Thursday, December 7, 2017

Keeping Track of What You're Already Doing

This is the third in a series about my experience of writing a Rule of Life. You can read the first two posts in the series here

Before actually sitting down and writing my Rule of Life, I had to do one thing: I had to figure out what I was already doing with my time. What was the structure of my days currently? How did I spend my hours and weeks now? In other words, I had to know where I was starting before I could figure out where I was going.

Because the truth is: we all already have a Rule of Life.

We just don’t call it that.

But we are all living our lives, which means that we are already making decisions about how we use our time and our other resources. Just because you haven’t consciously decided how you’re going to make your decisions doesn’t mean you’re not making decisions. Of course you are—you have to.

You’re just not necessarily making the decisions you want to be making.

So I started tracking my hours.

And here’s where I admit that I cheated. See, I had an advantage when it came to figuring out how to do all this: I know someone who actually teaches about this stuff at a seminary. So I told her what I was doing, and she cheerfully loaded me down with things to read.

Here’s where I have to admit something else. I don’t know if you always read the forwards or dedications or afterwords in the books you pick up, but I do. And there I’ll invariably find a few lines like this:

Thank you to George Eightarms of the Cephalopod Institute for his insights on the mating habits of the octopus. If my undersea zombie apocalypse romance gets anything right, it’s because of his help. However, all mistakes are my own. 

My friend was kind enough to point me towards the starting line. However, she is an expert and I am not. As I pointed out at the beginning of this blog series: This is just an accounting of my own experience. I’m just a layperson here. I’m writing this series both for the selfish reason that I find it interesting and also for the more charitable reason that I hope my experience might help or encourage someone else. But…all the mistakes herein are my own.

Anyway. One of the things my friend has her students do is to track their hours for a while. I used a chart she gave me, but I also went online and found this version, which I used to chart out some theoretical weeks, as I was thinking through the changes I wanted to make. (It’s from Laura Vanderkam’s site. I read a couple of her books this last year. She’s done a ton of original research on how successful women spend their time; it was really quite interesting.) 

I took a couple of copies of the charts, and set to work. I assigned a color to each kind of activity I did throughout my week: things like housework/childcare, writing, editing, devotional stuff, etc.  I also had categories for rest, differentiated between (for lack of better terms) good rest and bad rest—mostly because I wanted to see how much time I was throwing away on TV and social media (versus actually restorative stuff like reading for pleasure).

Here's one of my theoretical weeks. The real thing ended up being much messier.

The point here wasn’t to change anything right away—although I’m sure the mere act of observation did change things—but simply to gather information.

After two weeks, I had a lot of good data about how I was spending my days. The various colored sections really do jump out at you.

Now I had what I needed in order to go on my short, one-day retreat, and to pray through how I was spending my time. I had a record of what I was already doing, and I had a bunch of notes in my journal, and I had the questions that had prompted me to start this process of self-examination. I also reread sections of Holly Pierlot’s book, in order to fill in any gaps I might be forgetting to notice—to remind myself of other areas of my life that I ought to prayerfully examine.

And I also had a place to retreat to: I had been told of a small convent of Roman Catholic sisters in a neighboring city. (And, given that I live in the Los Angeles area, the “neighboring city” was only about a ten minute drive away. We pack ‘em close here.) For a small fee (just enough to cover their costs, I think), they’d provide you with a room and a meal for the day, and access to their chapel and garden, so that those who wished for a day of silence and prayer could have it.

My husband was happy to be parent-in-charge for the day while I went and prayed.

So I made my appointment, and I went.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Advent Project Devotion up today!

I'm happy to have a devotion up at Biola's Advent Project today: Our Trudging is a Triumph.

The Advent Project is a wonderful devotional Advent calendar (actually, more than Advent--it goes all the way through the 12 days of Christmas!) that includes a scripture reading, a poem, a piece of visual art, a piece of music, and a devotion that ties them all together, every day.  I got to write today's devotion. Here's a snippet:

There was no way through death until He burst death open from the inside. Death swallowed Him, but it was like swallowing the sun: He was a burning light that could not stay obscured. Not even by the darkest thing we know.

Head on over to The Advent Project to read the rest!

And, if you are looking for simple ways to bring the seasons of Advent and Christmas into your home, pick up a copy of Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home: 

There's even a slim little volume that includes just Advent and Christmas:

I hope you all are enjoying a peaceful and good start to the Advent season!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Links Post! (and a small update)

Hi folks! 

