5 Must-Read Books For The Rest of Your Summer

July 27, 2016

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I’m tired of taking the kids to the pool and we have one more week till school begins (whaaaat?!), so in the middle of errands this morning we stopped by the library to get out of the heat. We live in the weirdest sliver of a county that changes school districts constantly as they build out the suburbs and add another exit near us to accommodate Atlanta’s infamous traffic. Consequently, our actual library is nearly 25 minutes from us near nothing we ever go to, when libraries in closer proximity are off limits because they’re in a different county. I guess we could just pay for library cards, but who does that?! So, every couple of months we would trek out to that library and I would swear I’d never do it again when one lone book failed to make it into the car and we had to drive all the way out there just to return it later.

Thankfully, last year Emma began attending a school in another county than the one we live in and we were able to snag a library card in her name. We now have 2 libraries we LOVE within 15 minutes of us and we are in heaven – do I sound a little bit like a nerd?! Steven says I am too much sometimes with my book situation, so you’d be in good company. 😉

Because I’m always posting about books and quotes on Instagram and so many of you text me and comment asking for favorites, I thought I would share 5 of my most-loved books for this summer. I wanted to add many more, so consider this list ongoing!

The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands, By Lysa TerKeurst

Cure the disease to please with a biblical understanding of the command to love. Escape the guilt of disappointing others by learning the secret of the small no. Overcomethe agony of hard choices by embracing a wisdom based decision-making process. Rise above the rush of endless demands and discover your best yes today.

It is not overly dramatic to say that this book changed my life. Lysa points to so much scripture on wisdom and the painful effects of over-commitment that I left the book knowing I needed to come up with a better plan for our family’s time. I began structuring our week differently, paying attention to emotional cues that we were simply doing too much, and then politely declined many things I was doing out of guilt. The amazing thing is not that it’s all about “no”. In fact, when you begin removing your harried schedule, you begin to actually hear the Lord speak when he says, “Hey, buy the person’s drink behind you in the drive-thru.” Or, “Hey, pray for this person.” Or, “I think she could use some encouragement. Drop something off on her front doorstep.”

7: An Experimental Mutiny On Excess, by Jen Hatmaker

American life can be excessive, to say the least. That’s what Jen Hatmaker had to admit after taking in hurricane victims who commented on the extravagance of her family’s upper middle class home. She once considered herself unmotivated by the lure of prosperity, but upon being called “rich” by an undeniably poor child, evidence to the contrary mounted, and a social experiment turned spiritual was born.
7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.

I went into this book knowing I would be convicted, but like Jen, thinking, “We are not rich! We still shop at thrift stores, we don’t own a lot of toys, we don’t have Spotify Premium. We sit through the ads every single time to save $9.99 every month.” Halfway through I began praying not only for my heart to be wrecked from its many blind spots, but also for the american church. Change for the marginalized has never been needed so badly.

Read this book if you dare. There were some reviews that Jen’s tone of voice bothered them in the writing, but I found it honestly refreshing. I’d also like to mention this was written several years ago and you can look now at where Jen is and see that God did not stop with 7 for Jen, but continued a great work. Her ministry in Ethiopia is amazing. 

Image-IIHope Heals, by Jay and Katherine Wolf

“Katherine and Jay married right after college and sought adventure far from home in Los Angeles, CA. As they pursued their dreams, they planted their lives in the city and in their church community. Their son, James, came along unexpectedly in the fall of 2007, and just 6 months later, everything changed in a moment for this young family. On April 21, 2008, as James slept in the other room, Katherine collapsed, suffering a massive brain stem stroke without warning. Miraculously, Jay came home in time and called for help. Katherine was immediately rushed into micro-brain surgery, though her chance of survival was slim. As the sun rose the next morning, the surgeon proclaimed that Katherine had survived the removal of part of her brain, though her future recovery was completely uncertain. Yet in that moment, there was a spark of hope. Through 40 days on life support in the ICU and nearly 2 years in full-time brain rehab, that spark of hope was fanned into flame.”

I read this book in a matter of days. I cried, laughed, and felt inspired to allow God to redeem my own broken story. You will truly feel left with hope after you read this book!

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Surprised By Oxford, by Carolyn Weber

Surprised by Oxfordis the memoir of a skeptical agnostic who comes to a dynamic personal faith in God during graduate studies in literature at Oxford University.

