Books: Causing Thinking People to Think Even More Thoughts

Bear with me, here. I promise I do have a point but it’s going to take me a minute to get there. Let’s start with this: I am quite finished with the concept of an over-booked schedule.

Do you hear me? I mean it. I’m tired of cramming too many things into every day and feeling like I’m wrung dry by the time I crawl into bed. This is no way to live.

If I’m understanding the cry of the culture, I’m not alone. Michael Hyatt’s talking about this problem, Lysa TerKeurst just wrote a book about it, and the faces of my friends who are caught in their own endless busyness clearly indicate that we are a culture who has lost its collective mind. We need to slow down. We need to stop doing it all. We need to catch our breath.

Part of my new campaign (such a fancy and official word– campaign. Heh.) on this blog is that we’ll be doing less and listening more together. I want to have less things to own, less things to do, and more time to build relationships that matter. So I’ve been picking up a few books here and there to help us refocus.

These books have failed me. Oh, if you could only peek in to my anguished, swirling mind. Because here’s the thing– you can take back a schedule and cut out the things. You really can. But then what? What are we really supposed to be doing with our time? Are we supposed to be cutting everything out so we can nap more? I don’t think that’s the point, either.

Busyness keeps us moving, so we never have time to consider this. The frantic pace shuts out the real question, which is what are we really supposed to be doing?

Jen Hatmaker’s book Interrupted was one of the books I thought would clear my head. Instead I’ve spent the last few weeks with increasingly crazy thoughts as my mind bounces from one option to another. At first, I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t buying Jen’s argument of what a Christ-centered life and church is supposed to look like. Her church is deeply rooted in service to the poor and needy in their community, and while that is certainly a crucial part of a church’s purpose, I don’t buy into the idea that the church is supposed to become another homeless shelter or social services agency or even a hospital.

Yes, Jesus fed people. And he healed the sick. He was adamant about social justice. But none of those issues was his main focus. A few years ago our church tried an outreach where we went down to the homeless shelter in Kalamazoo and had a cookout for anyone, in or out of the shelter, who wanted to eat with us.

Agonizing. The experience was agonizing. Because I am all about building relationships, but I am not at all excited about hopping in and out of someone’s afternoon with a hot dog in my hand.

The memory of how I felt completely inadequate and quite stupid and bulbously overfed rings in my mind years later. I wished I could have walked into the kitchen and spent an entire week washing the dishes. Then I would have had a chance to serve, but more importantly, to truly get to know those exact same people at the shelter.

This leads to the important question– so why didn’t you, Jess? Why didn’t you spend a week working in the shelter’s kitchen? The truth is simple. I didn’t have the time. I didn’t have the time then, and I don’t have the time now. I could make the time, but then I’d be right back to the main issue which is that my schedule is out of control. And, quite possibly, yours as well?

There are hundreds of good and worthy things we could all be doing right now. Feed the hungry, volunteer at the hospital, visit the elderly, read to the children, pick up the litter, counsel the youth, save the earth… But we also have jobs, we have children, and we have lives to live. How do we balance the needs of the world with the needs in our own lives?

Just as the crazy voices in my head were reaching a fever pitch, I found this in Interrupted and suddenly Jen Hatmaker and I were best buddies again:

How much more tangible is the gospel when someone experiences it over weeks and months with a real believer whom he or she can ask questions of and learn from by observation? When a Christian consistently treats someone with compassion or demonstrates integrity at work, the gospel wins a hearing. We can continue to invite unbelievers to church, but we must first invite them into our lives. Have them over, go to dinner, welcome them in. (pg. 205)

And then, a few pages over:

Believer, your pastor or your church can never reach your coworker like you can. They do not have the sway over your neighbor who has been entrusted to you. No one better than you can love your wayward brother. One decent sermon cannot influence a disoriented person in the same way your consistent presence in her life can. (pg. 207)

And suddenly my path was clear again. I don’t need to add more things into my schedule. I can love others right around me, right in the midst of my pared-down, sane schedule. So, be prepared. If you’re standing next to me after school as we wait for the kids to be released– you’re my new mission field. If you teach my kids–blammo! You’re up. Next door neighbors, consider this your fair warning.

