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Back to School Reads
Well, usually this post would’ve been about “Summer Reads,” but SOMEHOW summer is already gone! The good news is that you don’t have to be laying out by the poolside or relaxing in the mountains to enjoy a good book. Reading is fun, guys! 🤓 Anyway, here are some of my favorite recent reads:
If you are any kind of artist or creative soul, if you’ve ever had a big dream and wonder if you could make it a reality, or if you’re a film and TV nerd like me, you will find this book fascinating. Penned by the adorably charming Jenna Fischer, this book is written to actors who want to make it in Hollywood. I technically wouldn’t fit into this narrow audience, but I can’t tell you how much insight and perspective I gained from her stories in regards to being an aspiring author. (Plus, you will get a behind-the-scenes look at The Office!)
2. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile)
Yep, I have officially drunk the Kool-Aid. Thanks to Annie F. Downs and Anne Holman Smith, I finally plunged into the Enneagram world beyond a 3-minute online quiz, and I get it. Personality quizzes have always been fun (American Girl Magazine, middle school email chains with 102 questions about yourself, etc.), but the Enneagram is different. It doesn’t just tell you who you are at your “home base,” but it also tells you who you can be. I’m a 1 wing 2 (whoop whoop!), but that can look differently when I’m stressed, secure, in growth, under pressure, etc.
Of course, this is not the end-all-be-all for solving all of your problems in life. (That’s Jesus!) But, the Enneagram is a great tool to help you learn about yourself, increase self-awareness and learn how to interact with others in your life.
So I read this one on our family beach trip and managed to thoroughly annoy my brother by shouting, “No!” “Oh my word!” “WAIT A SECOND!” about every five minutes, give or take. I couldn’t help it!
Let me backup: The Secret Keeper is a historical fiction piece about a woman who had an idyllic childhood in the English countryside. Oh, except for the fact that at age 16, she witnessed her meek, saintly mother stab a man with no explanation. (The mother knows she saw it and never talked about it.) Now an older actress in her 60s, Laurel returns to her hometown to be with her dying mother and realizes she must solve this mystery before it’s too late. With flashbacks to WWII and storytelling from multiple points of view, this thriller will keep you on your toes (and possibly banned from the family beach setup, if you’re too reactive 😉).
Ooooh this one is good. I actually read this book a few years ago, but it’s the kind you keep on the shelf to pull out again and again in various seasons. The concept of the Holy Spirit can sometimes be difficult to grasp, but rather than run away in fear, Chan embraces this member of the Trinity and shows readers what Scripture really says about this powerful, wonderous Person. (Yes, the Holy Spirit is a person, not a thing!)
Calling all American history buffs! If you want a fascinating peek inside the White House walls from the Roosevelt to Nixon administrations, this book is for you. Written by J.B. West, chief usher of the White House, this New York Timesbestseller is somewhat of an American, political version of Downton Abbey that is historical. Here are a few fun facts:
• The White House had food rations like everyone else during WWII.
• Also during WWII, the Army wanted to paint the White House black so that it would be less of a bomb target.
• Jackie Kennedy almost never wore a dress unless she had company or was in public.
• Nixon’s daughter married Eisenhower’s grandson.
I hope you will try one of the books, and if none of them interests you, go find something that does! Because #ReadingRules 🤓.
So I know Ellie Holcomb’s album “Red Sea Road” came out in January, but I’ve just recently discovered it, and WOW these songs are powerful! I’ve made a quick review of the album to hopefully convince you to listen to it if you haven’t already. There’s a lot of music out now, but believe me when I say that this is the real deal. I hope you enjoy!
“Find You Here”
While the entire album comes from real life experiences, this song was specifically written about Ellie’s dad when he was diagnosed with cancer. Instead of despairing over what was to come, he and Ellie’s mother planned a praise and worship night at their home to celebrate God and his goodness. Wow. Read the full story here on Ellie’s blog!
This song has the sentiment of “Standing on the Promises of God” with a modern tempo. Speak aloud the promises of God! Claim it! His Word will not fail.
“Red Sea Road”
This song is soulful, steady and empowering. Feel your soul rise with the chorus and step up to follow God’s lead!
“You Are Loved”
What if we don’t feel loved? What if we don’t like the person we’ve become?
The lyrics say it all.
