The Biggest Lie About Surrender – and Why You Can’t Afford to Believe It

I am utterly delighted to welcome my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee as a guest in this space today as she shares about control and surrender. I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer on the Epic Book Tour last year. She welcomed Anna and me into her home among the cornfields of rural Iowa with grace and friendship. Today she is delivering her third book baby, It’s All Under Control, into the world. An early copy arrived on my doorstep in May and I have been ruminating on it since. It is simultaneously the most comforting and most challenging book I’ve read this year. I’ll write my own post about it soon, but for now, here’s Jennifer. (Be sure to stick around at the end for a fun giveaway from Tyndale!)

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Everything is Under Control (I Thought)

If you asked me five years ago, I naively would have told you that I didn’t struggle with control. I mean, seriously— as long as everything went exactly the way I hoped, I was totally flexible.

It’s not that I wanted to control other people. Mostly, I wanted to control myself. If I ever had high expectations of anyone, it was of me. I wanted to present the self-assured, together version of my whole being. Which means I craved control over my face, my emotions, my body, my food, my words, my house, my schedule, my yard, my future.

courtesy of Jennifer Dukes Lee

My preference was a tidy, predictable, safe life where no one got hurt, where my kids remained in one piece, where there was no pain for anyone ever again, amen. I said I trusted God but had reached the point where I realized I actually didn’t. As a Jesus girl, this shocked me.

An Empty Tank

Clearly, my old systems of coping weren’t working: My desire to obsessively orchestrate my whole life was burning me out.

As a mom, I heard myself snapping at my kids. As a ministry leader, I knew that I was functioning within my call, but I didn’t feel fulfilled. I was tired, even after a regular night’s sleep. And I found myself zoning out during conversations with my husband, because I was mentally making lists of everything I needed to get done.

In short, I ran out of gas.

Maybe the empty tank was God’s way of bringing me to a dead stop, so I would finally pay attention. It worked. God got my attention, and maybe he’s trying to get yours too.

Imagine that it’s you who’s run out of gas. Maybe that doesn’t take much imagining after all, because like me, you’re tired of trying to hold it together. You want to keep it all under control, but things aren’t working out the way you planned.

When you and I began to follow Jesus, we relinquished control over our lives. But because we suffer from the chronic condition known as being human we constantly try to steal that control back.

CEO of Everything

My wake-up call happened when I realized that the battle for my heart was regularly being fought inside the tiny squares of my to-do list.

courtesy of Jennifer Dukes Lee

I began to ask myself this question: “What are the things that, if they were taken away, would shatter the identity I have created?”

Was it my work? My calendar? My efforts to shield my children from pain and suffering? This urge to always say yes?

For me, the answer was: “All of the above.” I was trying to be the CEO of everything.

Jesus delivered a sobering reminder: You will never know if you can trust Me if you don’t give Me the chance to prove it.

Redefining Surrender

I recommitted myself to a life surrendered to Jesus’ plans for my life. But something felt … off … when I considered what surrender truly meant.

I accidentally bought into a weird idea that surrendered living meant mostly that I needed to “do less.” Yet that was unrealistic because so much of life clearly couldn’t be opted out of. People depended on me. I had kids to feed. A house to manage. Books to write.

Most people can’t simply fire their lives and move on when it gets too chaotic. We can’t stop managing a household, cancel all our appointments, and spend the rest of our days on a floatie in the middle of a lake.

Here’s what I began to learn: Surrendered living is much more than “doing less.” It’s being more of who God created us to be.

Yes, I totally need more chill in my life, and maybe you do too. But here’s the full truth about surrender:

Surrender doesn’t come with some unrealistic demand that you are suddenly going to stop being the incredibly brave and brilliant woman that you are. Real surrender appreciates God’s remarkable design in you.

We Need Women Like You

Do you know what a wonder you are?

You don’t settle. You are the sort of woman we can count on to meet a work deadline, organize a food drive, take in the neighbors’ kids during an emergency, drive your coworker to chemo, counsel a friend at 3 a.m. by text message, keep track of everyone’s appointments, and make sure we’re all wearing seat belts before you drive us on the three-day adventure that you single-handedly arranged.

