What I've Been Reading - December 2014

Posted on December 30, 2014 by Sarah Brown | 0 Comments

Talk about a good month of reading!  I read some fabulous books, and I added quite a few books to my total books read in 2014. Tomorrow, I will be posting about my favorite books of the year...make sure to check back in!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows • Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt • The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun • I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate • The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philli Sendeker • The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult • Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters • Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte • Every Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty• Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler • Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford • Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid • The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp (reread)

Best book of the month:
Extravagant Grace: One of my best friends gave me this book for Christmas, and I devoured it. Sometimes you read a book and all of a sudden, you realize you never really grasped a concept at all, and your perspective is forever changed. This book is one of those.
Good, easy reads that all will enjoy:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society: I have had this on my Kindle for a long time and finally got around to reading it…and love it!  Such a fun, happy, makes-you-feel-good type of story, told through letters (think Where’d You Go Bernadette)
The One and Only Ivan: Winning the Newberry Medal in 2013 for best book for children, it is a short and quick read (I finished it in about the time it took my son to watch Frozen). It pulls at the heart-strings in a good way and really touches on love, sacrifice, and hope.
Books that give you a new perspective that you just can’t shake:
Tell the Wolves I’m Home: Wow, did I enjoy this book. The inter weavings of family dynamics, adolescence, and love was superb, in a way that I just can’t get out of my head. Due to this book, I keep thinking about how people communicate things, and how I might be missing what they are saying.
Every Bitter Things is Sweet: Gosh, an awesome read. Her message just hit home in a great way - how often do we pray for something (over and over) and get no answer, and it feels like God is answering so many prayers for others? Sara unpacks the question: I know God is good, but is God good to me?
Hands Free Mama: I have owned this book for over a year but have been extremely reluctant to read it…mainly because I didn’t want the guilt I was sure would ensue, as I am a work-from-home mama who has to use technological devices. But, this book didn’t make you feel bad - it was extremely encouraging. I loved her stories, her examples, her suggestions, and truthfully, it’s already been most impactful in my relationship with my husband. I highly recommend it!
Nonfiction memoir-style stories that left a mark:
I am Malala: My book club read this month, it was eye-opening…especially since a friend in the group is from Pakistan (which allowed me to ask so many questions!) This book made me want to explore so much more, and showed how hugely naive I am.
The Promise of a Pencil: Fun read about how a 20-something guy built over 100 schools in developing countries, and the different steps and struggles he had to overcome. Easy, entertaining, and enlightening - what more could you want?
What have you been reading this month?

Posted in Books, What I've Been Reading

The Celebration is Now

Posted on December 23, 2014 by Sarah Brown | 0 Comments

We are two days away from the “big day” and there is quite a bit of anticipation in our house. We leave tonight to head towards my in-laws for the holidays, and they do Christmas big. For one three-year old little boy in our house, it will be truly magical.

With the anticipation of the next few days, it is easy for me to feel like so much is coming. Christmas is coming...but just not today. It is coming once I pack our bags, clean our house, cook these food dishes, send these last cards, wrap these final gifts, travel these final hundred miles, and more. I am waiting for my to-do list to get done so that Christmas will finally be here.

But really, Advent and Jesus and Christmas and celebration - it is here. Now.

The story of the coming Jesus has been told for so many years through so many unlikely situations and people: God searching for Adam and Eve after the fall, God's overwhelming grief over the state of the world with Noah, the blessing and covenant with Abraham, the promise of God to not leave Jacob, the good that God worked through Joseph’s plight, the use of a prostitute Rahab in the lineage of Jesus, the faithfulness of Ruth, the anointing of the smallest brother David, the fulfilled prophesies of Isaiah and Micah, the redemption of Jonah, the stand of Esther…all point to Jesus.

God wove his story for many years, through many unlikely people, in many unlikely situations. Advent has come. Jesus has come. The celebration is now.

What does this mean for me, two days from Christmas, with travel to do, presents to wrap, people to call, a house to clean, a dog to drop off, a work project to wrap up…a long list of must-dos? How can I see the story, the promise, the Advent already-come when I

Advent has come and the promise is here, despite the things I have decided must come first. Before I finish my to-do list. Before I get us all packed. Before I clean up the 3000 Lego pieces that are spilled on my living room floor. 

Today, Advent is here. I have hope. I can rest assured that Jesus did come, and continues to come after me, just like he did throughout the stories of the Old Testament, leading to his birth. 

I can let it go. I can rest assured.

