Reading Recap 2019: A Bajillion Books

I thought I read a lot of books in 2018. But last year I blew that out of the water by somehow reading 146 books! Now, 35%, or 52, of those were audiobooks, so it’s not like I sat down and read all of them. Audiobooks mean multitasking, which is a huge bonus. I also never watch TV or movies, so all my story consumption comes from reading. About 63% of the books are nonfiction, but only 13% were not narrative driven (mostly spiritual formation with the occasional investing or time management book thrown in the mix).

IMG_8842I didn’t set a reading goal this year, since I wanted to see how many books I picked up without a numerical finish line in sight. It worked so well, I surprised myself! And of course I’m not setting a goal for 2020 after that stellar reading year. Can I make it to 150? Who knows! I’m not stressing about it.

But reading so much means I read a ton of amazing books. Choosing which books to feature in 2019’s reading recap was agony. If you want to jumpstart your own reading life with top notch books, or have a weird interest in survival stories like I do, boy have I got recommendations for you!

As a heads up, I read a huge variety of books with all kinds of content, and so this is a blanket content warning for any and all books I mention. Please ask if you have any questions about a specific book. (There’s a lot of gruesome death and cannibalism in those survival stories, yo.)

Okay, on to the books!

The Indifferent Stars AboveThe Saddest Book:

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown

A party of settlers treks across America to California, but disaster strikes, turning their story into the most well-known tragedy of the westward expansion. Full of terrible decisions and devastating loss, the Donner party’s journey drives some people to madness and all to the most terrible decision any starving person makes. Brown tells their story by following one young woman and her family, leading the reader to know them as people, not just names attached to a famous tragedy, and his writing does not shy away from the horrors they experienced. I learned about the Donner party in school, of course, but this book covers the full scope of the tragedy and how a series of poor decisions eventually boxed the settlers into a barren valley in the Sierra Nevada during the middle of one of the worst winters on record. Beware, this book is not for the faint of heart, but I’m fascinated by the decisions people make during unimaginable suffering and how those decisions shape their ultimate fate.

Bonus: In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

In 1879, one daring explorer and his crew attempt to reach the North Pole, but when their ship sinks, they must trek a thousand miles across the ice to Siberia, fighting to survive.

The Winternight Trilogy

The Best Trilogy:

The Winternight Trilogy: The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl in the Tower, & The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

A young Russian girl must defy her society and battle dark forces to keep the magical world of Russia – the house spirits, old gods, and mythical creatures – from being destroyed. This trilogy landed on my all-time favorites list before I even finished the first book, and the next two were more incredible than I had dared hope. It reminds me of one of my favorite books of all time, Daughter of the Forest, the highest compliment I can bestow. Vasya has to make hard choices, but she does not play to anyone’s expectations, including the reader’s. A stereotypical YA fantasy heroine she is not. She talks to horses, loves her family, and chooses her own path every time. How could I not love her? The tight prose weaves a fairytale with gorgeous descriptions, fully realized characters, and a heart-rending coming of age story. If you like your fantasy with a historical bent, full of fairytale magic and wonderful characters, this trilogy is for you.

Daring to DriveThe Best Memoir:

Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening by Manal al-Sharif

A woman born and raised in Mecca tells her story of awakening from Islamic fundamentalism and finding herself at the center of the Saudi women’s campaign to drive their own cars. A deeply intimate look at a world Westerners literally can never enter, this memoir demonstrates the power of a single woman to make a difference. I was fascinated, disturbed, and awed by the Saudi Arabia Manal introduces me to: a country where women are nearly powerless, where families battle poverty in the geographic heart of Islam while the Saudi rulers hold enormous wealth, and where education truly changes lives. Manal bares raw and personal parts of her life, and inspires and challenges with her sheer courage to drive, against everything her entire culture holds sacred.

Grace for the Good GirlThe Best Spiritual Book:

Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman

Living as a good girl is deeply exhausting and painful, but Jesus sets us free. Emily P. Freeman’s beautiful, gentle prose provides a path toward that freedom for every woman who doesn’t have a dramatic testimony, a clear before Jesus and after Jesus story. It’s no exaggeration to say this book changed my life; it lifted a weight from my shoulders I didn’t know how to set down by myself. Being a good girl means wearing a mask before other people and before God, but God wants more from us and for us. You won’t find any shame or burdensome lists of what we ought to be doing for God in this book, only the truth that God delights in exactly who we are now, this moment. If you have a young woman in your life who bears the good girl reputation and all that comes with that, Emily also has a book for her that presents the same truths: Graceful.

Bonus: Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey

Being in relationship with an invisible God is more difficult and incredible than anything else we do in this life and is a profound and painful mystery.

A Year of Living PrayerfullyThe Most Fun Book:

A Year of Living Prayerfully: How A Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer Life by Jared Brock

Two millennials go on a year-long quest to reawaken their prayer lives and explore prayer practices of Christian denominations ranging from ancient Orthodox monasteries to modern name it and claim it preachers. The sheer breadth of the traditions and beliefs Jared Brock explores astonished me. He visits Jerusalem, Rome, and the largest church in the world, located in South Korea. Only in this book will you find bemused commentary on the author’s experience visiting a Hasidic Jewish community as well as acute observations on Catholic saints and their monasteries. I couldn’t put this book down and was captivated by how much I didn’t know about the history of Christian prayer traditions. He even visits Westboro Baptist and lurks outside Billy Graham’s compound trying to snag a visit. After all, he got to meet the pope using a similar strategy!

Bonus: The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road by Finn Murphy

A trucker tells stories about his decades as a mover, giving you the wry behind the scenes look at the moving industry you didn’t know you wanted.

Tattoos on the HeartThe Most Beautiful Book:

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Greg Boyle

How does love change a life? By showing a gang member he is worthy, loved, and known, then officiating his funeral days later. Father Greg Boyle has spent decades working with the deadliest gangs of Los Angeles through Homeboy Industries, providing jobs and second (and third, fourth, fifth) chances to the young men and women trapped in the cycle of poverty and gang violence. This book captures the beautiful and devastating stories of these men and women in thematic essays on love, redemption, grief, and hope. Sometimes it’s only when the trappings of life fall away that we truly understand what it means to love each other, and Boyle writes about human frailty and compassion with equal frankness. Not only is this book thematically gorgeous, it’s also beautiful, simple writing that goes straight to the bones of what matters.

The Marsh King's DaughterThe Best Thriller:

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

Set in the Upper Peninsula, this dark suspense novel introduces Helena, the daughter of a kidnap victim and her kidnapper, just as her father escapes from prison. Raised in isolation, without running water or electricity, Helena has built a life for herself beyond her origin, but to protect her daughters and husband, she must face her origin and track down her father, the man who taught her to survive in the marsh. The flashback scenes are as riveting as the present scenes, the psychological intensity building in both past and present until Helena comes face to face with her father again. It’s not often I find books set in Michigan, but this one has a strong sense of place and Michiganders will delight in the author’s attention to detail, with references to the bridge, Marquette and Northern Michigan University, Tahquamenon Falls, Yoopers’ unique culture and challenges, and more. Most thrillers let me down at the end, but this one kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end.

