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Books + Stories

Books + Stories
How Lasagna Shows Us What our Marriages are Made of
May 11, 2018 at 7:52 am 0
No matter how many years you've been married, marriage is a beautiful challenge. The process of two-become-one sometimes look like pure delight. Other times it feels grueling as our rough edges are rubbed off. Sometimes everything comes out over lasagna.  I wanted to share with you a lovely book by Dorothy Greco, Making Marriage Beautiful. She offers so much hope for marriages. Making Marriage Beautiful is incredibly vulnerable, surprisingly funny, and outrageously hopeful. It's grounded in Scripture and includes interviews with eight diverse couples.     

Making Marriage Beautiful would be a fabulous gift to tuck into your gifts for weddings. It'd be a lovely and thoughtful anniversary present, or a great resource to go through with your church small group. Here's a bit from the book, so you know how you must go and snag a copy!

 

Surprise! We're giving away a copy if you're in the US. Here's what you need to do:

*Use whatever social media platform you like *Tag me at @aahales and be sure to tag 3 friends (I'm sure @dorothygreco would love a shout out too!) *Use the hashtag #aahalesreads
   

Not Your Mother’s Lasagna

Thanksgiving was my first holiday as a married woman. With the flip of a coin, my husband and I decided to spend the weekend with his extended family in upstate New York. On paper, our families of origin are more similar than not. Our fathers went off to the Korean War, our mothers mostly stayed at home, and we each have two siblings. But if you looked closely, you would notice significant differences, especially if you happened to stop in during dinnertime. Meals in our WASP home were civilized affairs. We sat at the kitchen table except for major holidays and birthdays. We never raised our voices or interrupted one another and always valued the quality of food over quantity. In Christopher’s Catholic, Italian-American home, life centered around one of five strategically placed tables. The question wasn’t if you would sit at the table; it was which one. The table held epic symbolism in the Greco household. As soon as we each claimed a spot at the dining room table, I began to realize just how different our families were. There was twice as much food as we needed, including lime Jell-O and canned green beans submerged in a thick, gray sauce. After the turkey—and two huge trays of lasagna—were ceremoniously placed front and center, the curtain went up and the opera began. Unlike at my home, there was no turn taking or insightful follow-up questions. One person simply started talking—to no one in particular—and then another layered their thoughts on top but not before turning up the volume. Then a third and fourth jumped in, making it impossible to really listen to anyone—something I eventually learned was not a priority. I’ve never been a fan of opera and even less so when I’m thrust into it without an opportunity to rehearse my lines. This experience helped me better understand Christopher, but I was not able to extrapolate his genetically-coded mealtime expectations until we had a substantial fight not long after. At our inaugural dinner party, we invited three couples over. Unlike Christopher’s family of origin, we only had one table that was woefully inadequate for six adults. We made do. The conversation was lively and the food excellent. Everyone seemed to enjoy the evening—except Christopher, who made several less-than-affirming comments about my culinary efforts. This same scenario played out multiple times before I pointedly inquired, “Why are you so critical of how I prepare meals for guests?” He shot back, “Because you don’t cook enough food and you never put out extra sauce when you make pasta!” The fight that followed opened our eyes to a shocking reality: our family cultures had so deeply influenced our preferences, biases, and beliefs that we each reflexively judged anything different as wrong. By normalizing our family’s customs and concluding that our version of reality was morally superior, we had become ethnocentric: in other words, assuming the inherent superiority of our culture and ethnicity. I was guilty of ethnocentrism when I harshly evaluated his family’s Thanksgiving traditions. He was guilty of ethnocentrism when he judged me as incompetent simply because I didn’t put extra marinara sauce on the table. If we lack awareness regarding our ethnocentrism, we can become oppositional and needlessly criticize and judge one another. As my husband and I have repented of our moralizing and committed to honoring each other’s traditions, we’re less dogmatic and more grateful. Now, when I need to talk through something, Christopher no longer expects me to replicate his family’s operatic style of communication. And when we have dinner guests, I try to serve more food than I know we need because I want to validate rather than dismiss his traditions. On a good day, I even remember to put extra sauce on the table. This (pseudo) excerpt is from chapter two of  Making Marriage Beautiful. Excerpt provided courtesy of Dorothy Greco and David C. Cook. 
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Books + Stories
Parenting is Hard. Win a copy of parenting book: First Ask Why!
April 19, 2018 at 12:40 pm 0
  Friends, I'm so excited to introduce you to my friend Shelly Wildman. She's the mom of three adult daughters and she's written a parenting book not because she has it all together, but because she's asked some good questions. It's called First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God through Intentional DiscipleshipAs a mother to four young kids, I've already learned a ton from Shelly's book and I want you to have your very own copy!

