Book Reviews

The Church of Small Things by Melanie Shankle | Book Review

(ICYMI: I switched blogs! I combined my blogs for this new writing and blogging chapter. You can find out all the details here).

What can I say y’all? I’m a big fan of Melanie Shankle. I mean, we both love Jesus, books, tacos and have a soft spot for Texas. That’s a bond Internet. Her blog and her podcast (with Boo Mama) are some of my favorite things. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried (emphasis on the laughing). Seriously, the podcast cracks me up (I mean, her love of Teddy’s Organic Rosehip Seed Oil convinced me to purchase my first non cooking oil ever in my life). But that’s what I love about story – God uses everyone’s story to impact others.

Her latest, The Church of Small Things, is seriously for anyone!

Is my ordinary, everyday life actually significant? Is it okay to be fulfilled by the simple acts of raising kids, working in an office, and cooking chicken for dinner?

It’s been said, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.” The pressure of that can be staggering as we spend our days looking for that big thing that promises to take our breath away. Meanwhile, we lose sight of the small significance of fully living with every breath we take.

Melanie Shankle, New York Times bestselling author and writer at The Big Mama Blog tackles these questions head on in her fourth book, Church of the Small Things. Easygoing and relatable, she speaks directly to the heart of women of all ages who are longing to find significance and meaning in the normal, sometimes mundane world of driving carpool to soccer practice, attending class on their college campus, cooking meals for their family, or taking care of a sick loved one.

The million little pieces that make a life aren’t necessarily glamorous or far-reaching. But God uses some of the smallest, most ordinary acts of faithfulness—and sometimes they look a whole lot like packing lunch.

Through humorous stories told in her signature style, full of Frito pie, best friends, the love of her Me-Ma and Pa-Pa, the unexpected grace that comes when we quit trying to measure up, and a little of the best TV has to offer, Melanie helps women embrace what it means to live a simple, yet incredibly meaningful life and how to find all the beauty and laughter that lies right beneath the surface of every moment.

“But true success and prosperity comes when you are right where God wants you to be, doing what He has called you to do.”

Shankle has such a talent of drawing you in as a reader. Even if it’s a topic you don’t think you need – I’m telling y’all, she’s able to keep you interested (Example #234: I loved her books on marriage and motherhood). The overarching theme of Shankle’s latest is much needed. This idea of “church of the small things” is a beautiful reminder that God’s beauty, grace and love aren’t only found in the big moments and things in life. They are in the little pieces – whether those pieces cause you to cry from laughter or cry from hurt. The little pieces seem so simple, yet, all come together to create something beautiful.

I think you’ll be inspired and hopeful in your own story after reading more of Shankle’s story, so if you’re looking for a perfect Fall read (or a gift for someone), be sure to consider Church of the Small Things.

Also, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are quoted, so yep.

Have you had a chance to read any of Melanie’s books? 

(Thank you to Zondervan for a copy of the book. All views expressed are my own.)

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

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Book Reviews, Nonfiction

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson | Book Review

Bringing up issues remotely related to politics is always a tricky situation. It’s hard. It isn’t easy. But, my call to be the light is far more powerful than the fear of anything else.

Because I believe story is powerful and if we aren’t willing to talk about these stories, especially as believers, we are missing out on being leaders and light to the world.

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Benjamin Franklin

So with that, I present a book I will recommend to anyone and everyone. You know those books that light, stir or blast full flames onto an already existing fire? This is one such book. I’ll warn you, a lot of this book doesn’t leave you with warm fuzzy feelings, but instead lots of anger at injustice. (And if you read it and it doesn’t, then that’s another conversation for us to have)

But.

This is a story too important not to tell, to read and to pass along because there is good and hope in this world.

“Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument.” Reinhold Niebuhr

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

The story itself will captive your attention, with Stevenson deftly weaving history, the case and other important stories. The story of Walter McMillian feels like a novel, that it couldn’t possibly have happened how it did, but this story was true and you’ll be inspired by the work and hope that comes from Stevenson. There’s a lot of work to be done, but stories like this encourage to keep moving forward and fighting the good fight.

When blatant corruption exists, mentally ill aren’t given treatment (and instead jailed), when states can legally try 13 year olds as adults and give them life in prison without parole (example, by 2010, “Florida had sentenced more than a hundred children to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide offenses, several of whom were thirteen years old at the time of the crime. All of the youngest condemned children – thirteen or fourteen years of ago – were black and Latino. Florida had the largest population in the world of children condemned to die in prison for non-homicides.”), there is something desperately and morally wrong.

