Choosing a Book Rhythm That’s Right for You

Well, then. I think one thing we’ve established is that Chatting at the Sky readers really like to talk about books. I loved hearing your advice about which book I should read from my 10 best books I’ve never read list.

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Several of you mentioned how you choose what to read next depends on your mood, your season of life, and state of mind. I couldn’t agree more.

Meema even mentioned she can’t have a fiction and a non-fiction book going at the same time. “I can’t mix them,” she says, “like a kid who won’t allow her food to touch on her plate.” So interesting!

I thought it would be fun to tell you how I decide when to read which books and then ask how you do it in the comments.

Personally, I don’t mind if my books touch (that still kills me, Meema!) and I actually prefer having several books going at once. Instead, what book I pick up depends on the time of day.

morning reads

1. Morning – Reflective or Theological

Sometimes I’ll get up in the 5s before the kiddos and I’ll have lots of time to read. Other times my morning reading only happens once they head off to school. Whether I have five minutes or an hour, I always choose something reflective in the morning, usually devotional, theological, or memoir. (The Bible, Ann Patchett, Eugene Peterson, John O’Donohue, Hannah Whitall Smith).

2. Daytime – Creative or Business

My work hours are from around 8:30 in the morning until 2:30 when the kids get home. Sometimes I will work until 4 or 5 if I have a particular project, but usually those 6 hours in the middle of the day are for writing, email, conference calls, and anything else work-related. Those are also the hours where I’ll throw in some laundry, run an errand or two, workout, and maybe make my bed.

All that to say, I don’t tend to read in the middle of the day, but every now and then I’ll find a pocket of time (maybe while I eat lunch or waiting at the DMV, for example). The type of book I’ll pick up during a weekday is one having to do with writing, marketing, or creativity (Seth Godin, Natalie Goldberg, Steven Pressfield).

3. Evenings, Weekends, and Airplanes – Fiction and Funny Memoir

I have to save fiction and funny memoir for evenings, weekends, or traveling for the simple reason that I suffer from story addiction.

This means my family is neglected and ignored when I get into a book. For the sake of the safety of my children and the well-being of my family life, I need to save the imaginary worlds or hilarious words of others for evenings after dinner (Everyone is fed! You’re all going to be okay without me!), before I go to bed (They’re sleeping!) or when I travel (What? Flying through the air at 500 mph? Who cares! I’m engrossed in a novel!) See how that works? (Kate Morton, Sarah Addison Allen, Tina Fey).

Now. Here’s what happened after I read your comments:

That very night I read the first chapter of Anne of Green Gables outloud with one of my daughters (Notice: Fiction in the evening). We’ve both seen the movie so know what’s coming, but it’s delightful to read together.

circle of quiet

The next morning, I settled in with A Circle of Quiet by Madeliene L’Engle (Notice: Reflective memoir in the morning) as it’s one I’ve been especially wanting to read for a while and it’s also one several of you mentioned on Instagram, saying it changed your life.

Yes, please.

(Speaking of Yes Please, I read Amy Poehler’s memoir a few months ago – I saved that one for evenings and weekends. Notice: Funny memoir).

Anyway, when I sat down to read A Circle of Quiet, I opened it to the first page and this is what was there to greet me:

a circle of quiet

Don’t you love used books! I don’t know if Elaine listened to Mary’s advice and waited to read until things settled down, but I’m learning to stop waiting until life slows down to do things. A reading rhythm helps with that.

While some things in life I can’t control, there are many things I can. My life tends to move at the pace I allow, and let me tell you with my new book releasing in 17 weeks, the pace is quickening, the lists are growing, and the deadlines are landing in my inbox like bang snaps on concrete.

For those of us who tend to think rest, fulfillment, and clarity live just around the corner, we would do well to learn now that Surprise! Life doesn’t actually have corners.

Instead, we create our own stops, our own spaces, our own circles of quiet. One way to do that is to develop a reading rhythm that works for you.

“Often I need to get away completely, if only for a few minutes. My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings.”