Somebody's DaughterThe Book I Learned the Most From:

Somebody’s Daughter: The Hidden Story of America’s Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them by Julian Sher

Human trafficking in America isn’t limited to women and girls brought across the borders, and prostitution isn’t limited to adult women living in poverty. The problem of child prostitution is complex and far reaching; Julian Sher follows the stories of several girls as they drift in and out of prostitution and come into contact with different pimps, law enforcement, and social services. He explores the organizations, most founded by former prostitutes, who are fighting for these girls, and he digs into police departments and FBI units who battle the pimps, the attitudes of their colleagues and society, and the desperate circumstances of the girls themselves. His point is clear: child prostitutes are not prostitutes; they are victims of the men who prey on them. This book was hard to read, but it’s vitally important.

BonusMountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder

Dr. Paul Farmer is fighting to cure the world, one disease at a time, starting with AIDS in Haiti and tuberculosis in countries from Russia to Peru.

The TigerThe Best Nonfiction:

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant

It’s 1997, and a man-eating tiger is terrorizing a village in Russia’s Far East. A perfect kaleidoscope of my favorite topics: Russia, tigers, and survival, this book was basically made for me, but it’s also brilliantly written. John Vaillant takes the reader on a journey through the effect of post-Soviet chaos on the Far East, the history of tigers in the region, the struggles the remote villages faced, and the battle Russian officials waged against poachers and their own government to protect the Amur tiger. He writes the stories of the tigers and the people with elegant detail, and the man-eating tiger’s menace leaps off the page as the hunters track it down. The sheer amount of research he did, including visiting the villages and talking to the people who lived through the terrifying episode, is remarkable. I listened to this book on audio, and immediately decided to buy my own copy, which almost never happens to me.

I could also tell you about the historical fiction set in the Arctic with a supernatural horror element that I read during the Polar Vortex, the enormous literary Western, and the historical non-fiction from freshman year in college that I loved enough to read again. But I’ll stop here.

Reading 146 books this year didn’t put much of a dent in my TBR, though. Trying to decide which books are worthy of my time helped me abandon more books half-finished than I’ve ever dropped before. Here’s to DNF’ing more books in the future!

If you want to see what I’m reading all year round, come find me on Goodreads! I love to make new Goodreads friends so I can stalk follow your reading life – discovering new books and quirky interests through other people is the best.

I already have my “excited to read next” list drawn up for 2020, which I realize might give you spontaneous folks hives, but makes me feel super pumped to get started. I’ll be trying my first Madeleine L’Engle book since A Wrinkle in Time as a kid, reading a whole bunch more fantasy books and survival stories, finally reading the big habit book of the past couple years, and maybe I’ll get around to the Shakespeare play I didn’t read last year.

Last January my library was closed for carpet replacement, so I stuck to my own books and my roommate’s books for the whole month. This January I have a (large) library fine (darn you, 900-page Peter the Great biography!), so I’m staying clear until my hold comes in, then I’ll pay off my debt. I’ll be reading books a friend lent me, rereading some of my own well-worn copies, and digging through my roommate’s shelves again. Basically, living the bookworm life.

Happy reading, everyone!

A Response: God Does Not Call Us to Suffering

This summer I heard a sermon that upset me deeply. This message was spoken to Christians about Christians, and it declared that God calls some to suffering and some to victory.

This article responds to the teaching in that sermon, because I believe it was unbiblical and harmful. I am not questioning or discussing the speaker’s intentions with the sermon, only the message spoken and implied. For anyone who has heard this sermon or others like it, this article is for you.

The sermon itself was about Hebrews 11:32-40, and I have no objection to the majority of it, until we reached verses 35-40. The speaker said, supposedly based on these verses, that God calls us to suffering. He went on to say that God calls some of us to suffering, some of us to victory.

I do not agree.

First, the only victory we have is Christ. He triumphed over death, and by choosing him, his victory becomes ours, regardless of the suffering we endure in this life. (Hebrews 10:12-14) The entire book of Hebrews talks about enduring suffering in faith, not being called to it!

Christ’s victory means we have new life and freedom from our sin and shame. It does not always mean we see freedom from everything we struggle with in this life. 

Second, it’s often those of us in a position of “victory” who feel free to use the deterministic language that God calls some to victory and some to suffering.

I myself speak from a position of “victory,” to give it the implied definition: I have suffered no trauma, no abuse, and no immense loss. I have never experienced discrimination, never been assaulted or mocked, never worried about having food to eat or a warm place to sleep. My family is stable and intact; I live in the wealthiest country on earth; I have never battled mental or physical illness.

A person who survived the Rwandan genocide or the Holocaust, a person who was molested as a child, an African slave who lived and died never knowing freedom – were they called to suffer? They were certainly not experiencing the “victory” implied in the sermon.

Suffering versus victory is a false dichotomy. As I said above, Christians always have victory because we are in Christ, while we also experience hardship and pain in our lives. We suffer and we are victorious simultaneously. It is not an either/or proposition. 

Victory in Christ doesn’t always look like we think it ought to when we are dealing with pain and anguish in our lives, so we struggle to recognize it. This adds to the false dichotomy, because then we do see it as victory versus suffering, rather than the two existing alongside each other.

But even if we were to use the “victory” definition, one can have a loving family and also battle debilitating illness. New moms often face both the joy of a new life and the deep darkness of postpartum depression. Rachael Denhollander suffered sexual abuse, the effects of which are deeply scarring, and also fights for other survivors as a lawyer today while she raises her own children.

By separating suffering and victory, we do not allow either those “called to suffering” to have victory or those “called to victory” to suffer. This concept hurts everyone, regardless of the level of “victory” in their lives.

Third, when we speak of suffering, if we don’t acknowledge different types of suffering, we are not correctly addressing the subject. By no means am I a theologian or philosopher, but I have identified at least three different varieties of suffering.

  1. Suffering as a result of a broken world. (Romans 8:20-22). Natural disasters, cancer, disease, aging, depression. Our world is deeply wounded and broken; God did not intend for humans to starve to death or take their own lives because their brain chemistry is unregulated.
  2. Suffering as a result of human evil and sin. (Romans 1:28-32) Slavery, abuse, child molestation, genocide, war, PTSD. Humanity is capable of great evil. What humans do to each other is far outside what God created us to be. We must be mindful, however, that the sin of humans exists on a spectrum: a child hitting his brother does not in any way compare to a grown man abusing his family. To say that it does is sin leveling. While we are all sinners, some people have embraced wickedness, some sinful acts are far more destructive to other people, and true acts of evil are often committed by people who profess Christianity and yet are wolves in sheepskins, who do not know Christ at all.
  3. Suffering as a result of choosing Christ. (John 15:18-21) Persecution, martyrdom, imprisonment, torture. Jesus warned us not only that we would suffer, but that we would suffer in his name, for him. Christians around the world have died, are dying, and will die because they love Jesus. People have lost their entire families when they were disowned for following Christ.

Obviously these three categories overlap: the Haitian people suffer from diseases and starvation, both elements of a broken earth, imposed on them by the terrible legacy of colonialism, the evil of humans.

Free will and demonic evil also play significant roles in our pain.

