Best of ’16

16 books I recommend:

  1. Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide – Sarah Arthur
  2. A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World – Katelyn Beatty
  3. Garden In the East: The Spiritual Life of the Body – Angela Doll Carlson
  4. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery – Ian Morgan Cron and Susan Stabile
  5. Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing – Andy Crouch
  6. Spiritual Sobriety: Stumbling Back to Faith When Good Religion Goes Bad – Elizabeth Esther
  7. Parables and Paradox: Sonnets on the Sayings of Jesus and Other Poems – Malcolm Guite
  8. Assimilate Or Go Home: Notes From a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith – D.L. Mayfield
  9. Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People – edited by Charles E. Moore
  10. Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living – Shauna Niequist
  11. Soul Bare: Stories of Redemption by Emily P. Freeman, Sarah Bessey, Trillia Newbell and More – edited by Cara Sexton
  12. Original Blessing: Putting Sin In Its Rightful Place – Danielle Shroyer
  13. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit – James K.A. Smith
  14. The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life – Ann Voskamp
  15. Out of the House of Bread: Satisfying Your Hunger for God with the Spiritual Disciplines – Preston Yancey
  16. Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark – Addie Zierman

8 blogs posts I enjoyed reading:

  1. Beauty will save the world – Andrew Petiprin (The Living Church, January)
  2. When Beauty Strikes – David Brooks (New York Times, January)
  3. I want a religion – Mac Stewart (The Living Church, April)
  4. Dear church: An open letter from one of those millennials you can’t figure out – Jonathan Aigner (Patheos, May)
  5. God Needs Women – Rachel Held Evans (July)
  6. Only the dumb ones go into parish ministry – Sarah Condon (The Living Church, July)
  7. And on the seventh day, many don’t rest at all – Lisa Wangsness (Boston Globe, November)
  8. Her Loss – Lindy West (New York Times, November)

8 blog posts I enjoyed writing:

  1. Happy (Still) Easter (April)
  2. Where Are All the Women? (May)
  3. Hey. Thanks For Caring. (May)
  4. From the Other Side (June)
  5. First Things First (June)
  6. Carry Each Other (July)
  7. Why Seminary? (August)
  8. Sacrament at the Soul of Me (September)

annual stack of (most of) the books I read this year


On Grandpas and Books and the Ministry of Presents

A few weeks ago, I wrote here about visiting my maternal grandma in the hospital. In today’s similarly-titled post, we get the story of visiting my paternal granddad at his home near Oklahoma City last weekend. (The significance of attending to the illness and aging of family alongside the joy and birth of the Christmas season has not been lost on me. Perhaps a post for another day.)

Granddad is the kind of relative I don’t know well and only see sporadically, the last time being 5 years ago at a family wedding. But, 5 years makes a big difference, especially for the elderly, and in recent months he’s experienced rapid weight loss, no appetite, and significant weakness.

While visiting, my family and I set out to help him eat a little something 2-3 times a day, do household chores, and do some ministry of presence. Along the way, Granddad gave me an unintentional surprise: the ministry of presents.

Years ago, he attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and served numerous churches as a Baptist minister. I knew this. To this day, he has a sizable theological library collecting dust in his home. I did not know thisIMG_1754.

And let’s just say around a theological library, I act like a puppy in a pet store.

After perusing the shelves, I removed two intriguing volumes, took them to the living room, sat on the floral-patterned couch next to Granddad, and said, wide-eyed: “Your books. They’re amazing.”

“You can have them,” he said. “Any of them.”

FLASHBACK: As a high school student, I sat on the same couch and told Granddad that I wanted to pursue theological studies and work in vocational ministry. He promptly suggested that I can’t preach because I’m a woman. He might have been alright with women in other, non-preaching roles (e.g. children’s ministry, youth ministry). But the conversation ended there. If he was proud of me, I couldn’t tell. END FLASHBACK.

This time around, I know he’s proud of me. I know because he offered me his theology books. And because they used to mean a lot to him, and now they mean a lot to me. And because his 1938 anthology Christ and the Fine Arts showed us that we have some things in common — two things, to be exact: Christ and the fine arts. And I know he’s proud of me because he said so.

In what might be one of our last conversations this side of heaven, Granddad said in a weak, raspy voice, rather like a weary Jesus talking to a wary Peter, “You want to work for the Church?” (Peter, do you love me?) 

“Yes, I do,” I said. (Yes, Lord, you know I love you.)

“That’s real good,” he said. “I’m proud of you.” (Then feed my sheep.)

He didn’t mind that I’m a woman. He didn’t even know that I’ve become an Episcopalian in recent years. He knew that, in the end, we all alike hold fast to “the holy catholic church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” (to quote the Apostles’ Creed). And what a present that is. 

Best of ’15

15 books:

  1. Scary Close: Dropping the Act and IMG_1700Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller (February 2015)
  2. Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Finding God by Lauren Winner (February 2015)
  3. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans (April 2015)
  4. If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For by Jamie Tworkowski (May 2015)
  5. Can’t Not Do: The Compelling Social Drive That Changes Our World by Paul Shoemaker (August 2015)
  6. Accidental Saints: Finding God In All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber (September 2015)
  7. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (September 2015)
  8. Girl Meets Change: Truths to Carry You Through Life’s Transitions by Kristen Strong (September 2015)
  9. Coming Clean: A Story of Faith by Seth Haines (October 2015)
  10. Felicity: Poems by Mary Oliver (October 2015)
  11. Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution by Diana Butler Bass (October 2015)
  12. The Story of Joy: From the Bible to Late Romanticism by Adam Potkay — one of my undergrad English professors! (October 2015)
  13. Your Vocational Credo: Practical Steps to Discover Your Unique Purpose by Deborah Koehn Loyd (October 2015)
  14. Out of Sorts: Making Peace With an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey (November 2015)
  15. The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam McHugh (December 2015)

