Summer Reading Suggestions [Part 3]

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Episode Synopsis

Jani shares from captivating biographies of two of her Christian heroines, Sarah Edwards and Mary Slessor. How did they deal with hindrances and hardships on their pathway to Heaven?

Audio Transcript

Heidi: Welcome everyone to He Restores My Soul with Heidi Howerton and…

Jani: Jani Ortlund.

Heidi: And as always, it is good to be with you today. Jani, I’m just so thankful to come and be with you and talk and to just sit in the Lord’s presence. The Lord is so kind and so gracious, and he loves us so much. So how refreshing it is to spend, you know, 15 to 30 minutes with you just in his presence and talking about him.

Jani: What a privilege it is, Heidi, isn’t it? For the Lord to give us this time together? Two different generations of women sharing how he’s working in our lives. Aren’t you grateful we have some listeners out there too who have engaged with us through our website and let us know what’s helpful to them.

Heidi: Yes, we love hearing from you guys. So if you have an Ask Jani question or anything on your heart, feel free to go to our website at and put that in there.

Continuing Our Summer Reading Discussions

Heidi: So today, Jani, we are going to continue on talking about summer reading, and what we’re reading, things that have been helpful to us. We’re specifically focusing on Christian biographies.

But First…How Do You Find Time To Read?!

Heidi: But I have a question for you before we start, I know a lot of our listeners are young moms, meaning moms that have young children, or they even have middle school and high school aged children and they’re so busy that kids are going places, they’re up in the middle of the night and I think a burning question on everyone’s mind is Jani, you promote reading so much. When you were a young mom how did you find time to read?

Jani: Heidi, well, let me start by saying I know it’s not easy and I don’t have the perfect answer. I wasn’t the perfect reader as a young mom. I understand that time is at a premium and mental energy is also at a premium, Heidi. Young moms are so tired. I remember anytime I had a minute to sit down and open a book, my eyes would close because I just needed the rest. That’s okay. It doesn’t last forever.

Two Tips To Create Time To Read

Jani: But two things I would offer for advice and I’d love to get your feedback on this, Heidi. One is, as I passed through the six week mark, where the, you know, I was getting past postpartum and the baby was starting to maybe sleep for two hours at a stretch, and I would still be getting up at night. But I would find, especially as we welcomed more new babies into our household, that I needed to set up a daily pattern for the children and for myself. And so our mornings, I never would have time to read in the mornings other than my quiet time, which I tried to do before everybody got up. Not always successful, but tried.

Jani: Mornings were play time, I’d get organized for dinner, things like that. But after lunch, we had either naptime or reading time. And it was just quiet time in our house for about an hour, hour and a half. And I would take that time, I wouldn’t write bills, I wouldn’t, nowadays, I would say I wouldn’t go to my phone or computer but I would take that time to read as well. And once the children gave up their naps, about three years of age, they could join me in the living room where I was reading with a stack of books and we’d read together. Sometimes I’d read out loud to them but sometimes I’d say, “Oh, it’s mommy’s time to read, I need to read this book. Here are some for you to read. Let’s set the timer for 15 minutes, and then we’ll talk.” So in the afternoon, early afternoon was really important for our family to establish reading time.

Jani: Also, evenings, I had to learn to turn off the television. I sometimes, my brain, it just felt so dead that I just wanted to numb it with a TV movie or something. And some evenings I would. But I tried two or three evenings a week, once the children were down, which usually was between 8 and 8:30, to take that next hour before I fell asleep to read. And, you know, I could find that time two or three nights a week. I wasn’t busy every night and exhausted every night.

Jani: So those were two ways that that I found, I mean when I was discipling in those days, we had assignments to read so I needed to lead our discipleship group in reading and the Lord helped me that way, Heidi. What do you think?

Heidi’s Routine For Reading

Heidi: Oh, I think your comments are so helpful. I do a lot of them in my own life. I know when I was in your discipleship group and when I’ve led past discipleship groups, I often used my children’s naptime in the afternoon. And that’s when I did my quiet time, because it was hard for me to get up in the morning and spend time with the Lord. So I did my quiet time in the afternoon during nap time, and I’d read my Bible first. And I’d make it a priority. As soon as I read my Bible and prayed to sit down and read one to two chapters to keep up with our discipleship group.