We need you. We need take-charge, charitable women like you as doctors and nurses in operating rooms where details like “proper disinfectant” matter. Let me tell it to you straight: If you have an inner control freak, I’m hoping you’ll let her bust loose like nobody’s business if someone I love is on your operating table. We need responsible women like you to control all the bleeding.

We also need you in charge of schools, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies. We need rock-star women like you to show us that surrender isn’t “lie down in a pile.” It’s “march forward like a warrior.” Sometimes surrendering to God will require you to do the hardest work you’ve ever done in your life: take in another foster child, fight for your marriage, kick cancer where the sun don’t shine, or refuse to capitulate to the persistent drubbing from Satan.

Girl, listen up. We count on you. You are a woman fervently devoted to God’s calling on your life, not only in your work but also in your relationships.

Of course, as Carrie Underwood will sing to you, Jesus is definitely taking the wheel. But make no mistake: There are times when he’s going to ask you to do some driving.

It’s All Under Control

Don’t think of Jesus as your chauffeur; he is more like your driver’s ed coach. He’s there to teach you His rules of the road. Friend, do not fear the wheel. You have been equipped to drive—and Jesus is beside you when you steer the wrong way. Hopefully He will pull the emergency brake if necessary, and I’ve personally put in a request for roads lined with padded walls.
The windows are rolled down, the music is cranked, the tank is full, and there’s something that looks like freedom on the horizon.

courtesy of Jennifer Dukes Lee

Out on the open road, may you feel the reassuring love of Jesus. On this journey toward surrender, you’ll discover that, at last, it really is all under control: God’s.

courtesy of Jennifer Dukes Lee

Jennifer Dukes Lee is the wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, and an author. She loves queso and singing too loudly to songs with great harmony. Once upon a time, she didn’t believe in Jesus. Now, He’s her CEO. Jennifer’s newest book, It’s All Under Control, and a companion Bible study, are releasing today! This is a book for every woman who is hanging on tight and trying to get each day right―yet finding that life often feels out of control and chaotic.

Adapted from It’s All under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible by Jennifer Dukes Lee, releasing this fall from Tyndale House Publishers.

 

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Giveaway!

I’m so excited to be a part of a huge giveaway to celebrate the release of It’s All Under Control. Jennifer and her publisher, Tyndale, are giving away 50 copies of the book in celebration of its release! Enter below to win. Giveaway ends September 30. Winners will be notified by Tyndale House Publishers. Email subscribers can click here to enter.

It’s All Under Control 50 Book Giveaway

The Readers I Have Been (and a nod to Anne Bogel’s new book)

Have you ever thought about the types of reader you’ve been throughout your life?

If you don’t enjoy reading, probably not. (And if that’s you, well, thanks for being here and reading my blog. Your efforts are greatly appreciated!)

Losing myself in a book has always been a favorite pastime of mine. If nothing else proves true about me, I am a reader. Though I’m fairly positive I didn’t emerge from the womb reading, I can’t remember not having my nose stuck in a book. There’s even a picture of three-year-old me “reading” to my younger sister.

In her newly-birthed book, I’d Rather Be Reading, Anne Bogel (aka Modern Mrs. Darcy) references Madeline L’Engle’s belief that a person is a compilation of all the ages he or she has been. Bogel goes on to add an addendum:

 

 

“Just as I am all the ages I have been, I’m all the readers I have been. […] I’ve been many kinds of readers over the years, and I remember them fondly. […] I’m the sum of all these bookish memories.”

I, too, am a sum of all the readers I have been.

The Readers I Have Been

As a kid, I loved the library (still do, actually). My mom, sister, and I visited every week or so; I got lost in the children’s section, thumbing through thousands of titles looking for the next adventure I would embark on.  I always walked out with my arms full of a stack that nearly reached my eyebrows. The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, The Saddle Club, and Mandie are among many of the series I devoured. (Don’t get me started on the ones I wasn’t allowed to read. *ahem* The Babysitters Club *ahem.* I’m still a little bitter about that. Clearly.)

In high school, I was the nerdy kid who lugged her biology textbook to youth group—not because I had a huge assignment to finish before boarding the bus the next morning (I was homeschooled) but because I wanted to finish the work before the prescribed deadline. I waded through the more grown up—but still tame—shelves of Christian fiction at the library: Francine Rivers, Janette Oke, Beverly Lewis (I was obsessed with her many Amish series) were among my favorites.