Madeleine L’Engle

Do you have a book-reading rhythm you follow? Tell us in the comments! If you’d like to hear about the books I’m currently reading, I share that list every month in my newsletter. You can receive that monthly letter by signing up here.

The Top 10 Best Books I’ve Never Read

Back in January, I decided to join Anne Bogel (Modern Mrs. Darcy) in her first ever reading challenge. The objective is simple: read 12 books in 12 different categories in 12 months.

The first category was “a book you’ve been meaning to read” so I started to make my list of candidates in my bullet journal.

10 Best Books Never Read

After listing fourteen, I made myself stop. I hadn’t even gotten to “a book from your childhood” or “a book your mom loves” or “a book you should have read in high school.”

As I filled in potential reads in all the categories, I realized how deep the list goes of books I want to read but never have. Good books, classic books even.

Top 10 Best Books I've Never Read

So I thought it would be fun to list the top ten books I’ve never read here and then you can tell me which one to read next. Deal?

Anne of Green Gables

1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

I know. I’m so ashamed. I’ve seen the movie! But I’ve never read any of the books. This should be the year, right?

Love Does

2. Love Does by Bob Goff

It only released in 2012 so I don’t feel too terribly behind. But it seems like everyone I know has read this book and I love all the quotes people put from it on Instagram. I just haven’t read it yet. Blerg.

 

A Circle of Quiet

3. A Circle Of Quiet – The Crosswicks Journal – Book 1 by Madeleine L’Engle

I adored Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water and have been meaning to read more by her. I read A Wrinkle in Time in middle school but haven’t read any of the four books in The Crosswicks Journal. I found the series at a used book store last year and bought them all but haven’t read any yet.

Celebration of Discipline

4. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

The one time I met Richard Foster, I thought to myself, Now there’s a man who hangs out with Jesus. Actually, I thought Now there’s a man who has an inside joke with Jesus. I saw him first coming up from a wooded path, Bible under his arm, small smile on his face. It looked like he had just shared a sweet joke with the Trinity. I deeply appreciate the ministry Richard started, Renovare. I’ve even had the honor of speaking at one of their retreats. But I’ve never read his most foundational book.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

5. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Here’s another one I’ve been meaning to read for years, even own my own copy I found at the used bookstore. This is one of those books that feels good in your hands. I look forward to reading it.

Eleanor & Park

6. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This one has been on my radar since it came out a few years ago but I’ve not yet read it or anything else by Rainbow Rowell. I want to though, mainly because I love to say her name.

Breath for the Bones

7. Breath for the Bones by Luci Shaw

I heard Luci Shaw speak at Hutchmoot last fall and these words of hers stuck with me: “I tend to write short poems because I believe the less you say about anything the better.” She was Madeleine L’Engle’s best friend and shared a few stories about their friendship. It was an honor to hear her speak, and now it’s time to read one of her books.

The Chronicles of Narnia

8. The Chronicles of Narnia Complete 7 Volume Set by C.S. Lewis

Can I still call myself a Christian if I haven’t read these? I have read the first one (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) (I think). I for sure saw the movie. But I’ve definitely not read the others. It feels wrong to admit this on the Internet. You just unsubscribed from my blog, didn’t you? It’s okay. I understand.

Unknown

9. The Complete Novels of Jane Austen by Jane Austen

Before you develop a heart condition, I promise I have read Pride and Prejudice. Several times. But as for the others (Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park), nope. I’ve not read them. Any suggestions as to which one I shouldn’t miss?

Cold Tangerines

10. Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist

I adore Shauna. The only thing is, I’ve never read her books. OH MY GOSH! I love her blog and her writing, I own all of her books and admire them on my shelves. But I’ve not finished any of them yet. What is actually wrong with me?! I think with her writing, I love it so much that I am always saving it. It’s the same reason why I’ve not yet read the last couple of pages of Walking on Water. Because once I finish it, then it’s over. So I’ve started her books but keep saving to finish them. This needs to stop.

I’m stopping at 10 but of course I could list a lifetime worth of more books I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t yet. What do you think? Which one should I read next? What is a book you’ve been meaning to read but haven’t yet?