Carolyn Weber arrives at Oxford a feminist from a loving but broken family, suspicious of men and intellectually hostile to all things religious. As she grapples with her God-shaped void alongside the friends, classmates, and professors she meets, she tackles big questions in search of Truth, love, and a life that matters.

From issues of fatherhood, feminism, doubt, doctrine, and love, Weber explores the intricacies of coming to faith with an aching honesty and insight echoing that of the poets and writers she studied. Rich with illustration and literary references, Surprised by Oxford is at once gritty and lyrical; both humorous and spiritually perceptive. This savvy, credible account of Christian conversion and its after-effects follows the Oxford liturgical calendar as it entertains, informs, and promises to engage even the most skeptical and unlikely reader.

If you only have time to read one of these books on my list, make this one it! It is long, but do not be daunted by it. I wish I could buy everyone a copy.

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

I couldn’t leave here without including a fun novel for you to devour in three days. I have loved and read everything Liane Moriarty has written, a brilliant Australian writer with the inner dialogue of a woman completely figured out. I swear I read her books and think, “Someone has thought that too?!”  I actually read this one a couple summers ago, but it is my favorite by her and such a fast, completely indulgent read, you need to get it out with a margarita by the pool.

What are some great reads you’d recommend?! I’m looking for some great fiction picks, as I tend to stay within non-fiction unless I find an author I love.  Is Where’d You Go Bernadette any good?! Spill!

P.S. Our detailed, homeschool curriculum list. And the perfect journal.

Hey, I’m back!

July 25, 2016

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been 2 years since I’ve written on this blog and now I’m here again writing from my pajamas in my bed while everyone is soundly asleep. So much has changed that it almost feels like a different person is typing out these sentences. Yet, the core of who I am and Who I was made for, is still deeply the same. For that, I’m ever grateful.

I hardly know where to begin in updating you all! That’s a good thing, I think, as I left writing in 2014 feeling spent and empty of words. Little did I know how long of a break I would need, but much healing has taken place since then, and also more pain than I knew I’d be asked to walk through. It’s not cancer or surgery or anything you can start a GoFundMe page about. (I have people close to me that have walked that road, though, and oh how my heart aches for that kind of pain.) But I am finding peace with the fact that sometimes we’re asked to go through things that will never get made completely right till heaven. That our names will be mocked and scorned and lied about and yet, we are called to peace. I have found comfort in the glorious work of Christ on the cross and the promises of His redemption. And in that, I rest my case.

That sounds really spiritual, but mostly it means that I cried a lot in the bathroom and in church services this past year and I went to counseling and I searched the scriptures and I prayed and I surrounded myself with people who were the best kind of people. People who love Jesus. People who are humble. People who prayed me through hard things. People who fed our family when I was going to hand everyone frozen waffles. People who had us over for holidays. And people who showed up when it wasn’t fun to show up.

When you look close enough, it’s been really amazing.

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I feel rusty trying to get out what’s on my heart, but hopefully over time I’ll find my wheels and you’ll stay with me for the ride. There have been so many other good things in the last 2 years that I would be remiss not to mention them. We had another baby, and he has rocked our world. His hair unexpectedly turned sandy blonde and he has these deep, dark brown eyes that everyone mentions when we go out. His smile is juicy and ornery and turned on for charm. No longer can we really eat out, but he will wave at everyone in public and say “Hallo!” like he’s running for mayor. We named him Hugh and it is perfect.

The kids are healthy and have spent the last couple of months on a swim team with their friends. Poor Hugh wanted to jump in so badly all season, but we told him it would only be another 4 years before he could be on the team. Ha! The exercise has been wonderful for everybody. While the kids practiced I would often take Hugh around the lake for a run and later in the season I bought tennis rackets from the thrift store and taught the kids how to play. It’s too hot now to even think of going outside after 11am, so allow me a moment to just reminisce on those memories from earlier in July. 🙂 I think we have all loved the routine of getting up every morning and having somewhere to be and it’s kept our short summer running smoothly before the routine of school mornings begin.

School begins NEXT week for us. So crazy early, but in a way I’m glad. It is simply scorching out and there’s not much we can do about it. Continuing with my theme from the last 2 years, I’m taking a break from homeschooling this year and will only have Hugh at home with me. Part of me is so sad to not have all day with my kids, the other part is so happy they get to have this experience. Emma absolutely loved last year at the school and we adored her classmates and her teacher, so we are giving it a go with all three and seeing what happens. For those of you who don’t follow me on Instagram, the school is a language immersion model, so it’ll be exciting to see them pick up German. {Several of you have asked questions about why we chose that language and more about language immersion, so I plan on sharing a post soon answering your questions.)

