the grace of spring days.

I think I’ve imagined that since I’ve grown in my understanding of transition and have lived through enough of them that I am somehow exempt to how it works.

Or maybe I just believed the lie that because this is a “good” transition instead of something that is only hard, that I won’t experience all of the loss and mess of getting to a new beginning.

And somewhere along the way, a few “shoulds” and “supposed tos” slip into my  head and I start to believe them.

I shouldn’t be having such hot mess days anymore. I have an easier baby than last time.

I should be able to handle a baby crying without wanting to cry myself. 

I should be doing better. My baby is starting to sleep through the night at two months. Most parents would LOVE for that to be their story. I’m supposed to be doing better if that is what I am getting. 

I am supposed to be soaking up every second of this precious baby time. But all I want is to be alone & not touched or needed for just a few minutes. 

I should be able to text a few sentences to someone. Why is it so hard to respond right now?

And every time I fail to meet these “shoulds” and “supposed tos,” I feel the guilt and shame start to crowd my soul.

But Jesus is so kind to remind me again and again that he doesn’t speak to me with guilt and shame. He is telling my story, not someone else’s. It is okay if it is hard for me.

The truth is that transition is transition.

There’s no way around the fact that my life has dramatically changed in many ways, only some of which include the newest member of our family back on March 11. As much as I want to be past the hormones and tears, the overwhelmed and overstimulated moments, feeling like it will always be this hard & messy, I’m not.

Only two months after having my son, we’re still in transition.

There are good days and bad days.

There are days when my joy is overflowing.

There are days when I seem to cry all day long.

There are days when my heart is full and it is easy to be grateful.

There are days when I am utterly spent and wonder if I’m going to make it.

There are days when I can’t believe I get to be the mom of these two amazing, beautiful children.

There are days when I don’t know how I could have thought that I would be able to handle being a mom.

There are good moments and bad moments.

But all are moments of grace.

I’m holding tightly to this verse the Lord gave me from Isaiah about how the Lord cares for his people. I’m especially in love with how he cares for those with children of their own:

He will tend his flock like a shepherd;

he will gather the lambs in his arms;

he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Isaiah 40:11

THIS is how the Lord treats me.

By coming close and near.

By holding me to his chest.

By carrying me when I am tired or don’t know the way.

With tenderness.

With kindness.

With grace.

So, in these first few months as a family of four, I’m utterly overwhelmed with grace. I don’t even know where to begin to share all the ways the Lord has cared for us. I hope I have words to share even a fraction of this abundant grace in the days ahead, but for now, I don’t.

But as books tend to be one of the main dialects my heart speaks, the Lord continued to use them this spring to sing grace over me. And telling about what I read feels like all I have words for today.

Here are my favorites from this spring.

A Family Shaped By Grace

The book begins with the stage set in a Panera shop, sitting across from the author, Gary as the reader hypothetically shares their dream for their family, their disappointments and all they hope to change. Then, Gary shares his heart about family and the hope there is when family doesn’t look the way it ought. He came from a family marked by alcoholism, and grew up to be an alcoholic himself. Yet, because he experienced grace, he and his family got to live a different kind of story. Gary shares honestly and humbly about what he has learned. I feel like I am growing all the time in how to relate to my family, as it has changed since becoming an adult and starting my own family. This book was gentle but convicting as I thought through the nature of family, what hurtful patterns that I contribute to and how to be part of a positive change.

“Families are wired for attitudes, expectations, perspectives, and actions to spread. Family is designed to be the easiest place to experience and learn love and grace. It’s also the easiest place to learn dysfunction. The opportunities to be offended and misunderstood are endless. The result of such offenses and misunderstandings is tension and bitterness. Parents, children, in-laws, grandparents–the entire family ends up living in this tension and bitterness.

But there’s hope, because the opportunities for grace and love are also daily and endless. And there’s hope because you can pick what you want others to “catch.” When you try to influence for good, the contagious design of family automatically helps you.

