Hello, hello! It’s good be back in the blogging world after my (brief) summer break. Our family has been soaking up these summer days, making memories amid a wonderful balance of daily excursions around town and relaxing time at home (in addition to quite a few appointments and meetings that are difficult to fit in during the school year). I am appreciating this summer all the more because I am feeling physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthier than I have felt in a VERY long time (thank you Jesus and Zoloft!). Here’s a look at some of July’s highlights.
// READING LATELY //
It was another great reading month that included six audiobooks, four print books (three of those with Charleston), and five eBooks. In the nonfiction realm, I read two incredibly helpful parenting books (this and this), an excellent book on how to approach difficult aspects of Christianity, and a much-needed guide on body image.
As for fiction, my favorite book of the month was this complex character-driven story that I can’t stop thinking about. This thriller was quite a wild ride, as was this one, and I loved both the characters and the plot of this novel. Reviews of all of this month’s books are headed your way in the next couple of weeks.
// WATCHING LATELY //
The Chosen, Seasons 1-2: It seems every Christian I know has been raving about this series about the ministry of Jesus, and I am excited to report that it is WORTH. THE. HYPE! Inspired by the Gospels, The Chosen fleshes out the characters and backstories of Jesus’ disciples, giving personality and context to Biblical characters and establishing an understanding of them that is difficult to grasp through a simple reading of Scripture. I was impressed by every component of this show, from the storytelling and casting, to the costume and set design and production quality (particularly remarkable given the show’s small budget). The Chosen has enough heart and intrigue to appeal to nearly any audience (kids through adults, Christians and non-Christians alike). Some quotes and storylines are lifted directly from the Bible, but most are creatively speculative accounts of what could have been going on in the families and minds and hearts of Jesus’ inner circle.
Though I’ve read through the Gospels several times, I’ve always struggled to envision Jesus and His world. The Chosen gave me a visual and emotional connection to the Biblical narratives that I’ve never fully achieved through my own imagination. The show has also helped me understand some aspects of the Gospels I’ve found confusing, such as the relationships between the Jews and the Romans, and the dynamic between the disciples and their roles within the group and in broader society. There is much to appreciate about the show, but some of my favorite aspects are its humor and the way each episode captures the humanity of Jesus without in any way diminishing His deity. I also love the inclusion of female and minority characters, who aren’t given too much page time in the Bible but whom I have no doubt played important roles within Jesus’ ministry.
Nearly every episode is fantastic, but my favorites are “Jesus Loves the Little Children” (I showed Charleston this episode to introduce him to the show) and “I Am He,” in which we get to witness the famous midnight dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus. If you haven’t yet seen this remarkable show, you are absolutely in for a treat! (You can watch it free through the downloadable app.) I’m looking forward to the coming season!
My Rating: 5+ Stars!
// LISTENING LATELY //
I’m working on a Spotlight post featuring a handful of podcasts I’ve added to my listening repertoire and am excited to share with you. In addition to all of those soon-to-be-recommended podcasts, I’ve also been listening to a couple of shows that I have found intriguing but that aren’t necessarily deserving of my endorsement. (If you are listening to either of these, I’m eager to hear your thoughts.)
The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill — This documentary-style show is a deep dive into the tragic story of Mars Hill church in Seattle, from its meteoric rise to prominence under celebrity pastor Mark Driscoll, to its devastating public collapse. Through interviews with faith leaders, commentators, and people involved in the church itself, the show examines the allure of Mark Driscoll and exposes the toxic aspects of the church that led to its demise. The show’s examination of unsavory aspects of contemporary church culture is not intended to be voyeuristic, but is meant as a cautionary tale to other churches.