We have almost reached two years in this rental house, which is crazy to think about when it feels like we just moved here. It has been nice not to unpack and repack and to have someone else completely take care of our yard. We have a pool just a short walk across the street and aside from the fact we have no yard, it’s been so perfect for us. I still long to have a place I can paint again and renovate and put my love into, but we decided that launching my businesses this year (I’ll share more on that this week!) was where our focus should be and that adding another big project wasn’t a good idea. See, we are learning from our mistakes!

The kids are about to wake up and I need to sign off, but I wanted to let you all know that I added a few of the posts I wrote on my photography website below. I have stopped doing photography and shut down that site (bittersweet! but it was time). Please bear with us this week as we update this site, our email subscription, and get things more organized for you. And I can’t thank you all enough for always saying kind things on Instagram asking me to come back and write. You made me feel loved and needed and look what happened. I’m back!!!

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I’m so glad to be here.

Around The Corner

March 21, 2016

Steven turned 30 a couple of weeks ago and during the same week we made the difficult decision to leave the company he’s been with for 6 years and go to a smaller company that we hope will be a better fit for our family.

His first day is today.

It has been a process going on behind the scenes since November and when everything finalized we packed up the kids and went to Rosemary Beach to celebrate for the weekend. The trip was hilarious and stressful and so indicative of where we are in our lives. A juxtaposition of being outnumbered 4 to 2 and loving the fullness it brings, yet craving some peace and quiet to drink our coffee alone on the cottage porch or I don’t know. Pee in the peace of shiplap walls.

We are no strangers to change and in our early twenties we moved often, took developing career paths, and dug our heels in when deciding on churches, friends, schools, houses….the nearest Costco. Honestly, up until Atlanta it felt completely normal to preface every conversation with, “If/when we move…” holding loosely to friendships knowing that we would eventually be somewhere else. That part kind of sucked.

But I look back and think how good it was for us to learn about ourselves during these transitions and that places and people do not define us, that our image is created in Jesus and our identity is rooted in a much larger story than the one we see defined by latitude and longitudes on a map. It was also incredibly hard. You don’t always realize how steep the mountain is when you’re putting one foot in front of the other every day, but when you get to the top and you gaze out on the pins of your life it feels…well. Like a deep tired.

The last year and a half has been like crawling into silky sheets at the end of that tired. Target is right around the corner where I buy my cold brew coffee, we have a shared carpool rotation established for school, and landscapers come and do our tiny yard. They come and do our yard!

Currently, we are looking for a church closer to us (we are so sad to leave our beloved church home for the last 1.5 years :/) and a suburb that makes sense for Steven’s work commute and our school. Atlanta is so particular like that and 5 miles could be 40 minutes tacked onto your drive. The hunt is fun and we are in no rush. 🙂

As we think about another move I have been downsizing our belongings using the KonMari method from her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. This is the longest we’ve lived in any one house and it shows! I sold several things from our closets and I’ve been replacing them with intentional pieces, like this necklace from Ekata Designsmade from refugee women in Memphis. I have worn it every day this past week and have been complimented over and over. I asked for more info on the women who make these necklaces and here is what I learned:

Ekata Designs is a Memphis-based organization that aims to empower Refugee women in our community through employment and training, while making jewelry along the way.  This is one way we are seeking to love our neighbor and we hope that each piece of jewelry will remind you to love intentionally, celebrate diversity and embrace unity in your own community.

I love this and hope to teach my girls that even in what we wear we can support others dreams and make them a reality. Should you like to own this gorgeous piece you can purchase one HERE and/or enter the giveaway I’m hosting over on Instagram. We will be twins!

Wishing You Good Cheer

January 1, 2016

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Happy New Year from Atlanta!

I wanted to write my first ever Christmasey newsletter to stay in touch with those of you whom we love but are far away. With all of our moves I’ve asked God to open my heart to each new city…to put room in there for more changes and more ways to love. If I think too long about how many pieces of my heart are scattered in cities and houses and friendships, I’ll cry. So just know that I miss you people dearly and that I’m grateful for the chapters in which our paths intertwined.

We count our blessings as 2014/2015 were hard years for our family. God, in His providence, has sent a beautiful new city to embrace, a community of dear believers to strengthen us when we are weak, and children who remind us that we need Jesus. Every. Single. Day.

