Books were my best friends in the 5th grade. I felt at home in piles of them. I felt alone without piles of them. My favorite books that year were two biographies, one about Mozart, the other about Beethoven. And, all of the Nancy Drew books that were ever written. I eventually got into the habit of skipping the check-out line at the library. I’d throw 10 to 12 books in my bag, go home, read them, return them and shelf them myself so I could find similar books if I liked the ones I had read. I figured I could read them quicker than they could check them all out, so why bother with that step? In some cultures, this might be stealing but if you plan on returning them it’s the same thing as borrowing without all the official pull-the-card-change-the-date-stamp-write-kids-name-smile-disbeliving-like-kid-isnt-going-to-read-ALL-of-these-books DRAMA. (Keep in mind this was my ten year old brain. Smart. But prone to wander into small scale kid crime.)

It’s pretty cool my kids live in a world where they don’t need a brick and morter library, library worker, an impossible to find plastic card, and ink stamp to borrow a book. They can just download it from a cloud by pressing a button on slab of glass plugged into the wall next to their beds. Aren’t things so magical and ergonomically wonderful these days?

Like most middle schoolers who stay middle schoolers until they are well into their late twenties. I started neglecting my best friends when I started growing humans.  I discovered that digesting one page of any book became difficult, words became scrambled and became especially difficult to read with my eyes shut.

Since I’ve been traveling longer distances this year, I’d find myself wide awake in the middle of the night, jet lagged and confused about what I should be doing with myself. I finally got smart and shut off the tiny tube in the back of the airline seat and started seriously reading again, like turning pages so fast I didn’t have time to take notes for a blog post. Those days of reading because it meant something to me returned and I felt alive in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.

For me, reading 14 books was like reading a bajillion books. It felt like something a super hero could do. That’s why every book I read this year is a best book. Because it was the best simply getting to read it.

Sometimes I choose books that are challenging to my mindset.  I feel like books written from diverse perspectives give us an  opportunity to see a part of God’s image that we couldn’t see before through the eye’s of someone created by Him, even if the content of their book doesn’t line up with our personal worldview. Books deliver the chance to understand, laugh with, cry with, learn from, learn with, and imagine with others.

I hope you’ve had a good reading year. Here’s what popped up for me! I’d love to hear what reads challenged or inspired you.