In college, after a brief stint as an education major, I switched to English. I started to rebel against my evangelical upbringing which frowned upon the likes of Harry Potter and the Twilight series and read them with a close circle of English major and professor friends.  I fell in love with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Frost’s poetry, The Transcendentalists’ essays, Alcott’s Little Women, and so many more. And then there were those I barely tolerated yet was grateful for the expansion they brought to my worldview: Toni Morrison’s Beloved (gave me nightmares for weeks), Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables (I adore ol’ Nathaniel, but this one was a slog to get through), The Red Badge of Courage (I’m not ashamed to say I never finished), Moby Dick, and almost all the British texts I was required to read. And a huge research project gave me reason to pour over all sorts of texts about American Sign Language and Deaf culture.

It was the most saturated reading period of my life. And it was glorious.

Shortly after college, two of my friends and I went on literary tour on the northeastern United States. Haley, Harvin, and I spent nine days soaking up the old hunts of our favorite 19th Century writers: Hawthorne, Alcott, Thoreau, Longfellow, Frost, Emerson, Dickinson, and Twain, and Poe. We traipsed through cemeteries, in and out of author homes, and around Walden Pond. The site of Thoreau’s cabin, Hawthorne’s sky parlor (which brought tears to all of our eyes), and Alcott’s bedroom left us wide-eyed with wonder. We were in our element.

During my late twenties, I fell into a deep depression. I lost my passion and zeal for just about everything, including reading. Survival was my objective. When you’re in survival mode, it’s difficult to find enjoyment in the escape that fiction brings. It’s equally difficult to find the mental stamina to concentrate on nonfiction offering. So I stopped reading. Losing my reading self was one of the hardest aspect of that three-year period. The written word (which Thoreau calls “the choicest of relics”) was like air to me and without it and other things I enjoyed, I withered.

Until someone in a Facebook group introduced me to Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. I picked the book up and suddenly found myself reflected in the mirror of each page. For the first time in years, I began to feel a spark of life reignite in my mind, body, and soul.

I was a reader once again.

The Reader I Am Now

Since that day three years ago, I’ve read nonfiction almost exclusively. My job gives me the opportunity to read, write, and hang out with authors. My inner reader—the child combing the library shelves, the teenager lugging textbooks to youth group, the college student reading hundreds of thousands of words each semester, the depressed young adult who lost her words, and the mid-thirties woman who has finally found her sweet spot—is absolutely giddy.

And when I came upon this little gem of a book by Anne Bogel, it was a no-brainer. A book about readers written by a reader? Sign. me. up. This book showed me the absolute beauty and delight of the reader’s life. Bogel knows readers. She made me realize I have #readinggoals I didn’t even know I had. (Living next door to a library?! Obtaining my lifelong reading records?! YES, please!)

 

I’d Rather Be Reading

Anne knows what makes readers tick (flashlights under covers, TBR stacks, library fees, bookstore visits that last hours, literary road trips…) and she paints our picture just the way we would want: in written words.

If you’re a reader, give yourself the gift of this book.

If you know a reader, hand them this mirror in which they can see the magic and mystery of the readers they have been, are, and will be revealed.

Win a copy of I’d Rather Be Reading!

Guess what, readers? I’m giving away ONE copy of I’d Rather Be Reading

To enter:
-LIKE my public Facebook page if you haven’t already.

-COMMENT on my Facebook post about I’d Rather Be Reading. Tell me about one of your reading phases.

-SHARE my Facebook post about I’d Rather Be Reading

-Follow me on Instagram.

-COMMENT on this blog post and tell me you’ve done all the things above!

I’ll randomly draw a winner on Friday, September 14, 2018 and send the lucky reader this lovely little gift book.

Los Angeles: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 16

We arrived in L.A. late on Saturday, April 15, 2017.

 

Anna and I had a mostly-unspoken understanding on the book tour: if we needed to get somewhere in a hurry or had to navigate big city traffic, she would drive. If she needed a break for a stretch of road that didn’t involve those scenarios, I was happy to take the wheel. So, the fact that I was in the driver’s seat as we approached L.A. was kind of a big deal for me. Neither of us had realized I’d be tasked with navigating L.A. traffic at night, and when we realized it, it was almost too late to do anything about it.

