Reading Challenge 2016

Everyday

While I may not have quite achieved my other 2016 goals, I was pretty dedicated to advancing my reading list. In 2016, I read 11 complete books as well as half of two books. In Haley math, that means I achieved my 12 books in a year goal… So here is my celebratory recap:

1. 7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

In the past couple years, I’ve read three of Mr. Metaxas’ books and I have enjoyed them all. I had been eagerly awaiting this one as I feel his books have been pretty male-heavy. The book gives brief (10-20 pages) summaries of the lives of seven inspiring women including Joan of Arc, Hannah More, Rosa Parks and Corrie Ten Boom. I was particularly taken by the recounting of Sister Maria of Paris, a drinking, smoking, divorcée who became a nun and eventually a saint. Overall, it was a great follow-up to Seven Men (which I read last year) and I enjoyed getting a peek into the lives of several women the world doesn’t talk much of anymore.

2. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

I really enjoyed this collection of short stories by the famed Bradbury. It gave both a fun and a harrowing look into the effects humans could have on an inhabited Mars. If you like science fiction (and even if you don’t) it’s a good book to keep on hand if you ever have time to kill.

3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My sister got me this novel for my birthday and I was frankly surprised how good it was. I’d heard lots of good things, but the author usually writes sappy love stories with thin plots, which is typically not my style. The Nightingale is anything but. Showing a side of World War II I haven’t really explored, it follows two sisters who choose different paths during the war. One tries to avoid the war while raising her family without her soldier husband, the other thrust herself into it by becoming a spy. Though the stories aren’t real, it was a thrilling and captivating tale.

4. Playing to Win by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin

I threw in a book on strategy this year (which might become a tradition for me in the future) in order to refine my approach to ideas and business. As a professional in a creative industry, these books aren’t super applicable, but I believe are necessary in order to understand how business works (or should work) on a basic level. The book could do with a writer’s touch, but overall delivered a great approach to strategy development that really works.

5. On Such a Full Sea by Chang Rae-Lee

I’ve been wanting to read this book for about a year and tried to get my 2015 book club to read it without any luck. It was well worth the wait. Set in a not-so-distant future where labor colonies have been set up in a declining America, the story follows a teenage girl who, after her boyfriend mysterious disappears from her colony, sets out to find him on her own. It is poetic and harrowing and fascinating. It also mentioned bubble tea a lot (who can argue with bubble tea?).

6. Shades of Grey by James Fforde

Not to be confused with 50 Shades of Gray, this book details a society set up in a caste system determined by the colors you can see. These color abilities determine everything, from who you can marry to what job you can hold. With Purples leading the system, the lowest people on the totem pole are Greys. A little confusing at times, this is an interesting take on a totally different way to set up a culture.

Note: my sister-in-law gave this to me for my birthday. Thanks, Laura!

7. John Adams by David McCullough (1/2)

Ever since I was little I have loved John Adams. 1776 was one of my favorite musicals. I own the HBO mini-series. He is my favorite Founding Father and President. Abigail is my favorite famous female. So I figured this year I’d actually confirm that I like ALL of what Mr. Adams stood for. I’ve made it about halfway through the 600+ page book. To be honest, I stopped right when he becomes Vice President because even John thought that time of his life was pointless. However, everything I read leading up to it reminded me of how much I love the Adamses. I hope to finish the book in 2017 and confirm once and for all that Mr. A rocks.

Note: I hate that Hamilton: An American Musical is so mean to John Adams. Give him a break, guys!

8. The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

I wouldn’t have read this, but Amazon gave it to me for free and I am so grateful. Told from the perspective of four neighbors, this book details the changes in a community after a terrible accident occurs at the neighborhood pool. It is sweet and chilling and inspiring. I read it in less than a week.

9. Made to Crave Devotional: 60 Days to Craving God, Not Food by Lysa TerKeurst

This past summer, I met weekly with two lovely women in a season dedicated to discussing our struggles with disordered eating, reconciling it with our relationships with God, and supporting each other on the journey to a better relationship with food and our bodies. Our meetings were great. The book, however, I found lacking. I chose this devotional because I thought it could be used for any kind of disordered eating and was disappointed to learn it was geared toward weight loss (which was not exactly what we were going for). That being said, I’ve heard that the book version is better suited for what I was wanting. Anyway, it shared some good biblical truths that led to some great discussions.

10. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

If you know me, you know I love Ender’s Game, but I was always hesitant to read the sequel because everyone told me it was “different.” Well, different or not I love this book. It was great to be thrown back into the Enderverse for the first time in years (I do NOT count seeing the film version) and getting to experience a grown-up Ender. Card gets very head-y in this book, but overall is an interesting look at human/human and human/alien interactions.

11. Devotions For a Sacred Marriage by Gary L. Thomas

Neil wanted us to do a devotional for our first year of marriage and it was really neat to be able to read and discuss each chapter together every week. Gary Thomas does a great job in providing encouragement as well as challenges to help make your marriage meaningful and prosperous while rooting it all in biblical truth. Whether you’re a newlywed or going on Golden, it’s a great reminder of God’s plan for marriage and how we can help keep our marriages intact and our spouses thriving.

Note: I’m cheating a bit here, because Neil and I started reading this in September 2015, but I’m counting it for 2016 because this is my blog and I can do what I want.

12. Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

Yeah, I know. I went back to the Enderverse. Speaker for the Dead reinvigorated my love for Ender and his new crew. Xenocide continues Ender’s story but this time the stakes are much higher. This book really got me thinking about how we’re naturally afraid of people/things “other” than us and what “other” really means. I think it also goes way harder on the science fiction spectrum than the other two books, so if you’ve gotten this far hang on and stick with it. Looking forward to finishing the quartet this year!

13. The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen (1/2)

As my Booksgiving book this year, I’m technically supposed to have finished it already, but I made it halfway and that’s going to have to be okay. Neil picked it out for me because TIME listed it as of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923 (according to Wikipedia and another source Neil found). I’ll admit I was hesitant. It’s not my typical fare and it’s been harder to get through than most books I read this year. However, I am glad to be reading it. Not only is it stretching me in regards to genre, but it’s giving me an interesting look at American life in the early millennium. About a complicated and broken family set right before the most recent economic slump, its social commentary reminds me a lot of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (one of my favorite plays). We shall see. If anything, I’ll be able to say I’ve read one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923…

What did you read in 2016? Have you ever read any of these? Let me know!

When We’ve Failed

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Many of you have probably heard the recent story about the woman who took it upon herself to restore a 19th century painting of Jesus. For those who haven’t heard, the story can be found here.

To make a long story short, Cecilia Gimenez, a woman in her 80s, had no training in restoration or background in art history, but took it upon herself to restore a 120 year old painting of Jesus Christ that belonged to her church in Zaragoza. Well, she failed. Miserably.

When I first heard about this, I was horrified. The history-buff inside me cringed at the thought of such an artifact being tainted, possibly permanently so. What kind of person would seriously think they could properly express what the original artist intended when they didn’t have the proper training, tools, or talent? What was once a beautiful, though fragmented, work of art depicting Christ (or the “white” version of him anyway) was transformed into something more resembling a monkey than a Messiah. I was in awe and a little bit angry at the audacity of the woman. But then I realized something even more horrifying: we, as Christians, distort Christ’s image every day.

Just like the woman, we often think we have enough training to skillfully reflect Christ’s message. So, instead of drawing conclusions strictly from the framework we have been provided, we fill in what we consider “the missing pieces” with our own opinions and ideas. We go into theological debates with unbelievers armed with the wrong tools, using loosely backed theories instead of scripture. And we arrogantly consider ourselves talented enough to be the spokespeople for Christ without fully grasping the humility and sacrifice of our own Savior.

However, like the woman in the story, we did it out of good intentions. We thought we would help people by filling in the frustrating gaps and holes in God’s Word with simple answers that didn’t create too much controversy. We thought people would like Jesus better if we made him a little fuzzier around the edges and easier to digest. Because of the “good intentions” of Christians, oftentimes the Jesus of today looks nothing like the original. Overtime, we have blurred the lines of doctrine, distorted Truth, and made Jesus into a laughing-stock instead of our Lord.

Today, Cecilia’s attempt has garnered worldwide attention and people are coming from all over to laugh and gawk at her failure. Some are even asking for her to be held responsible for the damage she caused to the historic artifact.

