Top 11 Favorite Books Read in 2015

Each year I catalog my favorite books read throughout the year. I try to write about them along the way in this space, and yet I inevitably read many more than you hear about – and sometimes I overlook my very favorites.

So I annually look back at the year past and record my favorite books read. For 2015 I give you not a countdown as in the past – a rating from #11 to #1 – but I’m giving you my top favorites in the five categories I read from most often.

#5 Parenting

No -Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel – This builds on his foundational teaching in Whole-Brain Child and makes it practical. Literally included are cartoons showing you as a parent how to implement his teaching on parenting. I would be lying if I told you that our home has transformed and there is never any drama ever – but this lays out a worthy goal to aim for, which has resulted in small changes. Like being emotionally more attuned to our daughters, even and especially in the midst of moments of discipline.

#4 Motivational

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – by Marie Kondo – Wow. Just wow. It has been magic in our home, and I have a long way to go before I’m at the place where I would say I’ve finished her method of home-organizing (a.k.a. “radical purging”). At least with Kondo, I have a map of what’s next and directions as to how to get there.

Rising Strong – by Brené Brown – Read my review here. I love Brown’s work, and her latest book continues in her trajectory of thought, inspiring action and courage – especially in the midst of so-called failures.

#3 Writing

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard – I felt like I was on a writing retreat with Dillard as she described her process of writing candidly. Writing can be incredibly isolating, but somehow this book makes a writer feel less so as you nod your head in agreement at the inevitable highs and lows of the writing process.

If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit  by Brenda Ueland – If Dillard’s book felt like a companion, Ueland’s book became like the writing coach I’ve always wanted. She gives helpful pointers like how to find your voice, and how good writing is best done in the midst of real-life – not separate from it on the proverbial “mountain top.” A classic and a must-read for all my fellow writers out there!

#2 Fiction

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen – Quindlen’s fiction is poetic and her narrative is gripping. You’ll savor each page – pun intended.

 The Space Between Us by Thrity Umbrigar – A piercing piece that transports the reader to another culture and unexpected joys and tragedies of a close network of relationships.

 All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – Amazing. Page-turner – beautifully written. Worth the hype and the Pullitzer Prize 1000 times over.

#1 Spiritual/Devotional/Christian Non-Fiction

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with both our Hearts and Minds by Jen Wilkin – I call this gem of a book a condensed and highly accessible version of everything I learned in seminary about studying the Bible. Jen will feel like a friend and mentor as she takes you through her process of Bible study, making God’s Word come alive in new ways and coaching you through owning your Bible study for yourself.

A Loving Life by Paul Miller – Miller’s book met me with hope mixed with challenge, giving me the push and courage I needed to depend on Jesus’ life of love within me as I loved those around me. He uses the book of Ruth as a guide for looking at what it means to lay down your life in “one-way love” – a “one-way love” that is motivated and empowered by the ultimate “one-way love” of God for us in Jesus Christ.

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily Freeman – Freeman’s book is another favorite of hers. This book more than any others I read continues to reverbate through my soul, calling me to notice the sparkle of the ordinary and the gift found in sitting and being still. The result has been a deeper willingness to embrace the mundane and a more pervasive joy in even the “simply Tuesday” moments of my life.

Slide1

the value of the hidden work of love

“How do you do it all?” It’s a question I often hear in response to the oh-so-complex question of, “What do you do?” When I reply that I’m a mom to 4-year-old twins, pastor’s wife, part-time counselor at our church, and writing a book – it does sound quite “impressive” (or overwhelming). I often reply tongue-in-cheek – “Not very well!” – to the aforesaid question. Most people don’t believe me. Except for those closest to me.

Seth, my husband, sees the dishes and laundry piling up alongside my frustration to try to do it all. My daughters experience the always-weary mama who too often opts for screen time so that I can finish a writing project or just get a nap. (They’ve almost completely dropped their afternoon nap.) My parents and in-laws and siblings and siblings-in-law and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and cousins don’t get as much “Heather time” as I wish I could give them. Life right now feels like a delicate balancing act that I can’t do too well.

loving lifeAnd, true, I need to learn to prioritize (and identify “posteriorities” as DeYoung describes in Crazy Busy). Yet I also need to learn to embrace the hidden work of love that is my life with a family of young kids. To see this as a grounding point of my life rather than a distraction from work/writing/etc. Enter the so-good and so-convicting words of Paul Miller in A Loving Life

We usually recoil from the cost of love, thinking it is an alien substance, but it is the essence of love. … True glory is almost always hidden – when you are enduring quietly with no cheering crowd. … We experience a strange and powerful presence of God during those moments of hidden love. When you hang in there on the journey of love, when you endure and don’t take the exits of distance and cynicism, God shows up.

The parts of my life that are public are quite frankly, the easiest parts of life right now. Sure, it takes time and thought and work to prepare a talk for women, or to write the next chapter of my book, or to teach Sunday school, but I always get affirmation in these public areas of service. Motherhood and marriage? Not so. If I am loving my daughters and husband well, there is not an adoring crowd to let me know. If I’m not loving them well, I can hide this from others or gloss over my failures as “hard days/weeks/stages.” For me, it is this hidden work of loving family that shows me where I most desperately need the grace of a Savior and the endurance of the Spirit. 

Miller talks about this in his own life, capturing it in this sentence that aptly describes the past few weeks after a great deal of public ministry:  “God was giving me a hidden work of love to balance out the public ministry of teaching.” He talks about this in the life of Ruth, saying that in relation to Naomi, she “cheerfully pursued the bondage of love.”

It is so counter-cultural and counter-self-actualization to love like this. Which is why I cannot love like this without Jesus’ life at work in me. As Jesus’ love takes deeper root in my heart, there will be more joy in the hidden work of love – which will have the happy effect of enriching the public ministries of love, too. I end with this description:

…if I love only when I feel like it, then I’ve really not understood love. … Love like this strips us of self-will and purifies our motivations. It is surprisingly liberating because we’re not trapped by either our feelings or the other person’s response. When neither preserving the relationship nor our feelings is central, we’re free to offer the other person a rich tapestry of love.