Reflections on My Year of Reading

In 2015, I set a goal of reading one hundred books.  I got to only 85, but I pushed myself to read a certain number every month, and I picked up lots of books that were new and buzzy and perhaps not things I would normally enjoy.  This experience was good, but exhausting.  I got to the end of the year, and while my list of read books on Goodreads had grown, there weren't any clear favorites, or books that had thrilled me in that particular way that marks a good read.  That disappointed me, and made me think about how reading lots of books does not necessarily ensure they will all be notable.

Therefore, in 2016, I decided I would only read books I really wanted to read, I would read books of substance, books that could teach me, move me, change me, touch me from my intellect to my heart.  At the end now, I can say with confidence that my reading this year fulfilled those goals.  The books I read this year did change me, and I am infinitely grateful that a goal based on numbers didn't force me to read meaningless fiction all the time to stay on track.  I read what I loved this year, and I loved what I read.

That said, I read 29 books this year (maybe it will be 30 by the end), a far cry from the number I read last year, and fewer than I would have liked, if I'm being honest.  I did, however, enjoy every book I read, and I only read books I wanted to read.  Most of that number was made up of nonfiction, which is different for me, but ultimately what I wanted to happen.  And I never really felt like reading fiction this year at all, except during the summer, which always happens with me anyway.  Otherwise, I read a ton of history, some Tim Keller, a few works of poetry, and some Christian living type books.  But mostly, I read history this year, which was simply the sort of stuff I wanted to read most of the time.  I love military history, so the two main time periods I read were The Revolutionary War and WWII, with a healthy dose of Cold War era history.  It was great.  I did not get to as many classics this year as I wanted to, and apart from finishing War & Peace in the beginning of the year, I don't think I read any, which is sad.  Obviously, and not unexpectedly, college had a lot to do with both my smaller number this year, and the fact that probably about 50% of what I did read this year was through Audible.  I have no qualms about reading that way, and I expected college to disrupt my reading.  I didn't, however, appreciate how much it disrupted things.

So what are my hopes for reading in 2017?  Well, I've decided I need to read more.  More fiction, more classics, more nonfiction, too.  I didn't like not reading books for pleasure for a whole semester. I think if I had, my stress levels would have been less, and I would have had a better time, basically.  So that's goal number one.  Intentionally carve out time to read and make it a priority.  Rather than finishing up homework at night and then watching a show, as much as I love that, I want to choose to read.  Reading is important to me, not only because of how much I learn, but because it is such a part of me at this point, it feels utterly strange not to read.  Here's to having a book with me at all times and reading in between classes and before class starts rather than staring at my phone.

I've done my best not to set any lofty reading goals, but I have a couple small ones.  First, I want to get into another big classic.  I loved loved loved reading War & Peace and stretching that baby over a good few months, and I want to do that again.  I'm thinking Crime & Punishment by Dostoyevsky, because I've heard so many good things about it recently, but we'll see.  Secondly, I want to get back into fiction.  Taking a year off was good, and I love historical nonfiction to the moon and back, but I did miss a good old novel.  Any recommendations for substantive novels would be appreciated.  And that's pretty much all I've got.  Read more, read better.  Those will always be my goals when it comes to books.

My reading this year has touched me and stretched me and molded me, and I am forever grateful to all the books and authors who change me each year.  Reading will always be my favorite thing, and in 2017, I will make it a high priority again and keep it there where it belongs.

Things I Loved in 2016

Call me sappy, excessively-sentimental, or whatever, but this year has gone by in a flash.  I've been busy in a mostly good kind of way the whole year it seems like, but I've been able to enjoy some things that I really loved in the meantime.  I like making these types of lists and remembering things I enjoyed during the hustle that almost act as signposts when looking back.  In the next week or so, I hope to share my personal goals for the coming year as well as consider my reading in 2016, so keep an eye out for that.  For now, though, I want to share the books, films, podcasts, and music that stood out to me this year.

This should come as a surprise to no one with how much I raved about this book both here and in my real life, but my favorite book I read this year, without a doubt, is Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber.  This book struck a chord with me and everything about it was my favorite.  I honestly could not think of a book premise more up my street.  I loved it, I loved it, I loved it.  In one of my few posts of substance in 2016, I reviewed/went on about Surprised by Oxford here.