I have found this show equally horrifying and mesmerizing; this story was on my radar prior to my listening, but I was unfamiliar with the details, which are disheartening on so many levels. I appreciate the show creators’ stated intent of looking at the flaws in the Mars Hill “movement” and in Mark Driscoll’s leadership style in order to prevent similar abuse, toxicity, and scandal from occurring elsewhere within the broader church world. However, I’m uneasy about the podcast’s salacious tone and its potential for casting all of Christianity in a negative light. I’m worried that shows like this one, though potentially beneficial for Christians seeking spiritual wholeness and church health, are doing more harm than good in terms of the message we are sending to secular onlookers. I hate to see our witness unnecessarily (or even unknowingly) compromised by such public castigation.
Holy Post’s 4-Part Series on Jesus and John Wayne — There’s been a lot of talk in my circles lately about the book Jesus and John Wayne, and since I have not yet read the book (I’m currently eighth in line on my library’s waitlist), I was interested in hearing this series of conversations between the author and Skye Jethani, one of the cohosts of a podcast I regularly listen to. In each episode, Skye and Kristin Kobes Du Mez (a history professor) examine the cultural movements, historical events, and church ideologies that have shaped the current way white evangelicals understand culture, politics, and faith, and how this understanding has in turn shaped political events and cultural happenings in America.
I struggled with the ideas presented in this podcast, not just because they were uncomfortable for me (as a “white evangelical”) to stomach, but also because I am not able to fully buy into the claims Skye and Kristin make. Their discussions were intriguing and enlightening and gave me a lot to think about, but I disagree with quite a few of the conclusions they draw from a carefully selected series of historic happenings and perceptions, and I was frustrated by their lack of nuance or sensitivity.
I do think these are important conversations to be having, and I am absolutely open to embracing clear-eyed examinations of history and values in order to further the Gospel and bring about productive change, but I don’t know that that’s what this book (or this podcast series) is doing. I would be more willing to engage with these ideas if they were not so conveniently aligned with the culturally trendy messaging that vilifies conservatives, white individuals, and Christians. That said, this was an informative and engaging listening experience. Skye and Kristin are excellent conversationalists and present their information clearly and concisely, and I’m glad to have listened, even if the episodes left me feeling uneasy.
// EXPLORING LATELY //
Luke and I have felt convicted about getting more involved in local politics, and we figured that attending a city council meeting might be a great place to start. We made it the focus of a recent weekly date night (because we really are that nerdy), and it turned out to be an absolutely fascinating experience! We were the only citizens present to watch the weekly meeting at our (tiny) city hall. It was interesting to observe the format of the meeting, the dynamics between the various city council members, and the types of items that were discussed—everything from city budgets and zoning codes, speed limit changes and what equipment will be added to local playgrounds, to whether or not to build a fence for a local citizen who is seeking more privacy after the city cut down a grove blocking public views into her backyard. We live in a very small town that is seeming dramatic growth, and it’s interesting to note how the city is (and isn’t) navigating these changes. I’m eager to attend more meetings in the future and learn about further ways we can get involved.
// LOVING LATELY //
We bought the kids a water table after seeing how much they enjoyed a friend’s water table at a recent play date. So far, we have all been quite happy with the purchase! It was reasonably priced and entertains all three kids for quite a long time. With Texas summers being what they are, it’s not comfortable to be outside without some way of keeping cool, and this water source certainly does the trick without involving too much setup or cleanup.
// MONTHLY CHARLIE-ISMS //
Charleston is certainly enjoying his break from schoolwork this summer, and I am enjoying our more laid back time together. We’ve had plenty of fun and fruitful conversations, leading to some very funny quips this month.
+ “You know how people get old and kind of just die by themselves? Without something happening? Well I was kind of hoping that would happen to me as a kid so I could just be a kid when I’m in Heaven. But you know how in Chutes and Ladders, how our actions have consequences? And a consequence from that [dying as a kid] would be, you have to be 35 to be President, and I wouldn’t get to be president then. So now I’m just kind of hoping God works out my life the way I want it to be.”