Another reason for hope is that humans are created in God’s image, with a built-in seed that longs to bear fruit that looks like God. We’re wired to respond to encouragement and grace.” (90-91)

This book is for anyone who wants something different for their family. This book is for anyone brave enough to look in the mirror and see the role you play in your family and what might need to change. This book is for anyone who wants to grow.  A- for me. 

*Also this book releases on June 6 and if you pre-order it by June 5, you can get some pretty sweet bonuses, including a mini-course on family (short videos + worksheets) so you can apply this to your own life & family right away. You can find out more here.

*Revell 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

Confessions of X

The premise of this book fascinated me as it is the story of St. Augustine, told by his nameless concubine of thirteen years and how his conversion impacted their relationship. Although I knew in general terms how the story must end, I couldn’t help but be surprised in the best of ways by the writing. To put it simply, I loved this book. It was everything I love about a good historical fiction book. It was deeply moving, achingly beautiful, transporting the reader to another time and taking down the barriers that our current culture places on another. Highly recommend. A for me. 

Under a Desert Sky

I didn’t want to read another book on cancer. When I saw this book was about a woman with breast cancer whose parents both have cancer too, I thought, “I’ll pass.” But then Jesus asked me to give it a chance. Maybe I’d heard it all before or maybe this was a story I needed. So, I opened the pages after a few days of letting it sit on my stack. And I couldn’t put it down. Lynne Hartke writes with poetic grace and wit and honesty about the “beautiful difficult.” It made me cry in good ways, as I recognized my own ache to suffer well, to live a good life, to follow Jesus into whatever he calls me into.  This is more than just another cancer story. This is a story of following Jesus into whatever hard he might call us into. I had to read so many sections to my husband, and we would cry together over the beautiful difficult. I’m so grateful for the courage it took to live this story as well as the courage to tell it. A+ for me. 

*Revell 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

The Tech Wise Family

I pray and ask Jesus for wisdom often, ranging from simple to complex matters, and most frequently about wisdom for our family. Yet I am constantly surprised when the Lord gives me the wisdom I ask for, the very wisdom that he has promised me if I ask for it.

This book felt like the answer to multiple prayers. I could hardly believe the grace that practically leapt off the pages as Andy Crouch shares honestly and humbly about how he and his family use technology. This wasn’t simply another list of things to do or guilt about how much screen time is too much. This book gave a vision for a better way of living and help for how to get there. This is practical theology at its finest. I want everyone I know to read this book, parent or otherwise, as it applies to everyone of us struggling to live in a technological world with wisdom.

Not only did this book give me the words and tools for how I go about my day, to how we use technology intentionally as a family, but Jesus used this book to get me to the wedding of two very dear friends, which was one of the best surprises I’ve been given in ages. (Andy has a chapter entitled “In Sickness and in Health,” which highlights his family’s commitment to show up for big life events. He says, “we learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability,” He and his wife have committed to go to weddings if it is feasibly possible for one or both of them. This prompted a conversation for my husband & me, which then had me buying plane tickets to get to a wedding a week & a half away, all the way across the country. )

I always can tell when a book changes me because I want to tell everyone about it. I read this book weeks ago and I still can’t stop talking about it! A+ 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

Beautiful Messy Friendship

As I made my way through the pages of this book, I thought “THIS is the book I’ve been waiting for about friendship. I’m so glad someone put words to what I’ve been figuring out about the mess of adult friendships.” I’ve written before about adult friendships being hard, and what a gift it was to find deep truth that resonated with my own heart behind Christine Hoover’s words. I was challenged to my core to think about how my own disappointment with friendships often stems from a desire for them to meet something that only God is meant to fulfill for me. I came away feeling encouraged and challenged to be a better friend. This is not a trite “isn’t friendship beautiful?” sort of book. Christine humbly shares about her own friendship failings and her hard-earned wisdom in order to point the reader towards a better way of being a friend AND in turn, Jesus himself. I’m so grateful for this book. A for me. 

