Books were my companions in 2020. In my early mothering years, I didn’t have the space to sit with books, to let them fill my soul’s pores in ways they had when I was a child voraciously reading in the corner. My busy schedule and exhausted lifestyle didn’t leave space for me to stay with words, to linger long.
I know that sounds crazy since I’m a writer, but it’s true.
But not this year. This year I read. I climbed into bed on some afternoons and many nights a week and dove into the deep end. I savored the words like a delicious meal you don’t want to end.
These 10 books have been my friends in 2020 when other friendships have felt strained, awkward, and even distant. I know that’s mostly because this pandemic forced us to hold each other at a distance. I know that’s probably because many of us quickly grew weary of texting and bearing our souls even to our favorite people through Zoom.
Maybe some of us never even started.
But these books, these words, held me. They pushed, prodded, and poked. They invited me into dialogue I desperately needed. Sometime it was the sheer beauty of the words that brought comfort. Other times it was the message that looked me square in the eyes and said, “Yes, this is for you.”
I read bits and pieces of many other books this year that were meaningful, but these 10 are the ones I wish I could wrap up in brown paper and tie with a pale blue ribbon and leave on your porch. I pray one or two of these will be a companion to you as it looks like 2021 may be a little more of the same for a lot of us.
1. Searching for Certainty: Finding God in the Disruptions of Life
by Shelly Miller (Bethany House Publishers)
Category: Non-fiction; Love and loss, Christian self-help
We all long for certainty in life, yet things often don’t go as we expect. When facing illness, job loss, strained relationships, and other struggles, our impulse is to question God and strive to fix things ourselves. In this profound book, Shelly Miller shares how to reframe uncertain times and turn them into purposeful times of spiritual growth.
Shelly soared to heaven just a few weeks after this beautiful book released into the world. I’m still savoring her beautiful prose and challenge to press deeper into God during times of uncertainty.
Quotable: “In fear, we can miss the obvious – that your uncertainty is God’s opportunity to reveal his great love for you.”
2. Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity
by Dr. Saundra Daulton-Smith (Faith Words)
Category: Nonfiction; Medicine & Psychology, Work Life Balance in Business
Staying busy is easy. Staying well rested-now there’s a challenge. How can you keep your energy, happiness, creativity, and relationships fresh and thriving in the midst of never-ending family demands, career pressures, and the stress of everyday life? In Sacred Rest, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a board-certified internal medicine doctor, reveals why rest can no longer remain optional.
Dr. Dalton-Smith shares seven types of rest she has found lacking in the lives of those she encounters in her clinical practice and research-physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, sensory, social, creative-and why a deficiency in any one of these types of rest can have unfavorable effects on your health, happiness, relationships, creativity, and productivity.
I love the way Sacred Rest combines the science of rest, the spirituality of rest, the gifts of rest, and the resulting fruit of rest. I used this book as a resource as I wrote about rest for my own book, Walk Run Soar.
Quotable: “Once you get a taste of a well-rested life, nothing else will satisfy.”
3. Stay: Discovering Grace, Freedom, and Wholeness Where You Never Imagined Looking
by Anjuli Paschall (Bethany House Publishers)
As women, we are exhausted. Our hearts are being wrung out to dry–squeezed and yanked in every direction. We take care of everyone but ourselves. We’ve gotten lost in bedtime routines and our Costco lists. We have lost our voices in the storm of everyday life. We need to be reminded to reach inward and heed the quiet voice whispering, Stay.
This book is for anyone who longs for a connection with God and his people but can’t seem to escape the haunting feelings of guilt, shame, loneliness, and fear. Through raw, authentic stories, (in)courage writer Anjuli Paschall invites you to stop running from your pain and to recognize that the deep end of your story is the way to intimacy with Christ.
I read this book slowly throughout the year. Each story was a gift of grace. Anjuli’s prose is inviting and beautiful. She challenged and inspired me, especially in a year when much of the day-to-day was about learning to stay and wait.
