the graces of April.

There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice. -John Calvin

There is much to rejoice about. In the midst of political campaigns and hot mess days, baby tears and grown-up tears, there is so much grace, if I’m willing to see it. As spring comes to the world outside me, my heart is can’t help but say thank you and rejoice.

Sometimes the rejoicing comes easily, as my feelings match the reality of grace. Sometimes the rejoicing is costly, as my circumstances are loud against the quiet voice of truth. But I’m grateful for the naming of these things. My heart needs to remember the Lord’s goodness to me, in every blade of grass, in every color, in every book I read, in every meal I eat. There is so much grace.

Grace in the things I enjoyed.

Espresso poured over a brownie sundae.  Our friends own a coffee shop and we ordered this along with a cup of coffee to share. It was as incredible as it sounds.

Library runs and sitting among the books.

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The freedom of only attending ONE session of a free conference at my husband’s alma mater, and truly soaking up wisdom from a favorite professor. I’m a rule follower, by nature, so it felt hard to not take advantage of everything offered, even though that was the healthier thing for us. And only going to one session meant there was time for brunch at one of our favorite local places and a nap when we got home. HURRAH.

Sunshine. Glorious sunshine.

Recorded talks, phone dates and Google chat. When you can’t be physically present, these ways of connecting are such grace. I’ve had several friends give talks that I’ve had to miss. But thanks to them being recorded, I could still enjoy their wisdom and the familiarity of their voice. I am so grateful for phone chats with dear ones and the occasional chance to see them while we talk over the internet. It doesn’t take the place of face-to-face, but it eases the ache when my heart misses the people who feel like home.

Wearing shorts and skirts for the first time in months.

A few picnic lunches and dinners. My favorite.

Mary Poppins. I had the chance to go see a friend from church perform in this play, sitting with other friends from church. “Feed the Birds” is officially my favorite song from the musical, and I loved watching the hard work of a production come to fruition.

Hearing a dear friend play his music for the first time. He was the featured artist for the Friday night music at a coffee shop, and it was a treat to be there to listen live and cheer him on in person.

Purple and pink trees. I can’t get enough.

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Walks around the lake near our house.

Kindness to myself in the form of nail polish. Gumdrop green. Nude. Bright saucy red. Dark maroon. Pale petal pink. 

Permission to respond to texts once a day. Sometimes, I have the energy and capacity to respond to people as they text me. But more often than not, it is hard for me to keep up. I’ve been trying to sit down and write people back all at once, which typically happens in the evening. This isn’t the answer, but has certainly helped with setting a boundary, time zone differences and not letting the guilt build up.

Breakfast party before the sun comes up. I’m not typically one to want to wake up at 5:30am, but when it is your only chance to eat breakfast with your friends (whose house you’re sleeping over at), I am all about it. And waking up to the smell of bacon is never unwelcome. The early wakeup call was totally worth the double breakfast date we had with some of our favorite people. (And yes, we DID go back to bed for a bit after we finished breakfast.)

Bumblebees and butterflies. I’ve seen a few big fat bumbles and the graceful landing of several butterflies in recent days. Every time it makes me catch my breath and pause for a minute.

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Grace in the things I made.

I bought garam masala for the first time, because I’m tired of NOT having it whenever I find a recipe that feels adventurous and calls for it. I made tikki masala for the first time this month and we loved it. The spices, the bright color, steaming on top of rice was lovely. 

These monster cookie bars. Not the healthiest things, but they contain no flour (just oats) for the gluten free among us. We gobbled them up, but decided that I make things that taste pretty equally good that are better for you.

Fish chowder. I’ve made this for multiple friends who needed a meal in the last few weeks, and finally, our own family got a turn this week. I love it because it can be made in the slow cooker, in just four hours. It doesn’t take long to make. It can be made gluten free and dairy free and is delicious. Unintentionally, it has become my go-to meal to take when someone needs food, which makes it that much easier to say yes to helping someone with food.

I’m embracing the love I have for spring, which often includes wanting to take a photo of every flower and green bud I see. I’ve even pulled the car over a few times, put the hazard lights on, just to snap a shot. Even if nothing ever happens with these photos, there is something that I love about acknowledging the beauty in this form. It is good for my heart.

Bouquets. Lots of bouquets. I’m not opposed to weeds being thrown in, as long as they are pretty. They litter our bedroom and bathroom and kitchen table. I can’t get enough of spring.

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Grace in the things I read.

I loved these articles.

What kind of life are you creating? [on creating a nourishing life, boundaries and choice]

Let’s stop being hard on ourselves. [on offering grace to ourselves]

When you don’t feel like you’re enough. [this is Ann Voskamp’s adoption story and it made me cry. Even re-reading it to post it made me cry. It is beautiful and redemption at its core.]

