Summer Reading Suggestions [Part 1]

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Episode Synopsis

What do you enjoy about summertime? Heidi and Jani want to encourage you to make time for reading. Jani shares a soul-restoring biography of Elisabeth Elliot’s early years.

Audio Transcript

Featured Book

In this authorized biography, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, bestselling author Ellen Vaughn uses Elisabeth’s private, unpublished journals, and candid interviews with her family and friends, to paint the adventures and misadventures God used to shape one of the most influential women in modern church history.

Jani: Hello, everyone! We’re so glad to be back with you on this podcast. Thanks for tuning in. Heidi, you and I haven’t been together recording for a while, have we?

Heidi: I know, it has been a few weeks. It’s nice to be sitting across the table from you and enjoying all the beautiful warm weather and the sunshine of summer.

Jani: Don’t you love summer time?

Heidi: Yes, summer is probably my favorite season of the whole year.

Jani: What do you love about it?

Heidi: Ah, I’m a water person. God has given me a love of water. So, swimming and going to the lake with the kids and taking the kids to the pool…I could spend every day at the pool with the kids during the summer. So just the laid back pace and just the “play” that happens. What do you love about summer, Jani?

Jani: Oh, I love the slower evenings. We don’t seem to have as many commitments in the evenings. It’s light longer. I love having Ray around more.

Summer = more time for…reading!

Jani: Really, one of the things I love that we want to talk about today is that there’s more time for reading.

Heidi: Yes, I forgot to mention I love reading in the summer. You’ll always find me with a book on my nightstand.

Jani: Yes, we love to read, don’t we, Heidi? And we want to encourage our listeners to read. I think it’s so easy for our generations now to listen and look rather than read. Of course, I do want to be careful Heidi because they are listening to us now.

Heidi: Turn off the podcast and go grab the book!

Jani: We do like our listeners, we thank you so much for listening. We don’t want to discourage you from listening. But we do want to encourage you to be readers.

Heidi: I find there’s a difference for me when I sit down and read a book versus when I listen to a podcast or when I watch a show on TV. Reading really draws me into the story. I have to stop and think and process about what’s happening. And it’s also more strongly provides an opportunity to put my eyes on Christ or my eyes on someone else and just get a breath of fresh air from being in somebody else’s story.

Jani: Yes, that’s a good way to put it. Heidi. We want to encourage our listeners to be a reader all their lives. Think of that, Heidi. Books and reading the gift of communicating ideas through words. That’s God’s idea. It’s not man’s. I mean, he’s the one who gave us the Word.

Jani: If we feel like we don’t have time, I would encourage our listeners to stop that. To make the time.

TIP: Leave screens in another room

Heidi: You know, one thing that I’ve done lately to make more time for reading this summer, Jani, is Mike and I have actually instituted a new rule in our house, that we do not keep our cell phones in our bedrooms. And so before we go to bed at night, we put our cell phones and our Apple watches in the kitchen and we plug them in. And that has created space to then I go hop in bed, but I don’t have my phone to look at and I pick up a book and that’s really helped.

Jani: That’s a good idea.

TIP: Reward Yourself for Reading!

Jani: One thing that I found that helps, Heidi, is I treat myself for motivation. Do I want to feel less guilty about time on my iPhone or my computer? Well, then I’ll earn it with reading time. If I read for an hour, oh, I can play my word game on my phone.

TIP: Consider the influence on children

Jani: I think too, Heidi, especially visiting my grandkids this summer and you with your children at home more, we want to let the children in our lives see us reading. I wonder if my grandkids have seen me more often with my phone in my hand or a good book. As moms, as grandmothers, as nannies and caregivers, let’s ask ourselves that question. What do the children in our lives see most in our hands? Is it our phone or is it a good book? We want to be women who read out loud to children no matter what their ages, even the older kids. In our family, we let new books be a treat or a prize for our kids. We really tried to build a home library. I know you’re doing that too, Heidi.

Creating A Summer Reading List

Jani: Sometimes I keep a summer reading list. A list of books that I’m reading, or pages or time spent when the children were younger. We put it up on the refrigerator with their names and we’d say which books they’re reading (write the name down) and how many pages they’ve read or for younger children, how long they spent because pages wouldn’t really count that.