Below, you can find a regular links post (I usually call them weekly links, but let's be honest: they're more like biweekly links).  But quickly, before getting to that, I just wanted to apologize about not having another entry in my blog series on writing a rule of life, The Rhythm of Our Days

The truth about having a rule of life is that it gives me guidance about what to say "yes" to each day, but it also gives me boundaries for my work. It tells me, "Do this first and then, if you have time, do that."

Everyone knows that there isn't enough time in a day to do everything. My rule just helps me to be honest about that. It tells me when to work, and when to stop working.

And this last week, there was time to do a lot, but there wasn't time to work on this series. I hope there will be time this week (there might be), but if not this week, there will almost certainly be time next week, during Thanksgiving break.

Thanks for hanging in there with me while I work on this! Now, onto the links!

-This looks like an excellent writing contest. (Free entry, and a great prize!)

-I don't know about you, but there are a lot of people in my life right now going through loss. Here's something helpful: Grieving Like God.

-If you are a Hamilton fan, you'll probably enjoy this collection of excellent fan-art--one drawing for each song of the musical.

-Ah, a properly admiring article about a book series I love. More people should read Lee and Miller. (Their books are kinda like Georgette Heyer in space.)

-Tim Keller on the book of Proverbs. I loved this quotation in particular:
Just as the Book of Psalms is the Lord’s Prayer applied practically to every possible situation and condition of our hearts, so the Book of Proverbs is the Ten Commandments applied to every possible situation in our daily lives.

-Sex in Movies. Was John Piper Right All Along?

-And, finally, an appreciation of an excellent actor, who played a vital role in one of my favorite TV series ever: When Robert Guillaume Played Aaron Sorkin's First Great Leader.

I hope you have a great week, folks!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Discerning the Need for a Rule of Life

I wrote my first Rule of Life about a year ago, but my journey towards a Rule really began long before that.* 

In preparation for this blog series, I’ve been going back over my journal entries from 2016. And I’m finding that my path toward writing a Rule was even more rocky and twisty than I remember it being—and I remember it being a pretty rocky and twisty path!

Like many big changes, this one was prompted by what initially seem like negative things. Things like: 

  • dissatisfaction
  • a lack of peace
  • an inability to get everything done

But, as I started paying attention to what I was doing each day and how I was doing it and—maybe most importantly—why I was doing it, it became clear that what was really driving me was my desire for good things. Things like:

  • time with the Lord everyday (both quality and quantity)
  • time with my husband and kids everyday (both quality and quantity)
  • a desire to write good things (i.e., fulfill my vocation)
  • a desire for a peaceful home
  • a desire for health (mental and physical)

I don’t think the “dissatisfaction” would have felt so much like starter’s pistol if I’d felt it several years earlier. In fact, I know I felt it several years earlier, and it didn’t have the same jump-starting result back then.

But several years ago, I was in the middle of a “survival” season. I had lots and lots and lots and lots and lots (okay, maybe not that many—but still LOTS) of little kids, and I was their full-time caregiver. Yeah, there were things in my life that made me dissatisfied, but I knew I didn’t have room to arrange them in any super-ideal fashion. 

(Not that that stopped me from trying.)

And then we went through some family health crisesone of them minethat took up almost all our extra time and energy and attention. I just did not have the wherewhithal to make any big changes.

But then the kids got older

The kids eventually all grew up to be school-aged children. Their needs changed. Other things changed. Various energy-sucking situations changed and resolved. And now, I did have room to make some changes. I did have the time. I did have the physical energy. 

There were ongoing things to be dealt with, sure. But the crises were over, at least for a bit. 

It was time to figure out how to handle this glorious, energy-rich, potential-full time of life called middle-age.**

This was a new time of life. And I wasn’t living it well.

And I really, really wanted to.

So I started experimenting.

Next week’s blog post will be about those first few experiments, and about the way they prompted me to start keeping track of my days. (Because eventually I learned that, if I wanted to change my life, I first had to have an accurate idea of what my life was. That is, I needed data. That is, I needed to observe and record.)

But before I finish off this blog post, I need to be honest, and share the one realization that really, really started me on this journey. It's particular to me, and if you take a similar journey, your final straw will probably be a different one.

