Ryan Haack Does Stuff

And he does it all one-handed

Category: Book Reviews

The Anxious Christian by Rhett Smith

A couple years ago I was standing in the back of a rusty pick-up truck, driving through Jacmel, Haiti.

“Ryan, you’ve really been relaxed, just going with the flow.  Are you always like this?” (my pastor) Steve’s mom asked.

Steve looked at me and we both burst out laughing.

No.  No, I’m not.

I’m a high-anxiety kind of guy.  A worry-wort, as it were.  “Runs in the family,” my cousin Heidi told me once.

When I saw Rhett Smith’s new book, The Anxious Christian, I literally laughed like this: “HAHAHA!”  Literally.  And I hate when people use the word “literally” incorrectly.

Anyway, I ordered it immediately and was not disappointed.

The question in the sub-title should have alerted me to Smith’s main point, but for some reason it still blew me away.  Can God Use Your Anxiety For Good?  I started going to counseling to get a handle on my anxiety a couple years ago, but for some reason I had never thought of this idea!  Smith says, “Kierkegaard referred to anxiety as our ‘best teacher’ because of its ability to keep us in a struggle that strives for a solution, rather than opting to forfeit the struggle and slide into a possible depression.”

It’s important to distinguish between good and bad anxiety, but of course God can use the good kind!  For example, whenever you attempt something new and you’re unsure of the outcome, anxiety exists.  What do we do with it, though?  We can either run and hide, or we can recognize it and go to God with it.  “When faced with anxiety we feel exposed, naked, and vulnerable.  Hiding and covering up is typically how we respond when we feel those things,” Smith says.  He goes on to say, “Perhaps anxiety is an act of grace because it encourages us to face our fears, so that we can then choose freely to follow God where He is calling us to.”

Smith addresses the notion within many Christian traditions that anxiety is somehow un-Biblical or even sinful.  Philippians 4:6, for example, I now see as an invitation rather than a command.  Choosing to suppress anxiety or to make others feel as though there is something wrong with them because they get anxious is not only unhelpful, but dangerous.

I also loved Smith’s point that we are always in the wilderness.  “There is just no way around it,” he says.  “The reality of life is that we are constantly moving from one big transition to another.  At moments we may experience a respite from the journey, but that doesn’t alter the fact that life is rooted in the wilderness experience of continuous transition and choice.”  Whoa.  And this journey we’re on doesn’t always go as quickly as we want it to.  We live in a society where everything is go go go and efficiency is king.  If you’re not DOING, you’re not…anything.  And “when we realize God is not in a hurry and we are, our anxiety begins to stir within us.”  Donald Miller talked about this at the Story Line conference when he said the Bible uses the analogy of agriculture almost exclusively when talking about personal growth.  Agriculture is not fast, nor is it easy.  My friend Andrew is starting a CSA and has run into problem after problem, reliant on things (i.e. rain) that are out of his control.  He has to be patient and strategic and he has to work hard for a long time before he sees the fruit of his labors.

We must do the same.  And we can expect to have some anxious moments when we do so.  The good news is, God can use that anxiety for good.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of what you’ll get out of The Anxious Christian.  It’s easy to read, highly applicable, and incredibly powerful.

Now stop freaking out and go get a copy.

You won’t regret it.

You can find Rhett Smith at his blog, follow him on Twitter and “like” him on Facebook.

88 Great Daddy-Daughter Dates by Rob and Joanna Teigen

I was going to try and write a clever review about Rob and Joanna Teigen’s book 88 Great Daddy-Daughter Dates.

Instead, I’m going to do this.  Because it’s straight to the point, just like their book.

I’m a dude.

I have two daughters.

More often than not, I’m at a loss when my wife asks (read “tells”) me to “go do something with this girls.”

I know I’m not alone.

Rob and Joanna have come to our rescue.

