Top Books of 2018

Thomas Jefferson famously once said, “I cannot live without books,” and while the phrase is obviously somewhat hyperbolic, I have to agree. Books are like an anchor to me, bringing me back to my favorite places and teaching me new things. Military life is transient and unpredictable, and books help center me when our lifestyle becomes hectic and unknown.

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A sampling of the books I read in 2018!

This year I was able to read significantly more than years prior, in part because I went down to part-time work this fall. I also tried to make it more of a habit. Reading is something that I love, but I have to carve out time to read and be habitual about it. So I try to bring a book everywhere I go, and when I have a few minutes here and there I am reading a book instead of reading tweets or emails. I also try to read at the same time every day, even if it is only a page.

Another thing to note: read anything. Be discerning, of course, but if you want to read a teen novel, read it. Some seasons of life I read a lot of heavy Christian nonfiction and some I read none at all, and simply feel like reading Harry Potter. It really depends. I hear a lot of people get discouraged because they can’t seem to finish a long, heavy book. That’s okay. Just read.

Since I read a lot more this year it was hard to pick a top list. But without further ado and a little help from Goodreads, here goes:

  1. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. This is a charming and delightful novel that was also really moving. The main character, Eleanor, is one of the more quirky protagonists I’ve read in a while, and I loved her.
  2. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. Set in Alaska, which I’m partial to, and the writing was just brilliant. I loved The Nightingale also by Hannah, and her epic writing style did not disappoint. This one is difficult to put down — I read it in one flight to Seattle.
  3. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I’ll be honest — I picked this because I loved the cover. The book was incredible. It was a popular novel that read like classic literature to me and examined the complicated nuances of family beautifully.
  4. Becoming by Michelle Obama. Obama’s writing style is fantastic and detailed. She writes about her life in Chicago and her life with Barack Obama in an engaging and informative way. I hadn’t realized until I read this how much she advocated for military spouses during President Obama’s presidency, and I was so moved to see how much she cared and fought for the military spouse community.
  5. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Late to the party with this one. I’ve not read many sports nonfiction books, but this was more than a historical retelling. Anyone who has ever competed in a sport would enjoy this story of justice and hard work.
  6. Educated by Tara Westover. I read this one very quickly — I couldn’t put it down. Westover’s writing style is incredible and it flows flawlessly. Her story of growing up in an extremist household completely separate from the world was very powerful. She also writes about the power of education, which as a teacher I really  enjoyed.
  7. Remember God by Annie F. Downs. This book was a powerful reminder to recall God’s faithfulness and kindness to us in all seasons.
  8. The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. I’ve been meaning to read this since it came out, and it was so good. Keller writes in a pragmatic but not unfeeling way, and this book was a great encouragement.
  9. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. Yes YA lit. Yes the Netflix movie was incredible. Yes to a bright, funny female protagonist who is also just lovable.
  10. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson. This was my favorite of 2018. I’d been meaning to read this for a long time. Peterson’s writing is simple but profound. He walks his readers through the Psalms of Ascent, and it felt like a balm on a windy day. Highly, highly recommend.

Honorable mentions: When Trouble Comes by Phil Ryken, In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen, and Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.

There were also a few I didn’t like or that were underwhelming. There are so many more books I wish I could tell you about, but I don’t want to make this a small book in itself. So now, let me know what you read and recommend! I want to know.

To The Stars

It is getting dark again. I was gone in Chicago for a few days at the beginning of the month and I came back and it seemed all the daylight had fled in those few short days. Some days it is hard to wake up knowing that daylight is fleeting, and even harder when you know each day you lose a few precious seconds.

I took Latin in high school. I was not very good at it, but I loved that the ancient language felt like unlocking a mystery. Each new word I learned had somehow evolved and changed until it became a word we use today. For example, “video” means “I see.”

My senior year of high school I somehow stumbled upon a phrase that is also the state motto of Kansas, “ad astra per aspera.” Aside from being beautifully alliterative and poetic in sound, the meaning is even richer: to the stars, through difficulty.

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Seeing the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) was never a huge bucket list item of mine. They were a bit of an afterthought to me, until one morning during our first winter when I was headed out to school I looked up and saw a purple and green line slowly moving through the sky in a dream-like trance. A few more sightings of the elusive lights drew me more and more to them. I liked that they were unpredictable and showed up on their own terms. More accurately, they were always there, but their visibility was a matter uncontrollable to man. The Aurora is only visible in darkness, and the darkness increases your chances of seeing it.

Darkness and difficulty are fickle friends who often don’t feel like friends at all. But they also bring us to the stars. If I weren’t willing to bundle up and stand on my porch in -30 F temperatures I’d never know the living poem of the Aurora lighting up the sky.

Through difficulty, yes — but, to the stars. To the stars.

The Marathon That Wasn’t

Last November I signed up to run a marathon in August. If I talked to you in person at some point between those months, I’m sure I mentioned it. I was so excited. I realized that in order to have motivation to exercise through the Alaska winter I needed a goal. Building a base for the marathon was exactly what I needed.

I love running. I love its simplicity, poetry, and how much it teaches me. I had never completed a full marathon before, but the marathon intrigued me. I felt curious about the distance, and wanted to see what it would be like to do a buildup and then run a marathon.

I worked really hard at building my base over the winter logging miles on the treadmill, and thinking how wonderful it would be to finally run outdoors and see the sunlight. The first day that the snow had melted enough on the track I did a little happy dance. I ran the first track workout I’d done in years, and I loved it. Marathon training made me so happy. I loved the long runs, the track workouts, all of it. I researched and stretched and foam rolled and ice bathed and did all the things.

And then one day in June my knee started to ache a little. I thought nothing of it, but skipped my long run that week. The pain persisted. After some time icing and ibuprofen didn’t seem to help I saw a doctor. Throughout weeks of trying to cross train and take care of myself it didn’t get better. I suddenly realized that my dream was fading. Maybe a better word would be deferred, to steal from the iconic poet Langston Hughes.

I realized that if I truly believed that my body is God’s and I want to honor him with it I couldn’t in good conscience continue trying to push myself to do the race. My body was telling me it wasn’t ready, and I had to listen. I had to scratch. After I scratched I felt really mad that I had wasted all my training. I put hours of work, research, and rehab into training, only to not accomplish my end goal.Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

One of my favorite authors, Amy Krause Rosenthal, talks about “Plan Be”, existing only in the present. I love that. It redeems Plan B from a second choice to the best possible choice. It asks, what do I have now that I can rejoice in? So my marathon Plan Be was to take the lessons marathon training taught me and hold them. I learned about endurance, rest, and being kind to myself. Those lessons will always be there. The marathon ended up giving me a lot more than I could have expected, and I didn’t even run it.

That thing that you worked and hoped for, putting in lots of hours, only to see it pass without fruition? It mattered, and it still matters. You’re not a failure if you don’t end up accomplishing the goal you worked towards. Sometimes you just have to work a little to find Plan Be.