My 7 Most Influential Reads of 2014

What we read or meditate on deeply affects how we think and ultimately, who we become. As the year ends, I’ve been thinking about what reads have most shaped me over the last year. The following is a list and brief explanation of some of the most perspective-changing books or blog posts I have read this past year. (I would love to hear what books or blog posts have most influenced you this past year! Please share in the comment section!)

1. The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

A great read if you need help loving sinners (and realizing you are one.)

IMG_0706This book was single-handedly THE most influential read of the year for me. Because: it demolished my pride. And showed me my desperate need for Jesus. It’s a short simple book based on the parable of the Prodigal Son. What I most enjoyed is that the book is written for the (moral/rule-keeping/law-oriented) “older brother,” more than the (rebellious/prodigal/stray sheep) “younger brother.” I had no idea how closely I would identify with the “older brother.” But the more I read of his pride and arrogance and anger, I couldn’t help but whisper, “That’s me, that’s me.” I also felt more love, and mercy, and grace for the “younger brother” figures in my life, and saw them in a totally new light. I saw us as being not so different from each other, really quite the same, because we both are desperate for Jesus. A favorite quote: “The gospel is distinct: In its view, everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change.”

 

2. One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

A great read if you want to see God everywhere, and see His hand in all things. 

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/636/62057002/files/2014/12/img_0707.jpgThis was some of the best writing (in a Christian book) I have read in…well, ever. Voskamp writes beautiful, poetic prose–but there is a heartbeat behind it too. This book is about being radically grateful for your everyday, messy, chaotic, seemingly train-wreck life. Voskamp was dared to come up with 1,000 things she was thankful for, and in the process, she takes her readers on her journey of her transformation. To be honest, I was annoyed with it at first. It seemed too sticky-sweet to me. But the further I read, I found out, this is the secret to joy–and there is no other way to get it. Readers are challenged to start their own joy-journey of making a list to one thousand. (I’m only on #86) but I can testify to the power and release of joy in naming the gifts God has given me. If you want to slow time down, be happier, and cherish the life and people God has given you, I suggest reading this book, and actually taking the challenge. It could literally change your life. It’s beginning to change mine.

3. Mom vs. Mom: The War I Didn’t See Coming by Jeanne Harrison, Loving My Lot

A great read if you are a new or experienced mom who needs to stop comparing with other moms and permission to be yourself. 
jealousy2This was the blog post that first welcomed me into motherhood (and blogging) as I know it. It is an honest, and hilarious account of one woman’s attempt to try to keep up with all the other mom’s. I first read it when my daughter was just months old, and it just made something break in me. I could suddenly breathe. (I was set free by a blog post. Hallelujah!) But it’s true, a giant weight was lifted off of me, and I could suddenly be myself, and start to enjoy motherhood as the woman God created me to be, and not as the one I thought I needed to be, because “she” was.

4. The Hunger Games (Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins

A great read if you want to shirk your household duties, get lost in a futuristic world and become perplexed over the realities of where our culture is heading if we don’t pay attention. 
hunger gamesI think it must have been in response to reading #3 that I even picked this up at my library, and gave myself permission to enjoy something that was…for once, fiction. I was so gripped by this story that I burnt every meal for a week (my husband can testify) and became so consumed with thinking about it, I was even dreaming about it. (I admit, it was slightly dangerous for me, and turned me into a horrible home-maker.) And yet, it also opened up my eyes to life outside my home and my imagination of what our culture could be like someday. It is an intense story, if you don’t know it, and I believe is meant to show us a picture of what our world could become. It certainly shaped my outlook on the culture and vanity and excess we have in our country.

5. “Ten Big, Daily Reminders” by Matt Reagan @ Desiring God

A great read (daily) if you need to need help remembering what is true and not being swept away by your emotions or circumstances.

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Sometimes I lose my bearings. I am a small-picture person, and I quickly lose sight of God and the big picture. Going through this list tremendously helps me get my focus back on God and reality. It’s just ten simple truths that give me solid framework for how to think, and help direct my thoughts away from fear, anxiety, or distraction. I can’t tell you how this has set me free from self-pity, expectations, and joylessness. Reading this list, (especially #5), made me realize I don’t deserve any of the blessings I have, not one. Thank you God!

6. Six Lessons In Good Listening by David Mathis @ Desiring God

A great read if you need to become a better listener, spouse, or friend. 
full_six-lessons-in-good-listeningThis is about how to listen well to people. Because when you listen well, you know how to love better, and speak better, too. I printed it out and highlighted all through this one. And then I realized I was actually a horrible listener. It made me start to think about what my marriage, and relationships would look like, if I really listened more carefully. I plan to take this one into the new year, as one of my goals is to be a better friend. And to listen well.

7. My First World Problems by Sasha @ MomLife Now

A great read if you haven’t thought about life outside America for awhile. 
img_20931I didn’t realize how powerful this was the first time I read it. But days, weeks, and even months later, I still find myself thinking of the message: Am I complaining about a “first world” problem, when there are millions suffering in much worse conditions? I am sure there is much written on this subject, but this was the first that made me start to really think. Now, when I begin to open my mouth about a problem with my cell phone, or that the grocery store was out of the toothpaste I like, this little voice comes back: “Is this a first world problem?”