88 Great Daddy-Daughter Dates is filled with exactly what the title promises.  It’s more than that, though.  Each idea is presented in an easy to read and understand format.  The “Grab” part tells you what you’ll need.  The “Go” part tells you what you’re going to do.  And the “Grow” parts gives you a little lesson to learn with your special little girl.  That’s my favorite part.  It even gives you a prayer!

So, there you have it.  A no-frills review of a no-frills book.

If you’re a dad to daughters, or a wife to a dad of daughters, or a friend of a wife of a dad…you get the point.

This book is exactly as advertised.  And it’s great.

You won’t regret getting it.

Available now at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Starting Over “A Manifesto On Being Yourself” By Michael Perkins

Michael Perkins is a good dude.

He’s someone who wants to “change the world…for the better.”

I believe he’s doing that.

Not too long ago, Michael had a “successful blog.”  He got to a point where that success wasn’t satisfying, though.  He realized that while his blog was successful in traditional terms, it was really just like everything else out there.  It was formulaic and he believed his message was getting lost in the shuffle.  So, he shut ‘er down and started something new.

Michael created The Handwritten, a blog that keeps things simple.  All the posts are handwritten (duh) and are usually poems or short thoughts about various verses from scripture.  They make you think.  Many times I’ve thought to myself, “Huh?” and then clicked on the link to the verse and then understood it.  I like that.  He even let me guest post once.  Ok, twice.

Michael has written a short eBook that chronicles his journey to true success.

It’s unlike anything else you’ll read.  For one, the whole thing is handwritten.  It’s short (it’ll probably take you 10 minutes to read, tops) and powerful.  There’s no fluff.  And it’ll make you think.  One of my favorites lines is, “If you want to make a difference you WILL be criticized.”  That’s harsh, and oftentimes I don’t understand why it has to be true, but it is.

Michael’s perspective is that we need to create art that we believe in.  When we can stand behind our message and create art that reflects it, that’s true success.

Anyway, Michael says it better than I can.  Take a minute and go get a copy for yourself.  It’s free.

And you won’t regret it.

Get your copy here.

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie

In April of 2009, I bought my first pair of TOMS shoes.  They were Khaki Canvas, and I loved them.  Mostly, I loved the story, though.  I put the TOMS flag that you get with your purchase up in my cube at work and it seemed like every day someone would ask, “TOMS? What the heck is that?”  Then I’d tell them about the one-for-one business model; how, for every pair you purchase, a pair is given away to a child in need.  It was fun.  And it made me feel good.  In January of 2010, I wore my TOMS on my first trip to Jacmel, Haiti.  While there, I thought, “Why not really get into this and just give my pair away?”  So, I gave them to a young man named Senglay.  Watching him run around and play soccer in them made me feel so proud and happy and useful.  How many products can you say lead to that kind of experience?

Me and Senglay

That’s one of Blake Mycoskie‘s main points in his new book, Start Something That Matters.  If you’re starting a business, a non-profit, or a new project, make it an experience for your customer.  Give them a story to latch onto; something they can be passionate about and excited to share with others.  Start Something That Matters not only tells the story of how Blake did this with TOMS shoes, but gives other examples of people who were passionate about an issue and set-out to bring attention to it and ultimately attempt to fix it.  People like Scott Harrison and charity:water.

Start Something is an easy read.  I finished it in two days.  It’s clear and powerful and inspiring.  Blake talks about his story and how to find yours, which is really the first step.  He gets practical at the end of each chapter and shares a number of ideas, pieces of advice and at times, links to other helpful resources.  I appreciate Blake’s vulnerability, also.  There’s a whole chapter about facing your fears, which I thought was incredibly insightful and helpful.  It’s just one of those things you can kind of forget, ya know?  “Blake Mycoskie was scared?  He didn’t have any money or resources or know-how?  Wow.”  He also shares his philosophy on leadership.  “Servant leaders realize that their primary job isn’t about figuring out what they can get done and cross off their to-do list, but how many people they can help get thing crossed off their own to-do lists,” he says.  “So, as a leader, your job is to help others do their jobs better.”

