My Favorite Books of 2018

Anyone who knows me knows I absolutely love reading. As of today, I’ve read 65 books this year. My yearly goal is usually 52 (one a week). This year I decided I’d write a short post on my 5 favorites, with a few honorable mentions. Putting this list together was so hard! A few notes: These books are in no particular order because I don’t even know where I’d begin in ordering them. Also, not all of these books were released in 2018. I hope you enjoy!

Dance, Stand, Run by Jess Connolly

This one is for ladies (sorry dudes, more for you later!). I adored this book. In this book, Jess talks about living in grace and holiness and how we need both. My copy is filled with highlights and notes all through it. Jess has such a heart for living on mission and growing the Kingdom of God and it’s so evident in this book. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a book that goes deeper than most books out there.

Dancing On The Head of a Pen by Robert Benson

This book encouraged me so much in my writing. Robert Benson has a unique way with words that I love. Although writing is something I love, I find it hard to actually do. He made me feel not so alone in struggling to actually sit down and write. He gives practical advice on how to deal with critics, who to write for, and so much more.

Beyond The Circle Series by Ted Dekker

Okay, this may be considered cheating since this is two books, but I can’t put one without the other. I make the rules anyway. The first book I ever read by Ted Dekker was Black, the start of The Circle Series. I was 11 and the entire world he created captured me. When I got invited to read the ARCs of this series, I couldn’t say no. Going back into the world that solidified my love of reading was too good to pass up. Beyond the Circle follows the story of a blind girl named Rachelle as she begins to dream of another world where she can see. If you read The Circle Series then reading this series is a no-brainer. With many characters from The Circle returning, you’re going to love it.

Remember God by Annie F. Downs

This is the book I gave away this year. Seriously, I loved it so much I bought around 10 copies for friends because it’s that good. Annie writes her story about what to do when it’s hard to believe that God is kind. This book was so healing to my soul. It was in my hands right when I needed it. If 2018 was a difficult year for you, go pick this up. (Also the audiobook is great. Annie reads it herself and I loved listening to it.)

The Line Between by Tosca Lee

This is actually an ARC I got last month. The book doesn’t release until January 29th, but I read it this year and had to include it. This thriller is about a young woman named Wynter that escapes a cult only to return to a world being ravaged by a disease thought to be extinct. This book is insane. There’s not another word from it. By the time you think you know what’s going on, something else goes wrong. I’ve always loved Tosca’s writing and this is her best work. Did I mention it has a sequel coming later next year? You’ll be counting down the days until it’s out along with me.

Honorable Mentions:

The Seven Deadly Friendships by Mary E. Demuth: A great book to read if you’re struggling with friendships in your life. Mary lists what she believes to be the seven deadliest friendships a person can have and how to handle them.

100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs: An incredible daily devotional for those looking to be braver in their lives. I read this last year starting January 1st and I’m doing it again this year.

H3 Leadership by Brad Lomenick: A practical book on leadership. I loved how direct and to the point the writing is. Perfect for ministry or business leadership.

I’ve read some incredible books this year, but these are the ones I recommend the most. If you decide to pick up any of these, let me know what you think of them!

Digging Roots

The hardest part of missions for me has always been digging roots. Heck, it’s been the hardest part of life for me. But it wasn’t always this way.
When I was young friendships weren’t a problem. It was easy, even. But I got hurt many times over the years. I’ve never really had a close friendship last more than 3 or 4 years. So I quit trying. I quit trying to get close to people because it really only meant more pain for me. It just meant more people that had walked out of my life.

I remember when I first got to Ecuador being terrified of getting too close to people. Here’s the thing, I knew from the first time I walked into Sucua that I would leave one day. Brazil was always the end goal. So my first instinct? Keep everyone at arm’s length until I left. Get just close enough to not get hurt, yet still be effective.

But I ran into a problem. I wasn’t helping anyone. Because you can’t be an effective missionary without digging roots. Missions work is made up of relationships. It’s in the job description. And I was keeping myself so closed off that I wasn’t building any relationships.

I remember around this time God reminding me of a quote from C.S. Lewis: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

My natural tendency is to lock my heart in a box. To keep it safe from anyone who could maybe possibly one day hurt me. I say “is” because I still struggle with this. But I can see how much God has changed me since then. During my three years in Ecuador, I got close. For the first time in a long time, I made myself vulnerable. And I don’t regret a moment of it.

