My Favorite Books of 2014

2014 was a year packed full of probably the most reading I’ve accomplished in one year of my life ever. I even mentioned it in my Christmas letter this year because it was such a big deal for this eager, yet slow reader to have read 5,337 pages from 21 books! (Being assigned a ton of reading for a semester of seminary certainly helped contribute to the volume!) I’ve always appreciated how much books shape us as people. As a little girl, I had two “totally rad” posters hanging up in my room that said, “Dive into books! You meet some pretty amazing people there!” and “Readers become leaders.” As cheesy as those posters may seem now, the sentiments behind them truly did inspire me toward a love of reading from an early age. Well, that and both of my parents were complete and utter bookworms as well. What can I say? I get it honest.

Anyway, as much as books do shape me, I have decided this year to pass along the challenge to my blog readers to be intentional about reading as well. I’ve given a brief summary of my top 10 favorite reads from 2014 that I wanted to challenge you to pick from. Some may not be what you need right now, but at least a few of these fantastic reads might meet you right where you are in life. January is a month for re-setting the calendar and establishing new goals. So with this year just starting off, here’s the challenge: read more this year. I’m not even going to tell you how much to read. I just want you to catch the reading fever and report back to me with how it’s going. I think one thing I’m going to be intentional about doing this year is keeping a log as I finish books with a brief summary so I can refer back to the highlights of what I learned and also use those when referring people I care about to the words that have helped shape my perspective and heart the most.

My 2015 reading list is already off to a great start with swift movement. I hope yours will be too and that you’ll be blessed by the words of those who have already reached beyond their reach with the words they’ve penned so that you can be challenged once again to reach beyond your reach!

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1. Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas                

This was one of the most personally challenging books I have ever read. Metaxas’ title tightly sums up the vast wealth of Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s huge impressions on this earth during his mere 39 years: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. I’ll tell you this; it was a fantastic story to be reading as I approached my 30th birthday. The things Bonhoeffer accomplished by age 30, admittedly did make me feel a bit underachieved. But at the same time, I was inspired once again to not waste my life and to make it count, as I do not know the number of my days. This German man, living in the crux of WWII Nazi Germany, heroically fleshed out what it means to live with purpose, on purpose and with eternity in mind. He could have stayed on in his visit to America and escaped martyrdom. Yet, his bravery left more of an impact almost certainly than if he had been an obscure survivor of the war. My list of favorites is not in order for this year, except for this book. This was my favorite. And I cannot recommend it more highly for people to add to their list of finished books. It’s one of those stories that stays with you the rest of your life and keeps you in check.

“Yet the Lord makes no mistakes. Might God need our brothers for some hidden service on our behalf in the heavenly world? We should put an end to our human thoughts, which always wish to know more than they can, and cling to that which is certain. Whomever God calls home is someone God has loved.”  -Bonhoeffer

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2. Start by Jon Acuff

Sometimes we all need a little confidence booster while we’re dreaming. In a world that screams at us, “You’re never going to do that!” “You’re not good enough!” “There’s not enough time left!” and “What’s the point?,” Jon Acuff gives wonderful insights and practical advice for punching fear in the face while bolstering up the determination to do the hardest part of fulfilling a dream: starting. I keep recommending this book and buying it for people because it has been such a huge encouragement to me both personally and professionally as a writer. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but this book has helped me move a lot further past the starting line. I had the privilege of meeting Jon Acuff a couple times this year and I must say, he is one of the most down to earth, helpful, friendly people I’ve met. I appreciate his humility and his desire to truly help people accomplish their dreams. He is a champion for dreamers. You’ll be so very glad you read this. I’m a slow reader, but I pretty much inhaled this book.

“People are mistaken when they think chasing your dream is a selfish thing to do. As if perhaps being average is an act of humility. As if perhaps wasting the talents you were given is proof that you’re a considerate individual. 

It’s not.”  -Jon Acuff

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3. 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp

Eucharisteo was not a term I was familiar with before this book, but it has been incorporated into my daily life since reading it. Ann draws the word from the Lord’s Supper passage found in Luke 22, referring to when Jesus broke the bread and gave thanks. This word meaning “thanksgiving,” draws from the Greek root, “charis,” meaning “grace” and rooted in joy. The premise of this whole book is to find joy and grace in each one of life’s gifts from God and to live a life marked by thanks-giving. Ann helps her audience understand more richly and deeply what it means to live according to the scripture’s command to “give thanks in all things.”

“Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle.” – Ann Voskamp

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4. Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch

I truly appreciated this book as I, too, was someone who grew up in a Christian home, has loved Jesus over 90% of my life, and has come to realize that the rest of the world doesn’t fit into my former ideals of safe, tidy, WWJD bracelet-wearing, ignorantly blissful living. Kristen reminds her audience that life is messy, but Jesus blows our own ideals of what our lives should look like out of the water as He fashions His own purposes in our hearts and footsteps. As she shares her own, untidy story of struggles as a pastor’s wife in difficult congregations, depression, dealing with a marriage and family that once started to crumble, restoration, and a dream that became a reality of helping unwed mothers across the ocean, she teaches her readers what it means to say “Yes in my mess” to Jesus as He leads through life’s unkempt terrain.

