Some of the best from a very bad 2020
On New Year’s Day 2020, I looked ahead with anticipation. Trips were set, plans were made and adventure awaited.
On March 2, I posted on Facebook, “I just experienced the best week of my year so far (trust me, it’ll only get better)!”
Seventeen days later, I posted pictures of empty shelves in my local grocery store.
The world had shut down — and none of us saw it coming. While I lived in sweatpants, neglected basic self care and struggled to work from home with four kids and a husband hovering around, others flourished during quarantine: writing books, recording podcasts and creating content to help people like me keep going.
And for that, I am thankful.
I’ve gathered here a few favorites of 2020, according to me and my friends. I hope you find something to encourage, redirect your path or strengthen your faith as you head into a new year.
Because who knows what’s coming next.
Jennie Allen. “Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts.” WaterBrook, 2020. 256 pages. $23.99.
The start of the pandemic triggered a post-traumatic stress disorder flare-up for my friend, McKenzie Ross. So she picked up this book.
“My mind was running away with negative thoughts,” Ross said. “These words breathed life into my situation and reminded me that God is bigger than my thoughts and the pandemic.”
This timely book explores: surrendering anxiety and trusting God, negative thought patterns that keep you stuck, the science behind why thoughts can change your life and your power to confront and overcome fears.
Allen also hosts a popular podcast, “Made for This,” where she discusses topics like, “The Emotional Impact of 2020,” “How to Hope for What You Can’t See” and “Practical Help for Life in a Pandemic.”
Katherine and Jay Wolf. “Suffer Strong: How to Survive Anything by Redefining Everything.” Zondervan, 2020. 224 pages. $24.99.
“If ever there were a story of sickness, hope and God’s deep love in the midst of heartache, these two know how to tell it,” my cousin Jennifer Schmidt wrote on Facebook as she challenged friends and family to read this book with her.
In “Hope Heals,” Jay and Katherine Wolf share the story of Katherine surviving a near-fatal brain stem stroke at age 26. In “Suffer Strong,” the couple shares what they’ve since learned — that suffering is not the end but rather the beginning of a new story.
The Wolfs share universal lessons that help us recognize we aren’t cursed by our story. The couple disrupts the myth that joy can only be found in a pain-free life. We can thrive —even in lives we never imagined living.
“I know that I need to read what they have to say,” Schmidt wrote. “Maybe you need to hear their message as well?”
The couple also has a five-star show called “Suffer Strong Podcast” where they take a deeper dive “with unexpected humor and powerful vulnerability,” according to the Apple Podcasts description.
Becky Thompson and Susan K. Pitts. “Midnight Mom Devotional: 365 Prayers to Put Your Momma Heart to Rest.” WaterBrook, 2020. 384 pages. $15.99.
Before the “Midnight Mom Devotional” book, there was just a Facebook group by the same name.
“I have been following the ‘Midnight Mom Devotional’ Facebook page for a couple of years now,” said Lindsey Hix, who found the page while up many times a night nursing her youngest daughter. “The posts were always relatable, always timely and always that nudge from God that I needed to hear, right when I needed to hear it.”
But as the Facebook page grew to more than 940,000 followers, the site creators decided to turn their devotionals into a book. This small, fat book has a page for each day of the year — find today’s date and read a meditation or a prayer for mommas in all circumstances.
A friend gifted this book to Hix when her husband, an ICU nurse, moved out of their house in the early days of the pandemic to protect their family.
“This book gave me the opportunity to pray for others at a time when I selfishly cried out to God for myself and my own situation,” said Hix, who has since gifted this book to many of her mom friends.
Bob Goff. “Dream Big: Know What You Want, Why You Want it, and What You’re Going to Do About it.” Thomas Nelson, 2020. 256 pages. $26.99.
Goff, the New York Times bestselling author of “Love Does” and “Everybody, Always” is on a mission to help people recapture the version of their lives they dreamed about before fear started calling the shots. Can’t you just hear his hearty laugh as he challenges you to dream big?
Unlike his other books, which were compilations of encouraging stories, this book is a version of the Dream Big workshop he’s offered the last few years, Sherry Bingham said. Goff’s latest book encourages the reader to identify their dreams, define them and come up with a specific plan to achieve them.
“I really like Bob’s style — his encouragement that it’s never too late to begin and also that it’s never too late to stop doing something so that we can choose something better,” said Bingham, who kicked off my church’s first book club with this title. “As a Christian, I love that he encourages us not to just get through life, but live it with purpose.”
“Dream Big” offers the actionable steps you need to get a jump-start on your goals.
Mark E. Powell, John Mark Hicks, Greg McKinzie. “Discipleship in Community: A Theological Vision for the Future.” Leafwood Publishers, 2020. 192 pages. $17.99.
Western churches face a difficult future, marked by numerical decline and evident signs of shrinking cultural influence. “Discipleship in Community” asks the church to go back to basics, according to the book’s Amazon page. What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does a life of discipleship look like?
Trusted scholars — Powell, Hicks and McKinzie — invite you to consider how good theology can lead to better, more intentional discipleship.
“This book takes a brief look at our history to elevate the conversation of where our movement is going. Or more importantly, where we should be going,” said my husband, minister Travis Akins. “The historical journey taken in these chapters are not to simply reflect on better times but rather to serve as a launching pad for the future and a foundation to which Churches of Christ can restore for the sake of Christ’s church.”
In the words of the authors, “The hard intellectual work remains.” This book attempts to tackle that work.
Dallas Jenkins. “The Chosen.” Historical drama. 2020. Eight episodes. Hosted by the VidAngel app.
“The Chosen” is the first multi-season television series based on the life of Jesus, as seen through the eyes of those who met him. I was a little apprehensive, assuming it would be another stale Jesus movie.
Boy, was I wrong.
My husband and I downloaded “The Chosen” app on my phone for free and chose the option to tether it to our television to watch together. We had planned to stretch it out during the pandemic but quickly fell in love with the show and binged it in two nights.
I laughed. I cried. I learned new things. And I even stood up and cheered for Jesus at one point.
Hear me out: I’ve read the Bible my whole life, but watching this series brought Jesus into a new light for me. I truly saw Jesus as a human for the first time.
I’ve read the Bible my whole life, but watching this series brought Jesus into a new light for me.
Season two, which just began production, will explore the building of Jesus’ group of disciples. No word on when that will be released yet, but you bet I’ll be looking out for it.
To watch season one: Go to your app store on your device and search “The Chosen.” Once you’ve downloaded the free app, you can choose to watch on your phone, iPad, computer or TV. It’s super convenient.
If you watch one series as a family over the holidays, make it this one.
Jeff Orlowski. “The Social Dilemma.” Documentary, PG-13, 2020. 1 hour, 34 minutes. Netflix.
This one is a must-watch, but not in a good way. A documentary-drama hybrid, “The Social Dilemma” explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations. Ministers across the country are responding.
“I’m a Jesus follower, not because I get paid to work at a church, but because I really believe there’s nothing better to give my life to than the Prince of Peace,” said Jonathan Storment, minister for the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Little Rock, Ark. “I believe that the church is the hope of the world, and I’m starting to believe that social media is undermining the church’s mission and witness.”
Scott Elliott, minister for the La Grange Church of Christ in Texas, lists lessons he learned from this eye-opening documentary. “Social media is not emotionally healthy for teens and children,” he said. “Social media encourages the division we are seeing in our nation. Do not get your news from social media. You are the product. Social media is addictive and designed to keep you online.”
(The show has some foul language, so discretion is advised.)
LAURA AKINS is Reviews Editor for The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected].
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