Review: Lean on Me

Community has been an incredibly important part of my spiritual formation. I believe with all of my heart that no person is an island, and that to be healthy human beings, we have to find people and places where we can both be known and also really know others.


Perhaps reading Anne Marie Miller‘s newest book, Lean On Me, is a no-brainer for me. Yes, community! Yes, vulnerability! Yes, availability! I wondered at first if I really even should read this book since I’m already convinced of these things, but I’m really glad I gave this book a shot.

Anne shares part of her journey with us. She weaves together an honest story about a community that held her up in the midst and in the aftershocks of divorce, anxiety, kinda depression and just struggling to find herself again after the loss of her marriage.  She reveals the good times and the bad times, and also shares what she has learned about community lived out, even in the not-so-perfect situations in life.

This book is part memoir, part pastoral. I think I expected it to bit heavier on the details of her story (I’m super interested in knowing more about her life), but I bet there’s more of that in her book from a few years ago called Mad Church Disease. I felt like some parts of the book felt really overgeneralized and didn’t offer much depth, but then other sections were really poignant.

Thanks to Anne for sharing part of her story with the world- so brave and so needed!


Thanks to Booklook Bloggers for providing this book in exchange for an honest review! 

Review: Simplicity Parenting


simplicityparentingSimplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids has been on my books to read for well over a year. I’m always drawn to anything with “simple” in the tag line, especially when it comes to parenting, because I’m in constant need of the reminder that less really is more. We as parents can step back, give our kids some breathing room, and that hectic schedules filled with good things typically isn’t the best thing for our kids. Repeat repeat repeat.

Simplicity Parenting, now on my list of must-read books, is written by Kim John Payne who was a school counselor for 18 years and is now a private family counselor in New York. He’s of the Waldorf persuasion, and believes that kids need to play, to be bored, and to be kids (not mini adults) as long as possible. He is convinced that working on simplifying is incredibly important as a first step to this kind of childhood: “By simplifying, we protect the environment for childhood’s slow, essential unfolding of self” (6).

Payne identifies 4 main areas in which we can work on simplifying for our kids:

1. The environment: We can declutter and get rid of many of our kids’  toys, books, clothes, etc. so that they can actually enjoy what they have in the mountain of “stuff” accumulating in closets, on the shelves and under the bed.

2. Rhythm: “Increasing the rhythm of your home life is one of the most powerful ways of simplifying your children’s lives.” When kids are familiar with what comes next, they are more likely to be at ease and focus more energy on the work of childhood. Rhythms can be made at waking-up, breakfast, going out the door, the window between school and dinner, and bedtime. Think about your day from your child’s point of view. What’s predictable? What’s not?

3. Schedules: I love that he talks about balancing busy days with quiet days. We do try to do this at our house- if we have a busy week, we’ll make sure that Saturday and maybe Sunday has nothing planned so that we can be at home, play, and enjoy the boringness of life. It really helps the kids to unwind emotionally and get some restful time so that they can reenergize for the upcoming school week. He warns that always packing our kids’ schedule with stuff to do can create an addition to busyness in our kids that many of us are desperately trying to deconstruct as adults.

4. Filtering Out the Adult World: Many of us want to have smart, educated kids who are knowledgeable about the world and what’s going on in it. However, what if the adult information we are sharing with them (or that they are overhearing in our dinner conversations, on the phone, on the news or on the radio in the car) is actually causing stress to them? Payne hosts a conversation about the innocence of childhood, and the importance of our kids’ needing to feel safe in their formative years, as they build their sense of self and the world. Too much information too young can cause anxiety and then behavior issues.

I appreciated Payne’s mindfulness and willingness to push back against the culture of go-go-go and “start getting these kids ready for college when they are in 1st grade”. Parenting and childhood has become a competition in our culture, at the expense of our kids. We can turn the tide if we’re willing to be mindful and make thoughtful decisions about the life of our family!


Let’s Read Together

This may be a shocker to some of you but, I must confess. I love to read. I love to read non-fiction mostly, and I really love to read about parenting, spiritual formation, family, women’s issues, and leadership. Many of the books come from some sort of Christian perspective, but I always include some that aren’t.

Can I tell you what I don’t like reading very much? The Bible.


