2018 Recap: Top Books

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You can’t go wrong with any book in this photo.

One of my goals for 2018 was to read one fiction and one non-fiction book each month. I set this goal because I love to read, but 2017 found me watching a lot more Netflix instead of picking up a book. So my list of books to read kept getting longer while I got more bored with mindless TV. The books I counted toward this project were new to me – I didn’t count books I had read before.

Thanks to Goodreads, I have an easily accessible list of everything I read this year, so I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorites… and maybe not-so-favorites.

Fiction

  • A Man Called Ove: I struggle to find fiction that I love, so this was an amazing early read for the year and set the bar high. The story revolves around a man who has given up on life, but a cat and some really annoying neighbors start to engage him back in the real world. It’s an absolute masterpiece in story telling with a perfect backstory reveal and great balance of funny and serious.
  • The Night Circus: How had I not read this book before? An amazing fantasy, you can see everything that happens in the book as you read.
  • No-No Boy: Set after the conclusion of World War II, this book follows a young Japanese-American man who refused to fight for the United States in the war. Not light, but an important book about identity in America. As relevant today as it was then.
  • Artemis: From the author of The Martian, Artemis is a must read! I read the whole thing in a weekend, and I loved the characters, most of which live on the moon, and the realistic feeling of logistics throughout the book. This is not Harry Potter and the Moon Adventure. No magic, just a lot of science.
  • Learning to Fall: For my horse friends, this one needs to be on your list. I struggle so much with equestrian-related fiction, but this one captured me and kept me for the whole book, wasn’t too corny, and had some actual twists and turns that were pleasantly unexpected.

Non-Fiction

  • A Stranger in the Woods: A journalist tells the story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years. Even in the winter. It is fascinating, and the perfect read if you’ve ever thought about giving freedom to your introvert soul and running away to the wilderness. Fascinating, well told, heartbreaking, funny… all the elements.
  • At Home in the World: Memoir of a woman who traveled the world with her family, including two small children for about a year. Really well told, lots of travel envy, and a great audio book listen.
  • How to Be Here: This was one of the first books I read in 2018, and, frankly, I need to read it again! My take away: read it. Then read it again.
  • Worth It: Money is not scary. How the stories we tell ourselves about money, especially as women, stop us from flourishing financially and how to take steps in the right direction.
  • High Performance Habits: If I have to recommend you read one and only one book from this list, this might be it. This book sat on my shelf for months after I bought, I think because I intuitively knew it was going to be a lot of hard work and also change my life, and I was afraid of being told some hard truths. Yes, yes, and yes. However, if you need a kick in the butt to level up your life, this book will tell you exactly how to do it. The author is honest that these changes are not easy, but there were so many moments through the whole book that had me staring wide-eyed at the page wondering if he had been spying on my brain while I sleep. If you want a taste of Brendon Burchard, I also recommend his podcast, The Brendon Show, which includes the book in audio format for season 4. However… buy the book so you can take notes in it! Trust me, it’s one you’ll want to refer back to.
  • Off Balance: Worthy of this list. I listened to this book on audio, and I’m interested in reading it again as a hard copy to maybe make notes as I read. Summary: work-life balance is a lie; aim for work-life satisfaction.

Skip ‘Em

I’m really happy to say that there weren’t too many books that I genuinely disliked. I’m not referencing the “it was fine” books I read because so much comes down to preference, style, and just what you’re in the mood for on that day. But there were two books I read that I genuinely would not recommend to anyone. #sorrynotsorry

  • Eligible: Maybe if you’re a die hard Jane Austen fan, you’ll enjoy this retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I found it very long and tedious. The person who gave it to me is no longer allowed to give me books that she was “just okay” with.
  • The Girl on the Train: I know, blasphemy! There were aspects to this book I really enjoyed, but there wasn’t a single character I actually liked. They were all kinda shitty in their own ways.

As always, the opinions shared here are mine. Take them or leave them.

What’s on your reading list for 2019? Are there any books you’ve read recently that you just couldn’t put down? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below, or find me on Instagram @meganunedited

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A Sharing of Sorrows and Joys

IMG_4592Last Friday, I dropped off a little 20-pound dog named Radley at a friend’s house. I snuggled him close while he shivered in the cold, gave him lots of kisses, then put him in a small crate in the back of a van and said goodbye.

Undoubtedly, I’ll never see him again in person.

As I drove away, I thought about the last six weeks I’ve had with that little mutt, a dog that came off the streets of my town covered in ticks. From a scared little puppy who didn’t know anything about belonging to a human, he blossomed into a precocious little scoundrel who loves to tussle with Flynn, my setter mix, adored his one camping and hiking adventure, and would have liked nothing better than 24-hour-per-day snuggles.