But here's mine. I found myself writing these few paragraphs (edited for clarity), right after I reread my journal entries from the time when the children were all still babies and toddlers:

…I'm realizing that back then, I just longed for an hour or two to write, and it was absolutely life-giving it was when I was given those hours. 
Now, it feels like I long for just an hour or two to write, but other, lesser things stop me.
I think this means I’ve made a mistake, somewhere.

It was that last bit that finally started me on my journey: the realization that I could now—if I really wanted to—do the things I’d been telling myself for years that I wanted to do.

There are lots of times in life where you can't do what you want. I know that. I've lived that. I'm sure I'll live it again.

But, writing out those journal paragraphs above made me realize: I'm actually facing a real choice here. Those things I wanted to do? I could really do them now.

And I wasn’t.

That meant I’d gone wrong somewhere. 

And I was determined to change direction. I was determined to make it right.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

*To be completely honest, I can find journal entries about a “Rule of Life” at least as far back as 2010. And I know I’d been introduced to the concept well before that—probably at least as early as 2006 or so, which was about when I first read Holly Pierlot’s book A Mother’s Rule of Life

But this blog series is about the Rule that stuck.

**No, really. I’m convinced we don’t value the potential of middle age nearly enough in our culture. It’s all made clear in the middle stanza of this Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, if you want to see what I’m getting at.  

(Bonus! That poem also contains one of the answers to the always-fun “Where-Did-C.-S.-Lewis-Steal-THAT-Narnia-Line-Or-Concept-From?” game.)

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

the rhythms of our days - announcing a new series

a fascinating book brought by an attendee!

This last Saturday, I got to give a talk to a local church group about celebrating the Christian year at home. It was lovely, and one of the wonderful people who came brought along the recipe book up in the header, A Continual Feast. I looked through it with her before the talk started, and it's now definitely on my list of things to buy. It's full of seasonal recipes, interspersed with lots of commentary on actually celebrating the church year. Once I get it, I see many new delicious traditions in my future...

Anyway, the talk itself was really fun. The group was interested, and asked great questions, and talking with them reminded (again, some more) just how much I love this stuff.

I love the rhythm of the church year. I love ordering my life around the church's annual retelling of the life of Christ. I love ordering my smaller story around that bigger, truer, better story. I love the reminder that, as one of God's people, my small story is a part of that big, true, good story.

Orderly Days: on Writing a Rule of Life
Following the Christian calendar reminds me that time is part of God's good creation. And during this past year, I've been concentrating pretty hard on the order of my days. Almost exactly a year ago, after months of preparation, I took a one-day retreat in order to pray through a Rule of Life for myself. 

And so now I've had almost a whole year of practicing my Rule. 

Which means that I'm just about ready to start blogging about it.

So, coming up on this blog, starting next week (I hope!), you'll find a new series about writing (and keeping, and living) a Rule of Life. I'll talk about how I'm ordering my days so that I have space for all the good things. And also about how adding in good things helps to crowd out the bad.

I'll talk about searching for a peaceful rhythm, and what that looks like, and how to make it work.

And also I'll talk about what to do when it doesn't.

I hope you'll come back and join me next week!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Weekly Links!


-When Masculinity Turns Toxic.

-I love this: Why You Should Say Bad Things About My Books.

-Yes! It can be worth consuming stories with worldviews you disagree with--but you should always do it with discernment, and without expecting them to be perfect: The Doctor Doesn't Believe in the Devil.

-Both this article and the article after it I found thanks to Tim Motte, so my thanks to him: Tolkien's Map.

-And: This excellent twin review comparing Rothfuss and Tolkien.

-Sometimes it's just nice to read someone say good things about a good thing you already love: "The Princess Bride" at 30.

-For those of you with high-schoolers: did you know your kid can apply to be an intern at NASA?

-Pilgrimage to the National Parks: Awe, Wonder, and What's Missing.

-Helpful: Homemade Halloween Hacks for Parents in a Hurry.

I hope what's left of your Sunday is peaceful and restful.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Weekly Links!

photo credit: Betsy Barber.


-I remember reading this in Touchstone years ago, but it was good to reread this fascinating theory about the Chronicles of Narnia: Narnia's Secret.

-A good reminder for my fellow writers: The Folly of Self-Rejection.

-This blog post is full of such lovely food ideas: Lifestyle Lessons.

-Good stuff from Wesley Hill: An Impatience with Biblical Exegesis.

