Tag Archives: stories

books you should read in 2017

You know the child with the semi-boyish haircut, pink dress, and princess slippers, curled up in some corner of the first-grade classroom with a book several levels above her reading level scrunched up against her face? That was me. On more than one occasion, I was grounded from a book series because it was causing me to “disengage and ignore the family.” Books have always been friends to the introvert in me and partners to challenge and shape my ideas. I’m always looking for new ones – inspiring, convicting, challenging, fantastical, and well told stories of someone or someplace else that changes the way I view life now.

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I don’t really recommend things unless I really really like them. I’m not always keen on taking other people’s recommendations because I’ve been told one too many times that something was amazing and it ended up not being my cup of tea. The books that I mention below I’m not just recommending, I’m highly recommending. They may not be for everyone, but they should be for most because they are just that good. This is my it-was-way-past-my-bedtime-and-I-was-still-reading collection. If you’re looking for some 2017 recommendations, here were some of my 2016 favorites:

Denise Ackernmann is a female, Anglican theologian who writes six letters on themes of liberation, feminism, racism, the power of naming, and suffering. Her writing includes experiences growing up during apartheid in South Africa and wrestles with what it means to truly walk like Jesus.

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-2-04-32-pmNew favorite genre: missionary autobiographies. I’ve made my through a fair share of missionary
biographies and they’re often as inspiring as a biography can get. But, like with any biography, they run the risk of idealizing and romanticizing the tension and mundanity of ordinary people’s lives. To read Helen Roseveare’s stories of being a medical missionary in the Congo, as told by Helen herself, through the lens of Deuteronomy 6:5 and sacrifice, is something altogether profound. You can be sure I’ll be not only re-reading this book in 2017, but exploring her other writings as well.

If you aren’t big into reading or if you want to introduce children to the refugee crisis and what it’s like to be a resettling refugee, this is a beautiful, simple, powerful telling of that story. It’s the story of Kek, a Sudanese refugee who gets resettled in Minnesota. The first person narrative and poetic-styled prose is accessible and pertinent in light of current global issues.

Another missionary story book for you, this one about a catholic priest who worked among the Masai people in east Africa. Amazing stories are in and of themselves worthwhile, but the questions they raise about evangelism, eucharist, ministry, and the overall nature of the church are incredibly presented and imperative for inspiring, personal, and theological wrestling.

This is less of a read-through kind of book and more of a wonderful resource for praying through the countries. It includes petition and praise points for each countries, updated in 2015 and submitted by natives and missionaries of those countries. If you’re committing to more intercessory prayer in 2017, this is worthwhile book to have on your nightstand – the cultural facts will help orient your prayers and the format of the book will help you stay focused (instead of, say, googling the country).

If you want more adult telling of refugee stories, this is a haunting and compellingly told book of nine stories from the world’s largest refugee camp. They can be read individually, which makes this long book more attainable, although the stories themselves may make it hard for you to pull away.

There’s a long compilation of books that I’m hoping to read at some point this year, so if you need more than what I’ve given you above, here’s an abridged version of that list:

Silence by Shuasako Endo

In the Land of Blue Burqas by Kate McCord

Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Terrapin by Wendell Berry

Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey

An Altar in the World by Barbara Taylor

Great Need Over the Water by Stina Katchadourian

The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Happy reading and may you find yourself lost in new worlds, captivating ideas, and fantastic stories this year!

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Why am I Doing What I’m Doing?

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At the beginning of the summer, I had a reflection do on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus, in preparation for my summer internship (stop reading this and go buy that book right now!). A lack of awareness about the deadline and an overwhelming amount of other work on my plate, I almost tried to write the reflection without having read the book. I read an online review of the main points, gathered the gist that a Christian Ed major would need to fake their way through a reflection, and started writing – ignoring the conviction gnawing at the back of my heart. The reason I knew I could write the reflection in my own words and with seemingly insightful thoughts was because, humiliating and humbling as it is to admit, I’ve done it before. I’ve had four years of Christian highschool and three years as a Wheaton College CE major. I know how talk the Jesus talk. You just use words like “journey,” “convicting,” “brokenness,” and “deepening my love for Jesus.”All without actually letting anything penetrate the callouses on my heart.

