The House in the Cerulean Sea (A Book Review)

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways!

This fantastic fiction treasure is more than I hoped for. More hilarious. More poignant. More robust and colorful. Just more in every way.

It begins with Linus Baker, a regular forty year old man content in his job and routine, who is given an unusual assignment. This assignment (by extremely upper management) brings him to a new and fantastical place filled with magnificent and magical children that change his perspective on the world, his job, himself, and everyone and everything he’s ever known to be true.

I cannot even begin to express how in love with these characters I am – every single one of them. Most books – especially fantasy – have a ton of throw-away characters who are only put into the story to move it along in some way. This book has none of that. Every character – even the ones who show up for a page or two – are fully realized by the author. The description and style of writing throughout this phenomenal novel is such that I could picture every person and place in my mind. Every time I picked the book back up to continue reading, I was immediately transported back to the place and time of the story.

I absolutely LOVED this book – it truly is the best fantasy book I’ve read since The Hobbit in the 6th grade. T.J. Klune has written another book that’s coming out this year and you can bet your best hat that I’ve already pre-ordered it (and you should too!)

It’s called Under the Whispering Door and I cannot wait to read it! Here’s a glimpse of it’s gorgeous and fantastical cover:

If you’ve read The House in the Cerulean Sea, what did you think? If you’ve not read it yet, what are you waiting for?

If you’d like to know what else I’m reading, you can connect with me on Goodreads or Instagram.

Happy Reading!

Favorite Books of 2020

I read 40 books in 2020. It would have been more, but I read almost nothing until May because of the anxiety of the beginning of the year and the start of the pandemic. January is always a super busy month for me at work and just in general, and then by February my super spider anxiety senses were tingling about all that was happening in the world. By April, I was managing a whole new world (as were we all) of working from home with four online schooling kiddos. By May I had started to find a bit more of a routine and was able to start adding books back into my schedule. I also discovered how very much I love listening to books (thank you, Audible!) and that changed the reading game entirely for me this year. As you can imagine, four kids schooling from home can often get noisy, and being able to pop in my earbuds and listen to Michelle Obama’s beautiful voice was just the sort of escapism I needed during this dumpster fire of a year. Now, on to the books.

As I said, I read 40 books this year. Before May, I read four books. After May 1, I read 36 books. Here’s the breakdown of what I read:

16 fiction (sidenote: this is the most fiction I’ve ever read in a single year. In fact, this is more fiction than I typically read over a 5-10 year period. I’ve always preferred nonfiction / memoir, but perhaps that’s changing – oh, I do hope so.

9 memoir (I generally try to read at least one memoir a month, so this is a tad low for me)

15 Nonfiction (Again, a low number for me – even for half a year)

Here are my favorites in each category (in no particular order) 


The Book of Longings – Sue Monk Kidd

 I can’t tell you how much I LOVED this book. Now, you should know that I grew up in the church and have been in ministry for about twenty years, so I know the Bible intimately and had quite a bit of knowledge of the historical time period before going into this book (which I think helped me to connect with the setting and the characters). I’ve been a Sue Monk Kidd fan for many years and when I saw that she was writing a book about the fictional wife of Jesus, I pre-ordered that baby immediately. I was nervous about how she would handle the enormity of writing a book with Jesus as a significant character, but she obviously did a ton of research and handled every biblical element with thoughtfulness and intentionality. The main character in this book, Ana, felt real and flawed and almost holy to me – I connected immediately to her thoughts, feelings and dreams as a woman in ministry whose calling has been challenged, questioned and mocked many, many times over the years. While Jesus is present in the book, he is more of a peripheral character. Another peripheral character that I can’t stop thinking about is Ana’s brother, Judas. There were moments in this book (which I listened to on Audible) where I had to pause, rewind, and listen to again. The writing, as I expected from Sue Monk Kidd, is superb; the characters are supremely real, and the setting is vivid and whole and entirely immersive. 

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

I had no frame of reference going into this book, as it is my first George Saunders. This is his first novel, though he has written many collections of short stories (which I now must devour with gusto). I have told just about everyone about this book. It’s a work of art, truly. Part historical fiction, part hilarious, part biography, part gut-wrenching tale of a father’s love for his son – I cannot recommend Lincoln in the Bardo highly enough. I made my husband read it, because everyone SHOULD read it, and he has been telling everyone about it now, too! I listened to it on Audible, which I very much recommend, and because of the vast number of actors who offered their talents in the telling I can’t think of this book without smiling, or laughing or just feeling really happy. I’m hoping beyond hope that George Saunders will write another novel soon – his wit and quirk are everything I love in a good story.  And this, my friends, is a VERY good story. 

Longbourn – Jo Baker

 I’m a sucker for all things Jane Austen. I re-read her novels regularly – at least one or two a year. I was worried I wouldn’t like this one – especially with all the hype surrounding it. But I did! Like other reviewers have said, you kind of forget that Pride and Prejudice is the backdrop of this little novel because the characters are so vivid all on their own. The setting feels authentically Austen, while the story is a lovely little twisty, turny love story akin to any of Jane’s novels – but especially Pride and Prejudice, of course. If you’re looking for a feel good, well-written, love story set in Regency England (without all the uncomfortable sex scenes) – this might just be the perfect book for you. I’m longing for more books like Longbourn – if you have any recommendations, definitely send them my way!

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue – V.E. Schwab

 After all the hype surround this one, I felt compelled to give it a go. And I’m super glad I did. This isn’t my normal style of fiction – I prefer literary fiction and this is definitely more fantasy/contemporary, but it’s a fabulous story! I felt, at times, that the writing skill didn’t quite match the story (several common writing phrases repeated over and over), but the plot was so compelling and the characters were so thorough that I almost didn’t care. The main character, Addie Larue (obviously), was very well fleshed out – I really felt as though I could picture her and understand what was happening in her head and heart. The other main character felt supremely real to me also. This is a suspenseful, yet pensive story of a girl turned woman trying to understand her own mind and emotions. Really excellent read.