I put two other books down as favorites, and not incidentally, they are rather representative of the majority of the nonfiction I read this year.  The first is Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, one of the largest books I read this year, er, listened to, as I spent the summer listening to this one on audiobook while mowing the yard (#goals, obviously).  It was fantastic, and the inspiration for another favorite thing this year, Hamilton: The Musical, by the inimitable Lin-Manuel Miranda.  While I read the book first, the music quickly followed.  While biographies about the Founding Fathers are rarely described as riveting reading material, this one was fantastic and utterly readable.

Finally, in the book department, I also read and loved Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre, maven of all secret agent-y, sabotage-related WWII to Cold War history.  I loved this book for all of its colorful characters and the author's unmistakable voice.  As these two suggest, most of what I read and loved this year was historical nonfiction set around the Revolutionary War and WWII.  Not mad about it.

I'm going to speed this whole thing up, or we'll be here awhile.  If you couldn't tell from my last post/rave, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was my favorite movie of the year (counting only movies released in 2016).  In reality, I didn't go and see too many movies, or even watch many new movies – at least not movies meant for audiences above the age of 10.  Lots of re-watching Lord of the Rings, mostly.  I detailed all my ramble-y thoughts on the new Star Wars film in a previous post, so I won't go into it again.  I won't admit it didn't have flaws, but I loved it despite them.

This year has truly been the year of podcasts for me, and I have discovered a few that have become firm favorites.  I've spoken about Overdue here before, but that remains one of my most-listened-to podcasts, as well as the one I laugh the hardest at.  Their backlog of episodes is a gold mine, people.  Also, a firm favorite, The New York Times Book Review podcast has been something I look forward to every Friday afternoon for a couple years now, and I thoroughly enjoy it.  There's something about it that makes me feel sophisticated, and I appreciate the variety of books they discuss on there.  And finally, my favorite podcast discovery of the year has to be Hardcore History by Dan Carlin.  This podcast is literally a guy sitting down and talking about history for HOURS.  Like, every episode is 3-4 hours long.  I freaked out when I discovered it.  My favorite series so far is called Blueprint for Armageddon, and it is all about World War I.  It is absolutely fantastic, and deeply moving/inspiring/awesome.  I don't care if you don't like history.  It's the bomb.

Finally, the music album/artist that defined my year the most has to be All Sons & Daughters and their newest album, Poets & Saints.  As a music artist, their music has touched me in all kinds of ways and so many songs, both on this record and earlier ones have put words to feelings and events this year.  They are incredible.  If there is one song that has moved me or left the biggest impression this year, it would be Even Unto Death by Audrey Assad.  It is just the greatest, and I want it to be my anthem forever.

And that wraps up this year and the books, films, podcasts, and music I loved the most.  Hopefully you found some new favorites, and I'll hopefully be churning out a few more posts before school starts up again (hold me!).


Thoughts on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

As I am now on Christmas break, I thought it was high time to write a good old fashioned blog post talking about something of substance for a change.  Blessedly, I have more time on my hands at the moment, and therefore was able to see a movie I was very excited about – the next installment in the Star Wars universe (pun intended).  Whether this ramble turns out to be of substance or not, however, is yet to be seen.

I saw Rogue One yesterday afternoon with my siblings, and while I still have this film and all my consequential thoughts and feelings fresh in my mind, I thought I'd bang out a post about it.  This won't be a review per se – I have no intention of giving all the pros and cons, though some of that will happen anyway, or giving specifics or plot details – these are my thoughts only, to be laid out in a sprawling way I'm sure.  But here we go.

I have this uncanny ability? habit? quirk? of thinking a lot when I watch films.  Okay, so maybe that depends on the film – any Bond film may be an exception to this rule.  Most of the time, however, I watch a movie and think the whole time – about the worldview, the message, the little shafts of truth that shine through the plot (sometimes more brightly than others) and form that magical quality of good fiction C.S. Lewis constantly talked about and that eventually led him to faith in God.  I'm usually on high alert to these pieces of truth that allude, as Tim Keller calls it, to the truest, greatest story of all – the Gospel (I'm paraphrasing).  That is what I noticed/looked for in this movie and what I want to talk about today.

