a couple of books

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I am months behind in posting reviews on these two books.  (Eek!)

 

Wild & Free by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan

I took this one on my anniversary backpacking trip with Brandon and really savored reading it in the quiet of the wilderness.  The subtitle for this one reads: A hope-filled anthem for the woman who feels she is both too much and never enough.  I’m not sure I know a woman who couldn’t resonate with that statement!  Looking out over the landscape of women today, I see many of my sisters held captive and caged by fear, by desires, by the push and pull of culture, by comparison.  I even find that after all these years of walking with Jesus, having come to know Him as a little girl, and then growing up in the church and raised in the Scriptures, these same things often pull me back into bondage in different seasons of my life. This book reminds me of Captivating by Stasi Eldredge, similar message written for a new generation of women.  I feel like the author’s target audience was probably the 20 to 30-something year old woman, and also somewhat directed toward a newer Christian, but I still greatly benefited from reading this!  Who doesn’t need to revisit the truths of our value as women, our identity, the source of our worth, our motivation, and our definition of success?  At first glance, the terms “wild” and “free” both invigorated me and also raised my eyebrows.  But I love the direction the author’s went in defining their terms, grounding them in the gospel:

“If God is wild and if God is free, what does that mean for us?  The answer we’ve landed on is that we believe we have the liberty to walk out our own wild freedom in pursuit of His kingdom, and He will help us as we go.  He is the one who calls us to be wild–walking in who God created us to be.  And He is the one who calls us to be free–resting in what Jesus has done for us.”

The authors talk about their own histories of living “small and scared” and living “defensively,” ways that they struggled to understand the freedom we have in Christ.  The authors are calling for renewed understanding of what it means to be hidden in Christ and to live a life for Him, calling for revival amongst women in the church today.  I think it is an important book and enjoyed reading it.  If you want to read an excerpt, you can find one here.

The Prophetess: Deborah’s Story by Jill Eileen Smith

I finished this one months ago.  I’m not sure why I’ve lagged to post this review because I really enjoyed it!  I read it at a time when I was studying through Judges, and I love to compliment bible study with historical fiction.  I find it breathes new life and perspective into a text that can sometimes seem boring.  It helps me to remember that these people we are reading about in the pages of Scripture were real human beings with emotions and fears and struggles much like my own.

This book is book 2 in a series by Smith entitled “Daughters of the Promised Land,” and after reading it I will probably read the rest of the series.  She writes interestingly and did an impeccable job of telling Deborah’s story with biblical accuracy and a ton of side research on the cultural context.  As such, the story of Deborah truly comes to life and sparked a lot of curiosity and fresh perspective for me in thinking about this intriguing, powerful woman used mightily by God in a time when the people of God were far from Him, entangled in idolatry.  I especially liked the way she imagined and depicted Deborah’s visions and gift of prophecy, as well as Deborah as a woman–both strong and outspoken, yet battling her own fears and humanity, growing in faith and dependence on God.  Deborah was truly a “wild + free” woman!  Smith’s imaginative biblical fiction reminded me of Francine Rivers’ Lineage of Grace series.  Surely a story to get lost in and one I highly recommend!

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Thank you to Revell Publishers + BookLook Bloggers for the opportunity to read these books in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

 

Roots + Sky // These are Still Planting Days

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Nearly ten years ago we set up our first home together in a freshly-built basement studio apartment, newlyweds with barely a dime to our name.  After our first year of marriage, we followed the Lord’s leading out to Colorado and had quite an adventure, then followed His leading back to the quiet mountains of North Carolina.  We’ve moved a number of times since then, always from rental to rental, and we’ve experienced many financial set backs over the course of our marriage.  Today we are in a bigger home than that tiny studio apartment, and we have three children now, instead of two dogs, but we are still on borrowed ground.