Free will means that you can choose to live in a state regularly affected by tornadoes or hurricanes, that you can lie to your boss and be fired, or marry someone who chooses to abuse you. You can also choose to follow Jesus even when the path leads to a prison cell or death, yet you can always turn away.

I don’t think we can truly know the role of demonic evil in our suffering. What illnesses or accidents or disasters are the devil’s handiwork? What human evil does he prompt or spread? When is he persecuting followers of Christ through unwitting human puppets or willing abusers?

Finding him in every heartbreaking circumstance denies the fact that humans are capable of great evil all on their own, but to dismiss him as inconsequential is to be spiritually blind. (1 Peter 5:8)

To say that God calls us to suffering without also describing some of the nuance and variety of suffering and its causes is inadequate. It traps people in abusive situations and tells them that suffering is God’s will for them and plan for their life, and that is spiritually abusive. It tells people that God arranged earthquakes and hurricanes specifically for them; that God chose their baby for SIDS. It places concentration camps in the same category as forest fires without accounting for the differing causes of each.

Suffering is not straightforward. There’s no easy answer or clear reason. Saying that God calls us to suffering jumps past all the complexity and tells us that God has a plan that requires our pain. 

If we take this concept to its logical extreme, people who seek treatment for physical and mental illness and people who flee from abuse, war, genocide and slavery are thwarting God’s will and disobeying his call on their lives. This logical extreme leads people to say, “Sometimes children dying is godly.” Ideas like this wreak heartbreaking devastation upon people’s faith in Jesus.

These are the problems with saying that God calls us to suffering. I do not believe God ever calls us to suffering.

The only possible type of suffering we might say God calls us to is suffering for Christ, but that elevates suffering to a level it was never meant to attain. God calls us to him, to follow him, to be loved by him. That path may lead to suffering and through suffering, but the suffering is not the point and it is not the destination

Jesus warned us over and over that persecution comes when we choose him. But that’s all he said. He did not tell us that he calls us to suffer for him, only that it will happen because of his name. (Matthew 10:22-23) 

When we imply that suffering is holy, do we then extend that to mean Christians fleeing persecution in Iraq or China should stay and endure? Do we mean that escaping persecution is wrong? 

The believers in Jerusalem fled persecution at the very beginning of the church – are we suggesting they should have stayed? From our vantage point 2,000 years later, we can see that God used the Christians escaping from persecution to spread the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, just as he brings light from the darkness of our own lives. If they had all stayed in Jerusalem and Israel, the world would look very different today.

There is no one answer; each Christian must follow Jesus’ leading for their own life. Sometimes that will mean enduring persecution for Christ’s sake, sometimes that will mean fleeing.

But we must not confuse suffering because of Christ with suffering of any other kind. 

They cannot be addressed as if they are the same, because enduring persecution for sharing the Gospel is not the same as battling chronic illness or grieving the sudden death of a son or daughter, although they are equally devastating and difficult. 

Natalie Hoffman spent twenty years in an abusive marriage. Jesus did not want that for her. He led her to freedom through divorce. Did good come from that marriage? Yes – she has nine children and a powerful abuse ministry that has helped hundreds of women break free from their own abusive marriages. God brings beauty from ashes in a million different ways, but he does not require or plan your suffering in order to do so.

If you have heard this sermon or others like it and…

…you see God as abusive for orchestrating your suffering…

…you feel that God wants you to stay in your abusive marriage, relationship, or spiritual community…

…you believe God caused your abuse or sexual assault or trauma…

…you think that God chose you for suffering above and beyond what other people suffer…

…your soul is bleeding and your heart breaking because you have been told that God took your child or gave you an illness or tore apart your relationship…

I am so sorry.

These ideas are not of God.

Jesus loves you and he wants you to be safe and free and to know that you are precious and beautiful to Him. God weeps and rages on behalf of the wounded, the abused, the grieving, the poor, the bullied, the oppressed. (Psalm 34:18) He is a God of justice and love and one day he will judge the wicked for what they have done. (Psalm 37:28)

If anyone who claims spiritual authority over you has told you that God’s will is for you to stay in your suffering, run from that spiritual community. It is not safe for you or anyone else who has been abused or broken.

Search for books and resources and communities that will help you find freedom and truth in Jesus and please, reach out to people who understand abuse and trauma who can support you.

If this is the God, the Jesus, that you believe in as a Christian, a God who calls people to suffer Alzheimer’s, child molestation, emotional abuse, or miscarriage, my heart breaks for you.

This is not the Jesus I know. The God who breathed life into us and created salvation just for us does not call people to suffer. He calls us to him.

My fellow Christians, we ask why people are leaving the church. Before we blame secular culture, we need to assess the church with brutal honesty. (Luke 6:41-42) This goes beyond hypocrisy. Why would anyone want to follow a God who wants them to suffer?

If someone came to church because they are trying to be faithful, trying to love their abusive spouse as he destroys their soul, and heard a message like this, why should they stay in church? Why would they want to?

The church should be full of more abused, wounded, and broken people than anywhere else in the world. We carry the love of Christ and should be loving the lost and hurting, who need it desperately. Jesus came for them! Sermons that tell people that God selected suffering as their life path, their calling from him, leave room only for the “victorious” within the church.

While I am happy to agree to disagree with Christians of all theological backgrounds, if your theology traps people in their pain and suffering, if it leads you to say and do anything to another person that does not reflect the way Jesus loves and cares for people, you need to take a good hard look at what you really believe.

We must always consider the painful stories of others before we express our theology. If we don’t speak to others with compassion and love because of what we believe, we are not loving people as Christ calls us to.

Humans do not have an answer to suffering. Oh, we have ideas and philosophies and millions of words about suffering and why and how and who. Many of those ideas and philosophies and words are healing and clarifying and of the Lord; many are abusive and wounding and false. But we just don’t know the full truth.

I heard this sermon months ago and am still deeply affected by it. Can you imagine looking in the eyes of your neighbor who is dying of cancer and telling her that God called her to suffer? Or a child who has been molested and abandoned in the foster care system? 

I don’t want anyone to ascribe this false doctrine of suffering to the God who loves us so deeply that he died for us. Jesus suffered for us; he doesn’t need our pain for his work. When no one else wants us, God does. When this life tries to destroy us, he is with us.

If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this:

Jesus loves you.

2018 Reading Recap: Reaching for the Goal

Creating 2017’s reading recap was so fun that I’ve done it again for 2018! Once more I put myself through the difficult process of choosing books to highlight from my reading life last year, which is also a highly enjoyable process. I met my goal of reading 80 books, although I’ll admit I had to knock out two shorter ones on December 31st, and so many of those books forced me stay up late for just one more chapter.

img_4443-1

Three books in my current pile…

While my To Be Read list grows faster than I can finish books, I don’t want to forget the best ones I read in 2018, so I’m sharing them to convince other readers that these are books worth devoting time to.

Remember, I read a wide variety of genres with varying content, so I’m issuing a blanket content warning for any and all books I mention online. Use your own discretion for your comfort level, and feel free to ask me about the books I’ve read.