The first thing that struck me while watching the movie was the theme of hope woven through the whole story.  In fact, at times it seemed to be quite a main plot point (here's a plot overview, if you care).  There's this line the main character, Jyn Urso, says early on in the movie: "We have hope.  Rebellions are built on hope."  Normally, this line wouldn't have struck me so hard, but it just so happens I've been listening to Mere Christianity by the one and only C.S. Lewis on my commute, and I had just listened to the chapter wherein Lewis compares Christianity on earth and Christ's incarnation to a rebel force landing and fighting back against the evil kingdom currently occupying Earth.  Christians, the Church, are united in fighting back until the true King returns to make everything right again.  I love that parallel, so when I heard that line in the film, I immediately made the connection.  We are in the middle of a rebellion against evil, and we have that hope of everything coming right, being made new, and good winning in the end.  That's why, when we're smack dab in the center of something really terrible and apparently hopeless, we have hope and expectancy rooted in something that's sure. Moments like these happen throughout the film, and that thread of hope runs deep.  To me, that was the strongest theme of the film, and the thing that held everything together and made all the sacrifice (spoiler?) ultimately worth it.  I'd recommend this film for that point alone – the hope that never gives up.

Another really moving (at least for me) aspect of the film was regarding one character in the squad of sorts that assembles alongside Jyn as the story progresses.  His name is Chirrut Imwe, and he is a blind ninja/Jedi/superhero, whom everyone else calls a dreamer because he still believes in the force and lets it guide him, which is especially poignant because he cannot see.  He was perhaps the most moving character in the film for me, and there's this moment in the film that made me lose it.  At a really critical moment, when it's not looking good for Jyn's friends on the ground, Imwe walks from their hiding place alongside a bunker and tries to cross a portion of the very active battlefield in a move that seems suicidal.  As he walks – he doesn't run – he holds his weapon in front of him and chants the whole way, "I am one with the force, the force is with me" over and over again until he finds the master switch and flips it (it's literally called the master switch).  His story ends tragically, but I was, needless to say, a little teary after that episode.  Now, sure, go on, the force is not an allegory for God, or the Holy Spirit, or whatever, but that scene was heavily spiritual if you ask me.  I mean, here's this blind guy who crosses a battlefield where lasers are just totally missing him the whole time and he's saying over and over that the force is with him.  We might not ever have to cross a live battle zone blind to flip a master switch, or ever be in a physical battle at all, but there is something deeply profound and downright Biblical about that scene at least in the context of the life of a Christian that I just can't stop thinking about.

Finally, this squad I've been talking about is pretty great.  It's made up of misfits – most great squads are – and it is the greatest.  Every person in the group trusts each other by the end of it, and they have realized that none of them can do anything by themselves as well, or accomplish as much alone as they can as a group.  And that's the final little parallel I want to talk about.  Relevant Magazine does these posts about the Gospel of Star Wars as each movie comes out, and in the one about Rogue One, the writer refers to the Scripture that talks about the Church of Christ as a body, how each limb is essential and the body cannot act without every part, just as every part fails without the whole.  The individuals of the group in Rogue One are each essential to the mission in unique ways, and as they do their part of the job, complete their own bit of the mission, the whole beautiful thing comes together and changes the course of history.

This installment of the Star Wars story seems to zero in on individuals fighting battles as a group.  From this perspective, the importance of single people doing the right thing – the job right in front of them – takes center stage.  And that's something you miss in the other Star Wars films – as much as I adore them – the characters in those are the tip of the spear, the big names, and you miss out on the ordinary people being brave in the details, in the smaller picture.  Rogue One is a smaller picture, it's the details, it's the little characters with names no one really knows, being heroes right where they area and choosing to do the right thing even if they are never able to see their sacrifice pay off.  It's incredible.  This film is desperate and sad and gritty, but it's real, and far more relatable than a story about a princess, a dashing scoundrel, and a desert-boy with the force.  And for that reason, it'll stick around in my head for a while.  I loved this movie and I think everyone should see it.

May the force be with you.

Note: I am not dissing the original Star Wars trilogy at all.  Those three movies are in my film canon, if you will, and I love them to the Death Star and beyond (too much?).  Rogue One was simply a totally different perspective that I found more deeply relatable and human experience-y than those movies, and I appreciated that a lot.  But gosh, Han Solo and Leia buns forevaaaaa.



Eeeek!  It's winter and we put up our tree today while it snowed and Christmas is in less than three weeks and I have break in two weeks and everything is all right with the world.

In the midst of all the Christmas shopping, I managed to snag a book for myself which I hope to read over the month between studying and finals.  The book is called Hidden Christmas and it's by Tim Keller, who I rave about on the regular, so this choice was no surprise.  I started it tonight and it is very good.  Shocker.