-More helpful advice for writers, on what to do when you get The Call from an agent: All About Author Etiquette

-I already wanted to read this book, because I already knew I like the author, but this post made me really want to read this book: The Big Idea: David Walton.

-So, as Anne Kennedy always says, "struggling" is the Christian word for failure.  Here, Russell Moore gets even more incisive about our common attitude towards "struggling" with sin: Are You "Struggling" With Sin?

-This sermon on divine omniscience, by Dr. Fred Sanders, is really good. I particularly appreciated his explanation of what Ps. 139 would mean in the mouth of Adam, vs. what it would mean in the mouth of Jesus, and then what being completely known by God means for us, whose life is hid in Christ: Divine Omniscience.

I hope what's left of your Sunday is peaceful and restful.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Weekly Links: Growing, Eating, Praying, and more!

some very cool baby shower decorations


-For all of us who aren't kids, but are still working hard on becoming really cool adults: Quick Thoughts on Comparison, and the Angst of Growing Up Slowly.  

-This sounds like an awesome diet plan: I Ate Hundreds of Bowls of Queso and Somehow Lost 10 Pounds.

-And...I really want to go and work here for a few days! If you're in France, maybe you can go and volunteer and tell me how it was...? For 20 Years the French Have Been Building a Medieval Castle Using Medieval Techniques, and the Result Is Incredible.

-And it'd hardly be a links post without hearing from Anne...but, seriously, guys, go hear from Anne (and add her dad to your prayers): It's Okay if You Can't Pray.  

(ETA: I've been corresponding with my grandma, a great woman of prayer, about this post. I think it is always good to pray. I think what comforts me about Anne's post is the reminder that God will still do His good work, even when we fail to ask Him for it. But "help, Lord," is always a good prayer--even if we're not capable of anything more. So, I'm grateful for Anne's reminder that God does not depend on us, and I'm also grateful for my grandma's reminder that it's good to pray anyway.)

-I really like where this guy ended up in his last line: VidAngel Let Me Remove the Sex from Game of Thrones, So Why Do I Still Feel Like a Pervert?

-Yes, this is about working from home, but for me the most interesting part was the section about how hard it was for the scientist to find a group to study that met his requirements: Why Working From Home Should Be Standard Practice.

I hope what's left of your Sunday is peaceful and restful.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

on Liturgy, and on Saying True Things

I am thinking about church, again.

I'm thinking again about how one of the good things about the liturgy is that, at least once a week, for a little over an hour, I get to say only true things.

Things like:

Most merciful Father, we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed.

Things like:

Have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Things like:

Glory be to God on high!
And on earth peace, goodwill towards men.

I say so many dumb things throughout the week. So many sinful things.

And so, it is so good to have one hour, once a week, where all the things coming out of my mouth are right, and righteous.

Someday, when we see Him as He is, we will be like Him.

And all that we say will be good.

Come soon, Lord Jesus! 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Weekly Links: the Hobbit, Medieval Beers, and more!

In our part of the country, the pomegranates are getting ripe.


-This article, on summer and Sabbath and liturgy and good books, is just such a lovely read: Our Beloved Stories of Summer.

-From Anne Kennedy, another good read: Joy Deferred.

-For the anniversary of The Hobbit, here's a link to C.S. Lewis' original review. 

-Sobering: The Tricky Path to Employment is Trickier When You're Autistic.

-An interesting take on the history of beer from the Met: Celebrating Oktoberfest with Medieval Brews.

I hope what's left of your Sunday is peaceful and restful.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, September 22, 2017

Book Notes: All Shall Be Well, by Deborah Crombie

All Shall Be Well, by Deborah Crombie, is the second in her Kincaid and James mystery series (you can read my review of the first book here).

In this book, Inspector Kincaid has the sad task of investigating the death of his neighbor--a neighbor it turns out he didn't know nearly as well as he thought he did.

As with the first book in the series, I enjoyed this book mostly for the sheer pleasure of its prose and the way Crombie describes many disparate people with the same detached, intelligent kindness. It's just a world that's rather nice to spend time in--even though there are a few awful people in it. (There have to be in a murder mystery!)

Though there was one particular character in this one--an emotionally abusive boyfriend--who soured a bit of the book for me. He wasn't in a lot of it, but everything about him was unpleasant. Not to totally contradict my last paragraph, but it was like he was the one character the author had no pity for (understandably), and so it just wasn't fun whenever he turned up on the page. I'm curious to see if having a character who is the "one exception that proves the rule" ends up being a pattern in the series.