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

 Matt Haig is a magnificent storyteller. This story felt so unique and surprising that I read it in just a few days. While the characters and setting are magnificent, the social commentary masterfully threaded throughout the pages of this book is what makes it so current and meaningful. I wanted to write questions and my own thoughts in the margins the whole time I was reading. The story, on its own, is lovely and I can’t think of a reason why everyone wouldn’t just love it. This is the first time I’ve read anything by Matt Haig, but I feel like I need to find everything he’s ever written and read it anon. There are a ton of mental health themes throughout this short novel, all handled with immense care and thoughtfulness. If you’ve ever struggled with depression, this book will bring you hope and fill your soul with little nuggets of joy and love. 


Educated – Tara Westover

 I’ve been hearing about this book for years. Everyone seems to love it. I was told it would be difficult, and it was, but it is also fascinating and gut-wrenching and enormously important. Tara Westover is a skilled writer and this book truly reads like fiction. I had to keep reminding myself that this is a real story, about real people, that actually happened – because it’s almost difficult to believe it could have been true. The abuse in this story is enormous, but the resilience and triumph is also pretty enormous as well. If you’re not inspired after reading this memoir, you might not have been paying attention. Educated is one of the best-written memoirs I’ve ever read – and I’ve read a ton of memoirs.

Becoming – Michelle Obama

 Reading Becoming by Michelle Obama felt like sunshine, like warm coffee on a cold morning, like cozy blankets by the fire – like desperately needed comfort from America’s favorite mom. I listened to this book on Audible – read by the author – and there is just something so lovely about falling asleep to the sound of Michelle Obama’s voice telling you everything is going to be okay. Now, I know that wasn’t necessarily the purpose of her memoir, but it was a definite theme throughout. Expertly written, this memoir is an instant favorite of mine. Covering her early years as much as her time as First Lady, I got more than a glimpse of her motivations, inspirations and intentions as she wrote about growing up on the Southside of Chicago, struggling with fertility, juggling motherhood and her career, being married to the president, and trying to make a difference in the world without forgetting who she is and where she comes from. It’s a remarkable read – and one I hope you’ll read and love for yourself.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

 I’m a little upset with myself that I never read this before. I’m also a little upset that this book isn’t required reading for high school students. I actually thought this was a fiction book, until I got about halfway through and looked it up. It’s exquisitely written, and will stay with you for a very long time – perhaps (and hopefully) forever. I, again, listened to this book on Audible and Maya Angelou reads it herself. There are a few parts in the book where she’s describing songs in the church service, and as she reads the book she SINGS THE SONGS – which was the most lovely treasure! Her voice (not just her singing voice, but that too) is commanding yet tender, strong yet vulnerable – it’s everything I expected and hoped it to be. Absolutely required reading – the beginning of a very important journey into the heart and soul of Maya Angelou.


Factfulness – Hans Rosling

 Facts, charts, statistics – woo hoo! I love statistics, and charts, and color coding and this book is chock full of them! I raced through this little book – on Audible – in less than a week and then asked for the physical copy so I could read it again while enjoying the lovely charts.  There was a load of surprising information throughout this book that will most likely change your perspective on the world and your outlook on it. Factfulness, by Hans Rosling, is full of truth and hope – which, in my opinion, is a fabulous combination. I learned more in these 352 pages than I have in the majority of everything else I read all year. If you’re into truth and fact (and statistics!), you should give this book a go – I promise it will give you some things to think about.


Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 I’m pretty sure that I highlighted over 60% of this book. It’s so very short (80 pages), but so very full and meaty. Every single woman should read this book – in fact, we should read it to our daughters. In fact, men should read it too. In fact, we should also read it to our sons. So basically everyone, everywhere should read this fantastic little book. Here’s a tiny snippet from her 8th suggestion:

“Teach her to reject likability. Her job is not to make herself likable, her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people.” (p36)

“We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likable.” (p37)

You see? Full, and lovely and meaty words from a master writer and magnificent human.

The Color of Compromise – Jemar Tisby

 I’m not going to lie – this book messed me up a bit. I didn’t know how very much I didn’t know and it made me cry and reckon and stew and feel entirely undone. I grew up in the Southern Baptist denomination and, for the most part, thought I had a pretty ok experience. I’m realizing now how much of what I was taught was a lie based on prejudice. We (the collective evangelical church) have spent years ignoring the abhorrent racism in our past and pretending that it doesn’t inform our ministries today and into the future. Without a significant shift, or at least an intentional re-learning of our history, the church will become even more detached from the reality of the moment in which we are living – a moment filled with racial divisions, significant systemically racist issues, and a lack of understanding of the black experience in America. So many things in this book were new to me and I’m appalled by that truth. I’m also inspired by it. Inspired to learn as much as I possibly can in the future – I want to have eyes wide open to the truth of all that America has been, all that it currently is and all that it could be. After reading The Color of Compromise I added about two dozen other books to my TBR about the history of racism, social and racial justice,  and important writers/influencers on these important subjects. I hope to grow and learn more every day – and am enormously thankful for Jemar Tisby’s words and wisdom along the way.