Also, here's a quick run down of everything I plan to do on break, simply because I cannot shut up about it.

Read – Poldark series by Winston Graham, (finish) Miracles by C.S. Lewis, (finish) Holy is the Day by Carolyn Weber, (continue) The Fellowship by Phillip and Carol Zaleski, and also begin my annual re-read of The Lord of the Rings.
Watch – Lord of the Rings (always), all the Christmas movies, and season 2 of Poldark
Bake – real, spicy gingerbread
Write – blog posts (so many), goals for 2017, etc.
Other things I hope to do include working on my personal photo book for 2016, picking up my lonely guitar, and applying to staff at Summit in the summer (!!!).

Finally, I'm following along with the She Reads Truth advent study again this year, because it never fails to help me see the amazing story of Christmas with new eyes all over again every year.  We're only a week in, and I love it already.

And because I simply cannot help myself, here's a snowy picture.

Alright, that's it for now.  I'm looking forward to a week of studying for finals and getting ready for Christmas!


Five Things - No. 2

Oof.  Thank goodness it's Friday, no?  Fall break doesn't let you down easy, it turns out.  Anyway, I want to talk about five more things I've been loving or thinking about lately today, before I dive into a weekend of studying for midterms.

1.) I've had zero time to read an actual book since school started, really, but I did manage to listen to an excellent audio book over the last week or so that was simply so great I had to mention it.  Ben Macintyre's latest book Rogue Heroes is about the British SAS (Special Air Service) during WWII, and it is just incredible.  The SAS was responsible for sabotage in Northern Africa against the Italians and Germans during that portion of the war, and they operated in other theaters of the war afterward.  Macintyre writes about their operations in a way that is easy to follow and completely engrossing.  He is at his best in this book, the fourth of his I've read (the others were awesome, too) and everything about it was great.  His writing is so good for his genre, he is funny while maintaining the seriousness of war, his narration in the audio book was so great, and the story of the SAS was just mind blowing.  I love reading about the sabotage/spying/covert stuff of the war, and Ben Macintyre is simply the best in the business.  

2.) I've spoken about She Reads Truth here before, but I want to highlight the plan I'm going through right now in my devotional time, because it's so good.  Hosea has always been an intriguing book of the Bible to me, and my mind has been blown so many times reading it all the way through in this study.  The story of Hosea and his adulterous wife is just thick with God's faithfulness and grace.  It's such a powerful picture of sacrifice and love that mirrors Jesus's sacrifice for us.  The most faithful God promises faithfulness to us, the most unfaithful.  I highly recommend the study, but just read the whole book of Hosea.  It speaks for itself.   

3.) Switching gears entirely, I re-watched a show in the last couple weeks over the weekend nights when I wasn't studying and it is just so good I wanted to talk about it.  The show is by Masterpiece Theater, and I still cannot hear the Masterpiece opening music without expecting the Downton Abbey theme song.  Anyway, this particular show is called Poldark, and it's about a certain Cornish man, the titular Ross Poldark, who is trying to carve out a life on the rocky English coast in Cornwall county.  Now, the show (based on a series of books by Winston Graham) is basically a love story, but it's a fascinating one.  No spoilers, but the roles of the man and woman are reversed in a sort of upside-down Cinderella story to great effect.  The show is masterfully done and shot, and I am totally reading the book series over Christmas break.  I'm thinking about talking about some of the deeper themes I noticed in this second re-watch in a post because I have so many thoughts, but we'll see.  The second season is just coming out, and I'm going to try and hold off until the whole thing's available on Amazon Prime.  Also, I won't not mention that the casting of this show is impeccable, but that's not the point at all.  Though it is much appreciated.

4.) After reading an article on The Gospel Coalition, I discovered a band called The Gray Havens who just released a new full-length album you should check out.  The music isn't what I'd normally go for, but the lyrics are awesome.  Made up of a husband-wife duo, the lyrics are laced with symbolism reminiscent and inspired by both The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis, two things I am unabashedly passionate about.  There's even some elvish in a song or two.  The words of the songs are just great, and I love the whole record.  Never has a piece of music fit more perfectly into my wheelhouse (also, I hate that phrase, but it's appropriate here).  Check them out.