Because, of course, I'm totally reading the next one.

Content warning for the usual things, but nothing egregious.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Book Notes: "Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals," edited by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel

Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics, edited by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel, is, as the title says, a guide for evangelicals. It starts by explaining what the spiritual classics are and then, helpfully, gives instruction on how to read them, how to avoid the dangers in reading them, and shows why they're worth reading. Then it goes into a chronological overview, introducing and giving context to works from the church fathers to the Puritans.

Full disclosure: I know at least five of the contributors to this book. But I didn't just read the sections of the folks I know--I read the whole thing, and enjoyed both being reminded of works I've loved, and being introduced to new-to-me classics.

To close, I really love this paragraph by Betsy Barber:

Due to the historical strangeness of many of these writings, it is beneficial to practice hospitality as we read: to entertain these ideas as guests. As with guests, you may not appreciate or benefit from all they say, but give them prayerful space and consideration for a time. Listen to the common family-of-God dialect in their words. 

You could do worse than just taking this book and reading through all of the works the contributors talk about, taking their chapters as a map to unfamiliar territory. I'm grateful for the work these contributors did in providing such a helpful "field guide" to modern evangelicals who want to read these primacy sources in church history.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book Notes: "Clean" (Mindspace Investigations #1), by Alex Hughes

Clean, by Alex Hughes, is a sci-fi detective novel set in a futuristic Georgia. Our hero is a disgraced telepath, fighting to stay clean after kicking a drug addiction. He contracts out his services to the local police department.

Usually, he spends his days in the interview room of the police station, trying to get confessions out of the assortment of thugs and petty criminals that the cops drag in. But then some strange murders start happening, and he gets caught up in the hunt for a serial killer.

There were two things I really enjoyed about this book. The first is that it gave me what I like to call "good book hangover." That's when you're going throughout your day, and this taste floats through the back of your mind. It feels kind of like the tune of a song you've forgotten, but liked. It's just an atmospheric sort of an emotion, but a good one, and you think, "What is that? What does that remind me of?" and you realize, "Oh, it's the way that book I was reading made me feel."

I liked this book because it gave me Good Book Hangover. The emotions of it came into my mind when I was away from it, and it was a pleasant reminder. (Which is weird, because serial killers are not pleasant, right? But any story can be told well.) It wasn't OH MY GOODNESS I AM RUINED FOR OTHER STORIES book hangover, but "Clean" definitely resonated with me in a good way, and there are plenty of well-told stories that never manage to do that.

The other thing I really liked about this book was the way that Hughes was always juggling about three different plot threads: the murders, the hero's fight against his addiction, and the hero's relationship with his cop partner.  All three of these threads were always weaving in and out around each other, and in ways that made interesting patterns. Hughes never dropped any of them, or forgot about any of them, but juggled them gracefully, and in ways where each thread made the other ones more interesting because of how they interacted. (And they all came together nicely in the climax of the story.)

If you don't like sci-fi or mysteries, you might not like this. But if you like both, you probably will. Recommended.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Weekly Links!

illustration credit: Seth T. Hahne


-My latest article for Christ and Pop Culture is out from behind the paywall: "American Ninja Warrior: Villains Need Not Apply."  I loved writing this. I got to get nerdy about spiritual formation and Dallas Willard and television and story structure and editing. And all in the same article! It was paradise. Go read it!

-Useful for the novelists out there: "Act 2 Plotting in 5 Easy Questions."

-"Finding the Living Cave: What I Learned From Odysseus." This is just a good read.

-And this one is just funny: "Two Cow Denominations."

-And this one is terrifying (but it has a happy ending): "That Time When I Plagiarized. Accidentally."

-And I found out that my friend Ann Dominguez (author of medical mysteries and also one of the contributers to Let Use Keep the Feast), has a book blog!  Check it out here.

I hope what's left of your Sunday is peaceful and restful.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price. I will probably use it to buy more books. (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Guest Post: Some Favorite Family Read-Alouds

Today I'm happy to welcome my friend, author Alicia Brummeler, to the blog. Alicia's put together a great post about her favorite books to read aloud to children!

