December 31, 2012

My 15 Favorite Books from 2012

I am an avid reader. I am almost always reading something. So when I read this post, I was inspired to make my own list.

This isn't an exhaustive list, just some of my favorites from this year. Hence (in no particular order):

My 15 Favorite Books from 2012

Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches - Rachel Jankovich
  • I loved this book and the Gospel-centeredness of it. It didn't feel like another how-to mothering book. It really encouraged mothers to go to the Cross, receive grace and mercy in time of need, and get back into the moment with your kids, however difficult it may be.

  • Along the same lines, this book also got to the heart of parenting and loving your kids. I met and heard her speak this year and could not have been more impressed, which made the book (which I had already read) all the more likable. I also loved that it included very practical, but not overwhelming, tips for creating a homey home. Like filling your home with welcoming scents so that your kids look forward to coming home (e.g. chocolate chip cookies, yummy candles, etc.). 

from dust and ashes - Tricia Goyer
  • This is a fiction book placed in Austria during WWII. I also heard this author speak this year but had never read her before. After hearing her speak, I eagerly picked up a few of her books and she has not disappointed. I started and finished this book in one night. Very, very good.

One Thousand Gifts - Ann Voskamp
  • I loved the overall idea of this book - thankfulness being a root of a heart centered in Christ. I have to admit though that at times I had to put it down. Her style of writing is very poetic and it was a little too much for me sometimes. But I'd still highly recommend it.

What Women Fear - Angie Smith
  • To be honest, since I'm not a fearful person by nature I didn't know if this book would completely apply but wow, I got a ton out of it. She talks about fear in a different way than just your traditional fears like being alone, the dark, etc. Each chapter is split up into a different fear (e.g. Ch. 6: Fear of My Past Catching Up With Me). I would recommend this to any woman.

  • This is a memoir of a woman who started off as a Labor and Delivery nurse, became a Certified Nurse Midwife practicing in a hospital that offered alternate birthing care, eventually opening her own practice specializing in homebirths, and then ending up back in a hospital due to a....I won't ruin the story! I loved this book. Loved it. Be aware, there's some language and one inappropriate part, but there was a perfect balance of birth stories and insightful information related to labor and birth. I think I finished this in two days.

  • This book should actually be at the top of my list and every list from here until the afterlife. Seriously, this is a must-read for every parent. And normally I try not to be That Person. (The one who's always shoving parenting books down your throat.) But this book is so Biblically foundational to the heart of why we do what we do and why and how we discipline, that it's hard not to insist. If you've ever thought that threatening or shaming or rewarding your child into obedience is very effective, this book will give you some very palatable food for thought.

Understanding Exposure - Bryan Peterson
  • Don't give up on me now. This book was just very personally helpful and would be for anyone who wants a good solid base of information related to photography. 

  • Besides being very entertaining, I loved his retelling of the book of Jonah. Well, retelling isn't an apt description. More like his use of Jonah to correlate to modern life. I liked his emphasis on the glory of God.

Drowning Ruth - Christina Schwarz
  • I read this for a book club I was in this spring and I'm so glad it was our assigned book because otherwise it wouldn't have been one I'd picked off the Kindle shelf. It's a fiction book but there's this underlying theme that you pick up on throughout the book that is as true in real life as anything else, and that is that selfish and bad choices rarely stay isolated and rarely to never are others unaffected; they can permeate generations. Very good read.

  • I got to meet this author this year and observe her over several days and was impressed with her quiet gentleness. She also has two boys so you know this book comes from a very personal place in her heart. I loved the Biblically-based prayers and ideas that we can pray for our boys. Very practical and encouraging.

  • I mentioned this book a couple of times on here and it bears repeating - read this book. I actually got the most out of this book as it related to friendships with other women. I think if we as Christian women could get these truths down into our spiritual bone marrow, we would have very, very, very little in-fighting and hurts and pettiness and broken relationships and silent treatments and I'll-show-hers. I would definitely reread this.