5.) I am so pumped for Christmas and Christmas break I CANNOT EVEN TELL YOU.  I've begun making a list of books to read so I can make the most of my time.  This is probably a sign of something not good, but I do not even care.  I can't wait to read books and not have a to-do list calling my name.  Seriously now, though, Christmas is my favorite time of the year.  Quickly, here's what I have on my list to read during that break: Holy is the Day by Carolyn Weber (!!!), the Poldark series (as mentioned earlier), the last fifty pages of Miracles by C.S. Lewis, and over the New Year, The Lord of the Rings, which I've decided to re-read at the beginning of each year.  

Just thinking about the prospect of reading books is making me real happy, which is where I'm going to sign off for now.  So much studying for midterms to get through!  K, bye!


That Friday Feeling #1

So I'm sitting here at my desk at work, eating chocolate that I bought two hours ago because it's Friday and I honestly could not care less if eating half a bar of chocolate is ruinous to my present state of health.  'Cause you know what?  It's Friday.

The weekend has a different vibe now that I'm a college student and the break doesn't mean complete and utter freedom from (most) responsibility.  You should see the stack of homework I have mentally piled in my brain to knock off this weekend.  It's slightly terrifying.  But even the thought of spending Saturday knee-deep in Spanish and statistics mumbo-jumbo does nothing to dampen this mood.  When I was thinking about my schedule for this semester, I decided to work a full day on Fridays simply because the feeling of getting off work Friday evening is second to none other.  Is this a little strange?  Possibly.

On an unrelated note, the weather in my corner of the Midwest is sublime today.  You know how I said I was so not ready for the summer to end?  Well, I forgot how good it feels to be on the cusp of the fall.  The air just feels good, you know?  It's got that edge of cool to it that just makes me feel alive.  How can the weather do that?  All I know is, I'm officially pumped for fall.  This girl ain't having a pumpkin spice latte until at least the latter half of September, though.  What the heck, Starbucks.  Don't talk to me about that.  August is barely out the door.  Lattes aside, I'm feeling all the fall feelings.  Also, my birthday is in T-13 days. 

Anyway, I surprised myself this week (this week being my second week of actual college) that I don't mind it too terribly much.  I don't know what I was expecting, but apparently my expectations were low, because this isn't so bad.  I actually missed having deadlines.  STAT 125 isn't totally lost on me yet, I banged out a paper I'm proud of, slammed what felt like a thousand pages of Shakespeare's King Lear last night (which is such a slog, ohmygosh), and came to the happy realization that I do remember the fundamental principles of the Spanish language.  I'm actually looking forward to checking off that to-do list over the next few days.  

I guess I'm more of a person of routine and order than I thought.  I mean, I can do nothing for a week at the beach.  Spending a weekend doing nothing is blissful.  But man, I just enjoy being busy and productive and getting things done.  It is such a good feeling.  My gap year last year wasn't super busy, now that I think of it.  I had two classes per semester and I felt busy, but I have been initiated into a new sort of busy these last couple weeks and lemme say that last year was a breeze.  Turns out, I was craving that harried feeling of always having things to do.  Like I said, I'm two weeks in; we'll see if I'm still singing that tune in a month or two.  

All I'll say is so far so good.  

Also.  It's Friday.

I'm out. *throws mic*


On Miracles + This Season

As I mentioned in my last post, I am currently reading Miracles by C.S. Lewis.  The book is more – I don't know how to describe it... perhaps critical or technical is the word?  Critical as in dealing with the subject of Miracles from the context of society and how unbelievable they are to people who view the world in a explicitly scientific way.  Therefore, there wasn't a lot that spoke to me in the first half of the book; Miracles is the sort of book you focus on with highlighter in hand and your apologist hat on (???), and honestly, I just don't think I was in the mood to read it.  I kept getting distracted.  I've heard from too many people I respect, however, who say that Miracles is their favorite of Lewis's books.  So I was determined to give it a fair chance.

All that said, before I get to the particular page that blew my mind, I'll give some context.  (long-winded journal entry ahead...)

It's 5 weeks since I left for Japan.  It's 3 weeks since I left Japan for home.  And it's hard.  It's hard not having that focus, that dialed-in, purposeful work.  I miss it and I want it back.  I don't want to stay, I want to go.

