As I’ve been reflecting on the year, I realize how much of what I read reflects what how I’ve changed and what I’ve learned. Friends, these were the best non-fiction books I read in 2015. I highly recommend each and every one of these, at your earliest convenience. I tried to make a top ten list, but honestly couldn’t make the final cut for any of these gems. So, here are my 12 favs, one for each month of the year. They did wonders for my heart and I feel fairly confident that they might do the same for you.
I read this book after making the decision to leave my current job, and it was the perspective I needed to hear, even if I didn’t know it. Unknowingly, my heart had prescribed to the belief that certain kinds of work are more redemptive or gospel oriented than others. As someone who has worked in areas of service and disciplining, it was disconcerting to walk away from that. This book came at the perfect time to remind my heart that the gospel has the power to transform any work we do to be part of the redemption story God is telling. Christians do not need to be doing overtly Christian things to bring about redemption. “Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavours, even the best, will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavour, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.” We all do some kind of work. This book stayed with me long after I put it down, sparking many conversations and changes in attitude for me. I’m beyond grateful for the Lord putting it on my path in the spring. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.
“A biblical understanding of work energizes our desire to create value from the resources available to us. Recognizing the God who supplies our resources, and who gives us the privilege of joining in as cocultivators, helps us enter into our work with a relentless spirit of creativity.”
This book was a game-changer. This book goes beyond “issues” of the day to strike at the heart of what is behind those heated topics: who we are and whose story we are living, and why we find ourselves disillusioned so often with God, the church and even ourselves. It isn’t a light read, but is worth the extra effort to wade in. This book reminded my heart why I am here. It convicted me in deep ways. It asked me hard questions that made me look into my heart, past the facade and image I’ve projected, to the motivation behind what I do. I was reminded of my own tendency to “read and think in terms of [my] story instead of The Story.” (208) You can read more of what I thought here.
This was the year I discovered that I’m an introvert. Honestly, all the signs were there, I just had been fairly convinced that I was slightly more extroverted than not. This book was freeing and informative, full of stories and studies. I felt like I was being given permission to be fully myself, even if it looks different than what our loud, party hearty culture says is appropriate behavior. Whether you are an introvert or just know some (aka everyone of you), this book was incredibly helpful. You can read my more elaborate thoughts here, if you need more convincing.
How often I forget that the Lord is in the business of making things new. He loves bringing something to nothing. He delights in making changes that are for our good. I often see loss and change as an ending, forgetting that the Lord so often brings with it a new beginning. Steve Wiens uses the Creation story as a means of unpacking patterns of how the Lord works in and through us. I LOVED this book more than I can say here. My full review is here. Steve shares a deep truth about what it means when we partner with God in our becoming process. It is the best kind of story.
Oh man, I love this book. The simplicity and depth of each entry is incredible. I love the illustrations. It makes me laugh out loud sometimes. I know it’s for children, but my heart needs this truth too. I read this almost everyday when I spend time with the Lord.
This kind, honest man shares ten years of his life in these pages of whimsical, transparent, heartfelt writing. You open a book and find a friend. I read it slowly and wasn’t sorry to savor it. It’s a beautiful reminder that we are not alone and our stories matter and it’s okay to be human. I wrote about it when I finished it back in August.
7. Rising Strong (not pictured, since it was a library book that I had to give back)
I’ve liked Brene Brown’s research/story-telling for a while now. This was my favorite of her books so far. I think one of the best ideas she offered was working through what it meant to believe that people are doing the best that they can.
“I assumed that people weren’t doing their best so I judged them and constantly fought being disappointed, which was easier than setting boundaries. Boundaries are hard when you want to be liked and when you are a pleaser hellbent on being easy, fun, and flexible.”
When she asked her husband whether or not he believed people were doing the best they could he said this: “Steve said, “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” His answer felt like truth to me. Not an easy truth, but truth.”
Boundaries are something the Lord has been working with me on this year. It has been changing my heart to believe that others are doing the best they can, instead of assuming wrong motives for them. It has been a gift to my heart to read this as I’m working to set better boundaries.
8. Scary Close
Donald Miller offers a transparent look into his own struggle with performance, manipulation and control in his own relationships. I deeply appreciated his willingness to show a less flattering side of himself to teach about what love truly looks like. I love his writing and this was my favorite of his books so far. I’m grateful for his courage to write about his recent marriage and how the Lord used it to change his heart. I’ve bought this book for more people this year than any other.
“But love doesn’t control, and I suppose that’s why it’s the ultimate risk. In the end, we have to hope the person we’re giving our heart to won’t break it, and be willing to forgive them when they do, even as they will forgive us. Real love stories don’t have dictators, they have participants. Love is an ever-changing, complicated, choose-your-own adventure narrative that offers the world but guarantees nothing.”
This book is one of the best practical theology I’ve read in ages, spreading light on the difference between two conflicting motivations. We have the choice to trust the Lord or to please him. Pleasing him leads to a striving that never feels like enough, while trusting ultimately leads to his full pleasure. I loved the analogies found in this book and deeply resonated with the temptation to try to do more for God, instead of resting in the grace he offers. This book was a call to a better life where we get to fully experience grace from the Lord.
I wouldn’t have thought that a book about darkness could be so beautiful. Barbara Brown Taylor spends each chapter unpacking a different element of what she’s learned about darkness-the emotional, the spiritual, the psychological, the scientific, you name it. In a season that felt pretty dark and uncertain, this book was a gift from Jesus. It reminded my heart that the Lord uses the darkness as much as the light and gave my heart the courage to enter the cave with the Lord. “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”
11. Interrupted (another library book, so you guessed it; it isn’t pictured.)
Our world is hurting. After my heart aching for refugees and Paris, the Lord gave me this book in the midst of my heart asking what I could possibly do to help. Jen Hatmaker shares her own journey and struggle to live out the gospel. “There is a horrid beauty in following God slightly blind. The victory later is sweeter, the prize more valuable than breath. Obviously, we are Americans; we like a plan, we like assurances. But the ways of faith exist so far outside of our tidy boundaries, it is a wonder we can ever receive its mysteries at all.” This book made me want to truly live differently, to live out of what matter to Jesus and reading this made it feel possible. I loved this book more than I can say here. If you want to read more of how it helped my heart, you can read it here.
This book prompted quite a bit of change for me. It helped me to see some of the ways I haven’t been treating Jesus like a friend. It has helped me to come to Scripture with a heart that is eager to learn and is working hard to set aside preconceived ideas or assumptions. It has helped me to see prayer as a way of life instead of a box to check. I truly loved it. You can read more of what I thought here.
A few other favorites from 2015:
and my favorite fiction read by far this year, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Here’s to a year of good books and words with the power to change us.