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The 10 Best Books I Read Last Year

Here are some of my favorite books I read last year. (To get more lists of great books, you can check out Anne Bogel’s post where she shared her favorites and invited others to share theirs.) To be clear, these aren’t books released last year, simply ones I read and enjoyed. For perspective, I only read about 30 books total, so here are my top third in random order:

My Favorite Books of 2014

 

The Antelope in the Living Room

The Antelope in the Living Room

by Melanie Shankle

Melanie’s memoir about motherhood is on my Recommended Reads list and now this one about marriage is a new favorite as well. I don’t read many books that make me laugh which may be why I enjoy Melanie’s writing so very much.

The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson

The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way

by Eugene Peterson

I read this one carefully with a pen and a notebook beside me. Peterson leads the way on an in-depth look at all the ways Jesus is the way, challenging the ways of the modern American church. He explores the ways of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Mary; also Caiaphas, Josephus, and Herod, comparing and contrasting them with the kingdom way of Jesus. As I’ve studied and pondered leaning into my own smallness, this book was a key reference and encouragement for me.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking

by Joan Didion

This is the first book I read by Joan Didion. Her story has held on and won’t let go. She allows us to crawl inside her grief after her husband suddenly died in front of her. I knew it would be sad, but what I didn’t expect was how difficult it would be to put down. If I remember right, the ending left me feeling slightly empty, but the journey of the book made up for it. I plan to read a second title of hers this year.

The Seven Storey Mountain

The Seven Storey Mountain

by Thomas Merton

Full disclosure, this book took me over a year to finish with lots of stops and starts. It’s the thickest book I read this year (462 pages if you must know) but I read every word and took notes. Since I’m not Catholic, I most likely missed a lot of the important references. But I connected with Merton’s struggle  with self, faith, and vocation and the relatable, honest way he shared it. Stunning writing, thoughtful perspective, surprisingly relevant.

Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me

Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts

by Ian Morgan Cron

In the fall I had to drive to Charlotte twice a week for a month (about 2 hours one way). I chose this audio book from the library for company to help me pass the time. It did so much more than that. I actually looked forward to waking up at 4 am for the drive so I could listen to Ian Morgan Cron (who’s voice sounds like the guy who narrates The Wonder Years) tell his story. While my curiosity about his dad being in the CIA was what initially hooked me, his ability to weave a story with threads of grace, memory, forgiveness, and humor is what left a lasting impression.

Where'd You Go Bernadette?

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

by Maria Semple

I read this one in a day or so over spring break and it came at just the right time for me. I was in a place where I wanted to say no to all the things, in desperate need of a break. Bernadette was kind, lighthearted company for me in that season. Perhaps it makes the list based more on my experience reading it than the actual content of the book, but really how can you separate the two?

Breathing Room by Leeana Tankersley

 Breathing Room: Letting Go So You Can Fully Live

by Leeana Tankersley

During a time when I really needed some breathing room, I read Leeana’s book. She speaks the kind of soul language I’m always looking for but rarely find, the kind that comes from thoughtful silence, faithful waiting, and long, dark nights. When life feels like an airplane emergency, she comes along and reminds us – put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others. I needed that reminder. She is a writer who encourages us to be fully human as we turn to Christ.

The Memoir Project

The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life

by Marion Roach Smith

Not just for writing memoir, this book is for any writer who simply wants to practice their craft. Short, thoughtful, and motivating. I want to read this one every year and recommend it to every writer I know.

Learning to Walk in the Dark

 Learning to Walk in the Dark

by Barbara Brown Taylor

After becoming uncomfortable with the assumption that good things are associated with lightness and evil things are associated with darkness, Barbara Brown Taylor began to study darkness and all the ways God meets us there, when we are unsure and when things are unseen. I checked this one out at the library but after finishing it I promptly added it to my list of books I’d like to own.

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Seasons of Your Heart: Prayers and Reflections

by Macrina Wiederkehr

My spiritual director introduced me to this book. It’s a book of prayers so I haven’t read it all the way through, but I was introduced to it this year and I keep it close by every morning. Her prayers are simple, thoughtful, and poetic.