Thankfully, unlike the 120 year old painting, which experts have said may never be recovered, God’s Word is eternal and we aren’t powerful enough to destroy it. Christ trusted the beginning of His ministry to a bunch of sinners and look how far it has come since then. While we constantly fail at restoring Christ’s image, He is faithfully and graciously restoring us. We aren’t  meant to restore Christ’s reputation on our own. The only one who can fully restore Christ’s image is the original artist – Christ himself. We must look to Him for guidance as we strip away the extra paint and added strokes that have been piled on over the years. We need to train ourselves in His Word so we can have the tools to defend it. And we need to be humble enough to admit it when we fail. Because we will: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Even though we will be held responsible for how we’ve lived this life (as Cecilia will be), we can take comfort in knowing that Christ will always be redeemed in our failure and His death was justification for all of our sins, even being crappy Christians on occasion.

Colossians 2:8 – “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”

Matthew 7:13-14 – “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

2 Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

I made a craft.

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The first assignment for my advertising portfolio class was simple: I had to make a craft. It had to be a 5×5 square that reflected my personality. Those who know me really well know that I often feel my soul slowly die the moment I walk into my advertising portfolio lab. I love my major, it’s just that I am one of the only Christians in the program and…let’s just say my values aren’t the same as everyone else’s and the conversations and group outings reflect the more prevalent morals. That being said, I like to think of that class as my mission field and I try to be a good representation of Christ to my fellow copywriters and art directors. So I decided to make my personality square reflect my convictions and encourage me to keep the faith. Thus, I printed out the Sermon on the Mount and chapter 1 of the Book of James. Then, I cut the text into several tiny heart-shaped petals and shaped them into a beautiful, blossoming flower. Finally, I pasted the flower onto a bright pink 5×5 square and, viola! My square will be displayed on the lab wall along with 30 of my peers’. Little do they know that such powerful words are hidden within such a delicate flower. But I know that it’s there. And if I ever feel discouraged I can look to the words of my Savior for comfort and guidance. If I ever feel challenged or outcast I can remember James 1:2 and “consider it pure joy”. It may be simple and may sound silly, but it means a lot to me to know that it’s there on the wall for all to see. And maybe, just maybe, someone will ask me what exactly is written on my petals and I can tell them. And that would fill my soul with joy.

These flowers were made from the extra petals. Aren't they cute?

A Charge

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“I have more faith in an atheist who helps an old lady across the street, than a believer who pretends not to see her because he is late for mass.”

I found this statement written in the About Me section of one of my acquaintance’s Facebook profile. Every time I read it I am hit with a twinge of conviction because I know that it was spoken in truth. More than that, I know that in this day and age, it is true. As Christians we are supposed to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We are supposed to reflect God’s great power and mercy in our actions and deeds. But all too often we get caught up in our own life journey and our own sin struggle and we forget–no refuse–to remember the charge that Christ has given us.

“Become doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning. For if anyone is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, this one is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, and off he goes and immediately forgets what sort of man he is. But he who peers into the perfect law that belongs to freedom and who persists in it, this man, because he has become, not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, will be happy in his doing it.” (James 1:22-25).

We are called to love as He has loved. We are called to live as selflessly as Christ lived. We are called to give the shirts of our backs and to turn the other cheek. We are called to serve the poor and protect the widows and orphans of the world. We are called to love our neighbors and our enemies. Christ endured the greatest pain and the most heinous circumstances to save us from ourselves. And yet we often cannot find the time to share His love with others. It has become an inconvenience to reach out to the lost and offer them the Light that only too recently has saved us, as if we did something to earn it that they did not. We have grown selfish. We have grown lazy and complacent.We don’t look any different than the rest of the world, so how can we expect to be effective Believers if we don’t stand out among the crowd?

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” (Matthew 5:13).

If atheists are considered more Christlike than Christians we have not only failed our mission, we have failed our Lord. We have lost our saltiness, our effectiveness. We have dimmed down the Light that should radiate from our very being. No wonder the world has lost its faith in Christianity. We’ve given them a reason to.

 

UPDATE:

In response to a comment received on this post: It’s not good enough to be “good”. We all hold the potential to do what society deems right. It is the purpose behind our actions that should set us apart. We do good to glorify God and not man. We do good because Christ calls us to. We do good in order to lead others to the Truth, not because it makes us feel good or because it is the “right” thing to do. If we do good for goodness’ sake then we are no different than any non-Christian. We must live with a purpose and passion that points to our Saviour.