And I've wrestled with God on this.  I've wrestled with this season of life and with staying.  And outside on a heavy summer night, I laid it all out bare and open.  Because you know, when I told God I'd say yes this year, I really, deep down meant I would say yes there.  I really deep down meant I'd say yes to things I desperately wanted to do.  When I promised that I'd follow Him to the ends of the earth, I really deep down meant anywhere but here, anywhere but right where I am.  And when I begged God to use me, cried on the floor about the grief of the world and said I would do anything, go anywhere, I really meant, deep down inside, that I wanted to be used there, not here.  I wanted to be used where cities are bombed, where children lose their families to anger and violence, where there are too many babies for arms to hold, where the earth groans loudest for redemption and the saints must be bold.  I want to be used there, not here in this land of plenty, where we see the pain of the world and do nothing but talk.

And I hear the hypocrisy of my wild-sounding promises, of the banner I wave of bravery and trust.  I see the foolishness of promising God what I will and won't do.  I had put Him in my pocket, hung Him on a string around my neck, made Him small enough to fit Him into my dreams.  I know that's wrong, and I never thought I'd make the mistake of serving a God in my head I'd made small.

 But thankfully, God refuses to be made small, and so He used the words of a man to wake me up, just like He's done countless times before.  I was reading Lewis's book on miracles, and nothing was jumping out at me like I had expected.  And then I hit this page.  And I'm going to write it out here, because it's so beautiful and so desperately important.
"So here; the shock comes at the precise moment when the thrill of life is communicated to us along the clue we have been following.  It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. 'Look out!' we cry. 'It's alive.'  And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back - I would have done so myself if I could - and proceed no further with Christianity.  An 'impersonal God' - well and good.  A subjective God of beauty, truth, and goodness, inside our own heads - better still.  A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap - best of all.  But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband - that is quite another matter.  There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall?  There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion ('Man's search for God!') suddenly draw back.  Supposing we really found Him?  We never meant it to come to that!  Worse still, supposing He had found us?  So it is a sort of Rubicon.  One goes across; or not.  But if one does, there is no manner of security against miracles.  One may be in for anything." - C.S. Lewis, Miracles
Right here at home, in this season I'd rather not be in, I suppose I'm going to have to trust Him more.  I don't want to waste this time; I want Him to use it.  I'm going to let Him have His way, be the alive, powerful God that He is, and step back.  I'm going to get Him out of my pocket, untie Him from around my neck and worship and serve and follow the God who refuses to be made small.  I'm going to follow Him right here.  I'm going to let Him be my big God who will have His way with me, even here.  I'm going to stop trying to fit Him into my dreams and start fitting my dreams into His.

There it is; that's it.  If I've chosen to believe in this God who performs miracles and who keeps this earth spinning on its axis and the planets suspended in space, I can't limit His plans for me to what I feel in my heart or think in my head.  I gotta be up for anything because I could be in for anything.

I'm not finished with this book yet, and I'm sure I'll have more to say about it before it's over, but that's what has hit me the hardest so far.

Lewis does have some incredible ways of explaining miracles, how God performing miracles isn't contrary to nature - take this quote: "Thus, as we accept this doctrine of the higher world we make new discoveries about the lower world.  It is from that hill that we first really understand the landscape of this valley.  Here at last, we find...a real illumination: Nature is being lit up by a light from beyond Nature.  Someone is speaking who knows more about her than can be known from inside her."  I mean.  Let that sink in.

That's our God.


Five Things

Random-just-want-to-write-about-stuff-post coming attcha.  Woo!  Five things in my head/life lately ahead:

1.) In my quest to finish all of C.S. Lewis's main works of nonfiction this year, I am currently reading his book entitled Miracles.  Oh man, it's good.  He is the one guy God consistently uses to blow my mind and teach me something, and this book is no different.  You know something's up when you copy a whole freaking page from a book into your journal.  Read it.

2.) Summer is over officially for me this week as I start up college, and honestly, I'm having a hard time letting go.  Normally I cannot wait for the fall, but this year summer just felt gloriously precious.  I'm trying to get pumped for fall, though.  Pumpkin!  Birthday!  Cooler temps!  Sweaters!  Christmaaaaaassss!  But seriously though.  Summertime rocks.

3.) PSA: All my favorite artists are dropping new records in September, which means it's going to be an extra fantastic birthday month.  Check these cool people out: All Sons & Daughters are releasing "Poets & Saints," JOHNNYSWIM are coming out with "Georgica Pond," Colony House are dropping "Only The Lonely," and Sandra McCracken is releasing "God's Highway."  SO PUMPED.

4.) COFFEE !!!