I could have easily chosen more but since I narrowed it down to 10, I will include these as Honoroble Mentions:

It’s fun to talk about books, isn’t it? If you’d like to see the books I’m currently reading, I share them regularly on The Bench, my monthly newsletter. Sign up here to get the next one in your inbox next Tuesday, January 13.

What was your favorite book last year?

Simple Gifts to Encourage the Soul

Simple Gifts for the SoulHere is a collection of some of my favorite things in my house right now. These are things that help my soul breathe, some in more obvious ways than others. But I wanted to share them with you incase you have someone in your life who might enjoy one of these simple gifts. Or maybe that someone is you!

Gifts to Create Space for Souls to Breathe

Seasons of Your Heart: Prayers and Reflections by Macrina Wiederkehr – My spiritual director reads aloud from this book nearly every time we meet. Macrina’s words have been a kind companion for my soul during this season, including this simple prayer, “O God, help us to believe the truth about ourselves no matter how beautiful it is.”

A bowl from the Goodwill – The easiest gift to find and give, a fifty-cent bow from your favorite thrift shop makes a lovely gift for someone who needs to remember their soul is made to receive from God rather than achieve for God. Hold it with both hands in prayer and remember to ask for daily bread.

Mortar & Stone by Jill Philips – Thoughtful music for anyone who needs to remember hope.

Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras – Taking photos helps me see. For anyone who wants to take a long walk without the distractions of their iPhone (and its handy camera), this lens makes for a nice extra set of eyes. I’ve used it for over seven years on my old Nikon d80 and love it. For the price you can’t really beat it.

To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue – This book of blessings makes a great gift for a new friend or family member, especially if they are in a time of transition.

Woodwick Candle, Medium, Evening Bonfire – My sister introduced me to these candles. They have a wooden wick so they make crackling sounds when lit. A simple pleasure with a fragrance that fills the house.

Monogram Mugs – I have a weakness for mugs, I do. This one is from Target but I haven’t seen the gold initials there in a month or so. The closest thing I could find are the ones I’ve linked to here from Anthropologie. They are a little fancier than my simple “e” but serve the same purpose.

Soft-bound black journal – Full disclosure, I haven’t used this one yet. But I have 2 of them because I know I’m going to love the soft-bound cover and the graph paper lines. My friend Kendra recommends these and I always love what she recommends.

Uni-ball Signo Impact 207 Pen – These are my favorite pens right now, perfect for morning pages. Make sure they say “impact” or they won’t have the same, er, impact. Trust me on this.

You may also want to check out this list from a few years ago: 10 Free Gifts to Give and Receive. And for the book lovers, here is an on-going list of some of my favorite recommended reads. Happy gifting!

*some affiliate links are included in this post

A Peek at My Bookshelves

my bookshelves

Over the last few years, I’ve become better acquainted with our local library but that hasn’t yet stopped me from accumulating all the books. So when Anne Bogel (aka Modern Mrs. Darcy aka The Media Specialist of the Internet) asked me to share my bookshelves, I was happy to. She has a fun series called Other People’s Bookshelves that I always enjoy reading and today, I’m sharing mine. So head on over to her blog to see more of my rainbow shelves and what I’m currently reading.

What We’re Really Hungry For :: by Emily T. Wierenga

Today I’m welcoming author Emily T. Weirenga to share from her new book, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look. I met Emily for the first time last year and the first word that came to mind was gentle. Hers is a gentle, kind soul. Read her words and see what I mean.

atlas girl

We were newlyweds.

I was anorexic.

Trent came home one day to find me crying on the couch about the living room—about how off-kilter and ugly it looked with our second-hand furniture—and I hadn’t eaten since the night before.

He put his arms around me. “Let me make you supper,” he said—this farm-boy I’d met in Bible School, who drove a car he called The Beast and volunteered at kids club.

I nodded, kissed him. Grabbed a bag of marshmallows and headed into the office to paint at my easel.

Half an hour later Trent called me for supper. He had made burgers, corn on the cob, and “fancy” salad (which is what he calls salad with grated carrots, cheese, onions, bacon and croutons).

