Zooming-In: My Top Reads of 2016

It’s hard to believe that 2016 is almost over.  It’s been a rollercoaster of a year!

For me, it’s good to zoom-in, reflecting on what God has done.  After that, it’s easier for me to zoom-out and get a glimpse of the beautiful picture He painted for the year (even if it’s only a piece of my life’s puzzle and it’s still difficult to see what He’s shaping up there).  One of the ways that helps me zoom-in is looking at the books I’ve read the past year.  Many years that means I’m basically looking at a bunch of textbooks, but this year I have gotten to read a few more non-textbooks that people may actually be interested in reading.  I tried not to geek out too much with my selections.

Before I list them for you, please note that I don’t necessarily endorse any of these authors and none of these books are perfect.  Some authors are Christians, some aren’t.  Most are Christians, but I don’t necessarily agree with every word they’ve written and I know they’re each capable of falling off the deep end (like me, apart from the grace of God).  I’d also like to say that the book I do wholeheartedly endorse is the Bible, and if you’re not reading that please skip these books and dive straight into that one.  That book absolutely impacted me the most this year.  The two books of the Bible really impacted me in 2016 are the Psalms and Philippians.  Feel free to take those recommendations over any of the ones I’m about to list.  Also, the books below aren’t exactly in order of how I’d recommend them.  It’s just too hard to pick a favorite!

Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard

I received this little gem for graduation, but have already recommended it to countless people.   It’s an allegory about Much-Afraid, who has to develop hinds’ feet so she can climb the high places with the Great Shepherd.  I have the devotional version, which includes Scripture reflection, but any version does an excellent job promoting self-reflection in an easy-to-read and insightful way.  I especially love the way it addresses suffering.  One of my favorite quotes from it is the Shepherd saying, “Go with Sorrow and Suffering, and if you cannot welcome them now, when you come to the difficult places where you cannot manage alone, put your hands in theirs confidently and they will take you exactly where I want you to go” (page 62).

The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Dr. Dan B. Allender

A lot of people reading this blog have no interest in this topic.  I can’t say that I blame you, it’s a tough one! But for those that interact with people touched by this difficult topic (and chances are everyone knows someone, whether you realize it or not), I would highly recommend this book.  It is the best book I’ve seen on this topic from a Christian perspective.  For mental health professionals and ministers, it is a must-read.  I would recommend caution in giving this book to anyone that’s experienced sexual abuse.  Be sure they have a good support system and are already getting help before giving them this book.  It could be very triggering and difficult to read for someone with those experiences.

Image result for the gifts of imperfectionThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown

This book isn’t written from a biblical worldview, but it does offer some incredible reflections about topics that align with the truth of Scripture.  For those unfamiliar with Brené Brown, she is a shame researcher.  Because the Bible speaks so readily about the results of shame, I truly believe Brené Brown’s research offers some excellent insights on how to live a life more wholeheartedly in love with the Lord.  I would caution the reader that there is some language in the book and some of the points suggest that our hope comes from within ourselves, which I would substitute for coming from God.

Image result for uninvited bookUninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst

 Anyone that’s read or listened to Lysa TerKeurst knows that she’s extremely funny and engaging.  She writes very transparently about “living loved” and uses some great illustrations to explain how to do that better.  This book is geared specifically for women and I would truly recommend it for any woman.  The last chapters offer some especially useful tools for self-examination…and are very convicting!

Image result for ministering cross culturallyMinistering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers

I’ll confess this was technically a textbook assigned in my multicultural counseling class, BUT it’s not your average textbook.  This little guy is only 128 pages (including the index, table of contents, etc.) and covers topics that are incredibly applicable and practical…and relevant in the cross-cultural world we live in today!  Like all the books that I’d consider my top reads of 2016, this book makes you think.  It does provide a lot of interesting information from a Christian perspective, but I promise it isn’t overly academic.

Image result for change the conversation samantha hanniChange the Conversation: Teens, Dating, & the Church by Samantha Hanni

Friend or not, it says a lot that I am listing a dating book in a top reads list of less than ten books. When you’ve worked with a lot of teen girls and been single for a long time, you feel like you’ve heard just about every Christian dating thought imaginable. However, the transparency of Samantha’s writing and her fresh, grace-filled perspective made it a definite must on this list. Samantha shares sweet stories, deep thoughts, and Christ’s love in an easy-to-read format that I read in a couple hours. There are countless good quotes, but one of my favs was in the intro on page 2, “[The church] has failed to paint purity as a lifestyle; a lifestyle to be pursued before and during marriage, not a checklist of do’s and don’ts.” The only shame of this book is that more people don’t know about it! Seriously, go order it today (http://mrshanni.com/)!