Anna did ask if I wanted to pull over and switch spots, but we were already in the thick of it and the thought of maneuvering to the shoulder made me more nervous than soldiering on. It was nerve-wracking, for sure, but I count weaving through the throngs of cars on a hundred-lane highway at night as one of my proudest accomplishments of the book tour.

(Those were tough days, y’all. Let me have the little things.)

As I’ve struggled with anxiety over the last four-ish years, a weighted blanket has long been on my wish list. When I experience anxiety, I want nothing more than to burrow in bed under a heavy blanket. It’s an innate need that calms me. And because I was still in such an unsettled emotional state, my anxiety was also heightened. All day, I’d wanted nothing more than to burrow, but that’s hard to do in a moving vehicle.

We arrived at our destination and were met warmly by Anna’s sister Sasha. Anna got out of the car first—this was normal; I took my time exiting and let her get all her squealing out of the way. I took a little longer than usual, and she poked her head back in and asked if I was getting out. I told her I’d be right behind her. She closed the door and followed Sasha into the house, informing her, I’m sure, on my current state. Slowly, I pulled the bags I would need for the night out of the car and went inside.

Sasha hugged me as I entered the house and led me to the room where we’d be staying. The rest of the night is a blur, mostly because I went straight to bed. What I found was that the bed was equipped with a heavy down comforter that cocooned me just as I longed for all day.

 

The next morning, I awoke and was immediately hit by a tidal wave of grief. I also realized that it was Easter Sunday. (Another aspect of timing that I have yet to wrap my head around.) I think this was the first day I really became aware of the gravity of my loss. I cried from the time I woke up that morning to the time I crawled back in bed.

Anna brought me coffee, then breakfast, and offered gentle words of understanding (not comfort, mind you (because what comfort would be adequate), but understanding). We talked about how this was the first time I’d lost someone close to me, and my first experience with grief.

We didn’t have any solid plans that day and she encouraged me to stay in bed, rest, and write (more like insisted). She knew as well as I did that I needed to process some of the things swirling around my head.

I stayed put well into the afternoon until Anna came to check on me and see if I wanted to go out with her that evening. This was our chance to see Hollywood—including the infamous sign, so I said yes. I didn’t bother putting on makeup, but I did throw on earrings. I shoved my sunglasses on my face to hide my swollen, leaking eyes and we set off.

 

We cruised down Sunset Blvd…

…Anna signed books at Barnes and Noble and bought her kids Snapchat Spectacles…

 

 

… we met up with a Adam Hawk, a gamer Anna’s sons were acquainted with. (She definitely got cool mom points for that meet-up). Adam served us yummy tacos and flan while we modeled the spectacles…

 

…and, finally, we found the spot to take pictures of the Hollywood sign just before sunset.

 

While we were standing on the side of the road awaiting our turn to take pictures, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a faint rainbow arched across the valley. The very sight of it was a balm for my languishing soul.

Authors in Austin: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 3

After such an exciting Day 2, the book tour was headed back to Dallas for a few days before we officially started our nonstop road trip.

We would trade Anna’s tiny car for a bigger SUV (a sorely needed upgrade to contain us and our stuff for four months), pack up all our supplies, and rest up. Anna also had an NPR radio interview with Kris Boyd that week.

But before we left Austin on Day 3, we had a few important meet-ups scheduled.

One of my most favorite aspects of the book tour was meeting other authors face-to-face. On this day, we made our way to Starbucks to meet Candice Curry, a blogger I’d followed for several years, and author of the then forthcoming memoir, The Con Man’s Daughter. As we sat under the shade of an umbrella outside, Candice and Anna shared some weirdly parallel parts of their stories (which I guess should be expected when you sit at a table with the polygamist’s daughter and the con man’s daughter).

Time passed quickly and before we knew it, three hours were gone. Anna wanted to do a Facebook Live with Candice before we parted ways, so we jumped in Candice’s car—me in the driver’s seat and the two of them crammed in the second row—laughing at the absurdity of the situation.

