Summer Reading – Non-fiction

Sustain Summer!

That’s my theme over here. So what if school started Weeks Ago? So what if it’s Raining in Cali today (yippee! SO happy it’s raining, and yet, I still maintain… It. Is. Summertime)?

Fall officially begins September 23rd, which means No Matter What the activity calendars have decided, summer reigns until September 22nd.

And that means my reading still counts as Summer Reading.

I read ten books this summer, five fiction and five non-fiction. Last summer, our Costa Rica sabbatical summer, I read twelve books. HOW is it that I read only two books more? Last summer felt much more leisurely and book-indulgent. Does a heart good to know that I’m just as much a Book Nerd at home.

So here ya go, friends, my non-fiction book-miracle reads of Summer 2015!

Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of GodAwaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God by J. Brent Bill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been my ongoing spiritual retreat all year. As a contemplative, I live most naturally in my head and heart; this book grounds the spiritual experience in the five physical senses. With short essays and exercises to practice, I have looked forward to reading it when I have pockets of time to engage with God on a deeper level. I anticipate coming back to it again and again.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship ExpertThe Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert by John M. Gottman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are married, go right now and get this book! Easy to read and practical, including exercises, there is something to help every relationship. I’ve been married 20+ years (and still going strong!) and we had some fantastic discussions using the questions in this book.

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt OutThe Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written 25 years old, this is an Important Book for those who would be Jesus-followers. While most Christians give lip service to grace, too many of us don’t live grace-fully. We act like what we do matters most rather than what God has done and continues to do. We try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, only to discover that we don’t even know what bootstraps are, or at best they’re torn and ineffective. God loves us anyway. He loved us first. His love is the defining characteristic of who we are and who we will become, by His grace.

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life UnarmedCarry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love! Life is *brutiful*, brutal and beautiful in turns not always graceful. But we can be grace-filled, living into and offering grace one to another.

“I’d found my thing: openness. I decided, based on firsthand experience, that it was more fun to say things that made other women feel hopeful about themselves and God than it was to say or omit things to make people feel jealous of me.” Yes! Openness is hard as most of us want people to think the best of us. But we’re not always our best, and pretense keeps people at arm’s length. Let’s drop the curtain, people, and just be real. And kind. Let’s always be kind.

And this: “The more fiercely I believe what Love says and the more boldly I live out her promises, the healthier and stronger and realer I become. So, for me, it’s not a question of better. It’s about a daily choice: the constant battle to listen to Love and silence Fear.” Listen to love and silence Fear. Let’s help one another get there.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern ParenthoodAll Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book after hearing Jennifer Senior on NPR’s TedRadio Hour during an episode on childhood. This fascinating sociological and historical look at parenting, or more accurately, how children affect their parents’ lives, makes so much sense. Page after page I had “aha” moments – “Others experience that, too?” or “Oh, that explains the stress I and my friends feel!” In the end, the act of parenting (“to parent” has only been a verb since the 1970’s) is qualitatively different than the experience of parenting, which explains the book’s title: being a parent creates joy, whereas doing the mundane acts of parenting is not so much fun. My only complaint is that not enough parents in the trenches will have the brainpower or time to read the book.

Put Yourself in the Way of Beauty

The intended impulse behind Miracles in the Mundane is to look for God in my everyday life of family, work, and friendship and encourage others to do the same.

So it shouldn’t surprise me that a series of essays on using the sense of sight to see God would move me to experience God in new places, in new sights.

And yet it did, because I get so caught up in life’s everyday-ness that even when I think I’m being contemplative, I’m still obtuse. Anyone relate?

Bit-by-precious-bit this book is guiding me to deeper insight:

[More info here]

A few weeks ago it led me to consider each taste of food or drink I put in my mouth as a way to experience God. Let me tell you, God can taste exhilarating – tart like a green apple, tangy like a ripe grapefruit. But God should NOT taste like a well-intentioned but terrible smoothie made with over-the-edge fruits, including kumquats. Out of guilt for overbuying gorgeous produce I choked down the bitter citrus sludge but my stomach hurt all day, convincing me yet again that I need to get serious about meal planning so I won’t eat barely-justifiable compost.

On to sight: “If I want to see God present in the ordinary, in the daily gifts I’m given, I want to move beyond seeing and into perceiving…. Attentive vision opens us to the extraordinary presence of God blessing us in the amazing ordinary…. the art of spiritual sight…teaches us to sense God at work and play all around us” (pp60-62).


I have written previously about my “one word” for 2015 here and here: “Put yourself in the way of beauty.” I don’t mean primarily those things that have physical beauty, but anything that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction, things that point in some way to God.

My word at the ready and this book’s fresh reminder as encouragement, I have opened my eyes and my heart again to look for God, and I am grateful for the ways He has revealed Himself.

*I am choosing hiking trails over sidewalks, sidewalks over treadmills, and treadmills over the couch. Even when allergies make me want to claw out my eyes, I am grateful for the beauty of blooming spring-in-winter: the various stages of bud and bloom, the spectrum of colors, from barely blushing pink to plummy magenta, peachy coral and bluish-purple, spring green, kelly green, and forest green.