Quote from Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker

Maybe one day, when my kids aren’t so little and I have a chunk of time, I’ll add in a new service project at the shelter. Maybe you have that block of time available right now, and if so, go for it! Reach out. But until that time, I’ll be focusing on the people right around me.

And, dear readers, if you’d like to join me in my crazy thoughts, I’d love to have you with me. Here’s my current reading list. I’d like two-page book reports on each tome, on my desk by Thursday morning. (If you’ve read any of these and like to comment below, I’ll let you skip the book report.)

  • Interrupted, by Jen Hatmaker
  • Life on the Vine, by Phil Kenneson
  • Slow Church, by Chris Smith and John Pattison
  • The Book of John, by John, Jesus, and of course, the Holy Spirit. :)
  • 1 Corinthians 9:9-27

Almost Amish: The Book That Will Make You Long for a Buggy and a Bonnet

I was trolling Pinterest the other day, looking for simple living ideas from other folks. I came across this picture and nearly dropped dead from joy at the cover of this book:Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth

The full title is Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life. Nancy Sleeth wrote it, and although I’d never heard of her until that minute I was already a fan. I peeked into Amazon and took a look at the first few pages, then bought it sight unseen.

This almost never happens. I only buy books I already know I love.

Turns out it was money well spent.

Nancy writes with something I cannot overstate: rock-solid common sense. You might have zero interest in the Amish, and you’re still going to be convinced that you need to trade in your minivan for a buggy by the end of this book.

Or at least for a Prius.

Because horses are not the most convenient option, frankly.

Anyway, on to the point. The Amish are long known for their simple approach to life, pretty much ignoring whatever the fools in the outside world are doing. Their faith is strong, their families and communities are solid, their finances are often stable, and they don’t spend their lives mucked up in buying things or impressing people. Almost Amish finances

While the Sleeth family isn’t any more Amish than you or I, they have made purposeful choices just like the Amish. For example, they raised their children to play outside and use their imaginations, instead of filling them with video games and trips to the mall.

They often invite friends and family to their home to share simple meals. (Recipes included!)

They care for the environment, own the aforementioned Prius, and often ride bikes or walk whenever possible.

And this, my favorite, jaw-dropping choice they made– Nancy’s husband quit his job as a physician and director of the local ER so he could “spend the rest of his life trying to serve God and save the planet, even if he never earned another cent.” (p. xiii)

Yes, yes. Read that again. He quit his job as a doctor to be a not-doctor.

And Nancy didn’t even have a heart attack or a panic attack or anything. At least, not for long. She embraced the change and focused on these two words found many, many times in the Bible: Fear Not.

Well, okay. I should probably try that, too.

Without setting the Amish on some sort of idolatrous pedestal, the book takes their excellent example and then translates their choices into ideas we can incorporate into our own lives. We can also strengthen our families and communities. We can shop locally to support our neighbors. We can own fewer things and enjoy our people more.

Just like the Amish.

But without the burden of buying horse feed.

I’m in, are you? What’s the one thing you admire most about the Amish? Do you ever drive to the nearest community and just pray you’ll get to see a girl riding on a bike with her bonnet strings blowing in the wind?


Simply Impossible: Jessie and Her Dad Take on a Camper Restoration

So, some of you have met my father. This blog post is going to come as no surprise.

Some of you haven’t met the man yet, so let me tell you a few stories to give you a picture. This is the man who has given us several cars and then purchased them back from us years later. He claims this makes perfect sense. We always needed the money and didn’t argue too hard.

This is the man who, in 1995, drove four hours straight into the bowels of Indiana for me because my 1988 Escort named Gloria was acting up, and it was two days before my final exams of my sophomore year. He traded the crappy Escort for the good family car and then nursed it another four hours straight home, on a cold December night. I finished my exams then drove home in comfort at the end of the week.

This is the man who picked up hitchhikers all through the 1980’s, brought them home, and fed them soup. (He doesn’t do that anymore, because ax murderers like our woodsy rural environment very much.)

This is the man who rewired my entire old house, paying for all the materials and then doing all the labor for free. This labor included crawling through the dark, damp, spider-infested crawl space under much of the house.

All I’m saying is that my dad loves to help people, and he loves a big assignment.

Which brings us to the camper sitting in his barn.

This is my mom and daughter, enjoying the new fresh scent of the camper (bleach and Bounce dryer sheets).

