what is saving my life right now [+ a giveaway.]

Part of my story is that I don’t remember a time where I was not believing that Jesus was good or kind. It is a special grace to have believed as a small child that Jesus was someone I could trust. But somewhere along the way, my child like faith of asking for real-life miracles and the mundane sort of help that we need as a human faded. I started to look for the Lord in only the more “spiritual” things, whatever that means. I adapted a sort of self-reliance in things that felt like stuff “I could handle” and invited him into some of the bigger things (but not always the ones I cared the most about, what if he said no?)

But in recent years, I am learning to come back to that little girl’s faith, to ask for the big things, believing that Jesus can do them and has my best interest in mind, even if he says no. I am learning all over again to trust him with the things I care about the most.

I am also learning to look for the Lord in the simple and mundane in my life, as I find he is often waiting to meet me there. I am learning to invite him into my every day. I am learning to say thank you for the grace to be found in the tangible things of my life. I am learning to look for him behind every good thing that comes my way.

snowy branch

As we come to the halfway point of winter (Feb 2), it seems like no better time to name some of the things that are “saving my life right now.” Here’s how Anne Bogel puts it in a recent post on her blog:

The idea comes from author Barbara Brown Taylor. In her memoir Leaving Church, Taylor tells about a time she was invited to speak, and her host assigned her this topic: “Tell us what is saving your life right now.”

Most of us know what’s killing us, and can articulate it, if asked. Some of us are overwhelmed with hurry and worry; some of us face crushing poverty; some feel utterly paralyzed.

But few of us stop to note what’s giving us life. Taylor says it’s too good a question to not revisit every once in a while: what are the things—big or small—that are saving us?

I see this as an invitation to see where the Lord is meeting us, where he is offering us life in both the mundane and profound.  I’ll admit that January isn’t typically my favorite month. It tends to be a fairly cold, wet, gray month, sometimes accompanied by the flu or a cold. But the truth is that, I didn’t want this January to be only marked by those things.

I didn’t it to be only marked by the political posts on Facebook or the difficulties in my own life or the discomforts that come with my growing, pregnant belly. I certainly don’t think we should ignore those things, but I find they tend to be fairly loud on their own. I want to hand the microphone to the the good and the true, the sweet and the life-giving, the grace the Lord has offered me in this season that are offering me life.

  • Reconnecting with friends after the holidays.

Whether it was a savored dinner of baked potato soup, followed by cookies and coffee, or banana cake on a snowy afternoon, or a much needed catch-up date, or texts to stay connected, I’ve loved falling back into friendships with some of my favorites now that our rhythms have returned, post-Christmas. The simple grace of sitting at a table together and sharing hearts never seems to get old.

  • Mail love.

I received several lovely things in the mail this month. It never ceases to amaze me when the timing coincides with what I need: a reminder that I am loved and seen and remembered. Some of my favorites were a Valentine making kit, this children’s book and a necklace (handmade by my dear friend!) of my four words.

four words necklace.

  • Baby clothing.

I realized recently that I hardly have any clothes for this baby boy, coming in March. Initially, my heart filled with anxiety, wondering where on earth I would find a wardrobe for him, without it costing a heap. The Lord reminded me of Matthew 6 and how he clothes birds and will clothes us too. This prompted me to start praying for clothes. I have hardly bought anything for our daughter. She was showered with clothes from early in my pregnancy. But I asked Jesus to send us clothes or to show me where he wants me to buy them. That same day, a friend texted that she would send me some of her son’s clothes. And another friend shared with me about a clothing sale at a local consignment store. It was so life-giving to see the Lord answering my prayers so quickly.

  • Dreaming about spring & local food.

I have dreamed of moving towards eating more local food and even growing our own in the season ahead, and it was such grace to sign up for a CSA at a local farm when the ground is covered in frost. To dream of fresh picked strawberries and flowers; to think of ripe tomatoes and fresh carrots from a farm just down the road felt like Christmas to my heart. I’m with Anne on this one:

“Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them,” exclaimed Anne. “You mayn’t get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them.” (Anne of Green Gables)

  • Our first family outing to the theater.

As we get closer to becoming a family of four, I’m soaking up these moments with just our girl. We wanted to do something special and utilized some Christmas gift cards to enjoy the movies together. L was snuggled up on our laps for the entirety (no complaints here!) and now we can’t get the songs from Moana out of our head. A special treat for all of us.

