Best Books – The 2016 Edition

I read a lot of books this year! At least forty-four, if I’m tracking it correctly. When I’m trying to learn or lean into change, my default is to read and talk about all of it. As 2016 brought shifts in our country, I tried my best to lean into the shifts in myself – my thinking, my beliefs and my habits. I’m thankful that words help communicate, that words allow us to learn about the experiences of others and that words can encourage growth in us, if we let them.

Maybe you’ve got some money burning a hole in your pocket and you’re looking for some recommendations. Or, reading more in 2017 is a goal of yours. I’d love to share some of the best books I read this year… maybe they’ll be some of your favorites, too.

  1. A Woman’s Place, by Katelyn Beaty: I’ve spent the last three years, or even maybe longer, trying to navigate this tension between women and work. The language is tricky, and the feelings are even trickier. While Beaty doesn’t solve any problems, she does wade into the tension and provide clarity into why issues surrounding women and work are so complex. And she does so with stories, data and scripture. It’s not just for women who work outside the home, either; the author affirms all the work that women do.
  2. Hillbilly Elegy, by JD Vance: There are a lot of reasons why I loved this book. A majority of the story takes place less than twenty miles from here I grew up. It’s one of the most well-written and insightful books I’ve read in a long time. The stories that Vance tells about his life and his relatives have left me wondering how I had never heard them before. The proximity to my own adolescence was next door, but also millions of miles away. Reading Hillbilly Elegy reminded me why I love to read; reading takes you to a whole new place and gives you new perspectives that you may never have experienced on your own.
  3. Present Over Perfect, by Shauna Niequist: A book by Shauna on my list of favorite books of the year is no surprise. All five of her books sit on my shelf of favorites. She’s my favorite author. Present Over Perfect, with it’s vulnerability and insights is a must read for women. I read it and gave three as gifts immediately.
  4. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: This is the only book on my list that is fiction… you could say that I don’t read a lot of fiction, but this is THAT good! I was challenged by the narrator’s stories on what it looks like and feels like to be African in America, as she immigrates from Nigeria, and struggles to define her identity in an American context.
  5. Good Faith (and UnChristian) both by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons: I read UnChristian this spring, and felt so late to the party. Oh my goodness, the way that Kinnaman and Lyons used data to tell the story of what’s going on in American Christianity was phenomenal. Thankfully, I didn’t need to wait long for the second book, as it came out this summer. My vacation group read Good Faith for a book club discussion while we were all together in July and it was a great book to discuss with likeminded friends. Either book stands alone, but Good Faith definitely builds on the ideas that UnChristian explores and provides meaningful application.
  6. What’s Best Next, by Matt Perman: I don’t know if I would have selected this book for myself, but it was given to me and it was SO GOOD! The author tackles productivity through a Gospel-lens, and even though it sounds a little bit boring, I promise you that it’s not! After giving the reading a Biblical case for productivity, He then walks the read step by step in some very practical application steps, starting with a big picture vision and ending with how to schedule your weeks and days. I highly recommend this book to my Christian friends in corporate America, who want to make a difference, but struggle to know how to do it. The author gives a great framework for how ambition and productivity are crucial for building the Kingdom of God.
  7. Living Into Community, by Christine Pohl: Pohl’s research and application of living in community is probably one of the deepest I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot on community. The book is divided into four different practices of community, and I was challenged to begin incorporating some of her language and ideas into my relationships both inside and outside of the church.
  8. The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander: I’ve long been a fan of book about race. I guess I’m weird like that, but it always made my sociology classes fun and not boring. For anyone who read and enjoyed Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, this book is the next step. With fewer stories, but a deeper dive into the policies that have lead to mass incarceration, you’ll feel helpless, but better understand the complexities of our justice system. img_8146

Weekend Wrap-Up

Most years December hits and I spend most of the month feeling like I’m not quite there yet. There are Christmas gifts to buy or plans to be made or work Christmas cards to mail. Then, instead of actually focusing my energy on accomplishing the tasks, I spend mental energy feeling guilty.

For some reason this year is different.

I could say that it’s because I bought Christmas present earlier, or because I’ve been more organized, or maybe I’m more self-aware, so I built better margins into my day, but the truth is, I don’t know what’s been different.

I’m so thankful for the difference because of a weekend like this weekend. We hosted our annual holiday party – Christmas at the Bungalow – on Saturday and then Sunday was bookended with church activities. I could be all there, fully present, looking for the opportunities, because I had the energy and capacity to be engaged.

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Fifty people filled our house for the party on Saturday night. This is my fourth Christmas in Indianapolis, and all three of my roommates have been here for several years, too. We love seeing our house full of new and old friends!