I’m so sad to see him go; my grief is sitting heavy in my heart as I write this. He really was part of my little family since the beginning of October. Flynn and I adopted him as our own. Anything we did, he did. When I took a weekend trip, Flynn and Radley both stayed with a friend. When we went to the dog park, Radley joined. When I spent an evening with a friend and her family (human and furry), he was game. When it was time to go outside, “Everybody sit,” prompted both dog butts to hit the floor.

But now he’s on his way to find a family who will love him forever. He’s heading to a rescue that I know will find him a great fit, a person who will appreciate his energy and indulge his snuggles.

When I started fostering dogs, I knew it was a way to give back and help more animals than I could by just adopting my next dog from the shelter. I took a two year hiatus from fostering due to my living situation, and Radley was my first back in the game. I also had him longer than I’ve had any others, so it hurts more to see him leave.

There are burdens we are meant to bear. Each of us has callings in our lives. Some people might also call these blessings or gifts. But those gifts and talents have a dark side that come with the joy and happiness.

I’m meant to bear the happiness and joy of giving these dogs a soft landing spot while they wait for the next stop on their journey. But that also means that the grief of them leaving is mine to process each time. I can’t have the joy and fulfillment without the sorrow and pain.

So now, as I wash Radley’s crate blankets, tuck my extra leash in the closet and bring out the deliciously soft (and therefore destructible) toys Flynn loves so much, I’m allowed to be sad. I’m allowed to grieve. But I’m also allowed to be so excited for Radley’s next adventure in this wide world.

Guest Post from Sarah: Why Missions

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Sarah, from her trip to the Czech Republic with SHARE. Photo courtesy Sarah Gallagher.

This post is a guest post from Sarah Gallagher, my sister and partner in non-crime for the Hungary mission trip. If you missed earlier posts about the upcoming trip, check them out under the Hungary 2019 category. Other than deleting Oxford commas and adding links to appropriate resources she mentioned, this post is unedited.

What does everyone want more than anything else?  The answer seems obvious and yet obtuse: everyone wants to have friends, to be in relationships, and to avoid loneliness.  Solitary confinement is the most severe form of punishment. Many cases of depression, severe anxiety and other mental illnesses can be attributed to loneliness.  And still, most of us would say that we feel lonely sometimes, that our relationships have conflict, that our friends occasionally hurt us.

God created humans to be in relationships, both with one another and with Him.  In fact, God himself is in relationship. No human fully understands how the trinity works, but somehow the three persons of God (God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit of God) are in relationship with one another (see, for example, John 3:35).  Not only that, but God created humans to be close to Him, to be intimate friends with Him. This relationship without conflict is what made the Garden of Eden perfect; God and humans were living in intimate friendship without any dissension.

In contrast, humans feel lonely because of conflict.  We do things that create rifts in relationships, build walls around our hearts and protect ourselves from hurt.  Others do things to us that make us feel like we need to protect ourselves from being hurt. Christ followers would call these things sin.  Sin is an action or failure of action that puts a barrier in our relationships. Those actions or failures of action put barriers in our relationship with God as well, although we might not always be aware of that.  Sin is the opposite of love.

Throughout history, humans have sinned.  No matter how well-intentioned one might be, there comes a point at which sin happens.  We have times of selfishness, thoughtlessness, carelessness or perhaps even maliciousness.  Sometimes we do things because we are reacting to someone else’s sin; sometimes our actions propagate someone else’s sin. Either way, the result is the same: we create cracks in relationships. There is conflict, disagreement, sometimes even termination of friendships.

No matter how hard humans try, we cannot seem to get over ourselves enough to obtain what we most want – the lovely company of other people and the beautiful company of God.

Most religions espouse a view of God up on a mountain, with people trying their hardest to get to Him.  There are many paths up the mountain: Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, etc. All paths ultimately lead to God, and humans are striving to get up the mountain.

Christianity is different.  God knows that humans cannot get up the mountain under our own power.  We are too selfish, too careless, too thoughtless, and sometimes even too malicious.  We are not enough like God to climb the mountain to Him by our own strength.

So, God came down the mountain to us.  As the person of Jesus, God came down into the valley.  In order to allow us to be in relationship with Him, Jesus died and paid the price for our selfishness, carelessness, thoughtlessness and maliciousness.  He did what we could not do. He lived for 33 years without any selfishness, carelessness, thoughtlessness or maliciousness.

(This is not my mountain analogy, by the way.  I got it from a book by David Platt called Radical, and I think others have used it, too.)

Here’s the kicker, though.  Jesus’s death is only part of it.  Really, if you think about it, everyone dies.  What’s the big deal about death?

The big deal is this: Jesus rose from the dead.  He is the only lead figure of any religion to have risen from the dead. (If you want more information about Jesus’s resurrection, I would point you firstly to the biblical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and then to A Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.)

