A Prayer for the New Year

“Resting On God” from Valley of Vision

O God Most High, Most Glorious,
The thought of thine infinite serenity cheers me,
For I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed,
but thou art for ever at perfect peace.
Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfilment,
they stand fast as the eternal hills.
Thy power knows no bond,
thy goodness no stint.
Thou bringest order out of confusion,
and my defeats are thy victories:
The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
I come to thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows,
to leave every concern entirely to thee,
every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood;
Revive deep spirituality in my heart;
Let me live near to the great shepherd,
hear his voice, know its tones, follow its calls.
Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth,
from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit.
Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities,
burning into me by experience the things I know;
Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel,
that I may bear its reproach,
vindicate it,
see Jesus as its essence,
know in it the power of the Spirit.
Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill;
unbelief mars my confidence,
sin makes me forget thee.
Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots;
Grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to thee,
that all else is trifling.
Thy presence alone can make me holy, devout, strong and happy.
Abide in me, gracious God.

‘Tis the Season for Book Lists: Reading List for 2013

A couple of years ago I wrote up a reading list for myself. I am notorious for making up book lists and reading plans and then abandoning those lists for whatever strikes my fancy. For the past couple of years my reading has been all over the map, and not at all what I planned on reading.

Here’s the reading list I wrote in 2011 with notes about what I’ve read thus far:

My Reading List

Fiction:

  • Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart [2011]
  • Richard Adams: Watership Down
  • Mitch Albom: The Five People You Meet In Heaven  [2011]
  • Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Laurie Anderson: Speak
  • Julian Barnes: A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters   [note: started and abandoned in 2011]
  • Jorge Borges: Ficciones
  • Ray Bradbury: Something Wicked This Way Comes
  • Albert Camus: The Stranger
  • Truman Capote: In Cold Blood
  • Willa Cather: Death Comes for the Archbishop
  • Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote
  • Tom Clancy: The Hunt For Red October   [2012]
  • James Fenimore Cooper: The Last of the Mohicans
  • Roald Dahl: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Crime and Punishment
  • Theodore Dreiser: An American Tragedy
  • George Eliot: Middlemarch, The Mill on the Floss
  • Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man
  • William Faulkner: Absalom! Absalom!, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury
  • Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: Tender Is The Night, Babylon Revisited
  • Margaret Mitchell: Gone With The Wind
  • Robert Graves: I, Claudius
  • Thomas Hardy: Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  • Joseph Heller: Catch-22
  • Earnest Hemingway: A Farewell To Arms, The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day
  • Henry James: Portrait of a Lady, The Turn of the Screw, The American
  • James Joyce: Dubliners
  • Ken Kesey: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Rudyard Kipling: Kim
  • Milan Kundera: The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • D.H. Lawrence: Sons and Lovers
  • Sinclair Lewis: Babbit
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love In The Time Of Cholera, One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Toni Morrison: Jazz
  • Bharati Mukherjee: Tree Bride
  • Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita, Pale Fire
  • Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife
  • Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient
  • Marcel Proust: Swann’s Way
  • Ayn Rand: Anthem, Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead
  • Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses, Midnight’s Children
  • Louis Sachar: Holes
  • JD Salinger: Catcher in the Rye
  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The Gulag Archipelago
  • John Steinbeck: East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men
  • Bram Stoker: Dracula [2012]
  • William Styron: Sophie’s Choice
  • Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
  • Robert Penn Warren: All The King’s Men
  • Eudora Welty: The Optimist’s Daughter
  • Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence, The House Of Mirth

Drama:

  • Edward Albee: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot
  • Henrik Ibsen: A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler
  • Arthur Miller: The Crucible
  • Eugene O’Neill: Long Day’s Journey into Night
  • Peter Shaffer: Amadeus
  • George Bernard Shaw: Pygmalion
  • Neil Simon: The Odd Couple
  • Tom Stoppard: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead
  • Tennessee Williams: The Glass Menagerie

Poetry:

  • W.H. Auden
  • Anne Bradstreet
  • Robert Browning
  • Emily Dickinson
  • John Donne
  • T.S. Eliot
  • Robert Frost
  • Seamus Heaney
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • Langston Hughes
  • Ben Jonson
  • John Keats
  • John Milton
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • William Carlos Williams
  • William Wordsworth
  • William Butler Yeats

Non-Fiction:

  • George W. Bush: Decision Points
  • G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man
  • Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers [2011], What the Dog Saw
  • C.S. Lewis: The Abolition of Man, The Four Loves
  • George Marsden: Jonathan Edwards
  • Sarah Palin: Going Rogue
  • Mark Twain: Autobiography of Mark Twain [note: I started this one in 2012. Part 1 is 972 pages and I’m only 44 pages into 262 pages of introductory material!]

Christian Living:

  • Jerry Bridges: Respectable Sins, Transforming Grace [2011], The Disciplines of Grace
  • D.A. Carson: The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story
  • Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Choosing Gratitude [2011]
  • Kevin DeYoung: The Good News We Almost Forgot
  • D. Martyn Lloyd Jones: Spiritual Depression
  • Bob Kauflin: Worship Matters
  • Tim Keller: The Reason for God, Ministries of Mercy, Generous Justice
  • David Kinnaman: unChristian [2011]
  • Eric Metaxas: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
  • Beth Moore: Praying God’s Word [2012]
  • J.I. Packer: Knowing God
  • John Piper: Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy, Let the Nations Be Glad! Battling Unbelief
  • Paul Tripp: A Shelter in the Time of Storm [2011]

Planned Reading for 2013

This year, I want to be more strategic and disciplined about what I read, because I, once again, have grand plans for the reading I’ll do this year. I still want to read many of the books on the list I created in 2011, but some excellent books have been published or purchased since that I have added to my ever-growing list.

A few years ago I made the goal of reading one book a week (and I kept it for about two years!), but I’ve kind of slacked off from that pace of reading–and sadly, at times, reading in general. So this year, I am challenging myself again to finish one book a week.

Some of these books are really long (500+ pages) and I always find books throughout the year that I want to read but weren’t planned, so I’ve left myself some wiggle-room.

Fiction:

  • Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Laurie Anderson: Speak
  • Ray Bradbury: Something Wicked This Way Comes
  • Roald Dahl: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov
  • Rudyard Kipling: Kim, Jungle Book
  • C.S. Lewis: Till We Have Faces
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love In The Time Of Cholera
  • Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife
  • Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient
  • Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses, Midnight’s Children
  • Louis Sachar: Holes
  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The Gulag Archipelago
  • Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
  • Eudora Welty: The Optimist’s Daughter

Drama:

  • Eugene O’Neill: Long Day’s Journey into Night
  • George Bernard Shaw: Pygmalion
  • Tom Stoppard: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead

Non-Fiction:

  • Iris Chang: The Rape of Nanking
  • Malcolm Gladwell: What the Dog Saw
  • C.S. Lewis: The Four Loves
  • George Marsden: Jonathan Edwards
  • Eric Metaxas: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
  • Tony Reinke: Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books

Christian Living:

  • Jerry Bridges: Respectable Sins, The Disciplines of Grace
  • Tim Challies: The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment
  • Bryan Chapell: Holiness by Grace
  • Steve DeWitt: Eyes Wide Open
  • Kevin DeYoung: The Good News We Almost Forgot, The Hole in Our Holiness, What is the Mission of the Church?
  • Jonathan Dodson: Gospel-Centered Discipleship
  • D. Martyn Lloyd Jones: Spiritual Depression
  • Bob Kauflin: Worship Matters
  • Tim Keller: The Reason for God, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness
  • J.I. Packer: Knowing God
  • John Piper: Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, Let the Nations Be Glad! 
  • John Stott: The Cross of Christ

‘Tis the Season for Book Lists: This Year’s Reading

‘Tis the season for reflective blog posts. And ’tis the season for posts about books.

This past year, I was particularly bad about recording the books I read, so I’ve had a hard time remembering all the books I read in 2012. In the past, I kept notes or wrote a blog post a month about my reading, so it was much easier to remember what I’d read and to pick out my favorites; however, this year, I wrote few posts about what I read. In addition, I am not at home, so I can’t peruse my shelves to remember what I read!