Untamed – Glennon Doyle

 I’ve loved Glennon Doyle for nearly a decade. Her first book, Carry On, Warrior, is one of the most important books I’ve read in many years. Glennon turned me on to other writers, too, like Gregory Boyle, Bryan Stevenson and Brené Brown (all favorites of mine now). Her essay-style of writing is my very favorite and her voice is steady, warm and full of vulnerability. She’s equally hilarious and wise, with an authority and authenticity that is unmatched. Some of her stories will stay with you forever, spurring you on towards a more wholehearted way of living and loving – she truly is such a rare gift to the reading world. If you’ve never read a single word she’s written before, Untamed is a wonderful place to start. It’s her most full and strong book – inspiring and a little uprooting in the most glorious of ways. This book will make you take a long, hard look at your life and ask questions you’ve always been too scared to ask before. If you, like me, are prone to philosophical wondering, you will absolutely love this book.


That’s it. All my favorites. I hope you’ll find one (or two, or five) that you might want to read for yourself. There were a ton of good books I read in 2020, these just happened to be my favorites of the year. If you’d like to know what else I read in 2020 and am planning to read in the future, you can connect with me on Goodreads or Instagram.

Happy reading!

My 2020 in books (so far)

Summer of 2020 has kind of sucked. So I thought it would be a great time to escape through a ton of great books. Here is what I’ve read so far this year and some of my feelings about each read.


First of all, I’ve read more fiction in the last few months than I’ve read in the last several years. I’m ordinarily not a fiction reader – I much prefer nonfiction or memoirs – but I’ve recently discovered how much I love LISTENING to novels (Thank you Audible!) and that’s opened up a whole new world of fiction to me.

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

This is probably my favorite book I’ve read this year – or in many years. It’s definitely my favorite Sue Monk Kidd book – and that’s a tall order. I love her writing, I love her characters, I love her settings, I love her dialogue – I really just love everything about her books. This one, though, feels several steps above her other novels. It actually sort of reminded me of her nonfiction book, Traveling with Pomegranates, which she wrote with her daughter. The Book of Longings was so beautiful from the first paragraph to the last words. I cried (sobbed) more than once during the last third of the book – not just because of the story and the characters, but because of the reverence of the writing. Sue Monk Kidd has a way of writing characters and feelings in such a way that feels both raw and real. She truly is one of my favorites!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I wanted to love this book. I had such high hopes for it since everyone everywhere seems to be raving about it. For me, it was just eh. The story was fine and the setting was interesting – I could *almost* picture it – but the characters felt very flat to me. None of them seemed real. I didn’t buy a lot of what they said and did – and the dialogue, at times, made me cringe. The main character felt void of emotions entirely, which might have been a conscious choice by the author, but because of that I never really connected to her or to any of them at all. I also need to note that I listened to much of this book on Audible and the narrator’s attempts at accents were awful – like, really awful. I wish I hadn’t bought the Audible book – perhaps I might have liked the characters more if I didn’t have those terrible accents in my head as I read. The only reason I gave this one three stars instead of two is because the ending made me want to re-read the entire thing so that I could pick up more of the little clues that I missed the first time. I felt compelled to re-read it for about an hour or so and then I got over it.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

I came into this read with zero expectations. I heard that it was powerful and that Oprah loved it. That’s about all I knew. Stephen King also wrote something very lovely on the book jacket about this book – so that kind of scared me a little. This story was gripping. I’m not sure how else to describe it. I remember where I was during certain parts of it – because it was just that memorable for me. I also finished it in 3 or 4 days because I had a hard time putting it down. It felt a bit like a very suspenseful movie. The scenes were vivid and the characters felt quite real to me. I cried more than once as I read this one. The mother and son felt so real to me that I still think about them from time to time. I know there’s quite a controversy surrounding whether or not the author had the authority to be writing from the perspective of someone outside of her race. However, from a story and character standpoint – I absolutely loved this book. It made me want to read more about migration from Central America and Mexico in order to understand what it’s really like. If you personally know of other books such as American Dirt written from the perspective of a person of color – please send me recommendations! I have a few on my TBR list, but would love to add more!

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This is a book that I’ve been meaning to read for YEARS. I’m so glad I finally did. I didn’t enjoy the first half of it as much as I’d hoped to, but the ending made the entire book completely worth it. It is well-written, and seems to be well-researched, but I didn’t fall in love with the characters until much later than I would have liked. In fact, I didn’t realize I cared about them as much as I did until I neared the end of the book and found myself sobbing without a Kleenex – forced to wipe my face with my shirt. The Nightingale is supposedly being made into a movie sometime next year and I cannot wait to see it!

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This is another book that people everywhere can’t stop talking about. I liked it quite a bit, but I can’t say that I would give it five stars. The themes represented in the book are handled beautifully and the characters and story are interesting, however I had a bit of a hard time connecting with the characters. I felt more connected to the secondary characters than the sisters – although I’m not sure why. I wanted this book to be longer, with more time spent on each character – it covered so much ground that it felt that it moved a bit too fast for me to get entirely connected and invested. I still really liked the book and hope desperately that they make it into a movie or TV series.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I don’t know entirely how I feel about this book. There was a bit too much romance for my taste – although I knew that would be the case going into it. It had several surprising moments near the beginning, and a few really magical ones at the end – although I predicted one of them very, very early on. There wasn’t a lot that happened in this book, but the emotional development of the characters was interesting. Based on several rave reviews, I had pretty high expectations of this book – and it was good, but I don’t know that I would call it a favorite. It’s a good read with interesting characters – four stars from me.


This is normally my sweet spot, but I’ve spend so much time on fiction this summer that I haven’t finished at least three of the nonfiction books I’ve started. I’m currently in the middle of three nonfiction books. These are the ones I actually HAVE finished.

The Comeback Effect by Jason Young and Jonathan Malm

Well-written and helpful book for those of us in a marketing / communications / guest services kind of role – especially in the church. I highlighted quite a bit, and learned several things that I think could be very helpful. However, I honestly don’t remember anything without going back and reading what I highlighted. So, good read – helpful content – not enormously memorable.

Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson

I’ve been meaning to read this book for quite a while. I bought it at least a year ago but, for some reason, never actually read it until this summer. It’s powerful. It took me a bit to get used to the tone/voice of the author – he has a very unique voice, unlike anyone else I’ve ever read. I thought this would be a book that would teach me – and it did to some extent – but it’s really a book to instruct you – to wake you up. It really did feel like a sermon – with a raised voice, so you know what he’s saying is important, and an urgent tone, so you understand that this is a call to action. I’ve listened to many interviews and speeches from Michael Eric Dyson and have always been challenged, however the tone in this book felt more important than anything I’ve heard from him before. Tears We Cannot Stop is an important book for an important time.

The Unstuck Church by Tony Morgan

This book is a must-read for any church leaders wanting to know how to move ministry forward. It’s about more than attendance and growth – it’s about all the things underneath that cause a church to move forward, stand still, or fall backwards. I’ve loved Tony Morgan for a long time, so I’ve been looking forward to this book. It is well-written, easy to digest and has tons of useable info that can immediately be put into practice. If you’re a church leader – or are at all interested in church growth – you should also listen to The Unstuck Church Podcast.

Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman

What a magnificent, teeny-tiny little book. Filled with beautiful nuggets of wisdom and encouragement – this is a perfect gift book for anyone going through a hard time. Alice Hoffman offers wisdom from her own journey through illness in a way that will make you smile and will fill your soul up with joy. It will take maybe an hour to read all the way through – but then you’ll want to read it again and again. Absolutely lovely little book.

The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby

This book by Jemar Tisby is incredible. I listened to a chapter and then read through the same chapter again so I could highlight and make notes. I learned so much in this book that I found myself googling people and events so that I could understand more fully. There are snapshots of black history throughout, but the main purpose of the book is black history within the American church. I’ve begun reading Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi to learn more and I have a few more books like The Color of Law and The Warmth of Other Suns that I intend to read this year as well so that I can learn all the things the American education system left out of the history books. Jemar Tisby is a phenomenal teacher and The Color of Compromise is a must-read.


Memoirs are probably my favorite books of all. I love reading about other people’s lives, struggles, triumphs, and milestones. I cannot tell you how many memoirs I’ve read that I still think about regularly. Here are the ones I’ve finished so far this year.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

You guys. This book. It’s just beautiful. It’s warm and inviting, it’s funny and informative, it’s smart and kind – basically, it’s all the things Michelle Obama is. I bought the Audible book for this one and I’m enormously glad I did because Michelle Obama narrates it – which basically felt like Michelle Obama sat in my room with me and told me her story. I don’t know what else there is to say other than I absolutely loved this book and will probably read (listen to) it again before the year is done.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I liked this book a lot. Trevor Noah is, as I expected, an excellent writer. I’ve been watching Trevor Noah on the Daily Show and his standup for a very long time, but these stories were new to me. I listened to this one on Audible, which was really helpful for the pronunciations and the accents – man, he’s good at accents. Some of this book is incredibly sad – and parts are hilarious – it kind of spans the gamut of what a memoir could be. I really, really enjoyed it and hope that he writes more in the future.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I wish desperately that I had read this book earlier in my life. I feel like it’s such an important book for a young person to read. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to read Maya Angelou’s 1st memoir – I’ve read a lot of her poetry – but I now have to read everything else she’s ever written. I listened to this one on Audible and Maya Angelou herself narrates it! It’s just spectacular. Her voice felt like home to me – like a grandma telling me stories of when she was young – like her voice was so real to me that I could almost reach out and hold her hand. That might sound strange, but I just really felt close to young Maya in this book – which is, in my opinion, a testament to her vulnerability and superior writing ability. One of my favorites so far this year for sure.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

This is Glennon Doyle’s third book and the third book of hers that I’ve read. I’m a die-hard fan/reader of hers and this is her most significant book yet. Her life has changed so dramatically since the first memoir she wrote (Carry On, Warrior), and so I know that she doesn’t talk about her first two books much, but I remember where I was when I read her first memoir. I remember how I felt and how many times I cried when I read about all the ways she was learning to give herself and the people around her more grace. It was a beginning. A beautiful beginning. And Untamed? Well, it’s a more of a becoming. The first book felt very tentative and kind and gentle – this one feels fierce and kind of badass. I loved every word. Glennon is the type of voice that I needed as a young girl – hers is the kind of voice that my four daughters need – that all our daughters need. I’ve been reading along for many years as she has beautifully walked into her skin and become something wild and free – and along the way I feel like she’s helped me find a bit of myself as well. I’m so thankful for this book and this voice – what a treasure. If you’re not familiar with Glennon Doyle – you need to follow her on socials and listen to every podcast she has ever been a guest on – you’ll thank me later.

Educated by Tara Westover

I’ve had this book in my TBR pile for well over a year and finally got around to reading (listening to) it a few weeks ago. It was phenomenal. Beautifully written and inspiring – this story needed to be told. I was told to brace myself because of the difficult stories, and they were difficult, but they were also handled so thoughtfully that I appreciated the care and kindness of the author in telling stories that others might not want to be told. Tara Westover is a skilled storyteller. So much so that it’s difficult to believe that the person writing the story is also the person in the story who spend so many years without a basic understanding of much of what we take for granted – history, science, sociology, basic life skills – it truly is remarkable.


What have you read so far this year? Anything that you LOVED? Based on the ones I loved, do you have any recommendations for me?

Happy reading!

The Book of Longings – A Book Review

I think the first and most important thing for me to tell you is that I LOVE Sue Monk Kidd. I love everything I’ve read by her (fiction and non-fiction). She’s my comfort author. I still remember where I was sitting when I finished the Secret Life of Bees and how I felt for days after I finished it – longing for just one more chapter. So, when I heard that she was writing a story about the fictional wife of Jesus, I was both thrilled and terrified.