The Tehran Initiative - Joel Rosenberg
  • I have literally read every single book by this author. (Except for his most recent one, which is a non-fiction and is at least in my possession but Matt's reading it now.) I love his writing to the moon and back. To say I'm devastated when I reach the end and have to wait for his next one is understating it. This is Biblical fiction, which means his story lines center around Scripture and Biblical prophecy. You literally cannot put his books down when you start. This book is as thick as the last Harry Potter and I think I finished it in two days, maybe three. Read it. Quick.

  • This book ripped my heart out, as does every book centering on WWII, of which I read a ton. This is a biography of an Auschwitz survivor, as told directly to the authors. I cried my heart out at parts in this book, at both the depravity of man and the tenacity of bonding love and kindness. That even in the most depraved and inhuman of conditions, you can find goodwill and kindness. Oh, I could cry again. 

False Witness - Randy Singer
  • I think I've read almost every single one of his books. I always pick up one of his books when I want an escaping fiction read full of mystery, intrigue, suspense, the law, international affairs. This book was particularly riveting, dealing with algorithms and modern-day mafias and government fraud. Again, I started and finished this in a night. (Which I regretted the next day.) He's also very funny.

Well, that does it. Not exhaustive and I'm sure I'm forgetting some of my favorites and I'll wake up in the middle of the night and it'll haunt me, but these are definitely ones that topped the list. 

I'm always, always, always looking for good, new reads so what are some you've read lately?

December 28, 2012

An End of a Year

Before one more second passes, I need to stare at this picture until the end of eternity. Ok, I feel better now.

We had a very laid-back Christmas. The best part about is was that Matt is on break from school and he had a four-day weekend. We all needed the break, but nobody more than him.

On Christmas Eve we went to church with my parents and some friends. I always love the candlelight and songs and stories. We had to leave early because the boys' patience had worn out but they did great for a pretty good chunk of it. Afterwards we drove around and looked at Christmas lights. Actually, right afterwards we made an emergency trip to McDonald's because sudden hunger overtook me and within 17 seconds we were at Defcon 5 Emergency Levels. And then we drove around and looked at Christmas lights.

Christmas Day morning was fun as it was the boys first time getting into the spirit of opening presents. At least it was for Micah. Asher had a confused look on his face all morning but he did enjoy his new toys.

Date night!

I made my very first ever homemade cinnamon rolls. This recipe. Oh my sugary heart ventricles, the happiness was deep.

The rest of the day was slow and easy. I was feeling sick for most of the day but I made myself get out and go sledding with the boys and I'm so glad I did, we had such a blast. Especially my shining mama moment in which I left Asher unattended in the baby sled and he face-planted into the snow. Awesome.

My parents had to work so they came later for a chili dinner. We ate, visited, played with the boys and their new toys, and then called it a day. To be honest, I was glad the day was over.

We'd been heavy-hearted for days over some things and so I was glad to just be past the day and moving on to a new year. The weekend before Matt and I sat on the couch after the boys bedtime and reminisced about the previous year while I intermittently laughed and cried.

I had been reading through 1st Thessalonians last week and it struck me (again) how highly valued people were to each other in the New Testament writings. For example the part that stood out to me this time is from 3:6-7. Paul and the others were comforted by Timothy by hearing of the Thessalonians' faith and longing to see Paul again. And so many places elsewhere, their comfort came from people. One of the names for the Holy Spirit is comforter and yet God has also designed the body of Christ to be a comfort to one another, to comfort one another, to be the source of comfort God intended for a certain person.

As we talked, I was reminded again the importance and value of authentic relationship, and to pursue it even when past experiences make me want to close my heart forever.

And today as I sat with a friend over coffee and chattering children and I shared my heart, tear-filled eyes and all, I was comforted.

People and authentic relationship are worth the risk. Jesus thought so. Why shouldn't I?

December 24, 2012

Guest Post: Are Christmas Traditions Really Pagan?

Matt and I are not big gift-givers. I can count on one hand the number of gifts we've given each other in the last several years. We're not against them, we definitely love receiving them, it's just not our primary love language.

Once we had Micah we began to think about Christmas and what our traditions were going to be as a family. I didn't grow up believing in Santa but I did grow up with trees and presents, while Matt did grow up believing in Santa. But we were both in agreement from the beginning that we did not have the mental energy to keep up a Santa charade for years to come.