I emerged from the office, my mouth white, the marshmallow bag empty. I sat down at the table, looked at the plate full of food, and said, “I’m not hungry.”

I don’t know why he didn’t leave me then and there.

I’d been so hungry I’d stuffed myself with marshmallows, instead of waiting half an hour for food that would sustain me. All I could hear was the scratch of Trent’s fork on his plate as he ate.

It was the beginning of a three-year relapse into anorexia which would nearly wreck our marriage, and it wasn’t until we left our jobs and moved to Korea that I would begin to eat three meals a day, again.

Because sometimes it takes moving to another country to see what you have right in front of you.

I’m better now. I’m eating now—I never skip a meal, and I have two little boys whom doctors said I’d never be able to have, because of the damage anorexia did on my body.

And I’m wondering how many of us settle for the marshmallows when what we’re really hungry for is food that will last?

How many of us, sisters, sit down with a pint of ice cream after a stressful day, or binge on Oreos after the kids go to bed? How many of us try diet after diet but end up filling on junk because we’re just so hungry?

I think of Jesus at the well, with the Samaritan woman. How he asked her for water—but then offered her Living Water in return. He offers us Living Bread—his body.

Because this is what we’re hungry for, isn’t it?

A love so deep and long and wide and high it fills every crevice of our souls; a kind of love that would die for us, a kind that sings over us, a kind that walks through fire with us?

We are born longing for the kind of affection only a divine being can offer. We are born aching for the kind of fullness which comes from an everlasting love.

But it’s not a bag of marshmallows. It’s not fast fame or fleeting praise or accolades.

No, it’s a slow cooked meal and we need to wait, to be patient, as this is the kind of love prepared by a gentle pair of hands which feeds our soul.

Trent still makes me fancy salads. He still makes burgers and corn on the cob and I no longer eat marshmallows. Because I’ve tasted real food and there’s no turning back.

There’s no turning back from love.
268386_Wierenga_WB

All proceeds from Atlas Girl will go towards Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree. The Lulu Tree is dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers. It is a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda through the arts, community, and the gospel.

emily wierengaEmily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including the memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look.

She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit www.emilywierenga.com.

 

For When Your Soul Needs Whitespace

With only a few days left of school, I’m planning to take some time off from writing here on the blog beginning next week. For now, I’ve started a list of things I want to do while I’m taking a break and one of the first things on that list is to finish painting the walls in our living room white. We’ve started, but we haven’t finished, as you can see here.

my living room

Having a plan to finish painting is a normal thing but it is also revealing. First, I’m making a list of things to do during my rest. 

It’s true, doing things around the house is restful for me. But I am also aware of my ability to completely waste a purposeful rest by planning it out like it’s my job. And by the time the “rest” is over, I need a rest from it.

The second, more subtle revelation is this: one of the things on my list is to paint my walls white.

It’s like my eyes are trying to tell my body – You need whitespace. But my body is too literal to speak the poetic language of the soul, so she says, Alright then, get me a paintbrush. Let’s paint something white!

And I think this will help, the white living room walls. But ultimately I need a different kind of whitespace, the kind that fills up the inside – whitespace for my soul.

When I hear the word “whitespace” I think of Bonnie Gray. I first met Bonnie at the (in)courage writers beach retreat in September 2011. I knew her a little before I met her, as I had read her blog for a while and we were both regular contributors for (in)courage. If I had to put my first impression of her into three words, it would be these: tiny, confident, faithful. Here was this little woman with a great big presence. She was like a walking oxymoron and I liked it.

Bonnie & Ann

Ann Voskamp with Bonnie Gray :: 2011

During those few days we were together at the beach, Bonnie got a call from a publisher offering to publish her first book. The publisher was Revell, the same publisher Holley Gerth and I have. And so Holley and I and all the girls celebrated together with her, right there in the beach house, as she was finally going to write her book. It seemed  to be the beginning of something beautiful.

And it was. Just not the kind of beauty she would have chosen.

