Reading {AND WINNING!!} Good Books

This list of books has only sat here waiting on me to share it for 6 weeks. If it’s dated in February, it still qualifies as a “New Years” post, right?

There are a variety of factors contributing to this post's tardiness, not the least of which is that I basically re-read 3 or 4 of the books while doing my “research” for the post, and also had nostalgic flashbacks of all the year’s highlights as I listed each one.

When you think about a book you’ve read, does it take you back to the season, place, or experience you were having while you were reading it? I think of a book and suddenly can smell the salty sea air, feel the anxious motion of the plane over the Atlantic, hear the May chorus of birds feeding their young and mosquitos feeding on skin.    

And, as if “reading” while driving to the gas station, chopping onions, cleaning the closet, brushing the dog, clipping one’s nails, etc. etc. wasn’t a good enough list of reasons to adore audio books, I’ve concluded that listening makes the recall even more vivid. (Did you think you’d get my book list without paragraphs of audio book accolades? Think again. I need to become a paid affiliate for Audible already.) Something about listening engages the senses even more. I’m pretty sure this is scientific, John Tesh can you back me up?

Good books, in any form, have the ability to expand your imagination and exposure to the world, while also enhancing the current reality you’re in.

I didn’t finish as many books last year as I’d hoped, although 16 is a fitting number for 2016. The older I get, the slower I’m reading. And no, I don’t mean because my eye sight is going bad, contrary to the assumption of my teenage friends, who think 30 is basically one stumble away from the nursing home.

I just don’t rush through, desperate for the end anymore. I’m intent on catching the nuances and letting the story sink in, so I re-read pages and hit the 30 second replay again and again. Hopefully this appreciation for the journey over the destination I’ve found in reading will become a trend in all areas of life.

Ok then, here are the books.

Asterisks mean I would read again/recommend. (A) means audio.

Nobody’s Cuter Than You- Melanie Shankle (A)

Why Not Me?- Mindy Kaling (A)

Everything You Ever Wanted- Jillian Lauren (A)

*What’s So Amazing About Grace- Philip Yancey

*Big Magic- Elizabeth Gilbert (A)

Me Talk Pretty One Day- David Sedaris (A)

*Help, Thanks, Wow- Anne Lamott (A)

*Bittersweet (read again)- Shauna Neiquist

*Tattoos On The Heart- Gregory Boyle

Obsessed- Ted Decker

*Man’s Search For Meaning- Viktor Frankl

*Present Over Perfect- Shauna Neiquist (A)

*Coming Clean- Seth Haines

*Quiet- Susan Cain (A)

*Behind The Beautiful Forevers- Katherine Boo (A)

**Rising Strong- Brené Brown

A quick rundown on my three favorites:

Tattoos On the Heart- Boyle’s life is full of the most colorful characters (who also happen to have colorful language), and his stories enable us to see beneath the rough exterior of a population often written off as despicable and dangerous, to the tender hearts inside. The book gives a glimpse into his decades of experience living and serving in the gang capital of the word, and allows us to see beyond the political rhetoric surrounding border control, poverty, drug dealing, gang violence, etc. and into the living, breathing, aching human hearts we often miss. Tattoos On the Heart is heartbreaking and hilarious, filled to the brim with grace and compassion.

You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language that it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.


Rising Strong- This book is perhaps an example of my taking savoring too far. I started it in February, and, desperate to absorb the message, read a page or two at a time and didn’t finish it until after Christmas. Brené brings understanding to shame, sensitivity, empathy, vulnerable relationships, and whole-hearted living. Her attainable research and real life examples have been instrumental in my emotional healing and growth. Choosing one quote to leave you with was nearly impossible since I had no less than 17 pages dog-eared, and hardly one of the 280 was without underlining or with exclamation marks in the margins.

 “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”


Coming Clean- Memoirs are currently my favorite genre, and Seth Haines’ did not disappoint. In the chronicling of his journey to sobriety, we can all find our stories even if alcohol has never been our vice, because none of us are strangers to pain, fear, emptiness, the ache of unanswered prayers, and the doubts that try to flood out faith.