This is my mom and daughter, enjoying the new fresh scent of the camper (bleach and Bounce dryer sheets).

Akin to the aforementioned giving and re-buying of cars, a woman he knows from church needed to get rid of the camper. He took a look at it, decided it was beyond his skills, and politely declined.

But he couldn’t quite get the project out of his head. Truth be told, he’s out of projects around the house. He volunteers a few days a week but what’s life without a huge hulking piece of metal waiting for his attention in the barn?

So he paid the woman (he probably should have charged her instead) and found a way to drag the poor beast home. My mother raised her eyebrows but realizes this is safer than an ax murderer at the dining room table, so she has made her peace with it.

rotted camper veneerAnd now, oh glory, we have a camper to restore. I say we, but we really all know this means he. It’s not like I’m going to be able to drive 45 minutes home twice a week to hang out in the barn with Dad. But I do plan on helping, once he gets a plan in place. We’re talking major renovations, here. The roof has been leaking for years, the interior veneers are shot, the tires are different sizes, the heater is an explosion/carbon monoxide poisoning hazard, and various rodents have made this place their loving home.

Pray for us.

Do I actually like camping? No. I don’t. But I do love little houses, and I love anything retro. I’m hoping to con my dad into finishing this into a glorious 1960’s time capsule and then parking it right on their farm. I will come and “vacation” at my parents’ house, which means I will use their modern plumbing, eat their food, and then go sleep in their living room when I get scared outside.

This is my vision. But whiter, and with more blue. I'm not sure what Dad thinks...

I took this photo at the Red Barn show this year, and this is my vision. I’m not sure what Dad thinks…

But until then, Dad and I will have many hours of happy planning, researching, and gutting ahead of us. Family time, one moldy kitchen cabinet at a time.

Anyone else out there taken on a huge project recently?

How to Hide Your Clothesline Under a Bushel

Italian ClotheslineI took this photo in Italy last fall. Yes, I had to sneak between fence posts and yes, I had to use my zoom lens. But how could I not take this photographic opportunity to observe culture at its most basic form?

Now we’re back home in America, where we love rules. And where there isn’t a rule we quickly make up a rule. Mostly people then ignore/break/bend said rule, but we can refer to the rule at any time it’s convenient, such as when a neighbor is doing something we find offensive. You can’t do that; we have a rule!

And specifically, our family lives in a  little neighborhood which is loosely governed by a Home Owners Association, which means we have a giant book of rules to ignore until a neighbor is being annoying and then we pull that giant book out of the file cabinet and prove our point. Look right here–here’s the rule!

I’m actually quite afraid of the rule book, because I don’t want to know what rules I’m breaking on a daily basis. I know our garbage can could fall under a technical default because we don’t hide it in the garage like we’re supposed to, but who wants a garage that smells like garbage? Yuck.

Lately I’ve been missing my old clothesline we had at the old house (until the supports tilted so far inward that the clothesline dipped deeply in the center, causing concern that a running child might be garroted by a plastic coated wire) for many years. I like the slow pace of hanging the clothes and the smaller electric bill. But I faced two problems:

1. I’m pretty sure the HOA rule book has a no clotheslines because they’re unsightly clause. Again, I assume. I’m afraid to check.
2. Ticks. The property behind our house is tick heaven, and I really don’t want to bring all the clothes in and then live in fear I’ve just made it very convenient for a tick to suck my blood. Here, Mr. Tick. Would you like to snuggle in this t-shirt, then attach to my armpit whenever you’re hungry? Super.

HOA approved garage clotheslineSo for a year and a half I’ve made peace with my clothes dryer, until just this weekend I’d had enough. I rearranged the garage and voila! A hidden clothesline.

Now, we do have a few problems:

1. No sun actually shines in the garage, and the wind only blows in from certain angles. This means that on a day with 90% humidity like yesterday, nothing actually dries. Bummer. But on most days the garage heats up like the sun and there are convenient vents at the top. It’s like a giant dryer without the tumble feature!
2. The cat’s litter box. Clean laundry isn’t supposed to smell like cat, probably. But I just kept rearranging the garage until the box was far away, next to the big door. Problem solved!
3. I don’t want the neighbors to think we’re hillbillies. I mean, we are hillbillies, but we’re pretending to be reformed hillbillies. I was afraid they’d see our clothesline and worry about their home values plummeting. But good news–it turns out Gertie the Minivan is big enough that she blocks almost every view of the hanging clothes! That van just keeps on giving, I tell you.

