A Few Books on Faith

sufferingI have a hard time identifying with the term suffering, because the word seems loaded with comparison. Even when we do feel like we are suffering, it can be hard to talk about it or admit it to others because it seems a little lame compared to the far worse things others deal with.

That’s why I loved Elisabeth Elliot’s book A Path Through Suffering.  She doesn’t mess with platitudes about being glad that at least you aren’t as bad off as so-and-so.  Rather, she defines suffering as “having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.”  Even mild trouble ought to be handled the same way as debilitating and tragic loss, because “if we don’t learn to refer the little thing to God, how shall we learn to refer the big ones?”

The book is simply chock full of convicting, encouraging words on dealing with the discomforts of life in a godly way. There is so much wisdom on how to navigate day-to-day living.  I took copious notes and am using them as I work on my goals for next year.

I may choose A Path Through Suffering as one of my top books of this year.  Highly, highly recommended.

disciplineIn Discipline: The Glad Surrender, Elisabeth Elliot offers an interesting perspective on several disciplines of life.  While she touches on some that probably come to mind, the book tackles these subjects from a different perspective than you usually find.  Rather than prescribing a set of rules, Elliot gets into heart attitudes on topics like controlling your thoughts, being disciplined with your time, and not letting your feelings run away with you.  I found all of the topics extremely helpful and thought-provoking, and would also recommend this volume.  I’m finding it helpful in setting priorities for next year, but it would be a rich resource any time.

savorFor my Bible study in November I worked through Savor & Establish, a study on Philippians with a focus on thankfulness. I thought it was perfect for the month, especially as I feel like I have more than the usual things to be grateful for this season. I’m not sure how long this will be available, but for the time being you can get a copy of the study free when you subscribe to MacKenzie Monroe’s website. It’s well worth it!

worldTheologian R.C. Sproul has a series of short books dealing with critical questions of faith, all of which are free on Kindle. I read How Should I Live in This World?, which is an application of biblical frameworks to popular ethical quandaries.  Sproul succinctly describes how to apply principles from the Bible to these questions, without being blinded by our culture or time period.

The book is very short for the topic it covers.  If you’re interested in really deep exegesis and detailed philosophical application, this might not be the book for you.  But if you just want a quick hit I think it’s a fairly solid choice.

LoveComesNear_8.5x11-Cover-232x300I am so glad I purchased Jenni Keller’s latest book Love Comes Near: An Advent Bible Study. I’ve gotten a lot out of her previous studies, and although this one is structured differently I am really, really enjoying it.

Unlike Keller’s previous work, Love Comes Near doesn’t cover one book of the Bible.  Instead, Keller selected Advent-related passages for each day.  I’m appreciating the reminder to keep my focus on Advent.

But the best part of the study is Keller’s inclusion of a shorter version of each day’s study geared towards kids.  I love this!  It’s a perfect way to get my three big kids more practice looking up Bible passages, plus good kid-level discussion questions, and a passage to copy out each day (sneaky copywork/handwriting practice!!!).  I wish I could find more studies like this for us to do throughout the year.

What books or studies on faith have you enjoyed lately?


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Are You Fully Charged?

fully chargedIn his short but helpful book Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life, Tom Rath helps readers change perspective and refocus their efforts toward a more meaningful life.

Drawing on a substantial body of research, Rath concludes that happiness is the wrong pursuit.  People who go through life prioritizing their own happiness actually tend to have lower overall life satisfaction and greater overall stress than people who may report less happiness in a given moment, but who gear their lives towards meaning.

The key, Rath says, is reframing your work, personal relationships, and daily choices around three goals:

  • Meaning
  • Interactions
  • Energy

If you can find meaning in your daily activities–the work you do for your job, caring for your family, serving others–prioritize positive interactions and change your thinking about negative ones, and make mental and physical choices that increase your energy, you’ll go a long way toward building a life that you can look back on with satisfaction.

Expanding on this theory, Rath offers concrete examples of how to change your perspective, shift your thinking, and make solid daily choices.  Some of these are things you probably know but don’t necessarily do.  Others may be brand new to you.  All were, at the very least, good reminders for me.

This time of year I’m looking for ways to get geared up and re-evaluate processes, in work, school, and life.  If you are too, or if the idea of a meaningful and more energized approach to life just appeals to you any time, I’d recommend Are You Fully Charged? as a practical, helpful, motivational resource.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

measure-your-life-416x620In an interesting twist on and melding of business and life management genres, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life? explores how tried-and-true business theories can illuminate and improve your personal life and overall life trajectory.

