In her memoir, Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor writes about a time when she was asked to speak on a topic called, “What is saving your life right now?” She says the question is so good that we must revisit it on occasion. Most of us can name the things that are suffocating us, the things that threaten to break us at any given moment. The things that cause us to worry or despair. But what things – big or small – are saving us? What things are sparking joy, particularly when the world feels upside down?


Books, backpacking, builds, and babies. These are some of the things that are saving my life right now.



You should probably know this about me: I don’t really read “for fun.” I like faith books. Creative non-fiction mostly. I read to learn more about God, and others and myself. Some books are inspiring, some cause me to see God in unique ways, and some cause me to retreat to my bed and hide under the covers for days. I’ve gotten better at not letting new knowledge send me into a pit of despair, but you should know that you’re probably not going to get many fiction reviews from me. Here are some books that have been on my nightstand more recently:

The Sin of Certainty, by Pete Enns
If you’ve spent any time in evangelical spaces, you’ll know that there is this near-obsession with certainty. Evangelicals will use words like the “inerrancy” or “infallibility” of scripture that ends a lot of nuanced conversations. “There’s no discussion on [this] because the Bible is clear!” As I reflect on my experiences and the experiences of others, I’m convinced that this certainty has led to a lot of pain and divisiveness within the church. The Sin of Certainty is refreshing in that it embraces the posture of curiosity, and considers that those of us who doubt and ask questions do not do so because we lack faith, but because we are faithful. This book encourages me to embrace the mysteries of God – it’s actually very freeing to not have all the answers, and I don’t think we’re expected to.


The Making of Biblical Womanhood, by Beth Allison Barr
I had seen this book floating around for a while, but it never really sparked my interest until I saw the author getting significant pushback on Twitter. I wanted to support her and her writing, so I decided to buy the book.

As a woman with a PhD in History, Beth Allison Barr was told that she could not teach a Sunday school class to teenage boys at her church because women could not teach men, and according to their church, manhood began at age 13. (This is my “What in the world?!” face: 😲) Her husband, who was the youth pastor, was later terminated from his position for challenging the policy on women in leadership. These experiences prompted her to research and write the book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood.

Barr argues that biblical womanhood, the idea that God designed women to be submissive to men, is not actually biblical, but is instead more about maintaining human power structures. The book is well-researched and reflects on the history of Christianity and patriarchy, challenging complementarianism, and using history to inform our future as we work to create more equitable, Christ-like community.

This book reminds me of Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s book, Jesus and John Wayne. If you haven’t read that one yet, brace yourselves. It’s a doozy, but a must-read for all Christians.

A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson, by Winn Collier
I love to read a good biography, and this one had been on my book list for a while. Eugene Peterson was a well-respected pastor, theologian, and author. His paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, was originally created for the congregation in which he pastored and made the Bible accessible to everyone. A Burning in My Bones reveals Peterson’s humility, authenticity, and humanity, offering small details of his life from church ministry to his quiet life in Montana; from his successes and strengths to his struggles and insecurities. Generally one to shy away from controversy, Peterson found himself smack dab in the middle of a big one in 2017 when he affirmed that “yes,” he would perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. The backlash from evangelicals was severe, and the next day he retracted that statement. For years, Christians wondered where he really stood. This biography, which was published nearly two and a half years after his death, seems to back up that “yes.”


Grounded, by Diana Butler Bass
This is an older book (2015) that somehow seems prophetic now. Even at that time, people were moving away from organized religion, and that movement has only continued. In Grounded, Bass explores new ways in which people are practicing their faith, connecting and experiencing God all around us, and not confining God to a building on Sundays. She calls it “a shift, from a vertical God to a God found on the horizons of nature and human community.” Sometimes I feel that God is sifting the church, and this book helps me imagine new ways to practice my faith.


Devotions, by Mary Oliver
This is a collection of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet’s greatest works. I’ve been reading a few each day, and it has been a source of inspiration for me as she writes about her daily wanderings, reflecting on the physical world around her and the connections between all living things. A perceptive creative, Mary Oliver had the gift of presence that I so admire. In those days when I couldn’t open my Bible, her poetry reminded me that God is present in everything. The forest became my sanctuary; her words a healing balm.