  • Snowy days.

We haven’t gotten nearly as much snow as other PA winters, but the little bit we have gotten has felt extra magical with L to emphasize the delight of it. We’ve been bundling up to go out in it, taking the time to put on all the layers, celebrating the beauty of winter. We’ve been brewing mugs of tea and coffee and hot chocolate when the snow flurries outside. And it feels like grace every time L declares, “Snowy day!”

snowy day

  • Loose meal plans.

I’ve found that to create a plan for how our family will eat sometime during the weekend (somewhere in the Saturday morning-Monday morning time frame) has been incredibly helpful for me. But I’m also finding that real life dictates flexibility. Sometimes we get sick. Sometimes it makes more sense to swap Tuesday’s meal for Thursday’s. I love having a favorite meal or two that we can fall back on each week, making it easier to come up with our weekly menu. And I love knowing that there will be leftovers to feed us on Sunday, to make it a full rest day for all of us. This loose meal plan helps me with grocery shopping, with eating the food we have, while also helping me to be okay when things don’t go as planned. I’ve had seasons with no meal plan and seasons with a stricter grip on my plan. This loose hold on a plan is a good match for our current season.

  • Reading

I know it isn’t a secret that reading has been a way for me to learn and grow and connect with the Lord. I’m reminded of it yet again as I look at the stack of books I made it through in January. Some were stories, some were for my heart, and a little bit of everything in between.

Fiction:

51lx75wr3ql-_sx321_bo1204203200_A Monster Calls

I couldn’t believe how beautiful and profound this young adult book was. It spoke of grief and pain through this story in some deep ways. I don’t want to spoil it. Please read it. A for me. 

41hgjkfdw3l-_sx327_bo1204203200_Where Did You Go, Bernadette?

Bernadette and her daughter Bee are entertaining and endearing, even with their family’s issues. This book isn’t without its flaws, but it was a fun read. I stayed engaged until the end, even if it felt a little far-fetched. I also enjoyed seeing Seattle through Bernadette’s eyes. B for me. 

5156j5whcl-_sx325_bo1204203200_The Shape of Mercy

Well-told historical fiction, especially stories that cross the past with the present are some of my favorites. I love learning in story form, and this was no exception. Although bittersweet to learn more about the accusations and witchhunts in our own country several hundred years ago, the parallels to the judgments and perceptions we have today was profound. I loved this book. A for me. 

61acs5ad9il-_sx329_bo1204203200_Everything Everything

I liked this story of first love for these two teenagers, in the midst of Madeline’s significant health issues. I wasn’t a fan of some of the sexual content (it just felt unnecessary to me), but the story was a quick, fun read, with a bit of a twist at the end (at least for me, but maybe it is predictable to others.) B for me. 

41iau3scwcl-_sx327_bo1204203200_Everyone is Beautiful

I loved this story about a mom that was pro-self care AND pro-marriage. Not perfect by any means, but I loved the parts that made me laugh out loud as much as the deep  meaningful parts of this woman working through all sorts of life transitions. A- for me. 

51-qq2tbipl-_sx323_bo1204203200_Station Eleven

This post-apocalyptic story felt a little hard for me to get into, and I didn’t feel deeply attached to any characters. But it was an interesting read, as it connected multiple characters that initiatially felt isolated, travelling throughout different time periods, before and after the apocalypse. It felt like one of the more “realistic” post-apocalyptic stories I’ve read, and I’m not sure that is good or bad. But combined with pregnancy hormones, I definitely dreamed about this being a reality and decided on no more stories  like this until after this baby is born. C for me. 

51q3z3emk2l-_sx331_bo1204203200_The One in a Million Boy

I’ll admit it. I have a soft spot for heros/heroines who aren’t typical, and the elderly are some of my favorite, less-than-typical protaganists. This book tells the story of a 104 year old woman’s friendship with a young boy and it was endearing and engaging, redemptive and beautiful. I loved this book. A for me. 