I mean, in a way I like it. I like learning about God’s character and I love God, so you would think it’d be a natural 1+1=2 equation. But…

I sometimes think it’s boring. I remember being mesmerized by the Scriptures during high school and college. I’ve read it several times straight through and have learned a lot of life-changing things about God. But these days, I kind of have a “been there, done that” mentality.

I sometimes think it’s difficult to understand (and y’all, I’ve been to seminary!). Once I hit the prophets I get confused and it just is a lot of work to understand a simple passage. Did I mention that I have a strong dislike for poetry (mostly because it’s hard for me to understand)? This doesn’t make for a good Bible reading experience for several books of the Bible.

I sometimes think it’s frustrating to read because while I’m reading, I hear all of these voices of past teachers and their take on particular passages. Some of these teachers were healthy and provided useful interpretations. Others were not so healthy and I (or others) have been wounded by their interpretations. I guess you could say that I’ve been going through a deconstruction period, which at times makes Scripture reading difficult for me.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking and praying a lot lately, asking God to give me the courage to approach the Scriptures with fresh eyes, excitement, and a thirst for getting to know Him better. As Charles Yu said this morning during our church gathering, “God doesn’t love us more when we read the Bible, but we end up loving God more.” While I love God, I want to love Him more.

So, I have an idea. Will you join me in reading the Bible in 2015? It’s not about accomplishing or obligations or checking it off a daily list (so breath that sigh of relief!). No one is going to be keeping track of what you read or don’t read. No one is going to guilt trip you when you miss a week because you chose to binge watch something on Netflix after the kids go to bed instead of reading the Bible. Instead, this is about “making room” in our minds, hearts and lives for a fresh look at God through reading the Scriptures.

I’m creating a Facebook group so that friends near and far can join in, if they want, and where we can encourage one another, throw out questions, comments, outside resources, etc at our leisure. If you’re up for it, I’d love companions on this Scripture journey because I might not finish it if I do it by myself! As it gets closer, I’ll offer up a reading plan and some other resources that will hopefully help us to learn and love God more this year. I also am brainstorming ways for this community to be a place where we can share our gifts with one another as we read through. My goal is for there to at least be 2 other people in the group with me (and hey, I made Jake join so looks like I only have 1 more to go!).

Here’s to Journeying through Scripture in 2015! 

Open House Drama

While kids were excitedly running around the hallways with their parents in tow, I was trying to find a quiet place to almost drag my limp-because-i’m-angry 5 year old to a quiet corner to get her under control.

Open House. The night when kids and parents are visiting classrooms, getting to know their child’s teacher and classroom and other parents. Oh they got to know us alright.


To be fair, the night started out well. We visited the Kindergarten class and it was fine. She showed us her book box, everyday jobs, sang a couple songs, and happily helped me choose what to bring for future class parties. Next we visited the 2nd grade class and she quietly looked around the room and listened as Asante explained his various notebooks and what they work on in each. After we left, they both insisted we go see the special rooms. Although little sister was having some tummy trouble, we decided to make a quick stop.


Some little girl was pounding on the piano in the music room, which of course made Aly want to do it too. It didn’t seem like the appropriate thing to be doing for that little girl, so I told Aly she couldn’t either. And explained why. She was mad, felt like it was an unfair answer, but left the room decently when it was time to go. Not awesome, but at this point, we know how things COULD be and she was trying.

Upstairs as we rounded the corner to start down the hallway that leads outside, Aly spied kids in the gym. With jump ropes. She rushed in, grabbed a jump rope and started jumping. Jumping. Jumping. Not forwards, but backwards. Whatever. I can let her do this, I thought, just for a few minutes. “Just for a few minutes,” I hollered over the noise of the crowd as she jumped away. After a couple minutes, I gave a one minute warning. Then a “3 more jumps and then we go, my sister.”

Rage erupted on that little girls face.

The yells began as we were exiting the gym. “Bad!” she yelled, which she often does when she’s mad, but trying to hold it back.

As we stream into the hallway she begins to unravel. She’s raising her voice. Getting attitude. Doesn’t want me to touch her because “she’s fine” when in reality she’s spinning out of control. I need to get her attention. Parents make room as we move down the hallway. I’m desperately looking for the bathroom that I know is ahead up on the right. Before we get there, she goes limp, I guess in attempts to get me to acquiesce with the grip I have on her. I carry her as best I can to the social safety of the bathroom. I feel embarrassed but I try not to allow that emotion to influence my words to her. I know myself. When I get embarrassed I can say things that would be better left in my head.