Image result for every bitter thing is sweetEvery Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty

I love the way this book is written, the author’s transparency, and the imagery of God’s love in this book.  I’ll admit the title is a bit like a slap in the face when you’re actually experiencing something bitter, but I would truly recommend it to anyone.  I cannot relate to many (okay…most) of the struggles the author describes, but this book gave me such a sweet perspective of God’s love in the midst of trials.  Read it before you’re in the midst of something bitter, read it during a bitter season, or read it while a friend is in a bitter season.

Image result for sin and grace bookSin and Grace in Christian Counseling by Mark R. McMinn

Okay, okay, it was technically another textbook, but this too looks more like a short novel. I’ve read a lot of non-textbooks that aren’t on this list that I really enjoyed, so for this to make it says a lot about its content. This book would probably bore most people, but if you’re a Christian therapist or mental health professional…it’s another must read. It points to the gospel so well. I’ll admit that it’s the closest I’ve come to geeking out in this list because it’s a little technical, but it’s impacted my life too much to exclude it.

Zooming Out…

After listing those books, there are some themes I could easily identify: reflection, Jesus, mental health…and others.  But I can also see God’s hand in each of those books and the hours, days, or weeks I spent reading them.  It’s also just a sweet reminder about what God taught me through each of those reads.

My sister and friends often say that my down time is too productive, and it would benefit me to just do something fun.  That’s not entirely true, but this list probably also screams “read something fun!” And I would agree.  I did read a few more fun things that aren’t listed (though they also weren’t as enjoyed), but a goal for 2017 is definitely reading (and doing) more fun things.

What are some of the books you’ve read? Want to read? Would recommend?

 

The Growth Time

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Last year around this time two of my friends vowed that 2016 would be better than 2015.  Within the first month of 2016, both of them had numerous mini catastrophes.  Although there were a lot of joys for each of them in 2016, I think they would both agree that 2016 did not turn out the way they hoped.

I think a lot of us can relate to that disappointment.  Maybe we didn’t have high hopes for 2016, but maybe we had high hopes for something else.  Waiting for what we hope to happen can be excruciating.  While I was meditating on the Christmas story the past month, I couldn’t help but think about the time right after Jesus’ birth: the growth time.

A lot of people have speculated about what happened during Jesus’ growth time, but the Bible doesn’t tell us much:

“And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.”  Luke 2:40, ESV

“And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it” Luke 2:42-43, ESV

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Luke 2:52, ESV

These verses show that Jesus was obviously anointed, but they also show that Jesus was growing.  It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around Jesus, who was fully God, growing.  The difficulty of that paradox is certainly a challenge, but it also baffles me that God would choose to be in a growth time.

Essentially, Jesus chose to wait.

I associate waiting with suffering.  There’s small suffering like waiting at the grocery store.  There’s medium suffering like waiting for a paycheck when the bills are coming.  There’s horrible suffering like waiting for healing.  Whatever the suffering and however it would be ranked, it seems like most suffering involves some degree of waiting.

I honestly can’t imagine what Jesus’ waiting was like.  I can’t imagine having that kind of power and waiting to use it.  I also can’t imagine Mary’s waiting, knowing Jesus’ destiny and waiting to see it come to fruition.  Through each struggle they faced (and maybe even each joy), I’m sure it was excruciating waiting for Jesus’ debut as the Messiah.

But that waiting time was the growth time.  The Bible associates perseverance and growth repeatedly, but how beautiful that Jesus would choose to experience that as well.  May we take comfort in Jesus’ example during our growth times:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15, ESV

 

Christmas with Characters

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Christmases in my family involve a lot of characters.  You may be thinking characters like crazy relatives and guests…and you’d be right! But my Christmases also include a lot of other characters.

Like Barbie.

 

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You may be wondering what Barbie has to do with Christmas.  In my family, Barbie is a key player.  We don’t have little girls in my immediate family (or even my extended family…we are currently low on kids), but our Christmas tree is covered in ornaments resembling toys.  Years ago, my mom started buying each of us (me, my sister, and my mom) a new Christmas tree ornament each year.  Being a toy lover, the ornaments my mom bought always looked suspiciously like toys.  My sister and I loved toys, so this arrangement worked great for us.  As adults, it’s so fun to look through our ornaments, seeing collections of ornaments we’ve collected…and get new ornaments each year.  It’s a great excuse to keep getting toys for Christmas.