5.) I am kinda crazy about a new-to-me podcast called "Overdue."  It's hosted by two guys who read books each week and talk about them.  The point of the podcast is for these dudes to read all the books they've been meaning to read by haven't gotten around to yet.  One of them reads the book and tells the other one about it.  They are absolutely hilarious and the books they read are varied and interesting.  If you want to laugh, but also feel like you're learning something (?), then give this podcast a listen.  I would highly recommend the episodes entitled "Casino Royale," "The Two Towers," "The Return of the King," and "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall."  Pretty sure I laughed till I cried with almost all of those.

I'm kicking around the idea of doing a completely different post next about something related to the page out of Lewis's Miracles that knocked my socks off and some things God's been teaching me lately, but we'll see if I wanna completely bare my heart. :P I want this space to incorporate some more personal writing, and I think that topic would be appropriate since it relates to a book.  With college starting, though, who knows if I'll have any time at all.  Anyway, happy Monday and bye!


Update + My favorite book of 2016 so far

Well.  It's been awhile.

About 7 months, in fact.  I don't know how this year has flown by so quickly, what with summer nearly over and my first semester of college looming in the distance.  The last half of July I spent in Toyko, Japan, helping out with a VBS and exploring the city with a couple friends.  It was an incredible experience and opportunity, and saying goodbye was rough.

Anyway, my reading this year has consisted mostly of nonfiction and lots of audiobooks.  This summer I got back into fiction, which usually happens when I spend a lot of time at the lake getting sunburnt and doing nothing.  Summer is just the time for fun books.  Naturally, I had hoped to post some summer reading recommendations, but it didn't happen (*see above reference to rapid passing of time).  That said, I did read a book while I was in Japan that was just so good I couldn't help but talk about it as soon as possible.  I'm thinking it's the best book I've read so far this year.

The book is called SURPRISED BY OXFORD and the author is Carolyn Weber.  It has been on my wishlist forever, and when I was thinking of books to take/buy for my trip, I chose this one.  And let me tell you, it kind of blew my mind.

SURPRISED BY OXFORD is a memoir, which initially put me off, as my experience with memoirs has been mixed.  But man, I am so glad I picked this one up.  In this book, Carolyn arrives at Oxford as a graduate student of literature.  She is a skeptical agnostic from a loving but broken family, waving the flag of feminism, suspicious of men, and intellectually hostile to all things religious.  As she attempts to grapple with big questions, she meets classmates and professors who struggle with the same God-shaped longing, and one friend in particular, who lovingly draws her to the Father she never knew she needed.  In this memoir, Carolyn writes about faith and conversion with the same honesty and depth of the writers and poets she was studying, and tackles issues of fatherhood, feminism, doubt, and love in ways that surprised and captivated me.  There is such a depth of theology and honesty of doubt and love in this book, and it felt real and relatable, despite the Oxford setting.  I finished it on a crowded train in Tokyo, the crazy white tourist trying not look like she was crying and failing miserably.  I immediately wanted to reread it.

Maybe it was the tear-jerker of a love story in here, maybe it was the Oxford setting, maybe it was the fact that Carolyn was studying literature, maybe it was the writing (which is amazing), maybe it was the romance of reading it in another country, but I totally fell in love with it.  I just want everyone and their mother to read it.  It is achingly beautiful.  It is full of theology and literary connections and insight that feels very C.S. Lewis-esque to me, it is an incredible conversion story, it's an awesome perspective of the Gospel, it's a very honest look at doubt.  It blew my freaking mind, and I cannot wait to read it again and again and again.  I desperately want to go to Oxford now, and I am convinced the man in this book, affectionately referred to as TDH, is the most perfect member of his species alive.  I just basically want to be Carolyn Weber.

This book is so great, and please just read it.  Whether you do so in the waning weeks of summer (you'll fly through it, trust me), on vacation, or on a train in Toyko, just do it.  And thank me later.  Also, if you are like me and listen to music while you read, I would suggest Alanna Boudreau's new album, "Champion."  It's what I listened to through most of my trip and while reading this book, and it is fantastic and seemed to correlate in lots of ways.

College begins for me in a couple of weeks, and so I don't know when I'll be back, but I just had to talk about this book, since I've already gone on about it IRL.  Just read it, and thanks for sticking around.  xo, Ella


My 2016 Goals + Stuff

Well I'm dusting off the old blog today to share my goals for 2016 and also talk about where I'm taking the blog this year.  I've been thinking about changing things up around here and what I want the content to be.

