This time last year, I sat down with my fresh planner, pretty new pens I’d put in my own stocking, and straight-out-of-the-pack legal pad, and I believed 2018 had all the promise in the world. I set some ambitious but achievable (or so I thought) goals, and I made some exciting but realistic (or, again, so I thought) plans.

And then 2018 happened.

Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you. This has not been the best year of my life.

Nope. It was really hard, for more than one reason.

My oldest daughter broke her leg and, while that doesn’t sound all that serious, we felt the ramifications of her injury for seven solid months. And she’s still limping. I experienced a whole lot of upheaval around my jobs and my career (yes, those are different things), even after praying about it and being SO SURE I was making the right decisions and moves. I had to put my 17-year-old cat to sleep. I started and quit Weight Watchers, again. We faced stress and drama with both our friends and our families, and if ever a moment arose when I thought I might catch my breath, politics stole it again.

When the year began I had grand visions of arriving at my 40th birthday this month a different person, an improved, accomplished version of myself, ready to take on a new decade. Instead, I find myself adjusting expectations all over the place and realizing that I’m going into my fortieth year changed, but not in the way I had hoped.

But rather than sit in sadness and lament the many ways 2018 was a disappointment, I’m looking forward to tomorrow, and next year, and this decade of my forties with anticipation. I’m not ignoring the difficulty of 2018. But I am choosing to list all the wins, all the lovely moments, all the gifts of 2018 alongside the hard stuff.

And as for turning 40 this week? Well, it happened. I celebrated with some of my very favorite people, and I felt loved and seen and known. And when my friend put the pink “4” and “0” candles on my cake, I wondered why. Surely I couldn’t be that old for real! Could I? We laughed at my response to those little candles, and then we sliced the cake and enjoyed it.

I am 40. And I didn’t meet a single one of my big goals for this year or this milestone birthday. But that’s okay. As it turns out, life didn’t end when the calendar flipped over, and I’ve got some time left. That’s where the anticipation comes in. I think this year and this decade are going to be good ones. Because even if they bring trauma and tumult, challenges and struggles, hard times and difficulty? I know they’ll also bring joy and delight and smiles and sunshine.

So before I start filling out my 2019 calendar and goal sheets, I want to take a look back at this year. I want to share with you the very best parts of the past 12 months, partly to capture it for myself and partly to recommend things that might just become your favorites, too. And I hope you’ll share some of your best parts of the year with us, too.


My Top 40 of 2018

Note: I’m no Casey Kasem, and this is not a countdown. These are not in order of importance. My friends and family come before books and TV shows in reality, but since you come here expecting conversations about pop culture, I’m starting with that!

1. Movies in the theater: I saw so many movies in the theater this year! I’m really grateful for that privilege, silly as it might sound, because more than enjoying explosions and car chases on a big screen, that means I spent time with the people I love. (Except for when I saw Ocean’s 8 all by myself, which should be noted, because YES I DID take myself to a movie. By myself. If I didn’t mention that.)

Which movies did I see? LET ME TELL YOU! (And you can assume I thoroughly enjoyed each and every one, because a) I’m pretty picky about what movies I shell out the big theater bucks for, and b) if I got to see a movie in the theater, I was so happy to be there that it would have to be pretty bad for me not to love it {sadly, see again Ocean’s 8 and don’t even ask about Hotel Transylvania 3}). This year I saw:

The Greatest Showman, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Pitch Perfect 3, Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean’s 8, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Ant-Man & the Wasp, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Avengers: Infinity War, Incredibles 2, Hotel Transylvania 3, Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch, Small Foot

2. Movies on Netflix: Like the rest of the world, I became an immediate and a devoted fan of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Dumplin’, both based on young adult novels. I also really liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, which was also based on a book; Set It Up, a cute romantic comedy generously credited with bringing back the romcom; and Nappily Ever After, a romcom itself that went a long way in educating me about what women of color endure in the name of hair.