This tradition is made more fun by the specific characters we each collect.  My sister has a lot of Barbies (like the one pictured above), fairies, and anything girly.  But my sister also has another ornament she really likes: any African American ornament.  My sister is as White as me, but as a little girl (like a toddler) she went with my mom to pick out her ornament and was determined to purchase this one.

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This little angel looks completely different than our family, but it’s been one of our most treasured ornaments because it displays my sister’s past innocence and continued love for everyone so well.  We have very diverse Christmas ornaments, thanks to her.

My mom’s ornaments also represent her pretty well.  She also likes Barbies, but she likes the classic Barbies.

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These Barbies look a lot like the ones she had as a child, the same ones she let us play with on occasion as children.  My mom also likes Dalmatian ornaments.  She has countless spotted dogs on our tree, celebrating a sweet dog named Justice that she had years ago.

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Now my ornaments are the best, so every year I lump them together in the most visible spot on the tree.  I have a lot of Disney ornaments, but my favorite are my I Love Lucy ornaments.

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Since I was a child, I’ve loved I Love Lucy.  To my delight, my eighth birthday included an I Love Lucy marathon.  I remember thinking, “How did the TV people know?” What I found out was Lucille Ball and I share the same birthday, which is why there was a marathon that day.  No wonder I’ve been collecting Lucy ornaments for so long!

I’ll admit that our tree is kind of silly and certainly worldy, but it is filled with immense joy and celebration.  If I ever have my own tree or family, I’ll definitely include ornaments that exalt Christ more blatantly.  However, I think the spirit of this tradition is something worth sharing.  The point in celebrating Christmas is, after all, all about remembering the beautiful gift God sent to the earth and the amazing work God has done.  Too often that remembrance does not include sufficient joy.  This silly Christmas with characters that I experience each year is a great illustration of remembering with joy.  I hope to do that with Jesus with even more enthusiasm.

An Unexpected Check

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Do you have a bucket list?

I can’t say I have a formal one, but I definitely have a few goals I’d like to accomplish before I kick the bucket.  Of course, there are the normal/more serious items on my bucket list like continuing to grow with God, getting married, having a career, etc., but there are also less serious items.  I’ve done some of the less serious items like being a mascot, running a half marathon, and learning to make a pie, but there are still many things to go.  One of the things on this list was unexpectedly checked off this week: to see a polar bear.

I don’t know what originally started my love for polar bears, but ever since I can remember I’ve loved them.  I have always wanted to see a polar bear.  Oklahoma City doesn’t have one in their zoo, which is the zoo I’ve frequented the most.  When I went to the Bronx Zoo as a child, they also didn’t have this furry arctic creature.  People have told me that the zoo in Tulsa has one, but I was told there wasn’t one when I researched it.  Central Park also supposedly had one once upon a time, but we missed the memo when visiting family in New York.  No surprise, New Orleans also doesn’t have a polar bear.  Despite these failed attempts at seeing a polar bear, I still kept seeing one on my bucket list.  I just figured it would still be awhile before I could actually make this dream come true.  After I graduated, I knew that I would be tied up with work and unable to see one for even longer.

After I loss my job a couple months ago, I decided it was a perfect time to sign-up for a training I knew that God was leading me to do.  I expected to wait a little to do the training, but the timing seemed perfect.  I also found a training that was in St. Louis, which was driveable, and I found a good deal on a hotel.  Better yet, my mom was off during the time I had the training, so I’d have a companion for the trip.  As I was looking up St. Louis and what we could do while we were there, I saw the zoo advertised.  Normally, I’d pass right over the zoo (especially in December), but the zoo was advertised with a picture of a polar bear! To my delight, the zoo did indeed have a polar bear.  The zoo quickly moved to the top of my list for St. Louis.

Seeing the polar bear did not disappoint.  The polar bear was very active (not surprising since it was frigid).  The zoo was also empty so I didn’t have to push kids over to see him (again, the weather probably helped me there).

Although I didn’t plan to be in another in-between season, I am so grateful for unexpected opportunities of joy.

I wonder if you may also be in a season you didn’t expect.  After all, life just never seems to go the way we planned.  What are some joys you have experienced that you wouldn’t have if life had gone the way you planned? What are some opportunities you can take now, despite unexpected circumstances? God may be calling you to take a step of faith, or He may be blessing you with a little joy like seeing a polar bear.  Either way, how can we make the most of our present reality?

And finally here are a few pics of the polar bear…I wouldn’t want to deprive you!

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Look how close he came to the glass for me?! He must have known we were destined to be friends.

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He was a little dirty, but the zookeeper said he’d been playing in the mud–adorable!

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Isn’t he pretty??

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He even smiled for the picture! I have a feeling he was almost as happy as me (especially in the freezing cold weather).