Okay, now what what reads have most influenced, or changed your perspective this year? Anything you plan on reading this coming year? I would love to hear! (And I’m sure other readers would be glad for the referrals as well.)

Happy New Year and Happy Reading! May this year’s reading, whether fact or fiction, book or blog, or anything else you put before your eyes, shape you more and more into the image of Jesus. And may your eyes open further to His light, and your heart move closer to His warmth.

Love,

Rebekah

“May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be pleasing in Your sight. O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

She’s Longing For A Child This Christmas

This goes out to every woman whose heart aches to be a mother, but finds herself still in waiting. May these words soothe your soul if you are in this place, or otherwise break your heart for those who are. This guest post was originally published on MomLife Now by a beautiful writer named Sasha and I am honored to share it with you:

She’s Longing For A Child This Christmas

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Christmas can be the most joyous time of year. The pitter patter of little feet running out on Christmas morning. The squeals and shouts, the laughter and excitement. . .

Not everyone will feel such joy. For many this day is a sharp wound. Piercing deep in the mother who has yet to hear herself called by this name. She who has tried and tried again, only to see another negative stick, another baby lost in the womb. The adoption at a standstill–again.

To you, dear momma, I have been thinking about you. My heart unable to push you to the back of my mind. With every visit to Santa’s lap I have ached for you. I felt the hot tears fall onto my pillow last night, brushing your searing pain. The emptiness which tries to engulf you.

But what good are my tears to you? I tried to make them worth something. A prayer.

~~~~~~~~~~

God of the childless mother,

She may not have a little one who calls her “momma” just yet, but she is a mother still. Your definition of the word starts with the heart, and hers, tenderly longing, is tenderly felt by you.

I see her as she smiles lovingly on my own child, helping him pick up his cheerios just spilled across the floor. I see her as she acknowledges my shy little girl, telling her just how beautiful she looks this morning. What an incredible mommy she will be. I feel such joy for the soul who will be so blessed as to call her such.

Today though, her own soul, it’s so wounded. So desperate.

Meet her at her desperation. Give her the patience–the miraculous patience–she needs.

I see so many “mothers.” Mothers who leave their children, who neglect them, beat them, shame them. They keep on having more babies. Babies who will live through hurt and suffering. Then, I see her. She who would love her child more than life itself. God, why is she the one having difficulty? She who deserves so much to be a mother! If I struggle with this question then I know she does too. I know her hope fades thin.

Revive her hope. Hope for a day when she will find herself face to face with the child you have destined for her. Mothers come in all different shapes and sizes. Show her the path to take.

When all seems hopeless, bring your hope. When all falls dark, shine your light. When life slaps much too hard, bring your arms of comfort. Hold her God. For although a mother is her desire, your daughter she is first.

Christmas day, which could bring such pain to her tender heart. May it be a day of hope, of sweet longing for the future. A reminder that one day she too will hear the pitter patter of little feet–feet running straight to her.

Hold her tight this Christmas. She needs you.

~~~~~~~~~~

“The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you.” ~Deuteronomy 33:27


Sasha is a wife and mom of two who loves to open up about the realities of motherhood at her blog, MomLife Now. For more from Sasha, you can also follow her on Facebook.

Christmas is for Desperate People

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To My Daughter on Christmas,
I realize Christmas may seem a little confusing right now: This week you saw a glowing tree magically appear in our living room. (Then you were yelled at for touching it.) We went to the mall story-time and you got paper antlers and jingle bells to wear. Christmas music blared and as we strolled away, you saw a very long line of kids waiting to sit on an old man’s lap. Later that night, I dressed you in your new red and pink reindeer pajamas–but you kept calling them, “puppies.”

I know you are not yet two, but even at twenty-seven, this holiday can still make your head swirl. But someday, I hope you can see what Christmas is really about, and that is this: Christmas is for desperate people.

Last night, as you pulled all the ornaments within your reach off our Christmas tree, you kept pointing to one in particular you called, “baby.” We haven’t talked about this “baby” yet. But He is the reason we have Christmas at all.

See, a long time ago, the world was full of desperate people. And it was dark, and sad, and in need of a Rescuer. Remember how I told you I used to cry because I had to wait a very long time for you to be born? The earth was waiting for a baby too. But this was no ordinary baby. He was the Rescuer. He would rescue people from death, and despair, and darkness. Because the people loved darkness, they kept running further and further away from God. They didn’t know His love yet. What they needed to see, was a God who would run towards them. A God who would come close. At any cost.

God had been silent a very long time. But two thousand years ago, in a barn, in the starlight, in the straw, His teenage momma pushed out His warm, slippery, little body. And the moment this “baby” let out His first cry–the silence was broken forever. Between God and men.

And as His mom held Him on her chest and felt His skin against hers, she breathed out His name, “Jesus.” “Immanuel.” It means, “God is with us.”

