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?


Word Spit-Up

word vomit

We’ve all heard the phrase “word vomit.”  I’m not sure who coined it, but I’ve definitely used it a lot.  It describes something I do often, basically not controlling my tongue until I realize I’ve said too much, made a mess, or said nothing of value.  It’s basically words that just come out.  Despite my use of this phrase, I was recently thinking that it doesn’t quite nail my most frequent “word vomit” experience.  I think “word spit-up” actually describes what I mean a little better.

You see, when someone vomits there seems to be a little more control.  We usually have a little advanced warning (though not always), and we can prepare for it to some degree.  Sometimes it’s even possible to prevent it.  It’s also not something that happens regularly in most seasons.  But spit-up really does just happen.  It’s out of the baby’s control.  And it happens a lot.

Similarly, word spit-up just kind of comes up.  It’s just part of my natural routine.  I might as well wear a bib wherever I go and carry a burp cloth in my purse.  Being in a counseling program, I am continuously critiqued for my words with clients.  Each day I am made more aware of just how often I spit-up.  My most common spit-ups right now are:

  • “I understand” – Even looking at this phrase, makes me want to stick a bar of soap in my mouth.  In a counseling situation, it just never helps to say “I understand.” Chances are I don’t anyway, but it’s better to show I understand than say it.  Asking or naming a person’s feeling is a whole lot more helpful and loving.
  • “At least” – If I could remove this phrase from my vocabulary altogether, I would be a much better intern, friend, and Christ follower.  Rather than running from hurt with optimism, I would truly listen and love.
  • “Why?” – My professors and supervisors tell me all the time to STOP using this word.  It always come off judgmentally, like an accusation.  Like spit-up, I often catch it coming out of my mouth before it’s too late.

Despite being baby incompetent,  even I have experienced spit-up.  Babies are the only ones that can do something that gross and look cute while they do it.  They often smile and coo as they have this gross goo dripping down their chins.  Moms wipe their baby’s chin with a smile and love (often cooing back), knowing it’s not their little one’s fault.  If I spit-up regularly, it would not be cute.  My mom is pretty loving, but I don’t think she would smile (or coo) at me if I did this.  She might wipe my chin and she would do it in love (my mom is exceptionally sweet), but she’d also be pretty disgusted.

I imagine God’s reaction to my uncontrolled tongue, my word spit-up, is similar.  While He loves me and is willing to clean up after me, the spit-up itself disgusts Him.  So, how can I, a follower of Christ trying to become more like my Savior, look at my my word spit-up with anything but disgust?

After all, the Bible is pretty clear that we are supposed to grow up, and stop acting like babies:

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.  1 Corinthians 14:20 (ESV)

for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  Hebrews 5:13 (ESV)

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 1 Peter 2:2 (ESV)

so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness indeceitful schemes.  Ephesians 4:14 (ESV)

My prayer for me and my prayer for you is that we’d seek the Lord proactively enough to prevent word spit-up before it starts, growing into maturity in our speech and love for one another.

A Loving “No”

One of my classes this semester is Chemical Dependency.  It’s been an interesting class . . . to say the least.  We were required to attend two Alcoholic Anonymous meetings in addition to giving up some sort of “addiction” for two weeks as part of our coursework (I gave up dessert…needless to say, it was a rough two weeks).  Although there’s still a lot of required reading and writing, this class is different than a lot of the classes I’ve taken.  Recently, my professor astutely observed one of the main reasons that the church is inhibited from reaching addicts:

“As a church we know how to say ‘yes’ lovingly, but we don’t know how to say ‘no’ lovingly.”

In other words, we’re pretty mean when we finally say “no.”  Of course we are! We’re burnt out by that point!  But whose fault is that?

It’s rare that a statement a professor makes resounds with me as much as that statement has.  I cannot get it out of my head.  I’ve observed this behavior so much in myself since I heard him say that.  I desperately want to say “no” lovingly.  I’ve been so convicted that I’m the one causing the broken to hate the church, not someone else.  I’m as guilty as hypocrisy as anyone when I smile and say “yes,” but I really should say “no.”

That hypocrisy is spurred by fear: fear of humility, fear of the unknown, and fear of men.