(It is worth noting that this book is written to a female audience. As such, I got a lot out of it, but don’t know if it would connect quite as well for a male audience. I still think there is good stuff to be gained even if you’re not the target audience, but it seemed worth mentioning.)

*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

English Lessons

I love how this book FEELS like the subject matter of change and becoming and figuring out who you are in the midst of the mess of transition. I’ll admit that I was curious about Andrea Lucado because of her family connection (Max Lucado’s daughter) but grew to love her for herself. I loved her stories and messiness. This wasn’t a book of neat and tidy answers; if anything just the opposite. This book felt like permission to doubt and change and to not know. This book felt like permission to not be okay and to be in process and to come out of an experience with regrets and growth. As a small bonus, I think Andrea and I are the same age and although our specifics are different, I deeply relate to the tension of what it means to bring Christian culture into the light of real life and real people and wrestle with how to reconcile the neat “faith” I’ve been given with a real, living, messy faith. I’m grateful for Andrea telling her story, for not painting herself in a good or bad light, but telling what happened and who she was and who she is becoming. Instead of the countless titles that add “for the graduate” to them, this book IS actually what I would want to put into the hands of a graduate, or anyone else wrestling with the mess of applying what they know to real life.  A- for me. 

*Blogging for 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

One: Unity in a Divided World

I thought I was signing up to read about racial reconciliation, which I was excited for in light of all that is going on in our country & world these days. But instead I got something better. Deidre Riggs talks about loving those who are difficult to love. She challenges us as Jesus followers to remember that “Jesus came to tear down all the walls we put up to keep one another at a distance.” (188) I love her call to responsibility, to go to the person we have been hurt by and have real conversations, to do the hard & good work of our salvation. I was deeply convicted by her words about giving up one’s desire to be right and jumping into the mess of loving people well. She challenged me to pray “for the terrorist, the shady politician, the protester, the criminal, the refugee, and the brokenhearted in our world, in our communities, in our churches, and beneath our roofs. God desires nothing less than that everyone know his great love for them–right here and now. He is counting on us to make it so.” (189) 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

Still Waiting

There are many prayers in my life that have been answered, but so rarely in the timing I was hoping for or expecting. And there are many yet to be answered, that I find myself still waiting. Ann Swindell shares her own story of waiting for physical healing, while bringing to life the story of the Bleeding Woman. While her specifics are not my own, I am grateful for how I could find my own struggle to wait well in Ann’s story. She doesn’t glaze over the pain or ache of waiting, but is vulnerable in her sharing about the difficulties of God not changing her circumstances. Yet, she also points to the God who loves us, in a way that only someone who has waited on God can. I came away grateful for Ann’s story and her hard-won hope. A- for me. 

*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

Some Wildflower in My Heart

This book took me a few pages to get into it, but once I did, I could hardly put it down. While I love a good novel, there are very few fictional stories that stir my own heart to be closer to Jesus and truly prompt change in me. This was one of those few. The narrator, Margaret is difficult and prickly. Yet, she encounters Birdie, a humble, kind and giving woman who loves her again and again and again. This didn’t feel contrived or scripted the way some Christian fiction feels to me. It felt deep and real. I loved this book and am so grateful for my sweet mommy “making” me read it. A for me. 

The Con Man’s Daughter

I admit that the title is what made me pick this book up, but Candice’s dark story redeemed held my attention to the last page. Seeing God’s hand in the midst of a childhood of lies and dysfunction was a true miracle. Candice’s journey to find healing and forgiveness after being let down time and time again by her father in some of the worst ways felt like the fulfillment of the promise of “beauty from ashes.” This is a brave, hope-filled book that points to Jesus as the one who loves us not for what we offer, but because of who he is. A- 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

And Still She Laughs

Kate’s is a story you would never pick for yourself. Her young daughter dies of cancer. Her book is a story of not mere survival or struggle after the tragedy, but a full life with true joy. She shares her own reflections on women of the Bible who also suffered deeply, yet could come away with joy. This book made me laugh more than I ever expected to, as Kate felt like a familiar friend. The things Kate believes don’t just feel like “feel-good” statements, as I felt the depth and the battles they represented in her own heart. Jesus is real and he can make our suffering beautiful. A for me. 

