Every year for the last several years on my birthday, I write down a blessing from the year for my age. So this year, I'll write 24 blessings from this past year. It's been a great rhythm for me to start off my birthday praising God for all He's done in the past year.
My birthday is coming up soon and in early November, I began to ponder what I would put on this list. What would I list as my number one blessing for this past year? What am I most thankful for? How can I summarize what God has done for me in this past year?
It has been an absolutely wonderful year and I have seen God move in my life in so many ways (even in the midst of hard, hard trials) that a list of 24 items just would not be long enough.
But then I started to think about what I had prayed would be number one on my list this year. The thing I had desired most last year this time that as I closed my journal I quietly prayed that God would give it to me and I could write it in my number one slot this year.
Today is December 7, 2018 and I cannot write what I had prayed for in my number one slot.
In mid-November, this thought absolutely devastated me. I was teetering on the verge of tears for a couple of weeks. I cried and asked God to show me what I had done wrong to not earn what my heart desired. I beat myself up. I was hurt and angry. I felt like these last almost nine years God has held this promise out in front of my face like a carrot and has been stringing me along all of this time with no intentions of doing what He promised. I had spent the last several months studying about how God CAN and WILL remain faithful to His promises. Those months I had heard His voice so clearly encouraging me and reminding of His love, goodness, and trustworthiness. I believed and rejoiced that God would do exactly what He said He would. Why did I all of a sudden have such a hard time believing that God would be faithful? Why did I doubt all of a sudden? Why did my rejoicing turn to such bitter lamenting and mourning?
I think the answer is pretty simple: I took my eyes off of Jesus and put them on myself.
My focus had turned away from who God was and is and is to come and started focusing on myself. I stopped counting all the ways that God has been good and started counting all the times I didn't get exactly what I wanted when I wanted. Like Peter, I had taken my eyes off of Jesus for a split second and I was sinking, needing a Savior to pull me up again.
When I finally shared my heart with my mom and told her that I didn't know what I had done to make God not give me what He promised. She told me, "Allison, you don't have that kind of power."
The same statement was echoed from a spiritual mother at Bible study as she spoke to a room full of women. Jesus had put that in there for me. I don't have that kind of power. I didn't have that kind of power to save myself from the punishment of my sin. I don't have the power to earn His grace or His love or even His willingness to listen to my prayers, much less speak to me.
This past week, the Lord used His Word to speak to me again. I'm so unworthy for so many reasons but after a pity party and temper tantrum like that, He still wants to communicate with me? Man, what a patient, loving, all-knowing, faithful God. There is no one like Him and there is no one greater.
I was reading Psalm 23. I've heard that Psalm throughout much of my life and have always heard it read from the King James where verse one says, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." The thoughts of not wanting anything while in the care of the Good Shepherd seem foreign and hard, reading verse one in the New International Version was enough to make me weep.
"The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing."
Oh my word.
I do not have not because I have not earned. I do not have because God is God. He is my Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd and He provides all I need. I do not have because I do not need. I do not have x. y, or z to put in the number one slot of my blessings from the year because I do not need x, y, or z. And when the Good Shepherd gives me what I have prayed for in the future, it is not because I lacked it now. The Lord has given me more than enough to make it through the season He has me in. When the Lord grants me x, y, or z, it is because the Lord has determined that it is what I need for that season.
The funny thing about desires is that they're always changing. I may desperately long for one thing now and then when the Lord gives it to me, that longing will change to something else. So even when I have exactly what I have prayed for and my heart longs for something else, I will still lack absolutely nothing.
When we are striving to be exactly in the center of His will and relying on Him, we lack absolutely nothing. When we taking our eyes off of Him and begin putting our faith in ourselves to get what we want (or what we think we want/need), we start to sink. We find ourselves crashing off of our "mountain top experiences" straight into a a muddy, slippery, sticky valley that we can't get out of by ourselves. We need our Good Shepherd to come and restore our soul (23: 2). When we follow the Good Shepherd and stop going rouge, our cup overflows (23:5). That dream we wanted in our number slot becomes filled with all the goodness, faithfulness, mercy, grace, and love of the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.
"Surely Your love and goodness will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
Psalm 23:6, NIV
Hello friends! Man, has it been a hot minute since I've been here!
There are so many good reasons for my absence on the blog-scene here lately but I'll leave you with this one: In past years, I've always written about things the Lord has been teaching me. In the last two years, my presence on the blog has become less and less. That isn't because God isn't teaching me anything but in the midst of my daily battles, the lessons He's been teaching me feel sacred. They're just between me and Him right now. Maybe one day I'll share them on such a public and open forum but for right now, it's between me and God and those in my immediate day-to-day life.
But another reason why I have been a little MIA is because I've been working on this list! The past THREE YEARS I have set a New Year's Resolution to read 30 books by the end of the year. The first year, I made it to 5 books. In 2017, I made it to 11 books.. When 2018 rolled around I was determined to meet my goal!
I did it! I even exceeded it! Praise Jesus!
The books from the reading list will be arranged by category: professional (dealing with my career as an educator), just for fun, and all about Jesus. There's one category that's a bit heavier than the others and that is simply because I wanted to actually read the books I want in my classroom library (gotta make sure they're appropriate). Plus, they're also the quickest to read.
In addition to the books on the list, I'll give a couple of thoughts about the books. I'll also make a list of the books I started but didn't finish and why.
So without further ado, here is my 2018 Reading List!
1. Reframing the Path to School Leadership by Lee G. Bolman & Terrence E. Deal - If you're a new teacher, new principal, or a veteran in the school system, you need to read this book! It' a fictional story but there are so many valuable lessons within the pages for all teachers walking through their careers.