And He was.

God had come. Skin to skin. Breath to breath. And soon, blood for blood. For the desperate. For the sinners. And that’s what that “baby” means. That was the beginning. Of God coming close to us. Of us being brought close to Him. Forever.

Sadly, some people don’t really know why we have Christmas. They try very hard to be happy and make it mean something, but they don’t know that the only reason to be happy is that the Rescuer made a way for us to be saved from going to a very bad place, and that we can be close to God now. Forever.

I’m telling you this because you are going to see big presents and flashing lights, and hear Christmas carols, and there will be cookies, and ugly sweaters, and people rushing around buying gifts. There will be little Santa’s and big inflatable ones, and reindeer, and movies, and ads for toys, and itchy dresses, and family photos. And I give you full permission to enjoy those things. But those are extra. They are not the main thing. Christmas is about Jesus.

And He came to save people enslaved to sin. To free people from addiction. He came to cleanse sinners in His blood and clothe the naked in His righteousness. He came to take shame away. He came to feed the hungry with good things, to make rich the poor, to set captives free. He came to give Living Water to the thirsty, so they may not thirst any more. He came for brokeness and unhealable pain. He came for the lowly. And for those who thought they were really holy. He came for people who would break their marriage vows. And for all the people who would be wounded by it. He came for girls that would take off their clothes for attention, and men who would take off their rings for satisfaction. He came for people with cancer, who would be healed in the life to come. He came for abused people, and sexually confused people. He came for depressed and anxious people, and those paralyzed constantly by fear. And shame.

And He came for people like me. Because, though you don’t know yet, you will know soon that: I am desperate. And I say this with tears: I desperately need Jesus. I need Him. He is life to me.

Me and your dad: we are desperate people. We are weak and sinful. We get angry. We do bad things, we think bad things. But in Jesus, we find an invitation to come. Not because of who we are, or what we’ve done, but because of who He is, and what He’s done. Are you desperate? I pray one day you will be.

Because of this you can be sure—He is coming back again. Not as a Baby this time, but as King. And He’s coming for the desperate. And only for the desperate. “For all those who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:8) And when He comes back He won’t appear as weak and lowly, but exalted and glorious. King of the earth. He will ride in on a great white horse, wearing many diadems, and He will be called: Faithful and True. On his robe and on his thigh will be written: King of kings and Lord of lords. And all the armies of heaven will ride in behind Him. And all nations and people will fall down before Him. And when He lifts His voice, the only ones who will rise will be, the desperate. Desperate for Jesus. And they shall enter the Wedding Supper of the Lamb and be satisfied forever. And nothing shall separate them from His love.

For God himself will be with them.

Immanuel.

So if you want to celebrate Christmas, my dear, we shall. We will celebrate the only way we truly can: as desperate people. As those who long for His appearing.

Love,
Mom

Photo Credit/Teamaskins

When All I Wanted For Christmas Was You

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This Christmas season my almost-4-year-old daughter will “help” decorate: She will yank on the Christmas lights, and break ornaments, and stick her fingers in the cookie dough.

But it hasn’t always been this way. There were many quieter Christmases at our house.

I remember just a few years ago, my husband and I were putting up the tree. And as I pulled out lights and ornaments from the red and green storage bins—I found our stockings.

I guess it’s just instinct to reach my hand inside. Maybe a stray Snickers bar? Some leftover Christmas candy? I immediately felt something in mine.

But what I pulled out of my stocking was not candy.

It was a another little stocking.

Almost like a…baby stocking.

I’m not sure where it came from or how it got in there. But as I held the tiny stocking in my hand, a pang of sorrow filled my heart. I couldn’t help but think of the little baby I had desired for so long. As I touched the fabric gently in my fingers, warm tears rolled down my cheeks and the Christmas lights blurred around me.

I longed for the little one I could one day hang this stocking for. The patter of little feet. And the sound of laughter.

I held the tiny stocking up to  my husband, and tried to force a smile, with tears coming down my cheeks. He came and sat down on the couch next to me and pulled me into his chest, holding me in his arms. More tears came then.
“I just thought,” I said, as tears streaked slowly down my face, “We would have a baby by now.”

“I know,” he whispered and stroked my hair with his fingers. “I know.”

It seemed like forever then, the waiting. The not knowing. The trusting. The wondering if God would answer. And when.

Tonight, that little stocking hangs on our mantle. For two years it’s hung. And the one for whom it hangs sits with me here on the couch and lays her sleepy head on my lap. And as I slowly stroke her blonde hair with my fingers, hot tears run again. And Christmas lights blur. Selah.

My Precious Selah,
Our nights aren’t silent any more. They are loud with screams, and cries, and laughter. But when you go to sleep, and me and Daddy are left alone, sometimes I sit and remember the time before you. And I grow silent once more, in awe and reverence…because of what God has done. And I think about the way He came close to me during the years of silent nights, and my silent cries for you. When your name was but a whispered prayer. A dream in the night.
Selah.

You were worth every minute I waited for you.