Heidi: Then as my kids got a little bit older, and I was able to get up in the mornings and make that time, I moved my quiet time to the mornings. And sometimes I read a chapter or two after I finished my quiet time. And we just started our rhythm again, which reminds me of what you just said, where we have reading time every afternoon. And so my boys who don’t know how to read yet, are listening to audiobooks. So the boys listen to audio books, and we say for 45 minutes, it’s our reading time, so they listen to audiobooks for 45 minutes. They’re going through the Magic Treehouse series. And Hannah, who is older and knows how to read, she has a book that she reads. And then I have a book that I read. And so that that afternoon time has been such a great pattern.

Heidi: And then at night, Mike and I will put our cell phones away. I think I mentioned this a few episodes ago, where we’ll leave our cell phones in the kitchen. And that gives us 30 to 45 minutes of time together and time to read at night without any distractions. And the last thing I’ll note, I felt so convicted a few episodes ago, when we were talking and you said, “Do your children see your cell phone in your hand more or a book in your hand more?” And that really touched my heart. And so I’ve tried now to grab a book with me when we’re in the car and we’re running errands or we’re at a sports game and I’m trying to not pick up my phone as often and instead pick up a book and even if it’s just reading a page or two here. I’m trying to use that time to enjoy a book instead of aimlessly scroll on my cell phone.

Jani: Wow, good for you, Heidi, I’m so proud of you. I didn’t have the temptation of a cell phone when my children were young. I think it is harder for young moms. Especially if their husband is texting them during the day or they have doctor’s appointments that are coming through. It’s hard. So good for you.

Heidi: Well, it’s hard though, young mama. We see you.

Jani: Yes, we kind of get it. Heidi gets it more than I do. She understands.

Christian Biographies Help Us Process Our Own Lives

Jani: Well, speaking of good books, what we thought we’d do today, and in our next podcast is share some that we have enjoyed. And again, we want to offer to you biographies, Christian biographies. I have found them so helpful in my own life. Because I know if you’re at all like me, sometimes I just get filled with self pity. And I think, “Oh, my life is so hard. I have so much to do.” I find when I get involved in someone else’s life, I feel so blessed by the Lord. I have it’s so easy compared to many of the women I read about. And I just say, “Oh Lord, I’m sorry. Help me to trust you more.” And it gives me a vision and a motivation to live above some of the daily complaints I’m tempted to rehearse in my mind.

Book #1: Jonathan And Sarah: An Uncommon Union

By Edna Gerstner

Featured Book

Jonathan And Sarah: An Uncommon Union Using the actual diaries of the Edwards family members, Edna Gerstner tells the story of their life together. This is charming, delightful reading in which we are given a rare glimpse into the private life of one of history’s great figures.

Jani: So today, I’m going to share two of my favorite books with you and Heidi is going to chime in as she sees and then in our next podcast, we’re each going to share a book. The first one I want to share with you is about Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. Now Jonathan Edwards is one of our family’s heroes and Sarah has become one of mine. Sarah was Jonathan’s wife. The name of the book I’d like to share about is called Jonathan and Sarah: An Uncommon Union. It’s by Edna Gerstner. And this just is a biography of truly eight years of their life, the last eight years of their life together.

Setting The Stage Of Sarah’s Life

Jani: But before we get into those eight years, let me just give you a brief setting into where they were living. Sarah was only 17 years old when she married Jonathan Edwards, who was 23 years old and they lived before the American Revolution. I mean, these were early years in America. This book, as I said, focuses on the last eight years of their life together. And it was after a very hard time when Jonathan had been dismissed from the most lucrative parish in New England at that time.

Jani: They had 11 children, and they went out to Stockbridge and built a home. Now the French and British were fighting and both countries were trying to get the Indians to fight for them. Sara and Jonathan’s home became a hostel. Sara was very hospitable. If you read this book, you would be amazed at all the meals she made and people she cared for in the year 1755. Now think back how, if you know American history, how far back that is before the revolution. In 1755, their home became almost a fort, and soldiers built very high walls around it. She had four soldiers living with them along with their 11 children. She had to spend much time searching for food and fuel as she provided meals to the builders and refugees. This book says that she provided over 180 meals to soldiers and to over 800 to refugees. It talked, Heidi, you and I would appreciate this with my husband being a hunter, it talked of her searching in the forest for food she’d look for turnips, wild turnips to cook with, and even wild game, such as squirrel. Would you like some squirrels too?

