being enough, are similar.

_140_245_Book.1940.cover.jpgChristine Caine is no stranger to shame. As she tells stories of her childhood in her new book Unashamed, I wonder at how amazing her journey is. Growing up, she was told again and again that she wasn’t good enough because she’s a girl, because she’s smart, because she’s a leader. She endured sexual abuse from a young age. She was even adopted from a place of shame, not one of joy and expectation.

And yet, she overcomes. Through friends who are daring enough to be honest, through counseling, and through years of work and recognizing that life isn’t about arrival but about journey, Caine learns to reconcile her shame. She learns strategies and attitudes that help overcome the deep-rooted shame.

While Caine’s experiences may be on a different end of the spectrum than mine, her wisdom and encouragement are for anyone. She offers solutions rooted in scripture that speak to anyone who has ever felt shame.

I gave this book 3 stars because, while I was inspired by her story and appreciated her advice, the style was a bit too charismatic for me. I also felt that there was an assumption that we all have experienced extreme levels of shame, and that simply isn’t true. (Thankfully.) But, overall, this was an encouraging book.

And maybe, I need to get over my shame and join the choir again…

Have you ever had an adult tell you to stop doing something you loved? How did you overcome that?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Unashamed. Leave a comment about why this book speaks to you and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, June 10, 2016. (United States addresses only.)

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