I have a long list of movies I wanted to see this year but didn’t. Since 2019 will bring its own abundance of movies, I’m not sure I’ll get to them any time soon. But in case you’re wondering, YES, I do still want to see the Mr. Rogers and Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentaries, Wrinkle in Time, The Hate U Give, and A Star is Born.

3. My new favorite TV shows: I’m not alone or original in claiming that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was my favorite show of 2018. But it was. IT WAS. I also started watching, thanks to recommendations from friends with great (or similar-to-my) taste, The Goldbergs and Kim’s Convenience — AND I LOVE THEM SO MUCH. (Thank you, Myquillyn and Grace!)

Since 2016 I’ve had a little show called Pitch sitting on my DVR. It was cancelled quickly, after just 10 episodes, but the premise (a drama about the first woman to play major league baseball) intrigued me and I knew I’d get to it some day. Some day arrived this summer, and I am so glad. Pitch was FANTASTIC and we are ALL to blame for not watching it two years ago and demanding that Fox renew it. The writing and acting were both excellent, and the original concept was refreshing. Believing it was simply a couple years ahead of its time is little consolation, and this was both the high and the low of my TV-watching in 2018.

Speaking of original concepts, I also watched Forever (Amazon Prime) and Reverie (NBC) this year. Forever starred Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen, and it was weird. I didn’t love it and am glad it was a one-season show only. Reverie starred Sarah Shahi, the guy from Heroes and Covert Affairs, and the guy with the voice from the insurance commercials. It was, according to at least one year-end list I read, one of the absolute worst shows of the year. I, on the other hand, found it delightful and felt genuine sadness when I heard it was not being renewed. Whether you loved or hated either of these shows, it is interesting to look at how difficult it is for creative concepts and original ideas to find long-term success.

4. Rewatching old shows = the best comfort food. When my year was the most stressful, I decided to rewatch all of Happy Endings and New Girl. I laughed so hard you’d have thought I’d never seen either show. I had, but watching them again reminded why I loved them so much. Shows about friends (“Friends-type shows,” if you will) are my favorite.

5. It turns out PBS and BBC have more to offer than Sherlock. I know, I know, so many of you watch so many PBS and BBC shows! Where have I BEEN? Missing out, friends. Missing out. This year I started watching Victoria and Poldark, and you know what? I loved them both! I have lots of seasons to catch up on still, so I’ll be enjoying these shows (and, who knows, maybe even more) well into 2019.

6. Being strong enough to start watching dramas again. If you’ve known me for any length of time in the past couple of years, you know I’m one of the few people who doesn’t love — or even watch — This is Us. I still don’t. It’s too real and too sad and too, too much. Yes, I’ve heard about the writing and the acting and the ALL THE THINGS. I’m still not going to watch it. However, despite my year being a rough one, when fall came around and I’d withstood most of it somehow, I wondered if I might be able to stomach some of the new dramas. And that led to me adding not one, but four, dramas to my regular rotation: A Million Little Things, The Rookie, Manifest, and God Friended Me. (For the record, I’m not saying those shows are good, but I sure do enjoy them!)

7. Reading more nonfiction than usual. I want to read nonfiction. I do. My friends write nonfiction. Nonfiction changes hearts and lives; I believe that wholeheartedly. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and my heart is just not interested in much nonfiction. But this year I did manage to read a few more NF books this year. My list included Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes, Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis, It’s All Under Control by Jennifer Dukes Lee, Eat Cake. Be Brave. by Melissa Radke, Why I Hate Green Beans by Lincee Ray, and The Wondering Years by Knox McCoy.