Since we aren't big gift people and we also try to keep a lid on our natural tendency towards materialism we didn't want every Christmas to be about how many presents our kids were getting, and that becoming what Christmas was about for them.

We wanted to establish our own Christmas traditions founded on the true meaning of Christmas. Which obviously has nothing to do with Santa Claus and Christmas trees and presents. Right?

Actually, maybe not.

Today I am so excited to have my first guest writer on my blog. My very own husband, Mateo! Or as the laypeople call him, Matt!

He did some researching of his own and is here to share with us the history behind a few of our modern-day traditions and their basis in Christian history. Without further ado, Mateo!

Merry CHRISTmas
I love Christmas time. It can also be a confusing time of year, especially when you have kids. Many different things come at us all at once - presents, hanging up lights, trees, Santa Claus, and...Christ? If it’s confusing for us to recognize the reason for the season, then I’m sure my 2 year old is confused why kids are getting their pictures taken on Santa’s lap at the mall but also singing, “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere that Jesus Christ is born!” on the way home. BTW, Santa’s smile at the mall this year is AWESOME.

            I recently watched a Christmas DVD created by Phil Vischer that shed some light on Christmas. Here we go...

Some churches celebrate communion (remembrance of the Lord’s Supper with crackers and grape-juice or wine), and some the Eucharist, which means to give thanks. The celebration of the Eucharist is called “Mass”. Once a year churches in Europe would hold a “mass” to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, called Christ's-Mass. That’s how we get the word “Christmas." In ancient Rome, before Jesus was born, big parties were held on December 25th to celebrate the passing of the shortest day of winter and the return of more sunshine. Some would worship the sun. By 350 A.D., the leader of the church, Julius I, declared that December 25th would no longer be a day of celebrating the sun, but Jesus the “son” of God.

Jolly Old St. Nick
Turns out Santa was real. He lived in modern-day Turkey and was actually an influential bishop in the early Christian church. He grew up in a wealthy family and was known for his generosity of giving to those in need. One of the most famous is the story of a poor man whose daughters were unable to get married because their father could not afford to pay the dowries and, in those days, was therefore destined to poverty, prostitution, or slavery. St. Nick anonymously threw three bags of coins through the window, each one to cover the expenses. The bag of coins landed in their stockings that were drying above the fire. That’s why we hang stockings above fireplaces and eat chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. This story is also in reference to the three gold balls you see on the signs at Pawn shops. Word spread about St. Nick throughout Europe and the church made December 6th, St. Nicolaus Day. Kids would set out their stockings and shoes the night before hoping that St. Nick would visit them and bring them gifts. Stories of St. Nicolaus Day came to America from Dutch and German settlers. In Dutch it’s, “Sinter Claase”, in German, “Sant Niklaas." Over time these two names became, “Santa Claus." There you have it, folks. Santa Claus is St. Nicolaus. It can be confusing because in America these are two holidays combined into one, “Christ-mass” and St. Nicolaus Day. On a side note, Bishops wore red robes and hats. St. Nicolaus day was popular in Northern Europe, which was very cold on December 6th, so St. Nick is shown wearing a red robe and hat with white fur lined to help keep him warm while he delivers presents to kids. Sound like someone else we know?

Oh Christmas Tree
So why do we cut down trees and put them up in our house during Christmas? Turns out that in Northern Germany for thousands of years tribes decorated their homes with tree branches and linked certain trees to gods. A giant oak tree was called the “Oak of Thor." If anyone cut it down they believed Thor would strike them dead. A Christian named Boniface brought the good news about Christ to the people. In front of a large crowd Boniface took an ax to the Oak of Thor and cut that sucker down! When the people saw that Boniface wasn't struck dead and realized that Thor didn’t exist, they believed in Jesus instead. According to the story, Boniface pointed to the small fir tree that was near the oak tree and instructed the people that this was to be their new symbol, as they built their homes to let Christ be the center of their households. 