Do you want to read more but don’t know what books to pick up? You aren’t alone; lots of people struggle with that. There are tons of ways to find good books, but finding the right book for you can be a different story.

I recommend Modern Mrs. Darcy and the podcast What Should I Read Next, or you can ask the readers in your life if they have any recommendations for you. Don’t be afraid to put a book down unfinished if it’s not for you – there are too many good books in this world to waste precious reading time on a book that you don’t like. (I need to take my own advice!)

Let’s do this!

his majesty's dragonThe Book I Finally Read: 

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

In the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, a young naval officer accidentally bonds a dragon hatchling and his entire life changes. I love a good fantasy where the worldbuilding is so matter of fact that no one blinks at the wild and unusual places the author’s imagination goes, and this book has that in spades. Nineteenth century Europe with dragon, aerial corps fighting in some of the biggest battles between Napoleon and the rest of Europe, all narrated in Regency prose. This book has been on my TBR for ten years, ever since I saw a 4-H friend reading it before bed on a club trip to the Rolex Kentucky. My friend was killed in a car accident three years later, as a college sophomore, and I’m so glad I finally read the book, with her in mind.

what's so amazing about grace

The Best Spiritual Book: 

What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Phillip Yancey

An exploration of grace at the levels of ordinary life and overarching church culture, this book is remarkably relevant for being twenty years old. I was challenged, inspired, and humbled by Yancey’s words. It’s filled with true stories and simple prose, and Yancey shares some of his own journey toward grace. Our world is full of anger, bitterness, and hatred, but this book challenges us to take a hard look at ourselves and ask if we are truly ambassadors of God’s grace to the world, or if we are doling it out only to the ones we think deserve it. I think it says a lot that we as a church are struggling to give grace to the same people we struggled with twenty years ago, and I think this book offers powerful thoughts to consider.

unbrokenThe Book I learned the Most From:

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

An Olympic runner joins the Army Air Forces, is stranded at sea, becomes a Japanese POW, and somehow survives to tell the story. Not only is Louis Zamperini’s story an incredible tale of grit and bravery, with an amazing twist toward the end, but I learned so much about the Pacific front of the war that I was completely unaware of. From the thousands of POWs, the terrible accident rate of the planes and their crews, and the sheer enormity of the war, Hillenbrand provides mountains of detail without ever losing her narrative. If you never read another book about the Pacific front, read this one – she’s a powerful storyteller and you won’t be disappointed.

the secret horses of briar hillThe Most Fun Book: 

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

A young girl, living in a hospital with other children in the English countryside, finds that one of the winged horses she sees in the mirrors every day has entered her world. An absolute delight, this book would have been one of my favorites if it had existed when I was a child (although it’s high on the list for me even now). Not only does the girl have a special bond with a winged horse, she has to protect the horse by collecting objects of specific hues of color while also living with the realities of life during WWII in an English hospital. Whimsical while dealing with serious themes, strongly influenced by The Chronicles of Narnia, I highly recommend this book for younger readers.

nothing to envy

The Saddest Book:

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

A journalist traces the stories of six North Koreans over fifteen years, through the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise of Kim Jong-il, and the devastating famine that killed millions of people. For me, North Korea has always been a vaguely menacing, partially absurd Communist dictatorship on the other side of the world that I knew little about. Now I know quite a bit, and it’s all heartbreaking. Demick vividly sketches the country’s slow grind toward industrial death, economic collapse, and starvation, and the wide gulf between south and north becomes ever more stark and terrible, depicted on a personal level by the six North Koreans and their stories. This book was written prior to Kim Jong-il’s death and his son assuming control of the country, and I would love to find an update detailing the changes – if any – that a new regime and the immense shaping of the world by the internet has brought to a country so isolated.

Bonus Book: Another Place at the Table by Kathy Harrison

A foster mom tells the stories of just a few of the dozens of children she has fostered, and I cried at several points (which I rarely do for books). Yet somehow, the book also fosters hope.

the glass castleThe Best Nonfiction Book: 

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

A family’s story is never simple, particularly a story that begins with charismatic parents chasing wonder and nonconformity on a nomadic trip across the country, stops in a poor mining town where the children must employ all their grit to carve out a life from intense neglect, and reaches New York City, where the children build lives as empowered adults and their parents choose homelessness. The beautiful, clear prose is nothing compared to Walls’ ability to present her family’s story as she saw it unfolding with no hindsight, no bias, and no filters. Her childhood was both magical and terrible, sometimes simultaneously, and I recommend this book as an incredible memoir.

the golem and the jinni

The Most Evocative Fantasy: 

The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker

A golem and a jinni find themselves in New York City at the turn of the century, meeting by chance, and their opposite natures bring them together yet push them apart as they seek to create lives for themselves in the shifting chaos of the city. With the magic of folktales and literature, Yiddish and Middle Eastern culture, history and fantasy all woven together in one story, this book is compulsively readable. It brought me back to my middle school days of devouring fairytales by the dozens (although this book is not intended for youngsters). The prose is clear and elegant, but the characters really shine. Chava and Ahmad come to life (literally, in Chava’s case) through their emotional journeys, and although the book doesn’t end quite where I wanted it to, I was delighted to discover that a sequel is in the works.

You may have noticed that I mostly chose books for the same categories as last year, but that I replaced the favorite category. This year I read a lot of books that I loved, so I couldn’t bring myself to pick just one favorite. Last year was an anomaly!

I could share dozens more fantastic books, such as the two Guy Gavriel Kay titles I loved, the multiple memoirs and nonfiction narratives that taught me so much about other peoples’ lives and worlds, or the quiet dystopian novel that surprised me with its power, but I won’t overwhelm your TBR list.

If you want to keep up with what I’m reading all year, I post on Goodreads regularly, so come friend me! I do confess that I want you to friend me so that I can stalk follow your reading life – my TBR list is always ready for more titles.

In 2018, I read Jane Eyre, the final Harry Potter book, and a Shakespeare play (Titus Andronicus), just as I intended to, and in 2019, my priority list includes PersuasionThe Merchant of Venice, and The Martian.

This year, I’m not setting a goal for my reading life. I originally set goals to help kickstart my reading habit again after graduating from college, but now I want to see how many books I tear through without the numeric finish line taunting me. Also, I want to reread some old favorites, and I’m not inclined to do that with a goal, for whatever reason.

Right now I’m going to go finish a thriller with characters that are pretty boring (so maybe I should actually just put it down for good…). My library is closed for carpet replacement for most of January (so sad!), so I’m currently limited to books from my own shelves, with a few thrown in from my roommate’s collection. Time for those rereads!

Happy reading, everyone!

4 Awesome Podcasts

headphones-791078_1920Have you hopped on the podcast bandwagon yet? Who needs radio when you can listen to a podcast? Don’t worry, there’s a podcast out there for everyone. With shows covering everything from politics to money, pop culture to sports, food to comic books, this form of media is hopping.

I started seriously listening to podcasts about a year ago, although I had been listening to a writing podcast for longer than that. I’m also a completionist, so when I find a new podcast I like, I go back and listen to the archives. You don’t have to do that, but if you really like what you’re hearing and don’t want to wait for the next episode, that’s the best way to hear more.