“…the friends of Job, the agnostics, the atheists, me—we all grope about for God, trying to make sense of his character. Some of us fancy ourselves theologians, rest in structure and our practices. Some of us float about on mystic spirit winds. Others live in doubt or disbelief. But we are all together, bumping into each other as we try to make sense of this cosmic moment we call life. We are sometimes the abusers, sometimes the abused. But even still, we are always loved by God; we are called to love like he loves, too.


Honorable Mention: Quiet- I can’t miss the chance to put in a quick plug for this book. It was a little dense for audio and would be easier to digest if read the old-fashioned way, but I highly recommend it. If you’re an introvert, a highly sensitive person, are fascinated by personality types and the history, science, and culture behind them, or struggling to understand a loved one whose personality drastically differs from yours, put this book in your Amazon cart asap. It’s full of fascinating studies, examples, and stories that keep it interesting and not text book-ish.

And now for the fun part…A free book!! Comment here or directly on the social media post and share one of your favorite reads from last year, and also which book on this list you’re most interested in. You can comment again and tag a friend to get more entries. I’ll select a random winner on Friday the 3rd, and send the winner their book of choice from the list. Happy reading, friends!

(*Giveaway is now closed.)

Dear Refugees

Dear Refugees,


If I lived near an international airport, you would have found me in the crowds last week, holding a “We Welcome Refugees” sign.

I've had the tiniest glimpse into the process of obtaining a visa and becoming a U.S. citizen.  I’ve felt a hint of those breath-held moments, shuffling through paperwork, handing over passports, and praying every piece is in place and there are no additional interrogations, searches, or requirements.

Just weeks ago, I overnighted two more envelopes of complicated documents to the USCIS. A college degree, a few years of getting familiar with government forms, and speaking English since birth didn’t save me from nail-biting over which numbers to enter and boxes to check. I would have made errors if it weren’t for the detailed help of friends who’d filed the forms already. This update alone cost over $700, and I waited nervously for a confirmation, knowing if they were deemed incorrect I would be out the money.

My experience is an anemic comparison to yours. My citizenship was secure; I had nationality, language, color, financing, and religion on my side. My two daughters, joining our family from east Africa, were tiny and couldn’t create a security concern if they’d tried.

Still, I well remember the “Welcome Home” sign that awaited us as we walked down the airport terminal toward a crowd of smiling faces.

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I remember the relief in a warm hug, the need to know that my immigrant daughters, our new family, would be welcomed and gladly woven into the rich and colorful fabric of the United States’ diverse society.                           

I’d do anything to give a piece of that warm welcome to you.

Some of you have tenaciously traveled through storms of weather and war, pressed through exhaustion and illness, endured prisons, camps, death threats, tedious interviews and endless paperwork, only to find yourselves denied.

Some of you were so close to the fresh start you could taste it. How harsh the disappointment of being turned away, sent back to face thousands of dollars lost, expiration dates encroaching on hard-earned paperwork, and despair of not being reunited with loved ones waiting for you here.

My friends, the strength and courage you carry within you is remarkable. I grieve with you for whatever hardships you’ve experienced to bring you to this place of needing to find refuge. I’m broken over the humiliation and despair you must feel as you see months and years’ worth of work dissipate before your eyes, feel the assumptions that you are bad or dangerous or somehow a lesser human because of the piece of the world you were born on.

I speak for myself and my family and a powerful number of compassionate Americans, when I say that you are truly, deeply, welcomed here.

If I could, I’d meet you at the airport and drive you to our farm this very night. I envision us pointing out things around the country side and trying to tell you what they are. We would laugh at our pitiful attempts to speak the words of your language, and admire your tenacity in learning how to speak ours.

We’d fill the grill with hamburgers, and stand around the stove tasting the flavors of your favorite dishes while you taught us your special recipes. We would smile to see the empty seats filled around our table.

