Six Books I Recommend – June 2016

Below are six books I recommend from books I read this month.



1. The More of Less
Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own
by Joshua Becker


We own too much stuff. It doesn’t make us happier. It can actually rob us of our true purpose. This book both makes the argument for less and explains how to make it happen. Of the two decluttering books I read this month (see Unstuffed below), this is my favorite one. (Book review soon.)

2. The Happiness Effect
How Social Media Is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost
by Donna Freitas


The author surveyed college students on thirteen college campuses about their use of social media. Some of the results were expected (their phones are with them 24/7); some were unexpected. An interesting read, albeit sad in places. We’re obviously all struggling with how to appropriately use social media. (Not yet released. Book review soon.)

3. Unstuffed
Decluttering Your Home, Mind, and Soul
by Ruth Soukup


My book review here of Unstuffed

A good overview on why and how to get rid of excess clutter in your house, head, and heart. It’s basic information but still motivating. (I did clean out a closet because of it—win!)

4. The Words of Gandhi
by Richard Attenborough


This book is an excellent collection of short quotes from Gandhi’s writings and speeches on a variety of subjects. I’ve had a passion for Gandhi’s teachings for years, and this was a worthy re-read.


5. The Day the Angels Fell
by Shawn Smucker


Author and blogger Shawn Smucker writes about 12-year-old Samuel Chambers’s unusual experience with his mother, the Tree of Life, and the passage of time. Death can be a gift. I enjoyed this novel and will read more by Shawn Smucker.

6. The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde


Crazy but fascinating story. It’s about Dorian Gray, a young man who lives life for self-pleasure, and his unusual portrait. I overlooked reading this classic in my school years, but I’m glad I read it now.

I also finished 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done (Peter Bregman) and Bossypants (Tina Fey).

Currently Reading

  • Outlander
    (Outlander, #1)
    by Diana Gabaldon
  • I Am Malala
    The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
    by Malala Yousafzai
  • Paperboy
    by Vince Vawter
  • Entering the Castle
    An Inner Path to God and Your Soul
    by Caroline Myss
  • Success through Stillness
    Meditation Made Simple
    by Russell Simmons

* * *

What are you reading this month? Please share here.


My books on Goodreads
Previous reading lists

Don’t Just Study. Practice.

I’ve been trying to learn Spanish my whole life.

  • Two years of Spanish classes in high school.
  • Tapes and CDs.
  • Rosetta Stone with my kids.
  • Writing to friends in El Salvador and Guatemala.
  • And now, daily lessons with the Duolingo app.

But to little avail (despite what Duolingo tells me).


Yeah, right.

I casually eavesdropped on Spanish-speaking vacationers this past weekend at the beach.

Yet I never understood anything they were saying.

My conclusion: I’m better at reading Spanish than communicating with it.

What use is that?

In our spiritual lives, don’t we often feel the same way?

  • We know the hymns.
  • We can quote the scriptures.
  • We can retell the Bible stories.

But if we’re not loving people in our real lives in tangible ways, what use is it?

See if you relate to this paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13 (author unknown):

“If I am cultured and refined, and in touch with the pain of existence, but am absent from the pain of persons in the present moment who need my empathy; and if I act without love and compassion, then I am nothing at all.

If I have the gifts of wisdom, insight, and understanding, but am not engaged with those around me in the present moment and am without a spirit of compassion and love, then I am nothing at all.

If I am faithful, loyal, and obedient, and never deviate from the law, but am judgmental and blaming, and am without love, then I am nothing at all.”

Heads without hearts help no one.

One way to change that? Hang out with the natives. With those who are naturally good at serving, at loving, at speaking the language we want to communicate. With those who know God.

  • If we want a better marriage, mimic those who have a good marriage.
  • If we want to be a better parent, befriend those who’ve raised strong children.
  • If we want to be a better servant, walk alongside someone as they do it.

And if I want to speak better Spanish, talk more with Spanish speakers.

To improve, it’s not always more head knowledge we need.
It’s godly practice.

With our voices, our hands, our lives.

* * *

What’s something you want to improve in? How are you learning it? Please share in the comments.


sharing at Purposeful Faith, Testimony Tuesday,
Inspire Me MondayGood Morning Mondays,
Moments of HopeGive Me Grace, Small Wonder

If Your Life Is Too Stuffed, Get Unstuffed

Another book on decluttering. What’s different about Unstuffed?

