My Book Stacks

In the transition from vocational ministry to who-knows-what, I found myself stocking shelves and cashing orders at a little boutique in North Barracks Road which sold French and Italian pottery and linens. This was the last place a college-educated and fiery-in-her-faith woman should be spending her twenties, I thought.

But it was exactly what I needed: rest, amid stacks of Provencal placemats, farm-kitchen platters and ceramic roosters that sold quicker than we could keep them on the shelves.

In my first few weeks there I busied myself during down-time hours — which was most of the day for a specialty boutique whose few regular customers kept the lights on. I dusted plates and re-arranged cups and saucers and kept the shelves spotless. Until one day I was discovered.

“No more cleaning,” said the owner, an understated savant whose family ties overseas launched her into business. “Dust means comfort. It makes this place feel ‘lived in.’ I want to be able to picture these bowls in my kitchen and my farmhouse kitchen isn’t this clean.”

So I set aside my compulsive self and, for the first time in nearly a decade, began to find comfort in dust. Stacks of things, un-dusted, took on a new warmth to me during a season where I had nothing but time to read my Bible behind the cash register and pray among the linen-piles.

Today I have one particular room in my house that usually remains “lived in” by the shop owner’s standards.

While the world spins chaotic in all the other rooms in my house (and I seek to tether it to order by my systems), I have one little nook off my bedroom which holds stacks of books and articles, tagged with post-it notes and littered with candles. This room meets my morning stupor and hasn’t yet made the annual organization calendar. It likely never will.


I find rest in its disorder.


So, today, I’d like to open up to you that little sweep of my territory. It’s here that I am implementing a new fall habit. Instead of waiting until all the work is done to find a time to rest, I’ve promised myself 20 minutes (which ends up being 10 or 15) each day to crack one of the books, piled high in my stack, and shut the door to the chaos outside. With this and Saturdays — when life slows to a casual walk — I might just finish one of them this year.

The coffee table in this room is an old school desk that’s had it’s legs sawed. It has the name “Randolph” and other chicken scratch engraved in its age — fitting to hold the stacks of books that are somewhat-intentionally disordered. Here’s what is sitting on that coffee table today*. (And please don’t laugh at this ambitious stack that is being whittled down three and a half pages at a time — it may be an itty bitty picture into why I don’t set goals.) …