Heidi: I’m more guilty of on my Amazon cart, there’s always books that I want to read. So there’s 10 books sitting there that I want to read next after I finish the one I’m currently reading.

Jani: Ah, that’s a good way to keep a list, isn’t it? Amazon loves you for that.

Jani: Well, I also, like during the summertime when we’re with our grandchildren and we’re reading—we spend time each day trying to read—to have them bring their book to dinner and over dessert, we can talk about it. Is there something you can share with us? Is there a picture you like or favorite part that you could share, so that the kids feel more involved in their reading rather than just, “Now it’s reading time, go do your reading.”

Jani: I personally, as a 71 year old, like to keep a list of the books I’ve read. So I remember them. Ray can read a book and he can remember that book. He can even remember where some of his favorite quotes are, like, he’ll tell me, well I know is on the right hand page about page 100, 105.

Heidi: He must have a photographic memory.

Jani: Oh, Heidi, it’s so frustrating. And I thought well, rather than be frustrated, I’ll just keep a list. So in my trusty notebook, I have a list, and it’s a list of books I’ve read, oftentimes with some favorite quotes. And when I finish a book, I give it a grade from one to 10. Is it a 5? Is it an 8? A 9 or 10 would be one that I’d want to read again and pass along to others. I also keep a list of books that people recommend to me, in case I’m wondering, you know, it’s not on my Amazon list, I keep it in my notebook.

“Have you ever regretted the time you spent reading?”

Jani: You know, Heidi, I’ve never looked back on an hour I’ve spent reading with regret. I’ve never looked back having invested a half hour or an hour engaging my mind or heart and thought, “What a waste. I just really wasted that hour.” So, dear listener, we want to encourage you, stretch your mind, use your mind this summer. Read! Read! The point is to read and then to read some more, and to keep reading until you see the living word face to face someday.

Our Summertime book list: Biographies

Jani: So Heidi, and I want to offer you a few suggestions of books that we’ve enjoyed. We thought we would start, we’ve talked about this in a prior podcast, but we want to circle back to it. We’d like to suggest some good biographies that we’ve benefited from both in our discipleship group together and in our individualized discipling.

Jani: Biographies open up history and a specific home and heart during that time of history to its reader. And Christian biographies give us wonderful encouragements, sometimes even warnings about how to follow our Savior in meaningful, significant ways. It reminds me of a poem we both love Heidi called “Call Back.” Would you share it, Heidi, with our listeners?

Heidi: Yes, it’s a sweet poem. I encourage you guys as I read this, to think of who has called back to you and your life.

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back—
’Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perchance, Faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low,
Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;
Call back, and say He kept you when the forest’s roots were torn;
That, when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill,
He bore you up and held you where the very air was still.

Oh, friend, call back, and tell me for I cannot see your your face,
They say it glows with triumph, and your feet bound in the race;
But there are mists between us and my spirit eyes are dim,
And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.

But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky
If you have gone a little way ahead, oh, friend, call back—
’Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.

Anonymous, December 19 Streams In The Desert devotional

Jani: We love that poem, don’t we, Heidi?

Jani’s Recommendation: Becoming Elisabeth Elliot

Jani: Someone who has called back to me is Elisabeth Elliott. You know she’s one of my personal heroes. And so I thought, one of the biographies I would share with our listeners and encourage them to read is a biography of the first part of her life. It’s called Becoming Elisabeth Elliott by Ellen Vaughn. It just came out in 2020. It’s an it’s a newer biography. I deeply admire Elisabeth. I admire her love for the Lord. I admire how she used her gifts from him to serve Christ in hard places, and how her faith sustained her when she was walking that stony track that you read about. She went through a lot of dark nights.

Featured Book

In this authorized biography, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, bestselling author Ellen Vaughn uses Elisabeth’s private, unpublished journals, and candid interviews with her family and friends, to paint the adventures and misadventures God used to shape one of the most influential women in modern church history.

Jani: So let me share with you a little bit about this biography, Becoming Elisabeth Elliott. Well, the book tells us that Elisabeth was born to missionaries in Belgium. But she and her five siblings moved back to the United States when she was very young. She had a rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. She accepted Christ at a very young age. She’s not sure whether it was age four or five, but right around during that time, and she made a deeper, fuller commitment when she was 12 years old. Now, much of the book that I’m reporting on—Becoming Elisabeth Elliott—is based on her journals. Do you know Heidi, she started writing journals when she was 11 years old?

