So it’s January. In fact, we’re already halfway through January, and I feel I’m just coming out of my post-Christmas stupor, blinking my eyes against the sometimes harsh light of the new year. I hate having Christmas over. I’ve always had a problem with saying goodbye to Christmas for another year. My family will tell you how I used to spend New Year’s Day curled up in a fetal position on the couch while Woody took down the Christmas decorations and hauled out the dry bunch of needles that had been our tree.Read More
Snow and ashes. These two words seem to dominate my thinking these days. An odd duet, perhaps. Though not surprising when taken individually.
Snow.Snow. And more snow. Such is this February in the land where I live. Anyone who has watched any news or weather reports about Boston 2015 will not be surprised. Four major snowstorms in three weeks, two of them officially “blizzards.” The snowiest one-month period on record. The snowiest February on record—and it’s only February 16. You know you’re in trouble when meteorologiststalk of snow in feet and not inches, when they make comments like. “This next one shouldn’t be anything significant—probably only 3-6.”
It’s causing major headaches for many people—public transportation shut down, driving hazardous, roofs collapsing. To name only a few issues. Still—dare I say it?—it is beautiful. As I write, I look out on sparkling snow-filled woods, still (for now) pristine white.
And strangely, it makes me think of ashes.Black, sooty, contrasting ashes.The ashes of my sins which demand incineration.Contrasted with the pure snows of redemption.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, traditionally a time when ashes on the forehead are to remind us of our mortality—and, I might add, our sin.The longer I live, the more I’m aware of the blackness of that sin.Seems backwards, in a way. But somehow, the longer I walk with God, the more I see how different we are—He and I.Maybe I’m finally learning the necessity of the curate’s prayer in Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers: “Lord, teach us to take our hearts and look them in the face, however difficult that may be.”
That look makes me all the more eager for the redemption poetically described in Scripture like snow: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow . . .” (Isaiah 1:18) The psalmist pleads: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)
So, on this brink of Lent 2015, perhaps it is fitting after all to have these two words bouncing around my head: snow, and ashes.
Speaking of Lenten words, many of you who know me will not be surprised that I already have my favorite Lenten reading in hand: Walter Wangerin’s Reliving the Passion. I read it every year, and I doubt this year will be any exception.
But I have another recommendation that may interest some of you. Last September I recommended a new book by my author friend Lucinda Secret McDowell: Live These Words. Since it features 40 words in one short chapter each, it would make great Lenten reading.Recently, Cindy (as I’ve long known her) made available a study guide to go with the book called “Lenten Words.’ You can print it free on her website www.encouragingwords.net.
Yesterday our pastor encouraged us to consider not only what we could “give up” for Lent, but what we might add. May I suggest that either of these two above-mentioned books, one an old favorite and one a new favorite, might give you a place to start?
Even if you don’t live in the land of the “storehouses of the snow” (see Job 38:22) as we approach this Ash Wednesday.
“I see you.” Those words have haunted me ever since I read the chapter with that title in Sara Hagerty’s new book Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet.
I have followed Sara’s writing for a while through her blog by the same name. I have also followed her story a bit through my daughter-in-law, who (full disclosure) is a college friend of Sara’s.Now what a joy to receive her book for Christmas—and to pass along a new book recommendation to all of you.
Yes, all of you.Especially for anyone dealing with infertility issues.But also for anyone dealing with the unexpected twists and turns of life, the things we might never have imagined ourselves walking through.Sara’s story is a story of conversations with God through the hard times.Through disappointment and disillusionment and lonely pain.
Yes, lonely pain.Especially lonely pain.The deep-down pain that isolates you in a crowd, that makes you feel invisible, like no one else has any idea what you’re going through.
Which brings me to my favorite chapter of the book:“I see you.” As Sara struggles through yet another baby shower filled with women’s tales of giving birth, feeling invisible and as if she’ll never “fit in,” God whispers these words:“I see you.”