When all the hungry stomachs were full, we would offer you beds with piles of extra blankets.

Then, If we could somehow explain and ensure through the language, culture and religious differences that we were not causing you to feel shamed or afraid, we would kneel and unlace your shoes. We’d take them, with their dust from another land, their soles bearing stories of walking for miles, of running in fear, of blood on the streets, of aching and shaking and sweating and shivering, set them aside, and wash your weary feet.

Not because we’re holy rollers, with super spiritual rituals we do every sundown or something. Not because we’re worried about dirt on our blankets. But because we are desperate for any way to fellowship with you in your sufferings, to esteem the immeasurable worth of your souls, to repent of prejudices and pride in our hearts and our nation, and to impress upon you that we are not governed by fear.

It’s not that we’re naïve, adamant no refugee could ever do us harm.  On the contrary, we know every human is capable of rancorous wrong. But a greater force, a Light that blinds hate, a Love that casts out fear, has captured our souls. Grace wipes the windshield of our blurry vision and gives a glimpse into the depth of our deplorability, and then shows us a glimmer of the Imago Dei in every single soul. 

This is our fundamental mission: “In the same way I [Jesus] loved you [I fed the hungry, fellowshipped with outcasts, extended grace, forgiveness, a warm welcome into the family of God, and gave up my very life], you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples- when they see the love you have for each other.”

I don’t know your names, much as I wish I did. But I know someone who does, a Father who’s kept track of your every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered into his ledger, each ache written in his book.                              

Until I can seat you at my table, call you by name, and share my abundance of blankets and food and acres (the inequity of which is a constant throb) with you, I give you my earnest word: you are not forgotten. There are so many here committed to standing in the gap for you. While it may seem as if our nation is playing “She love’s them, she loves them not” with you, we will not relent in seeking solutions, in praying, in caring for your family and friends already dwelling within our cities, in actively engaging in compassion and pursuing justice for you and yours.

Until then,

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever he may send you;

May he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm;

May he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you;

May he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors.

~Peter Sutcliffe, Common Prayer      

On Epiphany: Can Your Soul Feel Its Worth?

For the student with body broken and soul shattered.  Filled with the overwhelming suspicion his existence is making things worse instead of better.  

Can your soul feel its worth?  

For the girl who says anxiety gnaws every minute of every day, fear of her mother’s life being stolen by the drug who has replaced her as highest priority and passion.

Can your soul feel its worth?

For the sisters who’ve saw loss upon loss. Abandonment, abuse, cancer, death, bullies, insult upon injury. Whose only relief seems to be in the deceptive release of the blade against skin.

Can your soul feel its worth?

For the child who can’t be convinced he belongs. Whose losses stack up greater than all his hopes. Who would rather contemplate death than risk daydreaming about life.

Can your soul feel its worth?

For the mother who is convinced. Convinced she’s incapable of being the nurturer that should be her very nature. Connived by shame to believe she’s wrecked beyond repair. Crushed by the belief that if anyone really knew, really saw her, they would turn away or turn her in.

Can your soul feel its worth?

For the grandparents, whose sunset years have clouded over with confusion, whose dependency increases and purpose seems to shrink with every passing day.

Can your souls feel their worth?

For the mothers and fathers, the sons and daughters, the grandmothers and caretakers, the citizens of war-torn Syria and war zones around the world. The faces caked in mortar dust. The eyes too destitute to even offer tears after witnessing loved ones gasp and die in the streets and children captured and drug away.

Can your souls feel their worth?

For the recipients of hate crimes, the victims of violence and threats and crude name callings that are becoming a common occurrence, attacks against the very image of God borne in humanity.

Can your souls feel their worth?

Here is our world, groaning in utter destruction and unmanaged pain.

Yet the mysterious prophecies remain, elusive but beckoning.  Murmurs of a government upon the shoulders of One whose feet bring forth Good News, whose name is Wonderful Counselor, who’s leadership will multiply peace with no end to its increase, who’s very law is love.

