Reading is one of the most delicious and satisfying past times. I never seem to have enough time to read all the books my heart desires evidenced by the stacks of books on my nightstand and my overflowing bookshelves. I’m not a particularly fast reader. I like to highlight and underline and journal in the margins. I like to linger longer over quotes and certain phrases.
For the last several years I have made a list of the Top 10 books I’ve read. This is a good way to remind myself of the words that have shaped my thoughts and informed my heart in a year.
This year’s books are a mix of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, devotionals, memoir, mystery, and Christian living. I’m grateful for the people who invested time in bringing these words to publication. Since I published my first non-fiction devotional book in 2020, I have a new respect for the process. Publishing is not for the faint of heart. It requires discipline, grit, heart, perseverance, and at times, a thick skin.
These words open up new worlds…
EVEN IF by Mitchel Lee
Description: Christian Living, Spiritual Growth
What happens when the test comes back positive? The relationship ends? The dream goes unfulfilled? The plans don’t move forward? Amid confusion, hurt, and anger, we wonder where we went wrong. What is God doing?
In Even If, Mitchel Lee reminds us that while God does not promise a pain-free life, he offers something better: his presence in the pain. No matter our circumstances, God is worthy of our worship, and he can meet us even in our greatest difficulties.
Drawing on his own journey, Mitchel explores the compelling story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. These three men chose to worship God even if God didn’t rescue them from the fire. From their example and countless others, we can do the same.
Maybe you are stuck in regret, grieving a loss, or unsure of how to take your next step because there is no promise of success. Even If offers the courage you need to move forward, declaring devotion—not in spite of life’s fires but because of them—to a God whose goodness never changes.
Quotable: “A robust faith believes God so deeply that even if he doesn’t do what you think he should, you trust that he is working for your good. This is the kind of faith from which an even if declaration arises.”
THE DEEPLY FORMED LIFE by Rich Villodas
Description: Spiritual Growth, Christian Living
Most believers live in the state of “being a Christian” without ever being deeply formed by Christ. Our pace is too frenetic to be in union with God, and we don’t know how to quiet our hearts and minds to be present. Our emotions are unhealthy and compartmentalized. We feel unable to love well or live differently from the rest of the world—to live as people of the good news.
New York pastor Rich Villodas says we must restore balance, focus, and meaning for our souls. The Deeply Formed Life lays out a fresh vision for spiritual breakthrough following five key values:
• Contemplative Rhythms Value: slowing down our lives to be with God.
• Racial Justice Value: examining a multi-layered approach to pursuing racial justice and reconciliation.
• Interior Examination Value: looking beneath the surface of our lives to live free and love well.
• Sexual Wholeness Value: exploring how our sexuality connects with our spirituality.
• Missional Presence Value: living as the presence of Christ in a broken world.
The Deeply Formed Life is a roadmap to live in the richly rooted place we all yearn for: a place of communion with God, a place where we find our purpose.
Quotable: “Jesus Christ underwent the biggest kind of rest imaginable: he rested in a tomb after being crucified. But as he rested, the world was being renewed; as he rested, the world was being restored; and as he rested, the world was about to see resurrection. And here’s the promise: when we place our faith in Jesus, we exchange our exhaustion for his rest.”
GROWING SLOW by Jennifer Dukes Lee
Description: Christian Living, Spiritual Growth
Enter a simpler way of living by unhurrying your heart, embracing the relaxed rhythms of nature, and discovering the meaningful gift of growing slow.
We long to make a break from the fast pace of life, but if we’re honest, we’re afraid of what we’ll miss if we do. Yet when going big and hustling hard leaves us stressed, empty, and out of sorts, perhaps this can be our cue to step into a far more satisfying, sustainable pace. In this crafted, inspiring read, beloved author Jennifer Dukes Lee offers a path to unhurried living by returning to the rhythm of the land and learning the ancient art of Growing Slow.
Jennifer was once at breaking point herself, and tells her story of rude awakening to the ways her chosen lifestyle of running hard, scaling fast, and the neverending chase for results was taking a toll on her body, heart, and soul. But when she finally gave herself permission to believe it takes time to grow good things, she found a new kind of freedom. With eloquent truths and vivid storytelling, Jennifer reflects on the lessons she learned from living on her fifth-generation family farm and the insights she gathered from the purposeful yet never rushed life of Christ. Growing Slow charts a path out of the pressures of bigger, harder, faster, and into a more rooted way of living where the growth of good things is deep and lasting.
Quotable: “If I knew too much about what was to come, I would have resisted and manipulated. I would have rushed through the seasons that hurt the most, rather than staying in the rearranged places where God chose to come close.”
BECOMING ALL THINGS by Michelle Ami Reyes
Description: Social Issues
Healthy relationships across cultures are possible. Dr. Michelle Reyes takes a close look at the concept of cultural accommodation found in Scripture—and especially in the letter of 1 Corinthians—to redefine how Christians interact with cultural narratives that are different from their own.
Christians—whose standard of living is oneness in Christ, whose gospel is radically nonexclusive—should be at the frontlines of justice and of cross-cultural unity. But many of us struggle to reach outside of our own cultural bubbles and form real relationships that move beyond stereotypes and lead to understanding, healing, and solidarity across cultural lines.
Spoiler Alert! The way forward does require willingness to change. It requires embracing cultural discomfort. But by engaging with this book, you will be empowered to learn how to become all things to all people—that is: how to reflect Jesus’ love in a multicultural, multiracial body of Christ and to share that love with a hurting world.
Quotable: “Learning to culturally adapt ourselves is done in the pursuit of making Christ great and manifest in our lives. It’s about fully living our calling as followers of Jesus.”
