Suggestions for your summer reading

It’s summer, so you’ve probably noticed an increase in articles and blogs recommending books to read while you’re on the beach or otherwise decompressing from your work world. In many cases, these blogs are by authors who simply want to share the books they’ve enjoyed. Others, of course, are secretly sourced by clever PR agencies looking to promote a particular client’s book. That doesn’t make the list bad, it just makes the motives suspect. Caveat emptor.

So what do I recommend? Well, glad you asked. I don’t know what you’ve read or what you like to read or what types of books would help you with your current situation. But that doesn’t mean I can’t help you out a little.

One of my bookshelves, which, by the way, are organized in “random order.” Don’t judge me.

My main recommendation is that you should diversify. Read a bunch of different stuff. Read a bunch of styles. Read fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and humor. Variety from your library keeps you from slipping into a mental rut and helps you see fresh perspectives on your work and your world. Here are my main categories, keeping in mind that in some cases there’s some overlap.

Novels – Great fiction takes us out of our world but reshapes how we view the world in which we live. The most recent really good novel I’ve read was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a Spanish author who brings 1950s Barcelona to life with a dark but lively mystery.

Biographies/Autobiographies – I worked on The American Immigrant, a Kindle single by Dick Gephardt and Mark Russell that profiles some cool stories. Another recommendation would be Seven Men by Eric Metaxas, which profiles seven of the most influential men in history. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish this book because I left my copy on an airplane.

History – I’m a big fan of well-written history, and I confess it’s been way too long since I spent some time in this genre. One that pops to mind is Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer. The significance of that one event changed the course of history, and this book shares why in a very readable way. Another favorite of is Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides, which uses Kit Carson as a thread for the story of the American West.

Leadership/business – Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton fits in this category. It’s written for people in ministry, but I’ve found it applies to leaders no matter their profession. Forging Grit, a short fiction book I co-wrote with Mike Thompson, also fits this bill. Other authors you can check out: Tommy Spaulding, Steve Farber, Eric Chester, Elise Mitchell, Max DePree, John Maxwell, and Mark Sanborn.

Faith-based – I recently finished Donald Miller’s Scary Close, which is faith-based self-help. Obviously I’m partial to Grow Like Jesus and Go West (by my friend Jeremy Sparks). And right now I’m reading and enjoying None Other by John MacArthur. Also, my wife and I always have a devotional book from which we read each morning.

I know people who have multiple books going at the same time, and I do this from time to time. Most often, I’m reading one book on my own and one with my wife. But do what’s best for the rhythms of your life. And by all means, share what’s been meaningful. Almost every book I mentioned in this blog came to me as a recommendation from some wonderful friend like you.

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Father’s Day Forgiveness

Father’s Day is coming up, so I thought I’d share a gift idea. It’s something you can give to your dad even if your father, like mine, is no longer alive. The gift: Forgiveness.

My wife and I have a blended family with seven children, and all of them were adults when we married in 2010. I’ve never been hard to please when it comes to gifts, so I’m more than satisfied with a call or text from my four kids on Father’s Day. But a few weeks ago I sent them a photo of a gift idea, and I’ve included it in this blog.

Would you want this suit for Father’s Day?

It was a joke, of course. That suit just doesn’t … well … suit me.

But it got me to thinking about what I really want from my kids. And what I really want, if I’m to be totally vulnerable and transparent, is forgiveness. It costs nothing but it’s often really hard to give or to receive.

Forgiveness for what, you ask? Every father has experienced failure. Many of us come across as superheroes at times, especially when our kids are young, but we inevitably come up short. Sinners sin. And sins that disappoint the people we love are particularly painful.

But we don’t have to sin to need forgiveness. Fathers instinctively want to protect and take care of our children, and sometimes we simply can’t. Sometimes life is beyond our control and we have no words and can take no actions that will “make it better.” We might understand this intellectually, but we still feel like we’ve let them down. People pleasers, of which I’m often one, know that it’s possible to do nothing wrong, to feel totally “in the right,” and yet still feel guilty because we simply didn’t do enough. My identity is in Christ, of course, so I shouldn’t feel this guilt. But all too often I do.