  • Strangers and Sojourners – I’m on my third novel by Michael D O’Brien and I tell Nate that I think I’m getting smarter just by reading them. The language is rich. The layers of his characters are real, and his understanding of both human nature and the redemptive possibilities of God moving on it make for the most beautiful kind of page-turners. (With this one, in particular, the first chapter alludes to darkness I don’t want to look at, long. I’m halfway through the book, though, and see His redemption filling pages and bringing darkness into light. All to say: it isn’t extraneous for the sake of displaying darkness; it serves a purpose in the story.)
  • Longing for Eden – With a subject like marriage, the living-proof in the author’s life matters. Friends wrote this book. We’re reading it after we saw what He has written all over their marriage. That’s credibility.
  • Laying Down the Rails – Charlotte Mason (a 19th century British educational reformer) likened habits to railroad tracks. Once we lay down those rails, our children can “run on them” smoothly and with little stress. This book takes her writings on habits and categorizes them in palatable ways for those of us “laying train-rails” in the lives of our children (and, let’s be honest: in our own lives!). I move at snails’ pace through this, one habit at a time.
  • Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ – A friend shared a suggestion by John Piper that I still can’t find in print –thus, I probably shouldn’t be citing it here. But it’s too good not to share. He mentions the notion of “shocking your soul” first thing in the morning. Before we launch into our diatribe before the Lord, full of our nighttime wanderings and morning concerns, we immerse ourselves in writings from another time, another generation. Even just for 10 minutes. Reading the works of those in much harder times than ours, who persevered through deeper trials then we’ve yet had to, inevitably shocks our souls into a more accurate understanding of the way of the cross. This book is one of those to me. It is my third time through — one small section at a time — and I still am closing it up after each sitting going “there is so much more of Him than I know.
  • Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread  – I’m only four chapters in but I’m so thankful someone else is doing this research for me! She has something like 50 citations per chapter — this book isn’t based on assertion. I love bread, but it just hasn’t been working with my body these days. She traces bread back to its ancient and Biblical roots in an effort to crack the code that makes bread doable for those of us who just can’t fully tolerate it.
  • Adoption – The Spirit and the Cry – Just an article — a typed sermon from Spurgeon — not a book. Another one to shock my morning-soul.
  • The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah – I don’t own it. I just keep renewing it from the library. This commentary is loaded. I read paragraphs, not pages.
  • Kisses from Katie – (*Full disclosure: it’s not in my stack at the moment, but on a UPS truck coming to my door in just a few hours. We gave our copy away, but I had to include here because it will be tucked in my suitcase as I travel to visit with friends this weekend.) Nate read it a year ago and muttered things under his breath like “I think we might to go back to Uganda” and “it might just be time to adopt again.” Dangerous. This book, written by a friend, has finally made it’s way to the top of my stack. Katie is the real deal. She not only loves His people, but she loves Him. Her adoration moves His heart and His love is spilling out all over Uganda through her.
  • Love and War – We’re reading through this alongside friends (who are so wisely pressing in to Him for their marriage, early on). It has beautifully insightful wisdom about maneuvering the minefield of marriage. And it’s gritty.
  • Home Education – For some reason which still makes Nate chuckle, it seems that anything written before the turn of the previous century has a sweet spot in my heart :). Charlotte Mason put words to our little home school and has given me a framework for something I said I would never do, about a hundred years before I did it. I’m only on Volume 1. This is another one where I read paragraphs, not chapters, in a single sitting.
  • The Sea Painters World – In another attempt at transparency, I want you to know everything that’s on that coffee table  including the book I got Nate for his birthday — that he said he loved but hasn’t opened since he unwrapped it. (I’ll assume he’s like me and setting his favorites aside to savor later;).)  It’s now become a decoration in the room whose main decorations are books and candles.
  • I would be remiss to not include the Book that doesn’t stay on this coffee table very long. It travels with me (and my moleskine) atop laundry pile, propped against the treadmill stand, and cracked open near the kitchen sink. In this season, I’m reading and meditating through John alongside a group of women who share a basement and fire, within, every Wednesday night. We page through commentaries, we listen to sermons, we sink ourselves into the Word and ask to smell the scent of His skin in those passages. We bring it all to the table after a week’s worth of hashing it through on our own. And, in my private time, every day has a Psalm attached to it and the first twenty-two days of the month a chapter of Revelation. The Psalms are a launch-pad for my adoration and my conversation with Him, and Revelation says “blessed is he who reads these words” — so hubby and I, in this season, we read them — together, but separate.

In the backdrop, behind these stacks of books making a declaration from my computer is a new favorite album of mine. She joins me in sharing hearts with those women on Wednesdays and I hear His heart, through her song, all throughout my week … as I have this other habit of playing something I love, over and over and over again until it just about wears out. This one probably won’t wear out soon. (For those of you who have walked through pain and waiting, “Sarah’s Song” on this album is thick with His perspective on pain.)

(You have a book you think should be added to my reading list? I’d love to know about it. Drop me a line:

Next time I do this, I’ll share what you’d find on my children’s shelves. Those books, outside that little room of mine, are much more ordered.

And a note: Photos compliments of Mandie Joy. This girl has also set me up on instagram. Friends, it took several sittings for me to know exactly what that means and I still don’t quite get it …except, that you can now find updates and useful graphics on Instagram @everybitterthingissweet. Next week we’ll roll out S-T-R-E-N-G-T-H-E-N images — a letter per day, how cool! Mandie keeps me in the 21st century.