MY FAVORITE! I can’t listen to this in the office because I will either start clapping, dancing, using a water bottle as a microphone, raising my hands or possibly all of the above. All I can say is PREACH IT, Ellie!
“I Will Never Be the Same”
Easter-level excitement about the resurrection packed into a perennial song!
He knows us. He picked out all of the little things that make us unique, put them together and chose to LOVE us always. This song reminds me that I’m valuable–not because I accomplished something, or other people like me, or I feel good about myself–but because I am valuED by the king of the universe. That’s pretty amazing.
“We’ve Got This Hope”
Not only do we have Christ’s hope in this life, we have Christ’s hope for the resurrection! So often we zero in on the present. This song is a gentle reminder to lift your head, look to the future and remember the incredible riches that the Lord has in store.
“You Love Me Best”
I feel like I wrote this song because it resonates with me so deeply. I have been so, so blessed to have parents who loved me unconditionally and are always there for me. As a child–okay, and as a 22-year-old fully grown “adult”–my first instinct when faced with fear is to run to the comfort of the two people on this earth who love me the most. But, as the song’s lyrics say, “You [God] love me better.” Later the song talks about the promise of marriage, finding that forever person to always stand by your side. Marriage is a beautiful, good thing that many people desire. BUT, He loves us better. He loves us best.
“God of All Comfort”
36 words, 1 minute-52 seconds. Powerful.
This is another march-forth-and-conquer-fear-with-the-incredible-power-of-God song. I probably shouldn’t listen to it in the office either… Save it for running on the treadmill!
A fantastic reason to look at John 4, the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. Also, Ellie does a throwback to the “spring up a well” melody from summer church camp. Good stuff right there!
“Man of Sorrows”
Jesus knows what it means to be human because He’s has been there. All of the experiences we have, all the feelings we feel, He knows. We’re not alone. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
There have you it, friends! I hope you will listen to this album and love it as much as I do. I’d love to know some of your favorite songs or what lyrics are most important to you!
It’s no secret that I love reading and writing about people’s stories. I’ve recently gone through three top-notch autobiographies from some of my favorite people in the entertainment industry. If you like them on-screen or on the radio, don’t hesitate to pick up or download a copy of their book. Enjoy!
The Magnolia Story (Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino)
Aren’t they the cutest? This book rewinds to the beginning of Chip and JoJo’s love story, which is just as sappy-sweet and comical as you would imagine. Both innovators at heart, Chip and Joanna take readers through the ups and downs of how they launched their one-of-a-kind careers, all while beautifully giving credit to God and His sovereign plan for their lives.
One of my favorite parts? The story of how Chip surprised JoJo by spending their extra money on a decrepit houseboat. This disastrous move on Chip’s part is what actually landed them a reality TV pilot.
Talking As Fast As I Can (Lauren Graham)
It sounds impossible, but I propose that you’ll walk away from this book loving Lauren Graham herself even more than the beloved Lorelai Gilmore or Sarah Braverman. Lauren is smart, witty, classy, down-to-earth, clean, funny, and oh so entertaining. You feel like she’s your best friend. (We ARE best friends, right, LG?) Anyway, you’ll relish Lauren’s hilarious tales about skipping kindergarten, living on a houseboat, working in The Theatah (no thea-teeeer), being single (and why that’s okay), and of course, making Gilmore Girls and Parenthood.
One of my favorite parts? Advice from Old Lady Jackson. Lauren writes,
“Old Lady Jackson is a character I made up when I started catching myself giving advice–initially to Mae and Miles on the Parenthood set–that sounded like it came from your grayhaired grandma who spends her days in a rocking chair knitting your scratchy socks you pretend to love at Christmas. By creating this character, who was obviously very, very, very far away from myself, I hoped to confuse Mae and Miles, among others, into thinking that while I might sometimes seem to offer suggestions that could be considered a tad ‘old-timey,’ they weren’t actually coming from me…”
I think I have a little bit of “Old Lady Jackson” in myself, so this chapter was particularly comical to me. (Again, because Lauren and I are besties. Right?)
When God Doesn’t Fix It (Laura Story with Jennifer Schuchmann)
In contrast to the other two books I mentioned earlier, this autobiography carries a serious tone and many difficult truths. You might recognize the artist Laura Story from her radio hits like “Blessings” and “What a Savior,” but you probably don’t know about her personal hardships.