Sometimes the guilt we feel isn’t based in reality – we think we’ve let them down, but they don’t really feel that way. And sometimes it’s totally based in reality. I know I disappointed my kids when my first marriage ended, but I think I disappointed them even more when I remarried – not because they don’t like my wife, but because it happened so soon after the divorce. They were still grieving the end of something, and I was celebrating an amazing and totally unexpected grace gift from God. I’m in no way advocating divorce. If that’s your struggle, surrender it to God, seek some qualified Biblical-based help, and don’t give up. But if you’ve already experienced divorce, God won’t walk away from you. I can tell you that my marriage is an incredible story of God’s redemptive grace. It is impossible to overstate what God has done in me through this marriage – how Audrey makes me a better husband, father, man, and follower of Jesus.

Over time (it’s been six-and-a-half years), I think all of my children have seen that. We’ve all moved onward. We have good relationships with each other. I know they love me, and they know I love them. But sometimes I feel a void I can’t explain, and I connect it back to my struggle with unforgiveness. It’s a “me” problem, not a “them” problem. I hold onto my guilt even when I’m not guilty and even when I’m guilty and I’ve been forgiven. Maybe it’s just me, but I think other dads do this, too. We find it very hard to forgive ourselves, to live in forgiveness. So while we work to display confidence and strength, there’s a part of us that longs to know that our kids are OK with the imperfections we’ve displayed and the disappointments we’ve caused. We long to experience forgiveness.

Yes, forgiveness is an experience. It often begins with words, but real forgiveness is reflected in attitudes and actions lived consistently over time. This is why forgiveness is redemptive. It makes things new and right. It’s liberating both to the one who gives and the one who receives. It is an expression of real love and true grace. I know, because I’ve experienced its most powerful form. Christ forgave me of my sins, past, present, and future. And He gave me a second chance at a godly marriage. I never feel more loved than when I look into the eyes of my wife, not just by her but by God, because I know how undeserving I am to have this marriage. That’s the power of forgiveness.

So whatever you get your dad – a tie, a good book, a loud suit, or anything else – you might also give him this: Help him experience forgiveness.

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The Face of Grief

A child doesn’t have to be born to be loved or for her premature death to be mourned. Our family experienced the joy of learning a new baby was on the way — a granddaughter for me and my wife — then the pain of learning she was very sick, the closeness to God that comes from desperately praying for a miracle, and the sadness that comes when God’s plans don’t align with our desires. She was unborn, but 27 weeks old when she left us. Don’t tell me she was anything other than a child, fully human and loved by her parents and all who are close them and to her.
I’ll never forget the courage and faith displayed through this process by my daughter and her husband — how they leaned into God and found peace in the pain, how they treasured each moment with their child. All of us, but especially the child’s parents, are left with a hole in our hearts that won’t be filled until we reach heaven.
When I learned that our granddaughter had passed away, I immediately connected to those raw psalms that cry out to God in pain and frustration. And I was thankful for a mysterious but loving God who allows us to express how we feel, even when — especially when — we are sad, angry, hurt, and confused.

The Face of Grief

By Podge, June 1 2017; For Hadley Reece White

Hello Grief, I know your face
You spit in my eyes
And claw at my joy;
That is who you are, I know,
A tormentor of souls,
Who lives to break hearts,
Leaving a tear-stain path of pain
Wherever you go.
Yes, I know your face.
You do your work well, of course.
Something in the way I’m made,
In the way we’re all made;
We can’t escape you.
Yet, we don’t give into you, either.
You play your part and have your day … or days … or longer
But that’s all it is – and then you fade
Never gone, but always smaller
Replaced by something bigger
Something more real and eternal
Yes, Grief, I know your face.
But I also know the face of God.