34 Days of Favorites: Books

If you read this blog somewhat regularly, I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that I love books.

I really, really love books.

I used to love fiction books, but have given up that obsession, because obsessions are exhausting.

I can’t stop reading fiction. I get really into a good book, and before you know it, it’s 3:00 am, my book is done, and I’m in for a grumpy day as a result of a very short night.

Since I find non-fiction much easier on the self-control, and am capable of reading it in small chunks, I’ve decided to stick to that, except when on vacation.

This last January, I had a very small, secret desire to make a New Year’s Resolution. Except that I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions at all. They seem as though they’re usually made to be broken.

But deep down, I wanted to quietly and secretly commit to reading one non-fiction book a month. I had no idea how I would do this, despite my great love for books. Since Kaylia was born, I have read books verrrrrry slowly. I just haven’t taken the time to do something I love a lot, and I decided it was time to change that.

So each evening, I would read one chapter. Before I knew it, I had finished my first book. And it wasn’t even the end of January! So I started my next book. By the end of February, I had read three books, and was feeling a lovely sense of accomplishment.

By now, I’ve stopped keeping track, because reading has become a habit, and I feel like my life is much broader and richer because of it. I like having other people’s thoughts in my head, besides just my own.

To pick only one favorite book would be extremely difficult, because I’ve read some really good ones, including:

One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp

Enemies of the Heart, by Andy Stanley

Loving God With All Your Mind, by Elizabeth George

Finding Freedom From Your Fears, by H. Norman Wright

365 Thank Yous, by John Kralik

Oh, how to pick a favorite?

I really loved Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, but my current favorites would have to be A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller, and Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck. I wrote all about my thoughts on the Donald Miller’s book in these posts, but that second one…Oh, my goodness, what to say about the second one?!

It’s amazing. I laugh out loud, and then I cry, and I list it as my favorite when I’m not even finished reading it. It’s just SO GOOD.

It’s a true story about a woman at Harvard who finds out the baby she’s expecting has Down’s Syndrome, and everyone around her thinks abortion is obviously her only choice.

But she doesn’t, and she writes about how her son teaches her the magic of life in the everyday. She writes,

In his strange, not-quite-human way, he is constantly reminding me that real magic doesn’t come from achieving the perfect appearance, from being Cinderella at the ball with both glass slippers and a killer hairstyle. The real magic is in the pumpkin, in the mice, in the moonlight; not beyond ordinary life, but within it. (p.74)

I love that.

It is absolutely beautiful, and I’m sure you’ll hear more from me about that one yet. It is not a Christian book, and she describes things so strange, there’s no way I could begin to explain or understand them, but it’s reminding me of how God can work in people’s lives is such a variety of ways, whether they call it that or not.

Don’t you love a good book?! There are so many more on my list that I hope to enjoy before the year is over!

Can you think of any I should add to my list?

(If you’re just joining in, and want find out what this “34 Days of Favorites” is all about, click here. And remember, there’s a prize involved!)

Why We Hang Pictures

Because Ben is amazing, we have a new photo gallery up at our house.

Hmm, that makes it sound like he was the one busily arranging frames and choosing pictures….His amazingness was actually shown in the fact that he humored me for three hours of intense measuring, marking, leveling and hanging up pictures, which is not something he would normally choose to do in his free time.

But I am sooo loving having some pictures up on our walls. And I am so thankful for an understanding husband who knew how badly his girls needed some help in feeling “at home”.

You could say we were just filling up blank space on our new walls. But pictures have always been far more than that to me. Pictures on the walls are the fastest way to surround yourself with happiness. They tell stories, and make you feel like the space is yours.

Mark your territory.

I once read about how kids need to see those visual reminders that they belong. They need to see the out-of-date wedding pictures of their parents, because it gives history and a feeling of security and permanence.

Children need to see their baby pictures, because it helps them see where they’ve come from, and to feel like they belong.

They need to see family pictures so that year after year, they have a visual reminder of how this group of people keeps growing and changing…together.

And maybe children aren’t the only ones who need those visual reminders….

Those pictures on our walls are little pieces of this life we are building.