I see you.Powerful words.Words to live by.Words that outshout—if we let them—all the voices that tell us know one will ever understand, no one “gets” what we’re going through.It may not be, for you, infertility.But perhaps a struggling marriage.An extremely needy child.The loneliness of single parenting.A medical condition no one else knows about—or no one else would understand.A deep pain from your past.A private battle you cannot share with others. Does anyone see?
HE does.God does.And He says it over and over in Scripture—both in words and in deeds. In her chapter Sara focuses on the bleeding woman whose story is told in Luke 8: 40-48.The woman who came to my mind immediately is Hagar,running away from her life in fear and misery.Who shows up but God? Read her story in Genesis 16 and listen as she proclaims: “You are the God who sees me.”That’s indeed who He is: the God who sees.Who sees an obscure “unclean” woman.A frightened, pregnant servant girl.Sara Haggerty.And you.And me.
And here’s a bonus.Not only does He see you, but being seen by Him helps us in turn to see Him.Hagerty puts it this way: “…knowing that God sees me frees me actually to see Him.” (Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet, p. 160).And Hagar exclaims, “I have now seen the God who sees me.” (Genesis 16: 13)
Certainly, not everyone struggles with infertility.And not everyone’s story ends like Sara’s.But we all can learn the truth of the Scripture on which the book title is based: “A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, But to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”(Proverbs 27:7, NKJV)
Feeling alone?God sees.And cares.And offers the sweetness of His presence even amidst our “bitter.”
I saw the sadness in their eyes.
I was speaking at a church last Sunday on the subject of “Passing on the Faith.” Since they had spent four Sundays on “Family Matters” based in Deuteronomy 6—the pivotal passage on parenting in the Bible—I chose as our follow-up text a few verses from Psalm 78:3-7:
“We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done. . . so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God.”
I love the multi-generational hope extended here. I love the pattern for passing it on.
But still, I saw the sadness in some eyes out in that congregation. Many pairs of eyes, actually. And I know where it came from. It came from struggling hearts, grieving hearts. Hearts of parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and pastors and friends. Hearts that had held out great hope for the children in their lives. Hearts that had wanted very badly to “pass it on.” But they were watching kids—teens and young adults and even not-so-young adults—make some very disappointing choices, not showing much external evidence, if any, of a life of faith.
Recently I’ve been reading Sticky Faith, an excellent book by Kara Powell and Chap Clark on how we can build a lasting faith in our kids. It’s a great book, based on extensive research as to what makes faith “stick.” It’s also full of helpful suggestions and powerful strategies for parents, churches, and anyone working with kids today. I highly recommend it.
But still, the question lingers, and I see those sad eyes. Why, Oh God, do I know so many parents who have truly poured themselves out to passing on the faith—and still their kids are wandering? Or running? Yes, praise God, I also know many kids who grew up in “sticky faith” homes and churches who are shining examples of faith passed on. It’s just those others that I can’t get off my mind—and never from my prayers.
It’s that dangerous gift of free will that God gave us, isn’t it? Our kids grow up to make their own decisions. And they have to find, eventually, their own faith, and establish their own walk with Jesus.
Does this mean that there’s no point in giving our all to raising “sticky faith” kids who we pray will love Jesus above all else? Of course not. It’s our calling as parents. It simply means we never forget our highest parental call: to pray for our kids—first, last, and always.
It also means we never forget Who ultimately sticks with our kids, pursuing them, pursuing them, pursuing them always with His infinite love and powerful grace.
It’s why I looked out over that congregation on Sunday and reminded them of what they already know: God is not finished yet—with them or with us. And what did Paul say in Philippians 1:6? We can be confident that God finishes what He starts.
So we get out our knee pads and stick with our prayers for our kids, knowing Who ultimately sticks with us.
As soon as I began reading, I knew it was going to be a new favorite. My friend Lucinda Secrest McDowell (known to me as Cindy) had asked me to read her new book in manuscript form and possibly endorse it. Knowing Cindy and her writing, I knew I would like the book. I just didn’t know I would love it — and eagerly read it again as soon as it was published. And now, a third time . . .
Live These Words: An Active Response to God captivated me, first, because I love words. And the words in this book are powerful because they are not only Cindy’s words, but words from God and from a wide range of great “fathers and mothers of the faith,” both ancient and contemporary. Each of the 40 short chapters focuses on one action word (come/trust/wait/hope/pour) and is based on one verse of Scripture. A great start.
