More Presents? Or More Presence?

Want more presents this Christmas?

Or more presence?

Offer your presence through prayer. You’ll connect more with others and plug in to God’s presence, too.

Want more presence? Through prayer

Betty and I walked together past the tables of free food, putting this or that in her cart. We made small talk.

Until the car. We loaded her groceries in the trunk and I asked Betty how I could pray for her. This is the moment it usually happens. This is when people get real. Get personal.

Tears bubbled up in Betty’s eyes. And she told me about her daughter. She was back on the streets. Betty didn’t know where. Her heart was breaking. She wanted prayers.

What do we want God to do? This question connects us to each other.

Read the rest here: “Want to Be Present? Plug in with Prayer”

* * *

Who do you need to pray for?

I’m writing today at Do Not Depart for our #ChristmasPresence series. Will you join me there?

sharing with Lyli, Dawn, Deb, Laura, Susan

Top 10 Books of 2017

Top 10 Books of 2017_LisaNotes

Here are ten favorite books I read in 2017. I recommend them to you.

  • Some are about healing the divisions in our country.
  • Some are about God and faith.
  • Some are memoirs of real-life people and meaning.

Please share a favorite book you read this year in the comments below. Together let’s build our 2018 reading lists.

Top 10 Books I Read in 2017

1. The Better Angels of Our Nature
Why Violence Has Declined
by Steven Pinker

Better Angels of Our Nature

If you want to be encouraged that our world is LESS violent than ever, not more violent, read this book. It’s long; be warned. (I took several months to read it.) But it’s worth it. The information thoroughly documents that these days may be the most peaceful in the history of mankind.

I picked up this book after seeing Bill Gates cite it as his favorite book of the last decade. Now I understand why.

2. The Power of Moments
Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact
by Chip Heath, Dan Heath


Why do we remember some moments with clarity, but most moments fade away quickly? How can we be more intentional about which moments will be remembered? This book goes into specific reasons why and methods how. My series on this book is here, How to Mark the Moment.

Chip Heath and Dan Heath are two of my very favorite authors. They write with precision and simplicity, and use multiple examples. Their books often become my favorites.

3. Small Great Things
A Novel
by Jodi Picoult


This novel gripped me. The story centers about a black labor and delivery nurse who has to care for the baby of white supremacists. Things go very wrong.

Along the way, we see how privilege, race, and power come into play in this story that could happen anywhere in our country today.

4. Building a StoryBrand
Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen
by Donald Miller


You may know author Donald Miller as a Christian storyteller. That may be why this book works. He uses the seven common elements of effective storytelling and applies them to business marketing. With extreme clarity and step-by-step precision, he guides the reader to more accurately shape the messages they send out.

Apply it to whatever area you work in. (I’m using it to redesign a website for a non-profit I volunteer with.)

5. The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander

new jim crow

As much as it’s spoken, our country is not colorblind. At the very least, statistics show us this. This book uses statistics and more to speak to our conscience of how racism has been redesigned.

It focuses on the mass imprisonment rates among communities of color as compared to the white communities. (There are more African Americans under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850.) It will make you think and rethink your view of our world.

6. The Naked Now
Learning to See as the Mystics See
by Richard Rohr

naked now

How do we see spirituality outside of black and white ways? Father Richard Rohr explores how to let go of artificial divisions in this book.

He walks us with Jesus through the Gospels, the epistles, and history’s Christian contemplatives to deeper ways of seeing, especially in the second half of life (which may have nothing to do with your age). This can’t be read quickly.

7. Peak
Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
by Anders Ericsson


Want to acquire a new skill? Ericsson has studied how for decades. This book explains how we gain expertise in an area. Some of the ways are intuitive, but many are not (hint: it’s not always about innate talent).

Be prepared for lots of interesting examples and stories from a wide variety of fields.

8. When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi

when breath becomes air

This neurosurgeon was not only brilliant in medicine, but also in writing. When he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at 36-year-old, he began writing down his journey of life and death from both a doctor’s perspective and a patient’s.