In his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller writes,

When I arrived home from Boston, I realized there were no pictures on my mantel. I set down my suitcase and walked into the living room and looked across to the fireplace, and it felt empty. Empty of real stories. I went to my bedroom where the bed was made, and on my desk there were no pictures in frames and on the end tables there were no pictures. There was a framed picture of Yankee Stadium above the toilet in the bathroom, and there was some art I’d picked up in my travels, but there was little evidence of an actual character living an actual life. My home felt like a stage on which props had been set for a face story rather than a place where a person lived an actual human narrative.

It’s an odd feeling to be awakened from a life of fantasy. You stand there looking at a bare mantel and the house gets an eerie feel, as though it were haunted by a kind of nothingness, an absence of something that could have been, an absence of people who could have been living here, interacting with me, forcing me out of my daydreams. I stood for a while and heard the voices of children who didn’t exist and felt the tender touch of a wife who wanted me to listen to her. I felt, at once, the absent glory of a life that could have been.

Every single day, I live this life filled with hugs and running feet and sticky, chubby hands. I sit on the couch in the quiet evenings drinking tea and talking with my wonderful husband. We have loads and loads of memories, and all these ideas and dreams for the future. All of this happiness actually exists for me.

I love the idea of having “evidence” of a full life being lived.


That first morning when the girls woke up to our newly hung pictures, I saw exactly what I’d hoped to see. They looked and looked at those pictures, and they remembered. They talked about the different places the pictures had been taken, and I could actually see the way in which those pictures affected them.

Now this is home. They see it, there is evidence for them in a way they can easily understand.

And I can sit here, looking at each photo, and I can still feel what it felt like to be in each of those places, each of those memories. I look at my life, not just what is right in front of me today, but also what has been.

It has been so good. I want to be reminded to remember.


Make it happen. Get stuff up on your walls. Pinterest is your best friend, if you feel a little lost when it comes to hanging pictures in a good arrangement. Go type in “photo gallery” and lose yourself in Pinterest for a little while.

And if you are not super excited about all of the work and effort involved in hanging up a ton of pictures, here’s what you do:

  1. Stop thinking about it as “decorating”, and start thinking about it as feeding your soul. Soul-feeding is far more important than having a perfectly decorated house.
  2. Go buy yourself the velcro strips at Michael’s, made specifically for saving your sanity in situations like these, and for hanging pictures without leaving any nail marks.
  3. Check out this tip for making picture-hanging about 10 times easier.
  4. Get it DONE, and then come back to leave a comment, letting us all know about your picture-hanging success!!
  5. Live happily ever after, basking daily in the glow of all those warm memories, your own personal evidence of a life full of goodness, beauty and love.

Happy picture hanging!:)

Bittersweet Mother’s Day

If everything had gone the way we thought it would, we would have celebrated a birthday here last week.

We would have had another little munchkin running around here, turning five years old.

I don’t think about that very often. Except around Mother’s Day. When that old due date rolls around, there are some dreams I once dreamed that are buried way down deep, but keep coming up to the surface each May.

And you know what? I’m glad they do. It makes Mother’s Day a little bittersweet, but I’ve gotten used to it. And this year, I realized I’ve even become thankful for it.

Although I don’t think about that baby much anymore, those bittersweet thoughts remind me of how much I really do have. If we had never gone through any miscarriages, I’m sure I would still love our girls like crazy, I’d still be so thankful for them.

But I think that as a mom, having loved and lost, even when it was only for a few weeks, puts things into perspective.

I like perspective.

I like it that all this happiness is here, even after a good amount of pain. I like how things worked out in the end. I really always wanted three or four kids, but I like finding out how nice two can be.

I like thinking there are babies in heaven waiting for me. I don’t think about that a lot either – I feel a bit of a jolt anytime I have to fill out a medical form that asks how many pregnancies I’ve had, and I realize I need to write down a number “four”.

I am the mother of four children. That sounds kind of plentiful, doesn’t it? An odd feeling for a mom who never felt like she had enough, for so many years.

Those years seemed to go on forever, and now suddenly, they are done. Suddenly I am happy, and suddenly that time seems so much shorter than it did while it was happening.