But each chapter also includes wonderful quotes—wise and penetrating words from folks as diverse as Pooh and Piglet to St. Anselm and Teresa of Avila to Frederick Buechner and Richard Foster and Ann Voskamp. And each chapter ends with a prayer, again from a wide variety of sources. The prayers alone are worth the price of the book.
Cindy’s own words are also very real. She shares from her own life with a transparency that welcomes us to walk alongside. And her words are full of grace:
“I spent half a lifetime trying to do enough for God. Enough that He would love me, accept me, and find me worthy to share in His Kingdom work. But I could never quite get it right. . . . Many years ago, God took me through a ‘grace tutorial’—teaching me how to accept grace as His free gift, one that I can never earn and never lose.”
She shares that gift with her readers.
This is a book for both contemplatives (or would-be contemplatives—who of us really get there?) and activists. Frederick Buechner observed: “The magic of words is that they have power to do more than convey meaning; not only do they have the power to make things clear, they make things happen.” (This is the first quote in the book—and one of my favorites. How can you not love a book that begins with a Buechner quote?) Live These Words helps make things happen. Each chapter motivates us to action by including some practical suggestions and exercises for giving feet to our words—and more importantly, His Words.
So this is a book for both Marys and Marthas. And a good book for moms and leaders of moms with limited time. Each chapter is short and self-contained. Great devotional reading—or a perfect book to stash in your bag and pull out while waiting for car pool kids to finish a practice or at a doctor’s office.
Live these Words: a new favorite, a new challenge. Thank you, Cindy!
I’m currently preparing to speak on “Top Ten Messages You Want Your Kids To Get” (at the Hearts at Home conference in Rochester, MN). And I’ve been reminded that it’s been a long time since I shared any book recommendations. I’ve been reading some good things, especially on the topic of communicating with your kids. Here are three new favorites:
Five Conversations You Must Have with Your Son, by Vicki Courtney: As the mother of two sons, I really wish I’d had this book long ago. I love the clarity and intentionality with which Vicki and her husband approached key messages they wanted to give their sons. The book is straightforward, realistic, and immensely practical. But most of all, I love the author’s emphasis on the heart. Relationships always triumph over rules, even while boundaries must be clearly communicated and enforced. The focus throughout is capsulized in the last chapter: “Godliness over Goodness.” With sons, as with God, it’s always the heart that matters.
Five Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter, by Vicki Courtney: If Vicki’s book about sons goes to the heart, this goes even a few levels deeper. Wonderfully transparent, it is written from the heart of one who’s been there in the harder places where girls today find themselves, and is willing to help others learn from her experience. The five chapter titles (the recommended conversations) reveal how “on target” the content is:
- “You Are More Than the Sum of Your Parts”
- “Don’t Be in Such a Hurry To Grow Up”
- “Sex Is Great and Worth the Wait”
- “It’s OK To Dream about Marriage and Motherhood”
- “Girls Gone Wild Are a Dime a Dozen—Dare To Be Virtuous.”
Of course, these conversations, as well as those with sons, are not individual one-time talks, but ongoing communication. Some conversations are much harder than others. But Vicki will help you find the words, the courage, and the grace to have even the hardest ones.
Six Ways To Keep the “Little” in Your Girl, by Dannah Gresh: Doesn’t the title grab you? What a needed word for our culture! This little book is a great complement to Courtney’s (above) by offering specific strategies for connecting with your daughter in ways that count, and will help you guide your daughter, age-appropriately, from her tweens to her teens. I love the author’s emphasis on listening well instead of doing all the talking. She even gives very specific guidelines about how to do that (“Listening So She’ll Talk,” p. 60). Gresh also provides practical helps for dealing with multi-media in our plugged-in world. But perhaps my favorite is the illustrated guide to “Truth or Bare Fashion Tests” (pp. 110-112), which will help you teach you daughter modesty, pro-actively and preemptively.