First of all, though, goals.  I've never really been into resolutions.  They don't work for me typically, and goals make much more sense.  Last year I set a few – be brave, read 100 books (I read 85), work my way to 50 consecutive push-ups (world-changing goals, I know).  The first of these – to be brave – ended up defining my year.  2015 was by far the craaaziest year ever.  Summit had a lot to do with that, and by choosing bravery as my theme, I think I ended up squeezing so much more out of every experience last year than I maybe would have otherwise.  That was pretty incredible.  He's a good Father, y'all.  More than any other year, 2015 changed me a whole bunch.

But we are talking about 2016 today.  If there is a theme to my goals for this year, I think it's being intentional.  Being intentional about doing things that are necessary but maybe not fun, being intentional about relationships, etc.  And while I'm not listing it as a specific goal, I want to continue to develop bravery in whatever I do.

stick to a budget

Because, you know, #adulting.  Seeing as it's going to be something I do forever, I decided I need to start budgeting now.  I'm using an app called Mint to create/manage my budget, and I already feel very organized/responsible.

read more intentionally

Since I set myself a goal to read 100 books last year, I read a lot of easy books/fiction that I ended up really disliking/not caring about.  I decided that this year my reading would consist of a lot of nonfiction and classics, partly because those are the types of books I loved most last year, and also because I ain't got time to read books of little substance.  This year is going to consist of a ton of history, large classics (looking at you, Crime & Punishment), C.S. Lewis, and apologetics/theology.  I'm just going to get busier as I get older and start college, and if I'm going to spend any of my time reading (of course, because I would sooner stop breathing than stop reading), I want it to be worthwhile.  (I'll be talking more about my reading plans in a future post)

get better at productivity/planning/time management

So, yeah, this is a thing that needs to happen.  *See note above about getting progressively busier.

consistency – emotionally/spiritually

Spiritually, if there's one thing I need to continue to get better at, it's consistency.  Historically, I've tended to go in spurts with my reading/prayer life, and towards the end of last year, I made it much more of a priority, and I'm carrying that goal into this year, and um, forever.  When I'm consistently spending time with God, I'm just so excited about my relationship with Him and so much more in tune to His plan for my life.  Which I guess is kinda, "duh," but consistency is important.  If you haven't gotten this so far, I have a hard time with schedules/habits.  :P

be intentional in friendships/strengthening them

Last year I developed some really great friendships.  Some close, really solid ones.  And I just really saw the importance of them in ways I have not in the past.  So a goal for this year is to continue to be intentional in strengthening friendships/developing them.

saying "yes" to God – every time

I have no plans for this year, basically.  I have a college class this semester, I'm graduating high school this spring, and starting college in the fall, but I have no plans for my summer like I did last year.  It's going to kill me not to go back to Summit, but I'm leaving things wide open.  This goal sort of goes along with the bravery one from last year, but I just want God to have His way with me this year.  And if He wants me to do something this summer, I'll be game.  I don't think that will work unless I'm free and brave, you know?  So yeah, saying "yes" to Him this year is gonna be a thing. 
develop my prayer life

Not going to go way into this, but it goes along with the consistency thing.  Like, it's my favorite thing to go outside at night and talk to God under the stars and write big long prayers to Him, but I want to get better at the daily, habitual prayer. 
pour into my siblings' lives

I did some of this last year.  Intentionally spending time with my siblings, but I want to do more of it this year.  Oldest siblings have such an incredible influence on their younger brothers and sisters, and I want to be intentional with this.  

grow musically: piano, guitar, other(?)

This is fairly self-explanatory.  I want to get better at guitar and resurrect my inner pianist (not sure if that's a thing?)  Also, I'd really like to learn to play the cello.  But.  *See above note about getting busier.

And that's all of them!  This post is already the longest ever, but I just wanted to quickly mention how I want to change this baby this year.  I want to shift it from an exclusively book-related/book-review blog into more of a personal blog.  Which basically means I'll talk about books and everything else.  I loved doing the last two posts I did about Little Women and the more analytical one on Camus, so that will be happening more, and I also want to just talk about some more topical stuff (e.g. why I'm not a feminist) <<< Should be loads of fun (and no, that was not sarcastic).  I'll still talk about books, but I want to do way more writing about stuff I'm interested in.  

Anyway, this is ridiculously long, so I am going to stop talking.  I'm going to talk about my reading plans at some point, so that should be happening soon.  Also, I need snow.