8. Reading diverse YA fiction to expand my worldview. I didn’t make many reading goals last year, but I did choose to seek out more books by and about people of color. Young adult novels (YA) are my favorite genre in general, and happily, I found tons of books that fit the bill. I didn’t love them all, and I didn’t find all of them comfortable or easy reads — but I think that’s kind of the point. I read The Victoria in My Head by Janelle Milanes, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maureen Goo, From Twinkle with Love by Sandhya Menon, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, Not the Girls You’re Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi, Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham, and The Way You Make Me Feel by Maureen Goo. I also tried to read American Panda by Gloria Chao and Not Now Not Ever by Lily Anderson, but just could not finish either one.

9. Admitting that, you know what, I just really like reading romance novels. I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with romance novels over the years. From hiding them in my middle school backpack like some kind of contraband to deciding they were the source of my unrealistic relationship expectations, I’ve never really felt comfortable being someone who reads romance. But you know what? I am that kind of person. I like romance. And I’ve decided that’s okay. So this year, in between mysteries and sci-fi and diverse authors and characters and nonfiction books, I read a lot of Courtney Milan, Kristan Higgins, Mariana Zapata, and whatever YA romance novels were on sale on Kindle.

10. Proving I’m not too old to take in a concert or two (or four). Early this year I bought tickets to see Lion King on stage. It was a big purchase for us, but I decided to splurge for an anniversary date. Unfortunately, I accidentally bought tickets for a night when my husband would be working. Oops. So I sold my tickets and with the money I got back, I decided to make this the year of live music. When all was said and done, I saw a friend’s band in a tiny bar, Billy Joel in a stadium, Walk the Moon in a backyard-like outdoor venue, and Ben Rector in an old, beautiful theater. The shows were all different and all fantastic. (I also took my girls to a Kidz Bop concert and saw two different comedians with my husband. Live entertainment was IT for me this year!)

And now for the stuff not exactly related to pop culture but still on my top 40 list…

11. Road trip and retreat in Kentucky – Just when I needed it most, my annual girls weekend came up this spring. It was an incredible blessing that refreshed my body and soul.

12. Road trip and retreat in Arkansas – This summer I joined the (in)courage staff and contributors in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, where DaySpring (our parent company) is headquartered. It was lovely to remember why we do what we do, as well as to connect with several new (in)courage writers. I also began brainstorming about starting a podcast on this trip.

13. Family vacation to Minneapolis – I almost lost my mind when I realized that the week my husband had taken off from work was the same week our baseball team would be playing the Minnesota Twins and a writing conference would take place in Minneapolis. I couldn’t have planned it better! I didn’t end up attending that conference, but we did make some fun family memories and get to spend time with one of my best friends and her family who live in Minneapolis.

14. Watching a whole lot of romantic comedies in the name of research.

15. Watching a whole lot of holiday movies in the name of work.

16. No, really, I decided to start a podcast! (More info coming soon, I promise!)

17. Joining the (in)courage community to support the charity closest to my heart.

18. Seeing my words in the (in)courage devotional BibleWhoa! I never in a million years would have imagined this being possible.

19. Updating my resume to apply for a couple jobs. (I didn’t get them, but it was good practice.)

20. Deciding not to apply for a full-time job just yet.

21. Giving myself a timeline and a deadline for my writing career dreams — and committing to a plan B that I love almost just as much.

22. Writing a devotional that I haven’t even told you about yet! (It will be published this year, and I’ll tell you more as soon as I can!)

23. Working behind the scenes on two traditionally published books written by friends.

24. Hiring a friend to work as my VA (virtual assistant). 

25. Being included in Dawn Camp’s newest compilation, With Love, Mom.

26. Getting my husband interested in podcasts(Of course, now he begins nearly 90% of our conversations by saying, “I was listening to this podcast and…”)

27. A magical afternoon and evening with my family at the LIghts Fest

28. Having a long overdue, important but painful conversation. As someone dreadfully averse to confrontation, I wouldn’t have chosen this for my year. But having survived it, I’m grateful it happened and that I was strong enough to show up.

29. Planning and hosting a practically-Pinterest-perfect (if I do say so myself) Harry Potter party for my daughter’s 11th birthday. I’m not even kidding. It was so perfect (not really, but good enough to pass for perfect, okay?), and I loved everything about it. More importantly, so did my daughter!