Heidi: No, I don’t think so.

Jani: Can you imagine? But they had to do that.

Heidi: I can’t imagine raising 11 children and then going hunting or looking for food?

Jani: Yes. Well, obviously, she taught those kids to help her. Oh, my goodness. Jonathan worked 13 hour days. I mean, when you think of it, he’d get up at 4 or 5 in the morning. And he’d work till five5or 6 at night. Then he’d come home in the evenings and be with the children.

Jani: It was said that he and Sarah had a rare and beautiful relationship. He would speak to others of her mystical communion with God. He could see God in his wife’s life. I love that. And I’m challenged by that. I want Ray to see God in my life, Heidi. I know you want the same for Mike.

Jani: Well, Sarah was very disciplined. I was challenged by that. She ran the household. She taught the children. Both their studies, she homeschooled them and their chores. There were daily duties and tasks for everyone to keep the house running smoothly. The biographer said there was a choice combination in Sarah’s life and in her personality of both intelligence with extreme sensitivity. Sometimes we’ll see in a woman one or the other. A brilliant woman who’s not quite as sensitive and relational, or a highly relational woman who doesn’t quite have the mental acuity needed. Sarah had both and she used both.

Sarah’s Challenges In Life

Jani: This book also spoke of her frequent illness, sometimes she was very ill. In 1752, she was very near death. She also had to nurse Jonathan’s frequent bouts with fevers, chills, fatigue. Sounds like COVID, doesn’t it? But in every illness, and in every trial, they resigned themselves to the will of God. Let me read one of her letters to one of her daughters, Mary, about this very fact of resigning herself to the will of God. She was missing her older daughter, Mary who lived far away but I can empathize with her there. Sarah says this in a letter to Mary,

“Though you are at so great a distance from us. Yet God is everywhere. You are much out of the reach of our care. But you are every moment in his hands. We have not the comfort of seeing you, but he sees you, his eyes always upon you. And if you may but live sensibly near to God and have his gracious presence, it is no matter if you are far distance from us. I had rather you should remain hundreds of miles distant and have God near to you by his spirit than to have you always with us and live at a distant from God.”

Sarah Edwards

Jani: Isn’t that beautiful? I really appreciate that Heidi because all four of our kids live at a distance from us. And I was challenged by that. I’d much rather have them near to God and distant from me than near me and distant from him.

Losing Her Loved Ones

Jani: Well, Jonathan, near the end of his life course, neither Sara nor Jonathan knew it would be the end of his life. But near the end, he accepted the post as president of Princeton University. It was known as the University of New Jersey at that time, but it was in Princeton and became Princeton. The whole family was excited, they were looking forward to this move, and Jonathan went ahead to assume the post. Sarah would pack up the house and help with moving and all of that, as we moms know about.

Jani: Jonathan lead the way there in Princeton, in the smallpox vaccination, it was up to politicians and the church leaders to lead the way. They’re both politically and religiously, and then socially. Well, he got his smallpox vaccination. But he died from it, as did their 27 year old daughter, who had two children of her own, she was already a widow.

Jani: Now, Sarah, of course, there are no telephones or any way for her to know this. She heard about Jonathan’s death before she heard about her daughter’s death, her daughter died two weeks later. I’d like to read her letter to her daughter, that she wrote after she heard Sarah heard of Jonathan’s death. She said this,

“My very dear child, [who was a grieving widow herself] what shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with the dark cloud [the cloud of her husband and father’s death]. Oh, that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouth.”

Sarah Edwards (in a letter to her daughter, Esther)

Jani: She’s saying, you know, if we can’t stop at speaking out, let’s just put our hands over our mouth to keep from speaking out.

“The Lord has done this. He has made me adore His goodness, that we had Jonathan so long with us. But my God lives, and he has my heart. Oh, what a legacy he has left us. We are all given to God. And there I am. And love to be. Your ever affectionate mother, Sarah Edwards.”