We’ve always longed for a home of our own.  We’ve always dreamed about the day when we can put down roots.  This year we’ve been quietly dreaming and hoping we could possibly buy our first home.  We don’t know yet if God will open those doors for us and provide a place, and we are content with our sweet little rental in the meantime.  So it has been interesting reading Christie Purifoy’s book, Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons.  Of course this book would find its way into my hands as my heart aches with its own dream and hopes to find “home.”  I found myself so often in her words, my heart so often nodding its “yes.”

“Wandering taught me to desire rootedness.  In the wilderness, I began to long for a place where my heart and body could settle, free of striving, free of restlessness.  A place where my feet could touch ground.  A place where I could grow.  Like a tree.

I do not think this is my dream only.  Not everyone longs for life in the country.  Not everyone feels affection for old houses.  But whether we are homebodies or world travelers, we all long for the moment of arrival.  We all dream of the rest and peace we imagine waits for us at the end of a long journey.”  (Purifoy, 19)

Purifoy writes the story of Maplehurst, the name of their old brick farmhouse sitting at the end of maple-lined lane.  It is the story of their first year at “home” after years of “wandering in the wilderness,” as Purifoy calls it, the story of their homecoming and home-finding in those four unlikely walls.

“This is the story of my journey home.  This is the story of a kingdom come.  It begins with a full moon, the birth of a baby, and a September breeze that told us our years of wandering were finally at an end.”  (Purifoy, 14)

It begins in Autumn, with the joyous arrival and acquisition of this beautiful plot of land, a place to tend the soil, to cultivate the hearts and souls of the three children + baby on the way, a place to put down roots and reach out wide to neighbors.  It begins with the fulfillment of a dream and the anticipation of a new baby, born only weeks after moving in.  Autumn gives way to winter, and Purifoy beautifully weaves the story of their family into the story the seasons tell us.  Winter descended with both aching beauty and hardship, a barrenness that cried out for the thaw of spring.

“Gardens are born in winter.  Not only in fireside dreams, but also in the messy work of tending small pots on sunny windowsills.  And in the harsh work of planting early seeds in cold soil…

I long to see the glory of God in this place, to taste it even, but for everything there is a season.  These are still planting days.  These are the early days of small beginnings.  Days to sow, quite often in tears, hoping, believing, that we may one day reap in joy.” (Purifoy, 95, 96)

Winter gives way to Spring, to budding branches and budding relationships with neighbors finding their way through the gap in their split-rail fence.  Spring brings new life, both in the soil and in Purifoy’s own heart, tumbling into Summer’s bounty and abundance.

“The ache of winter and of early spring is the ache of exile.  The ache Adam and Eve knew so well.  Yet it was different once.  Adam and Eve knew what they had lost.  Their beautiful garden.  Their meeting place with God.  Their innocence.  It is not the same for us.  We are born into exile and must learn to recognize what we are missing.

It isn’t enough to know that we yearn for God.  Somewhere along the way we must also learn that creation is God’s good gift.  Its true identity is not the chaos and horror we observe on the nightly news.  We must learn how to walk with God on the ground of our own lives, how to meet with him in our kitchens and neighborhood sidewalks and backyards.  We must become acquainted with the righteousness Christ has made available again.  To recognize and release the nails of our sins.

Only then can we begin to receive the life that is to come, the world that is to come.  Our hunger is the exile’s hunger, but it is also the first step in our homecoming.  We hunger and in doing so learn the shape of our emptiness and the world’s great emptiness in order to prepare room for God’s presence.  We imagine we are cultivating food or friendship or beauty.  But we are, in all of these ways, cultivating God’s glory in our midst.  We spread our tables and fill our plates with glory.”  (Purifoy, 165-166)

More than just the story of finding “home” at Maplehurst, Purifoy teaches us about our longing for heaven, really, for our return to Eden.  She helps to uncover within us the haunt of exile and the longing for Home, showing that this desire is not just about buying a home or owning a plot of ground, but a desire for God’s kingdom come.  A desire to redeem the land, a desire to see God build His kingdom here, yes, even here on this broken sod.  This cursed ground that eagerly waits for the redemption of the sons of God, for its own redemption from corruption.  This terrestrial sod?  He will renew and restore it because what He makes is good, yes indeed, very good.

