I know this is Valentine’s Day and I realize it makes me a bit of a curmudgeon to not write some touchy-feely-sappy piece about how love makes the world go ’round. It seems to be the right thing to do and yet I just can’t bring myself to get on that bandwagon.
The main issue is that I am writing this in the wee hours of the morning and am surrounded by snoring – in stereo- from my sleepy trio and loves of my life (hubby, puppy, puppy.) So I am feeling a little bitter and cranky and all the things that go with not being able to sleep while the rest of the world mocks you by snoozing soundly (and loudly) all around you.
Secondly, I think Valentine’s Day is a pretty stupid holiday. If you are married, it seems to be less about love and more about pressure to buy some cheap chocolate/card/stuffed bunny and look into your significant other’s eyes like you are starring in a country music video. And because life is too busy/stressful/expensive and that never happens, it becomes – instead – Failed Expectation Day for so many. It is such a set up.
And then for all my single peeps, this is one of the dumbest days of the year. All your hitched friends will be posting all their fluff on facebook and going out to fancy dinners (and if they aren’t, please see above referenced Failed Expectation Day description.) And you are drowning in a world of pink and red and mushy commercials/gifts/people, and the showcased realization that the only valentine you have is your mama.
Again, Stupid Cupid.
So my fluffy V-Day gift to you this year is a list of thing that really DO make the world go ’round, or at least it helped spin mine a little over this last year. These are a few of my favorite things:
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Best Valentine’s Day Writing
Jen is my new favorite writer/speaker/blogger. She. cracks. me. up. I mean, she is pee-your-pants-a-little-when-you-read/hear-her funny. She wrote the very best piece about Valentine’s Day and if you love blogs or want to snort your water out of your nose while reading posts on Twitter (@jenhatmaker,) you need to stalk her on social media like I do. She and her hubby are doing great things for the city of Austin and the Kingdom of God, and all without the fluff and polish that can sometimes feel unapproachable or intimidating. This girl is for real.
Best Books of 2013
Technically, these were not released in 2013. Some of them were just discovered by me in the recent year and I am just not a technical detail person, so just go read them anyway.
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis – this is my favorite book of all time and I read it about every year; I can’t imagine a time that it won’t be at the top of my list. It is a collection of transcripts from radio broadcasts he did, explaining some of the basic premises in Christianity and sharing his journey from atheism to faith. I will warn you, it is DENSE. I am a self-proclaimed bookworm/addict and I had to start it 4 times before I ever got going well enough to get through it. But once I got going, I started highlighting like crazy on my kindle and now the whole book looks like a patchwork quilt from all my colors. Some of the best quotes ever are by C.S. Lewis and I have lots of them on my WORDS PAGE on my site. This man was a genius and the best writer of all time.
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls – I just thought that I grew up like a gypsy…
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brene Brown – this book is a big part of the reason I have the courage to tell the truth when I write. Brene Brown really explores how being transparent and real helps us build relationships and discover who we really are. I know that sounds kitschy and self-helpy, but I promise you this book can transform your life. I think what she has to say is especially pivotal in a world where everyone connects only via social media and texting and posting their best selves online. She points out that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change,” and having spent the last year trying all that on for size, I completely agree.
The Bible, by God – Is that too cliché? Oh, but it really and truly IS my favorite. I am reading it – no, more like rolling around in it – lately, experiencing it differently – experiencing God differently – and I wondered how I ever missed some of the treasures tucked away in its lessons and pages. If you aren’t too sure what you think about the Bible and wonder if it is still relevant today, I promise you that it is. Whether you like a love story, an adventure, or even a mystery, this book has it all. Get the Life Application Study Bible, NLT version if you are kinda new and want to study. I like the notes in there and how they explain some of the confusing stuff. And WRITE in it. Highlight and write in the margin and carry it with you and grow up in it. I first got my bible as a gift from the girl who lead me to Christ and it is littered with notes, highlights, and tear stains; it is my most sacred possession.
Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, by Glennon Doyle Melton – along the same lines as Daring Greatly, but less about the shame research and more about the raw and hilarious. You will laugh at loud at some of her experiences and appreciate the honesty and hope in her observations as a mom/wife/woman.
Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes – a love story, of a different sort. Nice, easy, and very touching read.
A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans, by W. Bruce Cameron – this one has been out since 2010, but I have still yet to read a better dog book than this one, and I couldn’t possibly not have a dog book on the list.
Best Sermons/Studies of 2013
This list will most certainly expose what battles I fought this last year, but I am so grateful for the great teachers and writers and pastors that helped me through some of my toughest issues, or inspired me the most with their insight and truth.
Brad Thomas, Austin Ridge Bible Church – We are in the middle of a 18 month study on Genesis right now and it really is some (surprisingly) fascinating stuff, but some of my favorite sermons Brad has given were last year in the Axiom Series and Ephesians Series.
Doctor Charles Stanley, In Touch Ministries – I have been listening to Dr. Stanley for years and love his no-nonsense, “let’s just get to the truth here” style. I listen to him online a lot on the listen page. You can search for different topics and listen to whatever sounds interesting. He did a set of sermons on loneliness earlier this year that I just loved, so if that is an area you struggle in as well, click on the search tab on the listen page and type in “lonely.” That helped me a lot when I was writing scaredy-cat.
If: Gathering– I am cheating again by using 2014 material, but I just went to this conference and it was amazing. I expected some kind of fluffy surface pep-rally, but instead I got real, raw, and set free. There were SO MANY good talks at the event but there were two that really stood out to me: Christine Cain is a pastor, writer, speaker, and advocate with the A21 Campaign, fighting against sex trafficking in the US and abroad. I listen to some of her podcasts and like a lot of her material. But her IF talk especially stands out to me. It was about how when we become believers and are “delivered” from slavery, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have been set completely free and are living in the Promised Land. She touches on understanding who we are in Christ and laying aside our past hurts and the sins that hold us back from being who He intends us to be. Sooooo convicting and true. Watch a clip here. Likewise, my love for Jen Hatmaker was seriously multiplied at this conference as well. I can’t find a clip of her talk, but it was for. real. though. and it will be on the download of the whole conference too. Download the If: Gathering here to hear the whole conference and sign up for IF: Equip here if you would like to do a quick daily online bible study/devotional.
Lysa TerKeurst , Proverbs 31 Ministries – I love Lisa’s writing and willingness to laugh at herself and share her deepest darkest secrets in an effort to reach out to others. I got to meet her last year and she truly is an open book. I have done nearly all her studies and they are all great, but I especially liked her Made to Crave study, where she addresses the challenges of addiction and food and bringing it to obedience to Christ so we can live a healthier lifestyle and be set free from food and weight issues.
Pastor Paul Sheppard, Destined for Victory – love this guy. He is funny as all get out, but never tip-toes around truth.
Best Music of 2013
Again, like the books, some old favorites stayed favorites this year, although I occasionally let new music into my soul.
Mumford & Sons – Best concert 2013 and possibly ever (other than the time I got front row seats for Willie, next to all the bikers back in college.) They are also the best lyricists to hit the scene in a long time. Hear me rant and rave about them more here and then download: I Will Wait, After the Storm & Hopeless Wanderer
Big Head Todd & The Monsters – they actually just released an album a couple weeks ago, so technically not 2013, but it is too good not to include. My favorites are still from some of the old material. Download: Circle, Bittersweet, Beautiful, & Midnight Radio.
Kings of Leon – love their new album – it has some great new tunes on there for sure, but I am still a sucker for The Face, from their Come Around Sundown album.
Mandisa – Don’t laugh. I LOVE this girl. First of all, she can SANG (intended misspelling.) So if you need a little soul music for your soul, she is your girl. Second of all, and I don’t mean this in a creepy/stalker way – I SWEAR – but I just want to totally hang out with her and be her friend. Talk about a great spirit and inspiration. Her Overcomer album is awesome.
Band of Heathens – I still like these guys. New album is great but their live shows are what make them amazing. Download: Hurricane, Since I’ve Been Home, and Texas.
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Okay, it is officially 4:24 am and I am exhausted. I hope this list is helpful and I wish you happy amazon purchasing, sermon listening, and iTunes downloading. May it bring a little love into your life this Valentine’s Day and for the rest of 2014.