And most importantly, from a human’s perspective. Even though the book contains much sadness, its value makes it worth the tears.

9. Stalling for Time
My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator
by Gary Noesner

stalling for time

This book came out in 2010, but I read it only this year. And it fascinated me. It’s a memoir of one of the FBI’s chief negotiator. He tells story after story about hostage crisis and cases that he was involved in.

His goal was to achieve a peaceful outcome but it didn’t always turn out that way. Fascinating.

10. The Organized Mind
Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
by Daniel J. Levitin


Too much information. No wonder we have trouble keeping everything straight. This book takes us on a journey of understanding and executing a better plan on how to manage the things we have to keep up with.

Plus 10 More Great Books

There were so many great books this year that I must include 10 more.

11. The Gatekeepers
How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency
by Chris Whipple

12. The Righteous Mind
Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
by Jonathan Haidt

13. The Sacred Enneagram
Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth
by Christopher Heuertz

14. How to Think
A Survival Guide for a World at Odds
by Alan Jacobs

15. Why Christianity Must Change or Die
A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile
by John Shelby Spong

16. Invisible Influence
The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior
by Jonah Berger

17. Grit
The Power of Passion and Perseverance
by Angela Duckworth

18. Wolf Boys
Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Drug Cartel
by Dan Slater

19. Slavery by Another Name
The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans
by Douglas A. Blackmon

20. Words on the Move
Why English Won’t—and Can’t—Sit Still (Like, Literally)
by John McWhorter

* * *

What book would you recommend from 2017? Please share in the comments.

sharing with DebbieCrystal, BrendaPatriciaHolley,
KristinJenniferChar, Kelly

Will You Think About It?


“We suffer from a settled determination to avoid thinking. Relatively few people want to think. Thinking troubles us; thinking tires us. Thinking can force us out of familiar, comforting habits; thinking can complicate our lives.”
– Alan Jacobs

It’s hard to keep an open mind.

We think we’re right. If anyone disagrees, by default we think they are wrong.

We’d rather not have to think about it. Thinking is hard work. It’s slow. It takes energy.

So we often shut down thinking and go with the flow. And that leads to trouble.

The Thinking Person’s Checklist

Below is a shortened list of The Thinking Person’s Checklist. It’s from the Afterword in Alan Jacobs’ brand new book, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. (If you want to practice your thinking, read it. My brain is still tired. Also read his book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. It’s good, too.)


But first a warning: Jacobs doesn’t intend for this to be a set of techniques. Take it more as a “to-be” list than a “to-do” list.

“You have to be a certain kind of person to make this book work for you: the kind of person who, at least some of the time, cares more about working toward the truth than about one’s current social position.”

Jacobs’ list originally includes 12 statements. I’m sharing 6 here.

#1. Take 5

When faced with provocation to respond to what someone has said, give it five minutes. Take a walk, or weed the garden, or chop some vegetables. Get your body involved: your body knows the rhythms to live by, and if your mind falls into your body’s rhythm, you’ll have a better chance of thinking.

#2. Learn, Not Win

Value learning over debating. Don’t “talk for victory.”

#4. Be Quiet

Remember that you don’t have to respond to what everyone else is responding to in order to signal your virtue and right-mindedness.

#7. Choose the Talker

Seek out the best and fairest-minded of people whose views you disagree with. Listen to them for a time without responding. Whatever they say, think it over.

#11. Use Their Words

Try to describe others’ positions in the language that they use, without indulging in in-other-wordsing.

#12. Don’t Wimp Out

Be brave.

Thinking Is Social

You might notice a thread in the above list: Thinking is more of a social activity than we give it credit for. Jacobs says that no one thinks absolutely independently of other human beings. What we think is a response to what someone else has already thought and said.

My dad always gave us kids this advice: “Think for yourself.” But we can’t do it. We think with other voices in our heads and in our spaces.