Use the good stuff. [on not waiting for perfect to enjoy good things]

How to create a home overseas. [on transition and cross culture moves. My friend, Christine wrote this and I was so grateful for this glimpse into her life, as well as the MANY parallels I found for my own season of life, not being overseas.]

I already wrote about these books, but I LOVED them. I’ve already sung their praises, but they truly are wonderful.

Brazen.

The Mother Letters.

None Like Him.

(PS. I’m giving away a copy of None Like Him, thanks to the generosity of the publisher! Leave a comment here before May 3 to be entered.)
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AMERICANAH.

I’m truly mixed about this book. I loved how it made me see beyond myself. I loved the masterful storytelling. I loved the flawed characters. I loved seeing Americans from an outsider’s eyes. I feel like I’m seeing race in new ways. I put on nail polish this week that was nude, and wouldn’t have given it a second thought before this book. But as I put it on this week, after this book, I thought, this isn’t nude to everyone. This is light-skinned nude, not dark-skinned nude. I see the models on the covers of magazines in the grocery store and notice how not one of them is black. And if by chance they are, they are a tamed version of themselves, with straightened hair, never an Afro in all its glory. I’m grateful for this glimpse of the struggle that our immigration process produces. I’m grateful to see beyond myself.

But I had a hard time with how marriage and sex were treated in this book. Neither were sacred. Sex was for pleasure or gain, and occasionally love. But it was never sacred. It was hard to encounter the only Christians in the book as those who follow a naive, prosperity gospel, convinced God’s blessings always look like riches and promotions and new things. Even the ending, although I knew I was supposed to want it, was mixed for me. This book felt lonely, missing some of the redemption that I believe only Jesus can bring to a story. I honestly don’t know what to rank this book. There was much good, and there was much that I didn’t enjoy or agree with.

HUMANS OF NEW YORK

I love following HONY’s instagram account, getting snapshots into people’s stories. This book was fun and felt similar to the daily dose I’m getting on my phone. This definitely felt like an earlier version though, with less stories and more photos, as Brandon was still in process of what exactly he was doing. I see his purpose and vision shifting since this book, and I honestly appreciated the glimpse of his creative process, comparing then to now. I felt encouraged for my own creative process and how even if the mess of figuring it out, there is beauty and grace. B+ for me. 

And as a side note, this book had a fair amount of photos with dogs in it and my daughter LOVED looking through it’s pages for the canine appearances. 

COUNTED WITH THE STARS

Having just read Exodus, I was looking forward to this read about the plagues, the Red Sea and beyond through this fictional account of the events from an Egyptian girl’s perspective. Connilyn Cossette’s first book was exceptional, transporting me to experience and imagine myself in these familiar stories in a new, powerful, real way. I loved her character development, the story she told, the way she shared truth about God without making it feel forced or cliche. I loved Kiya’s story, and found myself in the midst of it, shakily putting my trust in a God I can’t see. A solid A for me.

Bethany House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of “Counted With The Stars,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

7 WOMEN

I read Eric Metaxas’ biography on Bonhoeffer almost two years ago and grew to deeply respect his writing and how he brought this man to life through his words. I was looking forward to read another book by him, and was not disappointed in the least.  I had the chance to read this book with my mom, and it was a treat each week to celebrate a different woman that followed Jesus. From the introduction of why each woman was chosen and his view of femininity, to Joan of Arc, to Mother Teresa, I was encouraged and challenged by these stories of real women who saw beyond themselves and did great things. I found myself in their stories, and came away with a deep hunger to do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with my God. I highly recommend this book. A+ for me.

THE SECRET KEEPER

Oh man. After reading a book of Kate Morton’s for the first time last month, I knew I wanted another. I hoped that it would live up to the depth and mastery of story-telling of the last one, but you never can be too sure. I’ve had more than my share of one-hit wonders with authors. But I am happy to report that this is not one of them. I’m so impressed by how she is still surprising me on the last pages, after taking me through decades to present day and back again, unveiling layer by layer of the story. A for me.

THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN

Another of Kate Morton’s books, and this one was haunting and beautiful and sad. I loved this one, but it felt a little more melancholy to me than the other ones I’ve read. One of her characters writes fairy tales, and I LOVED the element of fairy tale stories sprinkled throughout. I can’t believe how well this story was crafted, as she peeled back layer after layer until the satisfying final pages. This one felt a little bit of Dickens, mixed with fairy tales, plus the Secret Garden, with a few parts that reminded me of Genesis stories. A- for me.