*I noticed God at play during my early walks around the neighborhood as my eye caught the iridescent glisten of Fairy Queen dewdrops crowning each blade of grass.

*I memorized Psalm 46:10 –

“Be still and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth”

and I saw God exalted in the earth when we took a family field trip to Ano Nuevo State Park. Tween wanted to see the elephant seals and Teen wanted to see the San Francisco garter snake, both of which populate this area. We saw both, among other beauties.


A flower as ordinary as a dandelion can be spectacular if you have eyes to see.

An ordinary dandelion can be spectacular if you have eyes to see.

Wide and deep fields of yellow wildflowers stretched from the roadside in both directions as we drove to and from Ano Nuevo. Guy pulled over so I could photograph the boys in a field, but you’ll just have to imagine two darling boys kneeling in fields of yellow, since I won’t post their faces here.

*I had a dream in which my whole focus centered on my hand held by Teen’s hand, remarkable because Teen isn’t about to hold my hand. Not wanting to embarrass him, I didn’t mention my dream. A day or two later he noticed my rising frustration in a situation with Tween, so like situations only a few years ago in which I was frustrated with a younger version of Teen, and without saying a word he patted me, hugged me, even gave me a kiss or two on the cheek. We both knew he understood my frustration and was doing something he knew I would appreciate. Seriously, friends, self-recognition and empathy from a teenager? That’s a miracle!

The sun through the trees caught my eye. Our backyard isn't Middle Earth, but in this picture, the trees remind me of Ents.

Our backyard isn’t Middle Earth but, in this picture, the trees remind me of Ents.

This one-of-a-kind beauty in our front yard opens and closes throughout the day.

This front yard beauty opens and closes throughout the day.

Those are just a few of my beautiful moments over the last couple of weeks. “Wonder is the fuel that sustains vision” (Awaken Your Senses, p64). May wonder so fill our hearts that our vision overflows with God’s beauty!

Meatless Monday – Veggie Sloppy Joes

I’ve been savoring a new book for DIY mini spiritual retreats: Awaken Your Senses by J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram. This book serves as a reminder to allow our physical beings to connect us to God, and with quotes like this –

“…God is in all beauty, both the simply amazing and the amazingly simple” (18) –

this book is right up my alley.

And a little bit of a stretch. On the whole I’m much more intuitive than sensory, which means I need this book more than those who naturally connect with God through the senses.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good” Psalm 34:8.

Some teacher or preacher I once heard said that the Jews poured honey on Scripture to teach their children that God and His Word are delicious. I imagined an old rabbi holding high a gigantic, black hard-cover Bible with embossed gold lettering, with honey oozing down its cover and children catching the drips on their tongues. I don’t know if it’s true or anything like the picture in my head, but that’s what I see when I hear that verse.

Yes, the Lord is good! He provided manna for the Israelites and the Lord’s Supper for the Church. He provides for us and sustains us. But there’s more in God’s Word about tasting, craving, being hungry or thirsty than just those two examples. Check it out: do a search and see what you find when you type in taste-related words.

“Have you ever thought about tasting God in what you put in your mouth? The idea that food can remind us of the different attributes, ways and stories of God is a novel thought for most of us” (J. Brent Bill, 26).

Those two sentences compelled me to action.

The pantry had gotten out of control and had been driving me nuts. Except that I could shut the door and ignore the problem. The notion that the tastes hiding in my pantry could convey God to me, to my family, motivated me to clean it out. God does not taste like stale chips.

[And behold, as I typed that last sentence, Guy walked in groceries in hand – yes, he does most of our shopping and I am a lucky gal! – and handed me a bag of my favorite multigrain tortilla chips. Hallelujah, Amen!]

So what does God taste like?

This week, God tastes like homemade good for me food, like lentils and quinoa with roasted broccoli. Like fresh guacamole on chips Guy bought as a loving surprise. Like breakfast out with dear friends, kids and adults enjoying company and yummy goodness together. Like crisp chardonnay shared with my love. And the ooey-gooey comfort of veggie sloppy joes.

Veggie Sloppy Joes
Serves 4

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 jalapeno, diced (or to taste – you can use less or omit)
1/2 bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloved, minced
2 cans black beans, drained & rinsed
1 c tomato sauce
1/4 c ketchup
3 tsp hot sauce (I used a combination of chipotle Tapatio & sriracha)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
4 whole wheat burger buns

Heat oil in pan, then saute onions, celery, peppers, and garlic for 3-5 minutes. Add beans, tomato sauce, ketchup, and hot sauce. Turn heat to low and allow to simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Toast buns (if desired) and serve alongside a crisp salad.

Eating across the rainbow! I used white and red onion in this recipe.

Eating across the rainbow! I used white and red onion and yellow bell pepper in this recipe.

Our favorite bag salad - Costco's Superfood Salad has kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, chicory, dried cranberrries, pumpkin seeds, &  poppyseed dressing

Our favorite bag salad: Costco’s Superfood Salad

Dinner is served

Dinner is served