I wish so much that I could dump hope on all the people who are waiting for something.

I wish I could pass on the peace that’s found in just knowing that God knows, and in the end, even the pain is worth it and part of you, and you wouldn’t go back and change it. I wish I could gift someone with the perspective that comes in the end.

Oh, I wasn’t going to do this, but I really do need to quote Donald Miller one more time, even though there’s been a lot of him around here in the last few weeks:

…We were designed to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us. (p.70, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

I’ve lived through something, and it has changed me. Some days I still feel like I mess up an awful lot as a mom, but I do think I’m a better mom because of all we’ve gone through.

For me, Mother’s Day is not just a celebration of this relationship, but it’s also a celebration of what it took to get here. We made it through, and it has been very, very good. These girls of mine are precious, special gifts, and having loved and lost along the way has taught me a little bit about the value of life.

The bitter has made me realize how sweet this life of mine really is!

Write a Good Story

If I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you. (p.59, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

It’s interesting that in the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes, the only practical advice given about living a meaningful life is to find a job you like, enjoy your marriage, and obey God. It’s as though God is saying, Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let Me help. (p. 246-247, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

Isn’t that great? That last line is my favorite.

Writing a good story has been on my mind a lot in the recent weeks, for two reasons:

  1. I just finished Donald Miller‘s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which is so good that you should really head on over to Amazon immediately to buy it. It is changing everything about the way I look at life.
  2. Everything in our lives has been changing anyway, because of moving. We are in this huge state of transitioning and starting over, so Ben and I have had many, many talks about how to start well. What do we want our story to be? How do we want this to look? What choices do we want to make which might not make sense to everyone else right now, but lead to the story we want to write, as a whole? Big questions, lots of ideas, a work in progress.

What I’m finding most often right now, is that “good” doesn’t have to be “big”. I think our culture teaches us that in order for something to be worthwhile, meaningful, and valuable, it needs to be big – big dreams, big ambition, big success.

But how often is it not the little things which really end up being the big things? The good things are the small, simple things.

If God chose to make every single sunset different and unique, just for the beauty of it, you’d think it means He’s into details. He seems to create for the pleasure of it. He made us to create, for the pleasure of it.

He also gave us the ability to experience flashes of joy from such simple things, we almost don’t notice it – flash, and then it’s gone.

But in a world with so much pain and suffering, I think the small flash is noteworthy – it gives us more joy to hang on and let it linger, and it tells us something about God’s view of size. Small flashes of joy, again and again and again, add up after awhile. He made it pretty easy for us to feel joy, but He often does so in the small things.

So basically, I’m learning about living a good life, writing a good story, and realizing that it’s found in the little things, in holding onto the quick flashes.

It’s the everyday stuff, like loving my family, going off on an adventure, and finding Jesus in all of it.

Now you should go buy Donald Miller’s book. 🙂

Making a Scene

I read something yesterday that I really liked:

When we look back on our lives, what we will remember are the crazy things we did, the times we worked harder to make a day stand out. (p. 208-209, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

A good movie has memorable scenes, and so does a good life. (p. 212, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

Have you ever had moments that were so good and beautiful and perfect, it felt like all you needed was music swelling in the background, and it would feel like a movie-moment? Just one of those magical moments you want to hang on to forever.

Most of the time, I fall into thinking those moments just happen – that it’s my awareness of the joy of life that will bring those moments into being.

I don’t really think about the value of making them happen on purpose.

When Ben and I were dating, we made them happen on purpose all the time. Dating is one big wonderful time of being creative and romantic and making life feel like a movie. We put so much effort into making our relationship full of “memorable scenes”.

Sometimes I’ve done that for our girls, and with our family. But I’ve never thought about doing it on a regular basis, as a way of intentionally building the story of our family.

It does take effort, but the great thing is it doesn’t need to be anything all that big.

I have this really special memory from college. I had a friend who was super thoughtful and creative, and about as high-stress as I was. During exam week one year, she told me that anytime I needed a study break, she wanted me to run down to her room, and we would do something fun together.

