A Free Indeed Book Flight

A book flight is a curated sampling of reading material that shares some defining quality: theme, setting, time frame, subject matter, etc. Like a beverage flight, the samples are selected with care and presented together intentionally with the purpose of expanding the sampler’s horizons, developing literary discernment, and encouraging reflection and analysis as she considers, compares, and contrasts each book.

Ever year, MOPS International puts out a theme that guides the content for individual groups around the world who are working to encourage and equip moms of young children to realize their potential as women, mothers, and leaders. The last two years have brought themes I found to be very in touch with the heartbeat and struggles of women in general, not just moms. This year’s theme – Free Indeed – is no different.

And because I’m a total nerd, my mind goes to all the books that speak directly to the theme and three focuses for the year – Let Love Be The Loudest Voice, Be Gutsy, and Go First. Even if you’re not a mom, we all want to experience freedom and love. These books will point you in the right direction.

Just to be clear – this post is not endorsed or sponsored by MOPS International. I’m just a MOPS participant who thinks in books. :)

FREEDOM

What do you long for? What is the thing that your heart craves? Is it possible that your deepest desire is to be free? Free from worry. Free from feeling stuck. Free from hustling to be loved. Free from a heaviness you can’t put your finger on. Free from thinking you should be someone other than exactly who you are. At the core, maybe what we are all longing for is to be Free Indeed.

Wild and Free: A Hope-Filled Anthem for the Woman Who Feels She Is Both Too Much and Not Enough by Haley Morgan and Jess Connolly

Two very different women have united to share their belief that God calls us to be both wild, “walking in who God created us to be,” and free, “resting in what Jesus has done for us.” In alternating perspectives, Jess and Hayley talk about the hurts, insecurities and fears that cause us to feel like too much or not enough and the grace that covers them all. Maybe my favorite part of the book is a short, 14 line anthem to being wild and free.

Mom Set Free: Find Relief from the Pressure to Get It All Right by Jeannie Cunnion

This newer release (August 2017) seemed tailor made for Free Indeed (even the feather on the cover fits with the bird graphics MOPS is using this year) so I pre-ordered it and found myself acting like a bobblehead, nodding along to all Jeannie’s words. The desire (and resulting struggle) to be a perfect mom is real. With that desire comes fear – fear that you’r not doing it right, that you’ll ruin your kids, that you’re just not good enough. Mom Set Free addresses these fears and struggles with freedom and Truth. Jeannie is also the author of Parenting The Wholehearted Child.

Deeper Waters: Immersed in The Life-Changing Truth of God’s Word by Denise J. Hughes

“This book is about determining in our hearts to study God’s Word and obey God’s voice because, when we do, we’re set free from the brokenness that binds us and the sinful patterns that permeate our choices” (126). I might contend that this book is about more than that, but it’s hard to argue that God’s Word holds the key (Jesus!) to freedom.

Deeper Waters is a well crafted memoir interspersed with a teacher’s (Denise is an adjunct professor at a SoCal university) heart to share her knowledge about how to study and connect with the Bible. Even though her story has been punctured with a lot of heartache, Denise’s stories are permeated with a gentleness that is so enticing. I love her simple method of studying the Bible (I’ve done one of her Word Writers studies) and have enjoyed incorporating it into my own time with God.

LET LOVE BE THE LOUDEST VOICE

We will bask in the freedom of living loved by understanding who God is, and who we are because of it. We will be free from the need to hustle for our worth, and we will live in the truth that we are already loved and loveable, without all the striving. We will parent with fresh perspective and will treat ourselves with tenderness, because love is the loudest voice we hear, and it is proclaiming freedom and favor.

Love Does by Bob Goff

If you follow Bob Goff at all, you’ll notice he has a certain joie de vivre that lingers around himself and his work. How could you not when you’re office is at Disneyland? He puts hands and feet on love in a way that is contagious and confusing (because who sends flowers to the person who rammed their vehicle so hard it made them airborne?). Love Does is the kind of book you almost wish you hadn’t read because it will cause you to reevaluate life and how you live it.

