Well-Rounded Summer Reading for 2015

Kicking off my
Kicking off my “summer” reading last month in San Diego
bibliophile: n. a person who collects or has a great love of books.

This describes me well. These days I seem to read at least two books at once, and if I am loving them, you are sure to hear about it. My master “to read” list is sitting at a hefty 205 titles. I check my Amazon wishlist regularly to see if any titles I have been eyeing have gone on sale so I can snatch them up immediately. I will sacrifice sleep to finish a good book.  If I’m not reading, something is seriously wrong.

I made a goal to read 25 books in 2015, across the categories of Non-Fiction/Memoir, Fiction, Business/Personal Growth, Spiritual Growth, and Relationships. I picked five in five different categories because I tend to “read to steal” – I like to read how I like to write. It makes me a better writer, and books by authors who blog also tend to be faster reads. However, I want to balance that impulse with other genres in order to be a more well-rounded reader and writer.

Because I love goals and the start of summer is as good a time as any for some new ones, I thought I would share what is on my current summer reading list. I tend to average about two to three books a month, unless I am on vacation. So eight(ish) books over the course of three months seems reasonable.

Currently Reading

1. The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd (Fiction) 5 chapters to go. I love this author but not this book.
2. The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith (Non-Fiction) A book for renters who want to make their impermanent spaces feel more like home. Heck yes.

Spiritual Growth

1. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (because embracing grace is a marvelous thing)
2. A New Kind of Christian by Brian D. McLaren (because I want to hear more about reading the Bible as narrative)

Relationships

1. The Zim-Zum of Love by Rob and Kristen Bell (because I’ve appreciated everything Rob has ever written and I am always excited about new ways to look at love)
2. Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs (because maybe I’ll pick up some tips to love Nick better)

Non-Fiction

1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (because everyone will not shut up about how good it is)
2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (because I desperately need tidying systems)

Fiction

1. Paper Towns by John Green (because the movie adaptation comes out July 24th and I refuse to see it first)
2. ??? (I need your help! What other fiction should I be reading? Hint: I love to read to escape!)

What is on your summer reading list? What is the best book you have read in the last year and why?

29 Lessons I Learned in My Twenties

29 Lessons MIMSC

Yesterday was my last day in my twenties. As strange as it seems to let go of this decade (already?!), I am looking forward to my thirties and what the future holds.

This has been a wonderful, frustrating, identity shaping, and tear-jerker of a decade. As I approach thirty, I’m choosing to believe the best is yet to come. Looking back, here are some of the most important lessons I learned in my twenties.

1. You have issues. Start dealing with them.
We all have wounds from childhood and past relationships. The sooner you admit this and start working towards healing and wholeness, the more you will have to offer the world.

2. City life as a 20-something is a blast.
I finished college in Philly, lived five minutes outside of downtown Knoxville while working my first real job out of school, and spent the last five years living in Hoboken. With endless opportunities for entertainment, food, and culture right outside my door, it would have been had to imagine living this decade of my life anywhere else.

3. God is listening and speaks to us.
For years I threw my prayers in God’s direction, and walked away hoping God would later hunt me down and give me an answer. Over the last decade I’ve learned that there is greater value in being silent before God than talking God’s ear off.

4. Heartbreak is inevitable, but can be worth it.
It’s pretty much a guarantee that if you fall in love in your 20’s, you’re also likely to have your heart shattered. Still, taking a big leap for love to find out if its worth it (even if its not) can lead to learning your most important lessons.

5. You probably won’t land your dream job.
Most of us in our twenties think we will have “arrived” in our careers by now… even though we’ve been working for less than a decade. There are a lucky few of us who have, but the good news is the majority are still figuring out what’s next.

6. Real friends are invaluable.
I am incredibly blessed with the kind of friends who are willing to be honest and lay out their triumphs, failures, hopes, and dreams with staggering honesty. These women and men challenge me to be the best version of myself and are the kind of people I can call on whether I’m celebrating or in crisis.

7. Travel expands your horizons.
Getting outside the bubble of the east coast of the US has been amazing. I’ve traveled to new cities in our great country, and explored Costa Rica and Uganda. Traveling makes you realize the world is so much bigger than the one you’ve constructed for yourself, and there is a lot to learn from other cultures.