+ About having a service guy do some work on our house. “Really, I didn’t know we had to pay for that.” Me: “Yes, you have to pay for everything.” Charleston: “Not everything, not being in God’s family, you don’t pay for that.”
+ “Since we own this house, don’t we get to decide the price for the next people who buy it? I was thinking $100 or maybe something like 199. Because that’s how much a usual house is, right?” (For the record, we have no immediate plans to sell our house. . .)
+ About a handicapped parking sign: “It says $500 Fine. I think that means they’re fine with you parking there as long as you pay them.”
+ When I referred to his speech teacher as his tutor: “A tutor? Isn’t that, you know, kind of a private word?”
+ Responding to an Adventures in Odyssey episode, when I asked if the employees in the story should have been fired. “No, I think they just should have been electrified.” (He heard the word “lectured” and assumed it was referring to being electrocuted.)
+ “I used to not know adults had jobs and I was like, how do people get so rich just from finding money on the ground?”
+ “Mom, if I was allowed to marry Kali AND still be president, I totally would. I mean look at her, she’s adorable.”
// TWIN CORNER //
I’m having more fun with our rambunctious little twosome by the day. They are two months away from turning two, and this age has been my favorite yet! Their vocabulary is exploding along with their capacity for cuteness, their affection (for other people and especially for each other), their playfulness and independence, and their ability to melt their mama’s heart. They continue to love reading books and playing with Legos, dancing to Wee Sing music, saying “hello” and “bye bye” to everyone and everything they see (including items in a room as they leave it), and making each other laugh. We’ve transitioned to just one daily nap in the afternoons and so far the new schedule is working well for all of us; it’s nice to have our mornings freed up without having to rush home for naptime, and those afternoon naps come just when I’m personally hankering for a break.
Sully continues to be spokesperson for the two of them, as he is better able to use phrases and sentences to make requests and give commentary. Though quite chatty, Kali has a language (and dancing style!) all her own. She is generally the more independent twin, but she is increasingly aware of Sully, and the two take turns comforting, entertaining, and looking out for each other. I’ve said it before and I hopefully will keep saying it: Twin Mom life is the BEST life!
// HAPPENINGS AND HIGHLIGHTS //
We launched into the month with a great Independence Day! We spent the daytime hours at my in-laws’ house, where we barbecued and watched the kids play and had fun with sparklers and some smoke bombs. It was fun to see the kids in their matching outfits (shirts courtesy of sister-in-law Amanda, Kali’s dress made by my amazingly talented mother-in-law). The kids were each cautious at points during our backyard “fireworks” but eventually all ended up having a great time.
That evening we all went to dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Colorado River. We could hear live music from the park concert below and had awesome views of the lovely sunset; we then enjoyed dinner while watching a spectacular fireworks show. I was amazed that the kids did well with being out so late, and was especially surprised by how much they all loved the fireworks. The twins were bouncing and squealing and signing for more throughout the whole show; we didn’t have a single noise-induced tear or even flinch. It was hard to keep my eyes on the sky because I was so absorbed in watching their overjoyed faces the whole evening!
Every summer (minus last year) our church puts on an event called Camp 75—backyard VBS-style camps held in yards and parks throughout the Austin area. We’ve attended Camp 75 in the past and this year we got to host a camp in our own yard. It was such an incredible experience! It was outside my comfort zone in every way, from inviting friends and neighbors to socializing during the event to allowing (controlled) chaos in my yard, but I am SO GLAD that we agreed to host this year. We were blessed tremendously through the event. Over the course of four 75-minute camps, we got to meet new neighbors and reconnect with old friends, and it was a joy to watch teens from our church lead the young ones in games, songs, and Bible stories. The kids had an amazing time and, much to my (introverted-heart’s) surprise, I did too and can’t wait to host again next year.
That’s it for July! We have just a few more weeks of summer vacation over here, then it’s back to school and routines and getting ready for all things FALL! What have YOU been up to lately?