Jacobs also points out that thinking requires us to trust other people. Don’t assume everyone is out to harm or manipulate you. Stop seeing a person as “the other.” Instead, see them as “my neighbor.” That will help you treat them well and not mock them.

And when you change your mind on something that your friends haven’t? Keep remembering the many things you still have in common. Don’t get overexcited about the differences.

Whatever you think about this, don’t stop now. Keep thinking.

“Thinking does not have a destination, a stopping point, a ‘Well, we’re finally here.’

~ * ~

To cease thinking, as Thomas Aquinas explained, is an act either of despair—‘I can’t go any further’—or of presumption—‘I need not go any further.’

~ * ~

What is needed for the life of thinking is hope: hope of knowing more, understanding more, being more than we currently are. And I think we’ve seen the benefits that come to people who have the courage and determination to do the hard work of thinking.

~ * ~

We have good cause for hope.”

* * *

Do you ever sit still and just think? Do you change your mind easily or rarely? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

My thanks to NetGalley
for the review copy of How to Think

sharing with DawnLaura,
DawnBrenda, Debbie, Carmen

Does This Story Ever End?

No, the journey doesn't end here.-Tolkien

When Life Stops


I didn’t hear the gun go off.

But I heard about it.

It happened 20 minutes before I arrived to prepare for Outdoor Church. A few hundred yards away, on the bridge, they said.

When my friend Brenda arrived, she told me the body was still there. It was covered with a sheet. She couldn’t see if it was a man or a woman. Just someone who had run out of hope.

Then Brenda caught me up on her own struggles. Brenda has been knocked down many times in her life. Even now, life events are threatening to bury her.

She said five times in her life she wanted to be like the person on the bridge. She had wanted to give up, too. Yet God hadn’t let her die.

She sounded close to giving up again.

But not yet.

A Plot Change

Our stories don’t go like we expect them to. We envision the plot leading in one direction (usually to a healthy, happy, prosperous place), but life places us in different scenes. Sometimes good ones. Sometimes not so good.

Like the person on the bridge, sometimes stories seem to end too soon. We aren’t finished reading. The ending is confusing.

I sat last week at the funeral for the brother of one of my best friends. Don was 61 years old. Only a year ago, he was in prime shape, a runner, a skier, an active man. But a cancer chapter entered his book. And now, even though he wasn’t ready to leave, he’s gone.

How do we adjust when a book we’re reading suddenly slams shut?

Even when we’re not the main character in a story, someone else’s ending can still devastate us. It can make us anxious. It can cause us to be jumpy, wondering what’s next around the corner for us, too.

What to Do with a Short Story?

How do we deal with a story when a character suddenly disappears?

  1. Put down the pen.

For starters, we can learn to release our expectations. Stop predicting the endings. Try to live more flexibly. Bend without breaking. When we hold our scripts loosely, we’re less likely to be caught off guard when edits are written in.

  1. Embrace the mystery.

Then we can keep reading to see what’s on the next page. We learn to welcome the unknown, instead of hiding from it. Surprises bring hidden gifts with them, if we can lift open hands.

  1. Trust the Master Storyteller.

When we let go of our own version of the story, we’re more receptive to God’s autograph. Let him sign our books, embedding his fingerprints on every page.

  1. Flip the book.

For both Don and for the unknown person on the bridge, the story isn’t over. They both live on. We just can’t see the new pages being written. God picks up the story on the other side.

The Page You’re On

Making peace with the unknown is a lifelong journey. It’s not easy to trust the hard things. And we need to feel the sadness when it comes.

But when we learn to live freely, instead of manipulating the words into what we want them to say, we can fully live the page we’re on. We can stay in the story of the present, not jump ahead.

I still haven’t heard who the mystery person was who died on the bridge last Saturday. I probably won’t. Not every life makes the news. Or has a funeral. Or gets an obituary.

But every life is a story that matters. To somebody here. To somebody already gone. And to God who writes each life into being.