“Our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis of our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.” Thomas Merton

Here’s a few more quotes:

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

“My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”

“The true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

“It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent – strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering.”

“We have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent.”

And in case you’re wondering if I’m exaggerating at how important/excellent this book is, here’s a quick list of the awards won:

  • #1 New York Times Bestseller
  • Named one of the Best Books of the Year by: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Seattle Times, Esquire, Time
  • Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction
  • Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Nonfiction
  • Winner of a Books for a Better Life Award
  • Finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize
  • Finalist for the Kirkus Reviews Prize
  • An American Library Association Notable Book

Also, if you’re interested in checking out more, here’s the link to the Equal Justice Initiative.

What’s a recent book (either nonfiction or fiction) that had a dramatic impact on you?

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Author Interviews

4 Questions With Author Jennie Allen

(This interview is part of my 4 Questions Project, where I get the chance to chat with authors and tell stories of people, life, and adventure. Be sure to check out previous interviews here!)

What better way to kick off the new month than with another 4 Questions?! I’m excited to have a fellow Austinite on the blog too! Jennie Allen has been doing some amazing things for women and it’s awesome to see the ripples of her faithfulness to teach women and empower them lead to incredible things! So let’s dive right in! Here’s 4 Questions with Jennie.

Jennie Allen’s passion is to encourage women to serve God and others by pursuing their passion. She holds a master’s degree in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary and is the author of two books and numerous Bible Studies, including her latest book entitled Restless: Because You Were Made for More. She is also the founder of IF, which gathers, equips and unleashes women to live out their purpose. Jennie and Zac Allen are the parents of four children and live in Austin, Texas. Find Jennie’s blog at www.JennieAllen.com.

1. What is something about your life right now that you never would have imagined 5 years ago?
I think I was always afraid to admit that I was a leader. I don’t think that I’m alone. I think a lot of women wrestle with their gifts and not knowing how to use them. Now, it’s absolutely undeniable. I’m leading a major organization, and I’m speaking and teaching. All of these were difficult for me step into, and I think that came from a lot of fears and ideas about what it meant to be a godly woman. Unfortunately, there were times I thought sitting in the back and holding my more public, strong gifts back was ideal. Now, I realize that God has built me this way, and that this was a cultural issue for me. It was an expectation for myself that certainly wasn’t from God. Ephesians 2:10 says God “equipped me for the good works that he prepared in advance for me to do.” Now, I feel much more responsible to Him than to these false ideas that I had about what it meant to be a Christian woman. But I know five years ago I would have been shocked at all the things that I am leading and ways that I am using my gifts. I just couldn’t have imagined it.

2. What is one thing you would go back and do differently if you could?
Well, since you have me thinking about the ways I held my gifts back… I think I knew my gifts at a young age. People spoke them to me. They said, “You are gifted teacher. You are a gifted visionary. You are a gifted leader.” But I fought so much insecurity and fear for so long when I could’ve been using those gifts for others and for the glory of God. At the same time, I believe that’s also a part of my story now. It’s the reason I’m so compelled to help other women use their gifts and lean into the ways they are made and the good works that God’s prepared for them. I can’t say that I would take it back because it’s shaped what I’m doing. Isn’t that true of all of our weakness and regret? God can take those things and use them for good.

3. What is one of the happiest moments of your life?
Well, there are the obvious happy moments of marriage and children, but one of the sweetest moments lately was the day of IF: Gathering. It had been a dream for so long and it had cost us so much emotionally. It had been years and years of dreaming and working and believing and obeying God in the darkness. IF was the moment we got to walk out of the cave and see the light. It was too much to take in. It was too overwhelming that God had been leading me all that time. I think until the day of IF, I still wondered if I was wrong. Was I misleading everybody? Were we going to come to that day and fail miserably? I was so blown away and surprised at how God came through, and how it reached out beyond anything we could have hoped or imagined. That was a day that I believed and trusted God, and he showed up. Just to say He was with me and for me. It felt so personal, and yet there were so many other people a part of it.

4. What is one thing you want the next generation to know?
This isn’t some game, our lives. It’s a gift that we get to serve God and obey Him and love Him with these days that we have here. I think I’ve turned that it into pressure at certain points. I told myself that I needed to do something big or great, but I’m learning that this isn’t about something for God. It’s about doing something with God. As long as their eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of their faith, the races that He has for them will not be run in agony, but they’ll be run with joy because we’re running with our God—the one who adores us and we adore. I think I look at this next generation, and I see so much passion and joy and fervor to impact the world and spend their lives well. I relate to that. I feel like I’m a part of that. But I I’ve messed up in thinking that he wanted something from me. God wants to do the works that he prepared in advance with me. I’m learning to lean into the joy of a daily walk with God rather than focusing on the great works that I think He wants from me.