30. Introducing my girls to classic movies. And also Nacho LibreThey loved it. LOVED IT. And I loved that they loved it! So fun.

31. My father-in-law’s wedding. My mother-in-law died in a car accident 17 years ago, and this May my father-in-law got remarried. I won’t lie; I dreaded the day. And the day was hard. It was. But it was also surprisingly lovely in ways, and I call that a win. (Also a win is my father-in-law’s new wife herself; she’s wonderful.)

32. Using a paper planner again. I know. This is a very little thing to get worked up about. But it really did bring me joy this year and keep me a lot more organized than the stack of notebooks and journals I’ve used the past several years.

33. Seeing my friend graduate hair school. One of the hard parts of this year has been watching several sweet friends go through ugly divorces. One of my friends in that situation decided to become a hairstylist, worked her butt off to attend school while also working and raising her kids, and she did it! Helping throw her a graduation party and doing my best not to cry as I cut the cake was definitely a highlight of my year.

34. Watching Seth Meyers as I process politics. The things happening in our nation and our world have had me low-grade furious for years now, so I’m grateful for smart, funny people who help me put things in perspective or help me feel less alone.

35. Fridays are “Mommy Days.” I spend Fridays with my four-year-old. It’s the one day I don’t work and the one day she doesn’t go to preschool or the babysitter. Sometimes we run errands and do lunch; other times we lounge on the couch and catch up on cartoons. Most weeks involve her giving me a “makeup-over,” and we both look forward to these days all week long.

36. Singing karaoke to celebrate my 40th birthday. I didn’t think anyone would plan a party for my big 4-0, so rather than wait around full of expectations and then being disappointed and bitter when nothing happened (or nothing happened the way I wanted it to), I planned my own night. I asked my favorite friends to join me for karaoke, and we had a BLAST! My four best friends went to dinner with me, sang at the top of our lungs, and finished the night by closing down a Chili’s. Like you do when you’re 40.

37. Not dying when a sinkhole opened in my town. I couldn’t decide if “sinkhole” belonged on the good or bad list for this year. But in the end I am choosing joy, friends, and counting my blessings — including the one where I drove over a pothole that, MERE HOURS LATER, opened up into a crater leading directly to the center of the earth!

38. Harry Potter Camp. No, I didn’t attend. But my daughter did, and it was — for her — a dream come true! It was an adorable day camp not far from our house, and not only was it perfect for all the Potterheads who attended, but it was staffed by kind, compassionate adults who took great care of my girl and the cast on her leg.

39. The support we received from our family and friends when Annalyn broke her leg. I had no idea the trauma a badly broken leg could be on a kid — or her family. We could not have survived this year without the extensive help we received from friends and family. Her school was incredibly supportive, too, and I don’t take that lightly. I felt alone a lot during this ordeal, but not when so many showed us they cared.

40. My husband finally getting to work days. After almost a decade of working nights, Mark got to switch to days for a few weeks this summer then again this fall. We don’t know how long it will last (FedEx seniority and route assignment is a tad bit complicated and not one bit predictable), but it feels like a miracle for now.

So, there it is, friends. My Top 40 Countdown of Good Things from 2018. I actually could have gone on to at least 50 but “top 40” has a nice ring to it and, besides, I can’t possibly ask you to read any mroe words. So 40 it is! Thank you for indulging me and reading all the way to the end here. Writing this list has been therapeutic (even when it stressed me out by taking so long that I’m technically finishing in 2019), and I appreciate taking up space here to capture all the things that balanced out the hard parts of the last year.

Now I’d love to hear what’s on your 2018 list of good stuff. Share in a comment, and you’ll be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card. I’ll randomly select a winner on January 11. (Yep, you read more than 3,000 words and I snuck in a giveaway. What a year!)

What’s something good that happened during your 2018?

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