What. A. Year. I could easily get into all of my feels of 2018. It was my first full year of my first full time job. It was a year of moving houses. A year of growing and deepening friendships. A year of transitioning, reorienting, and reorganizing. A year with a broken heart. Another year of pursuing a Masters of Divinity. Another year of grief. Another year of learning and growing and in between each chapter, per usual, a year of reading.
This year I felt compelled to add some diversity to my reading list. In the spaces I fill, I often find myself advocating for diversity, yet my 2017 reading list looked a little too unified. So this year, I mixed it up. I read some fiction on the beach, read an autobiography over Christmas, and read many a Christian living along the way. I wanted to read books by both men and women of various races and ethnicities. And I have many to recommend for your 19 books of 2019.
Disclaimer: I am in no way endorsed by these authors, though I do review for various publishing companies and receive copies of free books. If you are interested in contacting me to review your books, please comment below! Also, these are in alphabetic order.
Let’s jump in!
1.) And Still She Laughs by Kate Merrick
In this work, Kate Merrick shares about the difficult journey her family faced through her daughter Daisy’s cancer, ultimately ending in Daisy passing away. She describes the ups and downs of Daisy’s cancer, when she and her husband felt hopeful and hopeless, when she was angry that these were the cards they had been dealt, and when she would lay in bed and hold every precious minute she had with Daisy.
Through some of the most broken experiences of her life, Kate Merrick nudges readers of And Still She Laughs to shift their perspective from defining God through our circumstances to defining Him through His Word and proven character. She holds the sacredness of grief and the depths of suffering she has faced, but walks with bravery and honesty into the truth of Scripture that provides the hope with which broken bones can rejoice. Read full review…..
2.) Becoming by Michelle Obama
I have always loved all things first lady. When given the decision of which museum to visit in Washington D.C. I always have a hard time choosing any other than the Museum of American History to admire the dresses and pearls of each first lady. I love the way their clothing embodies that era, both the economy in its elegance and the role that women played in the culture of our nation. I grew up admiring Laura and Barbara’s poise, Jackie’s fashion, and Michelle’s courage.
I felt welcomed by Michelle Obama to consider more deeply the uniqueness of my own story and how it has painted, shaped, and sculpted the person I am today. I felt empowered to own the spaces I fill with confidence, but mostly authenticity. Despite it’s length, I would greatly recommend this read. Read full review….
3.) Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
Wrapping up my first year of my full time, big girl position, in my first year of supervising direct reports, I kept reading to see what I could learn. And the insights were endless. Brené entered into the work place which can seem so institutionalized and cold sharing on shame, vulnerability, the need for connection, and ways to show up brave, bold, and honest.
Upon reading Dare to Lead I have found myself using skills Brené teaches right away in my work place, on my small teams and big ones, with my direct reports and with those I report to. I have found myself seeing the people around me differently and as I value them more and lean into my curiosity, finding myself much more generous with them. I have since recommended Dare to Lead to many due to its specific insight, relevant research, and challenging message that is vital to any company culture. Read full review….
4.) Everybody Always by Bob Goff
I love Bob’s writing style and even have used it as an example at writer’s conferences when some more tenured friends just cannot seem to understand “those Millennials.” (Funny how sometimes we, ourselves, are the ones people have to walk across the line to love.) He tells wild and crazy stories that made me laugh, cry, and have chills all over. Then, he draws connections to the nature and character of God and who He calls us to be packing many heavier punches than I ever thought possible.
Bob simplifies what we overcomplicate emphasizing the theme that Jesus never gathered people around Him to agree with Him; instead, He gathered people around Him to go and be like Him. Bob challenges believers to love bravely, deeply, and to never overlook our own personal transformation in the process. Read full review…
5.) Freefall to Fly by Rebekah Lyons
In Freefall to Fly, Lyons shares her story wrestling with severe anxiety as her family transitioned from Georgia to the hustle and bustle of New York City. Painted with beautiful word choice, the author lets readers into her innermost wrestlings and questions with God as she struggled to face each and every day, fighting to believe each day would be the end of this relentless battle.
Freefall to Fly is bold, honest, and brave. Rebekah Lyons story is extremely relatable and her writing style, beautiful. Read full review…
6.) Gay Girl, Good Good by Jackie Hill Perry
Gay Girl, Good God. This title captured my attention, knowing Jackie’s story in part, but knowing all the more how often I sit across the table in restaurants and coffee shops from students in my ministry who face a similar battle. I shared with a friend recently that I am not quite sure why, but I have found myself to be a common confidant for those who are attracted to the same sex. While this has never been a part of my story, I have found it an incredible honor to hold these precious people’s stories, hearts, wrestlings, fears, and frustrations. While I hold this privilege, I have also held a lack of resources. To know me well is to have been recommended a book by me, and I found this topic of Christianity and homosexuality to be limited in its scope of resources and all the more limited in individuals who would speak out about it. And along came Jackie.