Shelly Wildman is a former writing instructor and author of  First Ask Why (Kregel). Shelly holds degrees from Wheaton College (BA) and University of Illinois at Chicago (MA), but her most important life’s work has been raising her three adult daughters. She and her husband, Brian have been married for 32 years and live in Wheaton, IL. Shelly speaks to women’s groups in the Chicago area and spends much of her free time mentoring young women. When she has time, she loves to cook, read, and travel. Connect with Shelly at her website or on Instagram and Facebook. You can still preorder First Ask Why at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kregel.com since it comes out on April 24th.

Read more below to find out about the book and how to win!


 

Instead of managing our children's behavior, Shelly Wildman says we need to first ask why.

To enter to win a copy of her book -- which is perfect for parents of children who are tweens and younger -- all you need to do is subscribe below. (If you're already subscribed, comment on this post instead.)


 

Shelly was so kind to answer a few questions. Read on to find out more about the book!

    Writing about parenting can be a powder keg—people have pretty strong opinions about raising kids. Why did you choose to write a parenting book? I kind of feel like I didn’t choose to write a parenting book, but that the book chose me. (Sounds like a scene from Harry Potter, doesn’t it?) I fought writing it for a long time because I knew I wasn’t a perfect parent—I had messed up so many times that I didn’t feel qualified to write this book. I still don’t. But the idea kept nagging at me for so long that I finally felt like God might have been pushing me to do it.   What makes your book different from other parenting books? So many parenting books are “how-to” books. They seem to say, “Just follow these ten steps and here’s what you’ll get in the end.” But I don’t believe we can parent by formula. I think we have to look at our unique family and ask why.
  • Why are we doing what we’re doing as a family?
  • Why are we emphasizing these spiritual values? And are there others we should consider?
  • Why are we even here as a family? What’s our purpose for being put together in this unique combination of individuals?
Asking why gets to the heart of the matter; it exposes our motivations and desires for our family. Asking why leads to intentionality. And asking why helps give our children a sense of purpose as we lead them.       What was your lowest parenting moment? You mean besides that time I locked my one-month-old in the car? (True story!) I think my lowest moments were the times I let my daughters down. When I betrayed their trust by sharing too much with others. Or when I didn’t fulfill a promise I had made. Parents can feel their kids’ disappointment, which hurts so much. But more than that, too many disappointments lead to mistrust or a lack of respect, and I never wanted that to happen. That said, parents are human. We do mess up. We do let our kids down. And those are the times we have to humble ourselves with our kids and apologize, sincerely. We need to let our kids know that we don’t always do things perfectly or say the right things or even parent correctly. But that we need grace and the help of God as much as they do.   Who do you hope will read this book and what do you hope they will gain? I hope parents with kids of all ages will read this book, but especially parents of younger children. I hope grandparents will read this book. And I hope it sparks lots of discussion between husbands and wives, moms groups, or even small groups in churches. My hope is that parents will come away from reading this book with a stronger sense of their purpose as parents and that they might gain a couple of new ideas that they can implement in their own family. I also hope people will read the last chapter very carefully and prayerfully. The last chapter of the book is on letting go, and it’s a concept that I think is becoming lost a little bit today. It’s so hard, but it’s so important, even when your children are young, to start thinking about letting go. We’ve got to be parents who demonstrate faith in God’s sovereign work in the lives of our children.  

Is your appetite whetted for a book that will help you ask all the good and hard questions so you can intentionally disciple your children?

To win the book, all you need to do is enter your email (or comment). 

 

Giveaway will end on April 24, 2018.

Share with all your friends who could use some love on their parenting journey.

If you can't wait you can order First Ask Why right now!

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Books + Stories
If you’re looking for your next novel, enter to win Katherine James’ prize-winning one!
February 27, 2018 at 6:00 am 0

Friends! Books are totally my BFF's.