A couple sentences into my reflection paper I stopped my typing short. I was overcome. It was bigger than conviction – this was a holy, terrifying fear. What was I doing? And did I realize how dangerous this was, not for my grade or even my integrity, but for my soul?

I’m afraid – and I should be afraid – of going through the motions and then coming up with something “profound” for the sake of sharing my experience and having poetic language about “what the Lord did in my heart.” This isn’t a new fear or temptation for my heart. I suspect I’m not the only Christian to ever face it. It’s part of what motivates short term missions, “savior” complexes, and being more concerned with posting about our Bible studies than actually praying into them.

I remember writing in a journal years ago, “I think I’m afraid of getting to heaven someday and not having stories of Your work in my life.” I know that it’s not about the big moments because I know what it feels like to see Jesus in a mom putting her child in a stroller, a country music song, or even the way you flush a toilet – it’s amazing, it’s life-giving, it’s mindfulness in living, and it allows you to feel the nearness of the Holy Spirit. The challenge is not looking for those kinds of moments to boost my sense of spirituality and self-worth.

I didn’t get fifteen pages into Nouwen’s book (after purchasing a copy and asking my gracious professor for an extension) without being convicted of this very point. Nouwen writes, “the more willing I was to look honestly at what I was thinking and saying and doing now, the more easily I would come into touch with the movement of God’s Spirit in me, leading me to the future” (13). It’s not about what looks good or even feels good – it’s about where the Holy Spirit is moving and where I stand in step with that. It’s always been more about simply loving than stories of loving grandeur and profundity.

When I’m living with a dangerous emphasis on “sharing my spirituality,” every quiet time, every coffee date, every encouraging note, everything becomes fodder for my next reflection. I struggle to live in the present because I’m thinking about how I’m going to articulate what I’m feeling or learning later on. Or I don’t see anything in the moment that feels worth remembering. The Enemy even uses reflection and contemplation, two very good and very beautiful things, to distract me from seeing what Jesus is actually doing in the moment. Or to dampen His glory in it.

It’s not about living to then have something to share in small group, on my blog, or in my next CE assignment, but living to simply see Him move and captivate every piece of my heart. For no other reason than simply because it’s Him. The point of the world is not to give me “material” for my next mentoring meeting or piece of writing. That’s not the point of my internship. That’s not the point of my relationship with Jesus. Yet, how easily can we fall into that subtle scheme?

If I chose to hear it, Jesus is gently, graciously, and convictingly asking me to evaluate my heart everyday – why am I doing what I’m doing? And who am I ultimately doing it unto?

Life (as told from the adventures in Glen Ellyn and by N.D. Wilson)

I spent the day yesterday, by myself (since everyone is gone for Fall Break), exploring the neighboring town of Glen Ellyn. I learned several important things. . .

1. If I ever tell you I can’t run, that’s a lie. Sort of. I don’t enjoy it and I don’t look good doing it. But when I can see the METRA pull up to the station and I’m a block away from the platform, baby, I can run.

2. I almost always miscalculate how long it will take me to get to the METRA platform. That means lots of running for me.

3. The whole inbound/outbound platform thing does not make sense to me. I seriously considered jumping onto the tracks and hopping the electric fence to get to the other platform before the METRA pulled out. I decided I valued my life more than making the train.

4. When you miss the train, Siri will tell you it is one mile to walk from Glen Ellyn to Wheaton. It is. It is probably a whole other mile to the Wheaton College campus. She is notoriously unreliable at giving directions.

5. When the weather says 45 degrees, assume it is going to be windy and cold. And for the love of sanity, bring a hat and gloves. Especially if you plan to journal.

6. When working out at the Student Rec Center (SRC, because Wheaton loves its acronyms), go in the morning. Because you know who is there at 8 AM? Old people, professors, and other simple, not particularly athletic students. They are not particularly intimidating people. Except when the wrestling team comes in for an early Saturday morning workout session.

7. The weather app is now going to start saying “snow” with relative frequency. I’m not sure what to do with that.

8. Going back to #4, when Siri tells you there is a wildflower preserve where you can sit and read and journal, assume she means a condominium. Because that is probably where her directions will lead you. But if you keep walking, you will stumble upon something. By the mercy of the Lord.