Perry’s work is real, raw, compelling, honest, and a great launching point for the Church to enter significantly more honest conversations regarding same sex attraction, specifically in conservative Christian circles. Read full review…
7.) Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human by John Mark Comer
Comer magnifies the two bookends of Scripture to piece together his thesis on work and rest. He narrows in on key aspects of the Garden of Eden and God’s original calling and commandment for man and woman. He furthermore explains the concept of the “Garden City” to come or the New Jerusalem and how our lives will take shape in this future Kingdom. Between the two of the Shalom that was and the Shalom that is to come, Comer offers a Biblical perspective of the role of work and rest in our lives and how we often convolute them.
I highly recommend this read to all believers, specifically those wrestling with calling, work and life balance, or the Biblical call to rest. Read full review..
8.) The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield
Butterfield explains hospitality does not have to be complicated. She emphasizes the simplicity of setting up a card table in the carport and placing paper plates in a stack in an effort to make strangers, neighbors and friends. She explains that practically this includes budgeting for hospitality, purchasing extra groceries, and in her case owning multiple crock-pots (aka speaking my language). Practicing what Butterfield terms “radically ordinary hospitality” includes making room to host a single friend following eye surgery on a living room couch by buying blackout curtains and filling her prescriptions. Making room includes making space in her schedule to help pick up a neighbor’s child from soccer practice or feeding another neighbor’s dog.
Butterfield’s tone is so conservative- literally including the phrase “sacred patriarchy” that when she began sharing her story of her life before Christ I checked back multiple times to be sure she wasn’t sharing someone else’s story. I was shocked to learn this pastor’s wife in suburban North Carolina who knits by her neighbor’s bed sides during surgery and bakes bread each Saturday for Communion on Sunday came from such a different lifestyle.
Thus, The Gospel Comes with a House Key is a challenging and compelling read, with sections and ideologies I would omit in order to reach a more relevant and diverse audience surrounding an important subject. Read full review…
9.) Grace Not Perfection by Emily Ley
I was late to the Grace Not Perfection party, but so thankful I picked it up. Emily Ley openly shares her story of battling to be perfect and in the midst of striving, finding grace. Within each chapter she shares practical tips for organization and cleanliness in your home, work place, and daily life.
Ley’s word pictures of her story battling perfectionism, infertility, and health issues, invited me into her home to sit down and have coffee. Each chapter felt like sitting across the coffee table from a wise friend and rather than feeling tasked with another creative organization plan, I felt accompanied by a friend saying, “me too, girl.”
I loved Grace Not Perfection and found myself in a bit of a book rut upon completing it, because I felt nothing could compare as it offers the sweet embrace of a friend and practical insights to simplification and organization, woven amidst a story of grace. Read full review…
10.) The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
This was a refreshing beach fiction read for me. The protagonists are a light keeper and his wife who find a baby washed ashore the light house and are lost as to what to do next. This story was a page turner, interlaced with romance, suspense, history, and hard decisions. I’ve not seen the movie but loved the book!
11.) Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren
In her own journey of seeing the sacred in the ordinary, Warren began to see the presence of God infiltrated in her every day life. She began making her bed every morning as a practice of His presence. A normal chore that is routine for many was the means by which she was reminded of her call in the Kingdom to create order, imaging God in a fallen and disordered world.
Warren highlights the sacredness of soup, sleep, and slowly sipping a cup of coffee, demonstrating that these facets of our lives no mater how ordinary or plain are integrally shaping as as spiritual beings nonetheless. Read full review…
12.) Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen
Jennie’s story of feeling so unworthy and incapable facing a growing ministry refreshed my soul. As she named fears and lies, I was able to name many of my own, both in ministry and as an individual. That nagging, stabbing lie that knows precisely when to whisper and when to shout beneath all of our performance, “You are not enough.”
Jennie shared so bravely about many painful parts of her story, facing an eating disorder, wrestling with showing up as a pastor’s wife, walking with her sister through a divorce, and I was so thankful to be met by her humanity, authenticity, and struggle, rather than another read of why I should be more and do more. I walked away from this book feeling less challenged and more like I had gained a new friend, while reframing my view of Jesus and all that He’s called me to. Read full review…
13.) The Pastor’s Wife by Gloria Furman
Gloria Furman’s work Pastor’s Wife: Strengthened by Grace for a Life of Love is a message to all women who find themselves in the role of being a wife of someone in full time ministry. She shares stories of times when many members of the congregation placed their expectations onto her to fulfill obligations she never imagined were hers, such as working to repair a leaking ceiling in the church foyer. Furman and her husband pastor a church in the Middle East, thus gender roles are defined and experienced differently than in more Western environments; yet, Furman shares stepping into this role God has called her into with courage and care, especially as she has to work so tirelessly to protect her children and care for her husband who faces a muscular disorder.