I’ve been in ministry for nearly 20 years and have been a worship pastor for at least half of that time. I love Jesus. I was worried that this book would feel at least a tad sacrilegious or disrespectful. Instead, I found it to be so very lovely and rich and comforting. I listened to a podcast with Sue Monk Kidd (I think it was an episode of Brené Brown’s new podcast – which is fabulous, by the way!) where she said that she had done over a year of research before even beginning this book (might have been more than that, I don’t remember). Well, her research really showed in the details she included and the scenes she was able to paint so beautifully with her words. I think that’s what I love the most about Sue Monk Kidd. She writes so poetically and thoughtfully that I feel like I’m IN the pages with her, experiencing it all first hand.

This story isn’t really about Jesus, although he’s definitely an important character in it. It’s about Ana. It’s about Ana and Yaltha and Chaya and Mary and Salome and Tabitha and Susanna and Diodora and Mary and Martha. It’s about the women. It’s about their passion and their strength. It’s about their faith and their hope for the future. It’s about how they learned to honor the people that God intended them to be, even in the midst of impossible circumstances. It’s about how they took care of the people around them while learning how to find joy and purpose in their own journey.

There are a few scenes in this book, based on familiar stories from the Bible, that made the Jesus story come alive in me in a way it never has before. It’s almost as if the story of Jesus jumped off the pages of the Bible and became more vibrant and almost tangible. There are some stunning twists and turns in this novel that I wasn’t expecting – some that literally took my breath away. I had to pause the book more than once to linger on the story because it was just that beautiful.

About half of this book I listened to on Audible while doing all the laundry and I have to say that listening to it brought even more life to it than just reading it. It took longer – because I’m a super fast reader – but I think it was totally worth it. I’m not a huge reader of fiction – I might read 2 a year, while I consume non-fiction books and memoirs at a much more consistent and quick pace. But I always make space for Sue Monk Kidd’s novels. I can’t decide if it’s her style of writing, her imaginative settings, her love and care for her characters, or simply the stories that always seem to stay with me – perhaps it’s the combination of all of it. I’m pretty particular about skill of writing in the fiction stories that I read and Sue Monk Kidd is, in my opinion, absolutely one of the most lovely writers I’ve read.

Out of all of her novels, this is my favorite so far. Which is impressive, because I still, after many years, think about the Secret Life of Bees. I imagine that this one might linger in my heart for even longer than that one did. I also have to say that her memoir that she wrote with her daughter, Traveling with Pomegranates, is one of my favorite memoirs as well. It also stayed with me and I think about it from time to time.

My favorite Quotables from The Book of Longings:

“It does the world no good to return evil for evil. I try now to return good to them instead.” – p. 123

“Why should we contain God any longer in our poor and narrow conceptions, which are so often no more than grandiose reflections of ourselves? Let us set him free.”  – p. 124

“I think every pain in this world wants to be witnessed.” – p. 173

“Of all the emotions, Hope was the most mysterious. It grew like the blue lotus, snaking up from muddy hearts, beautiful while it lasted.” – p. 268

“When I tell you all shall be well, I don’t mean that life won’t bring you tragedy. Life will be life. I only mean you will be well in spite of it. All shall be well, no matter what.” – pg 276

“Anger is effortless. Kindness is hard. Try to exert yourself. – p. 334

“Don’t look away. Terrible things will happen now. Unbearable things. Bear it anyway.” – p. 376

Anxiety, Paranoia and the Pirate Living Under My Bed

About a year ago my body started acting out in the form of panic attacks.  They came about once a week at first and then became more frequent and more severe until I was having at least one panic attack every day.  At first I didn’t recognize them as panic attacks – I thought I was dying.  I’m a bit of a hypochondriac generally, so every little thing that’s wrong with me is always some form of cancer in my mind.  I once had sharp pains in my lower back and so I called my husband to tell him that I was bleeding internally and that he needed to rush home and take me to the emergency room.  I have a pinched nerve in my arm (due to a muscle spasm caused by stress – go figure) that, when it first happened, I was convinced was a heart attack so I rushed off to the ER only to spend five hours being poked, prodded, monitored and questioned and then sent home with a prescription for Advil.  So when my body recently started spazzing out on me, I knew immediately that I had finally developed that brain tumor I have been waiting for.  My face has even gone numb a few times from these episodes.  One of those times, when the left side of my face went numb I stood up, walked over to the mirror hanging on the wall in my living room and began to smile and frown back and forth slowly so I could check to see if I was having a stroke.

I have taken no less than 5000 pregnancy tests because every time I’m five minutes late, or crampy at weird times, or my boobs hurt or I’m nauseous, or I’m extra moody I just assume I’m pregnant.  Every time I’ve been pregnant I was convinced I was having twins because how could anyone be this nauseous with just ONE baby?!  Every time I have a headache I assume it’s an aneurism that’s about to burst and kill me.  I’m afraid to use paper cutters because I’m convinced I’ll cut my hand off – or at least a finger or two.  Every time I walk to my car (day or night) I have to look in the back seat to make sure there’s not an axe murderer waiting to chop my head off while I’m driving.

If I’m driving at night, I always assume that someone is hiding in the trunk or backseat (even though I looked!) and so I choose whatever music I think makes me seem the most innocent and wonderful so that he will choose not to murder me after all.  I can’t leave my arms or legs hanging over the side of my bed at night because I have visions of a pirate of some sort (I wish I could explain this one) climbing out from under the bed and chopping them off with his big curved sword.