51ndyq0sydl-_sx328_bo1204203200_Heartless

Somehow I missed that this was an origin story, until I was almost finished with it. This was a creative, albeit bittersweet take on how the Queen of Hearts became the tyrant she is in Alice in Wonderland. I truly enjoyed so many of the characters, even as I was dismayed at some of their choices. (But when you know that it ends with her becoming the Queen of Hearts, I suppose you shouldn’t be too surprised.) All in all, an entertaining and engaging read. A- for me. 

515ymtm0kvl-_sx336_bo1204203200_May B

almost didn’t read this middle school reader because the format is all in prose. But I am so glad I waded in anyway. After only a few pages, I was totally immersed. This book tells the story of a brave pioneer girl, and sheds a look on what it would be like to suffer with a learning disability like dyslexia in a time when such a thing wasn’t known or acknowledged. This was absolutely beautiful. A for me. 

Non-Fiction: 

51uodupfxzl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Breathing Room

I loved Leanna’s conversational, honest writing in Brazen and I loved hearing from her again in this memoir. She shares about her struggles with self-care, with transition and finding rest in the midst of pregnancy, mothering, living abroad and moving back to the states. Her personal stories affirmed what I’ve been learning in my own life and heart about how to be kind to oneself, how to offer grace and how to find room to breathe in transition. This is a “me too” sort of book, and I loved it. A for me. 

51zrziqrhgl-_sx436_bo1204203200_Chasing Slow

I honestly had never heard of Erin Loechner and her show on HGTV, but the title was enough to draw me in. I expected more of the same (but good) message of what it looks like to rest and be slow. And while Erin does share that, her blog-like way of writing and her vulnerable story telling was incredibly refreshing. Her life isn’t picture perfect. I loved her transparency about her husband’s health issues, their ups and downs in career and lifestyle throughout their marriage, even the difficulties (and joys) of parenting a little girl. And this book was just plain lovely to look at. LOTS of photos and lists on the side made this book really fun to read. Erin feels like someone I’d love to grab coffee with, someone who isn’t afraid to laugh with you, give you her top ten lessons from her frugal mother, share her raw brownie recipe and point you back to the truth that she continues to wrestle with; that we get to choose whether or not to slow down to see the beauty in our messy lives. A for me. 

*Book Look Bloggers & Zondervan provided me with a complimentary copy of this book. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

51ulgbbgncl-_sx321_bo1204203200_I Will Carry You

This book was heartbreaking and beautiful in all the best of ways. Angie Smith is the wife of the lead singer from the Christian band, Selah. She shares in a rich, transparent way of their journey through the death of one of their babies. I laughed and cried my way through this book. I’m so grateful for Angie’s courage to share so vulnerably such a tender part of her story and to continue to point herself (and the reader) back to Jesus. This is one of the best books on grief and inviting the Lord into our suffering that I have ever read. If you are willing to listen to her bittersweet story, I am certain you will be better for it. (Also, she gives some good insight on how to include children in processing grief, as Angie talks about the reality of processing this loss with their other children.) A+ for me. 

41h3k7jitxl-_sx332_bo1204203200_The Broken Way

Ann Voskamp’s poetical way of reflecting and sharing struck deep with me in this volume. I resonated with her wrestling about her own broken heart and what it looks like to live out the story of redemption in the mundane, every day things. I love hearing her own stories from these past few years and learning from the ways the Lord has grown her, pushing her out of her own comfort to be more broken, more like Jesus.  I’m still thinking about the things I’ve read here and would have underlined half the book, if it didn’t belong to the library. A+ for me. 

“What if living the abundant life isn’t about having better stories to share but about living a story that lets others live better?” (92)

61komqn2qul-_sx326_bo1204203200_Nothing to Prove

I already wrote about Nothing to Prove here, but it is a book that I can’t get out of my head and dream of buying for almost everyone. This was one of my favorites from this past month. A for me. 

51fxi34umxl-_sx332_bo1204203200_Parenting Without Borders

Sociology was one of my favorite classes in college, partially because I had a fabulous professor, but also because I love learning about how our society shapes us. This book was a fascinating read on how different cultures parent. I deeply appreciated the perspective it provided of the impact of what our culture values on how we parent. I think one of the difficulties (and arguably, a tremendous asset) of American parenting is the lack of shared values for what is acceptable for our children, that most other cultures agree upon (within their own culture). Unlike one of my favorite books on parenting, French Kids Eat Everything, this book didn’t seem to offer much help in how to translate some of what works in another culture into our American setting. I came away feeling grateful for perspective, but a little discouraged without knowing how to apply everything that I learned. B for me. 