Heidi: I love journals. I just bought Hannah a journal because I said, “We sometimes just need a place where we can write our prayers and our thoughts and our emotions.” So I love that she kept a journal when she was a little girl.

Jani: Isn’t that great? And the author, Ellen Vaughn, went through all those journals very carefully. I really admire how she wrote this biography. It wasn’t one sided. It wasn’t all glossed over. It was very real.

BONUS! Behind the Scenes

Our friends at Revive Our Hearts sat down with the author of Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, Ellen Vaughn, for a 7-Episode Series about the book and Elisabeth’s life. While we still encourage you to add the biography to your reading list (that’s the whole point of this episode after all!), we can’t ignore the appeal of hearing the book’s author speak personally about her experience writing the book. With that in mind, here is a video playlist of that conversation with Ellen Vaughn. 

Jani: At age 14—I can’t believe this—but at age 14, Elisabeth wanted to go to a Christian boarding school in Florida. And this was a hard boarding school. They were very legalistic. There was no dancing, no cards, no theater, no movies even. And you went there for nine months straight. You were not allowed to come home during Christmas or Easter holidays. You had no phone privileges. I mean, this was hard. She wanted to go and she did indeed. She went there for four years, her whole high school experience. And she was introduced to her hero, Amy Carmichael there.

Jani: Elisabeth wrote in her journal that Amy Carmichael was her “first spiritual mother. She showed me the shape of godliness.” We all need women like that. Don’t be Heidi.

Heidi: I was just gonna say to take a moment and say if you don’t have a spiritual mother in your life, pray for one. God has been so faithful to bring me some and what a difference they make in our walks with the Lord.

Jani: They do. They show us the shape of godliness, don’t they?

Jani: Well, after she graduated from her boarding school, she went to Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. And it was interesting for me to read that some there thought she was aloof or stuck up or maybe just super pious or cold because of her sense of reserve. The author said that her detachment was almost an organic part of her personality. But people misinterpreted that.

Jani: Elisabeth longed for a deep relationship with a soulmate. She longed for marriage. She drew up an 11 point list of her ideal man. And the number one was “depth of spirituality such as I never have even plumbed. I want him to want to be a missionary.” That was number one on her list! She longed for a lifetime love of which, and this is a quote of which “time could never increase the certainty or decrease the wonder.” That’s a beautiful description of a lifetime love, isn’t it?

Jani: Well, her junior year, she decided to take Greek. New Testament Greek of all things.

Heidi: And she reminds me of Ray.

Jani: Yes, she excelled in it. She was a linguist at heart. Her brain worked that way. She felt a continual pull towards the mission field. Perhaps she’d do translation work of the New Testament and if she did, she’d want to be able to go back to the original language that it was written. Now Jim Elliot, whom she would fall deeply in love with and eventually marry, was a Greek major, too, and Jim just happened to be rooming with her younger brother Dave. Jim began a five-year courtship with Elisabeth, who was known as “Betty” and was referred to as Betty throughout the book. So I will call her Betty from now on. And this courtship was hard both on Betty and on Jim. It wasn’t easy for either of them. They were seeking the Lord and they wanted what he wanted. But it was hard for them because he didn’t always write it out very clearly.

Jani: Now, Betty had immense patience. Her own trust in God’s leading no matter what reinforced her endurance. Betty wrote, and this is good for me when I need to be patient,

“Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself unanswered questions. It is easier to talk oneself into a decision that has no permanence than to wait patiently without an answer.”

Elisabeth Elliot

Jani: Well, eventually, both Jim and Betty ended up in Ecuador as single missionaries. Eventually, they became engaged and were commissioned to establish a new mission outpost. So they married on October 8, 1953. They had a very short honeymoon, and then a long canoe ride into the jungle with everything they would need to set up house piled high in that canoe. Can you imagine?

Heidi: Can you imagine leaving your honeymoon and having all of your wedding items in a canoe?

Jani: Really.

Heidi: What a different world.

Jani: Yes, yes. She really did give it all up, didn’t she?

