My children are in kindergarten and first grade this year. Earlier today, I was helping my kindergartener with some worksheets, and we tore one out to fold into a book. She confidently read each page aloud to me, proudly reading about digging, planting, pulling in the garden. I sat in awe, amazed that reading has come so easily to her and that she has already learned to find joy in it. Last year, when my son started reading, I wept. Yes, you read that correctly—I wept! It was my favorite milestone thus far; it touched me deeper than his first tooth, first steps, first word.
You see, from the first time I picked up Ramona the Pest as a 7 year old, I have loved reading. Loved. Reading for me is fun, meaningful, opening doors to places and people I’d otherwise never encounter. My bookclub is more than a place for me to read interesting books—it’s a place where I gather with women I’ve been doing life with for years, listening to their perspectives on books we’ve dug into together. To me, books bring people together, comfort hurting hearts, encourage the downtrodden, educate the curious, entertain the bored. Books are nothing but joy to me!
This year was a good year for reading in my house—I have read over 100 books! This is unusual, and I admit some of those were books I read to my children, but what a gift to my heart that God provided the time and space for making so many new friends in these books. Anyway, the reason I mentioned that is because, knowing that I love to read, I am frequently asked for book recommendations. This year, I thought that since I had devoured so many pages, maybe I’d share some of my favorites from 2018! I’ve picked a handful to share about that I think would be great Christmas gifts or wonderful for personal reading (and I’ve organized them into categories that I hope are helpful).
The Soul in Paraphrase: A Treasure of Classic Devotional Poems by Leland Ryken
This is every poetry lover’s dream devotional! Ryken has collected close to 100 poems with spiritual themes and ideas, written notes on each one, and offers a short commentary to direct the reader toward the poet’s purpose. This book took me back to my undergrad days, discovering Pope and Donne and Spenser, falling under their spells and losing myself in their words. But Ryken takes me further by drawing out the spiritual and focusing on the spiritual beauty of each poem.
God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God by Mark Jones
For fans of J.I.Packer’s Knowing God, God Is spends five or ten pages each day on one characteristic of God’s. In-depth but accessible, God Is digs into scripture to articulate the truths of who God is, explaining layer by layer with tons of scripture references. This book is fantastic for those who love to study the Word, opening the door for deep personal study through its content, references, and application section at the end of each chapter.
Sing a New Song: A Woman’s Guide to the Psalms by Lydia Brownback
When this book came in the mail, I may have teared up a bit—it is gorgeous, and for those of us who love the Psalms, this is the perfect friend for walking us through and helping us dig deeper, breaking each Psalm down in brief explanation. Gift idea: when you gift this book to a special woman in your life, gift her also with a journal to accompany this lovely book—each chapter has suggestions for reflection, and they are worth pondering. A gorgeous, uplifting book for women of any age and life experience.
Books for personal growth
Missional Motherhood by Gloria Furman
Friends, this is an important book encouraging and instructing mothers on their calling to nurture and love the children in their lives. This is a cerebral, dense book that takes us through the Bible to understand the biblical history and importance of mothering. Potential readers: be ready to be convicted, challenged, and grown. Missional Motherhood is affirming in its premise of the sacredness of motherhood, and what I love most about this book is that it doesn’t limit the reader to biological motherhood, but expands the definition of the term so that we understand the spiritual nature of that precious calling as women, not just women who have given birth.
Friends, I admit—I love every. single. book by Nancy Guthrie. I have read several of her books on suffering, and she knows how to encourage like none other! I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but I was not disappointed; Even Better Than Eden contextualizes our life according to God’s story, examining several biblical themes that are important to God and that He uses to communicate His purposes to His people. The overarching theme, though, is hope. Reading this book helped me to understand my life in the greater story of God’s, which is grounded in hope. This is a helpful, eye-opening, encouraging study.
This is another book that takes the reader through attributes of God, but this book limits the study to 10 and helps the reader easily make the connections from who God is to who we are as His children. At the end of each chapter are a few questions and a directive for prayer. My only regret reading this book is that I didn’t read it with other women—this is the perfect book for a small group (of men and/or women) to read and discuss together. A great book for enlightenment and reflection.
Books for children
For fans of The Jesus Storybook Bible, The Lord’s Prayer and Found are extracts published as their own books. Both are beautiful and helpful in instructing children. Our favorite is Found. Both of my children have it memorized, and they love the illustrations of the little lamb and shepherd. They easily and quickly identified as the little lamb, and when we pray in the morning, they pray that God will help them remember that He is their shepherd who is always holding them. These are perfect gift books for infant to age 8.
Special God by Julie Melilli
I was just thumbing through this book trying to decide what age group would most appreciate it, but I can’t help thinking that while it’s probably intended for 8 to 12 year olds, the language and illustrations make it appropriate for kids and adults past 12 as well! The language is straight forward and simple without being patronizing, and the pages are colorful and engaging. Special God was written for the author’s daughter, who was adopted and had special circumstances that precluded her from relating to other children’s books attempting to explain who God is. The result is a book that explains a variety of biblical terms relating to our relationship with God such as salvation, consequences, grace and faith, forgiveness.