Kate James's novel, Can You See Anything Now?, is one of those novel BFF's. You will not want to miss it. For forever, I have lamented the sad state of Christian novels -- or most novels that have any Christian storyline. Many don't reckon with real feelings, real people, and real doubts. Kate James' book totally delivers -- it's a book that takes faith seriously with full-bodied, broken and beautiful characters. You won't want to miss it!     Katherine James has an MFA in fiction from Columbia University where she received the Felipe P. De fellowship and taught undergraduate fiction, and while her concentration was in fiction, she enjoys writing poetry and essays just as much. Some of her poetry and narrative non-fiction is published in various anthologies and journals. You can find her at her website, and purchase her book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  

And I get to give away a copy!!!

I'm switching things up -- all you need to do is COMMENT ON THIS POST TO ENTER.


  Want to know more about Katherine James's debut novel? Did I mention it won the 2018 award at Christianity Today for fiction?! Can You See Anything Now? follows a year in the small town of Trinity where the tragedy and humility of a few reveal the reality of people's motivations and desires. This is a story without veneer, and for readers who prefer reality to sanitized fiction--this book is unsentimental, and yet grace-filled. The characters here are complex and intriguing -- the suicidal painter, Margie, who has been teaching her evangelical neighbor, Etta, how to paint nudes; her husband, the town therapist, who suspects his work helps no one; and their college-aged daughter Noel -- whose roommate, Pixie, joins them at home for a winter holiday, only to fall prey to tragedy.     My take -- (I ate it up in a few days):

Dear reader, if you want a calm, cool, collected veneer of a story this is not it. There's real stuff in her novel: cutting, attempted suicide, curse words. But you know what else there is? There is an honest look at real life as well as a hopeful, redemptive narrative of the lives of men and women (and a town). Go buy this book.

 

Want in on the process of writing a novel? Kate James was kind enough to answer some questions about the book.

So you wrote a novel. Why? There were certainly moments when I asked myself this very thing—especially when I was a few chapters in and my characters were about as exciting and complicated as astro turf. However, when something I'm working on starts to gain traction and the characters, rather than standing in line waiting their turn to make it to the page, begin splitting off in their own directions to do their quirky things—for example, one guy takes a leak in the middle of a street at midnight, another can't stop applying for a spot on The Cupcake Wars—I honestly start to have a blast. It's fun. I like writing.   What was the inspiration for Can You See Anything Now? It began with an image. There's a lake in the neighborhood I live in now. It's a small lake and I pass it every afternoon when I take a walk. I usually try to pray while I'm walking but sometimes my mind will wander because there’s so much beauty around me. About half a mile into my walk, there's a short bridge that crests at a hill and once over it a valley suddenly appears and you see the lake, like an enormous silvery puddle, before you. There's also a swimming raft in the middle of it. So there it was, the beginning of Can You See Anything Now?    Whats next? Good question. I’ve just completed a memoir, Notes on Orion, so as far as writing goes, I’m in a short stall at the moment. Presently, I’ve enjoyed spending more time teaching and leading writer’s workshops. As far as my next writing project, I have a manila envelope full of notes for another novel. I think a lot about what the general plot will be and what the characters will be like. The novel will take place in Trinity, the town I wrote about in Can You See Anything Now? and includes many of the same characters.

Get yourself a copy on Amazon now.

The opening scene is amazing. Haunting, enigmatic, tersely written.

Enter the giveaway by commenting on the post! Give Kate James some love on social media, too.

ENTER TO WIN: WRITE A COMMENT. EASY AS PIE.

     
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Books + Stories
Win a book every mom needs! Catherine McNiel’s Long Days of Small Things
February 21, 2018 at 6:43 am 0
Friends, I'm so excited for you to read Catherine McNiel's book: Long Days of Small Things. I've introduced you to some great books by my friends Dorcas Cheng-Tozun (on start-ups and marriage) and Beth Bruno (on raising girls). Catherine McNiel writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day—while caring for three kids, two jobs, and one enormous garden. Catherine is the author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress 2017), and loves to connect on TwitterFacebook,Instagram, or at catherinemcniel.com.  
 

Her book, Long Days of Small Things, is a must for every mother who has felt the beauty, the monotony, and the blessing in doing small things on many long days.

I don't know about you, but I am hungry for words to help me live this mothering life well. You'll find that in Catherine's book.   Long Days of Small Things is a book that looks at the real life work we do in our everyday lives, and finds God right here in the midst of it. It’s a book for moms (or dads…or grandparents…or caregivers…) who know they don’t have any extra time or energy, but still want a way to connect with God and discover how to find Him.  In each chapter Catherine tells stories from our real lives—the seasons and stages of motherhood, pregnancy and delivery, infant days, sleepless nights, caring for children of all ages—and the tasks that fill them. She looks at spiritual tools that already hide there—like sacrifice, surrender, service, perseverance, and celebration—and considers how we can open our eyes to the spiritual boot camp we walk through every day. Without adding anything extra to our live or to-do lists, we practice so many disciplines every moment of the day.
 