I don’t know what you are into, although if you have a favorite writer or media personality, definitely check to see if they have a podcast. I just want to share four of my favorite podcasts with you as a starting point. None of these podcasts are related; I like them for varying reasons. They are wildly different from each other, but they are all super great. (And all the hosts have perfect podcast voices – that’s not always the case for some shows!)

WSIRN

 

What Should I Read Next

Episode Length: 45 minutes to an hour

Release Day: Tuesdays

Anne Bogel hosts this literary matchmaking podcast with a different guest each week, bringing a wide range of bookish interests and reading lifestyles to her audience. I followed Anne’s blog, ModernMrsDarcy.com, for a couple of years before I finally listened to the podcast. I can’t believe I waited so long!

In the standard show format, the guest and Anne chat about books and the guest’s reading life, including such possible topics as the guest’s bookstagram account, how the guest tracks their books, bookish quirks like only reading certain books before bed, and reading challenges.

Then the guest shares three books they love, one book they hate (or, more gently, say is not for them), and what they’ve been reading lately. Usually Anne will ask if there is anything the guest would like to change about their reading life, and then she tells the guest the pattern(s) she sees in the books they talked about and what they said about the books. For example, in one recent episode, the guest liked spunky iconoclastic female characters, fast paced books, and did not care about beautiful prose, so Anne recommended books with those traits in mind.

The show has featured people ranging from authors to librarians, parent-child reading duos to readers with specific book requests, podcasters to pencil shop owners. Many guests have blogs or other media presences, but many are just regular people who were chosen from the vast amount of guest submissions the show receives.

My to-read list has ballooned as a result of this podcast (and Anne’s blog! she has the best book lists), even though I don’t share book interests with the majority of the guests. If you consider yourself a book person, you definitely should check out this podcast. As Anne says, book people are the best people.

Anne has also written a book for book people: I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life. I’m waiting for the cold winter months to savor this small book of essays, but I know I’ll find myself in the pages.

AA

 

Afford Anything

Episode Length: 1 to 1 1/2 hours

Release Day: Mondays, with a bonus episode on the first Friday of each month

Paula Pant talks business, personal finance, financial independence (also known as FIRE*), real estate investing, and ruthless prioritization of your time and energy on this highly intelligent show. I started reading Paula’s blog, AffordAnything.com, about five years ago, and I find her message so inspiring.

Paula’s core theme is that you can afford anything, but you can’t afford everything, and this not only includes your money, but also your time, energy, and your whole life. You can afford to travel the world, but not if you also live in a luxury condo and pay $1,000 per month on your student loans, for example. You can build your own side business, but not if you also watch hours of TV daily or allow yourself to focus on pleasing others with the way you spend your time.

The show consists of two interviews per month and 2 Q&A episodes per month, one of which focuses on real estate. Paula is best known in the FIRE circle, particularly for her use of real estate rental investing to become financially independent. She practices what she preaches!

Recent episodes have included a controversial (and viral) interview with personal finance guru Suze Orman, and several episodes responding to that firestorm, an interview with James Clear about building better habits, and a personal finance Q&A episode with Joe Saul-Sehy that tackles some out of the box ideas for funding your kids’ college expenses.

Paula is a great interviewer, but she also does a great recap at the end of each interview, highlighting the key takeaways and action steps. The interviews are typically packed with information and points to consider, so Paula’s summary helps listeners to focus on the significant and limit the overwhelm.

If you are interested in starting a side hustle, improving your finances, or prioritizing your life goals, I highly recommend this show. And if you are curious about rental properties, Paula is super passionate about this topic and shares lots of great information.

*Financial Independence Retire Early

SA

 

Sorta Awesome

Episode Length: 1 hour

Release Day: Fridays, with the occasional bonus Extra Awesome episode

Meg Tietz talks all things awesome with her co-hosts Rebekah Hoffer and Kelly Gordon, which means having girlfriend chats about all of life’s topics, both serious and silly. From fashion and pop culture to recipes and personality types, this show covers it all. In the archives you’ll find episodes on rest, self-care, parenting, the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, The Bachelor franchise, and so much more.

In each episode, Meg and one co-host or guest share their Awesome of the Week, which could be anything from a product to a TV show, or anything else that is making their lives just a little more awesome. Then the episode moves into the theme of the week, which could be a serious topic such as anxiety or adoption, or a light and funny topic such as Netflix or a seasonal top ten list.

My favorite episodes are the confessional episodes: one group show has all the co-hosts sharing their unpopular opinions, like hating Christmas and an affinity for the uni-boob. Most recently, a confessional episode covered homemaking, which included confessions such as making children sleep in the closet (don’t worry, it’s a large closet) and letting an elderly neighbor plant the co-host’s garden for years on end. It’s all the things you would never confess to anyone but your closest friends, shared for the world to hear.

If you’re looking for thoughtful conversation on life’s issues and moments that make you laugh out loud, this show is for you. (There’s also a very active Facebook group for the show’s listeners, if you can’t get enough Sorta Awesome from just one weekly episode.)

TNRT

 

The Next Right Thing

Episode Length: 15 to 20 minutes

Release Day: Tuesdays

Emily P. Freeman creates a quiet space for your soul to breathe with this show. Decisions are hard, and as we make thousands of decisions every day, we get overwhelmed and lost in our own lives. As Emily says, this podcast is for those who have a decision to make, the chronically hesitant and the second-guessers, and I’d say this show is for everyone, perhaps especially those who think they don’t need it.

Every week, Emily offers a reflection, often in the form of a story, a small action, and a benediction. Her mission is to help you determine your next right thing in love, and that’s made easier when you take the time to slow down, listen to an episode, and follow Emily’s gentle suggestions. I invariably feel refreshed after listening. Emily always points her listeners back to Jesus, and offers quiet support for the next right step in our lives.

If you are seeking clarity in your life, struggling with the daily grind, or just in need of some quiet, meditative space, this show is for you. This is the one podcast I have never listened to as I also do something else, because emotional and spiritual clarity can’t be found while multitasking.

Emily is also a writer; her projects include hope*writers, an online community for writers both published and aspiring, her blog, at EmilyPFreeman.com, and four books. All of her work is dedicated to helping people discern their next right thing in love, particularly in the creative spaces.

Do any of these shows catch your interest? I think it’s time you joined the podcast world! If you are technologically challenged and aren’t sure how to find and listen to podcasts, you’ll find plenty of simple guides online, but your best bet might be to find someone who already knows the podcast world and can help you figure it out. (And if you’re the podcast savvy person, it’s time to subscribe your mom to those shows you know she’ll like but will never find by herself.)

Most podcasts drop a new episode each week, but sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. If it’s a good podcast, the host will usually publish episodes on a schedule and let you know if that schedule changes.

If you don’t know how to listen to podcasts, you’ll need a device that can access a podcast app. You can pick a podcast app in the app store, such as Overcast or Stitcher or a host of others, or you can use the IOS or Android podcast apps.

Happy listening!

10 Years

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It’s a rare moment when she looks straight at the camera with her ears forward.

