Well, 2023 has gotten off to a great start, book-wise. I finished reading eight books this month, including Brant Hanson’s recently updated and expanded Unoffendable. Keep reading for my impression of each work, reported in the order that I read them.
The 8 books I read in January:
Deep Work by Cal Newport
I’m hoping the first book I finished in the new year will help set the tone for all the books that follow. I found Cal Newport’s Deep Work a fascinating read, albeit a little dry/technical at times. However, I’ve already begun implementing several of his suggestions in hopes of diving deep into 2023 rather than spending so much time splashing around in the shallows!
The book is all about reducing distractions and improving focus. The first part discusses why it’s so important we learn how to work this way, and the second part of the book offers practical advice for doing so.
Part of the reason I haven’t finished this book — which has been in my “to read” stack for years — already is that I struggle with distraction far more than I’ve been willing to admit. But not for long! I’m already beginning to implement changes to how I work based on Newport’s research. Stay tuned to learn whether these adjustments move the needle in my level of productivity.
It’s already improved my reading speed (hence, I finished eight books this month as opposed to my normal four or five). What’s more, Newport’s section on memory techniques has completely revolutionized the way I memorize scripture, enabling me to easily recall addresses for individual verses, even in the middle of lengthy passages. (Newport was discussing a method for quickly memorizing decks of random cards as a way to strengthen memory muscles, but the technique adapted beautifully to Bible memory, as well.)
You Can Trust God to Write Your Story by Robert and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth
My second read for the year was an audiobook by Robert and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth called You Can Trust God to Write Your Story.
I found it both enjoyable and encouraging.
The authors take turns reading the book, detailing the stories of biblical, historical, and modern day believers and sharing the journey God has taken each of them through for their good and His glory.
No matter what kinds of twists and turns the plots of our individual stories take, we can take comfort in the knowledge that God right there, orchestrating all things to work together for our good and His glory.
Loving My Actual Life by Alexandra Kuykendall
I listened to Loving My Actual Life mid-month while (finally!) taking down our Christmas trees.
I’d enjoyed Alexandra Kuykendall’s other books in this series, Loving My Actual Neighbor and Loving My Actual Christmas, so I figured it was about time I give Loving My Actual Life a read, as well.
In this volume, the author spends nine months tackling nine areas in her “actual life” (as opposed to the Pinterest- and Instagram-fueled ideas of what her life “should” be like) that need work, one at a time. Many of the problem-areas she discusses in this journal-style narrative and the solutions she finds for dealing with them, will resonate with readers and point the way to improving their own situations.
It was a fun, quick, and easy read with some good actionable ideas for loving your own actual life.
Unoffendable by Brant Hanson
We listened to Brant Hansen’s recently updated Unoffendable on our way to Florida a couple of weeks ago. Hanson’s dry wit and keen observations made the drive so much more enjoyable and spurred lots of great discussions among all our traveling companions, from ages 12 to 85.
Unoffendable is all about giving up your “right” to take offense. Hanson notes what peace and freedom come when we don’t let ourselves remain angry all the time.
And he shows how even so-called “righteous anger” is not necessary to address the evils we see in the world and make changes for the good, but instead often serves to make us feel like we’re doing something good when we aren’t. Of all eight titles I read this month, this is the one I’d recommend you start with — particularly since rage and indignation so characterize our culture these days — as it has potential to serve as a chill pill for anybody willing to read and take it to heart.
Glad Tidings by Jennifer Flanders
Doug re-reads all our old Christmas letters aloud to the family every December — although we didn’t technically wrap up our most recent read-through until January this year. The first quarter-century’s worth of those annual updates have now been published in my book, Glad Tidings: The First 25 Years of Flanders Family Christmas Letters.
Our children all enjoy hearing the old stories as much as their parents enjoy telling them. We laugh and cry and discuss the antics recorded in each letter ad nauseum. The little ones get a glimpse of what their older siblings were like growing up. And the letters serve as a poignant reminder of God’s faithfulness to our family through the years.
If you’ve ever wished for a fly-on-the-wall view of what life in a large family looks like, this is a good way to get it. I compiled this printed collection several years back, adding in several of our favorite Christmas traditions, recipes, and other “bonus material.” If all goes according to plan, volume 2 will be released in 2037. 😂
Brother Andrew: God’s Secret Agent by Geoff and Janet Benge
After learning last month that Brother Andrew (AKA God’s smuggler) died last year, I wanted to teach my children about this amazing man of God.
It had been decades since I last read his biography, and I didn’t remember a lot of details, so I read Brother Andrew: God’s Secret Agent by Geoff and Janet Benge aloud to the kids in the afternoons.
It’s amazing to me that one who had exhibited such disdain for the Bible in his youth would grow up to repeatedly risk his life smuggling God’s Word into countries closed to the gospel — but he did. And on a grand scale, too.
What a transformation God wrought in Andrew’s heart once He got ahold of it (which should be a comfort and encouragement for any parent with a wayward teen: where there’s still breath, there’s hope)!
The Road Less Traveled by Larry Mast
I’ve been attending church with Larry Mast for several years, and I’m always delighted when he shows up on Sunday with a stack of his latest book to pass out to his friends in the 8 AM service.
He sent me home with a copy of The Road Less Traveled this week, which I read in one sitting. Like his previous two books, this one contained recollections from his nearly 40 years of service with Mercy Ships, a medical mission organization based in East Texas.
The book contains a wide variety of tales from all over the globe. One of my favorites in this collection was a chapter he called “Redeeming the Wall.” where they mixed some crushed mortar from Germanys infamous Berlin Wall into the cement for a freshly poured foundation of a new Health Care Clinic, praying that where there was once division, pain, and broken dreams, God would use the new building to bring unity, healing and hope.
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer
Knowing that our pastoral staff have been going through The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry as a group, I picked a copy to read myself this month.
Ironically, some opening comments made me suspect the former mega-church pastor probably leans a little to the left, both theologically and politically. And since the struggles he enumerated in those first few pages really didn’t resonate with me, I considered laying this book aside in favor of reading something else. After all, I reasoned, I don’t personally have a problem with hurry.
Or so I thought. But after a hip injury later that same day left me largely incapacitated, I realized just how addicted to “hurry” I really am! So, I stuck with the book and found subsequent chapters much more relevant. Convicting, even.
The book is packed with sobering quotes and statistics. Like the part that compares smart phones to slot machines: Both are intentionally designed for distraction and addiction. And, whereas the small allotments of attention or money we feed them may seem inconsequential in the moment, they all add up to an extraordinary amount over time.
But instead of just highlighting all the problems associated with a hurried life, the author outlines four disciplines to effectively combat them. Some of the ideas he suggests — like regular quiet times devoted to Bible reading, prayer, and meditating on God’s word — are things I’ve done for years. Some — like drastically paring down my possessions and embracing a minimalist lifestyle — I have absolutely no interest in even attempting, as it would seriously cramp my ability to function as a homeschool mom who loves to craft. And still others, I find intriguing enough to try incorporating in my own life, at least on a trial basis.
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