Friends, any book by Ed Welch is going to stretch and grow me. I approach his books with both excitement and dread, knowing that the growth process is going to ultimately be wonderful but might hurt a bit as I’m confronted with my own brokenness. But with this book, I kind of dodged a bullet, as I didn’t realize it is meant to be read in a small group! The most important element of this book are the questions for discussion and response at the end, clearly written to encourage growth and maturity in your small group. This book is a great jumping point if you’re looking for a tool to cultivate intimacy in your group.
Disclaimer: I don’t always see eye to eye on certain issues with Butterfield, and I actually disagree with her on several points in this book; however, her humility and desire to serve the Lord and love others well are unmatched in my mind, and I appreciate deeply her passion for hospitality. I think the title of this book is a bit misleading—I thought it would be more of a handbook on biblical hospitality and how to do it, but it’s really more of a memoir and how Butterfield has grown in her understanding and practicing of hospitality over the years. This is a must-read for those who value hospitality and are wanting to explore their own hearts for inviting others into their homes. A challenging, thought-provoking, God-honoring book.
Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree
So, all of the other books are books have been new to me this year, but this book is a re-read. I’ve read this book at least three times, and each time I eat it up as I pray to become more of an affirming sister to those around me. Crabtree says, I am suggesting that we rob God of praise by not pointing out his reflection in the people he has knit together in his image, and then he goes on to explain how to do this and why it’s important. This book has changed me, and I pray it continues to do so each time I read it.
Books on suffering
Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials by Dave Furman
This is the first time I’ve read a book on suffering by someone who suffers from a chronic physical condition. And let me tell you, it was so helpful for me to understand a bit more of what it means to suffer with no known end. Furman has also suffered from debilitating depression, and when I read this, I recognized the voice of one who knows darkness. Furman makes no qualms about how he has wrestled and fought to see glimpses of God’s grace in his suffering, and this book feels like he is preaching the gospel to himself maybe even more than trying to encourage his reader. This book not only teaches the importance of perspective, but how to persevere when you are in the midst of pain.
Friends, I have read a LOT of books on suffering over the years, and this is now in my top 3, easy. Wow. This was like engaging suffering with a close friend and watching firsthand how God carried him through the worst kind of loss and drew him close in love and tenderness. Cole understands suffering, and he understands that God is in process of redeeming all of our pain and loss. This is the first book I’ve encountered that I would actually consider giving to someone in the midst of their grief—it’s that gentle and compassionate and kind. I can’t recommend this book enough. It put words to suffering I’ve experienced that I didn’t know how to put words to before, and reading it even while I wasn’t intensely grieving was a healing, restorative experience. If you pick up a copy of this, you better pick up two or three extra copies to give away.
Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Paul David Tripp
This is one of those rare books that I could have read in a single sitting but forced myself to read chapter by chapter (sometimes section by section) because it is so incredibly meaty and helpful. And it ignited so much reflection that I wanted to honor myself and God by taking the time to think. This isn’t just a theology of suffering, but an explanation of why suffering hurts so much. This is an exposition that guides the reader to understand their personal responses to pain and how to respond to God’s gentle, persistent pursuit in the context of a redemption story. I personally think this is a must-read for any Christian. Powerful and important.
For the Family
Okay, I have to confess that I don’t homeschool or teach Sunday school, nor am I a crafty Pinterest-type mama. But over the summer, I was really wanting to dig into Scripture with my babies a bit deeper, and this was the perfect resource for doing so. Organized by Bible story, each craft is given a complexity rating and falls into the category of making it simple (ideal for preschoolers) or making it amazing (ideal for older kids). My darlings and I have had so much fun with this resource, and I even imagined myself teaching a classroom of littles—surely with the help of this book, I could do that, right?! This has been an invaluable resource for our family, and if you teach children in any capacity, I’m sure it would be an encouraging help.
I should have asked my husband to write this blurb because he absolutely loves this Bible! It is gorgeous and the notes are from the perspective of telling God’s story as part of the overarching storyline of Scripture. A lovely, rich, unique edition of the Bible (ESV) that is now our family Bible. This would make a meaningful, lasting gift.
Most of what I read is fiction, but I feel like taste in fiction is so subjective, it’s near impossible to make blanket recommendations. Still, there are a few books I can’t help but recommend and it’s because of their redemptive, life-giving nature. Have you guessed what books I’m talking about yet? If you’ve read Kara and Jill’s book Just Show Up, you are already familiar with the author; did you know that Jill is a successful, talented fiction writer?! If you didn’t already know, run to the nearest bookstore (or your Amazon app) and grab her books for both you and your friends. You will laugh, you will cry, you will fall in love with characters you swear are real. Relatable storylines with lovable characters, Jill’s books will make you giggle and cheer and just feel good! These are perfect gift books, but you’ll want to grab copies for yourself, too. (If this were summer, I’d say these are perfect beach reads! Now I’m saying they’re perfect books for Christmas break. Ahhhh.) Jill’s latest is The Rancher’s Surprise Daughter, the first in a new series. How irresistible is the cover?! Aack! #allthefeels