If you long for home, if you hunger for God’s kingdom come, if you love metaphor and looking for all the ways of God revealed in the moments and the things He has made, in the turning of seasons and the turning of hearts, you will so treasure this book.  Purifoy’s Maplehurst has stirred up my longing for my own “Maplehurst,” but not in a discontented or envious way.  It has reminded me that our longing for a place to cultivate and to redeem is a part of our makeup, a part of God’s design in us.  It is a good thing, a thing of glory.  It is kingdom work.

For my husband and I, and now our three children, these are still-wintry planting days.  These are still days of “farmhouse dreaming.”  These are days of finding home even in the unlikely and often impersonal soil of a borrowed house.  These days are still an important part of the journey Home, not to be missed or grumbled about.  These are days that stir up our anticipation and eagerness over what is to come.

“It is true that we do not yet possess an enduring home, but we are looking for it.  We are watching and waiting and straining to catch a glimpse of the coming of that which John saw: ‘The Holy City. . . coming down out of heaven from God’ (Rev. 21:2).  And I am beginning to see.  Perhaps because it is spring, or because we are still singing Easter hymns each Sunday, but I am beginning to see small glimpses of my forever home.”  (Purifoy, 150)

You can find more from Christie Purifoy on her blog here: http://www.christiepurifoy.com,
or purchase a copy of her book and lose/find yourself at Maplehurst here: http://amzn.to/1PAdPhW.

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Thanks to Revell Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Parables

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“Turn to his teaching, and see if anyone else ever spoke so simply as he did.  A child can comprehend his parables.  There are, in them, hidden truths which are a mystery even to Christ’s deeply-taught disciples; but Christ never mystified his hearers.  He talked to them like a child. . .He never laid aside the simplicity of childhood, though he had all the dignity of fully-developed manhood.  He wore his heart upon his sleeve, and spoke out what was in his mind in such plain, clear language that the poorest of the poor, and the lowest of the low were eager to listen to him.”

C. H. Spurgeon

I’ve been reading slowly, savoring my way through the Gospels for a solid year.  I just finished Luke and am headed into John, the final Gospel account.  I have craved daily life with Jesus, daily walking with Him, to remember where He put His feet, who His hands reached out to touch, who He noticed, who He welcomed, who He rebuked.  I have needed to hear those red-letter words day-in and day-out.  It has been such a rich time just soaking slowly, line by line.

Thus, when John MacArthur’s latest book, Parables: the mysteries of God’s kingdom revealed through the stories Jesus told, came up for review, I was drawn instantly toward it, hungry to read more about the parables, the stories Jesus told.  The ways He taught about the Kingdom, the way He always came with stories, stories, stories.  The way He unveiled the mysteries of the Kingdom to us, to His listeners, in the stories He told.  The way He showed us that the Kingdom is not merely some high and lofty religious ideal; it meets the ground of our earth, our dust.  The way He showed us that we can best understand the Kingdom by observing mustard seeds, pearls, soil, the ways of the farmer, yeast and dough, the beggar, the downcast sinner versus the upright Pharisee, a wayward child.  The way He revealed to us that this world He formed and fashioned and set in motion, this world that He even today upholds and sustains down to the smallest detail, is rife with truth, with His meaning, His character, hints of His kingdom and ways.

