Four Books that Changed the Way I Live, Love, Think and Parent

One of my favorite voices on the Internet, Anne Bogel, also known as Modern Mrs. Darcy, just wrote here about 7 of the most meaningful books in her life, books that, having read them, are so earth-shattering and thought-provoking that you wish you could memorize every word.  She writes, "When it comes to these 7 titles, I want every word to sink into my brain and permeate my worldview, because I think my life would be better for it."

When I read these words, I immediately knew what she meant. For me these books are on my annual To Be Read cycle because I don't want to forget the important perspectives they bring to my life.  Reading Anne's post was a good moment for me to pause and reflect on which of these trusty literary friends are due to make the trip from the bookshelf to the bedside table.

Reflecting in this way is a great mental exercise to perform now and then. One of my favorite recent reads, Books for Living by Will Schwalbe, is just such an exercise in print. Schwalbe outlines for us the stories of 26 books that have impacted him profoundly. I found it a treat to see these works of literature through the lens of his life struggles and the questions he has wrestled with. Though his identity and life path are widely different from mine, in his grappling switch the titles that shaped his mental framework, I felt a surprising kinship with him.

He writes of his list, "Some of these are not works I would list among my favorite books, but they are all books that I found (or that found me) when I needed them, or that prompted me to remember something, or see my life and the world differently. Every reader can construct a list like this; and that list may change from year to year or even week to week. Compiling and constantly revising this kind of book list is an exercise I highly recommend: it's a path to creating your own practical philosophy."

I heartily agree, and so here are the beginnings of my list.

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider

When I first encountered this book in college, I knew I would never think about money, poverty and generosity in the same way again.  The book shattered my ability to ever think of myself as poor just because I may have less than some of those around me or those I view in the media. Every time I read it I am confronted with the realities of global poverty and reminded that my choices in how I manage my money and my heart, however trivial those choices may seem, can impact the lives of others in a significant way.  Empowering and humbling at the same time, I need these truths in my life on a regular basis.

A taste of Rich Christians:

If at this moment in history a few million generous Christians blessed with material abundance dare to join hands with the poor around the world, we will decisively influence the course of world history.  Together we must strive to be a biblical people ready to follow wherever Scripture leads. We must pray for the courage to bear any cross, suffer any loss, and joyfully embrace any sacrifice that biblical faith requires in an age of affluence and poverty.

We know that our Lord Jesus is alive! We know that the decisive victory over sin and death has occurred. We know that the Sovereign of the universe wills an end to hunger, injustice, and oppression. The resurrection of Jesus is our guarantee that, in spite of the massive evil that sometimes almost overwhelms us, the final victory will surely come. Secure on that solid rock, we will plunge into this unjust world, changing now all we can and knowing that the Risen King will complete the victory at his glorious return.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

This is my favorite parenting book for a number of reasons. First, it has cartoons! Lots of cartoons. Almost every principle is illustrated with scenes showing how to implement it in real life with kids of different ages. Next, it's not a system of rewards and consequences. It's built on the premise that your child is an actual human being with actual needs and feelings that you may or may not be attuned to. In other words, it's built on relationship. Lastly, it's extremely practical. And not just in parenting. The precepts laid out in this book are fundamental to every successful human interaction. If I can only remember them!

A taste of How to Talk:

"The attitude behind your words is as important as the words themselves. The attitude that children thrive on is one that communicates, "You're basically a lovable, capable person. Right now there's a problem that needs attention. Once you're aware of it, you'll probably respond responsibly."

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

This is the second book I ever fell in love with. The first was a tattered copy of Weezie Goes to School. One of my earliest memories is of poring over the story of Weezie, nestled in a cozy corner of the public library children's room. From there I graduated to Little Men. I think I had the library's copy on permanent checkout for most of middle school. My library copy looked just like the one above. That image alone was magical! I dreamed of opening my own school for wayward children just like Jo. I spent many a summer afternoon lost in the world of Nat and Demi and their friends. When I think about the home and the life I want to create with my own children, Little Men is at the forefront of my mind.

A taste of Little Men:

July had come, and haying begun; the little gardens were doing finely and the long summer days were full of pleasant hours. The house stood open from morning till night, and the lads lived out of doors except at school time. The lessons were short, and there were many holidays, for the Bhaers believed in cultivating healthy bodies by much exercise, and our short summers are best used in out of door work. Such a rosy, sunburnt hearty set as the boys became; such appetites as they had; such sturdy arms and legs, as outgrew jackets and trousers; such laughing and racing all over the place; such antics in house and barn; such adventures in the tramps over hill and dale; and such satisfaction in the hearts of the worthy Bhaers, as they saw their flock prospering in mind and body, I cannot begin to describe.

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie

Unshakable peace does not describe the hearts of most homeschooling mothers (and fathers) I know, including mine!  Homeschooling forces us to wrestle with doubts and insecurities that following such a counter-cultural life path generates, reinforced no doubt by the steady stream of questions from well-meaning friends and nosy strangers. Did I choose the right math curriculum? Am I a bad parent because my child is falling behind? Would my kid be less defiant or lazy, more quiet or compliant if they were in regular school and not home with me? Will my children get into college? And what about socialization? (Every homeschooling mama's favorite topic to try to address in the grocery checkout line with a passel of bored, grumpy kids eagerly eyeing the wall of candy before them, not that this has ever happened to me!) Sarah Mackenzie jolts us out of this downward spiral of fear and guilt by refocusing our attention on what we are really doing: serving our families out of a desire to love God and trusting Him to make both us and our kids more like Him through the process, whether anyone ever gets into college or not.

A Taste of Teaching from Rest:

Our children are not projects. If, by the grace of God, we can manage to remember that our children are all made in His image - and more importantly, if we can treat them as such despite the mess and the chaos - then we will really be able to teach from rest. Therein lies the reason we've taken on this arduous task at all - because a government school would not see our children as the image bearers that they are. After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, there would be no Morning Offering, no Nicene Creed. They would miss countless opportunities to love on their siblings and form deep, meaningful encounters with each other, with us, and with material chosen specifically to nurture their souls. Our days, though messy, loud, chaotic, and sometimes completely overwhelming, can be filled with great peace. We just have to get out of the way. We offer ourselves to God, we introduce our children to beauty and goodness and truth, and cease our anxious striving. That is the way to teach from rest.