Any author will tell you the process of bookwriting is hard, much harder than you think it will be for reasons you may not foresee. But for Bonnie, writing her book proved to be a trigger for childhood trauma she had yet to face, ushering her into an unexpected, terrifying time of experiencing PTSD. All while writing a book about finding spiritual whitespace.

Talk about an oxymoron.

Bonnie Gray & Ann Voskamp

As I’m reading her book, I’m getting to know a new Bonnie, someone whose confidence worked against her for a little while, as evidenced in her words here:

“I believed my faith buried my hurt in the past, but I was using faith to hide from the past . . . What’s worked for me since I was a child – staying strong, reading more Scripture, praying more fervently, exerting more self-discipline, applying greater optimism – isn’t going to solve this problem. Jesus has been whispering one phrase into my heart — follow the current downstream.

I’ve rowed my boat upstream for so long, I didn’t know if I could stop.”

Bonnie Gray, Finding Spiritual Whitespace

While our stories are different, as I get to know Bonnie, I am also getting to know myself.

purple flowers on the beach

My journal I use for morning pages (when I do them) is nearly to the end. I’ll need to start a new one soon. Flipping back to the first pages, I noticed the date: June 2, 2013.

As I read over my writing that first day one year ago, it all sounded so familiar — a longing to be united in my body, soul, and spirit in all things, a longing to move out from a secure place within, all written somewhat urgently — jagged edges and blurred focus.

I smile a little when I read it, recognizing the triggers then as I do now.

The jaggy blur doesn’t indicate a need to simply “take a break” (especially with my tendency to over-plan my breaks). It speaks of something deeper, something Bonnie addresses here:

“Finding spiritual whitespace isn’t about carving out an hour of time to escape the things that stress us. It’s the opposite. It’s getting away from everything we do to distract ourselves from all the hidden pieces — in order to nurture our soul.”

FInding Spiritual Whitespace by Bonnie Gray

I’m going to keep taking this book to the pool with me this summer, keep reminding myself of the importance of whitespace, keep honoring that desire alive within me that wants to clear the clutter so that I can see what’s most important.

Bonnie Gray is the writer behind Faith Barista who wrote a book about her inspiring, heart-breaking journey to find rest, which garnered Publisher’s Weekly starred review. Her book releases today (woot!) and I’ll be following along on her journey to find rest and learning about my own along the way. You can get your own copy of Finding Spiritual Whitespace here.

What My Sister Taught Me

I’m firmly convinced our genius is at least partially coded into our childhood play. Want to get an idea of how those first graders will change their world? No need to read their spelling words. Just show up at recess.

But I don’t know about all that yet, because it’s 1985 and we’ve got the day ahead of us, no plans but the Barbie world. We huddle over the pile of pink goodness ready to piece out what belongs to whom today. I’m eight and it’s my big sister’s turn to pick first.

myquillyn and emily

I study her choices carefully – the pink cabinet, the blue and pink pillows, the cushy sofa. These three must be the top items in the pile since she chose them first. I end up with a lopsided table I don’t know what to do with. Barf me out.

Days later, it’s my turn to pick first. I know just what to do! Pink cabinet, blue and pink pillows, cushy sofa. Yes!

I look up at her after my clean sweep, unable to hide my victory smile since I obviously just chose all the best stuff. Instead of reacting, she ignores me, and picks the table with the uneven top. Wait, is she trying to psych me out?

What is this? No anger? No you just got all the good stuff lecture? Not only that, she just chose the worst thing in the pile.  The worst thing!

How am I supposed to know how to make my Barbie house beautiful if my teacher keeps picking different furniture?! How am I supposed to know the best stuff if she keeps changing her mind on what the best stuff is? I am having a total cow.

Look at her over there in her corner, busy setting up her awesome space. I lean to one side to watch her work and notice she has that crooked table looking just fine, using it as some kind of loft-like bed for Skipper. I look back at my first-pick choices and they don’t look so great now.

I vow to choose the lopsided table next time. But next time always comes and no matter how I try to catalogue and then copy her choices, it makes no difference. It didn’t matter what she has to work with. She will make it look great, no matter how imperfect the pile.