It’s about more than decluttering your home. Author Ruth Soukup also includes tips for decluttering your mind and soul, which includes your schedule, your information, other people’s stuff, and relationships.


Ten Daily Habits

Soukup starts off with “Ten Tidy Habits” to incorporate into your daily routine. If you’re not already doing these things, it’s a great place to start. Most of them can be done quickly (at least once you get caught up).

  1. Make your bed (time commitment: 2 minutes).
  2. Clean the kitchen sink (time commitment: 10 – 15 minutes, 3 times a day).
  3. Toss your junk mail (time commitment: 1 minute).
  4. Pick up (time commitment: 10 minutes).
  5. Keep the table clear (time commitment: 5 minutes).
  6. Clear and wipe down your bathroom counters (time commitment: 3 minutes).
  7. Do one load of laundry (time commitment: 3 minutes to start; 2 minutes to transfer; 5 minutes to fold).
  8. Put your clothes away (time commitment: 3 minutes).
  9. Bring your inbox to zero (time commitment: 10 – 15 minutes).
  10. Plan your day (time commitment: 5 minutes).

If you’re new to decluttering, this book is a good one to start with. Soukup hits the basics and gives her philosophy of “unstuffed.”

“In the end, becoming unstuffed ultimately means removing everything that doesn’t contribute to the way we want our homes to feel, while keeping everything that does.”

But to be honest, I wasn’t particularly moved by the actual tips in Unstuffed. And some of the personal stories had more details than I felt necessary. I’ve read so many books already on decluttering (and am currently reading The More of Less) so it’s hard to find anything new. While I certainly still have cluttered areas, my home is reasonably clutter-free most of the time.

So why do I still read these books? Because I want to stay clutter-free.

And I’ve learned that if you don’t stay on top of clutter, it can grow on top of you. Books like Unstuffed help me stay motivated to maintain the status quo in general, while improving in specific areas that are still a mess.


Quotes from Unstuffed

Here are some quotes I appreciated that might help you, too.

“If you haven’t used it in the past year to eighteen months, stop holding on to it.”

~ * ~ * ~

“ . . . the fundamental truth that our consumer-driven society so desperately wants us to forget: We already have enough. To do this, we must be persistent about QUANTITY control.”

~ * ~ * ~

“Our homes are quite possibly the most open and honest reflection of our state of mind that we will ever find. The more cluttered and chaotic we are inside, the more our homes will reflect that confusion. But the opposite is also true.”

~ * ~ * ~

“The key to resting — and I mean really resting — is actually allowing your mind and body to take a break even when there is more to do. Because there will always be more to do. Every day. For the rest of our lives. Look at it this way — if God could take a day off without the world falling apart, so can we.”

~ * ~ * ~

“If you are going to make only one change in your life as a result of this book, let it be getting more sleep.”

~ * ~ * ~

“We were assuming that throwing away someone else’s stuff meant we were throwing away their memory. . . . one day, it finally occurred to us that stuff and memories are not the same thing.”

~ * ~ * ~

“What if, sometimes, we decided to just be okay with good enough?”

~ * ~ * ~

“The only way to become truly unstuffed is to accept the amazing, incredible, unlimited, and totally undeserved grace we’ve already been given and to stop trying to fill that hole ourselves.

Grace is the answer we are often too stubborn to believe and too proud to receive.”

* * *


Free resources to download from Unstuffed on the Resources page.

Do you have a favorite decluttering book? What helps you most? Please share in the comments.

My thanks to BookLook Bloggers
for the review copy of this book

3 Reasons to Let Go of Perfectionism

9 a.m.
One hour to go before a couple thousand kids arrive. The workers are gathering. Our city is hosting a free Fun Fest day for the children in the community. I had volunteered to help through our local Dream Center.

But as the hour ticks down, we realize more volunteers are needed from the city than are showing up. Not good. We’ll each have to work harder and more intentional to cover all the centers.

Perfectionism_3 Reasons to Let Go

So I tell our coordinator, Pastor Jamie:

Oh, I’ll do whatever you need.
Wherever you want me to work, I say. I’m in.

She says, Great—we need more face painters! Will you work this table?