At night, when (not if) I have to get out of bed to go pee, I have to hop back into bed afterwards because walking next to my bed in the dark means that something could reach out from underneath, grab my ankle and take me down.  If I’m driving somewhere and notice that a car has been following me for any extended period of time I assume it’s because the person inside that car is intending to follow me home, murder me and steal my valuables (as if I have any).  When my husband is late, or unavailable by phone or text I assume, obviously, that he’s dead in a ditch somewhere.  But I don’t just imagine that he’s dead, I come up with this detailed scenario of how it happened and what he was thinking and how I’ll plan the funeral and how I’ll tell the kids and whether or not I will ever be able to love again.  It’s all so very tragic.  I’m certain that Anne with an E would be quite impressed by my brilliant “scope of imagination”.

If one of my children is quiet in another room for more than five minutes, I assume they’ve accidentally tangled themselves up in the strings of the blinds and that they are dying a slow and agonizing death.  If one of them gets up five minutes later than they normally do I assume they accidentally suffocated during the night.  When every single one of my kids were babies, I had to have them sleep in the same room with me so that I could look at their chest periodically to make sure they were still breathing.  This, I’m pretty sure, isn’t a “me” thing, but rather just a mother thing – so I’m just going to go ahead and assume that it doesn’t make me any more crazy than every other mom (because we’re all at least a little crazy, right?).

Anxiety looks different for everyone. Some, like mine, provide really great fodder for hilarious sitcoms or memoirs. Although I’ve spent my entire life struggling with a higher than average level of anxiety, I was surprised when I realized that I was having panic attacks. I was actually surprised. No one around me seemed to be surprised though – go figure. I spent a year in pretty extreme anxiety before I finally decided to get some help.  Then I spent about a year on medication to curb the panic attacks and help me find their source. When your body is overwhelmed with anxiety, it works hard to protect you from that anxiety while also alerting you to its presence because, believe it or not, those of us who are highly anxious don’t always know that we are highly anxious.

Anxiety Disorder is kind of like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in the way it’s so often misunderstood. Everyone thinks they have anxiety disorder just like everyone thinks they have OCD, but if you spent a day with someone with OCD you’d realize that it’s a bit more serious than you think it is. My daughter recently came and told me that she was OCD.  I asked her how often she washes her hands or what things she was doing that she was unable to control. “Nothing,” she said. “Then you’re not OCD.” I replied. The same is true of anxiety disorder. It’s not that I worry a lot. It’s that I am unable to be logical in my worrying. I worry about things that I know are absolutely impossible or at the very least incredibly unlikely. I am compulsive in my worry and it often takes over my body making it impossible to breathe, talk, reason or think clearly.

I think the most helpful thing has been talking about it and accepting that I’m busted up inside.  I stopped trying to pretend I wasn’t in pain.  I stopped worrying so much about everyone else’s opinion about my pain – and trust me, there were plenty of opinions. Anxiety, like depression, looks different for everyone. And there are so many silent sufferers. For me, it will always be in the backseat trying to climb behind the wheel. Anxiety is just part of my every day life and like so many others, I am so weary of pretending that it’s not. I’ve been anxious my entire life. I can’t imagine my life without it.

I am in a good place right now, thanks to my doctor, my family and some really beautiful little blue pills. I used to be ashamed of that. I’m not anymore. My husband takes medication for his disease and I take medication for mine – although his is an “acceptable” disease and mine is often believed to be “made up”. Don’t care. I will do what I need to do to be present in my life and present with my family. And you should too. Let’s not let other people dictate our health or well-being. Doing what you have to do to take care of yourself and your family doesn’t make you weak – it makes you a warrior. I am a warrior and I finally have my fight back. I will not apologize for or be ashamed of my journey. I hope you won’t either.


Unabashedly Me

If you could live your whole life over again, what would you do differently?  It’s a familiar question.  We’ve probably all heard it before, or even asked it of others or ourselves.  My regular reply has always been, “nothing”.  There isn’t anything I would change because every decision, every event, every sadness, every difficulty, everything that has ever happened to me has made me who I am and led me to where I am and I wouldn’t change that for anything.  Right?  Blech.  Well, I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately and I think I’ve come to a new conclusion.  If I had my whole life to live over again, what would I do differently?  Everything.  Every single thing.  I don’t mean I would change the details of my life up to this point.  I’m not wishing I could unload a kid or anything.  I mean that I would live it differently.  I would DO it differently.  Same events.  Different me.

Charles Swindoll once said, “Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you react to it.”  This quote has been a kind of mantra of mine since my early high school years, which is many years before I knew who said it.  I’ve always believed that our reactions to our circumstances is what truly matters in the way that we live.  We have a choice how we respond to things.  However, although I’ve believed that wholeheartedly for over half of my life, I don’t think I fully understood it until recently.  It’s not just about positivity or a good attitude.  It’s not even about hopefulness, I don’t think.  I believe it’s more about understanding that much of our life is about the way we think.  The way we think about ourselves, the way we think about others, the way we think about our circumstances – our difficulties – our wins and our losses.  It’s about perspective.  And perspective is a choice – an important one.

If I could do my life over again, I’d give it a go with less fear.  I’d stop worrying about what everyone is thinking about me.  I’d concern myself less with whether or not I fit in.  I’d spend my energy fighting against shame, being unabashedly myself, without altering one funny little detail to please anyone other than my own self.  I’d believe people when they told me I’m pretty.  I’d care more about my friends than my waistline.  I’d spend more time doing stupid things.  I’d look at my children longer and study every feature of their tiny little faces.  I’d hold hands more, hug more, kiss more, love more.  I’d work harder at forgiveness – of others and myself.  I’d have more confidence in my abilities, my strengths, my talents.  I’d make more mistakes, and not worry as much about them.  I’d give myself unlimited chances to do better, live better, be better.  I’d risk more.  I’d travel more.  I’d keep less for myself and give more away.  Mostly I’d accept myself as I am and love myself more entirely – all of me – every wrinkle, every fat cell, every quirk and every flaw.