Our vivacious Emma Claire turned 7 and still maintains those sparkling green eyes and scattered freckles across her smiling face. Like a true firstborn, she likes to plan out everything on papers or notebooks and everywhere we go she is asking, “What’s next?!” We enrolled her in the German language immersion program at a local charter school in August. She is thriving with the busier schedule, her new friends, and the challenge of becoming bilingual.  Steven and I have considered moving our family overseas eventually, so we have attempted to make the language a family affair by posting vocabulary words around the house and speaking simple phrases to baby Hugh. This makes for interesting stares at the makeup aisle in Target when Hugh grabs something and the kids yell “NEIN!!!!” in unison.

Always sensitive to spiritual things, Emma accepted Jesus as her Savior this year and we have seen the Holy Spirit at work in her little life. One day she told us that she was going to bring in a book (Jesus Wants Me for A Sunbeam) to school for show-and-tell and sing the whole song for the class. I winced inside thinking of all the possibilities of the kids laughing or worse, the teacher telling her she couldn’t read that in a public school. When I picked her up later I asked her (nervously) how it went and she replied, “Great!!!!” I was so scared that my hands were shaking, but mom. I just stood there and sang the whole thing anyway.” There are so many things to be proud of with that girl, but this. This is what makes my heart swell with joy.

Our sweet and sensitive Shiloh has revived the meaning to her name – PEACE. When she was a newborn she screamed and terrorized every store we entered and I would have never guessed that she would be our calm diplomat who shares the odd numbered item to make everybody happy. Being the middle child of the stair step three, she loves to be noticed for her good deeds and always says things like, “Mum, you look beautiful!” or “I love God!” She turned 6 right before school started and entered the Kindergarten French track at the same school that Emma attends. A couple months into the year, with teacher changes, and student shifts, it became clear that she was not coping well with all of the changes and we decided to homeschool for the remainder of the year. Shiloh was so thrilled she would pull random Target employees aside and tell them, “She. Was. HOMESCHOOLED.” Can you tell we’re at Target a lot?!

The new pace of teaching at home has been really good for our mornings. Shiloh is the child that needs extra time with me and reading on the couch, learning science in the kitchen, and taking field trips in the city has made her thrive again. Plus, she loves getting to be with her baby Hugh all day. That photo above perfectly depicts their bonded relationship. He is getting way too big to be carried by her, but she considers it such an act of love that we can’t put a complete stop to it…yet. Of all her many qualities, I am thankful for Shiloh’s calm and loving heart, for she reminds me to slow down, breathe in the life around me, and tell someone I love them through a hug or a compliment.

Our Keller is 4, and we’re constantly reminding ourselves not to treat him like he’s older. On the top of the growth charts for everything, he is (ironically) our most laid-back of the four with a deep husky voice, a dry sense of humor, and thick blonde hair needing to be trimmed every other week. We joke that he is our boy/man. We already have to go to a special shoe store to find shoes that will fit him! I am homeschooling him with Shiloh and although he loves to learn and is quick to grasp concepts, we noticed he seemed to have difficulty hearing. With a degenerative ear condition on my side of the family, we took him straight in and were relieved to find out it is just fluid built up and his mild hearing loss should be regained with ear tubes. We have been administering medicine for the past few weeks and notice no change, so we are hoping for surgery in January and him being able to hear again!

Aside from asking,“What?” all of the time, Keller is obsessed with Legos, riding his bike, and silently annoying his sisters. Whatever he does, he likes to tell me allllllllll about it and I’m thankful he wants to include me in practically everything. Ever since my miscarriage, he has been a constant source of companionship and quick to sense when I need a hug. I thought that as he grew up that would fade away, but it continues and is such a gift. He recently has started telling me at the most random times of the day, “Mommy. You’re beautiful.” when I’ve got my hands deep in dish water or I’m in the middle of changing a dirty diaper. I laugh a little inside. God is unspeakably good to us in giving us these little people.

Hugh. Oh, Hugh. Just writing his name gives me a sheer wave of exhaustion. We have spent so much time at the doctor’s office trying to figure this little guy out that I have wished he could talk and just tell us what is going on inside of his little head! It started with allergies to milk as a newborn and now at 15 months old he has shown some developmental delays with his hips, legs, and feet. We are seeing a physical therapist once a week, but have concerns about his left foot that turns in and his seeming inability to put weight on it. We have been slow and thoughtful to react knowing that kids progress at all different paces, but we now have enough concerns that we are exploring other possibilities. Please join us in praying for answers.