At the end of Outdoor Church that Saturday, I asked Brenda if she wanted prayer. She said she’d rather pray for the person who died than for herself.

So we prayed for God’s grace to welcome this person into the kingdom. For this person to know deep love. For he or she to finally enjoy the peace of complete healing.

Brenda prayed thanks that she had survived five times when she had wanted to die. And I prayed thanks that Brenda is still here.

We each are about to finish the last blank page in our 2017 chapters and open a clean white page entitled 2018. I’ll be leaving behind my theme of “Story” as my One Word for 2017.

But I won’t be leaving behind the stories themselves. The stories continue on. The ones we read. And the ones we no longer see.

Our stories never end. Not even death can stop them.

Don’t be afraid to turn the page. Keep reading. This story isn’t over.


* * *

Have you lost anyone unexpectedly this year? What helps you deal with your loss? Please share in the comments.

More Stories from 2017:

sharing with Anita, TerriDeb, LyliSusanCrystal,
Holley, Kristin, Patricia,
ShariJenniferAbby, Char

Links, Books, and Things I Love – December 2017

Here are favorites from November and what I’m looking forward to in December. We share once a month at Leigh’s.

Leigh has been hosting the “What I’m Into” linkup for 5 years. To celebrate the anniversary, she had a giveaway and I won the grand prize! It was a box FULL of wonderful goodies of Leigh’s favorite things, including a hardback novel (The Trespasser), a pouch, scented tealights, and much more. Thanks again, Leigh!

1 Second Everyday

[If you can’t see the 1 Second Everyday video, click here]

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

5 Things Around the Web

1. What women have been trying to tell us: #believewomen
by John Archibald


John Archibald | [email protected]

“This is a moment, I keep believing. It’s a cultural awakening and the start of a change. We fail when we say boys will be boys. We hurt when we question what a woman wore when she was assaulted. Those who blame the victims – who call them whores and tramps and sluts – are as guilty as those who commit the acts.”

~ * ~

2. Begin to Hope Again
by Scott Hubbard


“I’ve come to see that part of my calling here is simply to be a person of hope. . . .
Christian hope, then, is not the kind that blindfolds itself to reality. It’s the kind that looks at a newly sealed tomb and says, ‘This story’s not over.’”

~ * ~

3. The Invisible Character of White Privilege
by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM


“Those of us who are white have a very hard time seeing that we constantly receive special treatment just because of the color of our skin. This ‘white privilege’ makes it harder for us to recognize the experiences of people of color as valid and real.”

~ * ~

4. Why Canceling Plans Is So Satisfying
by Maggie Puniewska


Photo: Stanton Stephens/Getty Images

~ * ~

5. Christmas Presents (Wonderful Video!)
by Scott Jensen


Instead of feeling pressured to give the perfect gift or being disappointed if we don’t get what we want, this is a great video (1 min, 45 sec) video from a local church in Charlotte – be grateful for the gifts you already have.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

5 Podcasts Episodes You Need to Hear

1. Caleb Wilde Is a Funeral Director
RobCast with Rob Bell interviewing Caleb Wilde

We can learn a lot about life by paying attention to death. Yesterday; I went to the funeral of a best friend’s 61-yr-old brother who died of cancer; Sunday, to a memorial service of a friend’s 91-yr-mother who had dementia; and listened Sunday to the testimony of a son at our church whose father (one of our pastors) died of a massive heart attack. Hopefully no more for awhile.

2. Priest Responds To Gang Members’ ‘Lethal Absence Of Hope’ With Jobs, And Love
Fresh Air with Terry Gross interviewing Greg Boyle

Homeboy Industries founder Father Greg Boyle (and author of the great book Tattoos on the Heart, one of my favorite 10 books in 2013) has spent 30 years working in LA with gang members and young people transitioning out of prison. I can’t wait to read his new book, Barking to the Choir.

3. Fantastic Photo Solutions 
Sorta Awesome with Meg and Laura

Digital Photos – I love them, but they continue to overwhelm me as I try to organize them. A wealth of information here on what to do with all those pictures.

