9 Books I Loved in 2014

I love reading other people’s end-of-year books list with an eye for seeing what I’ve read and picking up a few suggestions.  So, here’s what stood out to me from the books I’ve read this year. Several of these books I’ve read because of you suggestions! Keep em coming. What ‘s a great book you’ve read this year?

Product DetailsResurrection Year: Turning Broken Dreams Into New Beginnings by Sheridan Voysey What do you do when your dream cannot come true? After 10 years of infertility — including attempted adoption and IVF, Sheridan and his wife Merryn had to face this question. I am grateful for the ways this book will enhance larger conversations. I’m all for the story where it works out in the end (because God is in those too), but if those are the only stories we tell, we are not telling the whole truth. Near the end, Sheridan has a spectacular section on being in the wilderness. It alone was worth the book! And this line: “Perhaps a greater tragedy than a broken dream is a life forever defined by it.”

Product DetailsTwelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose, I’m sure I’ve read this before … but so glad I read it again! This is a classic for a reason. And an empowering reminder a person can make a difference. I’d also say it contains the reminder to slow down and be present without rushing to the next thing.

Product DetailsConsider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible by Debbie Blue  In the forward, Lauren Winner wrote you don’t have to be a birder to appreciate this book and I agree! Debbie opened me up to (and helped me tune in to) all of the birds in the Bible and then think more theologically about them.

She wrote about the pigeon, pelican, quail, vulture, eagle, ostrich, sparrow, cock, hen, and raven.


Product DetailsEmpress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang A must read for China hands, those interested in history, and people who are for women in leadership. I blogged about it for China Source and included five reasons people should read it :)

Product DetailsMe, Myself, and Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables by Phil Vischer Continuing my memoir craze :) …. this tells the childhood background and then birth, growth, and crash of Big Ideas (and Veggie Tales).

Visher explores:
*how who he was/childhood influenced him and his leadership
*lessons he learned (a whole chapter on this. Really well done!)
*And how to view and process when God gives you a dream and then seems to crush it. God wants us, not our hard work.


Product DetailsPastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber Nadia reminds me that the Kingdom of God is wider, deeper, and vaster than I often make it to be. She’s a Lutheran pastor here in Denver and though different from me in many ways (we were probably in high school and college at the same time so it’s weird and broadening to think what parallel lives we were living), in the ways that matter we’re the same. We love God and people. I read this book voraciously and “blessed” (aka annoyed) my mom by insisting I read parts out loud. Nadia does have colorful language, so if that bothers you, cool, just know she’s colorful.

Product DetailsAnd the Mountains Echoed Paperback by Khaled Hosseini — Hosseini is a master at telling epic stories. This covered decades, countries, and a host of characters seamlessly. It was bookended by brother Abdullah and sister Pari who were separated at a young age. At it’s heart, this story explores the ripple effects of decisions. As I’ve reflected on the title, I see more and more in it. Like an echo? My favorite line was: They tell me I must wade into waters where I will soon drown. Before I march in I leave this on the shore for you. I pray you will find it so you will know what was in my heart as I went under.

Product DetailsThe Invention of Wings: A Novel  by Sue Monk Kidd — Based on real sisters, this tells the story of the Grimke sisters from early to mid 1800s. They fought against slavery in their home town and ended up living much of the adulthood in the north. The story goes back and forth between Sarah and “Handful” who was presented to as a slave to Sarah on her eleventh birthday. In the end, they help set each other free. Interesting look at the tensions of that era between the suffragist movement and the abolitionists.

Product DetailsThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics  by Daniel James Brown — On one hand the title tells in all, on the other, it tells you nothing of novel like telling of this truly epic quest. Combine University of Washington undergrads training for several years in rowing in the mid-30’s with German propaganda surrounding the 1936 Olympics and the result is an engaging must read.

Happy Birthday Jesus. Thank you for stepping into the messy middle and reminding us you came that we might have life.

With blessing,


Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports Velvet Ashes. 

Which Headline Speaks More To Your Soul?

I’m not sure why hyping language — you know, words like high, new, bigger, better, goals, do, go, fly higher–  is pushing my buttons at an accelerated rate this year. But I’m here to testify that my buttons are pushed.

I read one about being a high achiever in 2015 and nearly lost it.

I get the allure, I do. Truth be told, if my choices are to be a high achiever or a low achiever in 2015, I’d choose high. Of course we want to contribute and achieve. I want what I’m investing in to matter and make a difference in this world. What’s more, I think it’s OK to want to achieve and invest.

But as I’ve been thinking about it and wondering why, why, why do I role my eyes and want to scream at something I believe in.  My beef is this: Your focus becomes your target. From math we know trajectories point to where an object in motion will land.

