Worthy Reads of 2022

Are these going to be the best books I read 2022? I don’t know, but these are the ones that have stuck with me, that I have cried through and that have touched my heart, that I have begged friends to read so we can discuss, that I have underlined in and highlighted and will keep on my bookshelf. So I will call them worthy, and in no particular order, I will recommend them to you:

+ Freedom of Simplicity. Long before the current minimalism trend hit, Richard Foster was writing about simplicity from a spiritual discipline perspective, which for Christ-followers, is far more compelling when faced with materialism, the accumulation of wealth, and worldly attachments. He writes with humility, not as one who has mastered the discipline, but who is also on the journey. His suggestions are subversive, convicting, and practical.

+ Sheltering Mercy. This is an artful and poetic devotional, written prayers inspired by the first 75 Psalms. Having spent countless hours in the Psalms through deep grief over the past year and a half, it was nourishing for my soul to pray alongside these treasured psalms. When my words have been few in prayer, Sheltering Mercy has served as a beautiful companion, leading me to the heart of God.

+ Little Pilgrim’s Progress. I collected this stunning version when we were in the States last Christmas, Helen Taylor’s original with piercingly beautiful illustrations by Joe Sutphin. The girls and I read through it as part of school in the first months of 2022, and we were all engrossed with the story. I have never loved Bunyan’s original, but this retelling captivated my heart, and the hearts of my daughters. The plentiful themes of journeying the Christian life were relatable for children, and poignant for me as an adult, and provided countless opportunities for discipleship. The tears streamed down my face in the last pages, picturing my nephew walking through the waters of death into the arms of Christ. We will likely reread soon, and it will become a family classic in our home.

+ A Whole in the World. I had been anxiously awaiting this book, having preread a chapter over a year ago, and waited until I could hold the physical pages in my hands before reading. Amanda Held Opelt has walked through the waters of deep grief, and her writing is authentic and vulnerable. Her own story is stunningly woven throughout this exploration of how generations before us journeyed through suffering. This exploration of grief rituals of the past provided a path through the pain for her, and as I read slowly, tearfully, thoughtfully, I felt as though I was joining arms with the masses of women before me who have lost, survived, and continued to live.

+ The God of the Garden. I devoured this beautiful memoir by Andrew Peterson. If you love trees, or even if you don’t, Peterson reflects on them to draw out rich theological truths of God’s work in the world and in our lives. As I journey into midlife, I find companionship in others who have wrestled with aging, time, and the brokenness of the world, and emerged glorifying God. Peterson does, and gives us a renewed sense of purpose and significance for the journey.

+ Everything Sad is Untrue. This book has been everywhere, and for good reason. Daniel Nayeri writes a young adult style memoir, but with such feeling and prose that I laughed and I cried and I laughed again. He weaves his story with the ancient stories of his homeland, and we are left all the better for it.

+ The Time Quintet. This is technically five books, but I wanted to highlight more than just Madeline L’Engle’s first and most famous, A Wrinkle in Time. I reread A Wrinkle in Time for a bookclub this year, and so loved it again that I kept going through the rest of the series. They were lovely night-reading companions, and I enjoyed so much. These are strange, science fiction and fantasy, middle grade novels but the themes of sacrificial love and bravery and growing into oneself are unmatched. We’ve read A Wrinkle in Time together, but I can’t wait for my girls to read the whole series soon.

+ Pilgrim’s Inn. I’ve been on an Elizabeth Goudge kick for a few years, and basically, anything she writes is golden. Pilgrim’s Inn is another stunning novel by this underrated author, a story that drew me in and held me tenderly, with lines so memorable I underlined them (yes, it’s a novel). Though I went through a phase while reading where I was ready to open a B+B, I came out grateful for the home we have and thoughtfully considering how to open our doors even wider to those around us (yes, it’s still a novel).