All three of these books are great one-chapter-at-a-time “snatch books” which work for busy moms because they can sit on your bedside table or accompany you to waiting rooms or on carpool runs to read just a little here or there when you have time. And believe me, they are worth your time!
A few months back, a publisher kindly sent me a little tiny book which could be a great big gift to moms. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while. But now it occurs to me that it might just be a good book to put on a Christmas list: for you, or for a mom-in-the-trenches friend—or both!
Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches, by Rachel Jankovic, first got my attention by being the right size for busy moms. It’s a slim paperback with barely over 100 pages. Good start!
As I began to leaf through the pages, I quickly took a liking to the grace, humility, and humor with which it is written. An example: “At the time of writing this, I have three children in diapers, and I can recognize the sound of hundreds of toothpicks being dumped out in the hall. . . . I didn’t write this book because mothering little ones is easy for me. I wrote it because it isn’t. I know that this is a hard job, because I am right in the middle of it. I know you need encouragement very day, because I do, too” (p. 12).
Fact check: the author is, indeed, in the thick of it: she had, at the time of writing, five kids five-years-old and under (yes, including one set of twins). Now I know this raises an obvious second question in your mind: How on earth did she manage to write a book? My question, too! I’m guessing that part of the answer lies in having a mother nearby. (Her mother, Nancy Wilson, writes the foreword and alludes to her babysitting availability.) Beyond that, I imagine it happened just as described in the foreword—“squeezing her writing into the nooks and tight crannies of her days.”
At any rate, we can be glad she wrote it. In a way, the book reminds me of Mom to Mom. It’s a great big dose of encouragement for moms, combined with some very practical parenting tips and a wonderful emphasis on the basic things that matter most. A little bit like a morning (or evening) at Mom to Mom. :)
As you read, you may find that there are parenting challenges you personally approach differently. Isn’t that always the case? But at the core, this author gets it right. A few examples:
- “There is only one thing in my entire life that must be organized . . . my attitude” (p. 11)
- “It is no abstract thing: The state of your heart is the state of your home” (p. 14)
- “Now try to think of discipline as . . . a sweet means of grace to your children” (p. 19)
- “Christian childrearing is a pastoral pursuit, not an organizational challenge . . . Be a pastor to your children” (p. 50)
These loftier principles are blended together with a variety of helpful tips (e.g., helping little girls manage their emotions), a refreshingly realistic perspective on real life with a houseful of little kids, and huge and wonderful doses of humor (you’ll love the story of the frantic husband pacing the floor with a phantom baby).
Thank you, Rachel Jankovic, for writing. And happy reading to any of you who find your way to this book. I hope it is the encouragement to you the author meant it to be.
Last Mother’s Day our son Bjorn gave me a book which grabbed my interest immediately: Going Public by David and Kelli Pritchard. The subtitle is: Your Child Can Thrive in the Public School. I hear from many moms who are struggling with schooling decisions for their kids. So I was very curious to see what these authors, the parents of 8 children who have been educated in public schools, had to say.
Here’s what I found: The Pritchards provide a persuasive but Godly, balanced perspective on how public school education can be an excellent choice for many families. They offer terrific specific suggestions on how to guide your children through public school experience. They illustrate time and again how their interaction with both their kids and with the kids’ teachers provided teachable moments for all involved. Everyone grew through the process. I love the positive attitude and prayerful, intentional strategies they offer for navigating public school life.
But what I loved even more was the basic, foundational principles the Pritchards outline for raising Godly kids. Much of the book is devoted to explaining the three most important things to teach your kids: to love the Lord your God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength; to obey you unconditionally; and to learn and practice self-control. Those are three foundational goals for any Christian home, I’d say, whether your kids are in public school, Christian schools, or home-schooled.
As I read the book, I kept thinking that this is a great book for any parent who wants to raise Godly kids. Having seen our three kids through many years of both public and Christian schools, I resonated with many of the examples the authors gave about maintaining healthy and positive relationships with your children’s teachers, other parents, and the community in general.