We said goodbye to Candice, made a quick lunch stop, and continued to our next meet-up.

This time we met pastor and Tyndale author Chuck Tate. Chuck had invited Anna to speak at his church and that stop was on the books for May. He and his family were in town from Indiana, so we took the opportunity to meet while they were in Texas.

We gathered in the lobby of their hotel to chat for a bit, and, again, we did a quick Facebook Live video before departing.

As became our routine throughout the tour, we stopped at a few Barnes & Noble stores along the way home so Anna could sign the stock copies of her book and ask the staff to post a picture on their social media accounts.

This was also the day that Anna discovered my unappreciative attitude toward 80’s music.

After a full and fun day, we finally arrived home and slept in our own beds for a few nights.

~*~

You can find more information about Candice Curry and her book, The Con Man’s Daughter, here. (I highly recommend this memoir! )

And learn more about Chuck Tate and his book, 41 Will Come, here. (I haven’t read it yet, but I’m excited to get to it!)

Austin Surprises: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 2

As the one-year anniversary of the #EpicBookTourTPD rolls around, my Facebook and Timehop apps are bringing the memories back. Since I never reached a healthy enough mental and emotional state to write about all the adventures the book tour boasted, I’m excited to dish all the details of spending four solid months on the road.

Well….

Maybe not all of them.

Some things that happen on the road, stay on the road.

I wrote about Day 1 of the tour several months ago, so you can catch up here.

Now, on to Day 2 in Austin, TX:

After staying the night with Taylor and Michael in Temple, we readied ourselves to head to Austin for Anna’s second Barnes and Noble book signing. A storm was brewing, and we were drenched after throwing our suitcases in the truck—and of course we had to stop for gas. It wasn’t raining a polite shower. No, this was a downpour—rain coming down in sheets and heavy winds.

We arrived in Austin, changed clothes in the B&N restroom and prepared to greet people. Many of our #the4500 tribe attended the signing—so many that if I start naming them, I’ll leave someone out—along with several of Anna’s siblings and friends from when she lived in Austin.

I stayed to the back of the crowd mostly, chatting with people and taking pictures. About halfway into the event, one of the #the4500 mamas, Jana, snuck up behind me as she arrived and threw her arm around me in a one-sided hug.

“Guess who I brought with me?” she whispered in my ear.

I turned to look at her, wide-eyed–and saw Brandon and Jen Hatmaker standing behind her. Stunned, I whipped around to look at Anna in front of us, my mouth wide open. I’d barely laid eyes on her when she saw them, and her mouth dropped open.

Gathering my wits, I lifted the camera that hung around my neck and started shooting, rapid-fire, at the shock and surprise written all over Anna’s as Jen approached with arms outstretched.

Best. Surprise. Ever.

I’m giddy just sitting here thinking about it a year later.

The Hatmakers hung around for a bit, getting their copy of TPD autographed and chatting with #the4500 tribe. Right before we left the house, Anna and I had dashed back inside to get our advanced copies of Jen’s newest book, Of Mess and Moxie, because we had a review deadline while on the tour. Anna couldn’t find hers, so we only had mine. I dashed out to the car to grab it so Jen could sign it.

When she asked to whom she should autograph it, I laughed and replied, “Well, Anna’s going to be salty if you don’t address it to both of us since she doesn’t have hers, so I guess you’d better sign it to both of us.”

Jen happily obliged.

Thus, Anna and I joke that if ever our friendship should end, we have a shared book baby to battle over custody of. Ha!

After the signing, we had dinner with a few of our tribe, then headed to stay the night at Anna’s sister, Estephania’s house for the night.

~*~

To be continued…

What I Read in 2017

My list was shorter than most this year. You know, since I was kind of busy and traumatized all year. I’d set a goal to read 30 books this year, but it just did not happen.

Let’s get to it!