We talk. I look into her eyes, hoping that she will see me so that she can snap herself out of the tailspin that just happened. I get her enough under control that we leave the bathroom. She runs ahead of me and out the doors to Jake and the other kids. As we quickly stroll down the sidewalk away from the school, she yells, cries, and refuses to hear us talk to her about her behavior. She covers her ears, saying “I KNOW!” Maybe she does know what we’re going to say. Because this happens more often than it should. Fits. Tantrums. Yelling. Out of control.

I let Jake and the girls go ahead in the stroller and hang back with Asante. The kid who quietly goes along with everything, watching, observing, thinking. I apologize to him- “Sorry buddy, if Aly’s behavior embarrassed you. It embarrassed me.” “It’s okay,” he quickly replied. It’s always okay. He loves his sister so deeply.

We walk home. The moon is full, the sky is growing dark, and the cool wind blows against my face. I breathe deep, trying to process my emotions and get some air. The streets and bike paths are empty, so I relax. No one to impress or to fakely smile for as they judge my daughter or my parenting skills. Asante starts jabbering about the difference between a millimeter, centimeter and inch, and i’m half listening, “mmhmm-ing” at the right parts, but my mind is elsewhere. I’m thinking about Aly and her way-bigger-than-anyone-can-handle emotions. The books I’ve read. The hours of online research. The sensory play we’ve done. The many ways of discipline. The motivation charts. Her sadness for losing control and not figuring out how to tame the storm inside. It’s a lot and thinking about it all often overwhelms me because I feel so helpless.IMG_5056

So I pray. I pray a lot of things. Probably some of them are totally inappropriate and would make parenting gurus and child development experts gasp. But most of them have something to do with begging God to help me parent this beautiful, creative, gifted child. Help me to understand her. Help me to see it from her perspective. Help me to love her well.




Review: Exploring and Engaging Spirituality for Today’s Children

Discipling our kids is easy, in a way. Discipleship happens all day, everyday. Our mini-mes are watching us and picking up on what things are important and valuable to us, as well as discerning what being a follower of Jesus looks like. It’s happening whether we’re trying or not.

Discipling our kids is also really hard. Because we mess up. Or have habitual sins that we can’t shake but are so glaringly ugly. Often we want better for our kids than we do for ourselves. And we are keenly aware that at times, our behaviors, attitudes, words, etc. are certainly not ones that we wish for our children. Do as I say, not as I do.


Because discipleship is easy and because it is also hard, I am on a constant lookout for resources that will help me be more intentional with them. One such resource I’ve had the pleasure of reading is Exploring and Engaging Spirituality for Today’s Children: A Holistic Approach. This great collection of articles is written by a variety of authors and it is a truly thoughtful, interesting work! The scholars and practiioners who wrote the articles were also presenters at the Children’s Spirituality Conference in 2012 at Concordia University in Chicago.

The book is divided up into 4 sections. The first part explores the historical and theological foundation of ministering to children. The topics have a broad range, but they all fall into the scope of how children’s spirituality and ministry in the church sits in history or in Scripture. One of my favorite articles from this section is an article, “Beyond Sunday School: How Child-Centered Studies of Religion are Transforming Our Understandings of Children and Their Traditions.” In it, author Susan B. Ridgely observes: …”virtually all churches discuss children as ‘the next generation’ of believers. Thus congregations position young people as future, rather than current, practitioners of their traditions even as they actively engage in Sunday school and services, even if it is just to protest their forced presence in these places” (p. 68). Isn’t that the truth? How can we as parents and we as the bigger church view kids and treat kids as young people who are seeking God and an active part of the current church?

In the second section, scholars discuss how churches can equip parents and their congregations to participate in the active discipleship of the children in the church. I learned something from each article in this section, and it took me forever to get through them all because I felt like I had to stop after each article to think on the information and suggestions they shared. From introducing the church calendar into family life to helping kids learn Scripture in a deep way to helping children recognize the experience of God in their daily lives, these articles are filled with important information for parents and churches. How can the church equip parents to disciple their children at all ages and stages? Research has found that most parents know it’s important but don’t know what to do or just don’t do anything. These scholars want to help churches fill that gap.