Guess what friends? I get to give a copy away!!

Here's what you need to do: simply put in your email here (or comment if you're already a subscriber) and you'll be entered to win! Giveaway ends in one week.

Win a copy!!

   

Want to hear more?

Catherine was so kind to answer a few questions about her book:

  How has motherhood impacted your understanding of spirituality? We think of spirituality as something that happens in our minds, in silence. We are taught that our bodies, our mess and complications and noise hold us back from being with God. That doesn’t leave a lot of hope for moms, whose pregnant or post-partum bodies, newborns, toddlers, and van-full of carpool kids have no end of loud, messy, physical, chaotic needs. But God made us, didn’t He? Genesis describes Him getting in the dirt and forming us from the dust by hand, then breathing His own breath into our mouths. That’s pretty physical and messy! Then He actually took on a body Himself. The King of Kings wiggled around in a woman’s womb, surrounded by amniotic fluid. He entered the world through her birth canal. God was born, you guys. That’s our Good News. All this physical stuff that we feel keeps us from Him is the same stuff He used to meet with us, to speak to us, to save us.  So Long Days of Small Things is a book for moms “who have neither quiet nor time” as the cover says—or dads, grandparents, and other caregivers.   Describe an experience that first caused you to understand motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline. I was shopping with my three kids. Can you imagine the scene? Lugging my infant in one of those terribly unwieldy baby-carriers. Holding my toddler by the hand, while my preschooler zoomed around the store. The diaper bag was falling off my shoulders, and I clenched the grocery bags with the same hand that grasped my toddler. And then…the door. I couldn’t figure out how to get us all through. The baby was wailing for milk and a nap, the toddler and preschooler needed lunch (and a nap). I wanted lunch and a nap too, truth be told. But mostly I just wanted to get us out the door. No one held it open for me, but plenty of people watched me make a fool of myself trying to wiggle us all through without banging any heads or pinching any fingers. It felt like a hero-feat, an epic win. When I finally got everyone home, fed, and sleeping, I sat down to read an article I’d been saving; a short biography of a favorite Christian teacher. The biographer described this hero of the faith as so spiritual, he radiated peace just by walking through the door. This stopped me in my tracks. The memory of how I looked going through a door was so fresh in my mind. I realized that if spiritual growth entailed developing an aura of peace and radiance, I was never going to arrive—at least not without getting rid of these precious babies! The contrast between this teacher and myself was so stark, and I realized he and I were simply on two separate paths. I was seeking God through the chaotic but life-giving seasons and tasks of motherhood, and this was going to look entirely different from the classic spiritual practices. “Results may vary” as they say.   How is this book different from all the other books and conversations out there regarding motherhood today?  There are so many books out there for moms on the topic of devotion and spirituality.  Almost all of them have this in common: after admitting that moms are exhausted, stretched too thin, without any margin or time or energy, they look for a few extra minutes here or there which might be harvested for God; or offer a Bible study or prayer list that might fit in the tiny slots. Get up at 4:30am before the baby wakes at 5am! Read two minutes of the Bible each day! I’m all for doing these things when it works, but I’m convinced that we don’t need to exit motherhood to have a spiritual life. Our children are what we create, and this is where our Creator God meets us. I’m certain of it. Without adding more “should’s” or “to-do’s” to our days, we can open our eyes to a unique spiritual journey, made just for us—and find him here. We’re already doing it. All that waits is for us to breathe deeply and being to drink.
 

Win a copy!!

 

Giveaway winner will be emailed within one week.

   
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Books + Stories
Start, Love, Repeat: A Book for Entrepreneurs!
February 6, 2018 at 6:00 am 0
    You met one of my writer friends, Beth Bruno, author of A Voice Becoming. Today, I can't wait to introduce you to Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, author of Start, Love, Repeat   Dorcas Cheng-Tozun's book, Start, Love, Repeat, is a practical, empathetic, smart look at the life of entrepreneurs and their families.      

How do we combine what we love to do and those whom we love without sacrificing either?