And while it may on the surface seem like an older sister’s evil plan to make her little sister crazy, I think it simply comes down to this: her gift is that she sees differently.

The Nester's House

That feeling of discontentment, of missing out, of not having something vital I needed to make beauty showed up during those long days of play. I blamed it on the lopsided table and my lack of first pick, but these weren’t my problem.

My problem was I didn’t yet know how to trust my own ideas, couldn’t see beyond the obvious, and wasn’t willing to take a little risk.

My sister had eyes to see the usefulness in the mess and the beauty in the lopsided. Part of her art, even back then, was her eyes could see potential.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned I can have those eyes, too.

Myquillyn didn’t immediately apply this to her real life. But it was always in her, this ability to somehow see beyond the obvious and envision something no one else could.

The Nesting Place

What my eight-year-old self would’ve have done to get my hands on some kind of guidelines for how to have a Barbie house I loved. If only she could have written down her secrets!

Well now she has. And the best part is, her secrets aren’t as secret as you think.

She finally wrote a book is for all the little sisters of the world who doubt they have what it takes to make home (or life) beautiful, waiting for permission and courage to create, take risks, and be ourselves.

Over the years I’ve learned these things from her, valuable lessons practiced in my own home that spill over into everyday life.

The Nesting Place Contentment

She didn’t teach me the best color to paint my walls. She taught me it’s okay to paint my walls the wrong color.

She didn’t teach me where to put my furniture. She taught me it’s okay to move my furniture around.

She didn’t teach me the right way to hang a curtain. She taught me there isn’t only one right way to hang a curtain.

She didn’t lecture me on the latest trends. She taught me how to discover what my own trends are, that’s it’s okay if they’re different from others, and it’s okay when they change.

She didn’t point out what’s wrong with my house. She taught me how every house has a silver lining and home is wherever we are.

homeShe taught me that my house isn’t just about a house. It’s about trusting yourself, making mistakes, trying new things, inviting others in. It’s about community and communion, healing and wholeness, memories and tradition, love and loveliness and hope.

The Nester's House

I truly believe what I said before, that hints of our personal genius hide in our childhood play, what I also like to call our art. I’m so glad my sister had the courage to hold on to hers, to listen to what makes her come alive, to ignore the naysayers who said she was doing it all wrong.

You have a genius art too, and it doesn’t have to be the e equals mc squared kind. It might be the relational kind, the insightful kind, or the kind that moves in the midst of fear. Whatever it is for you, it’s evidence that you are made in the image of God and the first step to uncovering that could simply be finding freedom in your own home.

The Nesting Place

This lovely book – The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful – is finally available everywhere today! Get yourself a copy, your mom a copy, and don’t forget your little sister.

Love you, Sister Girl. So happy you said yes to writing this book. I don’t know how people get on in the world without a big sister to teach them things. I’m so thankful for all you’ve taught me.

nesting place

Hope Runs (a story and a giveaway)

Today I’m happy to host my friend Claire Diaz-Ortiz (@claire), author, speaker and Silicon Valley innovator who was an early employee at Twitter. Read on to hear her tell the lovely true story of her new book, Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption. I endorsed it with pleasure and highly recommend it. Here’s Claire:

This story does not end where it started. Because where it started was nowhere near the red dirt of Africa, or the tiny hands of little girls in party dresses running alongside me on those red dirt roads.

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This story started on a trip. A trip for an eager twenty-something that spanned the globe. A trip that spanned nineteen countries of buses and hiking and zoos (yes, zoos) and milky tea and hundreds of books read and hundreds of mosquito bites suffered and hundreds of miles run in far-flung locales.

The trip, as it were, was to end in Kenya, where a mountain climb proved to be the final capstone to a year well done, to a story well lived in the world at large. But before a mountain could be climbed, a night had to be slept, and that was where the story went awry.

Because when they suggested that very guest house – a cheap place to stay the night before the climb, it didn’t matter that an orphanage happened to own it – my best friend and I agreed.

And in those first hours at the place of green and blue in the Kenyan highlands, when the orphanage elders asked us for lunch before leading us to our quarters for the evening, it all changed.