Theories, Christensen asserts, often apply to smaller units like families or even to individuals, not just to larger organizations.  In this book, he shows readers how to think differently about the ways you allocate time and resources, develop your family life, and measure your overall life success.

I thought the sections on building strategies, keeping kids motivated, emphasizing processes AND resources (versus, in the family example, giving your kid a lot of lessons in how to do stuff but no real life experience of how to solve problems), and establishing a family culture were excellent.  I was encouraged in some areas, challenged in others, and inspired overall to improve my perspective and change some tactics.

Although many people do New Year’s Resolutions (and I’m one of them) I also find the start of the new school year a good time to evaluate where we are as a family and define some goals for the year.How Will You Measure Your Life? would be a great resource if you want to think through your family’s culture, ways to provide helpful experiences for your kids, and personal or professional goals for yourself.

Do you find yourself re-evaluating when it’s Back to School time?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.


Be Happy, Christian Style

Happy-ChristianIn his wide ranging book The Happy Christian, David Murray offers his spin on the psychology research surrounding happiness.  If you’ve read much in this genre before you’ll recognize the books and studies he cites, and you may have made many of the same applications to your life if you’re a Christian, but Murray’s book is still helpful and worthwhile, especially if you have no intention of reading anything else about happiness.

Many of Murray’s points were good reminders of things I had already read in other sources, but I found several of his points particularly strong:

  • In his exposition of the Psalms Murray describes the biblical model for realistic happiness.  Rather than shoving your feelings and the reality of your circumstances under the rug, the Psalms show that it’s better to accept reality in context, looking to the past for examples of God’s faithfulness in order to generate the solid hope that allows for happiness and contentment.
  • I also liked Murray’s application of Paul’s exhortation to think on whatever things are true in light of our cultural tendency toward criticism and negativity.
  • The section on prejudice and the Church’s call to be radically inclusive was particularly well thought-out and relevant in light of current events.  

While I personally have found some secular books on happiness to be better overall resources thanThe Happy Christian, Murray’s application of happiness research to the Christian life has value and I’d recommend it.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Better Than Before


I love habits.  I love to read about habits and how to form them, I find relevant tidbits about habits in even seemingly unrelated books, and I always have a list of habits I’m working on for myself and others I’m trying to instill in my kids.  Habits sound dreary, but as Rubin points out and I have found to be true, we really do have limited willpower and decision making ability in a given day.  It’s so, so, so much easier to automate some things rather than having to waste our limited resources on things that can be put on automatic.

So I was excited to read Gretchen Rubin’s latest book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.  In her characteristic style, this book combines Rubin’s personal experiences, extensive research, and original observations.

If you’re also into the idea of habits, or if you read Rubin’s blog, you’ll find the book contains a lot of things you’ve already read about.  But I also found that Rubin identified lots of useful distinctions–or expanded on contrasts she previously wrote about–so I still got a lot of takeaways from the book.  Sometimes I found affirmation of things I’ve noticed personally (like that most nutrition experts are moderators and their maxims don’t really apply the same way to me as an abstainer, or that my need for a personal why to justify doing anything is about my personality, not a universal requirement).

I do think that if you haven’t read much about habit formation, willpower, how to make effective life changes, etc, Better Than Before would be a great primer.  And even if, like me, you’ve read almost everything in Rubin’s suggested reading list, her unique insights will be worth the time investment for the book.

Which of your habits–good or bad–do you think has the most impact on your life?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.



What IS a bookmarked life?

Bookmarked Life Sidebar ButtonIf you’ve seen the new site design (if you read in a reader or over email, click over to the full site to see what I mean), you may have wondered at the new subtitle, “Building a Bookmarked Life.”

Writing book reviews here is one way that I process the books I read, and really take the information I learn into my life–whether it’s a life tip from a non-fiction book or a better understanding of a culture or time period from a piece of fiction.  I don’t just want to read for diversion–although certainly reading is a worthy leisure activity purely on its own merits!–I want to be changed and challenged by the books I read.

As our culture becomes more and more geared toward quick hit information, I think it’s getting harder to really interact with ideas unless you’re careful to keep up your ability to interact with longer arguments and deeper stories.  I’m not satisfied with superficial “three ways to revolutionize your productivity by Tuesday” type articles or 30 second clips purporting to explain global issues.  I don’t think other people are ok with it either.  