I’d stop comparing and start living.


Unstoppable Me

Somewhere deep inside I believe I can do anything.  That belief doesn’t always manifest itself in my day to day activities, but I really do believe it.  I’m naturally quite impulsive and also generally quite confident.  When you pair those things together, you have a bit of a strange combination.  When I watch doctor shows I imagine that I should go ahead and go to medical school so that I can fix all the people.  When I watch law & order type shows I imagine myself as a bad ass attorney sticking it to the bad guys.  Side note: I rarely imagine myself in law enforcement.  Mostly because I’m scared of the dark, but also because the idea of me carrying or shooting a gun is enough to make anyone who knows me shoot their drink straight out of their nose.  It really is just that hilarious.  But anyway.

I once tried for an entire hour to pick the lock of my mother-in-law’s front door because we had accidentally left her house key at my sister-in-law’s house and since I had watched seven straight seasons of Alias, I was the obvious choice to find a way in.  You know, because of all my super spy training.  In unrelated news, I wasn’t successful at picking the lock, but I did watch my husband laugh harder than I ever had before or ever have since.  The point is that I have a natural tendency to believe that nothing is beyond my reach – that I can do pretty much anything I want to.  If I’m being honest, I love that about myself.  I hope and pray that my four daughters will somehow pick that up from me.

The strange, and disappointing, thing about it, though, is that I rarely take that belief and actually try to make it reality.  Something happens to me somewhere between the believing and the doing that keeps me from the trying.  I can’t figure out what that is, but if I ever do I know I’ll be unstoppable.  

I believe that we are all made for so much more than we allow for ourselves.  So much more than we think we deserve or think we can achieve.  If I could follow through on that silly notion that I can do anything, I wonder if I would actually be able to do anything.

Dream With Me – A Book Review

John M. Perkins was born to sharecroppers in Mississippi in 1930.  His mother died when he was a baby and his father abandoned the family, so he was raised by his grandmother and other extended family members. At the age of 17, after his older brother was murdered by a town marshall, John ran away to California. About thirty years later his son, Spencer, led him to Christ and a short time later he returned to Mississippi with his wife, Vera Mae and their children in order to minister to the people there. They started a foundation called The John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation which they still lead today.

Dream With Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win is a memoir of struggle, hope and determination. It is a truly beautiful book by a remarkable man who made a significant impact on our nation’s history. Mr. Perkins interweaves his own personal story and struggle with wisdom he’s learned in his almost 60 years of ministry. In this book, his voice is firm yet tender and comes across as both authentic and impassioned. His insights into America’s racial divide are deep and powerful. Mr. Perkins paints a picture of a better future for those among the margins – not only racially, but financially. This book isn’t necessarily a roadmap about how to get to the reconciliation that desperately needs to happen, but it does make you believe that it is possible. In sharing story after story from his own life about enlightenment, change and reconciliation, Mr. Perkins gives us a wisdom that can only be gathered from years of mistakes and heartbreak. He pours out his own pain on the pages and allows the reader to learn from his journey in a way that is raw, real and truly beautiful.

I take from this book a desire to know more about John M. Perkins, a longing to see his dream become reality and a greater understanding of where we’ve come from as a country and where we might be able to go. This book is an inspiration for all who yearn for both justice and grace. There are so many lessons to be taken from this book and I highly recommend it!

My Favorite Quotables from Dream With Me By John M. Perkins:

“God’s love and justice come together in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, and we can’t be about one and not the other. They’re inextricably connected.” p 29

“Love is the first, middle and final fight.” p 30

“Once you know their hurts and feel their pain, your neighbors’ issues become yours too.” p 75

“The oppressed already have a voice; the problem is that no one is listening.” p 75

“Our unity – our reconciliation – bears witness to the world of the surpassing love of God in Jesus Christ.” p 84

“Both sides are yelling too loudly to listen to one another. We have accommodated the racism and the segregation in society for so long that we have lost our ability to hear or understand one another.” p 105

“I believe in the inherent dignity of all human beings. The Bible states clearly that God created men and women in His image from the very beginning. No matter how damaged people become, they still bear that image. No matter how much people have been oppressed or how much they have oppressed others, the part of them made in His image is worth rescuing and restoring. Since we all inherently bear this image, we also inherently have dignity. We do not give people dignity; God gives it to them, but we must work to affirm it in others and ourselves.” p 129

“Dignity has always been part of the justice equation.” p 135

“Love is most powerful when it is unexpected – and when it does not come cheaply.” p 148

“A free society cannot exist for long if too many people in that society put their own image above that of their community.” p 167

“During my lifetime, I fear that more people have seen the church as a messy contradiction defined by division and hot-button issues than have seen it as a prophetic voice living out the gospel. Most people outside the church see it as estranged regarding issues of race, economics, sexuality, and so many other things. They see the church as a place that condemns, rather than loves. They hear the voice of the church speaking a language of hate, rather than a language of redemption and reconciliation. We have lost the fullness of the gospel.” p 188

“The fullness and adequacy of the gospel is a message of togetherness and love across ethnic barriers.” p 197

“In the midst of seeking and telling truth, we find God’s presence.” p 197




Disclosure: I received a copy of this book through Baker Books Bloggers.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

The Gatekeepers – A Book Review

As a political junkie, I absolutely loved The Gatekeepers. Chris Whipple takes you inside the white house of the last 50 or so years, giving you a rare look into how our executive branch functions.  With superior writing and incredible insight, The Gatekeepers is truly a must read for anyone with any interest in politics, government or even the occasional white house gossip. There are so many interesting insights into the exclusive group of men that served as White House Chief.