JUST SHOW UP

I read Kara Tippetts book last month and it was brave and beautiful. I was eager to read her words here, that she wrote with her friend Jill. This book felt like the details of what it means to bear one another’s burdens. Jill wrote what it was like to show up in her friend’s battle against cancer. Kara wrote what it was like to be the one with cancer. They write about the big ideas of community and suffering. They also write about what’s helpful to say, how meals and caring for kids worked. They write about the mess of long-term suffering and how to grieve while being present in the every-day living. I loved this book more than I can say. I want everyone to read it. Our culture doesn’t often make room for the disequilibrium that comes with suffering. We don’t know what to say or do, and have no teacher for where to start showing our hurting people that we care. Jill and Kara are bravely our teachers for what it looks like to suffer together, to show up and love like Jesus. A solid A for me.

We may feel feeble or inadequate, but making the point of saying something is better than saying nothing. While we aren’t expected to have perfect words, phrases or memorized Bible verses, we should at least express that we care.

Because we do care.

And when we don’t say anything, it looks as though we don’t.

None of us want that. We care so much that we go through thte trouble of not bringing it up in the first place!

So, if we’re supposed to say something, what should we say?

In the same way that it’s okay to have a go-to meal, it’s okay to have a go-to phrase. This doesn’t cheapen your words or compassion. Tell that voice that says your words need to be spontaneous, not scripted, to shut up. (61)

When Kara and I spoke of my insecurities, she told me something she’s told each person surrounding her: “You can trust me. You can trust in our friendship. There’s nothing wrong between us, and if there is, I’ll come to you about it.” I don’t think I’ve ever had another woman say this to me. What freedom Kara gives us in this statement. (122)

Does this mean you can never talk to your friend about your own hard? Of course not. If you’re going through suffering of your own, it’s okay to talk about this with your loved one. Kara always says she’s not trying to win at having the hardest hard. We all have trials, and it’s okay to have a tough day. We don’t have to keep silent about our own lives. (125)

THE VERY GOOD GOSPEL.

This bold author offers the challenge that the gospel is not truly the gospel if it is not able to transform and restore racial injustice, violence, economic struggle.

Lisa Harper takes the Creation story and sheds light on the truth that is often lost in the familiarity. She shares not just theologically, but practically how God intended “shalom” for us, and how the gospel is all about returning to shalom. As I read, I was reminded how my heart longs for shalom. My heart aches for the brokenness to be healed. But I’m not without hope. This book was a reminder of the shalom that I get to be part of when I act with mercy and generosity, justice and kindness. It is easy to be overwhelmed with horrific killings, tragic events, even America’s current political race. But Lisa Harper offers the truth that the gospel isn’t some abstract idea. It is real and applies to what we face today. Shalom is for our broken world. I was deeply challenged to see my life as a tool for the Lord to use to bring his redemption and shalom to the world. A- for me.

Blogging for Books provided me with a complimentary copy of “The Very Good Gospel,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS.

This book creatively took the story of Esther and placed the characters in World War II. Picturing Esther in the context of the Gestapo, concentration camps and Jewish genocide brought new meaning to this familiar biblical account. While the author took some liberties in adapting the story, it flowed well and any differences were easily forgiven. I liked the main characters and felt the weight of the task before Hadassah as the lives of so many others rested on her brave actions. B+ for me.

CREATE VS. COPY.

I think we would all say creativity is important, but how is that value reflecting in our life? Do we truly believe it? This short book is broken up into two sections, starting with the theology of creativity and ending with the practical side of creativity. Seeing creative work not merely in certain culture boxes, like art, but beyond that to something that every human has the ability to bring to what they do was encouraging. To create is in our nature. “When we study creativity or act creatively, we learn about God.” (26) I loved how the author pointed back again and again to the redemptive work the Lord does and how we can be part of it through creativity. We get to be part of positive change and bringing about good to brokenness, using the imagination God gave us. I appreciated the Biblical foundation that the practical steps were built on. This was an encouraging read. A- for me.

Moody Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of “Create Vs. Copy,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

DISTINCTLY YOU.

Cheryl Martin shares personal stories and Scripture to encourage the reader to stop comparing and competing, allowing space for freedom and fulfillment. This book was full of familiar truth, but that didn’t mean my heart didn’t need to hear it again. I feel so prone towards comparison, so prone towards competing, that I need to hear this truth again and again and again. I loved Cheryl’s honesty about her successes and her failures. Nothing felt bragging or showy about her story. I liked getting to know Cheryl through her words, and felt encouraged by the Lord’s faithfulness to his daughter in the midst of both open and closed doors. B+ for me.

