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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Favorite Books of 2012

'Books' photo (c) 2011, Moyan Brenn - license:

I am loving reading all the Best Book lists in the blogosphere and have already added several titles to my “To-Read” list on Goodreads. I did not make a list of books I read this past year, so I don’t even remember some of them (sadly…this is what mommy brain has done to me). But here are a few standouts from 2012 for me. And note many of these were just new to me in 2012, but have been on the market for several years.

Best All AroundUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. This is one of those books you read and think, “How can this be possible?” and you’re talking about both the subject matter and the unbelievable writing. I finished this book in Panera with tears streaming down my face. If you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil it, but it should be on the top of your list for 2013. It’s that good.

FictionThe Book of the Dun Cow
by Walt Wangerin. My dad gave us this book last Christmas and Erik and I both read it. It’s one of those books you want to fit into a neat allegory, but it’s not that easy and it’s not meant to be. It’s beautifully written and tells a powerful story.

Favorite Book I Read With My Kids – This is a two-way tie between The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Little Pilgrim’s Progress: From John Bunyan’s Classic by Helen Taylor. I have to admit I had never read all of any of the Narnia books, and this was the first of three we read this year. And I also have to admit we only made it a little over halfway through Little Pilgrim’s Progress. Sophie was so excited when Christian made it to the Celestial City and she just didn’t have the heart to go through the journey all over again with Christiana, and frankly neither did I.

Book Meant for Kids That I Keep StealingThoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones. So good. Just so good.

Favorite Outreach-Focused Book – Tie between One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm, and The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. These are very different books, but work together. I appreciated many things from The Art of Neighboring, although it had in my mind some flaws. However, the takeaway for me was the freedom to simply love my neighbors without ulterior motives of trying to sneak the gospel in whenever I can.

Book that Made Me Laugh the MostA Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” by Rachel Held Evans. Maybe it’s because I know Rachel and her family, or maybe because it’s just clever writing, but I was surprised at how much I laughed reading this. I’m hoping to review it in the coming weeks (very late to the party), and there is much I disagree with, but Rachel is in my mind a great writer who works hard at her craft and the book is not surprisingly a best-seller as a result.

Favorite Book on WritingWordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life by Douglas Wilson. Short, helpful and full of wit, this book made me want to be a better writer just by reading it. Hopefully it also made me a better writer.

Book I’ll Read AgainThe Organized Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Conquering Chaos by Staci Eastin. I’ve already written about this, but it is just that good so it makes this list as well.

So what should make my list in 2013? What were your favorites from this past year? 

Blogging Break

Due to several factors I’m going to take a break from blogging for a couple of weeks until after the holidays.

Today I’ll just leave us with this prayer from Scotty Smith (read the whole thing here):

Father, there’s really nothing merely “merry” or “little” about Christmas, and it certainly isn’t a day about denying or hiding from our troubles. For in sending Jesus to us, you’ve underscored just as desperate our condition is; but also how matchless your generosity is.

Indeed, the size of our Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with how much discretionary money we have to spend on bigger and better gifts, rather, on how big our gospel is. How I praise you that every Christmas is huge, majestically huge, irrespective of any economy or currency.

A Different Kind of Gift

Today I want to highlight just a few giving opportunities that are a little departure from the norm, but are all things close to my heart.

Back in late July I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Ethiopia with my brother’s wife to meet their new daughter, Liya. Aaron was deployed at the time so I went with Laura to assist. Erik and I have been planning and praying about adoption ever since we got married, so it was an amazing chance to see the process first-hand.


We now have a few dear friends in the adoption process, and here are two great opportunities to support some of them:

First, the Snow family. The story of this family and their adoption process is so beautiful. The Lord has graciously provided them with three Ethiopian daughters, whom they just met a few weeks ago. As they await the chance to go back to Ethiopia and bring their daughters home they are attempting to raise the final several thousand dollars they need. God has already provided in amazing ways and there are so many stories they will be able to tell their daughters one day. But now, until noon CST tomorrow (Tuesday) you can participate in an online auction. There are some great things up for grabs, and 100% of the proceeds go to the adoption fund.

The next family are our sweet neighbors, the McGehees. Their three adorable kids are friends with our two and we are so excited to see how God grows their family through international adoption. Right now they are at the beginning stages of fundraising and are working hard to see this happen, trusting that God will do amazing things as He has put this on their heart and they are walking in obedience to Him. If you are local, there is a great opportunity to buy Rebekah’s fresh milled whole wheat bread and bread flour here (scroll down). And if you aren’t local, or if you are and you just love coffee, you can buy from their Just Love coffee store.

Finally, I want to tell you about a special opportunity to partner with a ministry in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that is involved in orphan prevention. One of the most difficult things about my trip to Ethiopia was seeing birth moms saying their final goodbyes to their children at the transition home. Whatever the circumstances (lack of finances, HIV, divorce), many of these children are given up for adoption because of things out of the mother’s control. I came home with a conviction that we needed to help some of these women, which is where Embracing Hope Ethiopia comes in. This is a ministry run by believers who have a passion for orphan prevention. You can partner with them by sponsoring one of the families they are helping. The program works like this: they do monthly sponsorships of each mom and child that cover Free Day Care, Early Childhood Education, Education and After School care for older children, Hygiene Supplies, Free Health Care for Mom and Child, 2 Nutritious Meals per day plus Snack, Extra Nutritional Support for 80% of the children, Clothing, One on one social worker attention, Life Skills Training for Moms, Micro-Grants, Special Supports for Special Cases including HIV, and Literacy Development.