Ten years ago, I was a fifteen-year-old girl who desperately wanted a horse. Any horse. I was tired of lesson horses and wanted to ride the same horse over and over, to form an unshakeable bond with one equine. I wanted the teenage horse lover’s equivalent of a romance novel, that brilliant and uncanny connection with a beautiful horse who could run like the wind and would do anything I asked.

I am thrilled to say that I’m now ten years into that unshakeable bond, and it’s simultaneously exactly and nothing at all like the horse novels told me. Vannie does anything I ask as long as she’s decided she wants to do it and I asked properly, which is only about 70% of the time. She runs like the wind mostly when I don’t want her to, often straight at any spectators. Communication problems happen in any relationship, not just between two humans, I’ve learned.

We have a bond of trust and friendship, demonstrated frequently by pinned ears and wild nips at my shirt or my arm. But those moments when we just stand together, our heads touching as we breath together, are the some of the most perfect moments of my life.

We’ve been through a whole lot of frustration, and some exhilarating moments where it felt like we could hear each other’s thoughts. Just this week I wanted to wail in aggravation because of a bad habit I can’t seem to break her of. On the same day, though, we hit a near perfect moment while cantering.

Spring is coming, and we’re so excited to get outside and ride in the fresh air. The indoor arena gets small and claustrophobic at the end of a long winter. She’s always glad to see me, but especially so when we can go hang out on the grass while she grazes and I watch her, or read.

So here’s to my Vannie, one of the biggest blessings of my life. Ten years together has brought me through a lot of life changes, and only God knows what the next ten years will bring. (Not so many changes for her. The life of this horse is pretty easy.) But I’m so glad Vannie is mine, so that no matter what else happens in my life, I can always go to the barn and find the best horse in the world waiting for me.

2017 Reading Recap: Books, Books, and More Books

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Library books for the win! I still haven’t read The Golem and the Jinni

This year was a really good year for my reading life. Two days ago I finished reading my 75th book of the year and achieved my goal, which was especially exciting because the last 2 years I was too busy reading fanfiction to read enough books to meet my goal. Oops.

I read a lot of great books this year, and quite a few books that made me say, “Meh.” But because I want to share the book love, I’m going to share some of the most memorable books I read this year.

Two notes before I dig in:

First, if you like reading or want to get back into the habit, set a reading goal for yourself! Find books you think you’ll really love, not books you think you ought to read. Don’t compare your reading goal to anyone else’s, either. I read 75 books, and am aiming for more next year, but I am a literal speed reader. People who read at normal speed can’t keep up with me, and that’s okay. Don’t let comparison keep you from enjoying some fantastic books in 2018.

Second, I read books of many genres and varieties, so I’m issuing a blanket potential content warning for all the books I tell you about. Use your own judgment and feel free to ask me about any book I have read.

Here we go!

The Book I Finally ReadHarry_Potter_and_the_Sorcerer's_Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

A boy discovers he’s a wizard and gets to attend magic school while an evil wizard tries repeatedly to kill him. I missed out on the Harry Potter books as a kid, and in college thought I was too old for the series, but in January I decided this would be the year I finally read Harry Potter. And wow, was I missing out! These books are just so much fun, and there’s so much packed into the story that anyone can find something to love. I read books 1-6 this year, but didn’t quite make it to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If you like fantasy, children’s literature and YA, or just want to finally be in the know, you should definitely give the first book a try.

The Best Spiritual BookGray Matter

Gray Matter: A Neurosurgeon Discovers the Power of Prayer… One Patient at a Time by David I. Levy

A neurosurgeon begins asking patients if he can pray with them before surgery, and the results are incredible and fascinating. I read quite a few books this year about missionaries, incredible conversion stories, and persecution of Christians that were all moving and important, but this book stands alone for me. I often make prayer a complicated thing in my head, but this surgeon’s simple and quiet prayers with people facing intense medical situations strips away any eloquence or trappings, and I found myself convicted of the power of prayer, quite unrelated to the words I use or the length of the prayer I pray.

The Book I Learned the Most FromSlave My True Story

Slave: My True Story by Mende Nazer

A twelve-year-old Sudanese girl is kidnapped and sold into slavery to an Arab family in Khartoum, Sudan, before finally escaping seven years later, thousands of miles away from home in London, England. I still don’t know much about modern slavery or its victims, let alone the terrible conflicts raging through Sudan in the past several decades, but Mende’s story gave me a glimpse into a world far removed from anything I have ever experienced. Her courage despite her enslavement and abuse humbles me. Bonus book: Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir presents the story of a female Sudanese doctor who grew up and worked in the middle of the conflict, before fleeing to England for safety.

The Most Fun BookNo Biking

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Faye Green

An American family decides that four kids is not enough, and adopts five more from Bulgaria and Ethiopia, leading to the hilarious, poignant stories Melissa shares about the trials and joys of international adoption and her big, crazy family. With nine kids, including four teenage boys, nothing is ever quiet for long around this house. This book touches a lot of serious topics, but the humor and joy Melissa writes with make it a delight to read. I haven’t read many memoirs yet, but I think this one will stay at the top of my list for a long time to come.

The Saddest BookNight

Night by Elie Wiesel

The horrific autobiographical account of one teenager’s survival in a Nazi death camp, and how he lost everything. It’s a very difficult book to read because of the absolute horrors Elie Wiesel endured and witnessed. I was unaware this was a classic Holocaust account until I read it, but the author’s spare and haunting prose makes it unforgettable. How could humans do such monstrous things to each other? The death camps cannot be allowed to vanish into the murk of history.

The Best Nonfiction BookEvidence

Evidence Not Seen: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II by Darlene Deibler Rose

The story of a young missionary’s survival and faith in the jungles of New Guinea and through four years in a Japanese prison camp. I was humbled by Darlene’s faith in the middle of terror, abuse, and isolation. She lost her husband and her health during those four years, but she never lost her trust in the Lord. She and the other Christians she was imprisoned with spread the gospel and served their fellow prisoners without ceasing. This book is an incredible testimony!

 

My Favorite BookGoblin

 

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

 

The half-goblin youngest son of the emperor is recalled from exile when his father and older brothers are killed, and is thrust into a court of danger, prejudice, and intrigue as the last surviving heir to a throne he has no idea what to do with. I read a lot of awesome fantasy books this year, but I adored this book above all others. Maia, the new emperor, is completely unprepared for the complexity and turmoil of his new court, and struggles to deal with the psychological damage of his father abandoning him to exile and his mother’s death while learning to be a ruler. Yet he is one of the kindest fantasy protagonist I have ever met, and ultimately it is that kindness which allows him to survive and thrive as emperor. The worldbuilding, lovely prose, and fascinating use of pronouns only add to the sheer delight I experienced while reading this book.

 

I could tell you about so many more books I read this year alone, including the 1200 page epic fantasy novel that was book 75, or the fascinating story of a nineteen-year-old Alaskan schoolteacher, but that would require writing a novel of a blog post.

 

So instead, check out my Goodreads account! You’ll find all the books I read in 2017 as well as previous years, and my enormous TBR list. I’m so excited for all the books I’ll read in 2018, and I’d love to hear what you’re going to read! My 2018 list includes Jane Eyre, the final Harry Potter, more books by Guy Gavriel Kay, because he’s amazing, and a Shakespeare play that I have yet to choose. But first I have to finish the books due back at the library in just a few days…

Happy reading!