Just go bowling and try to deny this truth.

But trajectories can be influenced and small changes and lead to landing in a different spot.

I don’t think we need nudges to be better achievers or doers or to set more goals. We’ve got that down.

Here’s what my soul would liked to read:

Find Out What Connectors Are Doing in 2015 To Connect Better

To themselves

To others

To nature

To God

How does that headline sound to your soul?

The irony is through connections, achievement will happen, goals can be reached, and significance can be feasted on.

I took this photo when I was visiting my friend Amy. Her daughter Kate made a homemade spa for us and told us not to come in until she was ready and to notice our drinks. It is a small thing, a can of coke. But do you see how she sees me? The special effort she went to digging through all of the coke cans.


On another trip I volunteered to go pick her brother up at the high school one cold, rainy evening taking Kate with me leaving her mom on the couch with a few minutes of quiet. We got to cavorting in the empty streets and Kate said, “Oh Auntie Amy, you’re not like Jilly” (I’ve changed the name). Well I hope not! I thought to myself but wondered what prompted Kate to notice or comment.

“You make my mom laugh.”

I wanted to pull the car over and ask for a moment of silence. We were on holy ground. You make my mom laugh.

Now I’ve accomplished a lot in my life. If you want to know about achieving, I know about achieving. I have more education than most, have been in leadership for years, taught thousands of students, and mastered quite a few skills. But when it all comes down and I get to heaven and Jesus and I are reviewing the highlight reel of my life, this will be on the reel. You make my mom laugh. 

In other words, you connected in a significant way.

And connections are built on the backs of thousands of little things.

I don’t know what 2015 holds, what challenges and joys I’ll face. But I know this, I’m aiming to be a “high connector” and by aiming, hope I’ll hit my target.

What do you hope is said of you in 2015? Are hyping words annoying you? :)? It’s OK if they are inspiring you! What’s a small thing you have done today to connect with others?

Holy Stalking at Advent: A Look At Restlessness


“We are too quick to seek meaning.” The spiritual director said. I shared this insight on Tuesday and days later, here it is hanging out in my soul. When something sticks, pay attention. Combine with this wisdom from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Not everyone can wait: neither the sated nor the satisfied nor those without respect can wait. […]

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10 ways to be unproductive {but happy} at Christmas

This was one of my favorite posts from last December (one of the hardest months of my life). On Saturday I was part of a Spiritual Direction Advent group and the leader cautioned us about seeking too quickly for meaning. We Westerners do like information and meaning, don’t we :). It was a timely and gentle reminder […]

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Boys 10-14 Still Need Us — But I’m Filled With HOPE!


We’ve done it. We have. We’ve started a small movement for boys ages 10-14. Lest ye think it matters naught, stick around. OK, I’m bad at surprises so I’ll get to the punch line. Last week Elizabeth, Niece #1, and I spent four hours at the Operation Christmas Child warehouse in Denver helping to check […]

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The Speed of Advent


O house of Jacob, come and let us walk In the light of the Lord. Isaiah 2:5 (NKJV) The holy echo for this season came in an early morning reading. Could Isaiah have imagine how far the echo of Advent would ring? Advent is for us, not just some. O house of Jacob. Advent is an […]

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For Those Who Receive Hard News This Week

Hard news near a holiday

Dear friend, I don’t have to tell you, it’s the holiday season. We have reminders surrounding us. I don’t care where you live, social media and the internet won’t let you forget. You might want to. The holidays are supposed to be happy, but you’ve gotten news this week that has t-boned you and now […]

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Is Bravery Biblical? (Not as obvious as it may seem.)


Princess Anna is brave. Jackie Robinson is brave. William Wallace is brave. Sarah of Sarah, Plain and Tall is brave. Hmmmm. I am rather informed by Hollywood when it comes to bravery. This week at Velvet Ashes we’ve been looking at the idea of “brave” in anticipation I asked myself three questions: 1. What do I think […]

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The practice of paying attention is harder and easier than it seems

Pay attention on plane

At Velvet Ashes I’m leading a weekly discussion as we work our way through Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World. The following was written for the chapter entitled The Practice of Paying Attention **** Picture this, I read it in the quiet of my home thinking holy thoughts about paying attention to God at work, and before […]

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T.H.I.N.G.S are going on all over the world! Let’s party!

VA birthday

I was focused on finding  presents for boys ages 10-14 so I didn’t notice the older man approach. “Do you do parties?” he asked extending a card to me. Since I was wearing my non-bifocal contacts because I was headed to Zumba after I finished my research I couldn’t clearly read the card. I’m not sure […]

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