If you’re looking for a drink to serve at a holiday party, look no further than this Cranberry Vanilla Mimosa. It hit the spot!

Every church should do two things during the Christmas season: a photo booth in the lobby and Christmas caroling through neighborhoods. Both have made our church feel much smaller, more like a family, this year.

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I consistently babysit the same family, and have been able to really get to know the kids. It’s so fun to build a relationship with them and see their unique personalities. We took our pictures in the photo booth on Sunday morning, and it was a reminder of the ways we can build friendships that span years. That’s the Body of Christ! That’s the family of God!

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Later in the day, my small group joined another small group for Christmas Caroling. We went door to door in a neighborhood where members of our church live. We started the evening with snacks and yummy food before bundling up and heading out. I loved watching members of my church interact with their neighbors, and it was also such a good opportunity to spend time with one another. Truly, it was so, so fun!

I’m thankful for a memorable weekend with friends I love!

 

 

What I’m Reading

I read A LOT in the first nine months of the year. A LOT. Mostly books. My reading has slowed down this fall as life has gotten busier, but I’m still reading. Now, it’s mostly articles and some books.

I recently finished Gospel in Life by Timothy Keller, A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans and Living Into Community by Christine Pohl. I loved Pohl’s biblical commentary on important practices in community and Keller’s small group curriculum in Gospel in Life was fantastic. I was pretty indifferent to Evans’ commentary on what it looks like to live out the Bible literally for a full year.

  • I could read about women in the church for forever. I’m fascianted about them on both the surface level and on a deeper level. Jen Hatmaker, who I’m a long-time fan of has recently caused some controversy. Right away Matt Walsh basically called her a heretic. But, I’m appreciated a lot of the thoughtful commentary that I’ve read from The Gospel Coalition since. However, this Christianity Today piece is my favorite that I’ve read. The Bigger Story Behind Jen Hatmaker is a fantastic look at what else is going on that led to her rise in populatity. The author clearly articulates some of my own experiences with being a woman in the church. It’s a great, great read!
  • Ann Voskamp’s Invitation to Prevent Orphans is a beautiful piece. I’ve read One Thousand Gifts, read her blog and heard her speak at the Christian Alliance for Orphan’s Summit in Orlando this past year. This blog was written based on her talk about how adoption draws our eyes towards our adoption by God into His family.
  • The Creative Life: Insights for INTP’s, INFP’s, ENTP’s and ENFP’s, by By Dr. A.J. Drenth was an encouraging read for this ENFP. I’ve found in my adult life, that creativity is crucial to my own thriving, but it’s harder than I would have thought.
  • Are you ready for the Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life? Because I am! My whole house is ready — we started this summer with the series and were able to get the whole way through it (it helped hat two of the three of us had already seen it). If you’re trying to prepare yourself, here’s a Gilmore Guide to get yourself in the mood!
  • Maybe it’s surface level and basic, but I really enjoyed this EveryGirl article about 13 Easy Things You Can Do to Reduce Stress and Lead a Less Hectic Life. A lot of the practices are habits I’ve already adopted, and guess what? They were key in changing the speed of my life.

I’ve got a couple new books in the mail: A Woman’s Place, by Katelyn Beaty; Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation and Fear, by Scott Sauls, and The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy, by Tim Keller. I can’t wait to dive into these very different books!

Weekend Wrap-Up

I think we can all agree that we’re ready for a new week. As much I love the weekends, I also like a fresh start on Monday morning.

It was a FULL weekend! Some of my favorite things – time with the best kids, a run in perfect weather, Friendsgiving, good conversations, great food, and amazing worship.  This week I’m continuing the celebrations that happened this weekend.

  1. I LOVE traditions! This weekend we had our Second Annual Friendsgiving and it was AWESOME! I love the intentional time to be thankful with some of my favorite friends.
  2. It’s finally puffer vest season! Many of my friends love fall, specifically the summer to fall change in seasons. Real life, I LOVE the fall to winter season change. The frost on the ground (I don’t enjoy it on my car), the shorter days, the smell of the air, candles burning, the excuse to drink more coffee and tea, and warmer clothes. With the need for warmer clothes comes PUFFER VESTS! I have an addiction… and it’s not secret, but it’s very real. There are weeks during November and December that I wear a puffer vest at least three days to work. No lie. They look great with sweatshirts, sweaters, long sleeved t-shirts, button ups, blouses and sometimes even dresses. Looking for a recommendation? I LOVE J.Crew and J.Crew Factory’s puffer vests; they’re nice and warm without being too bulky. 
  3. Spontaneous donuts from Jack’s Donuts. It takes me way back to college and late night trips to Cresent Donut, and it was a great stop on the way back from Sunday Night’s Worship Night at Harvest’s Anderson location. After you’ve spent two hours with kids, donuts are a necessity!img_7896
  4. Saturday night I babysat one of my favorite families. I babysit frequently enough that I’ve really gotten to know some family dynamics and build fun relationships with their children. Last time, we started writing a story. At first there were eye rolls, but by the end, all three kids were into it. We didn’t get a chance to finish it, so this weekend we picked right up where we left off. Spending time with kids reminds me of the importance of imagination. It can be hard to encourage your brain to think creatively, but its so importance. I firmly believe the world is changed by imaginative ideas… and it can start with blank pieces of paper and dreaming around a kitchen table.