But how can we fit in what Plato called “the examined life?”  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a lot of time to sit around contemplating my navel.  Life is full and moves at a fast pace.  I get that–I have four kids, I homeschool, I have a job, I keep this blog and a few other personal writing projects on the side…and I know some of you are way more busy–but I think that makes it even more important not to skate by on the surface of life.  I’d love to spend hours a day reading, but even though I don’t have that kind of time in this phase of my life, I pick up a book when I can and consider what I’ve learned as I go about my day.  What I make time to read has changed me and has had a profound impact on the way I do all of life.

The bookmarked life is about carving out time–whether long chunks or a few moments here and there–to read more deeply, to think about ideas more carefully, and to let what you read impact you and make your life richer.  It may seem like we can’t afford to make time for that, but I sort of think we can’t afford not to.

Quick Takes on Personality, Checklists, and Scurvy

SQT1) Everyone forms habits (or achieves goals, or keeps resolutions) differently.

Did you see this quiz about the four tendencies?  I love type breakdowns, and this one is particularly helpful to pinpoint how you can change.  So many books or seminars imply that there is one RIGHT way to set goals or change your habits, but maybe it’s more individual.  What works for one person might not work best for you, and why not work with your natural tendencies rather than against them?  Turns out I’m a questioner.  I read the long description (you can get the full run-down emailed to you after you do the quiz) to my husband and he agreed that was me to a T.  Super interesting.

2) My husband and I are opposite types.  And yet, we live.

I had Josh take the tendencies quiz too.  And he obliged me because…wait for it….he’s an obliger!  An obliger is the complete opposite of a questioner.  As far as Meyers-Briggs types go, we’re also opposites, and the in-depth M-B book (Please Understand Me II–highly recommended!) lists us as two types very unlikely to mesh well in a relationship.  And yet, here we are, over 11 years later, beating the odds.  It’s like that part in Chariots of Fire when the guys are running in slo-mo on the beach, right?  We’re getting there.  I chalk a lot of it up to a compatible sense of humor. We differ in many, many ways, but we can almost always laugh together, and that’s no small thing.

3) Speaking of marriage, here’s a book I’m not finishing.

I started reading Raney after seeing it recommended in The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.  It’s kind of a stream-of-consciousness narrative of a small town couple’s first few years of marriage.  You know how when you get married you have to get used to not being self-absorbed and develop your own couple perspective rather than whatever family lens you had before?  It’s not always pretty.  And I found it sort of annoying to read about.  Plus I didn’t see the book as being all that illuminating about small town life or the Carolinas.  It seemed a little vapid by page 27 so I let it go.  If it’s your all-time favorite, feel free to try to convince me to pick it back up.

4) We picked school back up, and checklists are the revolution!

After a long break, we girded up our loins (metaphorically speaking) (actually now that I think about it we girded them literally too, as I tend to enforce a fairly stringent ban on public nudity) for a new term.  I read an article from Sarah Mackenzie about how she’s writing school work checklists in notebooks for her older kids.  She says it takes five minutes!  Wow!  Since my kids love checking things off lists (they get that from me) and seem to see checklists as external authorities not just stuff Mama says to do, I decided to jump on the bandwagon.  Except my bandwagon evidently has less going on under the hood than Sarah’s does, because I found that writing out the checklists for my three big kids took me a really long time and I realized I would always be writing the same things every day.  Two days of that and I was totally over it.  However, the checklists got the kids motivated to do a lot more of their school work, music practicing, and chores independently and also overcame the “golly, nobody told me I had to brush my teeth AGAIN when I just did it YESTERDAY!” syndrome that plagues various and sundry of my children, bless their hearts and unbrushed hair.

So I typed up the checklists, with big squares for checking off items, and nice, big, double-spaced fonts.  I also added in their Office Time subject order, so we could avoid time-consuming haggling over whether math or spelling should come first.  Y’all, it is magical.  The days are going much more smoothly, and even though two work-related crises truncated my teaching time last week, we still got through the assignments.  Win.


Breakfast Room/School Room ready for the next day with TYPED checklists

5) Part of the revolution is lagging, though.

One reason why it took me so long to write the checklists is that I do write out everyone’s school work in their notebooks every day.  I write their Shakespeare copywork, Bible copywork, their Latin assignments, and their writing and grammar assignments in their daily work notebooks.  I like that the notebooks keep everything together, and when we have our Office Time (one-on-one teaching), they add in spelling and Spanish and other subjects.  It’s a lot of writing for me though.  This year I finally understand why some people pony up the extra $15 for the student books for everything.  Hm.

6) However, we are not lagging due to scurvy!