He continues to be feisty and opinionated about everything and for scooching around on one leg he can get into a surprising amount of trouble. While I’m cleaning out a closet, he’s throwing folded clothes out of the laundry basket and covering the bathroom floor with tampons and toilet paper. We have all but given up on eating out as a family or sitting in a church service with him on our laps, because he takes these situations on as personal challenges. I swear you can see the steely determination in his eyes when he lets out a hearty yell/scream in the middle of prayer.  Wherever we go, people comment on his toothy grin, winsome face, and determined spirit and I think we’re all just a little bit proud of that big baby.

Steven has had an adventurous career year, adding several more stamps to his passport and a few projects to his resumé. November and December are always the hardest months in his line of work, but now we add January to the commitment calendar with his involvement in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. I am always so proud of him and what he has managed to build of his little FedEx airport job at 2am so many years ago when we were dating. As Ben Carson said in his book Gifted Hands, “Success is determined not by whether or not you face obstacles, but by your reaction to them. And if you look at these obstacles as a containing fence, they become your excuse for failure. If you look at them as a hurdle, each one strengthens you for the next.” 

I love that I’m married to a man that has done that with his life.

Steven turns 30 this year, so we can maybe stop getting shocked looks when people ask how many kids we have and how old we are. We may steal away to one of our favorite places – Rosemary Beach, FL – or lay in bed for 4 days eating popcorn and watching SNL reruns. Both sound equally appealing. I think a lot about Steve during years like these and how I hope they have birthday cakes in heaven and window holes to peek through and somebody he can say, “That’s my son.” to.

Because we’re all so dang proud of him.

I am finishing up a year of a self-induced sabbatical. I don’t know of people who do that, but I did. I got really good at saying, “Not this year.” knowing that eventually I would come back to the land of the participating but that I needed to know what it felt like to not wake up at 4am and do things purely because I felt bad. I said ‘no’ to extra curricular activities for the kids and handed partial schooling responsibilities over to someone else. I got a pedicure. I ran a half marathon. I bought all new underwear. I ordered books off of Amazon and I read them. I got rid of Facebook for months at a time and I think it’s official – I’m done with that scrolling newsfeed forever. I went to counseling. I cried a lot. Me and Jesus got to know each other on a whole new level. I watched Donald Trump on YouTube. I looked at pictures of Syrian refugees. I prayed for Paris. I learned how to make a cup of proper tea. I celebrated my birthday dinner with girlfriends who know how to get in the trenches with you. I got to know my husband better. I got to know my kids better. I got to know myself better.

So 2015. You seem like a year of sunlight extended hours and while I know the tan is worth it, you aged me with your lines of wisdom and your creases of grace. I look in the mirror and see so many things staring back. But mostly, a woman who is changing, a family that is growing, and a savior that is gracious indeed.

Am I glutton if I ask for more of the same in 2016???

Wishing you love and good cheer in the year ahead,

Mary Beth

A Leather Bag That Does Good

December 8, 2015

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I’ve always felt that having young children at home is one of my greatest ministries, but in the last few months God has been stirring my heart to serve in other ways. I want to stretch beyond our little home and my little people and expand to see the needs of a hurting world.  So, I began praying. It’s amazing how when you slow down, take a step back, and ask God to pour out the wisdom, He delivers. I could not believe how many opportunities began popping up in my email inbox or through conversations with friends. Things that I could do right here from my own home, using my one small voice to bring awareness to world issues and ministries doing incredible things.

Love 41 is one of those ministries. If you take a minute to read their story, you’ll be blown away by how God can use women and a calling to achieve so much good in broken places like Rwanda. I have the privilege of owning 2 of their artisan-made leather bags and carry them everywhere! 100% of the proceeds goes to Africa New Life Ministries to help orphans, widows, and street kids torn apart by the genocides.

I’m hosting a giveaway on Instagram HERE where you can win one of these Koroha Leather Bags in Tobacco. You will love, love, love it!!!!

Love 41 also started this incredible day care center (run solely from donations and love offerings) to help women who have come out of prostitution start a better life for them and their children. They are desperately needing our monthly support, as well as new toys for the center’s kids. You can view their list on Amazon and purchase directly there, or make a donation HERE.

May our hearts be stirred this Christmas to give and give some more. There is a big and needy world out there.

Love,

Mary Beth