8. Don’t be too quick to put people in the friend-zone.
When I first met my Nick, he wasn’t on my radar. He was friends with my roommates and for the first year of our friendship, I never considered he could be the one I spent my life with. That guy friend you initially bypassed? He could be your husband!

9. There is no perfect church.
I spent my high school years as a pastor’s kid, went to Bible College, worked for a church for a couple years, and now I’m married to a church Small Groups Director. I’ve seen the best and worst of people who make up a church body, and being a part of a faith community is still worth it. Following Jesus together enriches my life so deeply.

10. Marriage will not complete you.
I used to think that once I got married, I had crossed some sort of finish line. My lifelong goal to find “the one” would be met, and I could settle into married bliss. What I’ve found instead is that it’s raised more questions than given me answers. It’s the most refining thing I’ve done, and I’m glad I decided to take that leap halfway through my 20’s.

11. You are not behind in life.
Whether it’s a job or a relationship status or owning property or something else, we are all tempted to compare our life milestones to those around us. We think we should be to point “X” by now. But here’s the thing – the only one truly putting that pressure on is you. Everyone has a different pace, and that’s ok.

12. Tradition and religion are not the enemy.
I grew up in fairly progressive Evangelical churches. Liturgy was never a part of my church experience, and hymns went out the door fairly quickly. In my 20’s gratefully found a home in a church that embraced some of the more traditional aspects of a Sunday church service, and worshipping in that new way enriched my spiritual life. As I grow older, I am more thankful for the rhythms and history of the Church.

13. Deal with your debt sooner than later.
I am proud to say I have been living debt free for the last few years of my 20’s! When Nick and I got married, we made a big sacrifice and moved in order to pay off school and wedding debt. It is painful at the time, but worth it in the end to live in financial freedom!

14. There isn’t a required timeline for finding love.
I used to think I was going to get married at 23, but I was off by two years. I was determined to find my person early in my 20’s to begin building a life together. But some of us need more time than others to gain a strong sense of who we are and what we have to offer someone else in a committed relationship, and I know now that it looks different for everyone.

15. You can’t live your life driven by FOMO.
Extroverts live with this haunting fear of missing out of all the things that are fun. We want to be invited to all the happy hours and go to all the parties and never disappoint our friends. But sometimes the healthiest thing is to take time for yourself and go for a run or read a book instead. Saying “no” can actually be healthy.

16. Deconstructing your childhood faith can allow it to flourish.
There are a lot of things I used to believe about God that I don’t anymore. The version of God I had in my head was far different from the one I embrace now. At God’s very core is love, and I hope that in my interactions with others that they experience that – no matter our differences in belief, politics, or lifestyle.

17. Limit your alcohol consumption.
For most people getting drunk as a young 20-something is a right of passage. Most of the time this leads to incredibly bad decisions made and a boatload of guilt and a killer headache the next morning. But sometimes it leads to you kissing your future husband on the dance floor. And while I’m not proud of that, I can’t say I entirely regret it ;)

18. True love reveals your weaknesses AND strengths – and stays.
Dating and marrying Nick has both shown me the extent of my selfishness and my surprising capacity to bend over backwards for another’s happiness and wellbeing. My husband has seen the depths of me and his love seems to grow with each passing year. It’s pretty incredible.

19. God uses our brokenness to help others heal.
While I would like to wish that I never had to experience some of the hard things I’ve walked through like losing my birth dad early in life, having my heart broken, and experiencing infertility, I have seen God forge incredible bonds between me and other people because of these very things. They have shaped me and propelled me to open up the painful places in my life so that others can do the same.

20. Date/marry a person of character.
One of the strongest ways I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Nick is because he was the same person in all situations. I heard encouraging stories from others who knew him well and watched him love and serve his church and local community. Align yourself with someone who means what they say and follows through on their promises. Talk is cheap.

21. Sleep is important.
Early on in my 20’s I could pull all-nighters like nobody’s business. At the end of my 20’s I’m happy to say I value it for the restorative thing that it is and get 7-9 hours a night. SO worth it.

22. Love is not a competition.
You are not competing with other women (or men) in the “battlefield” of love. I used to put a lot of energy into superficial things in order to gain the attention of the latest guy I had my eye on. I felt the need to prove myself more attractive or more worthy of someone’s attention. A love worth keeping will come from a person who pursues you and only you and actively rejects what others are offering.