I’m thankful for a new week that begins today! Happy Monday!

Weekend Wrap-Up

Another week starts again. It’s a BIG week with an election and my first of several Friendsgivings. It feels fitting that this week would begin with a BIG weekend for the Bungalow! Today I’m also sharing some of the articles, podcasts and ideas that I’ve been thinking about recently.

  • Our roommate, Mackenzie, got engaged on Saturday night! I’ve known Mackenzie since my freshman year of college (7 years!), and we’ve lived a lot of life together. From living in the sorority house, and being involved in Cru together, to now living in our second Indy home as roommates. I’ve LOVED watching God move in her life, and her fiancee, Kendall, is a great match for her!
  • Two of my best friends moved in their first home as a married couple! Saturday was a perfect morning and afternoon (despite fighting traffic from the Monumental Marathon) starting with amazing brunch. continuing with their move, and ending with Bazbaeux’s pizza with some of my favorite friends.
  • Krista Tippett’s On Being interview with David Brooks and EJ Dionne entitled Sinfulness, Hopefulness and the Possibility of Politics was AMAZING! If you enjoy learning about the role religion plays in society and how that could shift in the future, then this is for you! I finished listening and immediately wanted to start over to make sure I didn’t miss anything. You can listen online or through the podcast app on the On Being podcast. Hearing Brooks and Dionne converse helped me see that religion may still have a place in the public sphere, even for millennials.
  • I just mailed my third letter as part of the Letter Project, an initiative through To Love Ourselves. Twenty-something women are writing letters to girls aged 6-18 across America encouraging them and reminding them that they’re enough! I’m loving being part of this special project. The best part? You can be too!
  • This election season has consistently done one thing: encouraged me to look for thoughtful commentary that avoids simplistic arguments unilaterally for or against a person or a topic. In the age of social media, 160 character tweets, clickbait titles for articles and a love for controversy, I find myself easily impressed with articles that are willing to accept complexities and avoid calling something or someone all good or all bad. Evangelicals have been all over social media in the last week and a half praising and critiquing Jen Hatmaker. I enjoyed reading Jake Meador’s piece, Our Impoverished Imaginations: The World of Jen Hatmaker because he helped frame the controversy in a bigger story. I also appreciated that Meador didn’t write Jen off as being all bad, even without affirming or agreeing with her statements.

Writing out all the thoughts about all the things make me realize just how much has been swirling through my mind this week. I hope your election week gets off to a great start!

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They Make Me Brave

I don’t consider myself a particularly gutsy person. I love a grand adventure, I live with my head in the clouds somedays and cautious isn’t a word I would use to describe myself. But, on the flip side, brave and risk-taker don’t feel like great descriptors either. So, as I reflect on the risks I have taken – moving to Indy, staying at my job, making new friends, traveling to new places and attempting to re-invent myself, I’ve realized, my community makes me brave.

A couple of Sundays ago at church, we commissioned a friend of mine who is moving to India to serve as a missionary. Commission is a fancy word that we use at Harvest North Indy to describe the prayer, encouragement and sending out that happens right before a member of our church steps into full-time missions. This friend traveled to India on the same trip I was on in November. The food in India was difficult for his stomach to process. He had a successful business in Indiana. His strategic mind and ease creating plans could serve the American church well. He has seen God move in mighty ways in Indianapolis by sharing the Gospel and equipping others to do so. But, he feels called to India. So he is going.

My friend, Sami, is a gifted photographer and teacher. She recently became a mom. This summer, she stepped away from her full-time teaching job to dive head first into photography while teaching two days a week at a home school co-op. Sami was an excellent public school teacher – she’s compassionate, intelligent, patient and creative – but once God said, “Trust me,” she had no choice but to say, “Okay, let’s do this!” It’s been hard to transition, but she’s thriving.