Laura began an unexpected journey only one year into her marriage, when her husband, Martin, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. What initially seemed to be a “next surgery will fix it” situation turned into a realization that Laura’s husband would likely have serious memory issues for the rest of his life.
One of my favorite parts? Laura concludes each chapter with a myth and a truth. My favorite is, “MYTH: God can only use my story when there is a happy ending. TRUTH: God can use my story when I trust him in the journey.”
Laura tackles the topic of our “happily ever after” mindset, sharing how she learned to praise God in the midst of grievous trials.
There you have it, friends! As always, I love to hear your thoughts on these books and on YOUR favorite biographies. Happy reading!
My Messy Christmas Tree
“Do you ever wish that we had a perfect Christmas tree?” Mom asked me a few years ago.
“ABSOLUTELY NOT ARE YOU CRAZY I LOVE OUR TREE OUR TREE IS PERFECT NO WAY!” I answered. Or something along those lines.
Let me step back and explain: Our tree is perfect, or at least it is in my eyes. Mom was referring to the kind of tree you see at the center of the mall or on display at Pottery Barn. The kind of tree that has a trendy color scheme, matching ornaments and a cohesive theme.
Our tree is what I call a “hodge podge collage” of everything. Oh, we have the gorgeous glass-blown crystals and the Pottery Barn glittery Santas. But we also have handmade macaroni preschool ornaments and the cheesy snowman that sings when you press the button on his piano.
I love our Christmas tree because each ornament tells a story. Let me share with you some of my favorite hodge podge ornaments and why they mean so much to me. Click through the photo gallery below (arrows on the sides), and read the descriptions underneath!
Arthur and D.W.
Arthur and D.W., my all-time favorites! “Arthur’s Christmas” was one of the books I could recite before I could read. Today when I read it to my cousin Caroline, I love the familiar cadance that easily flows from 20 years of long-term memory. This ornament features siblings Arthur and D.W. in their signature pj’s on the Read’s mint green living room rug. While they’re usually caught up in the latest sibling rivalry, Arthur and D.W. share a sweet moment eating sugar cookies on Christmas Eve.
We’re pretty cute, if I do say so myself! I especially love my macaroni ornament because I’m smiling. If you come to my house and look through my early childhood photo albums, you’ll understand why this smile is so rare! I was a fairly serious child, and for some reason, I was hard-pressed to offer a photogenic smile. Andrew, on the other hand, could’ve been an OshKosh B’gosh model. What a cutie!
The Night Before Christmas
The best part about this ornament? It’s a real book! You can read the entire story in size 2.5 Times New Roman font. I always wanted Dad to read the book to us, a request that’s become increasingly more difficult with the passing years. It’s still fun to try!
I have always said that if I had to point to one physical place on the earth that I would call “home,” it would be Lakeside. Here is where I grew up, learned about Jesus and learned what it means to walk through life with Him as Lord. I could probably write a whole book about what Lakeside means to me, but I’ll just say this: I am eternally grateful for this family of faith who has played such a huge role in making me the person I am today. Thank you, Lord!
I LOVE school! And I’m not kidding. In fact, only having one more semester of college is slightly alarming and definitely sad… Will YouTube tutorials be enough to further my education?! Anyway, Mom gave me this ornament the year I started kindergarten, and I love adding it to the tree each year.
Mom and Dad’s First Christmas
Aren’t they adorable? I especially love this ornament because our first house had green shutters just like these. Boy am I thankful for these two!
The Little Pianist
Mom got this ornament when she was a child. Every December, we pull out our Christmas duet book and attempt to clunk through a few holiday tunes. If you come visit us, you might convince us to play “Frosty the Snowman.” Expect to hear Mom’s disclaimer (“We haven’t played this in forever, so we’ll probably mess up!”) and my favorite saying to Mom, “SLOW DOWN!” All jokes aside, we both love the piano. Hopefully this ornament will pass on through the family line!
Baby’s 1st Christmas
Remember when I said I didn’t smile for pictures as a child? Yeah. This started day 1, literally! We always laugh at this photo and joke that I was ready to knock out anyone who got in my way. Don’t mess with Baby Rachel!
I love London. It’s incredible. Go if you haven’t been. It’s amazing. That’s all.