I can see the blessing in the packing, as it means I have people to pack for. I can speak thanks over the Lego pieces strewn on the floor, as it means I have an inquisitive child who loves to build. I can see God in the dirty house, as it means we have lived (really) well here. 

I can speak thanksgiving in these two days of crazy leading to Christmas, as Jesus has come. Advent is here. I don’t have to wait two more days to get there. I am not waiting for something better.  Today is the better. Today is the blessing. Today is the day Jesus came for me, that Advent really comes alive.

How do you see Advent in the day to day, in the mundane and crazy and overwhelming that occur in the next 2 days? 

Posted in Advent, Celebrate, Christmas

Are You Ready to Pray for Your Husband in the New Year?

Posted on December 22, 2014 by Sarah Brown | 0 Comments

As 2015 is fast approaching, it is a great time to start thinking about your goals for the New Year. One of the best ways you can glow love into your husband this year is through prayer. 

Prayer is so very powerful. Prayer is so very necessary.

Brooke McGlothlin, in her excellent book Praying for Boys, says, “I pray because I don’t know what else to do.” 

And, isn’t that so very true?! We (most certainly) cannot change our husbands - but God can work amazing things in their lives. 

Choose to start this year off by diligently praying for your husband. Getting on your knees and waging war for his spiritual growth, his workplace, his friendships, his character. 

Order your Praying for Your Husband journal today so that you can kick off January with a commitment to 6 months of prayer.  I am sending a newsletter tomorrow with a discount code for the Praying for Your Husband journal that can be used through December 31. If you aren’t signed up for the newsletter yet, sign up today!

Let this be the year that you commit to pray in BIG ways for your husband. Join us in prayer in 2015!

Posted in Praying for Your Husband Journal, Start Fresh

Best Friend Friday #3 - Organization for the New Year

Posted on December 19, 2014 by Sarah Brown | 0 Comments

In between Christmas and New Years, I always spend time getting myself organized for the new year. With balancing working at home, while taking care of a 3-year-old, I have to stay on the ball, or I don’t get anything accomplished. 

For this edition of Best Friend Friday, if you were my best friend, sitting on my dog-haired covered couch, and we were sharing a cup of tea, I’d want you to know about these great products to get organized in the New Year:

Live Life Beautifully Journal: I am most excited about using Gretchen’s new 52-week journal. I have used a prayer journal for a long time, but have never used a journal to really just look at my life. As she says on her website, “this journal has been intentionally designed to help you craft your mission statement, dream big, and plan ways to serve Jesus and remember what He has done throughout the year.” Yes please!

Lara Casey’s Powersheets: I just cannot wait to dig into these (mine arrived yesterday!). I see these as a way to make sure my year doesn’t go by without accomplishing the things that are important to me, while also focusing on Jesus. I have some big dreams and goals for 2015, and these powersheets are going to keep me on task. (I also cannot wait to get Lara’s new book Make It Happen in the mail!)

Simplified Planner: Went with this planner as I am a super simple girl, so this definitely appealed to me. I had been using a weekly calendar, and have switched to a daily one, as I need so much more space than my weekly is allowing for these days. (They are sold out on her website, but saw one at a store the other day, so check out some of her retailers in your area).

Book Journal: Because I read so many books each year, if I don’t take the time to write down my book-thoughts, I will forget too much from the book. This year, I am planning to keep a book journal, to record my favorite quotes, thoughts, and ideas from each book I read. I found this cool Moleskine Book Journal - anyone every used it? 

What organizational tools will you use in the new year?


Posted in Best Friend Friday, Goals, Organization

Essentialism and the 90% Rule in the Christian Life

Posted on December 17, 2014 by Sarah Brown | 0 Comments

My husband commits to things with extreme fervor. These interests vary in topic: woodworking, the European skull mount for a deer head, leather working, bee survival…the list goes on an on. One unfortunate period of time he was consumed with researching black holes, which caused many nights of marital stress, for I threatened to move out of our house if I heard one more sentence that involved the words “cosmos” and “gravity collapse.” Another period of research into making ammunition has most definitely secured our names on some government watch-lists of renegade individuals.

But, I have much respect for my husband’s commitment to research something in such detail.

And, I think it is often what I am missing in my pursuit of the Lord.

Greg McKeown, in his excellent business book Essentialism, talks about the need for business-minded people to figure out what is essential to them, and eliminate the rest. He gives the example of the 90 percent rule. For every task you undertake, give it a rating of importance from 0 to 100. If the rating is lower than 90, "automatically change the rating to 0 and reject it.” 

McKeown propels you to think: What is essential? Eliminate everything else.