I’m delighted to report that our household risk of scurvy is virtually nil!  I was telling a friend about how much produce my kids eat, but didn’t know exact numbers.  Naturally the following week I decided to keep notes.  In one seven-day period my family (two adults, four kids aged 9, 7 1/2, 6, and 20 months) consumed:

  • ten pounds of grapefruit
  • eight pounds of oranges
  • fifteen pounds of clementines
  • fifteen pounds of apples
  • six pounds of bananas
  • five bunches of celery
  • five pounds of baby carrots
  • three pounds of broccoli
  • six heads of romaine lettuce
  • two bags of spinach
  • two bags of bell pepper strips
  • four pounds of green beans

Citrus is in season (somewhere?) and the children are going hog-wild.  I suppose there are worse things.  Whenever I have a passing thought about the teenage years to come, I put my fingers in my ears and sing tra-la-la.

7) The Spirited Mind newsletter will not protect you from scurvy.

Thoughts and Tips for the Literary Life

I’m all about full disclosure.  However, while it may not impact your vitamin intake, the newsletter will give you a boost of thoughts and tips for your literary life!  This month’s issue includes resources for finding good books, a tip for reading aloud to your kids, other interesting bookish quotes and things, and a longer article about one of three topics between which I have not thus far been able to choose.  Don’t miss it!  The newsletter comes out once a month, and I don’t use the list for any spamming in between issues.  Pop over to the sidebar or click here to sign up!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Disclosure: Most of the links in this post are to my longer reviews, but there is one Amazon affiliate link. Thank you for supporting A Spirited Mind!

The Bookmarked Life #9

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:


A childhood friend of mine recently took her daughters to New York City.  As I read about their adventures on her blog, I was amazed at the things they did that wouldn’t have crossed my mind.  I’d love to take my girls to NY, but I’d do completely different things.  It struck me how differently people can view the same city–the things that mean New York to me are different than for my friend.

It made me wonder about my own city. I have an internal narrative about Indianapolis based on my experiences here, but other people view it through a totally different lense.  It is interesting to consider what might be right here within reach that I’ve just overlooked.

…Furnishing my mind

sarahIt’s such a cliche, but I have this sense that time is slipping very quickly.  Sarah lost one of her front teeth and all of a sudden she really looks six years old (which she is, having had a birthday last month).  It makes me panic that I haven’t taken enough video, and I actually printed pictures from our Christmas trip to try to catch hold of what the kids look like now.  One of my deliverables for 2015 (yeah, I business-ize my goals like that) is to hug everybody in the family before breakfast is over.  It’s bizarre that I don’t do that anyway, but life spins madly on otherwise.

…Learning about

I’m reading an incredible book on language learning (review coming soon).  I love to study languages, mostly because I like to understand and unravel systems and how they work, but I’ve never been overly successful at actually speaking a language.  I feel like Fluent Forever might change that, but even if not I am learning a ton about memory and language and how brains work, which is a win in and of itself!

…Living the Good Life

readingWe had a great Christmas with my parents, brother, and aunt in South Carolina.  Although the kids all got a stomach virus (barf is my parenting nemesis) fortunately no one was sick on Christmas Eve OR Christmas Day.  Blessings.


We took the week of Christmas off because we were visiting my parents in South Carolina, but we did go on a field trip to Biltmore Estates one day.  It was great timing since we had just finished studying about daily life in a Victorian house!  Since all of the kids also got a stomach virus that week and came home with some terrible respiratory sickness, we took the week of New Years off too, and then I got the stomach bug, and with one thing after another we took the first week of January off too.  Now, after a three week vacation, I think we’re ready to start a new term on Monday!  One of the good things about homeschooling is that as long as we get in 180 days of instruction I don’t have to adhere to any particular calendar and we can take time off as we need it.  I’m grateful for that flexibility!


One thing I’ve realized about myself is that I need to have an articulable reason for goals I’m setting – and it needs to be my “why” not the general “right answer.”  So I spent some time thinking about exercising.  I’d like to get to my post-Sarah weight by the time Eliza turns two, but mostly I think running in the morning is a good thinking time, and Jillian workouts are good for my muscles and post-workout endorphins.  So I’m trying out a new schedule of five minute warmup, 20 minute run, 30 minute Jillian (on a loop, since none of my DVDs are that length, I’ll just go until the time is up and then pick up the next day where I left off), five minute stretch.  If that doesn’t take, I might need a new why.

