|Photo by Brad K.|
THE BEST BOOKS
#5: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Yes, I did put a young adult novel on this list. Old news, so many of you probably already know the book or movie, but if not: The Book Thief is a charming, clever, humanizing tale of a young German girl living in Nazi Germany and learning to read and write the truth about the war.
#4: Getting Involved with God, by Ellen Davis
Advance apologies for the heavy weight to my Duke professors on this list. They really are that good, though, and I'm a lucky girl (see best moments below). This book is an excellent and thoughtful collection of reflective, poignant, often personal essays. Highly recommended for Christians who just don't get the Old Testament, or who would like to understand it better.
#3: Two-part Invention, by Madeleine L'Engle
Oh, my favorite writer, one of those I have loved since age 12 and still love--she writes for every age. This lovely memoir, written the year her husband had cancer, reflects on the story of her marriage. It is sad but full and rich and beautiful, a good kind of book to read the summer you are living in a different place from your husband and want to remember the commitment and challenge and love that a marriage should be.
#2: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
One of the best novels I've read in a while--you absolutely must read it. Equal parts important and engrossing. Friendship, women, slavery, education, religion, courage. Compelling characters and writing.
#1: Still, by Lauren Winner
If you know me, you knew my favorite would be from the spiritual memoir genre. I got to take a class from this brilliant and amazing woman this semester, but earlier in the year I read her latest book, which is a heartbreakingly honest and insightful collection of thoughts on coming to the spiritual "middle" of one's life. Relatable for anyone in the middle of life's journey, which I think is most of us.
THE BEST DIGITAL MEDIA
I'm going to gloss over this category quickly, ironic considering the amount of hours in 2014 I've spent consuming digital media. But, my conclusion after plumbing the depths of Netflix is that not many TV shows are actually good. John and I have been enjoying slowly working our way through Parks and Rec, and I am enjoying the final season of Parenthood.
The only whole-hearted endorsement I can give is the 2013 movie Philomena, which is a fantastic story of a woman in search of her lost son. It is a tale of friendship and personal growth that in my mind holds the perfect tension between optimism and realism, hope and cynicism, faith and doubt.
THE BEST MOMENTS
#5: All the little things: Writing. Running. (Both of which happened primarily January-August). Reading. Laughing with family and friends. Cooking. Biking to school. Chocolate.
#4: The Southwestern CC GED graduation last January. It was wonderful to watch 30+ students I'd taught receive their diplomas, many of them preparing to enter community college or jobs with their new credential. There was a huge push in 2013 to get people through the test because a new, harder test rolled out in 2014. So last January was full of the joy of calling students to tell them the results were in and they'd finally gotten that math score they needed, and we had a cap and gown for them to wear! I was so proud of all of them. I really did love that job and was sad to leave in May.
#3: Hiking up Gregory Bald with John. One of our last excursions in Cherokee, and it was perfect.
#2: Getting to try out being a pastor this summer with the wonderful, accepting, encourage community of May's Chapel United Methodist Church in Maiden, NC. They welcomed me to their homes, hospitals, and pulpit, and I learned a lot about small-town life and church, as well as about myself as a leader and pastor. There was no better way to start my seminary education than to be so affirmed in the reason I'm going to school.
#1: Being at Duke Divinity School and knowing I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I cry in class or as I read or when I break bread in the chapel with my colleagues, because faith is hard and beautiful all at the same time. I sway in chapel because the trees in the window are praising God with me. I can almost physically feel myself growing and forming into a pastor and leader and friend. I am rediscovering prayer and silence and discipline after a long time fallow. I am surrounded by incredible friends and colleagues and teachers who are perceptive and kind and supportive. It is hard--emotionally, academically, relationally, spiritually--and the hardness of it is part of the goodness. I feel incredibly fortunate to have the chance to study here. No place is perfect, but this one is pretty close, at least for me right now.
Well, what about you? Leave your recommendations or highlights in the comment section.