+ Different. I’m grateful for this book this year, as we have faced some new challenges in parenting. I’m grateful to know we are not alone. I’m grateful for Sally and Nathan Clarkson sharing honestly, the good and the ugly, the struggles of family life without the sugarcoating of some of Clarkson’s previous books. I can imagine the difficulty of running a family ministry while struggling so much at home, and appreciate that they have now taken the time to let us in, to share insights from the journey, to walk alongside the many of us who have out-of-the-box children, and struggle to know how to best love them.

+ Cry, the Beloved Country. What can I say? This is an important read, especially for me as we live in South Africa. I have had it on my bookshelf for six years, but never felt robust enough to delve deeply into it, until this year, when our bookclub selected it. It was hard, so hard. I cried, I hated a lot of what I saw. And yet, I feel I have a better grasp, a deeper understanding, more vocabulary in which to interact. It’s a classic, deeply important, and it will change you.

Bonus: Yet We Still Hope. I felt conflicted about including this book on the list, as I am a contributor, but it was most definitely a worthy read for me. These are recent stories of modern women on cross-cultural mission fields around the world. The stories are raw and honest, full of pain and loss and fear, much of what accompanies every woman living outside her home country, and each one points back to God’s sustaining love and unending faithfulness.

Here’s to happy reading in 2023!

10 Books for your 2021 Reading List

I’ve always been a bookworm. Some seasons of life have made this habit easier, some not so much. But reading is important and life-giving for me, so I make time for it. Fortunately, this year I had more time than expected, which means I got through my list and far beyond. In total, I read 51 books this year. One highlight to 2020, no?

I read widely, across genres, worldviews, and topics. I do not agree with everything I read, and I am intentional about interacting with different perspectives, as you’ll notice. Without further ado, I thought I would share ten of the best reads from this past year.

1. With. Most formative book of the year, and most spiritual forming of my life. Author Skye Jethani outlines the ways we live our lives under, over, from, and for God, rather than according to the design of Eden, which was life with God. In the process of reading this book, I gratefully evaluated many foundational mistruths I’d held for a long time when it came to my relationship with God, and, from the core, reformed my fellowship with him. Ben and I have both led others through this book this year for discipleship.

2. The Remarkable Ordinary. Frederick Buechner was a treasured discovery for me this year. I listened to this book last Febuary, while we were in major life limbo before returning to South Africa. The timing was perfect, as I needed that reminder to stop, look, and listen. He writes whimsically, sharing life stories, and encourages us to see the hand of God in the ordinary events of life.

3. Between the World and Me. If you’re interested in truly trying to understand, to get inside the world of an American man of color, this is a great read. It was not comfortable, nor did I agree with all of it, but that’s not the point. I wanted to better understand, and Ta-Nehisi Coates helped me. I’m so grateful for that.

4. The Lord of the Rings series. I don’t read a lot of fiction, but it had been at least 15 (?) years since reading these, and I was eager to reread. They were the perfect companion in April when we were in the midst of our strictest lockdown. Tolkien’s writing requires attentiveness and his storytelling is brilliant. I cried at the end, naturally. This series forces you to read carefully, as the writing is old and intricate, unlike so much fiction today. But I also reread the Harry Potter series in May for my light fiction flicks, so, you know, balance. 😉

5. Subversive Sabbath. One of our family goals this year was to implement more of a Sabbath routine (more on that sometime soon). A.J. Swoboda, in ministry himself, powerfully reminds us, “Sabbath is an action of great purpose, one that demands feisty intentionality. It requires us to live in a rhythm that squarely opposes the dangerous pulse and the habits of our world.” Sign me up for this resistance movement. Observing Sabbath has been life-giving for our family this year, and honestly, I can’t believe we have gone so long ignoring God’s beautiful design for rest. I’ve read three books on Sabbath this year; start with this one.

