What Are You Looking Forward To?

The July Book Talk Where We Want to Know, “What Are You Looking Forward To?”

Our family has been looking forward to July ever since Joel’s and Emilee’s engagement in December. Here on the hill, weddings mean family gatherings, lots of laughter and (of course) food. Then, there’s also the bittersweet reality that while we rejoice and welcome a new daughter, we say goodbye to a much-loved son and go through the sad process of emptying out yet another bedroom.

It seems as if God has hardwired the human heart to need something to look forward to. In these busy days of preparation, reading time was hard to come by, but I looked forward to a few moments at bedtime with the books I’m sharing here this month. When I’m mowing lawns with my good husband, there’s always a book in my bag that I’m reading for personal enrichment. (Right now it’s Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey in case you’re interested.)

In these days of adjustment to an empty nest, I’m looking forward to our first visit with our son and his new bride in their apartment, to a sleepover in the tent with our grandkids, and a trip to Colorado to visit our son and his family. I’m looking forward to canoeing with my good husband, to a day at the lake with the whole crew, and Sunday mornings in a lawn chair, worshiping with the body of Christ gathered on the parsonage lawn in Spruce Head, Maine.

We get through hard days by anticipating better days ahead, even if those better days are simply a promise yet to be fulfilled. Fully human, even Jesus “for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.”

What are you looking forward to at this tipping point of the summer?

We get through hard days by anticipating better days ahead, even if those better days are simply a promise yet to be fulfilled. Fully human, even Jesus “for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” What are you looking forward to as July ends?

And now, let’s talk books…

Just three this month, two non-fiction on wildly differing topics and then a brand new fiction piece from Shawn Smucker. And be sure to read all the way to the end, because there’s a giveaway this month!

Christian History in Seven Sentences

Jennifer Woodruff Tait has distilled two thousand years of Christian history into seven succinct statements based on documents, creeds, councils, edicts, and proclamations that have shaped the church. Her balanced portrayal draws from the early church, from medieval times, as well as from the modern era. Tait’s refreshing approach presents figures in church history “not as names and dates to memorize but as brothers and sisters in Christ who just happen to be with Jesus now.”

Caught up in our present day concerns, it’s very easy to forget that Christianity is a historical faith, that Jesus entered a particular time and geographic location, and that those who followed him in the past were subject to the rise and fall of empires and nations alongside always-changing interpretations of doctrine and discipleship. We are products today of a faith that has swung all the way from monasticism to fellowship halls; from formal Latin liturgy to guitars, balloons, and banners. We have excommunicated and even executed one another, all in the name of orthodoxy.

Technology has changed the way we preach the gospel, and Twitter has changed the way we disagree with each other. Understanding church history forces believers into a compassionate awareness of the context surrounding pivotal moments.

Entire books have been written on all seven of Tait’s seven sentences, and she has done a masterful job of combining brevity with back story. She writes for an academic audience, but with a light touch and with an eye for the “so what” of historical facts that support the 21st century believer’s commitment to loving as Christ loved and wrestling well with what it means to be called by his name.

Glimmers of Grace

If the prospect of visiting a critically ill friend or relative terrifies you, if you wonder what to say (and what NOT to say!) to a loved one in a hospital bed, let Dr. Kathryn Butler advise you through her work and her experience in Glimmers of Grace. With brutal honesty rooted in resilient hope, Dr. Butler shares stories from her practice in the theater of trauma medicine that will resonate for caring individuals, not merely because of her medical background, but mainly because she has practiced medicine and come alongside friends as a Christian.

Butler’s exegesis of scripture and her reflections on faith, suffering, and the goodness of God are an invitation to readers to remember God’s steadfast love in preparation for days of crisis and calamity–which come to all of us eventually With wisdom borne of experience, she attests to the faithfulness of God even when fear fills the room, when medical techniques have come to the end of their effectiveness.