One disclaimer: The family life that the Pritchards describe is based on a greater flexibility of schedule than many a family enjoys—including ours when we were raising our kids. They work with a wonderful Christian organization called Young Life. Since our son and daughter-in-law are on Young Life staff, I know first hand how incredibly busy Young Life staff can be. And especially a couple raising eight kids of their own! But the nature of the work does allow more flexibility for day-time involvement with school, sports, and community events.
The Pritchards are not on a mission to get every family to send their kids to public schools. Nor are they suggesting every family should look just like theirs. Their writing is not prescriptive, but descriptive.
What I love most of all about the book is the gracious, loving spirit with which it is written. In fact, one of their best chapters can be applied to almost any situation in church and community life, no matter what your school choices: “The Magic of Being Nice.” Even in some bold positions they take which are controversial (e.g. on mothers staying at home with kids), their views are presented with grace.
I Peter 3:15 comes to mind. This is a book worth reading!
Here’s a book to pack in your beach bag—or just curl up with at home when your kids are napping. Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way, by Shauna Niequist. It’s a great “snatch book,” as each chapter stands alone (almost like a blog post), so you can savor it bit by bit as you have time.
I loved Shauna’s previous book, Cold Tangerines. But this one is even better. Maybe it’s simply because she has lived longer. Shauna writes out of her life. And Bittersweet is written out of a season in her life that has been just that. A time of growth and accomplishment and fulfillment as a woman, a wife, a writer, and now a mother. But also a time of great change, deep loss, and bitter disappointment.
How do we make sense of such a life? It’s an important question to ask, because we will all live in such a season—if not now, then sooner or later. When Shauna writes of finding grace and forgiveness and healing and hope—even joy—amidst hardness and heartache and barrenness, her voice rings true.
The book is also—trust me—a fun read. The cover alone will get you. Check it out and you’ll see what I mean. When I gave the book to my daughter, her two year-old went for it immediately, exclaiming, “Mmmmm! Chocolate!” (A girl after my own heart, that child!) You foodies will love how Shauna describes her journey in terms of memorable meals. She loves to cook as much as she loves to write, and this is a delicious read.
But the book is more than that. All mothers will identify with Shauna’s reflections on motherhood. There’s such joy when she writes about her son, Henry. And such wisdom in her call for community with other moms, rather than comparison and competition. And her pleas for older, wiser experienced moms in her life. Of course, you know what I was thinking: “That’s just why we have Mom to Mom!”
On a personal level, I was deeply moved by the chapters dealing with miscarriage and infertility and loss: “Heartbeat,” What Might Have Been,” and “On Crying in the Bathroom.” Having personally experienced the same kind of miscarriage Shauna had, it was “déjà vu” for me. But it is important reading for all mothers—not only for those who have experienced loss, but also for those who want to walk well alongside another on this journey.
On a very practical level, the chapter “Things I Don’t Do” is worth the price of the book. Shauna’s cure for the “Do Everything Better” syndrome is must-reading for every one of us recovering-perfectionist moms!
Ultimately, Bittersweet points readers to God. As Shauna puts it:”My life is a story about God and what He does in a human heart.” (p. 240) It’s a story worth reading!
Though it is not necessary, you might want to prayerfully consider choosing an over-arching theme for your Mom to Mom each year. This year we chose “Gratitude,” weaving the topic into our devotional times, Chew ‘n Chats, guest speaker topics, “quote of the day,” and closing celebration brunch.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (Philippians 4:6, NLT).
Guest Speaker Topics
- “Is Gratitude Conditional?”
- “Thanksgivin’ Livin’: A Hands-on Prayer Experience”
- “Hand in Hand: Hospitality and Gratitude”
Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Note: Each Titus 2 Leader was given a copy. We discussed select chapters throughout the year at our Chew ‘n Chats.
Selected Quotes of the Day (from Choosing Gratitude)
- “Choosing gratitude means choosing joy.”
- “Gratitude is a life-style.”
- “Let’s allow the Spirit to make gratitude the new default setting of our hearts.”
- “Thanksgiving puts us in God’s living room. It paves the way to His presence.”
Closing song: “Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart” by Henry Smith
Suggested Summer Reading
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
—Saundria, in Tennessee