I read mostly Christian living type books, but read a few biographies,  non-fiction books (mostly about missions), and novels (unfortunately, several of the novels were a waste of time and not books I’d recommend, so I didn’t list them below). So, without further ado, here are some of the books that I read this year:

Christian Living:

  1. Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in our Daily Lives by Wendy Alsup Horger
  2. Jesus + Nothing =Everything by Tullian Tchividjian
  3. Praying God’s Word by Beth Moore
  4. A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love  by Milton Vincent
  5. King’s Cross by Timothy Keller
  6. Crazy Love by Francis Chan (reread)
  7. How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp (I’m not quite finished with this one yet, as we’re using it for our ladies’ Bible study, but I read most of it this year.)

Bible Studies:

  1. By His Wounds You are Healed: How the Message of Ephesians Transforms a Woman’s Identity by Wendy Alsup Horger
  2. The Message of Ephesians by John Stott
  3. The Wisdom of God by Nancy Guthrie

Fiction:

  1. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  2. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  3. Calico Joe by John Grisham
  4. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  5. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
  6. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

Non-Fiction:

  1. The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing our Brains by Nicholas Carr
  2. In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta A. Ahmed
  3. Running with Joy by Ryan Hall
  4. Cross-Cultural Connections by Duane Elmer
  5. Culture Shock! China by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner
  6. China’s Christian Millions by Tony Lambert
  7. Teaching Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Learning and Teaching by Judith E. Lingenfelter and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter

  8. The Spiritual Secret of Hudson Taylor by Howard Taylor (reread)

Favorite books:

Favorite Books 2012

Memoirs

[Note: while looking over my posts about books I’ve read, I found this one that I apparently forgot to finish and publish. I started writing this in March 2012.]

Over the past few months I’ve read several memoirs. I’ve been fascinated by the stories and have enjoyed most of these books immensely. Most of these books have been short, easy reads, but I’ve walked away with at least one main, helpful idea. (For a short article explaining the difference between memoirs and autobiographies, click here.)

I’ve also pondered the profusion of memoirs in recent days. It used to be that another person would write your biography toward the end of your life or after you died, but now many people are writing memoirs. Again, I’ve found these books to be interesting, but I have also wondered if the recent flood of memoirs are a product of the self-absorbed culture we live in.

So, in no particular order, here are some of the memoirs I’ve read recently:

Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox

This book incorporated autobiographical sketches of Michael’s childhood and rise to fame interspersed with accounts of his diagnosis and struggle with Parkinson’s Disease. For about 10 years he tried to ignore the PD, but he finally realized that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in denial and alcoholism. After meeting with a therapist and facing the disease head on, he started to make progress in how he handled the disease and eventually started the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

To be honest, for the first half of the book or so, I was pretty disgusted with how Fox lived, both before and after the initial diagnosis. But I think he was also disgusted with how he was living, so when he hit bottom, he was motivated to get help and change.

Most of my memories of him are post-diagnosis and post-acceptance, so I’ve always admired his strength and courage and advocacy for others with Parkinson’s Disease. I was glad I read the book, because it’s an honest portrayal of the struggles one goes through with such a serious diagnosis, and it was a helpful reminder that we all have positive things we can be thankful for even when going through a difficult time.

A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio by Bob Edwards

I remember listening to Bob Edwards on NPR’s Morning Edition when riding to school as a child and teenager, and I still often listen to NPR as I commute to work. As I read the book, I remembered some of the stories he covered (In particular, I remembered his conversations with Red Barber and the sad announcement of Barber’s death on the show, and his coverage of the Gulf War), so it was interesting to read the background and to get an insider’s perspective of the formation of NPR and the daily workings of the radio station.

Of course, as you read about his departure from NPR and some of the disagreements with managers there and his divorce from his wife, you have to remember you’re only getting his perspective on the issues.

As expected from a radio host, this memoir was well-written and engaging, and since I had heard him so much on the radio, I could hear Edwards’s voice narrating it in my head.

Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Miklos Nyiszli

This was a troubling, grotesque, accurate account of the depraved torture and mass murder and “scientific research” that took place at the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. I cannot overemphasize how awful  it was to read portions of this book. I could only handle small portions at a time and only during the day, because I didn’t want to be haunted by the book at night. I felt like it was important to read this book, though, to remember the victims and to be warned/conscious of the depths of the depravity of human nature.

[Note: I had planned on writing more about these books, but since I completely forgot about this post, my reviews of the next three books are shorter than I originally intended.]

Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs 
by Elissa Wall

I’d been hearing more about cults and I think Warren Jeffs had been in the news around the time that I picked up this book. I was glad I read Elissa’s story as it helped me understand how someone can get involved in a cult, and it showed how difficult it is to escape a cult, but over all, I thought this book was poorly written.

Let’s Roll by Lisa Beamer

This was a tremendously moving book. It was difficult to read, because I knew what happened to Todd and dreaded getting to that part of the book, but I was encouraged by both Todd’s and Lisa’s testimonies of Christian growth, and I was challenged by Lisa’s faith in the Lord during the tragedy she experienced.

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

My pastor’s wife recommended this book to me and we had several good conversations about it. This was one of the most interesting books I read in 2011. I still think about it often, actually; in many ways, it has shaped my thoughts about love, marriage, death, Christianity, and literature. This book deserves a re-read and then several blog posts about it.

For now, let me summarize the basic story. Sheldon and Davy met in college and fell deeply in love. Both were bright, literary-minded, well-read, articulate people, and they thought deeply about life and wrote beautifully about love and life. The first part of the book glimmered with their exuberant love for each other. Both were agnostics at the time, and it was obvious that their love for each other their god.

While studying at Oxford, they became friends with C.S. Lewis, and partly owing to his influence, they became believers–first, Davy, then a few weeks later, Sheldon. That’s an important point, because Davy seemed truly focused on God, often praying that their love for each other would not hinder their love for God, while Sheldon seemed to believe in God as a way to be nearer to Davy. This became especially apparent when Davy prayed that God would take her life, if it meant that Sheldon would love Him completely.

Shortly after returning to America after Sheldon’s graduate studies were completed, Davy developed a mysterious illness and was eventually diagnosed with a virus that had attacked her liver, and she died within six months. The rest of the book describes Sheldon’s grief and includes his correspondence with C.S. Lewis as he worked through his response to his wife’s death. The book’s title comes from a phrase in a letter to Lewis that he used to describe how God was dealing with him after Davy’s death; he saw her death as a “severe mercy.” Through Davy’s death, he became more devoted to God and the church.

This was a moving, thought-provoking book that is difficult to summarize adequately in a short post. I would love to re-read it and write more about it. If you have read the book, please comment and share your thoughts!

Update #2 on my 40 before 40 list

On my 30th birthday I created this list of 40 things to do before I turn 40.

Some of these things seem like an impossibility, especially since I’m no longer living in the United States, but you never know what cool things you’ll be able to do that you didn’t plan on doing (moving to China, for example) or what things God will allow you to do that you didn’t really think would ever happen (like touring England). I’m learning to make plans, but to hold on to those plans loosely, as God may have different plans. And His are always better (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

I don’t think I’ve looked at this list since last year at this time, so I’d forgotten about some of these goals. Maybe if I set some smaller goals for myself this year or printed this list out as a reminder to myself, I’d be able to accomplish more of these things by next year at this time.