Sarah Edwards (in a letter to her daughter, Esther)

Jani: Now her dear daughter, Esther, never lived to see that letter but I love the spirit within Sarah that wrote it.

The Final Letter From Jonathan

Jani: I do want to read one communication that I found very helpful between Jonathan and Sarah. After Jonathan received the vaccine, he became ill and he realized he was dying. So he wrote Sarah. Now Sarah did not receive this until after Jonathan died, but this is what he said.

“Tell my dear wife, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue forever. And I hope she will be supported under so great a trial and submit cheerfully to the will of God.”

Jonathan Edwards (in a letter to his wife, Sarah)

Jani: That was Jonathan’s final wish. I believe Sarah carried out that wish. And I look to her as a hero of mine. The frowns of God did not dissuade her of God’s goodness. She believed in his goodness through the ups and downs. Her family spoke well of her in this. The Indians all loved her. She served her husband and the world well by freeing Jonathan to fulfill God’s call on his life. And therefore, she could give him up at death and not fuss and feel and fret in her grief. Yes, she grieved, but she grieved under the goodness of God. And that restored my soul. I hope that our listeners might pick up a copy of An Uncommon Union, The story of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards.

Heidi: Oh, Jani, what a beautiful story as you were sharing it. I just kept thinking of what the Lord’s been putting on my heart lately about tending the garden that God’s put in front of us. And Sara sounds like such a faithful worker to do that. You know, she wasn’t going out and searching for new things. She wasn’t fretting about anything. But it sounds like day after day, she faithfully cared for her husband and freedom to do his work. She cared for her home, she cooked food for her family. She cared for the soldiers that God brought into her garden. I just love that. She just faithfully did the work the Lord put in front of her day after day. How encouraging.

Jani: Yes. If you need that encouragement, oh, pick up this book and let the Lord speak to you through it.


By W. P. Livingstone

Featured Book

Mary Slessor Of Calabar: A pioneering woman missionary hailing from Aberdeen in Scotland, Mary Slessor’s journey to Nigeria set an example to all Christian missions; she gained the trust, respect and thanks of the local peoples, and introduced the gospel of Christ.

Jani: Well, we do want to share from one more book briefly in this podcast, and it’s an old book. It was printed in 1916.

Heidi: I didn’t even know they printed books back then, Jani.

Jani: It’s really an old one. I’m pretty sure you can find it on Amazon. But I have, look at this old copy, Heidi. Isn’t this wonderful?

Heidi: I wish you guys were here with us. You could see Jani’s old old book and it doesn’t have very many colors. Oh, it looks classic.

Jani: Yes. I’ve just loved reading it and gained so much from this. The name of the book is Mary Slessor of Calabar: Pioneer Missionary, and it’s by W. P. Livingston. I wanted to share this book with you because it’s about a single woman. And I know we have many single women who listen to the podcast and I want to encourage you in this single woman’s gift of her life to God.

Mary Slessor’s Background

Jani: Mary Slessor was a very complex woman. She suffered from chronic pain all of her life. She had malarial problems after she moved to Africa. But she was a martyr to her pain. I mean, she just did not give into it. Her days were filled with toil and yet she was loving and tender. She was shrewd and practical and yet really very sentimental as well. There was often a darkness that hovered about her. She struggled with depression. I appreciated the biographer sharing that with us. She was often even worried, which we sometimes speak of as being a sin. And yet she had a great sense of humor. She was such a complex one.

Jani: Oh my goodness, this book speaks of surrender, of dedication, of unwearied devotion. You know, she had a strong character. But Heidi, I really don’t believe that that ensures greatness, just a strong character. I believe it was Mary’s absolute unselfishness that gave her the peace and the strength that she needed to keep sacrificing to the Lord. This is for you, Lord, I am your servant. I trust you in the midst of all this hardness. I loved reading about her life. So let me share briefly with our listeners. Just a little bit about Mary.

Jani: She was born in my favorite country in the world, Scotland, up in Aberdeen, Scotland. And that was where Ray and I lived for four years right outside of Aberdeen so I can picture what her life might have been like. She was born way back in 1848 into a very poor family. Her father drank all the time. She was the second of seven children. And at age 11, she had to start working in the factory half day, she’d go to school part day and then go right to the factory. By the time she turned 14, she had to leave school. And she worked six days a week, six hours a day in the factory to provide for her family. So she was a hard worker.