6. Simplicity Parenting. While we come out very different worldviews, Kim John Payne and I see eye-to-eye on many parenting points, which is maybe why I liked this book so much. 😉 His gentle writing style and counseling experience help tremendously as he points out that many children today are completely overstimulated. He encourages parents to simplify their children’s schedules, belongings, and commitments, and rather choose to intentionally be together as families, to allow a child’s boredom to blossom into creativity, to create routines that support priorities (ahem, Sabbath. See how these books fit together?). He points us back to connection, relationship, love: “When your child seems to deserve affection least, that’s when they need it most.”

7. Digital Minimalism. If you’ve read my blog much at all, you will know that two of my favorite topics are minimalism and wise technology use. So naturally, when I saw Cal Newport’s book on both of these topics, the stars aligned and I added it to my library holds list eagerly. It did not disappoint – it’s one of my top books of the year. Newport proposes that we need: “a full-fledged philosophy of technology use, rooted in your deep values, that provides clear answers to the questions of what tools you should use and how you should use them and, equally important, enables you to confidently ignore everything else.” Yes and yes. He will help you to do just that, as he writes with conviction, interesting anecdotes, stories, and practical helps.

8. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This Barbara Kingsolver book was a reread, and it’s so fun. As a family, the Kingsolvers vow that they will only eat what they can grow themselves or source locally for an entire year. It’s written in memoir style, sprinkled with informative essays on the state of food in the US, recipes, and detailed, laugh-out-loud insights on turkey sex, if you ever need a resource for that. Our family deeply values eating locally, humane treatment of animals, and healthy cooking, and this read prompted us to think anew about making better consumer choices with regard to food.

9. Rising Strong. Ah, love me some classic Brené Brown. If her other writings are about being willing to show up and step into the arena, this one is about how to get back up after falling on your face. She addresses failure, self-righteousness, and the question that haunted me for weeks, “are people doing their best?” And of course, shame and vulnerability. It’s made me pause and think about conflict in my marriage, how I parent my children, and how I respond in other relationships. Brené reminds us, “The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens” and encourages us to slow down, be aware, and let growth happen in those messy middles of life.

10. 31 Days to Great Sex. Full disclosure: Ben and I did not read this book in 31 days. In fact, we’ve stretched it the whole year. Recently in the Intentional podcast, Phil Comer points out that never in his years of pastoring and counseling has he come across a couple with marriage issues whose sex life is healthy and thriving. We have been thankfully reminded that this is a worthy pursuit in our marriage, and a fun one: “Sex is the physical acting out of… marriage. We become vulnerable with one another. We become naked with one another completely–and that means real intimacy, not just physical intimacy. We cherish each other. We protect each other. But we also have a ton of fun with each other!” Ben and I have been married for almost 12 years, and we are committed to continually investing in each other, and in our marriage, because it’s such a gift!

Bonus: Tartine. If one book got an award for most time spent in it, this would be it. We bought this gorgeous cookbook in February, and every week since then, I have spent hours learning the art of sourdough bread baking. We have a couple of children who are gluten-sensitive, so I’m highly committed; so much so that I may have snuck my sourdough starter through international airports in a pocket in one of our large suitcases (it made it, raise praise hands). Chad Robertson chronicles his engaging story to find the perfect loaf of bread, and proceeds to give the most detailed instructions to enable you to create your own (beautiful pictures included). *Fun fact: when Ben and I were in San Francisco in 2019, we stumbled into the Tartine café without realizing it was THE Tartine café. I may have geeked out just a bit.* To tie it all together, this year has been one of learning Sabbath routines; of minimizing digital input; of seeking connection and meaningful relationships; of the pursuit of quality leisure; and of the development of artisan craft. For Ben, this looks like woodworking (and I couldn’t be more excited about that). For me, it has taken me nearly ten months to perfect my sourdough loaves for my family, and the process has been a complete joy.

There it is: bread, Sabbath, routine, rest, connection. Our year in a photo.

Well, that’s a wrap. Hopefully you’ve been motivated to read a bit more this next year, to read something new. I’d love to hear what you’ve read recently!