Over two years ago, two of my best friends packed their belongings, drove across the country and settled into Las Vegas, Nevada. They left two well-paying jobs to step into ministry in a city that’s defined sin for decades. They’ve served faithfully in the desert, throwing block parties on days when it was more than 110 degrees, with transient populations and living in a dark place all because God said, “Go!” They couldn’t have stayed if they tried.

My friend Suzy is a teacher. She works hard with students whose home lives are difficult. She teaches her first graders about structure and spelling words, at the same time, her smile never leaving her face. She could leave her school district, but she feels called to her students. She’s incredibly brave to keep showing up and keep trying to make a difference.

 And some friends don’t just model living a brave life, they invite us into taking a risk. I moved to Indianapolis in 2013. That move wouldn’t have been possible without my friend, Victoria. She was looking to move out of her parents house, and invited me to look at apartments with her. We started talking about it before I had a job yet, but then the job came, and before I knew it, I was moving from Ohio to Indiana, to start a job I wasn’t even quite sure I was going to like.

I could go on and on and on and on about the ways I’ve seen friends step into what God has called them to. Friends who are brave. Friends who are obedient.

A friend who has seen co-workers come and go at a job, but can’t bring herself to leave because she believes in the mission.

A friend who left a job she liked because it was time to go and try something new.

Friends who have left the workplace because they felt called into full-time missions, even when that meant significant changes in finances.

Friends who are caring for the orphan by become a Safe Family, fostering children or adopting.

Friends who work with vulnerable people groups either as a job or within their own homes– those in poverty or children with special needs – and daily fight the good fight to make their lives a little bit easier.  

Friends who have decided to become parents.

Friends who have chosen Jesus over everything else, even when it hasn’t made sense. For these friends to keep doing, even once they realized that God was leading them somewhere else, was unimaginable. They know that once God leads, we follow. Anything else is disobedience. Anything else would prevent us from stepping fully into who God has created us to be.

Having brave friends makes me brave. I can follow in their footsteps, asking questions often, seeking advice and learning from their examples. Every risk I’ve taken in my life has been because someone encouraged me to do so, sometimes not even realizing that they were doing it. This is the power of community. This is why the Church and the Body of Christ cannot just be what happens on Sunday mornings. Friendship is not just that we would have friends to bring meals when the times are tough, but that our lives would inspire the lives of those closest to us to follow even harder after Jesus.

Weekend Wrap-Up

Is it fall yet? The leaves say, “Yes,” but the temperatures say, “No.” Regardless of if the weather is feeling it, my friends threw a fall party. Ummm YES! No Halloween costumes required, but lots of yummy food and drinks.

  • My favorite thing to make when I’m hosting or going to a party is Italian flatbread. It’s easy and it’s yummy – two of the best things in my opinion. All you need is a plain flatbread (I’ve bought focaccia and because it was thick, sliced it in half to double the recipe), pesto, 10 ish black olives (I cut them in half), 10ish sundried tomatoes (I cut them in half), prosciutto,  and fresh mozzarella cheese (I bought mine in one of those big round balls and used it all, but remember, I doubled the recipe).
    • You spread the pesto on the bread. Then layer all the goodies on top. I start with the cheese, mostly because I love cheese and go from there. This recipe could easily be made vegetarian by leaving out the prosciutto.
    • I bought all my ingredients at Aldi except the sundried tomatoes, those I purchased on Kroger.
    • If you make this recipe again soon enough, you can use your left over olives, tomatoes and prosciutto, depending on how much you purchase.
    • I’ve served this flatbread as a side when I was serving Italian food, but as I did this weekend, took it by itself to a get together.
  • There’s something about the cooler temperatures that encourages me to drink hot tea. I love coffee, but the acidity can make it tricky to drink a lot of it, but holding a mug with a hot beverage in my hands is one of my favorite things. Enter: tea. It’s the best of both worlds. Right now I’m alternating between Trader Joe’s Vanilla Cinnamon Black Tea and a fruity green tea from Fresh Thyme.
  • Christine Pohl’s Living Into Community has not been quick read for me, but it’s been a GREAT read. Pohl walks through four practices of healthy Christian communities. I’ve already applied several of her ideas and have been consistently challenged by her insights.
  • Vertical Church Band’s song, This We Know is on repeat right now for me. It’s SO good. During an election season that had made me so weary, it’s words are an encouragement to what I believe to be true – the story will end with Jesus’ victory!

“This we know, we will see the enemy run. This we know, we will see Your victory come. We hold on to every promise You’ve ever made; Jesus, You are unfailing.”

Hopefully your Monday is full of the good stuff… Not like mine, which includes Jury Duty. Oh and HAPPY HALLOWEEN! (Can you tell I’m not a huge fan?)