Jesus Prom: Life Gets Fun When You Love People Like God Does by Jon Weece 

“He [Jon Weece] talks about the power of being present in people’s lives and the beauty of living a life of availability and inconvenience,” says Bob Goff in the introduction. Jon is a pastor of a large church in Kentucky and a darn good story teller. He uses that skill to champion the importance of love in the life and ministry of believers in Christ. Bonus: the book has a grammar theme (makes more sense when you read it, but think verbs, nouns, adverbs in relation to love). I cried and underlined my way through the stories and recommend it all the time. It’s another one of those books you almost wish you hadn’t read because it will prompt change and action.

Speak Love by Annie F. Downs

I’ve always enjoyed words and been pretty good at manipulating them to communicate. I like the creativity inherent in choosing words and witnessing them connect to others. But it wasn’t until I became a mom that I truly saw how powerfully words can effect others, both negatively and positively. It’s always gut-wrenching to watch my kiddos crumple under the weight of my words when I lose my temper and it’s a delight to see them snuggle into the security of gentle, kind speech. Not matter what age or stage we are, we have the ability to speak love, as well as do love (like Bob!). With her trademark humor and honesty, Annie Downs takes on the power of words in Speak Love.

BE GUTSY

Sometimes we don’t take responsibility for our lives. We carry the weight of expectations, feeling out of control over the pace and trajectory of our days. Being gutsy is about realizing that you get to decide how busy you are, what you say yes to, what is best for your family and what you make a priority in your mothering. The truth is, we have more authority to shape our daily lives than we think we do. Your life can match your values and your passions, it will just take some guts to make it happen.

Daring Greatly: How The Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brené Brown 

Brené Brown’s entire body of work would fit nicely in the Free Indeed theme so it was hard to choose one book. No one can describe this book better than Brené: “Daring Greatly is about what it takes to bust through the fear of not being good enough and not being perfect enough and not being bullet-proof enough, the fear of failing. Instead of asking yourself what would you do if you couldn’t fail, ask yourself what’s worth doing even if I fail?”

Reading People: How Seeing The World Through The Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel

A book about personality may not be an obvious pick for this category, but I’ve found that having a deeper understanding of who I am and how I relate to others helps me make wiser, more gutsy, choices in life and parenting. Anne, of Modern Mrs. Darcy, gives and engaging, clear overview of 8 personality frameworks and does a great job of illustrating how you use this information to not only learn about yourself, but also understand how you interact with others. I’ve already returned to the chapters on cognitive functions and the Enneagram multiple times.

You still have time to pre-order and get good bonuses (like the audiobook, read byAnne, free and access to her Reading Personality class). This gem releases 9/19.

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist

I will read anything Shauna writes. Present Over Perfect, her fifth book, is a bit more prescriptive than the descriptive narrative running throughout her other books, but my soul will always resonate with simplicity and slow-living. While the entire book fits right in with the idea of being gutsy, I keep returning to one of the first chapters entitled You Put Up The Chairs. Shauna starts with a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald that perfectly describes what it means to be gusty in the context of Free Indeed: “I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you are not, I hope you have the strength to start all over.”

GO FIRST

It is a fact that freedom is contagious. That is why we are choosing to go first in order to spark a revolution of women who are choosing freedom over fear. Going first is about being courageous enough to take steps before you are ready, to share the details of your journey, to extend invitations and conquer fears, and lead the way for friends and kids and family. In fact, one of the best ways to advocate for others’ freedom is to go first ourselves, and then we can share with courage and honesty because we have found the keys of freedom. We will go first so that we can set other captives free.

Permission To Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace by Anne Jackson

One of my best friends has the spiritual gift of being vulnerable (I totally made that spiritual gift up but I do think it’s a legit gift). We’ve been friends since childhood and she’s always been willing to go first in sharing her struggles with me and those around her. Anne Jackson would call this “going first” as giving the gift of seconds. It’s always easier to do something when someone else has gone before you, paving the way. Ten plus years after reading Permission To Speak Freely, I’m still thinking about this book.