On Being an Introverted Christian

I’m an introvert.

I’m a fairly classic introvert, who is not outgoing or comfortable in large groups of people I don’t know, who requires lots of alone time to function, who could easily become a actual hermit if I lived alone and didn’t need to work for a living. Parties where I only know one person are very stressful. Fictional people are so much easier to deal with than real people.

Small talk is so hard. What do I say? What questions do I ask? Oh no, did I just come off as a crazy person?

Walking up and starting a conversation with someone I don’t know is enough to give me heart palpitations. I did that at church recently, with people I don’t know personally but who know who my family is, and my hands were shaking through the whole conversation, my heart was pounding, and I was praying I could get the words out without tripping over them and stuttering and saying strange things. Corners are the best place to be at events, because then people come to you if they want to talk to you.

If you see me at an event and I don’t talk to you, please know that I probably think you’re really cool but have no idea what to say to someone that awesome. If I speak to you I’ll end up saying strange things or just laughing a lot. It’s not you, it’s me. Seriously.

Phone calls are the bane of my existence. I’m extremely blessed to be in a job where I rarely have to talk on the phone. If I call you, I have probably given myself a script to start off the call, because there are only a few people on this earth I don’t get anxious about being on the phone with, and most of them live in the same house as me.

Making friends is like climbing a hill with no guarantee of ever reaching the top, complete with awkward conversations and heart palpitating moments along the way. This chart, found on tumblr, sums up most of my friendships:

Sometimes I feel like you have to be an extrovert to be a good Christian. (A horrifying notion.) Jesus loves people. He came to earth and spent so much time loving on people and meeting new people and being surrounded by crowds. He tells us to feed His sheep and go into the world and make disciples. So many people!

Being real here–people stress me out. A lot. 

So it seems like I’m not qualified for this being like Christ business. Especially when you need to show His love to people you don’t know. Believe me, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone to do this and for someone who gets anxious about asking a worker at a store a question, it takes a lot of fear and trembling before God to do that.

Oh God, do I have to? Maybe someone else could do it? I’ll just show your love to the middle school girls I already know, and maybe another leader can talk to the new ones. I know, I know. I’ll go over and introduce myself in 3, 2, 1…

It has gotten easier, in some situations. Middle school kids don’t seem to care how awkward I feel when I talk to them. I actually hold short conversations with the moms who have babies in the church nursery where I volunteer.

But I am so much more comfortable in the background, with the people I already know. Church event coming up? Great! How can I help in the kitchen or with the kids? I’ll tell people what to do if there’s no one else to do it, but it makes me nervous. And please don’t make me a greeter…

So there are the two sides of the situation. On the one side, God made me who I am. I can’t force myself to be a people person, and I will never be someone who meets someone and bam! Instant friend. I have my strengths as an introvert–great with small groups, great listener, absolutely ready to pray or talk one-on-one, overwhelming love for my middle school girls–and I have learned (am learning) how to balance those with my weaknesses.

On the other side, God has called me to love people. Maybe not as a greeter at church events, or as the one who goes out into the lobby to find the moms new to the church and encourage them to bring their babies to the nursery. It’s so easy sometimes to avoid talking to people and tell myself it’s because I’m an introvert and it’s exhausting and anxiety inducing.

But when that middle school girl walks in to the student center and looks lost and uncertain, I can get over myself and my insecurities and go welcome her. When standing in a Jamaican nursing home with instructions to go into the residents’ rooms to pray with them, I can pray, Oh God, I don’t know how to do this and I’m really freaked out, and then do it anyway.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to be people we are not. He does ask us to trust Him to change us and grow us into Christians–little Christs. And to do that, we need to lift our eyes off our own insecurities and fears, turn to God, and say, Ok, God. What do I do next?

I will always be an introvert, and Jesus will use me just as I am. I don’t have to worry about being different. All I have to do is turn to Jesus.

Jesus and Minimalism

bluepaintRecently I watched Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things on Netflix. I’ve been a minimalist for a few years now, ever since discovering minimalism shortly after graduating college. Depending on the picture that comes to mind when you hear the word minimalism, you might not agree with my self-label if you saw all my belongings. (So many books. And notebooks. And–I confess–horse toys.)

Minimalism, however, is not about having as few things as possible and having a cold, bare home. Minimalism is about editing your life to contain only what brings you joy and adds value to your life. This is often most visible in your physical possessions, but it also plays out in how you spend your time, how you spend your money, the relationships you cultivate, the job you choose, and the activities you fill your schedule with.

As an introvert, I naturally tend toward minimalism in my schedule, but it was a revelation to me that I did not in fact need to own all the books to have my own little library. I only need the books that bring me joy, which are usually the books I read over and over, or the books I read dozens of times as a child and want to keep for nostalgia and any future children of my own.

The anti-thesis of minimalism is consumerism, which is more than just shopping a lot. Consumerism is a worldview, a mindset, that affects your finances, your career, your schedule, your hobbies, and your relationships, just as minimalism does.

This is essentially the thesis of the documentary, which I found to be a refreshing, calm film that inspired me to be more intentional about life: how I spend my time, my money, and my thoughts. I highly recommend it.

One aspect of the documentary that caught my attention was the interviews. Most of the major minimalism bloggers that I am familiar with were interviewed for the documentary, and as each described their journey to minimalism, I heard the same phrases over and over.

“I felt so empty.”

“There was a hole that I was trying to fill with buying things and doing things.”

“I climbed the ladder and did not find fulfillment at the top.”

These are general sentiments, not exact quotes, but nearly every single person experienced a variation of this. They then discovered minimalism and shed loads of excess baggage, weight, mental turmoil, and schedule craziness, and did a complete 180 in life.

Now they all described a slower pace of life with fewer possessions and commitments, with time to focus on what was truly important to them. Fulfillment and contentment, found in minimalism.

I am quite certain these bloggers have found fulfillment and contentment and joy having edited their lives and possessions. I am equally certain their original problem was emptiness, not consumerism.

As a Christian, I know there is emptiness without Jesus. Every Christian can tell their own story of life without Jesus, and life with Jesus with that emptiness filled. Emptiness is the condition of a life without Jesus, and consumerism is a treatment of the emptiness that soon becomes a symptom of that same emptiness.

Minimalism is another treatment of the original problem, and most people who give minimalism the side-eye do so because of minimalists who count their possessions and exult when they have only 100 things, or minimalists who are always skating through life by borrowing everyone else’s belongings and generosity in order to have as few things as possible. At that point the treatment has once again become a symptom.

But although minimalism is not Jesus, I think it comes much closer to filling that void than consumerism, and that’s why minimalists do feel so much happier and content with life.

Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV) says “19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I will not label Jesus a minimalist. Trying to pin modern labels on the Son of God is a silly exercise, in my opinion. But I do think minimalists are on to something that Jesus was telling people about 2,000 years ago.

Jesus valued people, not possessions. He spent His time building relationships and focusing His energy on God’s purpose for Him. Those of us who have been in church for a long time are familiar with the idea that Jesus did not come to be the warrior king the Jewish people expected, but instead a savior of souls. But if we look at this from a slightly different angle, what do we find?