I had no idea what she had in mind, but I took her up on her offer one evening. She excitedly welcomed me into her room, and went straight to a drawer in her desk, from which she pulled out two plastic spoons, and two containers of chocolate pudding.

Then, she led me outside, and kept walking, and walking, until we were in the middle of a soccer field.

We sat there in that empty field, eating chocolate pudding and watching the sunset.

And then we ran back inside, back to our books and studying, with renewed energy, and a memory that’s one of my favorites from those college years.

And what did it take? Some plastic spoons and some pudding cups.

It took some planning on her part – a little bit of effort, and some creativity, but it was a huge gift she gave me that night.

We have to force ourselves to create these scenes. We have to get up off the couch and turn the television off, we have to blow up the inner-tubes and head to the river. We have to write the poem and deliver it in person. We have to pull the car off the road and hike to the top of the hill… (p.213-214, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

This was the scene we enjoyed tonight:

Ben’s parents came over for the evening, with supper, and a special treat for dessert – gluten-free ice cream cones and coconut ice cream.

Ice cream is always a treat, but cones make it magical. 🙂

It wasn’t a huge, dramatic moment, but it was a special treat enjoyed with much happiness, and it was a moment that makes you want to press “pause”. My happy girls covered with ice cream, loving their grandparents, the sun streaming in, everybody smiling.

Making a scene.

I love those moments. And I love the idea of making them happen with intention.

It doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be memorable.

Paddling Home

Well, we are finally here.

And the question most often asked now is, “How was your move?”

Um…well…it was a move! Some chaos, some sad good-byes, some exciting beginnings, some exhaustion, some new house to clean, some boxes we’ll be unpacking for weeks to come.

The first couple of days, I was really excited to be here. But last night, I sat in our living room filled with boxes, and this thought jumped into my mind: “I want to go home!”

And I meant camp.

I know this will all take some time. It’s still good to be here, but everything feels kind of weird.

It’s funny how much we define ourselves by what we do and where we live. I don’t think about it that much, but now with everything changing in our lives, it kind of feels like I don’t know exactly who I am.

I sit in our new house and think, “This is not me.”

Ben got a new work vehicle, and I see him drive up, and I think, “That is not ours.”

I look out the window, and think, “This is not where we really live.”

We’re the same, but everything is not the same.

I think I was expecting to feel a lot more settled as soon as we were actually in our new house. But now I’m realizing that the adventure is just beginning. I have no idea how long it will take for our family to feel like all this new life is “us”, but I’m guessing these things just take awhile.

In the uncomfortable moments, I start to wonder, “Was this actually a good decision? Did we make the right choice?” Even though I know it is, and we did.

I’m realizing what the problem is: I see the destination, the end result, as my goal. I want a conclusion, I want to bask in the good feelings of being done, of having already made the transition or completing a goal.

I don’t take enough joy in the process, in the journey.

It’s like this when you live a story: The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you’re finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn’t seem so far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you’ll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch. But the truth is, it isn’t going to be over soon.

The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle. (p.177, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

We wanted a good story for our family, and we felt it was important to make this change.

So here we go! The good part is in the middle, even though that’s also the uncomfortable part. We’ll wander through weird feelings of displacement, and we’ll keep trying to make this home, until one day really soon (that doesn’t feel soon enough at the moment, but will come at just the right time), we’ll wake up and not even notice that we are already at home.

It will have become the new normal.

And all the middle stuff will have made us a little bit stronger and a little bit braver, and maybe a little bit better at figuring out how to face change.

It’s like this with every crossing, and with nearly every story too. You paddle until you no longer believe you can go farther. And then suddenly, well after you thought it would happen, the other shore starts to grow, and it grows fast. The trees get taller and you can make out the crags in the cliffs, and then the shore reaches out to you, to welcome you home, almost pulling your boat onto the sand. (p. 182, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

It’s just a little move. It’s not to another country, and it’s not a daring adventure, but…in some ways, it is. Isn’t it always a bit daring to change who you are, even if it’s by changing what you do, or where you live?

If you’re out there paddling your boat in the middle, just like us, I wish you all the best as you wait for the shore to reach out and welcome you home!