People of The Second Chance: A Guide To Bringing Life-Saving Love To The World by Mike Foster

People of The Second Chance is an ode to grace and love and the freedom that is inherent in our identity as one beloved by God. It could have easily been in the Let Love Be The Loudest Voice category, but Mike goes first by sharing details about his own life that squeezed my heart, making me reflect on the parts of my own life that are equally broken and in need of the second chance we have in Christ. I particularly resonated with Chapter Six about changing our inner dialogue.

Many of these fit within multiple categories and there are so many books I haven’t read that would be keeping with the Free Indeed theme. Have you read any these or have suggestions for this book flight? 

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Poo Piles and Other Fears

James is ready. He’s been ready. I, on the other hand, am so not ready. Potty training has been on our parenting radar for months now, but we keep putting it off for various reasons, some more legitimate than others.

For awhile, I thought my reluctance stemmed from the hassle of it all. The mess. The time. The energy. In reality, I don’t really mind the idea of him running around nudie for large portions of the day – that’s not much less clothing than he prefers to be in these days anyways. I don’t mind adding to his sugar intake for every successful toilet venture. I don’t even mind being sequestered in my kitchen for days on end.

The real reason I don’t want to potty train my two-year-old came to me while I was elbow deep in dish water. I am scared that I will fail.  What if I try to potty train James and, after a week, I’m left with a house full of poo piles and a kid who’s still in diapers?  So, I have yet to try.

fear

Pushing suds around plates and silverware, I began thinking of all the things I don’t do because I’m afraid I’ll fail. I don’t attempt new hobbies, like dancing, because I might not be good at it (or I might not be good at first or I might look like a goof trying). I don’t pursue new friendships because I might not be someone they like. I don’t always write because I might have completely lost my ability to string words together.

As a fairly self-aware perfectionist, non of this is mind-blowing news. It may take a while for me to recognize fear as the source of my reluctance, but it’s not a surprise when I finally make the connection.

What I hadn’t processed previous to that evening, standing in front of my sink with my white rubber gloves on, was how fear of failure effects my faith. Contrary to what my subconscious tells me, my relationship with God does not come out unscathed by such a prevailing pattern in my life.

Sometimes I don’t pray because I’m afraid nothing will happen. Sometimes I don’t say anything because I’m afraid I won’t have the right words. Sometimes I don’t help because I’m afraid it won’t make a difference.

Examined out of the context of my fear, those statements show a selfish, skewed view of my Heavenly Father that I’m rather embarrassed by. I’m thankful that His grace covers my failings. I may still end up with poo piles, but God’s love is greater, stronger than my fears.

Marriage and the Phlebotomist

Marriage

Getting my blood drawn ranks right up there with vomiting on the list of things I hate.  After putting off some follow-up blood work I needed to get done for far too long, the dread had become more all consuming than my distaste of the procedure. So I decided to pull off the proverbial band-aid last week, which is why I was found dutifully sitting in a crowded lab office.

My fellow blood-letters were mostly from a previous generation. The powerful scent of aftershave and Chanel No.5 filled the space not taken up by walkers and puffy jackets. They make conversation with each other about their Power Ball lottery losses, raising gravely voices over the morning news playing on the TV above our heads. While I decide whether to distract myself with Instagram or let all the ambient noises lull me into a false sense of security, I hear my name called from around the corner.

A woman my own age ushers me down the hallway. She reminds me of a girl I knew growing up. Her trim, athletic figure looks enviably good in scrubs; their plumb hue complimenting her unadorned olive skin and bright eyes. We turn into an empty room. I slide off my jacket and take a seat in the chair trying not to stare at the lone vial of someone else’s blood standing sentinel in the collection tray. The phlebotomist asks a few preliminary questions. When I tell her my birthdate, she looks up and smiles, “I’m a five too.”

Pleasantries aside, I push up both sleeves and we begin the banter that always ensues when I give blood…

“Do you have an arm preference?” She unwraps a needle and gets some tubes ready.