Thank you so SO much Jennie for your time and wise words! I’m so encouraged and want to dive right in the race with Jesus alongside me :). If y’all haven’t, be sure to connect with Jennie online!

Where to connect with Jennie
Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram

 

Author Interviews

4 Questions With Bestseller Author Robin Jones Gunn

(This interview is part of my 4 Questions Project, where I get the chance to chat with authors and tell stories of people, life, and adventure. Be sure to check out previous interviews here!)

I remember being at a women’s Christian conference many moons ago around the time I had finished a series my mom got me written by Robin Jones Gunn (The Glenbrooke Series). Guys, I loved the series. Like read it multiple times loved it. At the conference, she was one of the authors there and we had the opportunity to meet her. You would think I would have jumped at the chance. But let’s be honest, we’re talking about me, not a normal human being. I got too nervous, walked by “casually” (could have been considered creepy by some) a couple of times and then chickened out. Stellar behavior. I know. I had the chance and I DIDN’T MEET ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS.

I also was speechless when I met David Robinson at the airport (literally too, my brother had to do all the talking and I only managed to shake his hand) and I screamed out loud when Denzel Washington walked in front of me at a Laker game. Good thing it was loud. He totally didn’t hear so next time, I’ll play it cool guys.

In case you’re wondering if she really is that big of a deal in the writing world and I’m not just being dramatic, let me tell you, yes, yes she is. Unless you considered 4.5 million sold books no big deal. Or 82 published books. Right??? And she lives in Hawaii. I’m sooooo excited she’s her on Books and Beverages!!

Over the past 25 years Robin has written 82 books with almost 4.5 million copies sold worldwide. To her great delight, Robin’s books are doing exactly what she always hoped to do – they are traveling around the world and telling people about God’s love. She is doing the same. Over the past ten years Robin has been invited to speak at events around the US and Canada as well as in South America, Africa, Europe and Australia.

Robin and her husband have two grown children and have been married for 35 years. They live in Hawai’i where she continues to write and speak in rhythm with her life verse: “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the LORD Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” Acts 20:24.

1. What is something about your life right now that you would never imagined 5 years ago?
At the moment there aren’t a lot of surprises. The biggest change from how life was rolling along five years ago is that we now live in Hawaii. We were actively praying and seeking God’s direction five years ago because we had longed to live in Hawaii for over 35 years. What I never would have imagined was the way God brought us here and all the ways that He has been directing our lives. My husband and I had formulated our own ideas about how we might be able to move here but God closed door after door and then opened a completely unexpected door that we walked right through. I wrote about the process that brought us here in my new non-fiction book, “Victim of Grace”.

2. What is one thing that you would go back and do differently if you could?
I would worry less. Whenever I read over my journals from previous years and see the prayers I wrote out during those seasons, I’m always stunned at the many things I fret about that never ended up happening. I’ve taken some big steps of faith and trusted God in extraordinary ways and He has always blessed in His timing and in His way in great abundance.

In the writing world one thing I would do differently is trust my gut more. And in seasons when I was too emotional or confused to discern my true gut feelings on a matter I would trust the insights and advice of those who are closest to me.

3. What is one of the happiest moments of your life?
I loved our wedding day. I didn’t “love” the day our son was born or the day our daughter was born because their births were difficult. But I have memories of lots of happiest moments while they were growing up.

One moment that comes to mind was captured in a photo that I framed and placed on top of our dresser. It was taken over twenty-five years ago on the last evening of a wearisome vacation. We were in Hawaii (no surprise) and after several days of rain and fussy, sick children and very little sleep we’d gone to dinner at a beachfront restaurant. In the photo I’m holding our daughter who is about 18 months old. She is wearing a cute little dress and is content to be in my arms. Our five year-old son is cuddled up next to me with his white blond hair and sun kissed cheeks. I have a big, red hibiscus flower behind my ear and I’m smiling at my husband who is taking the picture. That’s a happy memory. Those of you who have small children and who have attempted a grand vacation when they are not at their best will understand why it’s such a sweet, small victory to have an entire dinner at a nice restaurant when your children are compliant and you have one of those rare moments when you love your life and your husband and children all at the same time.

4. What is one thing you want the next generation to know?
As followers of Christ we have been set apart to be His peculiar treasures. We are not wired to find contentment in this world’s system. We are created to find all our delight in the eternal things that He has blessed us with on this earth. Set your heart and your focus on the Kingdom of God and all that is precious to Him and you will live a life of purpose and joy. Oh, such joy!