Some of my fondest memories of my children’s childhood involve books and reading together. Often we read before bed as part of our nighttime routine. During our homeschooling years, we also read during the day. On more than one occasion, I returned to the house after running errands and saw my husband on the couch with two children nestled on either side as they listened to a book (one of the many highlights of Brad’s graduate-student years). Not only have I enjoyed reading aloud to my family, but also, as an English teacher, I have enjoyed reading aloud to my students.

Whether you are a veteran or a novice when it comes to reading aloud as a family, I hope this post will provide you with some new titles or inspire you to try reading together as a family. Nothing beats sharing the wonder and power of good literature.

Some books seem particularly suited as read alouds. The beauty of the written word becomes even more elevated when spoken. The books I recommend below are those kind of reads. Also, my recommendations are best suited for elementary-aged children, with the exception of the last book. For this one, I recommend it for upper elementary-aged children. However, you know your child(ren). Use that knowledge to guide you.

My family was introduced to Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher through Sonlight, the homeschooling curriculum we used for a number of years. Set in the 1900s, this is the story of nine-year-old Elizabeth Ann. Betsy, the name her New England relatives call her when she comes to live with them, has much to learn about herself and the broader world. At the beginning of the novel, she lives with her two elderly aunts; however, when they can no longer care for her, she goes to live with her cousins, the Putneys.

The beauty of this story is watching Betsy’s character transformation. She’s fearful, timid, and anxious at the beginning. Gradually, she comes to see that she is capable of much more than she ever imagined. As a reader and parent, I appreciated the way in which Fisher does this. She doesn’t moralize or try to “teach” her readers independence or resourcefulness. Instead, she uses real life and believable characters to craft a story that both instructs and delights. At the end of the novel, Betsy must make an important decision. As readers, we enter her struggle as she considers the pros and cons, causing us to feel the weight too. While I can’t remember the specifics of our conversations about this book, I do recall both of my children processing and discussing this story as it unfolded. Conversations like these are golden!

As a child, my husband read The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald. Once he was a father, he was especially eager to share the books with his own children. The book is set in Adenville, UT, in 1896. Eight-year-old John D. narrates. Using his “great brain,” J.D. entices his friends to pay him money for his various schemes. Think Tom Sawyer, charging his friends to whitewash a picket fence. Perhaps the most compelling parts of the book are some of the side stories that unfold. Issues such as discrimination, fairness, and bullying emerge. Discovering what true friendship looks like is also explored. Readers who enjoy this first book will be glad that there are more in the series.

A couple of years ago, when the flu hit our house, my daughter asked me to go to the library to check out The Great Brain. She remembered the series and in her hour of illness wanted to read a favorite from childhood. I happily obliged.

For the past five years, I have taught To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Each year I discover new insights and truths from rereading the book. Brad read this book to our children when they were in the sixth grade. I think this is best way to first experience Lee’s masterpiece—read it aloud. Lee’s nuanced writing style and her rich vocabulary deserve a slower reading to enjoy and savor this beautifully-crafted story. There’s so much fodder in the book for discussion too—mistaken assumptions, family relationships, not to mention issues of integrity, racism, and self discovery. Like all quality literature, this is a book worth reading again and again. And, after reading the book, you can watch the movie as a family, which does a great job staying true to the book.

My children are young adults now, in college and reading books on their own. Every once and a while a book we read together as a family will come up in a topic of conversation. Suddenly, we are transported to another place, reliving the scenes and the characters as if they were real events and people. We talk. We laugh. We quote lines of text. We experience the magic Emily Dickinson describes when she wrote, “There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.”

Below, I’ve included some reading resources that appear in my book Everywhere God; specifically, my chapter on literature. You can flip through these repeatedly to find book suggestions or to inspire and motivate you to become a better reader. Some of the books are especially helpful if you have children in the home and want to instill a love of reading at an early age.

Honey for a Teen’s Heart, Gladys Hunt and Barbara Hampton
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeleine L’Engle—If you want to read more about the intersection of faith and the arts, this book is a good place to start.
A Time to Read: Good Books for Growing Readers, Mary Ruth Wilkinson & Heidi Wilkinson    Teel
Books Children Love, Elizabeth Wilson

Alicia is the author of Everywhere God: Exploring the Ordinary Places. She and her husband have a college-age son and daughter. They live on Long Island, NY. You can find Alicia at, on Twitter @ReadingAlicia, or on Instagram at aliciabrummeler.

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