I know that leaving Ecuador hurt because I dug deep roots there; I had intertwined my life with the lives of the people I worked with. And when your life gets mixed up in other people’s lives things get messy and weird and sometimes confusing. But isn’t anything good worth fighting for?

During my time here in the States, I’ve fought to keep being vulnerable. I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been easy. Relationships are tough and messy because imperfect humans are involved. And even though these last couple of years have been some of the most painful years of my life, they’ve also been the most fulfilling. Truly loving others the way God has called us to hurts sometimes, but I’m learning that it is so rewarding.

A few weeks ago as I was planting the winter plants at my church, I noticed roots from the plants that had been there before still mixed in with the soil. There are always roots left behind if the plant was there long enough.

Anytime we decide to be where we are, to dig roots into the place we’re in, a part of us will be left behind when we leave. My hope is that everywhere I go from now on, people will still find the roots I left behind in their lives. That even after I’ve left the States and moved to Brazil, that I will have left behind something good. I have a long way to go, but I’m making progress.

The Bones // Family

When Brooke asked me to take 2-year-old pictures of her daughter, I was THRILLED to do them! She also asked if I could take a few family shots while we were together. The Bones are a precious family in my church. I adored taking photos of this sweet family. And doesn’t Selah make the cutest Minnie Mouse??

 

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Unlikely Roommates

This post was written the week I knew I wouldn’t be returning to Ecuador as a missionary. Even though I was overjoyed that I would be going to Brazil, my heart still ached because I didn’t know when I would see the people I fell in love with again. There’s a type of grieving that happens when your entire life is changed so suddenly. This is a look into those last three months I spent in my old life.

I’ve always thought of joy and grief as enemies. Two emotions that can’t occupy the same space because they’re simply too big to leave room for the other. But recently I’ve learned that’s not the case.

Joy and grief actually live together.

They’re roommates that pass each other throughout the day, walking through this life together. They tend to be found together because if grief didn’t have joy, it would be unbearable. As I sit here feeling the grief, it doesn’t hurt so bad. Because joy is sitting right beside her, reminding her of all of the good memories. “Remember when…” Joy is there so that grief remembers why the pain is worth it.

You see, grief is that feeling of something missing, like the ghost of something that could have been. It’s like a piece of your heart was broken off and you’re searching so desperately to find it, so desperate to feel whole again. It’s drowning in a sea of hurt and regrets and “what if”s.

But joy… oh, joy. Joy is knowing that yes, it’s missing… But it’ll be okay. It’s knowing that you will be whole again, soon. Joy is the memories. It’s your laugh when you go back to the time you may have almost died… Almost. Joy is the gratitude you have for the time you did have even if it wasn’t near as much as you wanted. Joy is the lifeboat that keeps you afloat when you feel like drowning.

Grief may feel like you’re roaming in the dark but joy is close by slowly guiding you home, no matter how lost you think you are. Because joy sees beyond the darkness of the night you’re in. Joy knows the way home.

This process of sharing a home with joy and grief has taught me this:

Grief reminds you that you’re human.

But joy reminds you that you’re alive.

Does God Like Me?

I used to ask myself a lot when I was younger if God liked me. You’re probably wondering why a kid would ask that question. Well, my mom (sorry mom I still love you) used to say something a lot:

“Just because I have to love someone doesn’t mean I have to like them.”

Maybe you’ve heard that too. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. Well, my little 10-year-old self used to wonder if God also felt that way. Let’s be honest for a second here. We all want to be liked. We may act like we don’t care, but we all want to know someone out there likes us. We want to know that people enjoy our company.

I felt like God had no choice but to love me. He created me so He kinda had to right? God loving me was great and all but I wanted to know that He liked me. It was easier to believe that He loved me than that He liked me. Maybe you find yourself asking that, too.

I think about Adam and Eve in the garden. God would go walk in the evening with them. He didn’t have to go to the garden to walk with them. He could have stayed in heaven and not worried about them. But He chose to spend time with them because He liked being with them.

And guess what? God likes you. He is genuinely interested in your life. He wants to spend time with you. He would take you to get ice cream and listen to you talk about your worries and your dreams and what you have to do tomorrow. He’ll sit on the end of your bed when you’ve had a bad day and tell you it’s all gonna be okay. He wants to know the little things. When it comes down to it, He just wants you. All of you. The messy and emotional and sometimes weird parts of you, too.

And even though you may think He has better things to do than listen to you or bigger problems to handle, you’re wrong. Because if God had to pick between you and His to-do list, He’d choose you every time. Every day, over and over again. Every. Single. Time.

He’s always choosing you. He’s always choosing me.