THE NEXT RIGHT THING GUIDED JOURNAL by Emily P. Freeman
Description: Christian Living, Journal
When we have a decision to make, what we want more than anything is peace, clarity, and a nudge in the right direction. If you have trouble making decisions because of either chronic hesitation or decision fatigue, Emily P. Freeman offers a fresh way of practicing familiar but often forgotten advice: do the next right thing.
Emily explained this simple, soulful practice in her bestselling book The Next Right Thing. Now she offers you a resource designed to help you personalize her sound advice. The Next Right Thing Guided Journal includes both seasonal and monthly pages of insightful questions, personal lists, guided decision-making techniques, and plenty of room to write so you can
– clear the decision-making chaos
– quiet your fear of choosing wrong
– find the courage to finally decide without regret or second-guessing
Whether you’re in the midst of a major life transition or are weary of the low-grade anxiety that daily life can bring, this guided journal helps create space for your soul to breathe so you can live life with God at a gentle pace and discern your next right thing in love.
Quotable: “There is power in naming the unnamed things. This is an important part of our decision-making practice and key to taking our next right step in love. Remember today is a plot point. See it honestly for what it is, but don’t confuse the moment for the whole story.”
TAKE HEART: 100 DEVOTIONS TO SEEING GOD WHEN LIFE’S NOT OKAY by the (in)courage community
“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said. “But take heart, I have overcome the world.”
If life hasn’t turned out the way you planned, you’re not alone. Cancer comes. Loved ones die. Spouses leave. Dreams slip through our fingers. Anxiety and depression steal precious seasons. But what if you knew you weren’t alone in your pain, and sorrow isn’t in the end of the story?
In this 100-day devotional, the (in)courage community comes alongside you when your heart is grieving, your faith is shaking, or it’s just one of those mundane hard days. In these vulnerable stories, you won’t find tidy bows or trite quick fixes, but you will find arrows pointing you straight to Jesus. Each day includes a key Scripture, a heartening devotion, and a prayer to remind you that God is near and hope is possible.
Let this book be like a trusted friend, wrapping your heart with comfort and assurance that you are seen. Together we can find ourselves and God again in one another’s stories. Together we can take heart!
Quotable: “When all the striving, all the gifts, all the callings and passions are set aside, and when all that remains is only Jesus, take heart. You’re not lost. You’re not without purpose. Stay near and abide in Christ and that is enough.” – Grace P. Cho
SWEET LIKE JASMINE by Bonnie Gray
Description: Personal Growth
The daughter of a mail-order bride and a busboy from San Francisco’s Chinatown, Bonnie Gray grew up never truly feeling beautiful or beloved. As an adult, she built her life to look pleasant and ordinary, with a wonderful husband, two amazing boys, and a thriving career. But despite these blessings, she still felt the tugging emptiness of a missing piece.
At 39, a long-forgotten birth certificate in an old file cabinet sparked a curiosity Bonnie couldn’t ignore. Determined to uncover her family’s secrets and understand the home she was born into, Bonnie embarked on a quest that would leave her forever changed. Returning to the culture, places, and stories that shaped her, her search led her to soul-shaking discoveries about her identity, human kindness and what it truly means to belong.
The profoundly moving journey of learning to embrace our true worth, Sweet Like Jasmine celebrates how God uses our unique and broken stories to create a beautiful mosaic of His love, one life at a time.
Quotable: “Enjoying good food is the unifying bond of kinship.”
GOD SPEAKS THROUGH WOMBS by Drew Jackson
But God speaks through wombs,
birthing prophetic utterances. . . .
Enough of this unbelieving religion
that masquerades as faith.
Divine favor is placed on what we
In God Speaks Through Wombs, Drew Jackson explores the first eight chapters of Luke’s Gospel in a new poetic register. These are declarative poems, faithfully proclaiming the gospel story in all its liberative power. Here the gospel is the “fresh words / that speak of / things impossible.”
Quotable: “Bless our ears with your sonic theology, Lift us up with your melodic doctrine. Magnify! Magnify! This voice is magnificent.”
ALL THAT IS SECRET by Patricia Raybon
Description: Fiction, Mystery
In the winter of 1923, Professor Annalee Spain―a daring but overworked theologian at a small Chicago Bible college―receives a cryptic telegram calling her home to Denver to solve the mystery of the murder of her beloved but estranged father.
For a young Black woman, searching for answers in a city ruled by the KKK could mean real danger. Still, with her literary hero Sherlock Holmes as inspiration, Annalee launches her hunt for clues, attracting two surprising allies: Eddie, a relentless young white boy searching for his missing father, and Jack, a handsome Black pastor who loves nightclub dancing and rides in his sporty car, awakening Annalee’s heart to the surprising highs and lows of romantic love.
With their help, Annalee follows clues that land her among Denver’s powerful elite. But when their sleuthing unravels sinister motives and deep secrets, Annalee confronts the dangerous truths and beliefs that could make her a victim too.
Quotable: “Take me to the water, Jesus. To find what? All I should see.”
THE SIMPLE DIFFERENCE by Becky Keife
We’ve all got a lot of questions these days: In a world marked by division, how do we create bridges of meaningful connection? When despair runs rampant, is real hope possible? When competition is elevated, is compassion still relevant? And at the end of the day, can one person really make any impact at all?
When the world’s problems loom large and your ordinary life stretches you thin, it is still possible to be a difference-maker–one small, intentional, extravagant act of kindness at a time.
The Simple Difference isn’t about totally changing the course of your life; it’s about letting God change you and work through you in the midst of your ordinary days. To say, As I go on my way, Lord, have your way with me. Be a part of The Simple Difference movement–your life and the world will never be the same.
Quotable: “Jesus did not reserve His impact for large crowds and synagogue courtyards. He came to change the world but knew mass influence was not the only way to do it. The size of the audience didn’t matter. Jesus cared about the one and the few.”