2. Learner-Centered Teaching by Maryellen Weimer - This book is mostly directed to college and community college instructors but I believe that all teachers NEED this book! So many interesting, thought-provoking insights and ideas for instruction!
3. The Reading Specialist by Rita M. Beam - If you want to know the basics about being a reading specialist, this is the book for you.
4. Teaching Tips by W.J. McKeachie - Super valuable resource!
Just for Fun:
5. Holes by Louis Sachar - I loved this book! It's easy to see why this is such a classic book for teachers to teach! I've never seen the movie but I'll have to get my hands on it!
6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montegomery - Classic. Tears. Wowza. I watched the movies as a little girl and once I finished, I remember why I never wanted to read the books...they make me weep! So, so good!!
7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - After I read this work of art, I watched the BBC adaptation (the one with Colin Firth) and I love it even more. My transformation into Kathleen Kelly is nearly complete.
8. Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo - Such a charming book! This book should be another DiCamillo classic. It merges graphic novels with comic books and the high-quality prose that DiCamillo always delivers. I suspect this book would be a quick favorite of both girls and boys! (Sorry if your kids are suddenly obsessed with squirrels after reading this.)
9. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle - Classic. Still one of my very favorite YA books. I reread this one as I set out to read the whole series. If you loved the book, you probably won't love the movie. If you love the book, just don't watch it. Let your imagination be the primary voice that guides you through the pages.
10. A Wind at the Door by Madeleine L'Engle - Not my favorite but excellent! We get a better glimpse into what Meg's day-to-day life was at school. There's also an unlikely protagonist that you'll come to love. That's all I'll say about that!
11. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle - This one is probably my second favorite in the Time Quintet. Not to mention we see grown Meg and Calvin!
12. Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle - Skip this one. I have many thoughts about it but I'll just leave it at that. Just skip it.
13. An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle - Matter of fact, just stop after book 3. This one was okay and we get to meet one of Meg and Calvin's children. There isn't a pretty conclusion to the Quintet and the last two books just left me feeling sad and in need of a better resolution.
14. The Unexpected Mrs. Polifax by Dorothy Gilman - This one should be a classic but I have no idea why more people don't know about these books. A retired, widowed, charming lady becomes a CIA agent and the most amazing things happen after.
15. The Amazing Mrs. Polifax by Dorothy Gilman - Just as charming, wonderful, and captivating as the first one. I LOVE these books!
16. Lunch Money by Andrew Clements - Another good ole school kids story from Clements. Not as charming or memorable as Frindle or School Story (my personal favorites) but still very well written!
17. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart - If you've read The Mysterious Benedict Society and the books that followed, you should read this one. This is like the prequel that comes at the but gives so much insight into the mysterious, insanely smart, and lovable Mr. Benedict.
18. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling - An excellent read but, personally, I don't understand all the hype of behind it. I enjoyed it but not enough to finish the series.
19. The Elusive Mrs. Polifax by Dorothy Gilman - Seriously wonderful.
20. A Palm for Mrs. Polifax by Dorothy Gilman - I was worried that the further from the original, the less I would enjoy the books but that turned out to not be the case. Each one is just as wonderful as the one before.
All About Jesus:
21. Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors - A beautiful and convicting follow-up to Kisses from Katie.
22. The Story of My Life by Hellen Keller - Wow! There was so much I learned about Hellen and I walked away so inspired by her.
23. Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff - Absolutely hilarious and thought-provoking. Acuff calls out the weird and quirky parts of Christian culture in an absolutely hilarious way that makes you think about how we can and should do better.
24. How to be a Perfect Christian by The Babylon Bee - After reading hilarious articles on the internet from Babylon Bee, I was overwhelmingly disappointed.
25. Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs - So, so good. I've been reading her blog, watching insta stories, and listening to her podcasts for years but I feel more like Annie's BFF after reading this! Wow!
26. Radical Integrity of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Michael Van Dyke - I stinking love Bonhoeffer and I love the perspective this book offers on his life.
27. Know Who You Are & Live Like It Matters by Tim Tebow - This wasn't what I expected but still excellent! With stories from Tim's life and Scripture, this is more of a devotional for homeschool students but can easily apply to all young teens.
28. This is the Day by Tim Tebow - More stories from Tim's life with a huge focus on his switch to baseball. This book offered a lot of insights and inspiration to take a step of faith and follow Jesus.
29. Remember God by Annie F. Downs - Wow. Just wow. So much healing was found in those pages for both Annie and myself. I suspect this book will be one that becomes a favorite of many 20-somethings that get passed down through the years.
30. A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte - Beyond the excellent discussion of how Lewis and Tolkien were influenced by WW1, this book reveals how much of our modern world and society is built around three words: God is dead. And if He isn't dead, He isn't as loving as the evangelical world says He is. But Lewis and Tolkien emerge from the frontlines (including the Somme) and become two of the most influential writers of the modern world who show us that God is real, loving, and there is a call for all of our lives. If you love history, Narnia, or Middle Earth, you should definitely consider diving into this book.
31. The Lucky Few by Heather Avis - So amazing. I don't know if I would ever have the courage to knowingly adopt a child with health issues, much less Down Syndrome. Heather does an amazing job of presenting the beauty of adoption and it's reflection of Christ's love for us.
Books Started but Didn't Finish:
1. Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck - The cussing. Couldn't do it.
2. A Circle of Quiet by Madeline L'Engle - I tried really hard to love this one but I just couldn't get into it. I found myself avoiding reading it so I stopped.
3. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis - I honestly didn't have the brain power to finish this. Lewis requires your whole mind and imagination to read the Space Trilogy and in the middle of the classes, I just didn't have it in me. I will definitely be revisiting this one on a longer break.
4. Emma by Jane Austen - The same reason as #3. I just didn't have the will-power for it.
I am currently a student learning more about life and Jesus' marvelous love and boundless grace.