Jani: They lived in a small tent, which was barely big enough for the single bed they shared. Betty had to cook outside and the outhouse was just a few yards away. Once Jim killed a tarantula near their sloping bed, the tent leaked every night because it rained every night. And she ate and drank what the natives did. I won’t take time to read some of that. But you can imagine.

Jani: On their one-year anniversary, they moved into a new little house that Jim had built in a different spot, and she was so grateful. Valerie their first and only child was born there in February of 1955. She wrote in her journal, “I wonder if we shall spend the rest of our lives here together. I dream of this home being filled with children and guests. Oh, Lord, let it be.” Little did she know.

Jani: Life there was very strenuous for Betty from eating slugs to helping Eugina—who was her maid of sorts—who while she was caring Valerie at the time, was bitten by a poisonous snake bite. She also had to help deliver babies, breech babies. What a life Betty lived.

Jani: In January, Jim, along with four other men decided to try to reach the Waodani tribe. our listeners might know them, Heidi, as the Aucas but that is now a slang term for the tribe and so we call them the Waodani now. This was a tribe notorious for its savagery and extreme isolation. Jim and the other missionaries have been flying over and dropping gifts and they sensed an opening within the tribe so they flew in and set up a campsite. But on January 8, 1956, all five missionaries were brutally speared to death. They did not defend themselves, although they could have. Although they did try to radio back but were killed before they could.

Jani: A search party was sent out and found all bodies eventually, although they were not easily recognizable. The search party buried the five men there and the wives were taken later to see the site. It was not easy for Betty as a widow, but she carried on doing both Jim’s and her part. She taught in the school there. She had almost 80 letters from home to answer, she had supper to cook, little Valerie had stopped eating during the day but wanted bottles all night so she was up with her. There was also a lot unwelcome attention. She had hundreds of letters from home full of advice regarding her emotions or lack thereof, also regarding marrying again, and she felt obliged to answer many of these. It was just a heavy burden.

Jani: Ten months later, after Jim’s death, Betty was flown back to the United States, by Harper and Brothers, a publishing house, to help with a manuscript about the story of the five missionary staff. And they ended up asking her to write the story. She did, and returned to Ecuador a few months later, on January 15, 1957, just one year after the death of her husband.

Jani: It was a very hard year. But as her biographer says, suffering would be one of the hallmark themes of her life. Her book about Jim’s death was doing very well. It wasn’t just Jim’s death, it was all five of the missionaries. It’s called Through Gates of Splendor, one of the seminal books of the 20th century. If you haven’t read that book, read that book as well: Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliott. And now she began writing her second, which was Jim’s biography, The Shadow of the Almighty.

Jani: Elisabeth wants so much to go to the Waodani. Twenty months later, she made her way there with little baby Val—well, wasn’t quite a baby, she was a toddler now—on her fifth wedding anniversary. Rachel Saint who was Nate Saint’s—one of the married missionaries who went there and was speared to death—his sister older sister, Rachel Saint went with her.

Jani: Betty decided to go home once more, to write a book called The Savage, My Kinsmen about the Waodani. It was very hard because she didn’t want to have to relive the past again. She said writing this was like cutting a jungle path one step at a time. She wasn’t angry at God because of the pain and suffering. She expected pain and suffering in this life. But just because she expected it, it didn’t make it easy. Some of you who are suffering know what that’s like. It’s hard. So she wrote The Savage, My Kinsmen.

Jani: She went back for one more year in Ecuador, and it was filled with introspection and depression. She was emotionally wounded. And her biographer says she really was half dead, partially because she had not a friend who sat with her on this journey. And she was struggling with the evangelical subculture.

Jani: In January, five years since Jim’s death, there was such tension between her and Rachel Saint. There was lack of unity and tolerance. So she went back to Shandia, the house that Jim had built, this was in January of 1961. And in June, she realized that through her books, she had made enough money that she could move back to the States, which is what she did. She built a very simple home in the woods of New Hampshire. And she had vacationed there as a child so she it brought back a lot of warm memories. And she moved back with Valerie.

Jani: I found this funny, Heidi. Valerie was now five years old, and had never really lived in the States during times that she could remember, she wasn’t old enough to remember it. And when she got off the plane, little Valerie who was five years old, got off the plane in new New York, she shouted, “Look mommy, everyone is wearing clothes!” Because she’d grown up in a culture where no one did.