Sponsorships start at $34/month. My sister-in-law was able to visit the facility and see their work first-hand, and she was really encouraged by their heart for the gospel and the work they are doing. This could be a great project as a family–an alternative to traditional Christmas giving, but a great way to love these families who desperately want to stay together.

What are some other alternative Christmas giving ideas?

My Favorite Things

Tuesday I linked to several Advent resources we use in our home, and today in keeping with my break from wedding blogging I’m going to share some gift ideas. (Don’t worry, Mom, just because I’m not blogging about weddings doesn’t mean I’m not writing about them).

So since we did our family gift exchanges early I can relax and enjoy the fact that shopping is pretty much done. I have a really hard time with Christmas gifts. I get this set price in mind that I want to spend on each person and then obsess over getting as close to that amount as possible. So if I find something that would normally cost $25, but is on sale for $15, I make sure to make up the difference with another gift. It’s a problem. If you have ideas to help me, please pass them on. For an English major I end up doing a lot of math in the month of December, and that is not pretty.

In the spirit of Oprah, below are some of my “Favorite Things.” Only, unlike Oprah, I can’t give them all away to my adoring fans. Well, first I have no adoring fans, and second I don’t have the budget for that. But take a look and maybe these will help with your own Christmas shopping.


The Organized Heart by Staci Eastin. We gave this to all the women in our families, and I am currently reading it as well. Let me tell you, it is kicking my rear in the best way possible. I am a chronic over-committer and ultra-procrastinator. Rather than giving a list of organizational tips and strategies, Eastin goes straight to the heart in identifying idols that keep us from organization. It hurts, but in a good way. You can read Chapter 1 here. It’s short, to the point, and well-written.


Joy to the World Sign – I downloaded this for free, had it printed on cardstock at Kinkos (I know, it’s FedEx Office, but it will always be Kinkos to me). Then I bought some simple white frames and gave one to each family. I can’t take credit for any of it but am so thankful for the designer offering it for free – check out her blog at the link.


Hymns for the Christian Life – this newest Getty album is so good. I had never heard too much of their stuff until a few months ago when they led worship at a conference I attended. They played several songs from this album and they are fantastic. The theology of these hymns is just so good.


In Feast or Fallow – this album by Sandra McCracken is easily one of my favorites of all time. You can listen to samples at the link and read about the meaning and theology of each song.


Looking for a Name – I have to give a shout out to my brother-in-law, Peter, AKA Schottsy and the Sharpshooters. One of those Sharpshooters is my husband’s sister and one of my BFFs, Jen. They make great music, and even better they really love Jesus.


Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing – this follow-up to The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones is a great gift for the 6-and-up kid in your life. We got it for our daughter for her birthday, and, although she’s just five, she seems to enjoy it and understand it. Actually, I probably love it more than she does at this point. The short devotional thoughts are just excellent.

Finally, I’m grateful for those who had my April 1st writing deadline in mind in their gift-giving. My sis-in-law and mother-in-law went together to purchase a massage for me, and I also received several gift cards for coffee shops. Unfortunately I also received some Amazon gift cards, and with an ever-growing list of books I’d like to read it will be difficult to resist the urge and put them off for a few months. Guess it’s good I’m reading that organization book, huh?

Later in the week I will do one more Christmas-related post with a couple of alternative giving options that are close to my heart. In the meantime, what is one of the best gifts you’ve received or given?

Advent Resources

My blogging has been spotty for the past couple of weeks due to the fact that we have now finished both of our family “Christmases.” The Strode fam celebrated over Thanksgiving week, and we did the Parks family this past weekend. So it’s all over. And I have to be honest–I’m kind of thrilled.

Erik sometimes calls me Scrooge when December rolls around. I mean, I get excited and we do fun things, but generally by the time December 20th comes around I am sick of it all and ready for January. I think it’s just the stress of doing it all, and figuring out how to reconcile all the commercialism with what we really want our kids to understand about the season.

Last year we had six family Christmases, which meant six times to open presents, which naturally made for a pretty greedy, materially-focused four-year-old. We decided we just couldn’t do that again. So I’m so happy things worked out this way for this year. Now that the gift-giving is (primarily) over, we can sit back and enjoy Advent.

My friend and former college professor, John Stonestreet, wrote a great article about Advent here. I’m learning the joy of expectation and anticipation, and I want my kids to see that too–not anticipation for presents, but for Christ.

A couple of other great Advent resources are:


Ann Voskamp’s Advent Jesse Tree Devotional and Ornaments – This is a free download of an Advent devotional. Technically it started on Nov. 29, but we are catching up as we were gone over the weekend. Last year I made all the ornaments with ShrinkyDinks and now the kids (well, Sophie really) enjoy listening to the devotionals and guessing what the ornament will be.


Jesus Storybook Bible – This great Bible storybook has 24 stories leading up to the birth of Christ–perfect for Advent. And, it’s just as encouraging (probably more-so) to my heart as it is for the kids.


CBC Advent Devotional – My church is putting out a weekly Advent devotional, with readings for each day. You can download the PDF from the website–just look for the image that says “What Child is This?”


Desiring Virtue Christ-Centered Christmas Series – This is a great blog series on ways to help your family worship Christ and understand Advent.

No matter your age, marital status, or family size, many of the resources can be a benefit in enabling us to wait in expectation for Christ–not just to celebrate the Incarnation, but to wait for His return.

Obviously this post has nothing to do with weddings, but I wanted to take a little break this week and write about something else. Let me know what resources you use in observing Advent!

*All images used were taken from the linked websites and are property of the individual website owners.