In the last chapter, Blake pushes the reader to take action.  “The most important step of all is the first step. Start something!” he says.  “You don’t have to start something with a goal of saving the world.  If whatever you do helps just one person, you’ve done something wonderful.”  Honestly, that’s important to hear from someone who is changing the world.  Each of us can start doing something that matters.  Like my friends Mitchell and Carolyn.  In conjunction with our church, they opened Redamte Coffee House on State Street in Madison, WI, with the intention of reaching our community and the world through coffee.  Buying local and organic, hosting events bringing attention to child trafficking, gathering people to watch TED Talks on Tuesdays and have discussions, having Meal4Meal Mondays where every meal you buy provides one to an orphan in Haiti (and Thirsty Thursdays where every drink equals a gallon of clean water in Haiti)…they have started something that matters.  They are making a difference in the world and I’m proud to be a part of that.

In my own life, I’m starting something that matters, too.  I was born missing my left forearm and within the last year or so, my eyes have been opened to the impact I can have in the world.  The other day I posted a blog soliciting ideas about what people would like to see me do one-handed.  Tie my shoes, cut a steak, wash the dishes…I have two pages of ideas already and I’m getting more every day!  That post has been viewed over 700 times already.  But you know what has affected me the most?  The comments and emails from parents that say, “My 10 year-old is so excited to see these!” and “I can’t wait to ask my 7 year-old what she wants to see you do!  Thanks for being willing to do this!”  It’s incredibly humbling and empowering.  And who knows where this will go?  I said to my wife, “How great would it be if someday I end-up getting to travel around the world, sharing my story and telling people they’re awesome?”

I believe that can happen.


Now, for writing what I thought about his book, Blake has given me a second copy to give away FOR FREE.

Here’s the contest:

First, Tweet my review or post it on Facebook.  Something like, “Win a FREE copy of @BlakeMycoskie’s (founder of @TOMS) new book: Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie”

Then, over the next week, tell me about what you’re going to start.  Remember, the goal doesn’t have to be to change the world (though it could be).  It just has to matter.  I’ll pick my favorite idea on December 2nd and that person will get their own copy of Start Something That Matters.

I can’t wait to hear your ideas!

What are YOU going to start?

Abigail Thomas Writes Books You Should Read

This isn’t a literary review.  Or a book report.  It’s me telling you to read some books written by Abigail Thomas.  Like many of you, I read and write, and Ms. Thomas’s work will make your life better.  Trust me.  She has written numerous novels, but the two books of hers I’m most familiar with are regarding memoir; a genre I love.

First, there’s her memoir A Three Dog Life.  I’ve read this three times now.  It’s heart-breaking and hilarious.  At its core, this is the story of how Abigail deals with life after her husband is involved in a tragic accident.  It is not a how-to book, though.  Far from it.  Abigail’s honesty and self-deprecation remind me of Anne Lamott.  (Coincidentally, Thomas was one of Lamott’s editors for a number of years)  So often Thomas tells it in such a way to say, “I know this probably isn’t the best way I could have handled it, but, well…that’s what happened.  That’s me.”  I appreciate that transparency.  In one of my favorite parts of the book, she tells about an encounter with a homeless woman and her small children.  She doesn’t share it to illuminate our minds as to how we should interact in that situation.  She simply shared her experience; her trepidations, her generosity, her hesitation, her embarrassment, ultimately…her heart.  It didn’t make me think, “Yeah, that’s what I should do!”  Rather, it made me ask myself, “Huh, what would I do in that situation?”  Beautiful.  A Three Dog Life is a masterpiece of memoir.