Quotable: “God is moving closer. The wall we are pounding upon, tempted to walk away from, or passively disappearing at, is actually a well where Jesus is inviting us to sit with Him, drink life-giving water, and stay.”
4. One Woman Can Change The World: Reclaiming Your God-designed Influence and Impact Right Where You Are
by Ronne Rock (Revell)
Category: Non-fiction; Christian Women’s Issues, Christian Personal Growth
All around the world, women are demanding the safety, respect, and opportunities they have always deserved but seldom received. Have you ever stopped to wonder . . . Where do I fit into this story?
In this stirring book, Ronne Rock takes you on a global adventure to discover your divine design as a woman of influence and impact. Through powerful and personal stories of women in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Caribbean, you’ll learn what it means to lead in a world where leadership isn’t easy. Ronne will also teach you how to serve with grace in cultures that aren’t always graceful by embracing your God-given physical, emotional, and spiritual DNA.
As someone who has spent time serving in other countries and is passionate about raising up women leaders around the world, Ronne’s stories captivated me. I love the way Ronne invites us to travel with her and to discover our own God-given purpose in the process.
Quotable: “It’s not a degree or a pedigree that defines you. It’s an image and likeness. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, even when told you are not enough. Right now you are fierce. Decades from now you will be fierce still. You are a masterpiece, despite challenges or brokenness or things called ‘weak.’ You are exquisite.”
5. Take Heart: 100 Devotions To Seeing God When Life’s Not Okay
Edited by Grace P. Cho and Anna Rendell (Revell)
Category: Non-fiction; Christian Devotional, Christian Inspirational
If life hasn’t turned out the way you planned, you’re not alone. Cancer strikes. Loved ones die. Spouses leave. Dreams slip through your fingers. Anxiety and depression steal precious seasons.
But what if you knew you weren’t alone in your pain, that in the midst of sorrow, God is there? In this 100-day devotional, the (in)courage community comes alongside you when your heart is grieving, your faith is shaking, or you’re having one of those mundane hard days. You won’t find tidy bows or trite quick fixes, just arrows pointing you straight to Jesus.
I adore this devotional – and not just because I wrote three stories in it – but because the stories are honest, poignant, and heartening. The writers of this collaborative devotional come together to help readers feel seen and not alone in their daily struggles. Such a timely book for our present season!
Quotable: “We have a God who sits with us in the dark so we can bear witness to the light. A God who will never leave or forsake us and who continues to speak the language of hope into our sorrow. When my mind or body or life fails me, Jesus never will.” – Alia Joy
6. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
by Austin Channing Brown (Convergent)
Category: Non-fiction; Christian Social Issues, Christian Activist Biographies
In a time when nearly every institution (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claims to value diversity in its mission statement, Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice. Her stories bear witness to the complexity of America’s social fabric—from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.
Her story was riveting – not just because of what she experienced, but also because of her honesty and vulnerability. She challenged me to think about how middle-class evangelicalism has participated in an era of rising racial hostility.
Quotable: “But dialogue is productive toward reconciliation only when it leads to action – when it inverts power and pursues justice for those who are marginalized.”
7. The Powerful Purpose of Introverts: Why the World Needs You to Be You
by Holley Gerth (Revell)
Category: Non-fiction; Christian Living, Personal Growth
Our world needs what introverts have to offer more than ever before. Introverts make up half the population, yet most people still don’t truly understand what it means to be one.
In this eye-opening book, Holley Gerth shares everything you need to know, from brain science to the psychological, relational, and spiritual aspects of being an introvert. She also reveals exactly what will help you beat your struggles and maximize your strengths so you can live with clarity, courage, and confidence in a world that needs what only you can give.
I’ve always fancied myself and extrovert, but this book helped me recognize my introvert tendencies and embrace who God created me to be. If you’ve ever questioned who you are as an introvert, or if you love, lead, or share life with an introvert, you need this empowering, insightful book.
Quotable: “Run with endurance. God doesn’t hand out medals for performance; he hands out crowns for perseverance. You’re still in the race.”