January

The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst

Let me be honest–I know that this book held some deep truths for me when I read it, but one event-filled year later, I barely remember them. In fact, I just paused to flip through it again to jog my memory. I’m a little sorry I did, but also very glad I did. Numerous pages are turned down, sentences underlined, and expletives ranging from “Yes!” and “Whoa.” to “Damn,” “Yikes!” and “What the actual hell?” pepper the margins. Apparently, there were things in that book I need to hear (and probably still do.) This quote, in particular, stands out:

Friend, you are strong. You are persevering, tough, able to bend without breaking…a courageous gal, one who wants to learn the deep dependence of following hard after God Himself…From that cracked-open-heart place, a God-breathed strength will rise. Rise. Rise. And help you spit in Satan’s face as you declare, ‘You picked the wrong woman to mess with this time!’

When I read this on January 18, 2017, the timing amazed me, according to the note I made in the margin. I knew in my bones it was going to be a tough year; I didn’t realize just how tough it would be. And the words in this paragraph? They sounded inspiring a year ago, but I’ve felt the exact opposite of the picture they paint over the course of this year. Maybe I need to read this one again?

And the Day Came by Dr. Lynnette Simm

I led a re-launch campaign for this memoir in January and February of 2017. A Dallas-area college professor, Dr. Simm tells her story of finding healing in the aftermath of childhood trauma and abuse.

February

For Real: Navigating Truth Through Trials by Kerrie Oles

For Real was my first official solo book launch–and it was a blast! (I also did my first Facebook Live video with Kerrie–that was fun, too!) In the book, Kerrie asks REAL questions about how we react when faced with unexpected trials as she digs into the biblical story of Job–a man who continued to worship even as he was stripped of everything. How do we react when it seems as though the world is falling apart around us? How do we maintain our belief that God is for us and not against us? She takes a deeper look at the book of Job and his reactions to unexpected circumstances. Kerrie’s writing style is laid-back and conversational—with a hefty dose of humor for good measure! [I should DEFINITELY read this one again.]

(And hey, Kerrie! If you’re reading this: my book still isn’t signed! Coffee date??)

March

Love Lives Here by Maria Goff

You know that lovable guy with a goofy grin who wrote Love Does? Yeah–his name’s Bob Goff and his wife, Sweet Maria, wrote this treasure. I participated on the launch team for this one (led by book launch guru Anna LeBaron). Maria is, indeed, sweet and her hospitable personality saturates the pages of this book. She tells the story of how she fulfills her passion for creating a welcoming home while Bob is out adventuring. Maria writes,

I’m like a carrot.  I stay in one place and grow deep and long. I live most of my life under he surface…Bob, on the other hand, is like a guy shout out of a cannon. Every morning he climbs in, points toward the biggest collection of people he can find, and lights the fuse. Shoot a carrot out of a cannon and you have a bad salad. Plant a cannonball and you’ll go hungry…Figure out what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at.

And the last sentence of the book… [insert crying emoji here]

April

Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker (ARC)

Of course I was on the launch team for my girl Jen’s new book! Anna and I read this one on the road during the Epic Book Tour; I read aloud while she drove for the most part. When we read the chapter where Jen described the paradox of her introversion and her hubby, Brandon’s, extroversion, we laughed so hard our faces hurt! (That chapter hit a little close to home as we spent months together in the car–one of us 100% extroverted and the other highly introverted!) Once again, with wit and whimsy, tenderness and tenacity, JHat balances the sacred and the sarcastic, giving her readers permission to admit their messes and live with unashamed moxie. Of Mess and Moxie was cathartic and refreshing, leaving me with a sense of having spent an afternoon with a familiar friend. (And the recipes she scatters throughout give me life.)

May

Love You From Right Here by Jamie Sandefer

This was the second and last launch team I led in 2017.  Love You From Right Here is a keepsake book for children in the foster system. To write a children’s book that so perfectly and succinctly navigates the complexities of foster care (for both foster parent and foster child) is no small feat, but Jamie  accomplished exactly that. This book has already filled a much-needed gap in resources provided to and for foster families. This sweet book grabbed me by the heart from the moment I first heard about it and continues to draw me into a state of wanting to do whatever I can to get it in the hands of those who need it most.