The third section explores various methods of ministering to children. They write on a variety of subjects: the importance of physical movement in the spiritual development of a child, learning how kids learn and how that affects their spiritual development, even adapting some of the Ignatian spiritual exercises to kids.

The final section zooms in on ministering to justice issues surrounding children and what that means for the church- at-risk youth, child pornography, social justice, sex education, and intercultural contexts. My favorite article in this section was the one on how our culture affects how we help form children spiritually. Do we have them memorize prayers or pray spontaneously? Do they participate in the corporate worship service or are they taught in a different room? What expectations do we bring to the table in a church and how might other families from different cultures expect different things? Sadly I guess most churches in America don’t have this problem because they tend to be monocultural. BUT, when we do (I have hope!) what are some conversations that we’ll need to have?

And last, but not least, I’ve discovered no less than 30 more books that I’d like to read sometime (one of my favorite things about reading scholarly articles- the references at the end of them)! This books makes me wish I would have taken more spiritual development of the family classes as Asbury… :).


Thanks to the publisher, Wipf and Stock for providing a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review. 



Heroine’s Quest

Sometimes (ahem) I feel overwhelmed. And when I feel overwhelmed I tend not to be intentional. Instead, I switch into survival mode and just do what needs to be done to get through it. Anyone with me?

While unavoidable at times, when we are living in a state of being overwhelmed, and hence survival mode too often, it’s not good for our souls or the souls of others in our lives.

One of my good friends, Christi Byerly, has a heart for women who are in this sort of place. She is a life coach and spiritual director who has been walking beside women for a couple years now. While she currently lives in Kenya, she has a virtual state-side Heroine’s Quest group on Wednesdays at 11a (East Coast time) and is looking for a few more members to join in!

The dates for the upcoming sessions are:

October 15th, 29th

November 5th, 19th

December 3rd, 17th

While the course is listed at $500, Christi is providing a deep discount for us– $200! If you sign up, just let Christi know that you heard about it here. In case you have to miss a call, no fret! There will be audio recordings :).

Let me know if you sign up! :)


Is it too Early to Read Christmas Books?

So perhaps these reviews are a bit early. But my guess is that some of you have already added a favorite Christmas album to your iPod and have been sneakily listening to it in the car and on your morning runs. So, let’s just be brave and admit that we’re ready for the season of Christmas, yes?

Perhaps you’ve read these classic Christmas stories, but in case you haven’t, read on, friend!


The first is the The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg. When a new man moves to town and starts working in an old storefront, Lucy, a curious and brave little lady, decides to approach the man’s shop to find out what he’s doing and asks if she can help. He puts her to work and together they are able to prepare the town for a really fantastic store and deliver the good news with a very special candy. While the illustrations are a teensy bit old-fashioned, the story is absolutely not and keeps kids attention to the very last word.

I have the board book edition, which I surprisingly prefer to the hardback. Perhaps because Little Anaya is such a wrecker, I’ve begun to value things that are indestructible.

_225_350_Book.1359.coverThe other one is The Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving by Dandi Daley Mackall. In it, a little boy named Nick, who is obviously a typical kid who wants things for himself more than he wants to give to other, overhears Santa telling the story of St. Nick (which is his real name). We learn that St. Nick is a man who was left a lot of money when his parents died, and decided to use that money to buy others’ gifts to make their material wishes come true.

So anyone who knows us knows that we’re slightly or more than slightly uncomfortable with the connection between Christmas and giving presents. While I appreciate the encouragement for kids to move from the “getting” to the “giving” attitude that this book highlights (and the bit of historical fiction it shares), I’m not a huge fan of reading books like this to the kids as a “feel good” story. Instead, I could maybe see reading it to start a conversation about how the idea of Santa got started, or even to discuss the importance of giving to others around the world who are in true need. But let’s not pretend that St. Nick and present day Santa are anything alike :). However, if you are into the Santa thing and want to go that route, you’ll probably like this book. It’s well written and a good story about focusing on giving instead of receiving.


Thanks to Booklook Bloggers for these complementary copies in exchange for my honest opinions!

Affiliate links are included in this post.

Developing friendships at ages 5 and 35

A couple days ago, my daughter walked all the way home from school holding hands with another Kindergartener that she met only a month or two ago. They quietly hung back behind the rest of us, talking, holding hands, and examining all of the interesting nature trinkets they could find.