Start, Love, Repeat is specifically for couples in which one or both partners are entrepreneurs, but don't worry if you're not an entrepreneur -- the research and advice are applicable for any couple who struggles to balance the work they love with the people they love. And who has got this thing called "balance" figured out?
  Dorcas wrote Start, Love, Repeat because there weren't any books out there that dealt with what it looks like to nurture both a demanding career that can eclipse life outside of work as well as family life. Start, Love, Repeat is organized by the phases of start-up life and it's a smart book that combines research, personal stories, and helpful information for entrepreneurial couples. We tend to stereotype entrepreneurs as uniformly young and single, but the truth is that nearly 70 percent of business founders have spouses, life partners, or children—all of whom, whether they like it or not, are living the start-up life.1 Those who choose to be with entrepreneurs invite things into their lives they may never have wanted: financial instability, uncertainty, stress, and the nagging sense that they are always playing second fiddle to the greater lure of their partner’s business. You need a guide to making it and Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is just that.       

Let me tell you one little secret...

Start, Love, Repeat isn't just a book for entrepreneurs. It's a book for adults. For anyone who lives a real life and is trying to figure out what and how to prioritize personal lives with work lives. It's a fabulous resource for ministry families. I've felt the dearth of good books to help a pastor and their spouse weather the challenges of always being available for ministry. Starting a church is a whole lot like starting a business. We need good resources to help give us language to know what's going on, that we're not alone, and some tips to keep moving forward. This should definitely be on your to-read list for 2018.

Dorcas was kind enough to answer a few questions about her book, Start, Love, Repeat:

  Why is the start-up journey so difficult for couples and families? There is nothing quite like starting a business from nothing. It requires entrepreneurs to lay almost all of what they have and who they are on the line: financially, professionally, but also emotionally. They’re signing up for a heavy load of uncertainty, stress, and responsibility. Significant others, whether or not they are entrepreneurial themselves, are inevitably pulled into these risks. Being with an entrepreneur forces you to confront your own issues around security, money, quality of life, self-confidence, control, and more—all at the same time. Unsurprisingly, such couples almost always have challenges around conflict, communication, and decision-making, even while neither partner is operating at their best because they’re so stressed. In addition, spouses often feel like they’ve been demoted or replaced because running a company is such an all-consuming vocation. Imagine: the person you considered your life partner has entirely dedicated him- or herself to another entity. More than one therapist I interviewed said it was comparable to your spouse having an affair. That feeling of betrayal can lead to deep, longstanding wounds if not proactively addressed.   How did writing this book change your perspective on your own marriage? As a perpetual pessimist, it’s easy for me to get caught up in the hardships of my marriage. I find myself counting the sacrifices, the inconveniences, and the ways in which I have been hurt. But as I reflected on our last twelve years together, I saw how—even though there were plenty of ugly episodes along the way—our relationship has matured and been positively transformed because of all that we’ve been through. Ned and I were forced to confront personal weaknesses, mismatched expectations, and conflict early on in our relationship. Thankfully, we were both willing to make adjustments along the way, and we have been able to move closer toward a healthier and more fulfilling relationship. I also saw how profoundly Ned cared for me each step of the way, even when I felt isolated and neglected. I realized how he had done so many things, big and small, to try to make things easier for me or to respect my wishes. He has made plenty of sacrifices as well, like booking crazy flight itineraries so he could get home twelve hours earlier, or saying no to amazing business opportunities so he would have more time to spend with our kids and me. Being married to Ned has also pushed me to live with more boldness and courage, and to take more risks. I don’t think I would have been able to write this book without Ned encouraging me and cheering me on along the way.   What are some of the most important things that an entrepreneur can do for his or her significant other? Many entrepreneurs’ spouses live with an underlying worry that their partner loves the business more than him or her. Anything an entrepreneur can do to counter that belief, to communicate, “I love you and I appreciate you” is important. This could come in the form of choosing to leave work and turn off your phone at a decent hour so you can spend the evening with your family. Or perhaps you intentionally seek advice from your significant other on aspects of the business to show that you respect his or her opinion. It could be intentionally helping around the house or demonstrating your affection through words and actions. One therapist I interviewed used the word loyalty, which I love.  Loyalty, to me, means that you are committed to this relationship now, as opposed to some distant future when you think you’ll have more time. Loyalty means that you, my spouse, are essential in my life, and I am willing to take the necessary steps to make sure you know that.

Pick up a copy of Dorcas Cheng-Tozun's book, Start, Love, Repeat, today! 

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