July 

Speak by Nish Weiseth

While on the road, a few weeks before we returned to Salt Lake City for the second time, I was scrolling Instagram one night while Anna was speaking at a book club. (No judging–by that point, I’d heard her story enough times to tell it myself, complete with her hand gestures to punctuate particular points. Even now, lines from her talk are running through my head.) Anyway–I found that Nish had commented on another author’s post about Anna’s book, The Polygamist’s Daughter. Impulsively, I messaged Nish and told her we were headed back to SLC and would love to connect her with Anna, suggesting that we could meet for coffee. Y’all. Never did I think she would actually respond! But she did. We traded a few emails and set a date to meet while we were in town. You can read my full review of Speak here. It was the only book that got its own post this year.

 

September

Stolen Jesus by Jami Amerine

I’d been following Jami on Facebook since early 2017 and found her hilarious. She often shares stories about her youngest boys, whom she refers to as “vandals.” They crack me up. But her more serious posts also spoke deeply to me. So  when the opportunity arose to be on her launch team for Stolen Jesus, I jumped on it. Jami is also another author I heard speak and was able to meet this year.

I was kind of amused by the review I posted on Goodreads, so I’ll just drop it here:

Are you frustrated by trying to be a good enough Christian? Do you hold Jesus at arm’s length, suspiciously gazing at him with one eye closed? Does your relationship with Him lend itself to a spiritual crisis a la Friends’ Ross and Rachel: We were ON A BREAK!
What if it isn’t the REAL Jesus you’re looking at?
In Stolen Jesus, Jami Amerine examines several versions of Jesus that we modern believers have dreamt up–the psuedo Jesus(es) who demand our deeds in exchange for His grace, our checklists for His blood. Once she “broke up with Jesus,” she was able to get to know Him more deeply than before. She urges her reader to strip away all the preconceived notions we have, simply stare into the face of Real Jesus, and hear what He has to say to us.
Amerine writes with the same wit and humor that draws readers to her blog and shares embarrassingly honest stories to illustrate her points. Consequently, Stolen Jesus will make you laugh and cry–maybe even simultaneously.

(I thought I was pretty clever with the Ross and Rachel analogy?!)

October

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon

Jan Karon still holds first place on my list of favorite contemporary fiction authors. Even after 14 books in the series, opening one of these hefty novels is like coming home all over again. One day, Karon will stop writing the Mitford story (perhaps she already has with this latest offering–she’s threatened that the last few have been the end, but keeps surprising her faithful readers with one more trip up the mountain), and there will be a time of mourning. You think I’m kidding. I’m not!

November

The Dream of You by Jo Saxton (ARC)

This one will get it its own post in the coming days, but the very short story is that I’ve admired Jo for a lot of years (learning about her through a mutual friend and hearing her speak at IF Gathering the last two years) but this is the first book I’ve read of hers. I’m on the launch team for this and had the privilege of meeting Jo in November as well. Bottom line: this was exactly the book that I needed to read as 2017 came to an end (I just finished it today, but it counts for 2017’s list because I read the bulk of it before the New Year!). Jo’s words met me precisely where I am and affirmed many thoughts that are rolling around my head these days. [Releases January 23, 2018]

December

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis (ARC)

The cover of this book is just plain fun, as is the title. Rachel is a popular lifestyle blogger who founded The Chic Site. In this book (which I’m on the launch team for, shocker), Rachel uses each chapter to confront a lie she has believed about herself and shares how she learned to replace them with truth instead. Some of the chapters didn’t apply to me, so I skipped them. I was able to read it in one afternoon, but definitely could have taken it slower in order to process each chapter more deeply–something I am planning to revisit for a few chapters in particular. Rachel uses humor and honesty to show her readers that they are “ultimately responsible for who [they] become and how happy [they] are.” [Releases February 6, 2018]

That’s it, folks. A whole eleven books for 2017. Here’s to more reading in 2018!

Five Minute Friday: Speak


It’s time for the Five Minute Friday link up again! The rules, as usual, are that you write for five minutes with no editing. Today’s prompt is “Speak.” Here we go.

One of the best aspects of the Epic Book Tour was meeting authors from all over the country. I always have and always will be in awe of anyone who manages to wrangle their thoughts into a whole collection of words that becomes a book.

When we were in Salt Lake City this July, Anna and I had the opportunity to have coffee with Nish Weiseth one afternoon. This came about after I saw Nish’s comment about Anna’s book on another author’s social media and sent her a message asking if she’d like to meet when we were in town a few weeks later. (I TOTALLY did not expect to hear back from her). Since I’ve not mentioned that on any of my social media platforms, I thought I’d give her a shout out today.