I loved reading this and I hope you did too. I learned that I need not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Many of our traditions are rooted in historical Christianity and can be redeemed from the hustle and bustle of our time. We don't have to feel guilty or ashamed of buying our children gifts and placing them under a Christmas tree or any of the other traditions that we have. They can actually be an avenue to share with our children the stories of giants in the faith who have gone before us, loving Jesus boldly and others lavishly. 

Also, I don't mean to brag (yes, I do) but I got the privilege of hearing Phil Vischer speak this year and afterwards to meet him. Usually I'm not starstruck, but hello, this is Bob we're talking about.

My sign says, "Hi Micah!" in honor of my little guy who's a deep lover of all things Veggie Tales. My exact words to Mr. Vischer were, Other parents may tell you their children love Veggie Tales, but they don't. Not like my son.

Merry "Christ"mas from the McNutt family!

December 19, 2012

Light in Great Darkness - Newtown Tragedy

*Written December 18th

Today as I drove around town my heart felt so heavy. I thought about sweet babies and tragic endings. I thought about my college friend, killed on this day five years ago in a car accident, leaving behind his pregnant wife and so many others that loved him so very much.

My eyes filled with tears but really, I wanted to weep. I wanted to lay my head down and weep until the tears ran out.

This morning I sat at the breakfast table with my sons and I read out loud from Romans 12. I lingered over the second part of Romans 12:15, Weep with those who weep.

Weep with those who weep.

There's nothing I can say that hasn't already been said. I only want to share something that the Lord brought to my mind tonight in the midst of my heaviness.

I have this quirk that I have to sleep in complete darkness at night. I can't have the lights of alarm clocks or cell phones or any other light lurking outside my eyelids.

A couple years ago we were hosting a women's conference in which I was emceeing and speaking, so my parents had flown up to help take care of Micah for the weekend. We gave them our room since we didn't have a real guest room.

I had a hard time falling asleep because this room hadn't been light-proofed. I felt like light was seeping in every crevasse of my eyelids. Finally, sometime in the middle of the night I got up in frustration only to find that the light was coming from outside the room.

I followed the glow to the source and was surprised to find that it was just the tiny microwave light over the stove.

And there in the middle of the night in near-blackness, the Lord spoke so clearly to my heart.

Even a very little light shines very bright in great darkness.

And tonight as I drove home He brought it to mind again as I thought of the great darkness we live in.

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." 
Matthew 5:14-16

It cannot be hidden. 

It gives light to all the house.

Even in great darkness, there's still Light.

Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us.

*Linked up with Missional Women.

December 17, 2012

Lazy Days

Since we go to church on Saturday night, Sundays are usually lazy days for us.

Disheveled hair, crusty breakfast faces, all-day jammies, naps in the sun, Veggie Tales.

This life and these ones, I love so very much.

 Grace in the mundane.

 Snuggies from warm, sleepy babies = paradise.

 This is exactly how they feel about their daddy.

What do your lazy days look like?

December 14, 2012

Photographer Depot December Photo Challenge

I'm linking up with today. 

The Photographer Depot is having a December Photo Challenge - Christmas Card Outtakes.

Well, if the world ain't a pretty place on a summer day with sweet tea.

Outtakes, my friends, I can do.

I mentioned in my last post that Matt and I took the kids out this past Sunday to get Christmas pictures.

Here's what we had going in our favor:

1. It was lunchtime.

2. We forgot our child's shoes.

3. It was freezing.

4. It was lunchtime.

5. We were pushing naptime.

6. Two children and a pregnant mother were starving. (See also: it was lunchtime.)

7. A certain "photographer" kept pushing the wrong button for the self-timer, culminating in lots of plastic smiles for no reason at all.

8. It was lunchtime.

As you can well imagine it was a smashing success.*

*No, it wasn't.

So December Photo Challenge, I salute you. May you be ever complete.

December 12, 2012

Failure All Around

The blog has been a little quiet. I've been trying to find my groove between establishing a business and maintaining our normal lives.