It got me thinking about childhood relationships and how easy they were, generally. You meet someone and just start playing. You have fun, run around, chase each other, tell each other secrets, and decide that you are Best Friends Forever after an afternoon of play.

It’s not always so easy as we get older huh? Not only do you have to decide if you and potential friend have enough in common to get along, but there’s also those other subtle, unspoken “tests” that friends have to pass.

Tonight I was reading a great article about making friends over at The Art of Simple. The author shared a part of a New York Times article that described a few of the secrets of making close friends:

“As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.”

It’s pretty hard to accidentally do that these days, especially for stay-at-home parents. Let’s be honest, there’s not too many “unplanned interactions” for moms of multiple young children. Even going to the bathroom can be a calculated decision! So what does it look like to invest in others at this stage in life?

I think the author of the article brought up some great ideas (eating together, texting one another throughout the day, meeting needs before they’re spoken, teach each other things, etc.)… what would you add to the list?


Review of Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul


Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul is Bill Hybels’ newest book. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Bill Hybels is the father of Shauna Niequist, husband of Lynne Hybels, and probably most known for his start of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL more than 20 years ago.

We’ve been on a slow transition to simple living over here. We’re reading about slowing down. We’re beginning to say “no” more often. We’re learning that sometimes simple food is better food. We’re learning that we don’t need so much stuff, and that it’s okay to just let go of it. We’re learning that our time is worth a lot, and that it should only be given to things that are truly important and life giving.

We’ve found it’s a fairly straightforward task to unclutter our closets and toy shelves and bookshelves and cabinets. It’s a bit harder to unclutter our souls. What does that even mean, right? And to take it one step further, how DO that?

Hybels enters this conversation with a whole lot of practical advice. This book is an incredibly typical Bill Hybels book- down to earth, pastorally tone, lots of Scripture, and real life illustrations. Bill is a great, thorough communicator, and it’s obvious he worked really hard on thinking about what every single person on the spectrum of life could use to hear when it comes to simplifying (284 pages!).

He talks about external changes, internal changes, and of course how they’re all related. He discusses the need to find a job that fits you, saying “yes” to things you actually like and “no” to the things you don’t, to forgive those whom you haven’t forgiven (takes up lots of soul space) as well as cutting off friendships that aren’t healthy and making ones that are. While this book doesn’t live up to the “groundbreaking” promise that is on its dust cover flap, it does offer some good general advice with some helpful “action steps” for those of us who need some extra help getting from point A to point B. Overall, the information offered is pretty run-of-the-mill in the area of figuring out how to get the most out of life.

One section that I did find particularly helpful, though, was about life seasons. In it, Bill helps the reader to see that each life stage is really just that- a stage. It’s not going to last forever, and each one has it’s own benefits and limitations. To do life well, we must both recognize and understand what season we are in, and then life accordingly. Sure, sometimes those seasons are bound by age, location, age of kids, job, but other times these seasons are something deeper- a season of grieving, a season of doubt or wilderness experience, a season of loss, a season of simplifying, a season of giving– it could be a ton of different things! But, the most important thing is to recognize that, lean into it, and then to move on when it’s obvious the season is over.

So, perhaps this isn’t my favorite book of Bill Hybel’s (I’ve read quite a few), but it’s a good primer for those who are needing something to kick start their season of getting life on track.


Thanks to Tyndale for providing this complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Also, please note that some of the links above are affiliate links.

Review: Your Core + Book Giveaway!


Graham Blanchard Publishers just released an important new books called Your Core. In it, kids learn that PEOPLE have cores, just like apples, balls, and the earth, and that these cores all have a purpose. It is in our core (or soul) that God resides. The soul is a super tricky thing to explain to kids, and I think that this book offers a really simple illustration that will help kids to begin to form an understanding of their “inside life.” It ends with Ephesians 3:16-17:

“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

The illustrations are super sweet and include diverse characters which I really value in a kid picture book. As always, this book gets a strong recommendation from me!

Learn more about Graham Blanchard at

AND, because I just love these books, I’m giving away a couple on the blog today!

Mud Puddle Hunting Day and Close as a Breath

Enter to win by just leaving a comment below :).

Edit: Congrats to Tracy as the winner of this book set! 

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