9. Small towns draw an interested crowds on a Monday morning/afternoon. It is especially humorous when Siri’s directions take you across a high-school campus. Kids, I am not one of you anymore. 

10. Exploring new places by yourself is an adventure. It is even better if you do it with one of N.D. Wilson’s books in mind (Death by Living or Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl)

“There is a school of American thought that suggests we are supposed to live furiously and foolishly when young, slave away pointlessly when adults, and then coast into low-impact activity as soon as financially possible. Isn’t that just a kiss on the lips (from a dog). The truth is that a life well lived is always lived on a rising scale of difficulty.”

“I stare at the slowly spinning child staring at the earth, and I know that if I reach for my phone, for the appropriate app, and worm forward to catch the appropriate angle, that I will not really capture this thing called now.”

“We have exactly one second to carve a memory of that second, to sort and file and prioritize in some attempt at preservation. But then the next second has arrived, the next breeze to distract us, the next plane slicing through the sky, the next funny skip from the next funny toddler, the next squirrel fracas, and the next falling leaf.”

“Ride the roaring wave of providence with eager expectation. To search for the stories all around me. To see Christ in every pair of eyes. To write a past I won’t regret. To reach the dregs of the life I’ve been given and then to lick the bottom of my mug. To live hard and die grateful. And to enjoy it.”

N.D. Wilson, Death by Living

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He says it better than I could. Days like yesterday remind me of this: figuring out the train system, wandering around a new town, finding a windy park when my fingers nearly froze writing in my journal, sitting in a local cafe with Wilson’s book, and savoring the glory of the Lord that was in every moment, every face, every beat of my dying heart. Life is worth living in light of eternity because I’m not simply living for myself, or tomorrow.

I woke up this morning, light coming in through the blinds. 8:20 AM. My roommate is gone until tonight. I turn over and check my phone; it is supposed to snow today. I’m supposed to go into Chicago with a friend. But right then, I was in my warm bed. In my dorm room. In Wheaton, Illinois. And when I blink, the moment is gone. I ran my fingers over my pillow that probably needs washed; I can never come back to this moment. I think back to all the moments with the Lord yesterday, moments of laughter and hardship since coming to college, moments of my childhood with my family. I am simultaneously filled with sentiment and hope. I am grateful for the beautiful and hard moments passed. I am hopeful for the moments of today, and tommorow, and until I die. Because as N.D. Wilson says, “But God has been there every second. He has crafted every step and gesture and breath of every mortal you have ever passed, of every driver on every road that has ever flicked by you at night, of every kicking child in every mall. And He will be there when we end.” And that is what makes every moment worth living.

Embrace your story today. It’s not the grand, spectacular moments that make up your life. It is every squirrel that makes you laugh (and just for future reference, the ones on the Wheaton campus are hilarious). It is every time you freeze because you forget to bring gloves because you aren’t from the Midwest. It is every time a child looks at you with their big, wondering eyes. It is every time your blood gets hot in anger or your eyes get wet in sadness. It is every time sweat drips from your forehead onto the bicycle machine (because, ahem, it’s the only one you can do without looking out of shape). It is every time your heart beats, slowly when you are resting, faster when someone catches your eye.

You are alive. Siri is unreliable. Illinois is getting really cold. And the Lord’s goodness and faithful endures from generation to generation. And that is reason to be grateful and living physically today.

Enjoy your Tuesday, October 22, 2013. You only get on of them. Live to the hilt of it (like Jim Elliot said).

The Windy City

As much as I love open fields and country nights, I have a special place in my heart for cities. And when people told me that Chicago is incredible and beautiful, they weren’t just being sympathetic to the fact that I had already decided to move there without visiting. The lights, the buildings, the noises, the movement. The multitudes of people, each with their own story.

The woman who checked us out at the art store who is in Chicago because she’s dating a Chicago firefighter. She’s really proud of him and happy to be living here.

The older lady who at some point in the morning looked in a mirror and decided that the tight purple pants, teal tye-dye shirt, flowered hat, and crocs composed the look she was going for.

The old man with the tan, flat-brimmed hat who kissed his wrinkled wife’s forehead as they walked together along the lakefront.

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I can’t wait to go back in a few weeks. To my new, wonderful city. I can’t wait to hear your stories, Chicago.