I’ve saved the best ornament for last: Andrew’s cross. When Andrew was a baby, he began having severe GI issues when he was only a few weeks old. The doctors had never seen a baby like this before, and the issue became very serious. Mom and Dad bought this ornament from the hospital gift shop during December. They wanted a reminder that God was in control, sovereign over the situation and holding little Andrew in His hands. Later, Andrew had gallbladder surgery at 10 weeks old, and he has been healthy ever since. This ornament reminds us of God’s amazing faithfulness and goodness, and we thank Him for giving us Andrew. Only Andrew can put this ornament on the tree!
And that, my friends, is why I love my Christmas tree. I wish you and your families a Messy Merry Christmas! Now go make some hodge podge collage memories of your own!
It’s no secret that Christmas is my favorite time of the year! Unfortunately, we only have 20 more days where it’s socially acceptable to listen to Christmas music. I’ve put together a playlist entitled “Mix & Match Christmas” with some of my favorite, lesser-known Christmas songs. While these songs may not be top 20 on the radio, they are fantastic and well-deserving of a download! Enjoy!
Songs of Truth – a power playlist with songs grounded in God’s Word
Music is powerful. God’s Word is even more powerful. Why not speak God’s truth through song?
I’ve put together a playlist of 10 power songs that have helped me remember just how amazing my God truly is. Whether you’re overwhelmed with a problem, seeking endurance or simply celebrating God’s goodness, it is so important to stand on the promises of God listed in His Word. I hope that these songs will inspire you to investigate God’s truths and proclaim them through song.
“I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.” –Psalm 34:1-2
Click HERE to download the playlist on Spotify.
SONGS OF TRUTH:
“King Of The World” (Natalie Grant)
“Your Words” (Third Day feat. Harvest)
“Joy Of The Lord” (Rend Collective)
“Broken Together” (Casting Crowns)
“Here’s My Heart” (I Am They)
“How Can It Be” (Lauren Daigle)
“Thy Will” (Hillary Scott & The Scott Family)
“You Amaze Us” (Selah)
“As Sure as the Sun” (Ellie Holcomb)
“Where I Belong” (Building 429)
I. LOVE. This. Book. Kathryn Stockett knows how to bring a character to life. Her writing style is so spot-on, you feel like you’re having coffee with the characters instead of reading about them. I saw the movie first and thought, “Is it worth it to read the book since I already know the story?” The answer is yes! You won’t be disappointed.
Talk about eye-opening! This story recounts Brenda Spahn’s improvised journey of ministering to women fresh out of prison by inviting them to live in her home. Now a nationally-recognized program, The Lovelady Center in Birmingham, Ala. has helped hundreds of women rebuild their lives and find hope in Jesus. The book is an easy read, packed with heartbreaking and inspirational stories.
Gather ‘round, all you historical fiction gu-ru’s. This is your dream book! Get ready to walk through a mother-daughter heritage, beginning in Switzerland in 1901 and continuing to America during World War II. A few years ago, my mom and I both read this book on a family vacation. We ended up sitting side-by-side on the couch with the book flipped open, each of us reading two different sections of it! So don’t share this novel with anyone, unless you want to end up as literary Siamese twins. It’s that good.
Isn’t this a children’s/young adult book? Yes, yes it is. But it’s great. My friend Catherine is an elementary ed major, and she told me I was missing out if I hadn’t read Holes. She was right! Sachar uses all the good literary stuff—symbolism, mystery, motifs, foreshadowing, suspense… I could go on and on. Don’t let the 4.6 grade reading level stop you—it only makes binge-reading that much easier!
You know the books where you want to highlight every line? This is one of them. Dive deep into the rich, complicated life of King David with the incredible Beth Moore. A man who experienced both triumph and tragedy, David is a prime example of a flawed human who sought to glorify the Lord and walk with him in everyday life. The book is divided into 9 sections with a total of 52 chapters, making it the perfect format for a daily Bible study.
“Thy Will”– Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum releases single from upcoming faith-based album
Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott and the Scott family will soon release a faith-based album entitled Love Remains.
“I want to first share, ‘Thy Will,’” Scott wrote in an Instagram post. “I wrote this song about a very recent experience that left me heartbroken, asking why, and facing some of the most difficult days. This song is my letter to God.”
“As I ask some really hard questions, I hold onto the truth that there is so much to the story of my life that I can’t see, but that I still choose to trust Him,” she says.
The album, produced by Ricky Scaggs, features Hillary along with her mother (Linda Davis), father (Lang Scott) and 15-year-old sister Rylee.
For more information, visit hillaryscott.com.