Second, is the aptly titled work, Thinking About Memoir.  The coolest thing about this little book?  It’s published by AARP.  Ok, that’s not the coolest thing, but I had to mention it.  Like I said, this is a little book (128 small pages), but it packs a punch.  I love that I can bring it anywhere.  And really, it’s basically a teaching course on memoir.  Thomas demonstrates how to write memoir (by doing it herself) and then asks the reader questions throughout to seamlessly apply what we’ve been learning.  It’s brilliant.  For instance, she tells us about her penchant for buying things on eBay that she really doesn’t need (that’s putting it mildly), and then says, “Write two pages of restraint” and immediately after that, “Write two pages of how did I get here? and the accompanying facial expression(s).”  Seriously, if I had a nickel for every time I talked to myself while reading this book…well, I’d at least have enough money to pay for the book.  My head is constantly shaking because of how witty she is.  Ok, sorry.  You get the idea, right?  I love this book.  If you’re a writer, seriously, get it.

I’ve been lucky enough to hear back from Ms. Thomas (via email) a couple of times and she has been nothing but gracious and sweet and encouraging.  I hope to meet her in person one day.  Until then, I will continue to learn from her and look forward to her next book.  I suggest you do the same.  You will be a better reader, writer and person because of it.

Who Uses The Word “Mojo” Anymore?

Bryan Allain, that’s who.

Bryan, a humorist blogger, has written an eBook he’s titled, “31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo.”

See? Why would I lie to you?













If you currently blog or have the desire to do so, this eBook is for you.  It’s easily consumable.  It’s like a hilariously delicious milkshake.  As long as you’re not lactose intolerant.

This is what Bryan did: He took a lot of stuff he knows about blogging (he’s been doing it for ten years) and then he wrote it down for us all to read.  He says, “It’s the funniest book on blogging you’ll ever read or I’ll punch myself in the neck” and at this point, I cannot think of a funnier eBook on blogging, therefore, I cannot request the self-neck-punch.  Dangit.

Sandwiched between samples of Bryan’s somewhat random and occasionally mean-spirited humor (familiarize yourself with the author) are bite-sized chapters filled with advice, ideas and challenges to move the reader toward blogging re-mojo-ing.  In all seriousness, you’ll learn a ton from Bryan.  One of my favorite pieces of advice was about making a personal connection with your readers.  He says to “…share little details about yourself from time to time.  Think of these details like salt.  You wouldn’t want to make a meal out of salt, just like you wouldn’t want to have an entire blog focused around the tiny details of your life.  But when you sprinkle these details into your posts here and there, you give them a little bit of extra flavor that provides more opportunities to connect with your readers.”


So, in summary, if you’re a blogger and you’re itching to get rid of $5, you could do worse than buying Bryan’s eBook.  He came up with a few reasons to buy it, also.  If you’re really on the fence, I’ll say this: Bryan seems like a good dude.  He knows what he’s doing.  It’s worth the $5.

You can get Bryan’s eBook on Amazon or at his blog.

Have you read Bryan’s eBook? What did you think? If not, what has been your favorite blogging resource to date? Not, like, a dinner and a movie date.  Just, like, that you’ve already read.

Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh

This is a review I did back in January of 2010.  Adam is as good a dude as he is a writer.

In his book Introverts in the Church, author Adam S. McHugh admirably represents those of us who are sometimes perceived as “the Eeyores of the social scene.” Not only does he give voice to how introverts think, feel and process, but he lays a solid foundation of how to experience healing, embrace our introvertedness, and be ourselves in ministry and as church-goers.

McHugh explains the extroverted nature of the American church today and the expectations we have that our leaders must be extroverted in order to do their job. He then debunks those sentiments. While extroverts excel in many areas of leadership, there needs to be a balance, which introverts provide. He clearly and compellingly describes how the introverted personality affects our spiritual lives, our relationships to others and our community, our ability to lead and my favorite topic, introverted evangelism. The practical advice he gives for our approach to evangelism is indispensable.

There are times I read a book that I so identify with that I think, “He took the words right out of my mouth!” This was one of those books. I can’t count the number of times I said to myself, “That’s me!” It was such a good feeling to know that someone else “gets it.” It was empowering to be encouraged and instructed on how to embrace who I am. McHugh has done a tremendous service to the Christian community at large and I for one appreciate his efforts.