Hundreds of acres of state forest surround our tiny home. I spent years trying to upgrade my life, but I think God knew we would need this place. The forest, the river, our neighbors, the wide open spaces, and the endless trails have been a refuge from the world at times. I am content here, and I am grateful to call this place home.


There is a familiar trail that circles our property. I must have walked it a thousand times. I’ve walked it with littles, and now teenagers. I’ve walked it in moments of joy, and with tears in my eyes. I’ve walked it with two separate dogs, and once with a chicken in my arms. I’ve walked it in the cool shade of spring, and in the blistering summer heat; with the crunch of leaves beneath my feet in autumn, and with snowshoes strapped to my boots in winter. I’ve seen her in all her beauty, and she’s seen me. It’s been nearly 18 years, and in some ways, I grew up here.


At the top of the hill about halfway through, there is a sit spot. A humble, simple bench that someone built between two trees overlooking the reservoir. One day, as I paused to observe my surroundings, a slender man came barreling up the hill. It was a little unusual, as I don’t often bump into people on this trail. I could see he had a water bottle with a filter attached, prepared to collect drinking water from the nearby lake and streams. He was going some distance. “How far are you going today?” I asked. “As far as I can.” He stopped to catch his breath. This particular trail connects with others, and one could hike for miles and miles. “Good for you! Are you training for something?”


“Life,” he said. “I’m training for life.” And off he dashed down the trail.


Those words were so profound and spoke clear to my soul. In many ways, the trail has been my church. I’ve worked out many things in my mind, body and spirit on the trail. The woods become a sanctuary. The birds and wildlife our companions. It offers a respite from the world; an opportunity to unplug. A chance to pay attention. In so many ways, the forest heals.


For years, I had wanted to backpack. I am inspired by minimalist living, and there is just something so empowering about carrying everything you need to survive for a few days in a pack that becomes an extension of yourself. I spent hours online watching videos, learning everything I needed to know about living in the woods for a few days.


I knew I wasn’t prepared enough to go into the woods alone, so I signed up for a beginner backpacking trip with the Appalachian Mountain Club in West Virginia, the closest I could find. I rented some gear online, and in August of 2020, during Covid, with masks on, I spent my first night out in the wilderness. I was hooked.


I was hooked, but I didn’t have any female friends who shared my enthusiasm for backpacking. Then, a few months later, to my surprise and delight, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail that runs through Connecticut. We were both completely inexperienced, so I agreed to go after some careful planning. We found a few more friends to join us on our crazy adventure, and that spring we hiked most of the CT section. We came back to finish it and then did three more trips tackling the Massachusetts section. With two states and about 140 miles under our feet, we’re staring down Vermont or New York in the fall.


Here are a few pictures from our latest trip to MA just a few weeks ago. If you’re local and interested in learning to backpack, I saw this Introduction to Backpacking course that I wish was available a few years ago.



I think you already know about my love affair with my impact driver, so I thought I’d share a few of my projects with you.

My writing desk is just a 5’ piece of butcher board countertop with metal table legsattached. Super easy and barely a build, but I love how much space I have to write, homeschool and work on various projects.

This living area was missing a coffee table, and I wanted to teach Logan how to use the chop saw. So together we cut the pieces for this simple farmstead table, and then I assembled it myself. My saw isn’t big enough to cut through the 4×4 posts, but Home Depot will do it for free. Score!

Babies (🐔 + 🌱, not 👶 – though those are cool too.)


🐔 We introduced three new baby chickens to our flock, because we’ve completely lost our minds. Stella and I have been working our way through the Gilmore Girls, so in honor of those crazy characters we have named these cuties Babette (Babs), Sookie, and Miss Patty. (Don’t ask me who’s who.)

The third one is hiding from the OGs.

🌱 An update on my plant babies: I planted peas, spinach and lettuce seeds in one of my raised beds and they are doing well. I started my pepper plants and tomatoes from seed indoors several weeks ago. They’ve been hardening off outside, acclimating to the outdoors in a small greenhouse on our deck, and they will be ready to go in the ground in the next week or so. Gardening is a lesson in patience, perseverance and hope. Oh we can learn so much from a garden.

Enough about me. How about you?! What is saving your life right now? I would love to hear from you!


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xo, Jana