“Jesus’ parables had a clear twofold purpose: They hid the truth from the self-righteous or self-satisfied people who fancied themselves too sophisticated to learn from Him, while the same parables revealed truth to eager souls with childlike faith–those who were hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  Jesus thanked His Father for both results: ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.  Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight’ (Matt. 11:25-26).” (MacArthur)

MacArthur begins by explaining what parables are, and why Jesus used these as His main teaching method.  He corrects some sloppy thinking about Jesus’ parables.  Then he spends the rest of the book studying 10 different parables.  As a result, you find yourself learning about the intricacies of the Pharisees and their Sabbath observance, the farming techniques of the day, the way soil and seed interact, the cost of discipleship, justice, grace, the conflict between Jews and Samaritans, justification by faith, and so forth, and what each of these things has to teach us about the Kingdom of God.  You realize how much ground Jesus covered in these simple stories He told.  How much He has given us to chew on, how richly He extended the beauties of the Kingdom to those who would have ears to hear.  I have thoroughly enjoyed spending this time with MacArthur’s perspective on each of these parables and have been so encouraged and edified.  His book is a happy read, clear exposition and fascinating, a great accompaniment to a study of the Gospels or just to familiarize oneself with Jesus’ parabolic form of teaching.  For the seasoned student of Scripture, it will bring new light to all the dearly-loved parables.  For the newer student of Scripture, it gives a treasure trove of insight to what can, at first glance, seem so simple.  For those hungry for more of Jesus, to spend more time in His footsteps, to know more of who He is, to experience and see His Kingdom, you will find food for you soul in these pages.

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Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter & Me

Fall is upon us here in the North Carolina mountains, and few things feel more appropriate than watching the Anne of Green Gables series all over again.  I love to slowly work my way through them, doing a little needlework as I go (insert old lady emoji here).

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Anne has always felt like a kindred spirit.  That’s why when I saw Lorilee Craker‘s memoir recently, I knew it was a must-read for me.  This sweet and happy book looks at what it means to be an orphan and what it means to be found, and maybe no one is as fit to tell us about that as Lorilee Craker.  An accomplished writer, a lover of the Anne of Green Gables stories, an adopted orphan herself, and an adopter of a little ray of light, Phoebe, from Korea.  (Yes, of course I had to read this, being that my oldest daughter is also named Phoebe!)

Using the story of Anne Shirley, Craker weaves in and out her own experiences growing up in an adoptive family, experiencing the beauty and tender ties of love in that home, growing older and seeking to meet her biological parents, finding unexpected glory and heart break there.  She also connects these with her own story of adopting her daughter, Phoebe, from Korea.  She connects the threads of these three orphan stories with humor, vulnerability and transparency.  Reading this book definitely woke me to things I take for granted, such as knowing my family history and roots.  Having a sister-in-law who is adopted and hearing her occasionally speak about her uncertain family roots, I realized how easily I brush these comments off without registering how huge this can be, especially as one becomes a mother.  How often you must look at your child’s face and find unfamiliar features, trying to find connections everywhere to your past enshrouded in a quiet fog.  Craker examines all the nuances of the word “orphan,” both positive and negative.  It gave me a new tenderness toward those who can call themselves orphans, those who know intimately what it feels like to be rejected, left behind, bereft.  It also warmed my heart to the beauty of what it means to be adopted, to be taken in and called blood by those are not your blood.  I don’t know what it’s like to be an orphan, but I do know what it’s like to be adopted.  The Scriptures tell us that those of who are in Christ (“Christians”) have been adopted into the family of God (Eph. 1:5).

In Craker’s book, you find yourself at one moment on the red roads of Prince Edward Island, another moment in the bustling bright streets of Korea, the misty shores of British Colombia (where she meets her birth mother) and the quaint walls of a Mennonite home in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Whimsical at times, haunting and heartbreaking at others, this is a beautiful story that traces the love between mother and daughter, a love that transcends blood and family lines, a love that ultimately finds its source and its home in Jesus.  I recommend it to you as a lovely fall read.

Thanks to Tyndale Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

Deeply Rooted

I’m a book person.  If you’ve read here for very long at all, you already know this.  I’m also a mail person.  I’m pretty sure I was the (self) designated “mail-retriever” for my family when I was growing up, but even today, I look forward to checking the mailbox daily.  I review books monthly and love the surprise of finding some fun mail!