(Book provided by IVP)

Quitter by Jon Acuff

It’s 7:12pm on Saturday night.  I just checked my Google Analytics and there hasn’t been a single visit to my blog today.  Not even from me.  The rapture was supposed to happen today, though.  And even though it didn’t, I think I’ll still blame that.  Either way, thanks to Jon Acuff’s new book, Quitter, I’m not worried.  I’m learning to relish the relative anonymity I have at this point, which allows me to improve my craft.  Also, there’s enough stuff in my life I need therapy for without worrying about blog stats.

When I first saw the trailer for Jon Acuff’s new book, Quitter, I couldn’t believe it.  So, I watched it again.  And then I showed my wife.  And then she told me Jon and I needed to be friends, so I Tweeted him and he Tweeted back and said, “I’m ready!”  I guess we’re friends now.  Seriously, his story is my story.  Except, of course, for all the getting-published-and-living-his-dream stuff.  That’s yet to come for me.  And the reason I think Quitter is (and will be) so wildly popular, is because it’s so many peoples’ story.

Quitter by Jon Acuff

I think Acuff (the mind behind Stuff Christians Like) is right on the money when he says we’re the “I’m, but” Generation. “I’m a sales associate, but I want to be an artist.”  (Coincidentally, I can totally imagine how proud he was when he finalized the title of Chapter Two: “Removing the ‘I’m’ From Your ‘But'”)  In Quitter, Acuff takes on the task of helping us move from “our day job to our dream job,” and he does it humorously and effectively.

What affected me most was Acuff’s assertion that “we need to learn to fall in like with a job we don’t love because it’s actually the best way to set up your dream for success.”  The fact is, those of us who dream of doing something else (ministry, writing, etc.) usually view our day jobs as adversaries of, not advocates for our dreams.  Why not view our day job as a launching point instead?  We also have this idea that quitting our day job will make us instantly free.  We’ll have more time and creative energy and we’ll be loosened from the chains of over-involved management and our dream will materialize before our very eyes within a matter of days or hours.  That’s crap.  Acuff points out that when we do that (impulsively quit), our new bosses multiply and become even less flexible (read: bills).  We also lose the ability to say no to opportunities that don’t really fit our dream because we need the money.  For example, if my regular expenses are paid for by my day job (mortgage, food, insurance, etc.), I can say no to that writing gig for Cat Fancy which doesn’t really fit my dream.  If I have no job, though, I’ll have to take it.  Creative freedom doesn’t pay the bills.  Also, I’m allergic to cats.  And they’re the devil.  No offense.

Acuff also talks a lot about hustling, but taking it slow.  “Start small.  Start slow.  Get better along the way.  And enjoy the gift of making many of your early mistakes without a major audience,” he says.  That’s very freeing…and hard to remember.  As a writer, my impulse is to want my blog to explode.  Now.  Recently I had 187 visits to my site in one day and I thought I was going to pee my pants.  The fact is, though, I’m not ready.  My content isn’t strong enough yet.  I have a lot of growing to do.  And that’s not bad at all, it’s just the truth.  Thankfully, I have that opportunity now.  I get to work really hard (hustle, as Acuff calls it) and have my friends and family and a few others tell me they like what I did.  And I get to have people that care about me give me valuable input instead of some stranger telling me I suck.  That’s incredibly important at this stage of the dream.

The majority of the book is based on Acuff’s own story, which I really liked.  It enabled him to be very personal and passionate, because it was his experience.  That said, Acuff quotes Malcolm Gladwell in Quitter a couple times, which I find somewhat ironic.  In his book Outliers, Gladwell basically speaks to the fact that most giants in their fields who say, “I just worked hard and made my dreams come true, and you can too!” are misleading, albeit unintentionally.  See, they usually have had life circumstances that are much different than anyone else’s, enabling them to reach the pinnacle of their field.  While Acuff presents himself as the everyman-cubicle-worker, and that was certainly true for a time, he also carries some definite outlier qualities.  The fact that the Stuff White People Like blog was so popular and Acuff struck while the iron was hot with the timing of his Stuff Christians Like blog (which he acknowledges “wasn’t an original idea”), was an extremely unique situation in and of itself.  The fact that he was invited to speak to Dave Ramsey’s entire staff, having only spoken professionally once was also a unique opportunity.  This was really the only issue I had with Acuff’s book.  It seems like he presents his story as not-so-unique so that we’ll buy into the “I can do it too!” paradigm, when really, it’s fairly easy to see the one-of-a-kind opportunities he had that most of us won’t.