Jani: Well, Elisabeth wrote, spoke, she traveled and fell passionately in love with a fellow writer, Addison Leach, whom she married and who, unfortunately, got cancer. She cared for Addison until he died. And that’s where this part of her story ends, Becoming Elisabeth Elliott. Volume Two is going to come out soon, I hope, and tell us the rest of the story.

Takeaway: 3 Priorities

Jani: But one of the reasons I love this biography and recommend it to our listeners, is because it shows the three priorities. It shows how Elisabeth:

  1. Followed Christ, she had a healthy willingness to die for Christ. The daily self-denial required for one’s soul to flourish. She believed success was not how things turned out in this life, nor in our understanding all the God is doing. She believed success was in obeying God. She would say, “Show me what you want me to do, Lord, and I’ll do it no matter what the cost.” She had a reckless abandon for God and I want that in my life. I know you do too, Heidi.
  2. She loved the body of Christ. It was hard being a missionary. Rachel Saint and she had a very hard relationship. It wasn’t easy. They were from two different mission organizations requiring different things. Rachel was not open to Betty’s help and even questioned her faith at times, which was so hard. Sometimes, this showed me it is impossible to reconcile this side of heaven. But Betty kept her faith in Christ and kept trying to mend the relationship with Rachel. So I learned something about the body of Christ.
  3. The joined work of Christ: I also learned something about the work of Christ in the world. Betty was a missionary. She was a linguist, a mother, a powerful writer, she wrote dozens of books, she spoke at conferences, and retreats all over the world and hosted her own radio show. The work of Christ was her life and that has encouraged me in my own life in my 70s to keep the work of Christ as my life and not to hold back.

Jani: So I really appreciated this book. I was surprised at how cerebral and mystical and reflective Betty was and how difficult it was with Rachel Saint. But I was challenged and encouraged to do the next thing. And so I want to close this little biographical book report about Elisabeth Elliot, with a poem that she loved. She did not write it. She wrote that sometimes she would sink into helplessness and despair and she would read this poem, and it would help her. Maybe it will help some of our listeners as it has helped me, Heidi. It’s from an old Saxon poem.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Author unknown, quoted by Elisabeth Elliot

Jani: So I want to encourage our listeners to do the next thing today. God bless you, and may He restore your soul as you do the next thing.

Biography Ideas

Here is a “shortlist” of 25+ Christian Biographies that have inspired and encouraged us in our faith! We pray that they might encourage you as well.

  1. Susanna Wesley — Arnold Dallimore
  2. The Hiding Place — Corrie ten Boom
  3. Stepping Heavenward—Elizabeth Prentiss
  4. Elizabeth Prentiss: More Love to Thee—Sharon James
  5. Mothers of Famous Men—Archer Wallace
  6. Abigail Adams—Janet Whitney
  7. Mrs. Robert E. Lee: The Lady of Arlington—John Perry
  8. Martha Washington—Patricia Brady
  9. It’s My Turn—Ruth Bell Graham
  10. Dream Big: The Henrietta Mears Story—Earl O. Roe
  11. Let Me Be a Woman—Elisabeth Elliot
  12. These Strange Ashes—Elisabeth Elliot
  13. Through Gates of Splendor—Elisabeth Elliot
  14. Amy Carmichael: A Chance to Die—Elisabeth Elliot
  15. Trial and Triumph: Stories from Church History—Richard Hannula
  16. Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God—David McCasland
  17. Yesterday, Today, and Forever—Maria von Trapp
  18. Marriage to a Difficult Man: Jonathan and Sarah Edwards—Elisabeth Dodds
  19. Jonathan and Sarah: An Uncommon Union—Edna Gerstner
  20. Wives of the Signers—Harry & Mary Green; David Barton
  21. If I Perish—Esther Ahn Kim
  22. Evidence Not Seen—Darlen Deibler Rose
  23. I Dared Call Him Father—Bilquis Sheikh
  24. Mary Slessor of Calabar—W. P. Livingstone
  25. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy—Eric Metaxas
  26. Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God—Noel Piper
  27. Becoming Elisabeth Elliot—Ellen Vaughn
View All Biographies

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at

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He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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