Years of dealing with people on the worst day of their lives have given Butler a sturdy theological perspective on the problem of pain. She writes for those in the caring community and for those who will lie in a hospital bed, themselves. Illness tends to make us forget the goodness of God, and the role of believers is to help in remembering, to connect the dots between memory and worship as we also affirm our connections to one another and to God.

It is human nature to want to turn away from the unpleasant truth about our own mortality and the frailty of those we love, and yet, when we do the work of showing up, taking the risk, and stepping into the dark places of this world, we discover that even there, we dwell in his “marvellous light.” Even there, glimmers of grace hold us in hope.

P.S. Nancy Guthrie has also written helpful words from her own experience about coming alongside those who suffer and grieve. In 2017, I reviewed What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts), so I offer my review here if you feel the need of some additinoal resources on this topic.

The Weight of Memory

The memories we carry in our heads and hearts are substantial things that affect the way we see the world, present tense, and if we give them permission, they may even shape our future. When Paul Elias is given a diagnosis of only three months to live, his past and his future coalesce as his priorities immediately sort themselves into an arrow pointing at the task of finding a home and a good life for Pearl, the eleven-year-old granddaughter in his care.

Uniquely crafted in second person, The Weight of Memory by Shawn Smucker follows Paul’s decision-making process and the flow of his memories in a grandfatherly interior narrative with Pearl. Tendrils of magical realism begin to wrap themselves around the story from the moment the mysterious white-haired woman shows up in Pearl’s art class.

The story of Paul’s past and the story he is currently living both invite the reader into themes of loneliness, emptiness, and what it feels like to function with a soul that’s living in “the wrong size outer garment.” Pearl, precocious and insightful beyond her years, keeps readers guessing. Given to abrupt disappearances, her observations lend an unsettling feel to the narrative arc. For instance, when she stated lightly, “Secrets are heavy things. They’ll drag you down if you don’t let them go,” I was challenged to assess my own authenticity.

Shawn Smucker consistently delivers fiction with a riveting plot, engaging characters, and an undercurrent of truth that challenges the reader to think deeply and pray courageously.

And there’s a give-away to whet your appetite for Shawn’s writing! Last year I read and enjoyed These Nameless Things, and I have a copy to give away to one reader…

These Nameless Things is a powerful and startling work of fiction that imagines a world where the past with all its stories has been (temporarily) forgotten. Even so, it has not lost its power over the people who lived it, and author, Shawn Smucker has woven a tale of magical realism in which Dan, having escaped a place of tortured confinement, cannot feel free as long as his twin brother is still held captive.

To enter the giveaway, comment below with your favorite genre–or maybe tell us about a genre you need more of in your reading life. (Who knows? Maybe someone will have recommendations!) I’m thankful for authors like Shawn who push me outside my comfort zone. What’s a genre you keep coming back to–and what do you tend to avoid?

That’s it for another month!

Holding you in the light,

Shawn Smucker has a new fiction release, and to celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of These Nameless Things. See the July Book Talk post for details!

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Many thanks to Revell, NetGalley, Crossway, and InterVarsity Press for providing copies of these books to facilitate my reviews, which are, of course, offered freely and with honesty.

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43 thoughts on “The July Book Talk Where We Want to Know, “What Are You Looking Forward To?””

  1. Sounds like July was wonderful and congratulations on your growing family! I enjoyed “These Nameless Things” and so will one of your readers!

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  2. Michele, first congratulations on the marriage of your son! I know adjusting to an empty nest is difficult, but over time you’ll wonder what life was like before! I love your book reviews; the books you share are always so different than most I see shared. Though a staunch non-fiction lover, the two fiction offerings by Shawn Smucker are beckoning me to give them a chance. I love the premise of both books, the weight of memory because I work in hospice and palliative care and deal with the premise of the book, and the other Nameless Things, because I have always wondered what it would be like to have a “practice life” where I get to have a re-do of my life, hopefully making better choices!

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  3. Marriages are wonderful events! As an empty-nester myself, I understand the transition. Your next plans sound relaxing and full of joy. I kayak but have wanted to canoe for awhile now. It looks so elegant. I’m interested in Shawn Smucker’s books! I have never heard of him before and will be adding to by TBR list!