From Nixon and the Watergate scandal to the Obama years and everything in between, Chris Whipple gives us a glimpse into the minds and lives of the most powerful men in Washington’s more recent history.  Each chapter’s title is a quirky little nod to the chief (or chiefs) of staff represented in the chapter – nicknames, jokes, mistakes made – all memorable, all unique and special.

More than a simple history review, The Gatekeepers is filled with lessons of leadership, ego, humility, preparedness and so much more. The wisdom represented in these pages serve as a roadmap for future leaders – especially anyone who finds themselves leading from the second chair. There is an interesting perspective represented in this book that sheds light on what was, or was not, able to be accomplished throughout each president’s terms in office based on who held the office of chief of staff. It truly is remarkable the impact each of these men have had on American history.

I enjoyed this book even more than I expected to due to the tremendous quality of writing and the humor strewn throughout. It will whet your appetite and leave you wanting more. It is both informative and fascinating, an easy read and incredibly thorough – a political page turner that I enjoyed immensely and highly recommend.




Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from for the purposes of this review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions expressed are my own

A Timetable for Grief

jim and grandma

It’s been three and a half years since Jim died.  I haven’t really talked about it much because, well, what would I even say.  It’s all so tender and fragile and holy.  It’s been three and a half years since we all stood around his bed and said goodbye.  None of us wanted to, but we had no choice. So we did. I stood in the back of the room because I didn’t think I had a right to stand closer. He was my uncle.  Not my brother.  Not my partner.  My uncle.  I didn’t have a right to be up close as he took his last breaths so I stood in the back and held mine.  In that cold hospital room, with the stupid blue chair and the horrible view of the roof and the air conditioning units I watched him die.  And some of me died there too.

Parts of me that believed that life was good and right and real died that day when the most real person I ever knew stopped living and left us all there to figure out why the hell it happened.  Even now as I write these words I still have no idea.  You know how sometimes you look back on things that have happened and say, “so THAT’S why that happened.  I understand now.”  Three and a half years later I still can’t make sense of it.  And maybe that’s just it.  There isn’t a reason.  He died because he got sick.  That’s it.  End of story.  Maybe there’s no lesson there at all.

I don’t think I’ve taken a deep breath since that day.  I’ve been shallow breathing for nearly four years.  Filled with so much sadness and grief and anxiety that I can’t catch my breath.  I got an up close and personal view of how fragile life actually is and it wrecked me.  Jenny Simmons writes, “Life is so deathy.”  She’s right.  It is.  But here’s the thing…the deathy-ness of life can keep us from the living.  It’s kept me from living.  It just feels so horribly wrong that the sense of wrongness takes up residence inside us and prevents us from taking deep breaths and seeing the fleshy colors of life all around us.  The weight of death wrapped itself around my shoulders, refused to let me go, and I’ve been sinking underneath the heaviness of it.

I couldn’t accept it, so I didn’t.  My heart has stayed there in that room, frozen in time, because I haven’t been able to deal with it yet.  And I’m terribly embarrassed about that.  I feel ashamed that I’m still grieving.  Like, why can’t I just get over it already?  Everyone expected me to get over it years ago, so I put on my happy face and pretended.  But really, inside I’m just numb and angry and devastated.

I keep feeling the need to explain why I loved him the way I did, why his death has me so messed up.  I feel the need to validate my grief.  But I can’t figure out why.  Is there some rule about who we are allowed to grieve for and whose death we have to move right past?  I don’t feel like I have a right to be this sad.  But I am.  So where does that leave me?  Not only am I still, nearly four years later, filled with red hot grief – I’m also ashamed to admit it so I’m keeping it entirely to myself.  So add to the red hot grief a paralyzing loneliness that I didn’t even realize was there.

I was pregnant with my fifth child, our first boy, when my uncle died.  I was terrified I would lose that baby as I had lost one many years before. So as we buried Jim, I buried my feelings along with him.  I became numb, the feeling parts of me closed off as tightly as I could manage while still being able to hug and hold all of my sweet babies. Bittersweet living. A new baby came and new friends and opportunities and all along the way I showed up just enough to take a ton of pictures, laugh a little and then crawl back into my hidy hole.

As I begin to emerge from my little cocoon, I realize that I am certainly not the only one who’s been here. There are so many of us who struggle with sadness, depression, anxiety or grief and we never really talk about it. For me, it was mostly because I wouldn’t have known what to say. And I’m usually pretty in touch with my feelings. I generally understand myself pretty well. Grief changes all that self-awareness though, I think. At least it did for me. I suddenly had no idea how to deal, or even what exactly I was dealing with. I heard someone say once that sin takes you further than you want to go and keeps you longer than you want to stay.  Well, I wonder if the same is true of grief – although I would never compare grief to sin.  Grief takes you hostage. It pulls you away from the living. And it cannot be interrupted, ignored or avoided no matter how hard you try. Grief has its own timetable and it will not be determined by those who grieve, we are simply along for the ride.

I wish that someone had told me that grief is different for every person. The timing will be different. The feelings will be different. The intensity and effects will be different. None of that means that anyone’s grief is more or less significant than anyone else’s – it simply means that grief (like anxiety and depression) is different for all of us. I wonder if we have to actually be present within the grief to ever come back out of it? I wonder if grief isn’t something to just get through, but rather something to experience freely and fully so that we can take from it even more memories of the people that we lost. I have memories of my grief that are entwined with my memories of and with my uncle. This may sound strange, but they are as precious to me as the memories I have with him living. They feel tender to me and I wouldn’t give them up for anything.

I’m grateful for my season of grief and for however long it decides to last. I will fully participate in it. I will not try to push it down or away, but will listen to whatever it has to teach me.

I pray now for each of you who are traveling your own grief journey. Let us not be ashamed or discouraged. Let us be willing and ready to remember and be thankful that we have had the beautiful and enduring privilege of loving someone so deeply. May God bless you in your grief and me in mine.