Even so, Quitter was way more good than bad.  That doesn’t sound as ringing of an endorsement as I wanted to make.  I take it back.  There was nothing bad about it anyway.  Now I just feel like a jerk.  You should buy it, though.  For real.  The ideas about how we view our current day jobs alone were life-changing.  In all seriousness, I’m grateful for the inspiration and motivation Acuff has given to me and I think you will be, too.

P.S. This was the first book-book I read on Kindle for my Mac and I absolutely loved it.  Being able to highlight and add notes and bookmark and SEARCH was amazing.  Highly recommended.  Buy it here.  $10 is a steal.

Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

If there’s one theme I see in Do the Work, it’s urgency.  In order to do our work, we need to just get to work.  Steven Pressfield’s wonderful companion to The War of Art (see Jeff Goins’ excellent review) challenges us to “get out of the way” of ourselves to get that work done and matches its theme with a style that is short and precise and powerful.

There are a lot of things Pressfield says in Do the Work that, if taken literally, seem to be more harmful than helpful.  “Don’t prepare.  Begin.”  “Start before you’re ready.”  Pressfield is making a point here, though.  How often do we get so wrapped up in preparing, that we never begin?  Rather than waiting until we’re ready, why not just start?  “A work-in-progress generates its own energy field,” he says.  When we write down that idea, it births others.  We see the momentum picking-up and we get to ride it toward completion.

In just 98 pages, Pressfield moves swiftly through a recap of Resistance and then “the Beginning, Middle and End” of completing a project.  The book is definitely written with a writing project in mind, but the principles apply to any creative endeavor.

If you hurry, you can get a FREE copy of the book for your Kindle (or Kindle app on your computer or mobile device), but only until May 20th. But, if you’re like me, you’ll purchase a hardcover copy to underline and highlight, too.

Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

Max on Life by Max Lucado

Max Lucado has been sharing his wisdom with readers for over twenty-five years.  During that time he’s also been a beloved pastor and father and you can bet he’s received his share of questions about everything under the sun.  Max on Life is Lucado’s collection of and answers to those questions.

At first I was a bit disappointed with the project.  Most of the answers are a page or less and it just didn’t seem very substantial.  Some of the answers didn’t feel like answers even.  But, the more I read and thought about it, it made perfect sense.  Lucado is an author who thrives on bite-size pieces.  I could pull any of his books off of my shelves and read any random chapter and be better off for it.  Max on Life is not a comprehensive, exhaustive resource to answer every question ever asked.  It’s one man’s basic thoughts on 170 questions.  It’s a fantastic place to start.

The book is organized into seven alliterative sections (hope, hurt, help, him/her, home, haves/have-nots and hereafter) and includes an addendum with Lucado’s thoughts on the act of writing.  Many of the answers to these questions were culled from previously published materials, while others are new to the reader.

I had high expectations for the addendum, so I take the blame for being somewhat disappointed with it.  It is more of a spiritual, inspirational piece than a how-to, instructional article.  Again, it’s quintissential Lucado, so it’s certainly not my place to complain and the tips that are within it are invaluable.  It’s always a good reminder that we writers are taking up the pen just as Paul and John did, too.

Overall, Max on Life is eminently readable and helpful as long as you remember it isn’t the only resource you’ll consult for these questions.  That said, it’s nice to have someone as trustworthy as Lucado to begin the process of answering these questions.  For that, we can all be grateful.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”