Now we have a lovely retractable clothesline for the warm months. I’m going to move it inside for the winter months, when the garage is cold and damp but the furnace room is warm and perfect.

What about you? Any clothesline lovers out there?

Well, I Still Hate to Cook, but This Cookbook Is Pretty Dang Fabulous.

Okay, the title of this post is a little misleading. I really do like to cook. But I mostly want to wander into my kitchen when the mood strikes me, whip up a little something delicious, and then not cook again for days or months or whatever.

It’s the daily drudgery that gets to me, you know? Why do these people insist on eating every day?

Not to mention our ongoing gluten-free needs, which makes it more complicated and expensive; the cost of groceries in general is, quite simply, out of control. We are coming perilously close to the brink of spending more each month on groceries than we do on our mortgage. Yikes.

I eye all the new cookbooks at the library with suspicion and low expectations. I want recipes to be delicious, cheap, and easy in equal measure. I do not want to wander around Meijer, hunting for cranberries grown in a moonlit bog and harvested by elves.

Got it, cookbook writers of the free world? Cheap, simple ingredients, easy, and delicious. Dial back on the imaginative recipes for us, pretty please.

budget bytes cover art

Beth Moncel, author of Budget Bytes, gets it. She really does. Pushed into frugal eating by her own economic needs, she has written a cookbook that checks all my boxes. She was even considerate enough to rate her recipes from $ to $$$, indicating the really cheap options. Bless her. She has an entire chapter on rice, beans, and lentils, and how to make them edible. (Don’t pretend you like lentils all on their own. I can see you shaking your head at me.)

Right now, at this very moment, I’m flipping through the book and I’m seeing ingredients like black beans, vegetable oil, basil, and carrots. I know what these things are. I even already have these things! (Okay, not the carrots.) Yes, occasionally she throws in a hot sauce I don’t have or a spice I can ignore, but no cookbook is perfect.

This one comes pretty close. Tonight we’re having Garlic Herb Pasta (page 108) with some leftover chicken thrown in for good measure. As soon as I close this post I’m headed over to Amazon to buy a copy of this book, because I’m pretty sure the library doesn’t want their book returned covered in food stains. (Here’s the link to get your own!)

Any other suggestions? What cookbook do you love?


If You Do All the Things, You Will Go All the Crazy. Let’s Avoid That.

In theory, the best blog posts are less than 500 words and they neatly fit into a reader’s day. For example, perhaps you’re waiting for your child to get out of the orthodontist’s chair and you have ten extra minutes, so you read five blog posts. You’ve caught up with the world and you’ve made good use of your time. Win-win.

Good news– today’s post is going to be way less than 500 words.
Bad news– I hope it takes you way longer than two minutes.

If you’re at all interested in simple living, or slowing down, or prioritizing, or financial management, all these life choices begin in the same place: mulling the problems and potential solutions over in your mind. Half the time I think we’re running at full throttle, intensely aware there is a terrible problem but not at all sure what it is, exactly, or how to fix it.

So today I’ve included a little worksheet/graphic for you. If you like to write and think slowly, please print it off (simple living pdf) and get yourself a pencil and an excellent beverage. But maybe you’ll just bookmark this link and work from the graphic itself; whatever works for you is fine. The worksheet has one purpose– to help you identify the problem in your own life that is causing you to crave a reset, and then to identify one priority and solution to start on the path to simple living.

simple living: the important questions

It’s easy to think “Yikes, lady. I have way more than one problem and I want to do all the simple living things to fix everything all at once.”

And I’m here to tell you the truth: Doing all the things will make you all the crazy. 

You can boil your own organic soap and make soup and hang your own laundry and move to a tiny house built entirely out of salvaged materials but you will go insane from all that work. Your family will resent your craziness and you will all be very, very cranky.

Do not ask me how I know this. I’m just guessing, okay? (eye roll, eye roll, huge sigh)

I’ll be praying for you! In fact, praying before you begin is an excellent idea. Who better to give you wisdom than the One who instituted simple living in the first place? Let me know what you decide in the comments below–what’s the one thing you want to work on, and how will you do it?

SL worksheet main graphic