Jesus did not come to earth to accumulate material possessions or see how much activity He could fit in one day, no matter how worthwhile that activity might be. Luke 12:15 (ESV) says, “15 And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”

The young man who wanted to know how to have eternal life was not interested in giving up his possessions and wealth in order to have that eternal life. Jesus’ response speaks volumes about what happens when we value the wrong things.

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24 ESV)

The point is not the wealth or possessions, but what matters to us. In minimalist terms, what we spend our time, money, and physical space on.

Do we prioritize buying the newest gadget over giving to an organization that feeds the hungry and brings the gospel to the far corners of the world? Do we spend time organizing our lives and our belongings or spending hours on our devices and put off spending time with our families? Are we too busy running from one activity to the next to notice the gorgeous sky God created or the joy of splashing in puddles? I’m certainly guilty of all this.

If Christians are on this earth to be a reflection of Christ, then living with a consumeristic mindset simply will not work. Our lives ought to be lived intentionally, with our priorities on people and God’s purpose for each of us. This includes doing things that feed our souls instead of sucking us dry and making the days flash by in a haze. This might be as simple as spending less time scrolling the internet and more time reading a book by C.S. Lewis, or as big as putting an stop to endless planning or dreaming and taking the first practical step toward your dreams and calling.

Courtney Carver, of bemorewithless, often says minimalism is love.

Jesus is love, and minimalism only works when it reflects Jesus’ values, whether the minimalist in question realizes it or not.

Emptiness, a life without God, is the problem. Consumerism is a treatment turned symptom. Minimalism is a treatment that mimics the cure.

Jesus is the cure.

The Horse

Something incredible happened at the beginning of November.

See, I’ve had this dream since I was a little girl. A lot of little girls have this dream. Some grow out of it, some don’t. For some it comes true, for some it never does.

It came true for me.

If you ask any girl between the ages of five and twelve if they love horses, my guess is that at least half of them will say yes. Probably at least half of those that say yes have asked for a horse for Christmas or their birthday.

I was a fairly practical child, so I never asked for a horse. Oh, but I wanted one. Desperately.

Instead, my parents started me in riding lessons when I was eleven. I don’t know if they thought about how far this path would take me. Fifteen years old, and I screwed up my courage to ask my trainer if I could lease the horse I had been taking lessons on for the past month.

He talked to her owners and they said yes. I was thrilled.

Thus began many years with this horse. When I first started leasing her, she’d greet me with pinned ears and an angry stare as I tried to put her halter on. I didn’t like her that much, but hey, sometimes horse crazy girls can’t be picky. Then after a year or so of much frustration and lots of time spent together, we became friends.

Slowly, I learned how to ride her well. Slowly, she learned how to behave under saddle.

Of course, every time I took her to 4-H shows, she became a crazy horse again. It took four years for us to win first place at a show, but from where we started, there had been nowhere to go but up. (It happened to be the last show, because I was aging out of 4-H. Otherwise we’d have kept winning.)

Now I’m almost three years out of college. I never imagined that I would spend almost a decade leasing this horse, but I’m so glad I have.

But all things come to an end, even leases. I’d always worried about this. What if her owners sell her and I don’t have enough money to buy her? I’m not kidding, I’ve had a few nightmares about this possibility.

Now, though, the timing (and the finances) was right. My trainer came up to me one day while I was putting away some new barn supplies and said, “Can I talk to you?” As soon as he told me her owners were selling her, I said, “I’ll take her.”

So. Meet Vannie. You may have met her before, but everything is different now.

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Now, she’s my horse. Not the horse I lease, not the horse I love but don’t own.

She’s my horse.

She’s nothing less and nothing more than a dream come true, because at heart, I’m still that horse crazy girl who had horse wallpaper on her bedroom walls for most of her teenage years.

I am so blessed to own a horse. I can’t thank God enough for this incredible gift.

The day I signed the bill of sale, I went into Vannie’s stall to bring her out to ride. She promptly pinned her ears and bit me. My mom said later, “Well, I guess she knows you can’t get rid of her now. You’re stuck with her.”

Never change, Vannie.

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How to Bathe A Horse in 36 Steps

1. Ready supplies: shampoo, conditioner, sponge, scrub brush, bucket, squeegee, lead rope.

2. Change mind and swap lead rope for one with a chain–horse may try to escape.

3. Unwind hose from rack. Once it lies fallen before you, untangle it. Attach spray nozzle to end of hose.

4. Drag hose many feet through barn to grass outside, where supplies are waiting.

5. Attempt to fill bucket with water. Realize water is not turned on.

6. Go back in barn and turn on water.

7. Fill bucket with water. Add shampoo. Is it enough? Add more shampoo.

8. Grab lead rope with chain and go back in barn to fetch horse.

100_01029. Horse wanders around arena looking at you sideways.

10. Try to catch horse.

11. Avoid horse’s bared teeth and threatening hoofs. Ears are pinned back.

12. Move carefully in a wide circle around horse to horse’s head. Slide chain through halter and attach.

13. Lead horse out of arena to grass where hose lies waiting. Horse rushes over to grass. It might leave before she gets there.

14. Pick up hose. Horse becomes statue.

15. Attempt to spray horse’s feet. Hose becomes venomous snake. Horse tries to flee.

16. Prevent horse from fleeing. Continue spraying feet.

17. Enlist a horse-holder.

18. Chase horse in a circle, spraying her ever higher while horse-holder tries to hold her still. Pause tountangle hose from you, horse’s legs, horse-holder, and itself.

19. Repeat process on horse’s other side.

20. Put hose down by barn. Horse pretends it no longer exists and resumes grazing.

21. Bring bucket of soapy water to horse. Use sponge to cover horse in soap. She now remembers that cool water feels good on a hot day.

22. Scrub horse with scrub brush. Do not miss an inch. This might be your last chance for a long time. Make that white sock actually white.

23. Put horse’s tail in bucket of soapy water and scrub. Horse attempts to swat flies. You and horse-holder are now covered in soap.

24. Move bucket of soapy water far from horse. Bring hose back.

25. Chase horse in a circle while spraying her. Remove all the soap.

26. Spray her other side. Notice there isstill soap on the previously rinsed side. Spray both sides again.

27. Put hose down and grab conditioner. Slather mane and tail. Horse ignores you.

28. Thank horse-holder fervently as she gives horse back to you.

29. Collect all supplies and dump and rinse bucket and sponge while holding horse. Horse does not appreciate the bucket rinsing.

30. Scrape water from horse with squeegee. Repeat as necessary.

31. Kill horsefly.

32. Wipe horse’s face with damp sponge. Horse is offended and tries to flee.

33. Escape flies and go into barn. Comb horse’s mane and tail, put away supplies.

34. Wait for horse to dry. Wait some more.

35. Put horse back in stall. Offer many treats and ask for forgiveness.IMG_0376

36. Drive home. Realize hose is still lying on grass. Groan and vow to thank stablehand profusely for having to deal with it.

*The above events may or may not be hyperbole…But I err on the side of reality.