May we be the desperate ones, the ones who wrestle, who hold onto hope expectantly, who won’t let go until we receive the blessing, until our eyes see the miraculous made known.

We’re wrecked, but let it be that when we’re sinking and the waters rise, we reach out our hand for the redemptive rescue.

The shipwrecked…are the poor in spirit who feel lost in the cosmos, adrift on an open sea, clinging with life-and-death desperation to the one solitary plank. Finally they are washed ashore and make their way to the stable, stripped of the old spirit of possessiveness in regard to anything…They have been saved, rescued, delivered from the waters of death, set free for a new shot at life. At the stable in a blinding moment of truth, they make the stunning discovery that Jesus is the plank of salvation…!

All the time they were battered by wind and rain, buffeted by raging seas, they were being held even when they didn’t know who was holding them.” Brennan Manning- Shipwrecked at the Stable, Watch For the Light

Even if your eyes can see no light, your nose can’t catch the holy scent of fresh life, your hands feel no saving grip, your ears can hear no “Peace, be still”, your tongue can taste no sweet words of Good News, can you believe still?

Believe in the mystery beyond emotion and external evidence?

Believe there is a Love that will not let you go? Believe there is grace in abundance beyond comprehension? Believe the worth of your very soul is such that God would lay himself down, curl into a womb, and expose himself to the bitterest elements, injustice, and inferiority, for you?


Look around. Maybe you can see it. His light, shining from your child’s eyes, flickering from the stars, the waxing moon. Maybe you can smell his scent of life on your baby’s skin, in the crisp air blowing across the field, in the pine needles. Maybe you can feel his comforting touch in the calloused fingers of a grandparent, the warm dog on your lap, the handshake of a neighbor. Maybe you can hear echoes of his peace in a cardinal’s song, in the prayers of a parent. Maybe you can taste his goodness in the icy snow, in the warm tea, in the kiss of a spouse, in repeating the words of the Psalms.

May it be an Epiphany.  Our souls awakening more widely, enraptured by Love made manifest, Light revealed.  May it warm us until the sparks catch fire in another’s soul, until for those who live in a land of deep darkness, a great light will shine. Until HE appears, and every soul feels its worth.

“…You could more easily catch a hurricane in a shrimp net than you can understand the wild, relentless, passionate, uncompromising, pursuing love of God made present in the manger.” ~Manning

Long Distance Love- When You Won't All Be Home For Christmas

I’m the oldest of six spunky, more-sensitive-than-we-like-to-admit kids, raised by the best parents you’ll ever come across. Our family landscape has changed drastically in a handful of years, going from a passel of siblings arguing over the last of the Lucky Charms and playing backyard soccer between two five gallon buckets, to graduations and weddings and new babies in a nanosecond. Currently, the family of eight has multiplied to eighteen.

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We grew up in an old brick house, riding bikes on country roads to our grandma’s, and then home to eat dinner around the table. We were used to togetherness.

I got married first, and cried of loneliness for months even though I was only a few miles away. Then my sister Meg got married and moved over an hour away, and we all cried and wondered how we would survive not seeing her every week. A few years later, Jan got married. She moved clear across the country.

Having adult siblings for friends is one of the greatest delights. Adding long distance to our love is one of the hardest adjustments. Seasons change, holidays pass, hard and happy days go by, new babies arrive, and we’re no longer experiencing it side by side.

Jan’s first baby arrived a few years ago in the shadow of the Cascade mountains, right after Thanksgiving. A few hours post-delivery, Jan and Jordan left one hospital and drove to another where the baby had been transferred to.

 We all waited by our phones, counting back the time difference from Ohio to Washington. When I finally heard her voice, soft with exhaustion, smiling as she told me her daughter’s beautiful name, then breaking when she said, “I just really want to hold my baby”, I wept bitter tears over the miles between the Yakima hospital room and I.

