If I’ve learned anything from the year we’ve just experienced it’s the need for (and the importance of) compassionate listening to those who are different from me in any number of ways. As a majority culture, rural-dwelling woman on “this side” of fifty, it’s tempting for me to throw everything I don’t understand into a “Deal with it Later” folder and then just go on embracing my ignorance.
Reading is one way I have found to sit with the stories of others and to expand my world, but I’m open to other ways, so I’ve chosen the word persevere as my guide for 2021. Of course, I’d much rather live with words like success or results, but persevere seems like the right word for all that’s ahead. I’ll be persevering in serving my family and my church, persevering in my writing by sharing my words here and there; trusting God for opportunities to teach as the world reopens once again; and persevering in healthy living and in habits of holiness.
I’m hearing every possible message about the reading life in 2020. For some, quarantine and social distancing created the perfect space for all things books and reading, while, for others, the anxiety attached to the unknown got in the way of concentration, making for a dismal reading life.
Wherever you fall on that bandwidth, you’re invited here to share your favorite reads of this highly unusual year. I’ll get things started by sharing mine, but first, here’s a collection of December 2020 reviews.
This is a book I wish I had shared in time for Advent 2020, but lyrical reflections from the Gospels, particularly on the life of Jesus Christ, deserve a place in our reading at any time of year. Author and musician Michael Card has described himself as “the broccoli of Christian music.” With wry humor, he shares that his listeners tend to recommend his music to others prescriptively as a panacea for whatever ails them. Could this be true of his books as well?
Card has brought his songwriter’s heart and his scholarly mind to the creation of The Nazarene. Having written extensively about the life of Jesus in his song lyrics, he has gathered the stories, the parables, and the essence of Jesus’s luminous life on earth into short essays based on those song lyrics.
Whether used in conjunction with the songs or simply as brief devotionals for meditation, Card’s writing is designed to create a thirst for the sacred text, to send readers running for their Bibles to follow the stream of God’s loving kindness directly to the Divine Headwater.
(For more on God’s lovingkindness expressed in the Old Testament, hop on over to my review of Michael Card’s Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness.)
The Enneagram for Spiritual Formation
Everyone has a particular image that comes to mind when they envision spiritual formation. What exactly does it look like? And what about evangelism–maybe you picture buttonholing strangers for uncomfortable conversations?
According to A.J. Sherrill, each of us has been hardwired by God to grow into a deeper discipleship in ways that are unique to our personality, and as we come to understand our own brokenness, we are more effective in every single facet of spiritual formation (including soul winning). These gifts come with an understanding of the Enneagram, a tool that promotes self-knowledge and greater understanding of the people in our lives.
In The Enneagram for Spiritual Formation: How Knowing Ourselves Can Make Us More Like Jesus, Sherrill pushes against both ends of the Enneagram opinion spectrum, for it is neither a tool of the devil nor an end in itself. Light on theory and heavy on practical application, he travels through both testaments with numbered sticky notes, lightly attached to biblical figures. I found most helpful his description of each number’s “subconscious strategy employed to fix the world,” (115) and his recommended spiritual practices to promote wholeness in the reader.
I also discovered that while reading and study are my favorite spiritual disciplines, I may need to press harder into practices that don’t feel as natural such as contemplative prayer and solitude. I’m encouraged to develop habits, a rule of life that draws me nearer to Jesus as I am continually transformed through faithful reflection and engagement.
Searching for Mom
Because adoption is such a force for good, the dark side of being adopted comes as a surprise, particularly for those of us who experience it remotely through the stories of others. While it is true that adoption rescues many children from danger and untenable living situations, it is also true that adoptees begin life with a loss.
Sara Easterly has crafted a memoir of her own experience as an adopted daughter that looks unflinchingly at the realities accompanying separation from birth parents, no matter how early the separation occurs. I learned that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide as non-adoptees, and they are prone to “fantasy attachments” to some imagniary, ideal birth mother which often hinders their ability to attach to their adopted family.
Searching for Mom traces Easterly’s journey into motherhood, her years of ambivalence about searching for her birth mom, and the protracted illness and death of her adopted mother. She employs a bridge metaphor to describe the years of struggle and her eventual resolution, envisioning her birth mother and grandmother, her adopted mom and herself all standing together on a bridge, “all of us stuck there, paying a price in some way. One of us finally dared to venture across. Now the others had to cross, too.” (159)
If adoption is part of your story or the story of someone you love, you will benefit from Sara’s honest portrayal, scriptural insights, and unique ability to share the heart of an adopted child.
J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought
J. I. Packer passed away in 2020, and when I heard the news, my immediate response was resolution: I would re-read Knowing God, and so I started immediately, taking in a few pages every night. Around the time I finished, I learned that InterVarsity Press had published a new biography of Packer, written by Alister McGrath, proof that God is indeed sovereign over even our reading lives!
J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought is an unusual biography that also doubles as a theology refresher course, but as McGrath examines Packer’s legacy, it is abundantly clear that this was the only way it could have been written, for Packer’s life and his vision of the Christian faith were intimately interconnected. His spiritual formation and his growth as a theologian invite the reader into awe as we stand beside Packer and behold the glory of God, inexpressible, and yet worth spending a life time appreciating and inviting others to enjoy and to dimly grasp.
“Look!” said Packer. “This is the biggest thing that ever was!”
May God grant this perspective to each of us–along with the wisdom to peer faithfully into the mysteries in a life devoted both to knowing God and to delighting in being known by God.
Did you ever dodge a social situation because of the dreaded “conversational ball?”
“It’s easy,” say the experts. “Just like tossing a ball. You say something, and then it’s the other person’s turn. You just keep that conversational ball moving by responding to what they say.”
However, what if it were possible to go into every social situation equipped with a few really good questions or topics for discussion from a person for whom conversation is as natural as breathing? Say Something Special offers 252 conversation starters on 15 different topics ranging from family memories to extra-creative getting-to-know-you questions.
Sue Moore Donaldson has fashioned what comes naturally to her into a set of conversational training wheels, and I welcome the support. There’s a generosity inherent within the offering of open-ended questions and a listening ear to follow, a hospitality of spirit that is both welcoming and disarming. I’m looking forward to trying some of these conversation starters at my dining room table soon!
By the end of this year, I will have read at least 82 books. I have written about most of my favorites here, so rather than adding to the word count of this post with a lengthy description of each, I’ll share this collage of images, and end with my deep gratitude for your faithfulness in reading and interacting here. Some of you are new readers and many of you are longtime friends, and I appreciate each of you and the gift of your time and attention.
Every blessing for 2021,
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I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase any of the books I’ve shared, simply click on the image, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.