Pastor’s Wife: Strengthened by Grace for a Life of Love is specifically helpful in honestly addressing many expectations pastor’s wives face with very specific anecdotes that help bring this tension to light. Furthermore, Furman’s experience translates to a variety of global contexts for pastor’s wives in any part of the world. On the other hand, Furman’s work is limited in directly addressing wives of pastors rather than all women in ministry and addressing wives from a very conservative context. She addresses women in similar contexts to her own which prescribes a very small church with limited staff and extremely conservative gender roles. Read full review…
14.) Rediscovering Church by Lynne & Bill Hybles
Lynne and Bill Hybles share their story in detail of building Willow Creek Community Church from only a vision and dream. The first half of Rediscovering Church: The Story and Vision of Willow Creek Community Church is composed by Lynne who begins with Bill and her first engagement that she broke off. She shares of the two of them beginning their ministry together and Billy learning the gifts God had given him of teaching and leadership. Lynne describes their journey of stepping out in faith to plant a church while both of them were only twenty-three years old. She honestly shares the difficulties of this season of men coming to Bill stating they were about to lose all the collateral they had put on the line for the church, Bill trying to get out of debt by selling tomatoes door to door, a scandal in the church that split it in half, and the Lord protecting them from purchasing a condemned property.
Bill’s half of this work takes on less of a narrative form, but rather conveys his passion and zeal to see irreligious people become saints. Bill also shares about times of incredible joy in watching the congregation of Willow Creek grow, make disciples, reach out to others, and give so generously. He furthermore shares of difficult times and decisions as a leader, yet amidst every struggle and time of questioning of seeing God’s faithfulness. Hybles consistently focuses on the importance of continuing to reach out to unbelievers and charging members of the congregation to do the same in order to see growth. Read full review…
15.) Remember God by Annie F. Downs
Should you stop reading here, just go ahead and order Annie F. Downs’ newest book. I am a huge fan of Annie F. Downs as you can read in my reviews of her past two books (read more). I love Annie’s works for her creativity, storytelling nature, sense of humor, admiration of Gilmore Girls, and love of glitter.
Remember God reaches into such darkness and so blessedly meets its readers there without any cliches of “choosing” to cling to any Truth or joy, but real and honest wrestling, hoping, believing, and remembering who He is and who He will be. Read full review…
16.) Sex, Jesus, and The Conversations the Church Forgot by Mo Isom
This was my first ever coauthored review with my friend, Erin Moniz, M. Div. What we loved about Sex, Jesus, and The Conversations the Church Forgot was its honesty and candidness, specifically bringing into the light that Christian women struggle with pornography, masturbation, and sexual desires in general. So many “struggles” of sexuality have been gendered as men’s issues in the Church, yet as Isom shares her story she openly reveals these are not only issues guys face and they are temptations girls are facing at extremely young ages.
I, (Erin here-) valued Isom’s explanation that sex in marriage is not a magic thing that comes together just because you followed the rules of purity culture. While Isom lacks a full emphasis on how a theology of intimacy creates the way for success in marriage, she at least dispels this HUGE myth we are still trying to sell people.
Isom leads openly and honestly with her story throughout the text. I (Emily Katherine) so valued her rawness and authenticity, yet this story driven nature sometimes led to theological points which drew me to check for her seminary education on the back of the book. The story driven nature of Isom’s book to me (Erin) somewhat limited the issues that could be addressed by leaving out the narratives of victims of sexual abuse and narrowing the focus to one persons’ story, limiting the Church’s ability to respond with better conversations pertaining to sexuality. The author takes so much personal responsibility for her struggle with sexual sin that she overlooks affects of her environment and family, perpetuating the Western narrative of private salvation overlooking the fullness of the message of the gospel which openly points to the effects of environment and generational sin, along with the Church’s role in sanctification. Erin and I also discussed many students we counsel’s stories of sexuality include same sex attraction or wrestling with gender identity which were not even acknowledged as this book focuses on Isom’s story rather than issues of sexuality and Christianity as a whole. Read full review…
17.) The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan
This, too, was a beach fiction read. The story of a couple who travel the world together to learn about life, generosity, and refinding one another is engaging and eye opening. I will say, though, I found myself a little annoyed by the main character’s lack of appreciation for her husband… but overall well written and a good story!
18.) Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
This, too, was a beach fiction read and I’m realizing I went to the beach more times in 2018 than I had previously thought. I never read John Green’s first work every teenage girl freaked out about, A Star is Born, so I wanted to peak into the rage. Turtles All the Way Down is an interesting, engaging story as a young teenage couple falls in love in the background of uncovering a murder mystery. The protagonist embodies adolescent OCD precisely which did my Psychology heart good, but annoyed many friends I talked to about the book.
My 2019 list is underway and forever growing. What did you read this year?