Somewhere through the tangled web of Instagram I discovered Deeply Rooted Magazine.  I emailed the editor and asked if they would be open to sending me a free copy of the magazine in exchange for a review.  She responded quickly and kindly with a code for a free digital download of the latest issue, Light.  I settled in with a cup of tea + honey from my Grandpa’s bees in Ontario.

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As I initially checked it out, being the resource dweeb that I am, it deeply resonated with me.  There is a lot of fluff being produced in the Christian market, a lot of mediocre art.  Sometimes it seems things are being produced simply for the profit that will be generated.  Sometimes it seems like plain old materialism with a shiny Christian veneer.  This magazine stands out as something different, a beautiful marriage between the heart, the soul + the mind.

Is there a needful place for such a work, you might ask?  I love good, helpful resources as much as the next girl.  I love beautiful art.  I love things that have meaning.  I think we need these “helps,” things that echo Eden to us: haunting photography, words that help us digest the Scriptures and see how God’s Word speaks to our present every-day lives.  Recipes that encourage creativity and exploration and great enjoyment in food.  I don’t believe the Christian life was meant to be drab and stark and void.  I don’t believe our God is like we often assume or fear Him to be, asking us to empty ourselves of all desires.  I don’t believe our God is so small.  Instead, I think He gave us desire, He gave us hunger, that we might grope, that we might reach, that we might seek, that we might find Him, the satisfaction of all desire.  While our desires can serve to stumble us, can lead us to all manner of idols, our desires can also point us toward Home, toward the One we were made for and all the ways He intends to fulfill us.  I think of  these words by Jonathon Edwards:

“The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.  To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here.  Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance.  These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun.  These are but streams.  But God is the ocean.”

And these words by Augustine:

“This is how our souls climb out of their weariness toward You and cease to lean on those things which You have created.  We pass through them to You, Lord God, who created them in a marvelous way.”

God has given us richly all things to enjoy (1 Tim. 4:4) but we are not to enjoy them as ends to themselves.  I think as Christians we have often erred greatly on the side of safety here, being so careful to not overmuch enjoy the pleasures of earth and human life out of fear of idolatry or “loving the world.”  What could be lost, though, when we stay safe + kill desire?  Could it be possible that if we avert out eyes from all the “scattered beams” we miss the brilliance of the Sun?  To be sure, we must be diligent to delicately protect our hearts and souls from entanglement in the things of the world, to keep our hearts from the subtle shift from enjoyment to worship.  As much as we are able to enjoy a thing and find that thing pointing us to a greater and deeper enjoyment of God, that thing is serving its purpose as a scattered beam.  It is a ray of glorious heavenly light, echoing of a far country, a Kingdom we were meant for, a life that awaits us, a Savior who alone satisfies us.

This is what I love about the Deeply Rooted Magazine, “a visually appealing Christian women’s magazine with deep, theological content.”  A celebration of all of life.  Piercing theological truth to exult your soul.  Photography that moves.  Color and mood and hand-drawn art as well as DIY projects.  Seasonal recipes.  A magazine focusing on all the aspects of biblical womanhood ranging from singleness to marriage, motherhood, child-rearing, career + vocation, and our individual place before God.  Contributions from artists, pastors, and real women operating in various roles.

Their mission?

“To encourage, educate, and inspire Christ-following women into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ so they may become deeply rooted in their faith.”

Here are some snapshots of the magazine via my screen (so, sorry the quality is not the best) and you can preview this issue in full HERE.

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Deeply Rooted Magazine is a quarterly, 136 page* publication printed on high-quality, paper. The magazine is aesthetically different than other Christian publications on the market. Due to its clean design, high standards for presentation, and sheer amount of carefully curated content, Deeply Rooted Magazine transitions from coffee table centerpiece to devotional companion to go-to recipe and DIY resource.