Nish is funny, opinionated, laid-back, smart, sassy, and passionate. She loves her city and the people in it—which was clear in the couple of hours we spent with her.

Her book, Speak: How our Story Can Change the World (aptly titled for today’s FMF prompt) was published in 2014. Nearly four years later, her message of the power of story in connecting to those around us is relevant and true in light of current events:

With relationship comes trust and faith between friends. This is the missing piece of the evangelism puzzle that we’ve been looking for. Most of us who grew up in or around church and Christian culture have been told that the cross of Jesus is a salvation bridge between us and God. Some of us have handed out our tracts and cold-called strangers on the street to tell them about the glorious salvation of Jesus Christ. But really, it’s a lot simpler than that. Evangelism should simply be another by-product of genuine relationship with others…of understanding that ensures the conversation will be built on love.

What a lovely conversation that is.

If you’d like to learn more about Nish, you can find her at www.NishWeiseth.com, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

(Oh—and if her name trips you up, “it’s Nish, like fish.”)

Stones Of Remembrance: A Book Review

Books and words have always been an integral part of my life. They are my second skin, my place of solace, my preferred activity. Lately, new forms of this passion have taken over—launch teams and eBooks—both of which were foreign to me a year ago. Really, if you don’t count #the4500’s rogue involvement in unofficially launching Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love, I wasn’t even part of an official launch team until last November. And until now, I’ve just flat-out refused to read eBooks, because I’m stubborn and they are against my literary religion. Now? I’m on my fourth launch team in four months, and (gasp) just finished reading my second eBook of the year—Stones of Remembrance by Julie Presley.

I’ve had Stones of Remembrance on my to-read list for months—since I found out that Julie (who is a friend from #the4500) was an author, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. A few weeks ago, an email from Julie landed in my inbox—and in it was an eBook version of Stones of Remembrance. I started reading it that night. I don’t know what I expected from Stones of Remembrance, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be as powerfully relatable as it was.

(FYI—any new subscribers to her email list get a copy of the Stones eBook. Go to her website, juliepresley.com, and give the woman your email address, people. She’s not spammy or annoying. Promise. You won’t regret it.)

Here’s the thing: I grew up on a heavy literary diet of Christian fiction. If it could be found on the inspirational or Christian fiction shelf of the library in the mid 90’s-2005, I’ve probably read it. As an English major in college, I dove into more classic literary works and found them so much more “meaty”—they made me think critically and view the world through different lenses. They became far more inviting than the glossy, easily-resolved Christian fiction I’d been accustomed to reading.

For me, the problem with typical Christian fiction is that it really doesn’t give room for characters to struggle with their faith. There might be an internal conflict or two, but it’s usually very brief and resolved quickly without much tension.

41g-gynckol-_sx371_bo1204203200_Not so in Stones of Remembrance. This story follows Allaya as she returns to her childhood vacation home for the purpose of reconnecting with God after being estranged from her family. Allaya wrestles with long-held pain, questioning God’s plan and seeking to reconcile her heart to His—and He talks back to her. The same is true for another central character, Finn—a childhood friend of Allaya’s who is trying his best to run from the voice of God. Yes, God has a speaking part in this book. And it is powerful. Over and over, as both Allaya and Finn bring their questions before their Heavenly Father, the response they hear is one of unwavering love and compassion. The back-and-forth nature of their conversations with God is sometimes agonizing—depicting the reality that God doesn’t always speak when we want Him to, or give us the answer we want right away.

Julie writes each scene with depth; her use of imagery pulls you into the story. She has found a perfect balance between believable characters and riveting plot lines. She builds in scriptural truths without sounding cheesy, old-fashioned, or pious. And when it comes to relational tension? She’s got that down, too.

Stones of Remembrance is edgy; it’s “not your mama’s Christian fiction.” It’s real. It’s honest. It’s authentic.

~*~

You can get your hands on a copy of Stones of Remembrance by joining Julie’s email subscription at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

I’d love to hear what you think about the book if you read it!

Connect with Julie on Facebook.

You can also check out Julie’s latest project, Nor Forsake, here.