Best Books of 2015

  1. Yes Please, Amy Poehler (My sister has a personality a lot like Amy’s. I wonder if all of us got separated at birth. When I say “all of us”, I mean me, Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, and Betsy Holmes. Four of us is always better than two. We should investigate that one a little more. I really think something happened and we were all thrown haphazardly about the US before we could grow up together.
  2. Wild, Cheryl Strayed (She made me want to quit everything and go hiking. Good thing I didn’t. I was challenged and inspired by the raw honesty and search for self that was portrayed, so much that I went on a journey of my own. Different, but the same in a lot of ways. Like that one time when she threw her boot over the side of the mountain and then realized how stupid that was. Yeah, I could relate.)
  3. Just A Phase – So Don’t Miss It: Why Every Stage In A Kids Life Matters And At Least 13 Things Your Church Should About It , Reggie Joiner | Kristen Ivy (I loved getting to work on this project together with Orange over the last two years. It is my most favorite project. The research and conversations that poured into this book also poured into me. It is my heart and my hope for the Church to embrace kids in the phase that they are in and to prepare for the phases that they face next. If you serve in a church anywhere in the world, you should read this book.
  4. Zero To One – Parenting Through The “I Need You Now Phase”, Reggie Joiner | Kristen Ivy. This is the first Phase book that helps parents noticed the distinctive opportunities of the first 52 weeks of a child’s life. I cried reading the first page and even though I don’t have a zero to one at home anymore, I know a lot of families who do. I can’t wait to read the rest and share them with awesome moms and dads of the universe.
  5. Big Magic., Elizabeth Gilbert. My thoughts while reading: I should have written this book three years ago. But Elizabeth would tell you, if you snooze the magic happening in you, then you may lose the magic happening in you. That was a paraphrase, not what she actually said, but what I would have said if I wrote it first.  I am so glad she didn’t hit the snooze button on this one though, because I needed it and she’s the best for writing it.  Elizabeth is magic. I’m going to thank her when I meet her for writing what I couldn’t because I needed it for the day when I realized I could.
  6. All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr This was a beautifully tough read. A stunning work of fiction that captured my attention from page one. A French girl and a German boy, both with dreams rocked by war. It’s a book about beauty, dreams, survival, courage, and a lot of other things that words can’t describe. I had the rare chance to get to know a few young German guys at a Christian event I was attending in Turkey while I was reading this novel. They are guys who attend church and would say they are one generation away from the pain and guilt many carry from World War II. I imagined the innocence lost as children are drawn into war and felt a deep empathy and pain for those who stand in the places where war reaches for them. The girl in the novel, her love for the sea, and her ability to stay strong in places where no strength could be found was a beautiful thing to sit with for a few days.
  7. Deepening the Soul For Justice, Bethany Hoang- Hands down, the place where all of us should begin. I have no other words. I’ve read this book three times this year and feel challenged to pray, truly pray, become a person of prayer.
  8. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman – Friends recommended we read this book. It’s a challenging read. Coy and I have known each other for 21 years and have been married for 17. It was refreshing to take a look at some of the exercises in the book to see ways we can continue to grow and support each other. Who doesn’t need a relationship expert sitting on their coffee table? Still sorting through this one. We’ll let you know what gold we find in 2016.
  9. Journey Toward Justice, Nicholas Woltershoof – Truth: I didn’t exactly finish this. 59% is where I’m still camped out. But it’s because this book on justice is a lot to get my middle school ministry brain around. However, I believe that if I can develop a deep understanding of justice I’ll be able to teach it in a way that makes more sense to a 13 year old. I am deeply grateful for this accessible yet profound book. Hang tight, still digesting…
  10. Brimstone: The art and act holy non-judgement, Hugh Halter I really would like to be the least judgmental person I can possibly be. Hugh is helping me. I recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn how to navigate the law of love. I have a long way to go, but I’m grateful for people willing to be vulnerable and transparent about where we get stuck and how to find another way.
  11. Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality & Spirituality, Debra Hirsch Wow. All I can say is wow. And yes. We can move toward a holistic, biblical vision of sex and gender, but it starts with love and embracing God’s mission with eyes of love.
  12. Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church As a Celibate Gay Christian, Wesley Hill This is one of those books I’d love to sit with friends and talk about over a long weekend. Wesley offers a richer more substantial view of friendship that is possible for everyone. His courage is inspiring and his writing will no doubt be a conversation changer for anyone who takes a look. It has challenged me and comforted me and helped me to think about things differently. Going to sit with the highlights on this and blog more about my thoughts in 2016.
  13. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, Jenny Lawson Her transparency helped me fall in love with my own mental illness. (I’m really not sure which illness I have yet  but my educated guess is that I have at least one, passed down to me or picked up along the way.) Jenny also encouraged my love for weird things and made me want to play tricks on my therapist. Seriously though, this autobiographical memoir touched me deeply. I guess because it made me feel okay about not being okay sometimes. If you’re sensitive to four letter words that rhyme with duck, then just substitute the word “fahrvergnügen”every time you see it and keep reading. Unless you’re German, then that won’t make any sense at all–maybe try inserting the phrase “feral cat”, it works well for me.
  14. AND lastly….Rising Strong, Brené Brown I listened to this on audible, so it was tough to capture all of the things that captured me. But I have listened more than once to Brené and the thing that I believe makes the most difference in our lives and relationships was a good hard look at me and my willingness to be vulnerable. Vulnerability—the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome—she says it’s the only path to more love, belonging, creativity, and joy. But living a brave life is not always easy: We are, inevitably, going to stumble and fall. Comforted to know that there’s a bunch of us on the ground sometimes, but all of us have what it takes to get back up again.

Well, that’s it, the list for 2015. Working on my hope-to-read-for-2016 list. As long as people keep writing books, I’ll keep reading them.

Oh, and my friend and I are conspiring to start a book club where we can talk about all of the BOOK things (we aren’t calling it a book club because of the 1980’s). Reasons: For fun and also for our own mental health and well being because no good book should shut without being tossed about a little among friends. It’s said when a book gets left to a solitary soul. One of the ideas is to promote a culture where it’d become a major book culture party foul to keep what you’re learning (or laughing at) to yourself. Comment below if you’d be interested in something like that. If we have enough takers, we may actually do it.

I hope you’re having the most merry little Christmas so far. Love, Brooklyn

10 Books For Youth Ministry Interns

Brooklyn’s Top 4: Extraordinary Reads of 2012 (This makes me laugh. It was a top four (aka only four) during a year when our kids were 3 and 6.

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