I've put a hold on all sessions until I get my business legitimately established in the eyes of the state of Montana. This is where community is great to have. I'm not a technical, detail-oriented person, but I know people who are. So I got in touch with them, told them what I was needing to do, and two in particular totally pulled through for me and laid out for me in great detail my next steps. (Hi mom! Hi Shannan!)

Seriously, I am so thankful for them. I stopped beating myself up years ago for not being administrative and detail-oriented. I may not have a filing cabinet in my home but I can socialize like it's 1999. We need our People-People and our Paper-People. And for those of you that are both, you make me sick.

I also had my first failed shoot. There were several factors that contributed to its failure and looking back I should've just stopped and said, I'm sorry, I'm not getting the types of shots that I know you want and I think we need to call it a day.

So what're my takeaways?

1. Have a contract that addresses these types of things.

2. Do the hard thing when you need to do the hard thing.

I seriously feel like I could write a book on all the things not to do when starting a photography career.

But I beat myself up over it for about an hour, gave it to the Lord, and resolved to learn from it and press on. If I quit at the first sign of challenge, then I'm a quitter. Plain and simple.

In other failure news, we tried to do a family shoot this last Sunday.


Matt was in the middle of saying something very deep. Like, It's freezing! Hurry, babe!

 Daddy, it's fweezing!

No mo' pitchers!

 Oops, didn't have the timer set right.

A couple were alright. (FYI, except for a couple, these are all SOOC, straight out of camera. I.e. no editing's been done.)

We'll try Round 2 this weekend. It'll be a miracle on 34th Street if we get our cards out in time for Christmas. Wish us luck.

December 05, 2012

Covered Sin or Covered Sin?

The other morning in my quiet time I was reading Psalm 32 and something stuck out to me that I'd never caught before. Follow me here.

The very first verse says, Blessed is the one...whose sin is covered.

But in verse 3, David (King David, the author of this Psalm) describes the effect on him when he, as he describes it in verse 5, covered his sin.

Verses 3 and 4 describe it as his bones wasting away, continual groaning, dried up strength as in the heat of summer. Essentially, inner anguish and turmoil to the extent that it affected him physically.

So what does he mean? Is he contradicting himself? No, in verse 5 he describes the type of covering he referred to in verse 1, I acknowledged my sin to you and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord."

And the Lord's immediate response?

You forgave the iniquity of my sin (verse 5).

Which brings us back to verses 1 and 2 - Twice it calls the person blessed whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, against whom the Lord counts no deceit, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

I think we've got all Sin/Deception Bases covered.

So it hit me as I was reading that we've got two options, every living, breathing one of us.

1. We can cover our sin through deceit and be miserable, or..

2. We can confess it to the Lord and He covers it and we're blessed.

Either way our sin is covered. One way causes internal anguish to the extent of affecting us physically. The other frees us from its debt and leaves us blessed. Clean, washed white, pure.

One way is definitely standing out to me as the better way.

Have you ever kept a secret, a bad one, that ate at you?

Pornography addiction? Throwing up your food in secret or starving yourself? Substance abuse? Affair? Cheating? Lying? Deception? An unwanted pregnancy ended in a sterile room? Someone else's dirty secret? A thousand other examples?

It eats at you. There's no true rest or peace. You're terrified of carrying it alone but you're more terrified of being found out.

I have to stop and say this - I hope you know by now that I say all of this with the utmost affection for you, Reader. Even as I write this, I pray for you, and I cast no stones.

But I'd like to suggest that Option 2 is life-alteringly better. 2nd Corinthians 5:21 says, He (God) made him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin that we might become the righteousness of God.

Scholars call it the Exchange Curse. (Harry Potter, I know.)

Jesus literally exchanged his righteousness for the curse of our sin. He doesn't cover it the way we do, in shame and hiding. He covers it with his very life, taking away its sting and condemnation, leaving us new, washed clean, covered no longer in shame and anguish, but in his righteousness.

Blessed. Blessed is the one whose sin is covered. But not by us. By Him.

I pray Option 2 stands out as the better option too. May you turn to Jesus today, the One who says, Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

The kind of rest that deception and hiding robs us of. The kind that gives us sweet sleep.

That sounds pretty good to me. What about you?