Christ followers believe that we can live in relationship with God and with each other because of God’s grace that he showed to us by coming to Earth, living a perfect life, dying and rising from the dead.  We are not trying to get up the mountain. We are just riding the ski lift that God built. God is making us more like Him as we ride.

This is amazing!  It is life-changing, and Christ followers want every person on Earth to have the same joy and peace that Christ followers experience.  Missions are about sending out love and peace and joy into the world in tangible ways (like building wells, feeding people, buying them livestock and teaching them to read) and in less-tangible ways (like listening to people, being a friend and sharing the source of my joy).

(Now, am I joyful and peace-filled all the time?  Definitely not. I still sin; I’m still selfish, thoughtless, careless and sometimes malicious.  But I’m on God’s ski lift, hopefully becoming less selfish, less thoughtless, less careless and less malicious than I used to be.)

And that’s it.  Missions are about loving people.  They are about doing God’s will on Earth as it is done in heaven (see Matthew 6:9-13).


Thank you Sarah for sharing your perspective! 

Ways Stay in Touch:

  1. Blogging here leading up to and during the conference.
  2. Instagram @meganunedited (beware the ridiculous number of dog photos I post)
  3. Email me at megan_brincks@hotmail.com for information on how to help sponsor me and my sister’s trip.

Why Hungary? Why Now?

IMG_4789If you missed the news, I’m going to Hungary. Now, your regularly scheduled programming. 

Many people who know me might recognize that I’m not a strong candidate for missionary work. Over the last 10 years of “adulthood” (what’s adulting?), I rarely attended church (my current faith community is the first consistent one I’ve had since high school), I don’t “send prayers” on Facebook (“thinking of you” is more my style), and my version of a transcendent experience is to stand on the top of a mountain and listen to the wind.

But I do believe in education. I do believe in a higher power. And I do believe that when we come together as community, amazing things can happen.

Given that information, why would I take more than a week off work, fly half-way across the world and spend several days in a town that should probably be visited in the summer instead of February?

Let’s play pretend for just a moment.

If you were living abroad, doing work that you were called to do, there are certain things you forfeit in order to do that work. Some of them are relatively minor, like missing a niece’s birthday party or not having access to a particular kind of candy. Other things are bigger.

Now let’s pretend you have a child, and that child is consistently mispronouncing some letters. They’re young, so maybe this is normal. Maybe it’s not. What if it’s not? In the United States, you could easily set up an assessment with an English speech-language pathologist and get the whole matter sorted out, either through assurance that it’s nothing to worry about at this stage of development or through ongoing therapy.

But you don’t live in the United States. You are an expat in a country that does not speak English. How are you supposed to find out if your English-speaking child is developing properly linguistically without access to an English SLP? Do you make an expensive trip back to the States? But if it’s an ongoing problem that requires therapy, do you keep making those trips? Do you quit your work and move home?

Enter SHARE. At the conference I will be attending and volunteering at, families will have access to educational resources that might otherwise be completely inaccessible to them in their current locations. Lack of resources is a big reason why families stop their work overseas or need to buy expensive trips back to the United States to get assistance.

The young child with a speech impediment is just one example, but these kinds of issues crop up in every age group at every development level.

My role at the conference will be to assist families with teenagers in navigating the college experience. At this point, I don’t know what that is going to look like exactly, but I’m looking forward to helping these young adults develop plans for their futures and start to compile resources of their own and questions to ask as they start the process of pursuing higher education in the United States.

Traditional, four-year college is not for everyone. But education is. Whether you’re looking at a 5-year-old who is learning to tie his shoes or an 18-year-old who want to take a 12-week phlebotomy course while her best friend is gearing up to get a degree in civil engineering, education gives us freedom to make choices. The content of education is important, but teaching people to be learners is of much greater importance.


Ways Stay in Touch:

  1. Blogging here leading up to and during the conference.
  2. Instagram @meganunedited (beware the ridiculous number of dog photos I post)
  3. Email me at megan_brincks@hotmail.com for information on how to help sponsor me and my sister’s trip.

Going To Hungary

Megan Brincks

I so rarely share pictures of myself, but this one is personal, so let’s get personal! [Photo by Rachel Florman Creative]

There’s a lot to squish into one little blog post, but I’m going to do my best to keep this short, sweet and not too tedious.

Here’s the punch line: at the end of February, I’m headed to Hungary for a short-term mission trip. (Pause for reaction.) I will be working with missionary families stationed across Europe, the Middle East and Asia to navigate the transition of their teenage children into college life in the United States.

So let’s back up a little. My sister, Sarah, is a speech-language pathologist, and she served two years ago at a conference in Prague. For a week, she screened children whose families were concerned about their language development. When SHARE asked her to come back, it was a resounding yes.

Obviously, I asked if I could tag along and play tourist for the week.

Well, when some of the event organizers found out I work in higher education, they asked if I would be willing to assist families with older children for the transition into college.