Oh. Except that, I say.
I’m horrible at face painting. Anything but that.

My prior face painting experiences haven’t been pretty. I’m no artist.

But Holy Spirit stirs:
Didn’t you just say you’d do whatever was needed?
Face painting is needed.

Well, yes, but what I really meant to say was:
I’ll do anything I think I’m good at.
Anything I’m comfortable with.
Anything that doesn’t involve uncertainty or mess or confusion. Or glitter; definitely nothing with glitter.

The Problem with Perfectionism

But the thing about helping others is we don’t always get to match our skills with their needs. Our perfectionism can become their roadblock.

  • Perfectionism can prevent us from trying new things.
  • Perfectionism can stop us from meeting needs.
  • Perfectionism can cause us to be overly critical–of ourselves and others.

And perfectionism can make us say no when the Spirit wants us to say yes.

9:30 a.m.
I know I have to change my no to a yes.

I turn back to Pastor Jamie and say,

Sure, I’ll face paint. I can do this.

Sigh. I take a deep breath then cut out the stencils; I lay out my brushes; I open the paint jars. Yes, even the glittery ones.

3 Benefits of Releasing Perfectionism

10 a.m.
And I start painting. Face after face. Hearts, footballs, stars, LOVE, flowers, flags.

Each child talks to me. I find out their favorite color, the sports teams they follow, how old they’re going to be on their next birthday.

And I realize: this is exactly what I wanted to do after all.

Life is a journey of practicing. Not perfecting.

  1. Let go of perfection to . . . learn new things.

When we do things we’re not necessarily good at, we are stretching. We are growing. Even if we fall down along the way. In our humility, we learn not only new things about ourselves, but also new things about God. When we trade in our perfection, we experience the grace of God’s provision.

  1. Let go of perfection to . . . help other people.

Most people don’t want our perfection anyway. They just want our attention. Our assistance. Our compassion.

“As the soul increases its strength, it can withstand increasing expressions of grace and God. Always the goal remains the same: to stretch the soul in preparation for becoming a container of divine love in the world.”
– Caroline Myss

  1. Let go of perfection to . . . honor God.

Holiness comes in many forms. In many expressions. It doesn’t always look like we expect. But when we do the thing in front of us, the thing God is calling us to do in the moment, even if we feel unprepared or inadequate, God is honored. I see him smiling.

1:55 p.m.
There’s still a line of children waiting to have their faces painted. (Alas, my lack of skills didn’t deter anyone.) It’s time to break down the tables and clean up. We apologize.

2:00 p.m.
I say good-bye to my fellow face-painters and hope we’ll cross paths again. Maybe at another face painting table. Or maybe at something else I’m horrible at.

But whatever I’m asked to do next, I hope my yes comes a little quicker. Because working imperfectly with God is more fulfilling than anything I could do perfectly on my own.

* * *

What will you this week that you can’t do perfectly? How do you deal with perfectionism? Please share in the comments.


sharing at Testimony Tuesday,
Tell His Story
 Inspire Me Monday,
 Good Morning Mondays,
Moments of Hope 

Worried? Three Words to Say


What are you worrying about today?

Would you like to not be worrying at all?

Saying these three words to ourselves when we worry is not a magic mantra to stop our worrying. But it can be an exercise of intentional prayer to bring us back to a moment of grace.

Read the three words here

* * *

I’m writing today at Do Not Depart. Please join me there for 3 Words to Silence Your Worries.

Worship – Forget You, Remember God


When you hear the word “worship,” what do you think of?

Maybe someone idolizing a pro football player. Or an ancient worshiper burning a bull on an altar to their gods.

I often think of Sunday mornings. In the past we called our church gathering a “Worship Service.” Many still do; it remains accurate. We do offer our worship to God there.

I know, though, that our worship extends past Sunday praise-singing. It’s Monday clothes-washing, and Tuesday dinner-cooking, and Wednesday pantry-serving, etc.

But still. Singing my worship on Sunday mornings starts the week with joy and peace and power.

I believe how David Mathis describes it in Habits of Grace is true:

“Like no other means, corporate worship combines all three principles of God’s ongoing grace: his word, prayer, and fellowship.”

But I don’t always feel full of grace at 8am on Sunday mornings when I walk in our church building to review the songs we’ll be singing.

