2018 Reading List

I buy a lot of books. Like, an unnecessary amount of books. On my shelf is an entire section labeled “To be read.” I like to think that I will clear it out before I buy another book, and I promise I will try, but to be honest? I won’t.

I crave the experience in books, the knowledge I can gain. I love books that make me cry and laugh, and look at the world with a new wonder or amazement. Particularly, I like finding God in books, and not just the “Christian” ones. I underline and highlight and copy quotes out into my journals. There is just so much to be learned and explored out there, and I just can’t seem to keep up. Here are a few books that I have actually finished this year, and how they impacted me the most.

Everybody Always

Bob Goff

I cannot tell you enough how this book made me hungry for more. I was sobbing by page 17 (and if you read the story of Carol, you’ll know why). More than the tears though, I was challenged to really see the people around me. This book was tough, because instead of telling me how great I was, I was shown where I lack. We need that sometimes, and there is no shortage of encouragement here. If I was going to recommend one book this year, this is it.

Exit West

Mohsin Hamid

To be completely transparent, the refugee crisis that I see on the news has never really connected with me until I read this book. A fictional look at some not-always-sympathetic characters as they navigate a civil war and a somewhat fantastical escape, this book examines relationships under pressure, and tragedy… and hope. Though not a book about God, at least not directly, there are themes in here that resonate: the persistence of the human spirit, the bonds of family, the dreaming of a better future.

The Very Worst Missionary

Jamie Wright

I went on my first real mission trip this year: a dusty and dirty journey to Tanzania to teach and serve at a church my home church had planted over a decade ago. Reading this book a few weeks before we left, I was fighting cynicism, but determined to not fall into the same traps of vanity mission work and serving through the lens of my Instagram feed. The language might not always be the most kosher, but I appreciate this as a very real and transparent look into short-term missions.

The Way Back

Phil Cooke and Jonathan Bock

It is no surprise that Christian’s aren’t exactly the most popular or well-loved demographic in the world today. We have spent years ruining our image through hypocrisy and scandal, and just general mean-spiritedness. The Way Back is a hopeful look at people putting boots on the ground and working to improve this. All is not lost.

Mariette in Ecstasy

Ron Hansen

I actually found this book through another book (I chase rabbits like that). A fictional tale of a young nun whose piety and religious episodes garner widespread attention, it is a beautiful read. Hansen’s poetic writing will make you savor every sentence. While I may not recommend something like this to a new believer or someone without a sound theological foundation, I found it quite provocative and enjoyable.

Inspired

Rachel Held Evans

Let’s all be honest: sometimes the Bible can be a hard read. We get bogged down in genealogies and obscure rules that don’t seem to be relevant anymore (spoiler: they are). For me? Tabernacle measurements, temple measurements, any kind of measurement. My mind just fogs. But the Bible is a treasure, and Evans’ fresh take on the stories we read “because we have to” will give you a fresh hunger for God’s Word. Also, her retellings of some popular stories throughout multiple genres are gorgeously executed.

Honorable mentions:

  1. Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything // James Martin, SJ

  2. Poets & Saints // Jamie George

  3. None Like Him and In His Image // Jen Wilkin

  4. Willing to Believe // RC Sproul

Gethsemane

In February of 2016 we made our first trip to Israel.

From the Sea of Galilee to Bethlehem, it was consistently overwhelming and inspiring. Some of it went further though; some of it got into my soul and came home with me.

Right around the midway point of our trip, we headed up to the Mount of Olives to overlook Jerusalem. From there, walking down a narrow path, we approached the Garden of Gethsemane, taking a similar route the soldiers would have trekked the night they arrested Jesus. 

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray." And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, "So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand."

- Matthew 26:36-46

I read this here, picturing Jesus looking up at the temple and the city walls, realizing that while he was there praying for the cup to be taken away from him and seeing the Brooke Kidron run red with blood from the Passover sacrifices and knowing that the next day, the blood running through that valley would be his own. That night, the anguish and weight that he felt is something I will never understand.

But when I feel lost, when I feel scared or anxious or the stress gets a little to much, I can look to Gethsemane. Like it says in Hebrews, 4:15, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." 

Jesus took his closest circle with him, those who had been with him for years and should have provided the support and strength he needed. These men had seen miracles and healings, demons cast out, just overwhelming evidence for the deity and power of Jesus, and he asked them to watch with him just one more night.

But, they fell asleep.

Three times they fell asleep, not even able to wait with Jesus one night while he prayed. The connection to the next few days cannot be missed here.

Peter fell asleep three times, and the next day denied Jesus three times.

Jesus remained strong and in communication with his Father, and the next day defeated sin and darkness, withstanding the whole wrath of God poured out to stand in our place. He went through a death so brutal that I can't comprehend it.

The lesson I learned that day in Gethsemane is that the battle is won or lost long before the actual fight. Our preparation, our prayer lives, our communion with the Father... this gives us the ability to stand when the storms come. And even if we are taken by surprise, we have a Savior who understands.

Recently, I turned 30 (gasp). To mark the occasion, my husband surprised me with a Tiffany & Co. Olive Branch Ring, which I have been hinting at since this trip. The sterling silver is on my finger to remind me to pray, to spend time with my Father, to fuel up at the source.

And to not fall asleep.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
— Ephesians 6:10