10 blogs I enjoyed reading:

  1. Post-Evangelicals and Why We Can’t Just Get Over It by Rachel Held Evans (January 2015)
  2. Easter Vocation: I Have Seen the Lord by L. Gregory Jones (April 2015)
  3. The Moral Bucket List by David Brooks (April 2015)
  4. How to Find Your Place in the World After Graduation by Pamela Druckerman (May 2015)
  5. Is Anyone Listening? by Matt Boulter (July 2015)
  6. All Our Crooked, Half-Healed Places by Addie Zierman (August 2015)
  7. Promise Me Tomorrow by Fortesa Latifi (September 2015)
  8. When the Stories Stop by Anna Tesh (October 2015)
  9. Begin Again: On Getting Unstuck by Parker J. Palmer (December 2015)
  10. Precious Things Come From Staying by Alissa Wilkinson (December 2015)

5 blogs I enjoyed writing:

  1. I Am Understood: The Spirituality of Reading (January 2015)
  2. The necessity of Sadness: A Reflection on Disney-Pixar’s Inside Out (July 2015)
  3. The Divinity in the Details: What I’ve Learned From Working at a Church (July 2015)
  4. You (Almost) Lost Me: Why This Young Christian Is Somehow Not Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith (September 2015)
  5. On Grandmas and Hospitals and the Ministry of Presence (December 2015)


Reading List

Spiritual Memoirs:
  1. Augustine’s Confessions
  2. Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint
  3. Frederick Buechner’s Now And Then: A Memoir of Vocation
  4. Rachel Held Evans’ Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
  5. Susan Isaacs’ Angry Conversations With God: A Snarky But Authentic Spiritual Memoir
  6. Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
  7. Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain
  8. Sara Miles’ Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion
  9. Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
  10. Shauna Niequist’s Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life
  11. Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk
  12. Henri Nouwen’s The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery 
  13. Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
  14. Phyllis Tickle’s The Shaping of a Life: A Spiritual Landscape
  15. Matthew Paul Turner’s Churched: One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess
  16. Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God: A Memoir
  17. Preston Yancey’s Tables In the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again
  18. Addie Zierman’s When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Fire, Tangled Love, and Starting Over

(Current completion rate: 50%)

On Prayer:

  1. Anthony Bloom’s Beginning to Pray
  2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible
  3. Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home
  4. Bill Hybels’ Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be with God
  5. Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God
  6. C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
  7. Paul Miller’s A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World
  8. John Shelby Spong’s Honest Prayer
  9. Evelyn Underhill’s Essential Writings
  10. Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Prayer

(Current completion rate: 30%)

I Am Understood: The Spirituality of Reading

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading a book. Nothing unusual about that. But this time I read the last pages slowly, closed the cover gently, and — no joke — hugged the book to my chest with a sigh.

“I am understood,” I thought.

Maybe you’ve experienced this too. It seems several Twitter users have, based on the re-tweets and “likes” that my post about book-finishing received:

We want to be understood. I know I do.

I’m the introvert who watches Susan Cain’s TED talk over and over, because it’s just so darn relatable.

The single woman who sends her roommates Buzzfeed lists like “17 Things Only Single Women Will Understand” (made that one up, although it probably exists) — to which they reply “Haha, yes, that is SO us! The Internet always understands.”

When you live in an overlap, this may be especially the case.

The overlap of adolescence and intelligence and a touch of depression? I’ve taught teenagers before (and, yes, been that teenager before) for whom Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower or John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars really hit the spot. I even saw TFIOS bring a 15-year-old, acne-ridden boy to tears. Reportedly, there was an eyelash in his eye, not tears. But, behind that eyelash he was seeing that it’s OK to use big words and woo a girl and be a little scared while you’re at it.

The overlap of evangelical Christianity and liturgical traditions? (My overlap of choice lately.) This is why Robert Weber’s Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, Todd Hunter’s The Accidental Anglican, and Preston Yancey’s Tables In the Wilderness exist.

The overlap of spirituality, doubt, grace, feminism, or any combination thereof? (My overlap of choice pretty much always.) Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, Addie Zierman, Anne Lamott, and Barbara Brown Taylor have been pretty understanding.

I realize that I’ve mostly cited non-fiction works, often memoirs, in the above paragraphs. But undoubtedly the same can be true of fiction. Anytime a character, real or imagined, lives a journey that in some way intersects our own, they can make us whisper: “I am understood.”

Why? Reading others’ stories can speak to some of our deepest desires: the desire to sense that my past is not too crazy and the desire to sense that my future is not too scary. If a character in a story experiences an abuse or loss or illness like you did once, you can know that it’s not “crazy”; it really does happen and it really is hard and you really can keep going. Or, if a character overcomes something that you hope to overcome in the future, you can know that it’s not impossible; she did it, so maybe you can too.

I hope you open a book and feel understood.

I hope you watch a movie, hear a sermon, tilt your head at a painting, and feel understood.

And I do hope you read this blog and feel understood. That might be my blogging goal for the year: to write things that make people feel understood. Whether you’ve felt depressed or hopeful, anxious or calm, accepted or rejected, ambitious or afraid of the future, committed to your faith tradition or questioning faith and tradition, whatever the case, I hope you’ll read my stories and see that I am too and say it with me: “I am understood.”