…Seeking balance

We are having a big push-and-pull between a need for schedule and routine and the need to be flexible.  Some work/life gurus advocate having very clear boundaries between roles, while others take a more blended approach.  As someone who tends to choose D) All of the Above, I just tend to swing from one side of the pendulum to the other.  It’s not ideal, but it might be the trade-off for having the freedom to homeschool and also to work from home.

…Building the habit

After reading The Fringe Hours (review forthcoming, but it’s excellent, and available for pre-order!) I started thinking about how gratitude and thankfulness are really the antidotes for complaining and whining.  So we’re starting a new habit training for the kids (and parents!) such that when caught complaining or whining, the perpetrator has to write three sentences about things he or she is grateful for.  If nothing else, it puts us in a better frame of mind and improves our handwriting!

…Listening to

Between our long car trip and children lying around on the floor dealing with a stomach bug, we’ve listened to nearly all of The Fellowship of the Ringon audio. Then, when I fell victim to the stomach bug, I listened to hours of the Steve Jobs biography.  Audio books do help to redeem time you’d otherwise spend unable to read actual books, don’t they?

What are you bookmarking this week?


Note: Most of the links in this post are to my longer reviews, but one is to Amazon, and it’s an affiliate link, just so you know! 

Word(s) of the Year: Double Down

DSC_0343When I read The One Thing recently, I was struck by the author’s statement that sometimes instead of filing your goals down to be more manageable, you need to think big and double down on things that are really important to you.

My one word goal for 2014 was grace.  Often throughout the year the word was a reminder to stop beating myself up for mistakes, to let go of perfectionism, and to extend compassion to other people (especially my family).  I read books on grace, studied God’s grace, and found it to be a good theme for the year.  I hope to continue putting that knowledge into practice.

But as I did my end-of-year thinking and praying and planning and goal setting, I increasingly felt like I needed to do some hard things.  Some big things.  I think I may be ready for a push year, and so when I started thinking of a one word goal for 2015, I kept coming back to the idea I read about, like maybe when it comes to my goals and building habits in 2015, I need to take my foot off the brake and double down.

It’s two words.  I know.  Warn me if the One Word Goal Police catch on to me.  🙂

I’m excited about the year ahead.  I made goals for every role of my life as I usually do, but this year I chose a big reach goal for each category.  I may not accomplish all of them, but if I double down I’m sure to get somewhere!

As usual, I’ll be reading–history, fiction, education, life management, read-alouds for the kids–but I’m also excited to delve into a couple of books about language learning and we’ll see what other interesting topics come up.

I’m also planning to launch a newsletter via A Spirited Mind–mostly as a place to put a longer article about a topic or theme from recent reading, some good reading-related links, resources for finding books, great quotes, maybe some interesting word definitions…I haven’t decided if it will be quarterly or monthly (what would be your preference?).  In thinking about what to do with these bits and pieces I collect, a newsletter seemed like a good repository.  Hopefully you’ll think so too!

So whether you’re doubling down or giving yourself grace (or both!) this year, I hope 2015 brings you promise and growth.  Thanks for reading A Spirited Mind and for your thoughtful comments and emails.  I love hearing from you about what you’re reading or thinking about!

If you do the one word for the year thing, which word did you choose for 2015?

The ONE Thing

one thingThe week between Christmas and the New Year is when I buckle down to review the ending year and set goals for the new one.  People differ on their approach to resolutions (or not), goal setting (or not) and continual improvement (or not).  But since all three are things I enjoy and do anyway, I tend to like books about those topics, especially at this time of year.

Having read a veritable plethora of books about habits, goals, productivity, business, planning, management, work/life balance, and the like, I have to admit that I did not find anything really ground-breaking in The One Thing.  However, the book was well written and had a good spin on familiar topics, such that I came away from reading the book feeling inspired to plan well for 2015.

The book suggests that to really excel in any area of your life, you can’t fragment your focus and just churn around doing stuff–you need to narrow your focus to the one thing that will really make a difference and move the ball down the field.  The book had great advice for identifying what your one thing is in any given category, then how to refine your goals to get there.  The section on taking big future dreams/goals and breaking them down into manageable pieces was particularly strong.

I did find some of the advice to be contradictory.  For example, the authors advocate blocking out four hours a day to work on your One Thing, but then in another part of the book they acknowledge that you’ll have a One Thing for different areas of life.  I suppose everyone has to identify which of the One Things is the really, really One Thing.  Or something.

That said, I think the general principle is a good one, and since The One Thing is interesting and fast-paced, with helpful insights well suited for New Year’s planning, I would recommend it.

Are you reading any good books on goal setting or habits to start off the New Year?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.