51cfzm6ychl-_sx322_bo1204203200_-1Katharina & Martin Luther

The fact that 500 years later, we are still talking about this crazy marriage of a monk & a nun was enough to make me want to read this book. Although we know so many more facts about Martin than Katharina, I loved seeing the woman behind this bold man and the ways they challenged cultural norms to fight for a healthy, redemptive marriage. I learned so much about our world centuries ago, as well as the courage of these two revolutionaries, who did some of their best work through their own marriage and family life. B+ for me. 

*Baker Books provided me with a complimentary copy of this book. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

51s6ycbi9ql-_sx367_bo1204203200_His Last Words

I have wanted to dive deeper into Scripture in my own personal study and was grateful to discover this study on John 13-17, going verse by verse through some of Jesus’ last days on earth. I’m only part way through, but feel like I can speak to the transformative influence this study is having on my heart. Kim Erickson shares of her own personal experiences and reflections on the Scripture in some helpful ways, while simultaneously, placing the responsibility of study with the reader and the Holy Spirit. Each day feels manageable to do in a sitting, but also to spend longer with if need be. I’m giving myself the grace of slowing down and taking as long as this study takes, savoring this look at the heart of Jesus as he neared his own death. This truly feels like studying the Bible with a dear friend who pushes you closer to Jesus himself. A for me. 

*Moody Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

51eiicfgcsl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Different

I think it is fairly rare to stumble upon a book co-authored by a mother and son, let alone two that are sharing about their own story. Sally and Nathan Clarkson courageously pen this book, sharing the perspective of the parent and the child of what it looked like to love and be loved as someone who didn’t fit inside normal boxes. In a time when learning issues and behavioral issues were seldom diagnosed and there weren’t many resources, Sally relied on the Lord to provide wisdom and what she knew of her son to love him. I love this glimpse into what it looked like for Sally to hear from the Lord:

If you accept this child as a gift from Me, I will use him as a blessing in your life. Let go of your questions, fears, and guilt. If you submit to My will with a humble heart, I will carry this burden for you so you can find peace. 

A sense of freedom filled my heart when I understood that I didn’t have to solve all our problems at once or even understand them. God would be with me every step of the way. He would fill in the holes of my inadequacy with His grace. (23)

Sally and Nathan share vulnerably about the challenges and beauty of living as someone different, and loving someone who is different. Whether you feel like you don’t fit, or you are the one being entrusted with loving someone who is different (and I think this can look so many ways!), this book is for you. I had so many take-aways for my own parenting and my own heart about who the Lord is and how he cares for us through each other. This book isn’t a rosy, picture-perfect story in the slightest. It is a real family sharing both the heartaches and the grace that comes from following the Lord and loving our families well. A for me. 

I want others to read this book and be encouraged by the truth that Sally & Nathan share, so I’m giving away my copy to one winner! Comment below to be entered in a drawing for Different. 

(I’ll select a winner randomly next week and pop it in the mail shortly after that. Giveaway limited to the U.S.)

*Tyndale Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

 

*I joined up with What’s Saving My Life at Modern Mrs. Darcy’s blog and What I’m Into at Leigh Kramer’s blog as they share what she’s learning and invites others to do the same. What a gift to reflect and learn together!

*affiliate links included

 

 

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Sami says:

    I just ordered A Monster Calls. HA! Can’t wait to read it. But also this is my comment to enter a drawing for Different. loved this post Alison.

    Like

  2. Mama Muse Me says:

    Hi Allison! Congratulations on your baby coming in March. I like the four words on your necklace (you demonstrate those qualities in your writing too).

    I want to read Where’d You Go, Bernadette? and the Martin Luther book. I read another book by Sally Clarkson that I stumbled upon in the library last year, and I loved it. I actually have three quotes from that book hanging in my classroom (about literature, the importance of words, and what it really means to have manners). I would like to read Different. I listened to Tsh’s podcast with Sally Clarkson on The Simple Show, and I think the book sounds like a good one. 🙂

    Like

  3. haitiruth says:

    Great post! Reading is on my list, too, but I can’t really imagine your snowy days in my Caribbean home! Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

    Like

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