Yet once I’m there, God pours grace on me before I get a chance to offer anything back to him.

  • Through his promises we sing about
  • Through melodious music he has inspired
  • Through other people worshiping beside me

As God reveals himself worthy of worship, it’s easy to give him praise. We lose sight of our own woes and gain clarity of Christ’s awe.

Self-forgetfulness and Jesus-awareness are heightened during worship.

“Worship is an end in itself. We do not eat the feast of worship as a means to anything else. Happiness in God [which is the heart of worship] is the end of all our seeking. Nothing beyond it can be sought as a higher goal.”
– David Mathis

Worship is a perfect way to start a day, a week, a life. And a perfect way to end one as well.

Worship now with “He Is Yahweh,” a song we’ve been singing with our church.

[click here if you can’t see “He Is Yahweh”]

Who is moving on the waters
Who is holding up the moon
Who is peeling back the darkness
With the burning light of noon

Who is standing on the mountains
Who is on the earth below
Who is bigger than the heavens
And the lover of my soul

Creator God, He is Yahweh
The Great I Am, He is Yahweh
The Lord of All, He is Yahweh

Rose of Sharon, He is Yahweh
The Righteous Son, He is Yahweh
The Three-in-One, He is Yahweh

Who is He that makes me happy
Who is He that gives me peace
Who is He that brings me comfort
And turns the bitter into sweet

Who is stirring up my passion
Who is rising up in me
Who is filling up my hunger
With everything I need

* * *

What do you think of when you hear worship? Do you have a favorite worship song that you sing with your church or at home? Please share in the comments.

Declutter Your Spiritual Junk Drawer, Too


What’s your tipping point for clutter?

I reached mine last week with my bathroom closet. It was overflowing with expired medication, raggedy towels, old plastic bags.

Clutter can be painful.

It’s mentally disconcerting to see a mess every time we open a door or drawer. It keeps us from finding and using the stuff we already own because we can’t get to it. And it makes it hard to add anything new because there’s no room for it.

Clutter messes not only with our physical space, but it spills over into our mental spaces as well.

My bathroom closet was a relatively easy fix (although time-consuming). No sentimentality was involved in throwing away rags (or giving them to Jeff for the basement). No gifts to discretely discard of. No dilemma about whether or not to keep the 1994 Sudafed sample (the only relic from the 90s, thankfully).


But getting rid of other areas of clutter isn’t so easy.

Sorting through the clutter of guilt is often the hardest part.

  • If I give away the gift that Aunt Susie (named changed!) gave me, is that dishonoring her memory?
  • If I throw away a lovely (albeit large) piece of artwork that my kids made, does that make me a bad parent?
  • If I discard half-opened bottles of lotion that I don’t like, is that being financially irresponsible?

The clutter of guilt weighs heavy.

“We gather our arms full of guilt as though it were precious stuff. It must be that we want it that way.”
John Steinbeck

But I don’t want to hang on to anything because of guilt, any more than I want to hang on to guilt itself.

Jeff and I started watching a movie Saturday night with intent to stop if it wasn’t interesting (I’m trying to declutter the DVR, too). The movie began slowly, had poor acting, and had a ridiculous plot.

We kept watching. Surely it would get better. It didn’t.

Two hours later, we couldn’t believe we had watched the whole thing.

What a waste of time that could have been spent better.

I felt guilty that we hadn’t stopped the movie earlier and used our time more beneficially.

More clutter of guilt.

Yet I know guilt is not ours to bear. We’re supposed to use it to change our ways, then let it go, not shove it on a shelf to keep around a few years.

God paid in full for our spiritual clutter, and whatever I’m storing of it needs to be released.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 8:1

Just like I cleaned out my bathroom closet of its physical clutter, I need to continually clean out my spiritual junk drawers of clutter, too.

  • No lingering guilt.
  • No hidden grudges.
  • No unused gifts.

I need the space. Space to breathe, to grow, to love.

I’ve returned over and over to my bathroom closet the past few days just to marvel at its sparse shelves and clean floors. It brings me joy.

May I be equally grateful I can spiritually declutter, too.

* * *

Is anything in your spiritual junk drawer that you need to declutter? Please share in the comments.

Don’t Compare; Just Create


I went to a unique competition last night.