Jani: She had heard in her church, her mom took the seven children to church, she heard of Calabar, which was a settlement in Africa. In 1846, it was the heart of the slave trade. And the church wanted to speak into that. Mary said because it was a post of danger, therefore, she felt it was a post of honor. And she wanted to go. She wanted to be a missionary. So at age 28, she sailed to Calabar.

One Stone At A Time

Jani: Heidi, the first 30 years of her missionary work, she only had 174 converts. That’s five to six converts each year. Think how slow that would have been those first 30 years. She said she was building a lighthouse stone by stone. I think we as women sometimes need to see our lives. That way, we expect immediate results. We want our children to be perfect. We want them to be brilliant, whatever the need is, we want our budget to work, we want to get into that new house now. But we are building light houses, that means a house where Jesus, the light of the world, can shine out. But sometimes we’re just building it stone by stone.

Jani: Mary deliberately gave up everything for her master and accepted the consequences, whatever they were. In Africa, where she was serving, twins were seen as a curse. So you moms of twins can really feel this. Those of us who know of twins or love twins can understand how horrific this is. If a mother had twins, she had to leave them to die. They were like an evil curse. So Mary, put an end to that. She would go into the jungle and find them and try to feed them. She saved over 51 sets of twins. But there wasn’t a lot of progress for her to report back to her church. She wrote them,

“It comes to this: Christ sent me to preach the gospel, and he will look after the results.”

Mary Slessor

Jani: Wow, that’s really good for us, Heidi, these young moms, women who are listening wherever we are, Christ has sent us into a particular time in history into a particular situation and setting and so we serve him where he asks, and we leave him to look after the results,

Heidi: I think of our moms that work too and are the women that listen that are single and working to remember that, you know, God has put me in this job, he’s put me in this place, so I’m going to serve him faithfully there day after day and let him be in charge of the results. I think that would have helped me when I was a nurse in the neonatal ICU to just remember that here is where God’s put me and I’m going to be faithful to serve him here and allow him to bring the fruit here and trust him with the rest.

Jani: Yes, that’s so good.

Entering Into Other’s Difficulties

Jani: A couple other things before I close this off. I think it’s interesting that all the children loved Mary. They felt safe with her. And she began becoming a figure of governmental power over some of the natives there. She ruled for about 100 miles around her little mission compound. They would come to her and let her be the judge. She showed much courage, much self sacrifice and a lot of solitude. She was always forging ahead looking for new ways to serve Jesus. She won the government staff around her by her sympathy. She entered into their lives. I like this about her it said,

“She appreciated their difficulties and temptations. And she acted towards them as a wise mother would.”

Mary Slessor of Calabar: Pioneer Missionary

Jani: One person wrote about her, “She was a true woman.” Oh, we want to be true women. “She was a true woman with a heart full of motherly affection. To be with her was an education. One might enter her house feeling pessimistic, but always lifted an optimist.” Don’t you love that?

BONUS! Torchlighters Episode

Episode 20 of The Torchlighters: Heroes of the Faith animated series tells the story of Mary Slessor. The Trailer is below! We still encourage you to add the biography to your reading list (that’s the whole point of this episode after all!), but we can’t ignore the impact that watching her story can play on kids and adults if you’d like to share it with others!

Heidi: May that be true of us when people enter our homes. Lord, help us bring your refreshing spirit to everyone that comes.

Jani: Yes. Well, she only lived to be 66 years old, which in Africa was a long time in those days, but to our date might not seem as long. But the Lord preserved her until she was 66. And when she died, she was called the “Good White Ma who lived alone”. I would encourage our listeners to read this read about Mary Slessor of Calabar. If you’re struggling with self pity, I often do and this book has really helped me with that. Or if you need a shot in the arm of faith, you want your faith to be expanded, deepened, encouraged, read about Mary Slessor. The Lord will use her in your life as he’s used her in mine. And Heidi and I pray, as you do read this summer, that he will use these Christian biographies to help restore your souls as he has promised to do.

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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