8. Hands Full: Thirty Days of Encouragement for Busy Moms
by Brooke Frick (Cross River Media Group)
Category: Non-fiction; Devotional, Motherhood
You know it. They know it. Everyone in the store knows it. You’ve got your hands full. It’s an inescapable reality. A universal truth. It is the nature of life with little ones. And full hands, as we all know, can get a little overwhelming.
If you struggle to find time to read your Bible, or your minivan is carpeted with cracker crumbs and soggy fries, or you feel inadequately equipped for the life before you… You are in good company.
I love Brooke’s humorous take on life and lessons learned living with her hands full. Brooke shares from her heart about her struggle to live out the fullness of her faith in the midst of the demands of motherhood and the redeeming love and grace available in Jesus.
Quotable: “The discipline of doing hard things is cultivating a harvest of righteousness and peace in us.”
9. Chasing Vines: Finding Your Way To An Immensely Fruit Life
by Beth Moore (Tyndale Momentum)
Category: Non-fiction; Christian Living, Spiritual Growth
God wants us to flourish. In fact, he delights in our flourishing. Life isn’t always fun, but in Christ it can always be fruitful. In Chasing Vines, Beth shows us from Scripture how all of life’s concerns―the delights and the trials―matter to God. He uses all of it to help us flourish and be fruitful.
Looking through the lens of Christ’s transforming teaching in John 15, Beth gives us a panoramic view of biblical teachings on the Vine, vineyards, vine-dressing, and fruitfulness. Along the way you’ll discover why fruitfulness is so important to God―and how He can use anything that happens to us for His glory and our flourishing. Nothing is for nothing.
In her signature style, Beth takes us on an in-depth journey through scripture and weaving through the vines of an Italian vineyard. You can practically hear her voice teaching as you read through the pages. I especially loved the theme of this book since I have written a Bible study on both glory and one on flourishing. These messages resonates in Beth’s book.
Quotable: “In the efficient economy of cultivation, nothing is wasted. The vinedresser does a curious thing with the rotten fruit. He turns it back into the soil and there, underground, by some spectacular organic miracle of nature, it fertilizes a future harvest.”
10. Any Day With You
by Mae Respicio (Wendy Lamb Books)
Category: Fiction; Children’s Girls and Women’s, Children’s Family Life
A warm, tender story about a creative girl who hopes that by winning a filmmaking contest, she’ll convince her great-grandfather not to move back home to the Philippines. For fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and Kelly Yang.
Kaia and her family live near the beach in California, where the fun of moviemaking is all around them. Kaia loves playing with makeup and creating special effects, turning her friends into merfolk and other magical creatures.
This summer, Kaia and her friends are part of a creative arts camp, where they’re working on a short movie to enter in a contest. The movie is inspired by the Filipino folktales that her beloved Tatang, her great-grandfather, tells. Tatang lives with her family and is like the sparkle of her special-effects makeup. When Tatang decides that it is time to return to his homeland in the Philippines, Kaia will do anything to convince him not to go.
Yes, this is the only fiction book on my list. Of course, I read (or listened) to my daughters read many other fiction books in 2020, but this was our favorite read-aloud book. The writing was warm and authentic. Our family heritage is part Filipino-American so we loved the details and representation in this heartwarming book.
Quotable: “If there’s anything my great-grandpa taught me, it’s to ask questions – loads of them – and we do that for hours.”
I also led two book clubs in 2020 reading two phenomenal books that I recommend for group discussion:
Ready to Rise: Own Your Voice, Gather Your Community, Step into Your Influence is a book by Jo Saxton about how women can step into their full potential as leaders called by God. I went through this book with a group of women leaders through the group Lead Loved.
Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation is a book by Latasha Morrison that unpacks the complexities of racism and invites readers to pursue reconciliation in their communities by applying biblical principles, such as lamentation, confession, and forgiveness, to lay the framework for restoration. I helped lead a group of 120 women online to read and discuss this book. It was so impactful for us.
And now, I’m ushering in 2021 with a new stack of books on my nightstand. I can’t wait to slip under the covers tonight and start reading.
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