My brother-in-law Barry—a successful and seasoned aerospace engineer in his mid-50’s—entered a sports talk show contest, “Kickstart Your Career” with the Ump Sports Radio.

And he made the top 10.


So last night nine men and one woman took two minutes on stage to give us their best “Sports Update” broadcast. The judges critiqued; we audience members voted. Two people will be cut each week. This Friday we’ll find out the top 8 who will compete next week.

Here’s a 20 second clip:

[click here if you can’t see the video of Barry’s update]

The lone winner at the end of the contest will be the new host of his/her own sports talk show one morning each week.

But as I listened to each contestant, I struggled to compare them. One had great delivery, but another had better content. One made me laugh, but another kept me totally engaged.

Maybe I’m not supposed to compare?

I’m focusing this month on not comparing. For my One Word “Welcome” this year, June’s challenge is to let go of comparing and welcome creating instead.

Brene Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection says,

“For most of us, letting go of comparison is something that requires constant awareness. It’s so easy to take our eyes off our path to check out what others are doing and if they’re ahead or behind us.”

We all know how bad we can feel when we measure ourselves by others.

Instead, let’s celebrate our originality.

Brown suggests we do this through being creative.

The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.

And lest we think we are not one of those creative people, Brown says this,

“’I’m not very creative’ doesn’t work. There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t.”

I saw Barry use his creativity last night when he gave his sport update.

And when the last contestant had finished, I realized this: it was far more about creativity in each of them than about comparison.

Sure, the judges will compare within limits to choose a winner.

But the winner will be the one who makes a unique contribution to the art of broadcasting, one who stands out, not a cookie-cutter announcer who is just like others already on the air.

Will Barry win the contest? In many ways, I think he already has. He’s sharing unique parts of himself with us through his originality with words and knowledge.

He’s creating.

The next time we’re tempted to compare, let’s create something, too.

“When I make creating a priority, everything in my life works better.”

* * *

Do you consider yourself a creative person? What have you already created this week? Please share in the comments.

(And I’m not just bragging on my brother-in-law because he bought my dinner last night. He’s really good at what he does.)


Leave the Hand Open

hand caterpillar

Am I doing it right?

I’m not sure.

Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire.
Leave the hand open and be.
– Ann Voskamp

I’m not even sure I have to do it right.

Keep an open hand. 

It’s best if I do. But if I don’t?

Whether I successfully keep my hands open or occasionally close them into tight little fists, God still loves to give, still gives to love, and is still mightier than any obstacle I can place in his way.

“Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper surprised thanks.”

I want to accept what he wants to give. He gives good. This I know.

This I see.

So I leave the hand open.
I bend the knee and thank.
I simply be.

I want to. He knows. That’s enough.

* * *

Is it hard for you to live with an open hand instead of a clenched fist? Please share in the comments.

revised from the archives

“Understanding Exposure” – Book Review

If you want to take better photographs, you eventually have to learn about light.

I’ve tried before. ISO, aperture, shutter speed . . . do I really have to understand how each of those is affected by light?

Well, sort of. If I want to keep shooting in manual mode instead of automatic (which I’ve been attempting for a few years), the information on correct exposure needs to finally solidify in my brain. Seeing how they all work together and affect each other makes a difference.

And maybe now it’s clicked. Reading professional photographer Bryan Peterson’s 4th edition of Understanding Exposure has helped.


Peterson speaks mostly to the DSLR audience, and he assumes you’ll mostly be shooting in manual mode. But he does occasionally give tips for those shooting in automatic and with point-and-shoot cameras.

The sections are basically two-page spreads on a specific topic with text explanations and photographic examples. (The photographs alone are worth the book. Stunning!)

Sections include:

  • Defining Exposure
  • Aperture
  • Shutter Speed
  • Light
  • Special Techniques
  • Electronic Flash

Do I understand everything Peterson talks about? Not by a long shot. But I’m understanding more than I used to.

Will my photos be better after reading this book? No guarantees.

But after reading this book I’ve been inspired again to try harder. I’m experimenting more (Peterson gives several suggestions for camera settings) and noticing more (he points out what to watch for). And I’ve even dug out my camera’s instruction manual again. I count it a win.

* * *

Do you love taking photos, too? Which camera do you prefer? I love my Canon Rebel. Please share in the comments.

My thanks to Blogging for Books
for the review copy of this book

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