4. Monumental Questions
On the Media Podcast

What do with do with Confederate memorials?

5. Interview with Bryan Stevenson
Pass the Mic interview with Bryan Stevenson

Bryan is a bright light in a dark time in Alabama (desperately needed!) and our nation. I listen to him wherever I find him. He speaks godly truths on hard things with much grace. This interview is another example of his wisdom and faith.

• EXTRA: Meet the People Who Listen to Podcasts at Super-Fast Speeds
by Doree Shafrir

Want to listen to more podcasts in less time? I listen to most podcasts on 2x speed. But some people speed it up even more.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

5 Things on Reading and Writing

1. Word of the Year 2017


Complicit means “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing.” Read why it was chosen as the Word of the Year.

~ * ~

2. How to Write a Paragraph in 2017 (Yes, the Rules Have Changed)
by Mike Blankenship


The paragraph has changed. I like the changes. Don’t go by the rules you learned in school.

~ * ~

3. The 2017 Modern Mrs. Darcy Gift Guide for Book Lovers


Here are 32 gift ideas for people in your life who love books (if they want anything other than books; I really don’t).

~ * ~

4. How the Kindle was designed through 10 years and 16 generations
by Devin Coldewey


I’m on my 2nd Kindle. It’s a Paperwhite, and I do love it. I can never imagine what will come next.

~ * ~

5. 8 Books I Recommend + What I’m Reading Now

8 Books I Recommend - LisaNotes

To get you thinking, read Dream Hoarders or How to Think or The Righteous Mind.

Reading Now

  • The Gatekeepers
    How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency
    by Chris Whipple
  • Building a StoryBrand
    Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen
    by Donald Miller
  • The Daniel Dilemma
    How to Stand Firm and Love Well in a Culture of Compromise
    by Chris Hodges
  • The Trespasser
    by Tana French
  • Ordering Our Affections: Advent 
    by Dr. Melissa McCrory Hatcher
  • Blessed Are the Misfits
    Great News for Believers Who Are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They’re Missing Something
    by Brant Hansen

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

5 Things I Love

1. Iron Bowl

We take our football seriously in the SEC, and particularly the Auburn-Alabama game. This year was Auburn’s turn to win. With a house full of Auburn grads, there was much celebrating last Saturday night in our family. War Eagle!


Photo credit:

~ * ~

2. Baby Shower for My 1st Grandchild

We had a family baby shower for my daughter Morgan and little Riley. It was so fun seeing all the little girl clothes. Two more months to wait!


Aunt Jenna, Mommy, Granna (although official name still to be determined)


~ * ~

3. Maternity Photos

My youngest daughter Jenna took pictures of her big sister Morgan a few weeks ago. This is getting real!



~ * ~

4. Birthday Boy

Jeff and I have birthdays one week apart in November. Ice cream or yogurt is always his special treat (mine is chocolate). Jenna and Trey treated him to yogurt at 32 Degrees on his birthday night.


~ * ~

5. Thanksgiving 

We celebrated many Thanksgivings last month; this one was with my in-laws on a beautiful, warm Friday afternoon.

2017-11-24 lisa-jeff

(Yes, I do love this man)

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

5 Things on the Blog

* * *

What was one of your highlights from November? What are you looking forward to in December? Please share in the comments.

previous Links and Books

 sharing with Lori, BarbieTerri, Carol,

How to Practice Your Enneagram Number

“Who am I? This is the fundamental question of our human experience, the one that compels us to search for meaning.”
– Christopher Heuertz

So What?

Now you know.

So what?

Oftentimes, we learn things that feel valuable. But we still don’t know what to do with them. How are they useful in our everyday lives?

The more I learn about the Enneagram, the more I ask myself, “So what?” I don’t want to accrue knowledge for its own sake. I want to do something with it.

“What Is the Enneagram? It exposes nine ways we lie to ourselves about who we think we are, nine ways we can come clean about those illusions, and nine ways we can find our way back to God.”