What if I posed this question to my personal life, to the way I pursued the Lord? How would the 90 percent rule affect my daily life?

I want my Essentialist question, my 90 percent rule to be that in everything I do, I will pursue God with my whole-heart, looking to nothing else for fulfillment.

Everything else? Eliminate it.

It gets me thinking of things that quickly find ways of mattering to me, of becoming so very essential:

• Mothering - how I am balancing; the ways others perceive it

• Social media - appearing a certain way

• Striving to be perfect, to look perfect in so many areas

• Meeting deadlines - placed on myself or from others

• Looking like I can handle everything, like I am the one who has it all together

These are a few of the many things that take such a firm hold of my time, my thought life, the way I decide things, and then react. 

But, none of them stand up to my full-on pursuit of the Lord. These different areas become so essential, but are based on myself or how others perceive me. All of these would rate below a 90 on my importance scale, and by McKeown’s standards, I must eliminate them.

But, how do you do this? How do I focus on my Essential thing, when the daily grind and continued expectations constantly pull me away?

McKeown encourages that instead of asking, "What do I have to give up?” to instead ask, “What do I want to go big on?

And, there are so many things I want to go big on:

• Coming to Jesus daily, spending intentional time with Him

• Praying through any business work; laying it at His feet

• Striving to be full of grace, by forgiving myself more often when I mess up

• Being thankful; magnifying God by speaking words of thankfulness to Him

And maybe that’s where it begins - taking the small steps today to decide what I want to go big on…eliminating the rest. Taking time today to ask myself, “is what I am thinking about pointing me towards the Lord, or do I need to eliminate it?” 

I want the Essentialist activity of my life to be a full-fledged, head-forward, un-wavering pursuit of Jesus. A daily life that questions all thoughts and decisions in relation to my Essential question. A life that researches, studies, obsesses, and talks about my greatest interest - bringing glory to God with my life.

Have you read Greg Mckeown’s Essentialism?  What would be your Essential question?


Posted in Books, Resources

Glow Some Love to Unsuspecting People - Free Printable

Posted on December 15, 2014 by Sarah Brown | 0 Comments

Holiday season is such a great time to really glow some love into the lives of people you might see often, but don’t necessarily interact with on a regular basis. It’s an awesome opportunity to connect with your mailman, the housekeeping staff at your church or school, the garbage drivers, your favorite grocery bagger, your school’s security guards, your favorite coffee shop barista, and more. 

Our family is on a strict Christmas budget, but I still want to thank these people (and in turn connect with these people) in unexpected ways.

An easy way is a food or drink related treat, packaged in a clear or paper bag.  Use the free gift tag printables below to attach to your bag, writing in a short note from your family.

Here are some easy treat ideas that look promising:

Our family's favorite peanut butter cup cookies

These are speaking my peppermint chocolate love language

Good looking homemade hot chocolate mix 

This year, the pressure of making something is already sending me over the edge, so I’ll probably be using prepackaged cookie dough or hot chocolate. 

No matter what you do, reach out to someone this holiday season who you might see often but have not taken the chance to really get to know.  What a great way to glow some love into your local community this holiday!

How do you plan to glow some love in unexpected ways this holiday season?

Posted in Christmas, Free Printable, Gift Tags, Glowing Back

Christmas Book List - Great Christian Reads

Posted on December 12, 2014 by Sarah Brown | 0 Comments

Buying books for people is really difficult for me, but also something I love to do. Because I read so many books each year, I often get asked for recommendations. This year, if you’re looking for a great read for some of your Christian friends and family (or those asking some good questions), I’d recommend the following reads, some of the best Christian books I read in 2014:

For a to-be college grad or someone considering a big change in their life:
Let’s All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs

For someone wanting to learn how to better read and apply her bible:
Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

For an inspirational read on how to make a difference in your regular ‘ole suburban life:
Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch

For someone stressed out, needing to slow down:
Abundant Simplicity by Jan Johnson

For someone needing hope, and to know God is good to them specifically:
Ever Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty

For someone longing to have their life mean something:
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

For someone struggling with people-pleasing:
Love Idol by Jennifer Dukes Lee

For a teen girl (or in my case…a slightly older girl) who is looking for worth:
Graceful by Emily P. Freeman

For a very funny, laugh-out-loud read on marriage:
Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle

For a weary mom of little ones who needs a big gulp of the Gospel:
Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full by Gloria Furman

For a surprisingly funny and easy read with a great story-line:
Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

For someone dealing with a big idol in their life, especially if that idol is food/weight related:
Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst

What Christian reads do you recommend this year? Any of these you have read? What did you think?


Posted in Books, Christmas