*Thomas Nelson 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

Shadow of the Storm

I loved the fullness this story brought to a year in the life of Israel that is mostly left to our imaginations. After leaving Egypt, the nation is camped at the bottom of Mt. Sinai for months and months. This book brought to life so many potential struggles of God’s people. I always hope that historical fiction will bring to life people and places that have become overly familiar to my heart, as I only know certain details or an overview. This book followed the story of an aspiring midwife and highlighted racial tensions, all of which felt incredibly relevant to today. While this book is the second in the series, it could also stand alone. A- for me. 

Wings of the Wind

This book was a beautiful, full look at what it might have been like to live out the commands of God in the days following the 40 years in the wilderness. So often our modern sensibilities can only see what look like restrictions and strange rules that the Lord gave his people. This book, as only a well-told story can, contrasted the care and love behind the commandments with how other countries and cultures lived at the time. I loved this look at Israel as they marched on Jericho, as Rahab is featured as a secondary character. A beautiful, redemptive book. This is the final book in the series, but could stand alone if needed. A- for me. 

*Content warning: As a new mother, reading this book on a six hour flight, with my two-month-old son on my lap, it was especially difficult to read about infant sacrifice, even it was done tastefully. It felt appropriately horrifying and turned my heart towards Jesus and how he loves us in all our stages of life.

*Bethany House 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

The Mitford Series

These are some of my FAVORITE fiction books of all time. Father Tim is humble and kind and ever growing. He (and every single secondary character for that matter!) feel alive and real. I laugh and cry through these books. And Jesus often uses them to speak truth to my own heart, to meet me where I find myself presently (which he did SEVERAL times during this time re-reading them all.) These books are comforting and challenging; beautiful and heartwarming; aching and painful. They aren’t neat and tidy, but represent the messiness and loveliness of real living. It was a distinct pleasure to work my way through them again. Please do yourself a favor and pick up the first book, At Home in Mitford, if you have never done so. A+ for me. 

 

*I joined up with What We Learned at Emily Freeman’s blog and What I’m Into at Leigh Kramer’s blog as they share what they are learning and invites others to do the same. What a gift to reflect and learn together!

*affiliate links included

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Mom + Camera says:

    Thanks for the book recommendations! There’s a little bit of everything there – I like that! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Simone says:

    As always, thank you for your honesty, authenticity, and genuine heart! I appreciated the focus you placed on a “good transition” still having some challenges. I am glad that you are back in (blog) action! ❤

    Like

  3. Yay!!!! June 1st and you are back 🙂 This is so beautifully written. I am so excited for your blog return and also for all of these wonderful books! I am currently reading the Shadow of the Storm (thank you) and I really like it.
    Love you forever

    Like

  4. PS I also appreciate that the flower in the photo has seen better days, but still standing tall and vibrant.

    Like

  5. lynnehartke says:

    Good morning from hot and dry Arizona! My publicist sent me a link to the review you wrote about my book, “Under a Desert Sky.” Your words were an encouragement to my heart. Thank you. I would like to link your blog post that contains the review to my blog. Let me know if that is okay with you. Again, thank you for your words. I pray for hope, beauty and faith in the hard places of your story. Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lynne! What a treat to hear from you. Please feel free to link my post to your blog. I meant every word I said. I am so glad your publicist shared my review with you! Your book was a gift straight from Jesus to my heart. Thank you for writing it. Many blessings to you!

      Like

  6. lynnehartke says:

    It will post tomorrow at http://www.lynnehartke.com. Thanks again!

    Like

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