Because God showed up. Or rather, showed His face where He had always been.

In the middle of the lunch, in the improbable moments of that bright, sunny, tired, hungry afternoon, when I asked Him a question – THE question – the biggest question I had ever before had, he was there.

And here is what I asked:

If you have put this place in my path to change my story, open my eyes so I can see.

And He opened my eyes.

We stayed a year at that orphanage. We started a running program, and then a nonprofit organization called Hope Runs, with a mission to help orphaned and vulnerable children through extracurricular programming and education.

We ran, and ran, and ran through red dirt as far as the eye can see.

"Hope Runs"  Nyeri, Kenya.  May 12 and 13, 2007.

image by J. Carrier

In a year, stories change.

In the first hours of that year, I met a small boy who was older (thirteen, to be exact) than he looked. He asked me about a Senator named Barack Obama and then about David and Goliath and then stuck by my side, never letting up, for the rest of that year.

And when it came time to leave Kenya and for my story to move on to other places, I knew he was meant to come as well. Come with me back to a land of cheddar cheese and smooth roads and hot showers: the United States. Because that, I saw, was the next part of the story.

Sammy, now 21, changed my life in a way I could have never imagined. And, in turn, I changed his. Our story, about our strange family of faults and love, is now here, in paper, in a book they say we wrote but I say we lived.

Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption is that story.

Each of us has a story inside – dozens, hundreds, thousands of them – and I believe in the power of sharing that story. To see our way through, and to live the next step.

To celebrate the launch of Hope Runs, I’m giving away a free ebook, Share Your Story, which I wrote to talk about the power of story in our lives. Download it here.

Hope Runs Cover

And, Win A Copy of Hope Runs:

To win one of three copy of Hope Runs, do one or more of the following things. Leave 1 comment on this post for every item you do.

  • Like this blog post on Facebook.
  • Tweet this blog post.
  • Post this blog post on Pinterest.

Remember, for each thing you do, leave one comment. (So, if you post on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, that would be three comments.)

(Or, buy a copy of Hope Runs and get $150 in freebies.)

Claire Diaz-Ortiz (@claire) is an author, speaker and Silicon Valley innovator who was an early employee at Twitter. Named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company, she holds an MBA and other degrees from Stanford and Oxford and has been featured widely in print and broadcast media. She writes at ClaireDiazOrtiz.com.

Sammy Ikua Gachagua had lost his father to illness, his mother to abandonment, and his home to poverty. By age ten, he was living in a shack with seven other children and very little food. He entered an orphanage seeing it as a miracle with three meals a day, a bed to sleep in, and clothes on his back.

Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption is the unlikely story of Claire, the American tourist and Sammy, the Kenyan orphan – a story you won’t soon forget.

One Book I’m Surprised to Enjoy

This weekend I started reading The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir by Joan Didion. It sounds hopeful and whimsical from the title but one page in you will realize this is a book about grief. 

The Year of Magical ThinkingI actually knew this going in and I decided to read it anyway. For me, a woman with a curious blend of sunshine and brood, this is an unlikely choice. On the one hand, I tend to want the books I read to be life-giving in an obvious sort of way (sunshine). But I am also capable of work myself into an irrational, breathless fear over nothing. I have a tendency to imagine grief-filled scenarios on my own (brooding).

In high school I once wrote in my journal, I’m in the mood to be depressed. Who says this? Someone who doesn’t need to be reading sad books, that’s who.

Still, I’m learning to be intentional about choosing books to read that I may not at first be naturally drawn to and then giving them a fair chance as  I read. It seems like the healthy, grown up thing to do.

I haven’t been able to put this book down, sneaking in paragraphs during commercials and lapses in conversation. She tells her story in an  immediate and honest sort of way, pulling out ordinary details to describe her unthinkable reality.

To see grief and loss through her experience is for me fascinating, heart-breaking, and strangely comforting. I haven’t finished it yet so it could take a turn, but so far I would recommend it.

Have you read a book you were surprised to enjoy? Or not enjoyed a book you thought you would? Tell us in the comments so we can edit our book lists.