So I’m looking hard for the how-to’s with the Enneagram. And I’m finding them.

“If we can’t self-observe, then we can’t self-correct.”

The Sacred Enneagram

In particular, I’m zeroing in on practices to counteract the weaknesses and to harness the strengths of my type. All nine types of the Enneagram have specific strengths and weaknesses.

Why does it matter? According to Christopher Heuertz in his new book, The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth, the purpose is “to find our way back home, back to our essential nature, our True Self, and back to God.”


Here’s a quick review of the Nine types and their desires.

  • Type 1: Need to Be Perfect
  • Type 2: Need to Be Needed
  • Type 3: Need to Succeed
  • Type 4: Need to Be Special (or Unique)
  • Type 5: Need to Perceive (or Understand)
  • Type 6: Need to Be Sure/Certain
  • Type 7: Need to Avoid Pain
  • Type 8: Need to Be Against
  • Type 9: Need to Avoid

How to Practice It

How do we meet those needs? In Parts 2 and 3 of Heuertz’s book, he suggests unique paths for spiritual growth for each triad of types in the following Intelligence Centers (Head, Heart, and Body):

  • For the Heart Center types (types 2, 3, 4), who are obsessed with connections, it requires:

“Solitude, time by ourselves, teaches us to be present—present to ourselves, present to God, and present with others.”

  • For the Head Center types (types 5, 6, 7), who are obsessed with competence, they need:

“Silence actually teaches us to listen. . . . In silence we hear the truth that God is not as hard on us as we are on ourselves.”

  • For the Body Center types (types 8, 9, 1), who are obsessed with control, they need to engage in:

“Stillness teaches us restraint, and in restraint we are able to discern what appropriate engagement looks like.”

By integregating knowledge with practice, we can form contemplative practices that bring us into more wholeness and less chaos.

Expect resistance at first.

“At first, solitude, silence, and stillness trigger the most accessible emotion of each of the centers (anxiety or distress for the head types, guilt or shame for the heart types, and anger or frustration for the body types).”

Yet keep pressing into the practice. It can unlock future spiritual growth, even when it feels like it’s not “working.” (I’ve been practicing centering prayer for a few years now, and it is still difficult on most days.)

“But listen to yourself: usually the way you judge yourself or ‘feel bad’ about your practice is the very thing that begins to open your type to the graces of the practice.”

The more we show up in the present moment, where God is, the more permission and awareness we give him to shape us into who he created us to be.

Intention with God

“Our Intelligence Centers illuminate how we see the world, and our Harmony Triads illuminate how we relate to and engage the world . . . thereby exposing how we see and engage God.”

This book goes deeper into other areas as well, such as paths of integration and disintegration, the Intelligence Centers, and the Harmony Triads, which includes:

  • With the Relationists (types 2, 5, and 8), the intention is consent,
  • with the Pragmatists (types 3, 6, and 9), the intention is engagement, and
  • with the Idealists (types 1, 4, and 7), the intention is rest.

I’ve read several Enneagram books and this one may be the most complex so far. But possibly also the most practical.

As with any personality framework, the Enneagram isn’t the end-all approach. But it is a useful avenue for traveling alongside God, exploring more about our humanity and his divinity, as we enjoy the journey together.

“Waking up is the first step in the spiritual journey—a courageous alternative to the fantasies we fashion to keep us asleep.”

Other Book Recommendations

If you’re interested in learning more about the Enneagram, specifically for spiritual practices you can implement, I strongly suggest the book I mention here:

For a simpler, yet still a solid introduction, try:

For a thorough yet accessible guide, I recommend:

And for an overview of multiple personality frameworks (including the Enneagram), read the short but thorough new book:

* * *

Do you know your Ennegram number?

Which is hardest for you: Silence, Solitude, or Stillness? Please share in the comments.

More on the Enneagram here:

My thanks to NetGalley
for the review copy of this book