2020 book list and a request for recommendations

Keeping a book list in the back of my planner has helped tremendously with my reading the last few years. I create the list in January, and then add or change it as the year progresses. If I read only a handful of books, I’ll be happy — but somehow, making a list and knowing what’s going to come next (and being able to get a hold of them promptly) means reading many more than that! Also, it’s awfully fun to remember what I’ve read, and the score I gave them on a scale of 1-10.

So, here’s what I read in 2020:

The Measure of Success (completed), 4/10

A Girl of the Limberlost, 8/10

Coddling of the American Mind, 10/10


In the Garden of Beasts, 9/10


Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy, 9/10


In My Father’s House, 8/10


The Grand Escape, 8/10


Stop Calling Me Beautiful, 6/10


The Green Glass Sea, 10/10


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, 7/10


The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, 8/10


Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, 9/10


We Were the Lucky Ones, 10/10


The Book Thief, 8/10


Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, 10/10


The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, 10/10


In the Enemy’s House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies, 8/10


Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, in progress

What should I read this year? Let me know your recommendations!

Christmas memories, 2020

A post of photos, so I can remember the year when three children sang like angels and siblings burst with joy over gifts exchanged and Percival matched his brothers and Ryan actually had no idea what I bought for him (!!) and the beef was a fiasco and we stayed in slow-mo for days afterward playing games and wearing nightgowns and good heavens, we all needed a solid nap.

the gift of today

I’m always so sad to see December coming to a close, although (let’s be honest) probably this little afternoon ritual of coffee and cookies will be the hardest thing to see go. The salads promised by a goal-filled January will be great, I’m sure, but nothing like these buttery morsels.

This December also meant saying goodbye to 4-year-old Cecily, and that reality gave pause to both Ryan and me on the eve of her birthday — “December nineteenth!”, always declared with a wide grin — as our eyes grew wistful and full of memory. The little years of Cecily Anne have been truly delightful years, full of belly-laughter and deep-down joy.

But when our 4-year-old disappeared that night, we found in her place an equally delightful 5 year old and the hopes of a year yet to be lived.

And so it is, really, with all of the wonderfully rich days already enjoyed. They end, we turn off the light with a deep sigh, but the sun rises and invites us to embrace yet another day, made by and planned by and inhabited by God Himself. Can I do that? Can I release, with thankfulness, the gifts of yesterday and open my hands to what He will give today?

We chatted today, amidst pots of Sopa de Albondigas and rising orange-scented sweet dough and the beef tenderloin I wanted so badly to not mess up. We talked about finishing strong, and I reminded the boys of the human wonder names Usain Bolt who, among other obvious gifting, is capable of seeing a finish line and not slowing down at all. He runs right through that marker and leaves his opponents in the dust. We talked about how everyone’s inclination is to see the end and, in relief, slow their pace. “I’ve got this,” we think to ourselves, and then slow down. Usain Bolt and Caleb remind me of each other, in their ability to finish strong, and I am challenged. I’m only 39, and already I can start to understand the temptation to begin coasting. Entanglements, weights, sorrows, or just plain old, “I’ve got this.” Enough days of packed away treasures, enough mornings of waking to a more frail body, another disappointing circumstance, and we start to slow.

So I’m looking at a month of pictures, of memories, of days with my kids right here with me. Growing, happy, innocent, with me. It’s easy to sigh and have the echo of so many kind strangers ring in my mind: “These are the best days of your life.” And I know what they mean, and I’m smart enough to understand, but tomorrow, no matter what else it may bring, is full of the promise of purposes of God, and He invites me to live it strong, live it fully, live it with hopeful expectation.

Emmanuel, God with Us — today, tomorrow, forever.

joy for a weary world

“A weary world rejoices.”

Doesn’t that sum up what you’re seeing this year? Strings of lights in mid-November, trees up a good week before usual, the population in general chomping at the bit to sing Jingle Bells and spread Christmas cheer — the feeling of “we need a little Christmas right this very minute” has never been so widely shared.

And maybe this is good for us. Maybe it is right to occasionally remember that the Light came into vast and utter darkness. Joy erupted from a place of total despair. A savior was born because we actually needed to be saved. Not helped. Saved.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”

We have strung lights, too, and our tree beckons spontaneous morning and evening family gatherings. Favorite songs play while the girls color yet another Christmas coloring page. The fragrance of butter and sugar and nutmeg and rum fills the air. We are celebrating, but the best part is that we’re not celebrating the lights or the tree or the music and cookies. Those are the tools we use, but the object of our joy is so much less fleeting and circumstantial.

We sense hope, but it’s not just because we think a new calendar will magically usher in a better year. Fast-tracked vaccinations aren’t filling my soul with peace. Actually, there’s not a whole lot of joy, hope, or peace to be grasped — until you stop fumbling in the dark for something that doesn’t exist and start looking toward the horizon for the glorious morn promised by a Morning Star so many hundreds of years ago.

A thrill of hope, my weary soul rejoices, and more than ever, it’s not just because the sounds of the King’s College choir are magical (though they are).

We are a weary world, and if the tree and lights and Hallmark movies aren’t doing it for you this time around, may I suggest a better hope, a more lasting peace? May I remind us that the angels came to announce a Savior, and He is near, ready to save.

thanksgiving

I was dumping photos from my phone and saw this one — and had to laugh. Tired much? But I remember taking it, and I wasn’t thinking about how tired I was (or looked), but just was wanting to remember his little face buried in my neck, and the swirl of black hair on the back of his tiny head.

And in some ways, this picture is maybe a great summation of how 2020 has left me feeling: utterly exhausted and ready to fall into my bed and wake up to a new day, but also with a thousand blessings I want to never forget.

We’re kicking off this holiday season with the strangest Thanksgiving of my life, due to rules and regulations. But it feels awfully silly to complain about Thanksgiving. If there’s one day of the year when my grumpy self feels slapped upside the head, it’s Thanksgiving. And I need it this year, as much as — okay, let’s be honest, more than — ever.

Thanksgiving isn’t just optimism. It’s not Pollyanna-itis. It’s the fruit of a deep, deep encounter with God. It’s born out of a confidence that He is who He says He is, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. It’s a shield against cynicism, bitterness, and disillusionment. It is, in some ways, the elusive Fountain of Youth the world has long sought after — not that it will keep you in your twenties, but it is the difference between hard and bitter, or sweet and joyful. For any who have set their hearts to run the race with endurance, it is absolutely essential. It is the lock and key that safely keeps untold treasures from being stolen away by the thieves of envy, jealousy, and negativity.

And so I’m seeing that yes, the circles under my eyes are extra dark — in so many ways, on so many levels. But also? My life overflows with blessings, not the least of which is currently snuggled in my arms as I write, making soft little baby sounds. I can succumb to the temptation to get lost in a sorry world of counted sorrows, or I can set my heart and my eyes on things above and find that His goodness and mercy have followed me every single day.

And a favorite quote regarding the first Thanksgiving:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”— Edward Winslow, 1621

autumn: a list

(For Tea and Poetry this afternoon, I read a couple of poems but then had the school-aged kids make lists of words describing autumn. Here’s Jameson’s.)

bright
cool
crisp
colorful
big sky
brown
crunch
clouds
contrast
orange
leaves
football
pigskin
ears so cold
early nights
hunting
candy
tricks
treats
walks
school stress
chili
pie
apple
pumpkin
warm clothes
fires
cornbread
spice cake
snow
breakin’ my back shoveling
TV
coffee
thanks