No matter how annoying or weird or unlikable I think I am sometimes. I am not another item on His to-do list. I am not a chore for Him. I am not His “problem”. I’m just simply… His.

I think He likes that.

Following a Ghost

For some people, change is easy. They flow like a river, taking the sudden shifts in direction smoothly. Others struggle with it. It’s a raging river they have to cross, not flow down. Usually, I’m the former.

But not this time.

Change is easier when emotions aren’t deeply involved. Things get hard when the smooth river starts to rage. When your flesh is fighting against the change and nothing makes sense and you’re getting hit by rocks at every turn.

Change doesn’t always hurt, but when it does it hurts me deeply. It’s a grief of what could have been. I try to make myself forget all of the “could’ve”s and “what if”s that flood my mind. I know change doesn’t affect everyone this way, but it’s how it affects me.

Before I decided to do what God was already telling me, we fought about it. A lot. I wasn’t gonna follow Him easy this time. You’d think as a missionary I would’ve learned by now… not quite. In my mind, it wasn’t like the first time I said yes. I wasn’t saying yes to go… I was saying yes to leave. Yes meant going to America. Yes meant moving to a totally different country with another language when I was just getting the hang of this one. It was leaving all the relationships I had spent 3 years building. It was leaving the life I had fallen in love with.

For a ghost. For a life that I had no idea what it would look like.

During all of this, God took me to a verse in Job:

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him;
yet I will argue my ways to His face.

Oh, I was arguing. He had most definitely heard my piece. And I definitely felt like He was slaying me. But He asked me: Where is your hope?

I can tell you where it wasn’t: in Him. My hope had been in the wrong place. I had it in the future I had planned for myself. It was in what I wanted to do, not what He planned. And even though what He wanted me to do was something I had desired for years, it was easier to stay where I was. It hurt less.”Just a little longer?” I asked. He said no. I shut up. Then put my hope in Him.

How foolish are we? I was literally arguing with the Creator of the universe about my future.

I decided to follow that ghost of a life and I can already tell it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m going where I’ve always wanted to go to do what I love. It’s not what I planned; it’s so much better.

To sum it up: Hope in Him and He will work everything out. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you, it makes perfect sense to Him. He is for you. He loves you. Just trust Him.

Change is inevitable. Life is full of it. It always hurts to close a book, especially when it’s your favorite one. You know the one, the one that’s written all in with torn pages and tea stains, practically falling apart. But there is so much anticipation for opening the next. On the shelf sits a book with blank pages, an exciting story waiting to be told. But it has one condition: you’ve got to live it first.

Even If

I have a confession to make. I, Caitlin Emfinger, struggle with doubt.

Yes, there it is. Written out for all the world to see. I’ve been a Christian for a long time. But that doesn’t mean I’ve figured everything out. You’re probably wondering what exactly that means. I mean, there’s a lot of things to doubt! I guess I should be more specific. I struggle with the doubt of if God will do things. I don’t have a problem believing that He can. I know that He can. My problem is believing that He will. That’s what scares me. 

Now it’s time for a story. A few months back, we had a girl in the Hope House get really sick. She’s only 12 years old. She flatlined multiple times while she was in the hospital. We were told on multiple occasions that she wouldn’t make it through the day. The entire time, I had no problem believing God could heal her. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that He could. But would He? What if He didn’t? How would her family feel? The girls? Would the people in her life lose faith? And why would He take her? These questions raced through my mind for weeks. The good news is, I never got the answer to those questions. He worked a miracle in her body. She’s still in Cuenca for now, but she’s getting better. He’s healing her. She survived. And last month, she came down to visit us.

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Her first time back in the Hope House in months. It was an emotional day for all of us.

But you know what? I would have loved and trusted Him just as much as before if He had decided not to heal her. I wouldn’t have understood why, but it would have been okay. Because His ways are so much higher than our ways. In spite of my fears and doubts, He still worked a miracle.  

I thought a lot about the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They trusted God in the face of death. That whatever He did would be right, whether they lived or died. That His will is perfect. Sometimes we have to trust Him even if He doesn’t do what we think He should. Even if He doesn’t perform a miracle, He is still God and He is still and always will be good, even if He doesn’t heal.

Even if He doesn’t do what I think would be best. Even if things don’t turn out the way I want. I will still follow Him and trust Him no matter the outcome. Sure, I may still have my doubts. But you better believe I will throw them to the side and keep on going, even if it means walking straight into the fire.

Because He is still God and He is still good.