“No. I tend to be a difficult stick.”

“What’s your dominant hand?”

“Right,” I reply.

“Dominant sides generally have bigger veins. Do you mind if I do your right arm?”

I clench my right fist and she feels around for a few seconds.

“I think I’ll use a different needle.” The cold sweat begins.

She goes back to the drawer and unwraps another package. Taking off a glove, she hones back in on a spot in the crook of my right arm.

“Well, I think I found one. It’s a little rolly. I bet most people don’t find it because they won’t take off their gloves.”

I can feel my face blanch at the mention of rolly and I don’t hear her finish the sentence. I’ve already been doing deep breathing to keep my heart rate normal, but the thought of her having to fish for my rolly vein makes me feel nauseous. I don’t want to experience the two things I hate most in the same day.  

I’m not sure if she sensed my panic or if she was just being courteous, but she turned around to close the curtain separating the room and the busy hallway, muttering something about privacy. I am thankful that if I do happen to pass out vomit there will be only one witness my shame.

“You’re doing great.” I let my eyes drift away from the glove boxes I’d been staring at over my left shoulder and look at her in surprise. I hadn’t even felt her put the needle in.

As she attached the last vial to be filled, she asked what I had going on the rest of the day. She worked steadily – sliding the needle out of my arm, holding a cotton ball to the puncture site, taping the cotton ball in place –  and listened quietly as I explained I’d be hanging out with my 3 month and two year old.

Her next question took me by surprise.

“Do you like being married?” She paused and before I could answer, added, “Marriage kinda scares me.”

“It’s good. I really like it,” I said lamely.

I’m not sure if she felt a special camaraderie with me because we shared the same birth month or I looked like someone she could confide in, but she continued her line of questioning.  “Marriage kinda scares me. I’ve just been hurt really bad, you know? How did you know he was the right one?”

I stared at her for a moment, wondering how we jumped from what I’d be doing this afternoon to how I knew Tim was the one. While she threw away needles and added my vials of blood to the collection tray, I replayed June 10th to October 30th, 2011 in my mind as quickly as possible, searching for a decent answer. I wasn’t sure I actually had an answer.

Was Tim the right one because he met all the criteria on my list? (Yes, I had created a physical list that I still possess.) Was Tim the right one because our relationship survived a week long camping trip with his family? Was Tim the right one because both of us happened to be available at the same time?

My brief replay of history didn’t yield much fruit, but this felt like one of those God-ordained opportunities to have a meaningful conversation and I didn’t want to blow it. I wish I could say I came up with a profound answer that gave this woman hope and enthusiasm for future relationships. In actuality, my response was lacklustre and riddled with the religious jargon I was meaning to avoid. I slid my jacket back on and walked into the hallway a little reluctantly, feeling like I had indeed blown it.

How do you explain to someone that marriage is created by a God who loves us and wants to be intimately involved in our lives; that marriage is hard and doesn’t preclude you from getting hurt; that marriage is less about finding the right one and more about finding a person who always points you to the Right One

I guess you say just that.

Here’s to hoping she becomes my regular phlebotomist.

the intimacy of reading

The intimacy of reading

I can see the warm light of our living room lamp casting a halo like glow over a basket of books.  I can see the low white bookshelf in my Gramma’s spare room, filled with Angelina Ballerina and other mouse books. I can see the bright yellow cover of my One Year Bible that my mom read out of every night before bed.

Some of my earliest memories are tied to reading and books.Those memories are indicative of a lifelong love of literature. I desire to instill a similar love in James and any future children. We make reading to him a priority, a priority that is easy to keep.

I love the intimacy of reading with James, snuggling as close as his squirmy little body will allow. I treasure the proximity we share as I turn the pages and he grabs and pulls, more intent on eating than absorbing content.

I love watching him engage with the pages, grasping and patting. Sometimes he just stares at the colors, other times he helps me turn the page, eager to discover what’s next. I love watching him learn and grow. When we first started reading together, he was an infant – just a lump of baby flesh in my arms, barely able to stay awake for my recitation of Barnyard Dance.

