There will always be another book to read—a whole list of them, more likely. As 2017 wraps up (no Christmas pun intended), here are a few books I am grateful found their way into my list this year. Their reminders and encouragement and eye-opening chapters have shaped me in new ways, and I hope you find some of them as unforgettable as I did.
From Good to Grace
As a church planter’s wife, Christine Hoover is no stranger to feeling like “not enough.” No matter how hard she tried or how much she worked, there was always another need or another problem or another failure on her own part. Why couldn’t she do this Christian life thing? Why was it so hard to just…be perfect? Eventually, she came to realize what she shares with us: grace. As Christians, we stake our eternities on grace, receiving Christ’s sacrificial death in our place to remove the bondage of sin and death in our hearts. But once we go from unbelieving to saved and believing, we often—unintentionally—leave grace behind. We try to do the rest of it on our own, scheduling our devotional times and listing our plans of good works and hoping to do better tomorrow. But no matter what, we will never be enough in ourselves, and that’s okay! We have been given grace—Jesus is enough, and He has given His “enough” to us.
Read my review here.
A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny
Amy Julia Becker
To be honest, I can’t remember how I came across this book, but I’m so glad I did. Devout Christians and theological students, Amy Becker and her husband had dreams and plans for the family they were ready to start. But they quickly realized life wasn’t going to go the way they had planned when their first daughter, Penny, was born with Down syndrome. What about the perfect life they had envisioned? What about their faith? What about all the good things they had done? What about the future? Amy shares about those first few weeks and months with beautiful honesty, writing about her internal struggles in reconciling what she knew to be true with her new reality. In a world where babies with Down syndrome are aborted at a heart-wrenching rate, where a country without them celebrates its “success,” Becker’s story is a hopeful look into the questions and doubts that a parent can have in those early moments. Through it all, she brings her Christian faith heavily into her own wrestling, providing deeper insights and encouragement to share with others in similar places.
The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard
It’s safe to say that every American has been affected in some way by cancer. Whether they are a survivor, or once feared a diagnosis, or walked a friend or family member through treatment, or stood at a graveside service of a loved one, everybody knows somebody who has faced cancer. And it’s always the same: despite the high rates of the disease, we never think it will affect us. We’re always surprised by it. Kara Tippetts and her family were surprised, too, when cancer showed up unexpected after a move to a new city and new church where her husband would be pastoring. A mom of four, a daughter, a wife—Kara struggled through treatment while watching her family and friends struggle with her. She wrote from a tender place, sharing her hard-won insights into suffering, family, Christian community, and following Jesus even when it hurts. Whether or not cancer is in our story right now, we have something to learn from someone who walked right through it into the arms of Jesus.
See my review here.
Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ
Christmas is coming. That “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” full of family, friends, gifts, delicious food, and favorite songs. But behind all the commercial hype and even the longstanding traditions, there was a Baby born in Bethlehem during the Roman occupation of Israel in the first century. There were foreign wisemen, dirty shepherds, a teenage girl and a carpenter. There was—and is—a God intent to rescue His people from their bondage, even at the cost of His Son. We think we know the Christmas story, but page by page, chapter by chapter, Keller uncovers depths to the Biblical passages that would have been more obvious to Jews of that time than they are to us. And now that we know the “hidden” truths in the story of God With Us, we will never read it the same way again.
See my review here.
Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
The only book on this list that is actually a re-read, Prodigal God is a simple but paradigm-shifting book that is well worth revisiting. When I first heard the title, it almost sounded sacrilegious—“prodigal” sounded like some kind of accusation—but soon realized the fascinating truth. Tim Keller walks us through what is typically called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” showing us how the story is really all about God. The parable tells of a man and his two sons: the one who wasted his inheritance and publicly shamed his father and the one who dutifully carried out all his tasks but had no love or respect for his father. In Prodigal God, we are faced with a heart-checking question: Which one are you?
Safer Than a Known Way: Discover How Liberty in Christ Lies in Surrender
Pamela Rosewell Moore
Corrie ten Boom led a fascinating life, and so did her traveling assistant, Pam. In Safer Than a Known Way, Pam begins by explaining her initial hesitation about following Christ: if she trusted in Jesus, she would have to follow His leading, and there were three reasons she was afraid to do that. One, He might call her to leave the familiarity of her native England. Two, He might call her to speak in public (the horror). Three, He might call her to be single her entire life. Pam took the step of faith. Trusting in Christ to save her, she left those fears and “what-ifs” with Him. Through the following chapters, Pam writes of her life since that decision, sharing about the fears she eventually faced and the surprising grace and joy and fulfillment she found in the process. As Corrie ten Boom’s traveling assistant, she traveled abroad regularly, occasionally spoke in public, and spent all her time with a fellow single woman, Corrie—who was single her entire life, Pam realized. But even when her story didn’t go the way she would have planned it, Pam learned that the path she was on was better than any she would have charted for herself. Wherever Jesus might call her to go, He would walk with her there.
See my review here.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Believe it or not, I had never read this one before. Never. But now I know why it is a classic. The story of Scout, Jem, Atticus, and racial tensions in 1930s small-town, southern America was gripping, full of inspiring characters and a few surprising turns. Lee delves into heavy topics, showing Scout and Jem trying to make sense of the world where they were growing up and leaving a story that continues to draw us in.
Honorable mention: Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships (Christine Hoover); Evidence Not Seen: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of WWII (Darlene Deibler Rose); Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness and Dating (Marshall Segal); The Blessing of Humility (Jerry Bridges), and Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk (Michelle DeRusha).
See last year’s list of books here.