  1. Write a non-fiction book
  2. Write a book of poetry
  3. Write a hymn
  4. Read through my list of “books I should read”
  5. Get another master’s degree or a Ph.d.
  6. Get out of debt and stay out of debt (with the exception of a mortgage—see below)
  7. Buy my own place to live
  8. Volunteer at a shelter for women and children or a rescue mission
  9. Visit missionary friends and work in an orphanage in Africa
  10. Support an orphan
  11. Support a missionary
  12. Become a mentor and/or foster parent
  13. Learn how to play the guitar [note: I started this, but I haven’t found a guitar that is small enough for my fingers. I might
  14. Learn to speak a language fluently
  15. Run a 1/2 marathon [Completed in 2011: I ran two 1/2 marathons–the Hafa Marathon on Guam and the Lake Placid 1/2 Marathon!]
  16. Run a 5k in less than 28 minutes [Note from 2011: I ran a 5k in 28 minutes and some-odd seconds, but I didn’t get under 28 minutes. Note from 2012: I focused on long-distance running during the first part of this year. I have unofficially run a 5k in this time, but not during a race.]
  17. Run a marathon [Completed in 2012: I ran the Vermont City Marathon in May.]
  18. Visit the empty tomb, the Temple Mount, and see the Dead Sea Scrolls
  19. Visit Petra and Amman, Jordan
  20. Ride the Eurail across Europe (a 21 day pass is $900–anyone want to donate?)
  21. Visit my friend Jodi when she’s a missionary in Spain
  22. Visit Andorra (with Jodi) and Luxembourg
  23. Climb one of the Swiss Alps
  24. Visit the Sistine Chapel and ride a gondola in Venice
  25. Visit England with a literary-minded friend and visit Stratford-Upon-Avon, the Globe Theater (and see a play), the Brontes’ home, Oxford, Cambridge, and  a host of other sites [Note: partially completed in 2012. I was asked to chaperone the TBS senior trip and we visited missionaries in Darwen and visited some places in the Lake District and London that are not on this list. However, we did visit Stratford-Upon-Avon. I walked to the Globe Theater, but wasn’t able to see a play there.]
  26. See the Mona Lisa at the Louvre
  27. Drive on the autobahn
  28. Walk on the Great Wall of China
  29. Go on a safari in Africa
  30. Run across the Golden Gate Bridge and run up a hill in San Francisco [side note from 2011: I walked across part of the Golden Gate Bridge but my fear of heights got to me, so I didn’t make it very far.]
  31. Hike a 10,000+ foot mountain near Lake Tahoe (if I visit in the summer) or ski at a resort there (if I visit in the winter) [side note from 2011: I went to Lake Tahoe this year, but didn’t hike any mountains (it was still cold and snowy and since I visited mid-week, both my brother and sister-in-law had to work, so I guess I’ll have to visit again!]
  32. Take my mom to Colonial Williamsburg
  33. Visit the Grand Canyon
  34. Go on an Alaskan cruise
  35. See a Broadway musical
  36. See an opera at the Met (preferably one by Puccini)
  37. See Placido Domingo perform live (I hope he doesn’t completely retire before I get a chance to hear him!)
  38. See Evgeny Kissin perform live
  39. Skate in Rockefeller Park at Christmas time
  40. Learn how to use the manual settings on a nice camera (should do this before all the traveling) [Completed in 2012: I haven’t mastered them all yet, but I bought a Nikon D3100 and have been learning the manual settings.]

A Month of Weird Weeks

After spending the month of September getting into a good routine, I spent the month of October adjusting to all the changes to my schedule. It seemed like I got to the end of every week and declared, “That was a weird week.”

The first week of October was the October Holiday (a.k.a. Mid-Autumn Festival), so we did not have school. I made five trips to downtown Shanghai and visited the water town Zhoujialou; three of these trips were with other teachers, and three were with groups of students. I spent only one day at home resting, so by the end of the holiday, I was quite tired.

The second week of October was filled with appointments with students. Before the October Holiday, we started an English speaking project with the second-year students that requires them to speak to an English teacher for twelve 30-minute segments. I spent many hours this week with students going to meals, walking around the track, answering questions about homework, and traveling to Zhoupu for dinner and shopping.

By the third week of October, I was worn out and got a bad cold and then a stomach bug, so I spent much of the week trying to get better. We also started choir practice for the Christmas play this week, so that is now part of my Monday schedule.

During the fourth week of October, I had to catch up on the grading that accumulated while I was sick. I stayed up late several nights in a row grading essays and then a test. However, the students had several tests this week, so most of my appointments ended up being canceled, and I had more time to grade.

Despite the craziness in my schedule this month, I am very thankful for the many opportunities I had to spend time with my students. Each appointment or “interruption” to my routine represented a chance to love my students and share Christ. And that is worth the sacrifice of a few hours of sleep and the occasional cold.