As he matures, he is more attentive, more aware. He focuses and anticipates the discovery of something new on the next page. Sometimes I point things out to him – the pretty flower, the funny face. Other times I let him discover on his own, waiting patiently for him to find bumble bee or lift the flap to see what’s underneath.

He wiggles and wrestles. He sits and snuggles. He may last through the whole book or he may start crying before we reach the second page.  Even if he doesn’t notice the words or understand the plot, even if he gets distracted or upset, I am always thankful for the time we spend together with a book in front of us.

I wonder if God experiences our time in the Word like I experience reading with James?

I think He cherishes the intimacy developed as we crack open the Bible, lean into Scripture, and rest in His truths.

I think God loves watching us engage with the pages of Scripture, eager to discover what’s next. He is pleased to see us learning and growing.

In our infancy, we are a lump in His Father arms, being bottle fed the words. As we mature as Christ-followers, we become more attentive, more aware.

Sometimes He points things out to us. Sometimes He lets us work things out on our own, waiting patiently for us to discover truth and wisdom.

Sometimes we wriggle and wrestle with discomfort as we read. Other times we sit in silence. We may gobble up chapters or chew on a verse. Sometimes we just sit in God’s lap and cry without having read one word.

Even if we get distracted or upset, God still cherishes the time we spend with Him, His Word in front of us.

Free, at last.

free, at last

This all begins and ends in 2nd Timothy.

The Word of God is not imprisoned.

2 Timothy 2:9

We let our culture and our own finite understanding capture the Word of God, keeping it in chains. But, the Word is FREE and it brings FREEDOM to all who hear.

We let our sin habits shackle God’s truth. Our repeated offenses trap us in harmful patterns, when Scripture offers a lovely tapestry of truths to set our hearts free.

I think of my body image issues – how I’ve let culture complicate my relationship with my body, how I’ve let the world define my beauty and value, how I’ve let my physical appearance become an idol that distracts me from the Creator.

I have bound and gagged the Word of God that says I am (we are all) fearfully and wonderfully made.

There is sweet release when we really live out the truth that God’s works are wonderful – including us! God’s word gives us permission to love what He has created, to love our bodies, our features, our uniquenesses, because they reflect God as a Father and an artist.

The worth of a person is not bound up in their physical appearance. I believe that about others; why has it taken 27 years for me to believe this about myself?

God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face, God looks at the heart.

1 Samuel 16:7

Dwelling on the implications of that truth has been one of the most life giving gifts of freedom I’ve experienced lately. When I let go of fitting into a certain physical mold, I am free.

I am free from the pressure to be pretty because my value comes from my Creator, not the created.

I am free to be cherished right now, not just when I’m finally that size or photogenic or wearing that top.

I am free to enjoy a bowl of ice cream in the evening without worrying about it going straight to my bum.

I am free to feel good about myself even if I don’t wear the same pant size I did in high school.

I am free to not fit into some of my pre-preggo clothes.

I am even free to give away some of those pre-preggo clothes that I may not ever fit into again.

I am free to be healthy and strong and build muscle.

I am free to not count calories.

I am free to like my body even if I don’t have a flat stomach or a model physique.

I am free to buy clothes that fit and flatter regardless of the size.

I am free to have seasons of feasting and seasons of fasting.

I am free to not be the “prettiest,” blondest girl in every room.

I am free to be me and not to be her.

I am free to enjoy life without focusing on what I look like.

I am free to be God’s fearfully and wonderfully made creation.

~~~

Small shifts in thinking can lead to major transformation. And, when you aren’t always cognitive of those shifts taking place (or dismiss them as insignificant because they are so small), you wake up one morning and marvel at the new outlook you seem to have adopted overnight.

Start with one small shift towards accepting the freedom we have in Christ. One morning you may find yourself marveling at the transformation God made in your heart.

I know I have.

The Word of God is not imprisoned. Let it set you free.

photo credit: greekadman via photopin cc