“We aren’t called to do big things; we are just called to do something that fulfills this command: Love God. Love others.” – Kristen Welch

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5. Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist

If there are two things on this earth I love, they are words and food. Shauna does a remarkable job of intertwining the two to weave a story of God’s faithfulness in both the bitter and the sweet moments of life, which you can almost taste as she describes the meals around which each occurred for her. Between both the happy and challenging moments of life that leave us recognizing the ever changing days which make up our lives and the graciousness of our everlasting Heavenly Father, Shauna teaches how to appreciate the redemption between the bitter and the sweet that God offers.

“When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.” – Shauna Niequist

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6. I Will Carry You by Angie Smith

2014 was one of the most challenging years of my life after losing my very first baby. One of the most difficult parts of the journey has been feeling so very alone, like no one around me could relate with what I was going through. Although our stories are far from identical, there are still thoughts and emotions that I resonated with deeply through Angie’s beautiful, grace and truth-filled words in this book. If you know anyone dealing with the loss of a child, I cannot recommend this book more highly.

“In the months that have passed since we lost our Audrey, I have learned that grief is a dance. I do it rather clumsily much of the time, but as it turns out, I am in good company. Others who have lost children have shared the inability to separate the sorrow from the joy in life. I find that they are inextricably woven, never to be pulled fully from each other in this life. I am reminded of this delicate dance as I think up on the Savior whose blood mingled with our freedom. I am an injured dancer, and yet one who wants her life to bring glory to the one who allowed sorrow and joy to dance at all.”  – Angie Smith

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7. The In Between by Jeff Goins

As a young adult, who has recently turned 30, this book really ministered to me. So many times over the last few years, I’ve really felt stuck in the “in between” times of life.  Jeff really helps his readers change their perspectives to truly appreciate the in between, seemingly mundane moments of life which out number the noticeably extraordinary events on the journey. It’s the ordinary moments that are the glue between the big events and shape us in all areas of character and personhood. If you know someone who is sort of discouraged by the holding pattern they’re in, this could really reach them.

“The big moments are the tiny moments. The breakthroughs are often silent, and they happen in the most unassuming places.”

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8. Monuments Men by Robert Edsel

After seeing the movie staring George Clooney, Matt Damon, and others, I was profoundly moved by the story of these brave artists turned soldiers during the Second World War who were committed to rescuing iconic art pieces from the destruction of the Nazis. I just had to learn more about the story and when I found out there was a book, it was at the top of my birthday wish list. The book is a bit different than the movie as not everyone shares as many background connections as the movie implied. Nevertheless, each story plays a critical role in allowing the importance of preserving man’s finest achievements and really the stories that are woven into the fabric of each society. The greatest take away from the book and the movie are to never underestimate the value of art and artists. The artist, imitator of the Creator that he is, communicates the story of man to each generation that comes behind him. The Monuments Men were heroes in championing the preservation of story telling through the arts with valor.

“We must guard jealously all we have inherited from a long past, all we are capable of creating in a trying present, and all we are determined to preserve in a foreseeable future. Art is the imperishable and dynamic expression of these aims. It is, and always has been, the visible evidence of the activity of free minds.…” – Robert Edsel

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9. Building Dynamic Faith by Jerry Falwell

I’m a proud alumnus of Liberty University and I was honored to meet and chat with Dr.Jerry Fawell on several occasions.  It wasn’t until I attended Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary this last semester that I finally went through this profoundly wise devotional book he wrote a few years before he went to Glory. I could hear the booming voice of this gentle giant while reading stories of his own successes and failures, as he highlighted the richness of the Lord’s faithfulness through it all in the wisdom the Lord had given him to pass along for future generations of Champions of Christ to hear. This 40 day devotional is a great one to dive into at any point during the year, especially if you are feeling discouraged and just need some plain ole godly, grandfatherly advice.

“Don’t tell God how big your mountain is, Tell the mountain how big your God is.” –Dr. Jerry Falwell

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10. The Etymologican by Mark Forsyth

English Major that I am, I simply love words. I especially love the etymology of words, meaning learning where they come from. For years, I’ve bored people with my gleeful presentations of where words or phrases come from. I found good company with reading this book. My head was spinning and I could hardly put it down as he led me on a circular stroll through much of the English language’s words and phrases, INCLUDING reference to the very county in Western North Carolina, (Buncombe County) that I hail from! Mark started with the word “book” and his entire pages led just as his title promised right back to that very same word. If you want to be fascinated and beef up on knowing everything in the world (or so you would feel you knew after such a reading encounter), then read this book. You will be so much smarter for it!

“If Jupiter was in the ascendant when you were born, you are of a jovial disposition; and if you’re not jovial but miserable and saturnine that’s a disaster, because a disaster is a dis-astro, or misplaced planet. Disaster is Latin for ill-starred. The fault, as Shakespeare put it, is not in our stars; but the language is.”- Mark Forsyth 

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