You never have to force a door open when God is at work. He is in the details. Seehim in closed doors as well as open doors. We are so quick to acknowledge God’s hand when our idea is supported or our dream realized, but we can be prone to disappointment when there is no movement in our direction. The sovereign God is still at work, shielding us from what is not his will. (151)

Bethany House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of “Distinctly You,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

JESUS FEMINIST.

I’ll be honest. The title was a turn-off for me. But enough people recommended this book, and I love Sarah Bessey’s blog that I gave it a try. I’m grateful to report that I was not disappointed. Sarah isn’t out to make enemies or to declare war on men or even women who enjoy a more “traditional” role at home. She is writing to share the revolutionary way that Jesus interacted with women and the freedom that brings to us, even now. She calls us to justice and mercy, to the mundane and grace, to set aside our ideas of following Jesus to really do it. I was encouraged and challenged. This book is a gem.I love Sarah’s writing, honest and kind, vulnerable and brave. I honestly could give you so many quotes of my favorite parts, but I’ll end with just a few. A for me.

We have been so busy celebrating the mythical evangelical heroes that we’ve forgotten that heroes come in all walks of life, callings, and success ratios. God marks a hero very differently than the world does. (155)

If there is one soul in your care, one face in your loving gaze, one hand in yours, then you are loving the world. As Wm. Paul Young, writes, “If anything matters then everything matters,” and so the work today, the love we give and receive and lavish on the seemingly small tasks and choices of our days can tip the scales of justice and mercy in our world. (156)

THE MAGNOLIA DUCHESS.

This one was mixed for me. I loved learning about the history of the War of 1812 in the Gulf Coast. It honestly felt completely new for me to see this war from this angle, and the implications on real people’s lives. Having history become real is one of my favorite parts of reading historical fiction, and this was no exception.

I had trouble caring about the main characters. I didn’t connect with them. I was a little curious as to what would happen to them, but it felt so predictable that I didn’t feel that invested in their story. Some of the relationships between characters felt rushed, and a little unbelievable. I had trouble buying that the romance and connection would have been as deep with what was told. C- for me.

Revell Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of “The Magnolia Duchess,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255


ANCHOR IN THE STORM.

Oh man. This was a fun read. I mostly picked it up because it was written during World War II, which is one of my favorite time periods to learn about. The characters were engaging and real. I was pleasantly surprised by the additional themes the author chose to draw out, in the midst of the history and romance. To include the pain and shame of a disability, the emerging awareness of PTSD and its treatments, and how women were treated during the war, impressed me and only added to the depth of the story. Although some parts were predictable, it felt appropriate and true to life. Life sometimes is predictable, and I was happy that certain people ended up together, even if I saw it coming. I truly enjoyed this one. B+ for me.

Revell Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of “Anchor in the Storm,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

A MAMA FOR OWEN.

This children’s book was sweet and sad, as it shows the impact on a natural disaster on a hippo family. The illustrations were darling and it is based on a true story. HIPPO LOVE. A for me.

LITTLE FARM BY THE SEA.

I loved this glimpse into life on the farm throughout the seasons. Hard work and the delights of growing flowers and vegetables are vibrantly shown through these simple, beautiful words and pictures. In an age where we are often far removed from where our food comes from, this book was a simple, kind reminder of life on a farm. A for me.

 

*I joined up with Emily Freeman as she lists what she learns each month and invites others to do the same, and with  What I’m Into at Leigh Kramer’s blog. What a gift to reflect and learn together!

 

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. This post is so uplifting! Thank you ❤ Espresso over a brownie sundae?? Excellent. Have a wonderful rest of your weekend. Oh and also, the John Calvin quote is outstanding.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gayl Wright says:

    ” My heart needs to remember the Lord’s goodness to me, in every blade of grass, in every color, in every book I read, in every meal I eat.” Amen! God’s grace is so abundant. We just need to open our eyes! I’m your neighbor at Emily Freeman’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a lovely and delightful post! I found you thru Leigh’s linkups, I like to write a ‘What I’m Into’ post every month. (Working on April’s post now). 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jerralea says:

    I can’t get enough of Spring, either, I’m just like you, pulling the car over to snap photos of flowering trees. I so love looking at the beauty God created! And i savor glorious sunshine as well.

    Thank you for sharing what you’ve been reading. I’m always amazed when people share their reading lists – always there are some I’ve never heard of!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Leigh Kramer says:

    I absolutely loved Americanah but I had mixed feelings about the ending too. I do not, however, have mixed feelings about how much I love Kate Morton! I’m jealous you get to experience her work for the first time!

    Like

  6. Sarah Sundin says:

    Thank you for the lovely review of Anchor in the Storm! I’m so glad you enjoyed Arch & Lillian’s story!

    Like

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