Each magazine is divided into six categories expressing several of the different roles of womanhood:

CHRIST-FOLLOWER:
Christian Living (The role of a Christ-follower is woven throughout all categories. These are relationship with God-specific articles)
HELPMATE:Marriage and Preparation for Marriage
KEEPER OF THE HOME:Homemaking and Recipes
MOTHER:Parenting
CREATOR:Artist Interviews, DIY’s, and Creative Living
INDIVIDUAL:Career, Health & Beauty, Hobbies, Service, Etc.

(This quote taken from their website.)

Each printed magazine is $20 and each digital issue is $4, and subscribers save $2 off each printed issue.  This magazine is most likely appealing to the younger generation of Christ-following women, and to all who are young in heart.  A beautiful work and one I hope to be reading more of very soon!

Wild in the Hollow

I devoured this book in the span of a few days.  I won’t soon forget it and I won’t let it slip out of my fingers, either.  Some books you finish and pass on.  This is one to hold onto.  This is one to linger over.  This is one to read again, to muse over her words.  It is at once memoir, liturgy, story, and song.  It is doctrine and it is poetry.  It is the story of one life interrupted and rescued by the grace of God, it is the journey of grace intersecting all things, the piecing back together of broken pieces into a masterpiece.

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Amber Haines, with the voice of a poet and theologian, shares her story of “chasing desire + finding the broken way home.”  How many of us cannot immediately find our place within those words?  How many of us have not also run and found ourselves overtaken in the best way possible by the best love imaginable?

She begins with her running and her rebellion, shows how God met her, the “girl child from Alabama with mud in her fingernails,” on the linoleum floor:

“The first of many births I would witness was my own.  I was born into light.  I would have waited on that linoleum floor until I starved, waited there to be raised from the dead, or be made dead, whichever.  I can’t explain the difference in what was happening in my head and in my heart and in my body.  It was all taking new form.  I didn’t lie down so that when I stood up I might believe.  I lay down to die because I was done with moving about in a body that had no life.  The fact that the presence of God was so obvious, like Road-to-Damascus obvious, was absolutely shocking to me.  I had never felt so pursued or so loved, and love is what got me up off the floor.  As my eyes came open to something so simple as love, that God loves me, I was overcome with new desire: more than for a warm body–for skin on skin; more than for the taste of home–biscuits and gravy on a family morning; and more than for any drug to numb my pain.  I didn’t know who I was, filling with such delight, the allure of God.  His meeting me on the floor was my release from being bogged down in self-awareness and loathing.  He released me from feeling required to entice love, to always make an offering.  I became aware of God.  He was not only the one who hovered in the fog but also the one who loved me first.”  (Haines)

She shares the journey: her marriage, the brokenness that threatened it.  The children, the giving birth that almost brought death.  The church, the exultant joy, the plunging despair.  Abortion and affair, addiction and anxiety.  The places Haiti and Tuscany both found in her heart, the odd juxtaposition, the beautiful juxtaposition.  All the ways of finding home in a world where we are right to be homesick, where we see glimpses and shadows and hints of glory, but always find ourselves still somewhat out of sorts, still not yet home.  And yet Home all along, because the kingdom is here.  Already, but not yet fully.

I admire Haines’ vulnerability and honesty as she shares her story, which is quite different from my own, and yet I find similar threads of discovery and understanding between us.  I so greatly appreciate her courage in sharing her story, the rawness and rebellion, as well as the redemption.  Some aspects of her theology were difficult for me to ascertain, especially in the beginning of her book when she came off a bit cynical + critical about the church and even seemed to call into question the role of the Scriptures.  Her writing is peppered with Scripture, however, and it was helpful to read her book in its entirety to see the peace she makes with the Church and the healing she finds.

You can see in Haines’ story the unfolding and unfurling of a soul as it is newborn, hungry for hind milk, tossed upon the bosom of the Church, entering wide-eyed and trusting, and finding over time the hypocrisy and hurt that the Church can engender.