Obviously, I said yes.

Obviously (maybe?), I was, and still am, incredibly nervous about this. I have never participated in a mission trip before, and “my religion is kindness” still sums up most of my theology.

However, as I sat with this decision, I felt in my gut that I have something to offer these families, and they need guidance. By amazing happenstance, I have that knowledge they need.

One thing I’ve been learning (or re-learning) lately is that signs don’t always come in big, neon signs. Sometimes, it comes as little whispers in the dark. But when the universe, God, the higher power, whatever you want to call it, offers you a big, neon sign, YOU LISTEN!

And although I will also be sharing some photos on social media before, during and after the trip, I woke up this morning with a whisper that said, “You need to write about this, Megan.”

So here I am. Rekindling the blog, seeing where all this goes, and just doing my best to stay aligned with what I’m feeling called to do in every area of my life.

But Hungary. Here are some things you might want to know if you follow along, which I really hope you do!

What: This conference will be in a little resort town named Siofok, Hungary, at the end of February. Missionary families from all over Europe, the Middle East and Asia are welcome, and it’s hosted by SHARE Education Services.

Who: My sister Sarah and I will be volunteering at the conference, and one of our aunts will also be joining us.

How to Follow: I will share a lot here and on my social media (Instagram @meganunedited is a public account; my Facebook is more for family and friends). That said, the privacy of these families, just like the privacy of my current students, is a top priority. No one’s personal stories other than my own will be shared without express approval.

How to Help: First, and foremost, please think of us and send us light and love as we work to help these families to the best of our abilities.

Second, you can follow along here and on social media to be part of the support system. I would love advice from anyone who’s gone on a mission trip of any kind, especially something like this, and any tips from anyone who’s visited Hungary.

Third, and let me be perfectly transparent about this point, this trip is happening whether or not we raise even a dollar of funding. But if you are interested in helping financially, please email me at megan_brincks@hotmail.com, and I can send you information on the church with which we are partnering so that all donations are tax deductible. If we raise more money than the trip costs, all remaining funds will stay with that church for future mission trips.

I might talk more about funding in an upcoming post, but for now, just know that I’m excited to share this journey with all of you and using it as an excuse to get back into regular creative writing.

Also… Hungary! Three months from TODAY I will be in Budapest.

Just Start

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Change your mind as many times as there are ripples in the sand. But just start.

Wherever you are, just start.

I beg of you, start.

Don’t force it to be perfect or good or done, just start. It’s okay. Take a deep breath, and do that very first thing to move you in the direction you want to go. Just start.

Don’t wait for the right moment or the time or the money or the support system. Once you start, some of that will appear. Other parts you’ll have to work toward diligently and passionately and aggressively. Or just calmly and methodically.

But just start.

What’s that thing you wanted to do? Eat healthy? Lose weight? Pick up a new hobby? Deepen or change your current hobby? Connect with a stranger? Connect with your own family and current friends? Disconnect from Facebook or Instagram or poisonous relationships?

What’s that thing nagging at you right now? Wouldn’t that be fun? Wouldn’t that be… authentic? Do something, do anything, and just start.

It’s okay.

What I’ve come to realize, but I’m still working on, is that the world needs more people to live their true lives. It does no good to just live, to simply move the pieces of paper from one side of our desks to the other. We must attempt to thrive as often and as deeply as possible.

What are you waiting for? No, really, what are you waiting for? Is it ever going to be easier? If it really is, what are you doing now to move toward a space in which you can explore this thing you’re thinking about? Or maybe easier isn’t the answer. What about, just, different?

Pick something, anything. Start in the middle or the end or, if you’re feeling extra saucy, the beginning.

Just start.

Weekends

A few years ago, I got in the habit of planning my weekends the same way I planned workouts and meals. Near the beginning of the week, I would find something fun to do the next weekend – maybe a new thrift shop to explore, a historic site to tour or a trail to hike. Even if it was only an activity to occupy a couple hours on Saturday afternoon, I found I loved having something to look forward to.

When I fall out of the habit, the weekend slips by, and I start the next workweek feeling restless and moody – I didn’t take advantage of the time! I didn’t actually do anything!

Now that I’m single again, I’m finding that planning to be so much more important than it was when I was in a relationship. I can easily waste away a whole day with Netflix and laundry, just to find the next day a frantic rush to clean the apartment, ride the horse, get to the gym, buy groceries and not do anything out of the normal routine.

I’m sick of watching my weekends slip away unnoticed. I’m tired of feeling like I’m just treading water, not actually moving toward the goals I say I want to accomplish.

Better is not the aim right now; better is arbitrary and kind of pisses me off these days. Authentic is what I’m going for.

By my count, there are 11 more weekends of 2016. That’s 11 opportunities to explore something local, try something new, work toward something you’ve been saying you’re going to make time for.

What are you waiting for?