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  4. First of all, what are those colorful things hanging in your top photo? I’ve seen them in beach or boat photos, but haven’t made the connection.

    We’re very much looking forward to my oldest son’s visit from RI next month, which will cover the week of his birthday and mine. Lots of togetherness with the whole family.

    Glimmers of grace sounds really good. (No need to enter me in the drawing).

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  5. We are also looking forward to a family wedding!! I pray yours will be a day full of joy and laughter! I taught Christian history for many years to HS seniors and to women’s groups, and I’ve supported and received Christian History magazines for as long, so I’ll be interested to see how Tait accomplishes all you say. I’ve read Yancy’s book, and it’s a good one–very honest and helpful. Love your Maine shack and lobster buoys photo!

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    1. So interesting to hear about your background with Christian history. I loved getting the overview from 7 Sentences. I try to grab pictures of buoy trees or buoys hanging on buildings. Glad you enjoyed it!

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  6. Powerful books on the list!

    How quickly they fly from us, but we know it’s what we were preparing them to do. We just didn’t know what it would feel like when it happened.

    As July ends I am looking forward to having our youngest granddaughter start college just 2 hours away when usually it is 7. All our other 5 grandchildren are that far and farther and their parents as well. Having this one closer means getting to see her more often on a campus (Grove City College, Grove City, PA) that is sentimental for us because both our children went there, met future spouses there and married in the chapel on campus. And, this granddaughter’s oldest brother (now a third year medical student) graduated from there as well.💕

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    1. Hi!! Thank you so much for this opportunity 🙂 i enjoy reading fantasy but lately I’ve been reading adult company, and some Rom-Com

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  7. I always love your book talks! I’ve been craving stories that make me keep turning pages fast! Maybe suspense? Hmmm

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  8. Thinking of you and your good husband as you adjust to your empty nest, Michele. I’m glad you have so much to look forward to, even as you continue to process this new season of life. As for books, just this week I decided to reread the Mitford series and have already begun the first book. 🙂

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    1. Oh, I want to do that someday!
      Here, we are getting packed to visit our far away son, and I am taking God in the Dock with me for the plane–a book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time!

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  9. It’s been a few years since I read Disappointment with God, but I remember getting a lot out of it. I’m about to start Yancey’s newest book soon and can’t wait!

    What a fun and adventurous July you’re having! Granted, I feel your pain about emptying out another room. That’s the sad part, even though we know it’s the way we want life to unfold in the long run.

    My favorite genre is anything nonfiction. 🙂 I particularly enjoy spiritual and psychological books. I do try to keep one novel going at all times, so I like for it to be a good one. That’s the area that I need the most recommendations for. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on The Book of Longings when you have time to gather your words about it!

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  10. Michele,
    Thanks so much for stopping by!! Congrats on your son’s wedding!! Sounds like you were able to read some interesting books!! Good for you!! Stay safe, healthy and happy!!
    Hugs,
    Debbie

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  11. Dear Michele, Congratulations, your post will be showcased as one of the top three posts for this past week at Senior Salon 174. Thanks for participating.

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  12. The anticipation of better days ahead has always been the very thing that gets me through the darkest of times. The cycle always continues and so when the darkness arrives, I have all the certainty that I need that the light will return again and the cycle will continue. These all look like fabulous thought provoking reads. Thanks for sharing and linking with me, Michele!

    Shelbee
    http://www.shelbeeontheedge.com

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  13. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about an empty nest. We are on the cusp of that with one daughter in college and another almost headed out. It is a new phase in our life that will take some getting used to. The recommendation for Glimmers of Grace comes at a perfect time. I have two friends – one in the hospital and one who isn’t – who are both going through some serious medical issues now. I’ll need to see if the library carries this book.

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    1. Hi, Ann, so sorry about your friends.
      I have been writing and thinking about my “emptying “ nest since 2012 when my first son got married. The idea that it’s actually here NOW is mind boggling, so I hear your heart.

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