I bristled a bit at this because we live in such a church culture where believers are calling the role of the church and the necessity of the Scriptures into question.  I would always err on the side of upholding the Scriptures and the role of the local organized church.  However, I think Haines’ experience is not uncommon, and I think the way the Lord leads and guides her through seasons of wounding and healing in regard to the Church is good reading.  If you hang in with her story, you will see her “grow up” in her relationship with the Church and find redemption even there.  Many wrestle with what it looks like to be in a community of believers because it is so imperfect and difficult.  Many will empathize with her words, and my hope would be that they, too, will come back to the centrality of the Scriptures and the church in God’s kingdom work.  I love her words about the Kingdom maybe the best of all, probably because the concept of the Kingdom of God is what I have been studying and learning about all year.

It is memoir primarily, not a theological treatise, and so I can appreciate the working out of her faith in the midst of a very real and messy life.  The way we grow and change, the way we mature and heal and grow up more and more into the full stature of Christ as we walk with Him.  I enjoyed her writing style, which is a more poetic style akin to Ann Voskamp’s.  And I think many of us will find in her story our own stories of howling wild in the hollow places and finding the One who alone can fill the hollow.

Here’ s a little book trailer, too!

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Thanks to Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

An Invitation to Savor

There are few people whose voice I want to hear speaking into my every day, but Shauna Niequist is one of them.

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I was so thrilled to receive her latest book, which is a daily devotional called Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are.  My introduction to Niequist was in reading her last book, Bread & Wine, which has since lived in my kitchen amongst my three most used cookbooks, and it looks like this:

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Yes, as you can see, my copy of Bread & Wine is well-loved.  And if you aren’t familiar with Shauna Niequist than you must know: the woman loves food, but not just for the sake of food alone, but for the gathering that happens around the table.  For the way sharing a meal together cracks our hearts wide open to one another, breaks down stiff walls between each other, thaws out our awkwardness toward one another.  The way opening our homes and inviting someone in says, “I see you.  I want to know you.  I want to give you something my hands have made.  I want to share life with you.”  Because of her love for good, nourishing food and the power of a meal shared with loved ones, Niequist often incorporates her favorite recipes into her writing.

Savor is no exception!  Not only is the book beautifully designed, with hand-lettering by Lindsay Letters accenting the linen cover + each page, but it is also thicker than I expected and has gorgeous navy blue edged pages.  Her recipes are sprinkled throughout the book, reminding you that “spiritual living happens not just when we read and pray, but also when we gather with family and friends over dinners and breakfasts and late-night snacks” (back cover),  including a wide variety of recipes such as Blueberry Yogurt Breakfast Cake, Wild Rice Salad, Curried Cauliflower, Fregolotta, Thai Beef Salad, and Grilled Peach + Caramel Sundaes.  I’ve already been busy cooking out of it, as you can see.

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In this devotional, each day begins with a short scripture and a pertinent reflection, encouraging you to savor this life, to savor each day that God has given.  Each day finishes with a question for reflection.  You know an author is gifted at her craft when her words stay with you months or years afterwards, when those words rattle around in your bones and start to live and grow deep in the soil of your own heart.  When that writer communicates the way she sees life so clearly that you can see it, too, and your own vision is transformed.  This is how Shauna writes.  She will inspire you to move beyond surviving your days to paying attention to them, slowing down, feasting, savoring.

“So read and learn and pray and cook and share.  Remember to savor each day, whatever it holds: work and play, coffee and kids, meals and prayers and the good stuff and the hard stuff.  Life is all about relationships, and your daily relationship with God is worth savoring in every moment.”

My only complaint is that each day’s reading leaves me wanting more!  Shauna’s words are evocative, stirring, and true, and a couple paragraphs is just not enough!