23. You are capable of more than you once thought.
This is your decade of growth! You can change careers, pick up new hobbies, or become an athlete. Try new things all the time simply because you can. I picked up running a few years ago and never thought that would be something I could do in my twenties – I assumed the prime of my athletic days were over, but I was wrong!

24. God can turn our enemies into friends.
There have been multiple times now in my twenties when I sense a growing hatred towards someone festering in my heart. Instead of nursing it into full-blown bitterness, I now know the best way to combat judgment or hatred is to actually get to know that person better and hear their story. Love seeks to understand.

25. Your spouse should come first.
This is a really hard one to learn in your 20’s, especially when half your friends are still single. There is a delicate balance to walk between being a loving wife and loving friend. Sometimes it requires painful sacrifices, but maintaining a healthy marriage should be one of your highest priorities because your spouse is committed to walk with you until the end of your days.

26. You don’t have to have kids to be a grown up.
Sometimes we wait for certain milestones to make us feel like a real grown up. I used to think that having kids would flip a responsible switch in me, whereby I would become superhumanly capable of things I was never able to do or be before. But I’m realizing I don’t have to wait for kids to become the kind of person I want to be – I am free to do that now.

27. Owning a pet is a worthwhile responsibility.
Deciding to adopt our fluffy feline Paley Muffin has brought a lot of joy into our lives. Nick and I have bonded over the silly or frustrating things she does, and it’s fun to have a mutual love for this creature we share our home with.

28. You are responsible for your own happiness.
YOU decide how happy you are, and whether to work towards dwelling on what you lack or counting your blessings. Hitting the next milestone is not a guaranteed trigger for happiness – we have to find it today, right where we are, or we’ll always be pursuing happiness rather than recognizing it’s available to us right now.

29. Live as one who is deeply loved.
You are perfect and you are loved, just as you are. Yes, we all have weak spots and flaws and things to work on, but that doesn’t keep you from being loved for who you are today. This body and this mind and this soul that you have been given are all gifts, so dwell in them and celebrate them because life is too short to live any other way.

What did you learn in your twenties? What would you tell your twenty year old self today?

Photo Credit: vonSchnauzer, Creative Commons (edits mine)

How to Marry to Love God More

photo by Hoffer Photography

I saw a lovely little sentiment floating around the internet recently that said:

“Marry someone who makes you fall in love with God every single day.”

At first glance, that seems like a perfectly appropriate single Christian girl power sentiment to share on social media. But sorry (not sorry), I’m calling BS.

Do you know what makes me fall in love with God more every single day? Recognizing that my loving husband, smart, talented, and spiritually mature as he is… will continually disappoint me.

In my first year or two of marriage, I remember hitting a wall of frustration when I realized that my husband was not living up to the picture I had imagined for my marriage. I wanted him to connect with me on a regular basis, plan incredible romantic excursions, and ask me pointed questions. I started to feel like I was being gypped, like I deserved more. As I brooded over these things I realized I had real needs, and they were not being met.

As I dug deeper into that sense of unfairness, while I was certainly identifying areas he (we) could work on (and I needed to voice them), God gently reminded me of this. The guy I married? He is just a guy. Even though God proved He was at work in amazing ways in our dating relationship, that does not mean my marriage is always going to feel supernaturally easy. Marrying Nick was not a cure-all drug for my insecurities and need to be loved. There are some ways in which I can rightfully ask for more from my husband, but there are others that are just simply beyond him.

My best relationship advice for you is always be willing to examine and adjust your expectations.

If I am feeling a general lack of love in my life, the appropriate place to turn first is to my relationship with God. Expecting Nick to always be the one to build me up and tell me who I am is an unfair weight to place on his shoulders. Above all else, I need to walk in the identity and confidence that I am a child of God, and because of that, I am wholly loved, to the core of my being. Nothing anyone else can say or do will ever add to or subtract from that – not even my husband.

What I would say to you is: If you want to fall in love with God every day, praise him for the weaknesses in your marriage because in them, you get to experience more of Christ. Marry someone who is an imperfect human, who screws up a lot, in order that you might extend the grace of God to each other all the more. In the midst of your brokenness and flaws, you will experience His love continually.

How you expect your (future) spouse to make you love God more? How does being in a relationship teach you about God’s love?