Learning How to Listen

The other day I sat down at a coffee shop next to two seemingly normal water-drinkers.  After a long day of work and school, my goal was to sit on the patio with a sweet friend (the type that fills your soul, not drains it) and catch-up over tea.  For once, I was the first to arrive at the coffee shop and I began eating the most sustaining “meal” I could find.  As I lathered cream cheese on my bagel, I listened to this lady next to me explain her vocation as a mixture between a personal trainer and a nutritionist.  Scraping the bottom of the cream cheese container and chuckling to myself, I continued listening to their conversation.  The lady continued to explain that her role is similar to a counselor, but she’s around more than once a week.  (Not appreciating the stab at counselors, I defiantly washed down my carbs with a sip of my sugary beverage.) I was mildly intrigued as I continued to listen to this interesting trainer/nutritionist session, but I was still more interested in my food and phone.

Then the climax came: the trainer/nutritionist asked her client to share some of her struggles.  I tried to draw my attention elsewhere at first, but then it happened: the shift in the conversation.  After receiving some background information, the trainer/nutritionist asked about the client’s dad being in the hospital (which the client mentioned in her story).  The client immediately burst out into tears.  “Oh,” I thought, “how’s this lady going to respond now?” At first, the lady did a decent job.  She leaned forward, listened attentively, and commented how hard that must be.  Then, she fell flat on her face.  She said, “at least . . .” I’m not even sure what she said after that, but those two words made me grimace.  What could she say after that?

At least your dad’s been in the hospital for a month, so you’ve adjusted.”

At least the hospital has healthy food choices.”

At least your dad’s condition is so rare that you have a really interesting story.”

At least your job’s better now.”

Needless to say, I was glad my friend arrived shortly after that.

Yet, observing this conversation also made me grateful for the training the Lord’s giving me.  I’ve used that phrase “at least” (and many equally unhelpful phrases) more times than I can count and I’m sure I’ll continue to use them.  Even with a million hours of counseling training and really wise professors, there’s only so much training can do.  😉

BUT it’s pretty humbling when you see the Lord actually using an education that has been extremely daunting.

I recently realized that I have been a student for over 20 years.  Some would say “we’re all students” or “we must be continual learners.” Yes, yes, yes, I completely agree…but when I say “I’ve been a student for over 20 years,” I mean that very literally.  I’ve been submitting assignments, taking tests, and in a classroom (whether physically or online) for over 20 years.  That’s a long time . . . but I think it’s taken me that long to actually enjoy and apply what I’m learning.

This year one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is how to listen . . . and not just eavesdrop at a coffee shop.  In counseling, listening is an extremely important skill to develop.  Although counselors are often perceived as people that are paid to just nod appropriately, ask how someone’s feeling, and doodle on a clipboard, that is not true.  Counselors don’t just listen.  However, even if we were just being paid to listen well, that would be a skill.  Listening is hard.

I’ve learned how to sit, respond, look, and probe while listening.  I’ve learned how to identify, analyze, and challenge patterns . . . but I still have so much to learn about listening: to people and the Lord.

It amazes me that I still don’t get how to listen to people well, but I’m just like them.  I know we’re all different, but we have a lot of similarities.  So how could I ever listen to the Lord? It seems practically impossible that I could ever learn to listen to Him.  After all, “my thoughts are not [His] thoughts, neither are [His] ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8 ESV).  Yet, I think there are some similarities in the way we listen to others and the way we listen to the Lord.

Listening requires a probe, question, or challenge.  When we come to the Lord or we come to people, we have to seek an answer.  We may seek that response simply by waiting, but there has to be some sort of action to start the process.

Listening requires time.  With people and with the Lord, it takes time to listen.  It’s not just a one-time thing.  It’s important to get a bigger picture, to learn their character, and to see their heart.

Listening requires focus.  In a world of constant distraction, that means putting everything else aside for someone else.  For me, that means not looking at my phone when I’m listening to others and when I’m listening to the Lord.

Listening requires response. We’ve all been talking when someone’s responses are simply “uh huh,” they’re doing something else, or they’re simply not paying any attention.  The way we determine their lack of listening is by their response.  I imagine that’s the way the Lord makes that determination as well, which means He’d quickly deem me a very poor listener.  I’m often think “gee that’s convicting” and then close my Bible, move on, and never think about what He said to me again.