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Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Look + Live

“The love of God and the love of the world, are two affections, not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity—and that so irreconcilable, that they cannot dwell together in the same bosom. We have already affirmed how impossible it were for the heart, by any innate elasticity of its own, to cast the world away from it, and thus reduce itself to a wilderness. The heart is not so constituted; and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.”

{Thomas Chalmers}

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This book is about glory.  About the glory of God that we must fight daily to see, in order to live.  We were made to behold His glory, to fix our eyes on His incomparable beauty, and a vision of anything less will rot our soul.  Papa’s profound book has forever changed the word “glory” for me and it made my heart sing.

I was drawn to this book immediately simply based on the subtitle: Behold the Soul-thrilling, Sin-destroying Glory of Christ.  Anyone who has struggled with “besetting sins” finds a breath of relief and hope in such words.  I was not familiar with Matt Papa before reading this book, but immediately found kinship with him in the earliest pages of his book.  In his acknowledgments, he gives credit to some of the great thinkers and communicators of our faith (Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, Tim Keller, J.D. Greear), claiming that his book owes its very existence to their teaching and influence.  His book continues to quote heavily from great theologians and minds such as G. K. Chesterton, A. W. Tozer, C. S. Lewis, and Blaise Pascal.  His writing is thus deeply rooted in solid biblical theology, and at the same time is delightful and fresh read.

In Look and Live, Papa, a worship leader + minister, calls us back to true worship.  He reminds that we are all expert worshippers, created to worship and craving objects of worship.  It is our sinful bent away from God that causes us to worship lesser things.  This craving to worship combined with our fallen sinful nature leads us to addiction to these lesser gods.  How do we then live?  How do we then worship rightly?

Look and live, Papa says.  He recalls the passage in Numbers 21 where God’s people, newly rescued from the bonds of slavery in Egypt and now wandering in the desert, became indignant against God, ungrateful for His provision of mere manna for their food.  God disciplined them by sending poisonous snakes into the camp.  The people immediately returned to God, pleading for relief and healing.  God’s response was to instruct Moses to make a fiery serpent on a standard (a snake on a pole) and whoever was bitten by a snake must look at it, and he would live.  Christ later offered the ultimate insight into this passage when He said,

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

As Matt Papa says:

“God, the Father and Master-Teacher, orchestrated that moment in history–a true historical parable–to show us what the cross is about and what faith is like.

Faith is a looking.

It is the serious looking of sin-stricken, snake-bitten people toward God’s peculiar and radical display of mercy…the crucified, bloody, exalted Son of God…

To live is to behold Him…

My call is not ‘Look and get a better life’ or ‘Look and get a warm fuzzy.’

From one who bears the fang-shaped scar, my call to you is: Behold the anti-venom of the soul: the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  Look and live.” (p. 16-17)

Papa shows how God’s call to us in scripture is not primarily  “Behave!” but “Behold!”  As he says, “Christianity is the hard, joyful journey of beholding Jesus by faith until the day you behold Him by sight.”  The rest of his book continues to unpack and reveal the centrality of 2 Corinthians 3:18:

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

Papa goes on to prove that we can only burn as we behold Him, and that our “true worship begins with gospel and ends in the mission.  It is a rhythm of revelation and response: beholding the wondrous mystery and declaring that mystery to others” (p.11).  And so we see how truly gazing on the glory of God sets our souls ablaze, culminating in the proclamation of that glory to hungering souls.

Matt Papa’s way with words is that of an artist.  Not only does he write sound biblical, depthy, soul-reviving words, but his construction and development often erupts into the lyrical.  (He wrote an accompanying worship album also entitled “Look and Live.”)  Prose breaks forth into praise, into pure poetry.  Highly readable and enjoyable while being profound.  I found myself underlining and exalting over every page.  It will be a book I will return to again and again, basic and essential to the Christian faith.  Real help and healing for the weary and sin-sick soul.

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Bethany House Publishers sent me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  I am not required to write a favorable review, and the opinions expressed are my own.