A week later they left the hospital, healthy and happy. But the plans to come home for Christmas were disrupted by unanticipated medical bills.

We couldn’t bear the thought of Christmas with Jan’s seat empty, without the new baby to cuddle. We all slipped some cash in an envelope and told them if it was possible, we’d do anything to get them home.

Weeks later, we made a ruckus in the Indianapolis airport, running in through the snow and sweeping Jan up, kissing the little blond head peeking out of her carrier. We spent the short days in a flurry of presents and photos and laughing in the kitchen over french toast and lefse and endless pots of coffee.

 In a flash, the airport greetings faded to watery eyes and avoidant small talk, prolonging the inevitable goodbye.

As darkness settled on our last night together, we kissed baby faces and sibling’s cheeks and tried to laugh instead of cry. Then it was time and we exited fast, one more “love you so much” called around the porch.

When I’d put the last box of Christmas gifts in the car and fastened my daughters’ seatbelts and then my own, the tears I’d been holding back all day broke loose. I sobbed into my coat for the too fast days and the too many miles.

We drove around the house, and I looked up through my tears into the warmly lit windows of home, glowing out into the sleeting night. I saw my parents standing in the dining room, strong and quiet, looking on in affection as they cradled the baby a few remaining minutes. I saw my brother Jesse by his soon to be wife. His eyes had been dark with un-shed tears when I told him goodbye. They were standing in close, soaking up the last moments. Jes motioned big and Jan threw her head back, shoulders shaking in silent laughter. But my ears had already memorized the sound, and knew it to be the most contagious and free bursts of pure happiness. Jordan gestured in vivid animation as only he can do, and all four sets of shoulders dipped and bounced, inaudible joy flung through the windows and straight to my heart.                                                        

Jan has another baby now, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be home for Christmas this year.

 I don’t know how to keep long distance relationships close, with babies and time zones and the fact that I tend to forget my phone can actually be used to make calls. For those of us whose emotions run on high power, whose introversion craves deep connections, whose love expression lives and breathes on quality time, but who’s dearest and best people are far away, relationships can become confusing.

Even when we are together, the connection isn’t always like I imagine it to be. Life, with its needy children and moods and exhaustion keeps rolling, and we are still our flawed selves. We struggle to keep up on the current events of our people, fall asleep at 9:30 on what could have been an all-night catch-up, and fear the shrinking in-commonness we sometimes feel with the ones we used to share everything with.

I tend to be all or none. If I can’t have it all, why have any? It hurts to stay present in the distance. To disengage seems a relief. I’d rather not look too closely at the packages wrapped with postage stamps instead of bows, because if I sit in the ache of that empty seat, traced the swirly handwriting on the mailing label, I might spend the happiest season of all sobbing.

I want to resent the miles, the changes, the days flying by like geese overhead.

But when we vacation in the Rocky Mountains, all of us driving in from the east and west to meet in the middle, or spend a few days together celebrating a wedding, I am ever more aware of moments.

I watch and memorize how Trav roams the kitchen bleary-eyed first thing in the morning, carefully selecting his daughter’s favorite cereal. How Dad’s eyes linger on each face when we’re all around the dinner table. How Adayah’s voice has a little whisper in it. How my baby brother is so close to being taller than all of us, but still has a little boy grin. How mom still folds our laundry when we aren’t looking.

Instead of wishing for what could be, what used to be, I want to get better at savoring what is: eighteen imperfect, delightful, funny, passionate people I get to call my family.

The window scene that cold, Christmas night delivered a gift given by the dreaded miles. The gift of not holding back. The miles are teaching us to say what we feel, to give another kiss, to laugh a little louder. Without them, the baby’s hair wouldn’t be inhaled so slowly, the deepest words of love wouldn’t roll off the tongue as freely. They are teaching me that these people are worth staying present for. That even in the pain of distance, love spans any space, trumps any change.

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Here’s to savoring the moments and holding our precious people close this Christmas, even if it is across the miles.