I read 100+ books a year, both fiction and non-fiction, and I love to feature some of them on my #BooksOnTuesday socials. There are so many wonderful books out there!
This year I was juggling a myriad of situations, and these are a dozen of the books that spoke deep to my soul and kept me going. I could easily list a dozen more, but blogs are supposed to be short. So, rather than give my official review of each book, I will share why these books were important to me, and then hopefully you will discover their value as well. Click the link to purchase a copy!
(alphabetical order by title)
I am one of the first to grab and read any new novel by Cathy Gohlke, and this one continues in her previous locale of the Appalachian mountains which is dear to my heart. The characters (which slip time between the Civil War and World War II) are flawed ordinary folk who step out boldly to affect change in a world that finds it easier to hold onto their version of truth, no matter who suffers. Gohlke is so engaging because her own experiences with suffering are the filter for the compassionate storytelling. Btw, whilst I was reading this, I also happened to binge on the “Foyle’s War” British series which covered some similar themes. It was a good exercise to look back and see that while we have come a ways, there is much work to be done in our culture so that all are valued.
Frankly, during part of this year I was actually needing a pastoral voice to speak into my life and so I turned to Scott Sauls, whose blog I follow and who has shown great insight in years past (plus his authenticity about his own imperfections endeared me to him from the get go.) This book is lovely and hard and true. The title comes from a perfect quote by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in which she declares that it is through suffering that people emerge as beautiful. And, so, of course, this pastor takes us through story after story (from life and the Bible) of how our trials and challenges are winning for us a “weight of glory.” Next time I’m in Nashville, I definitely want to worship at his church (with my lifetime friend, Jim, who is a member there and whose wife died while I was reading this.)
Both EMH volumes are staples in my library, but this one is dog-eared from the past two years. Too many sad and hard situations to count, but for every single place I was (or someone I loved was) there was a precious liturgy and prayer by Douglas McKelvey to be read and savored. Liturgies such as “For Those Enduring Lasting Pain,” “For the Loss of a Loving Parent,” and “For Sorting Through a Loved One’s Things,” to name a few. This year I also downsized to the pocket versions of both books and gave away my large leather originals of the volumes to young men Todd and Tim, whom I trust will enjoy them as much as I have.
Having enjoyed all six of Sharon Brown’s previous novels, I was delighted to be asked to endorse this one, but was not prepared for how it would hit me between the eyes. The author writes about things that are so familiar in my life – spiritual formation and retreats, ministry transitions, young women with mental health issues, and working in a senior living facility. The way all of this was richly woven together formed a beautiful tapestry to help me deal with some issues. This is the third book about Wren and the seventh that includes Katherine, so if you are looking for fiction that organically features soul care, this will fit the bill. And I just heard that Brown Is now writing a children’s book with these characters. Yay.
Truthfully, I responded to an Instagram post about going through this book during Lent and ended up delighted to discover a new voice that speaks so authentically into my own “good enough” life. You probably already know that Kate Bowler is a young Duke professor and mama with stage four cancer. She is brilliant and witty. I guess part of her calling is to encourage people to live where they are now. I loved the entire forty days of Lenten devotions, especially the blessings. And I noticed that her new book of blessings is coming out soon. If you want real, I recommend this book for Lent 2023.
Well, there are quite simply a lot of things I have also not yet learned, but reading this memoir of radical transition in a young woman’s life (due to public crumbling foundations in her family) taught me that God is everywhere. Of course, I already knew that. But I like the way Shauna Niequist writes and while I don’t agree with her on everything, I underlined many of her observations and felt “seen” in my own recent changes and bewilderment. It is a wise thing to enjoy what many younger women are reading as it helps me become more sensitive to their unique challenges. And, just a warning here, reading Shauna will make you famished. For really good food.
What’s a tiny hardcover nostalgic gift book doing in my “most significant” list? Because we all need to be reminded to take ourselves lightly, to laugh, and to bake some yummy treats occasionally. The author baked me cheddar coins at my request for mama’s funeral, and they are comfort food indeed. It didn’t hurt that the whole book celebrated my mid-century childhood culture of All Things Southern. Or that the author Maggie Rowe, just happens to be my bff. This is a book you will love to give to others. Just because.
Ahhh, to be so young and so brave and so delightful as the author Jenn Hand. She and her book are a treasure because they ooze enthusiasm and commitment to follow Jesus. Anywhere. Anytime. Jenn is a great storyteller and many of her stories of traveling the world as a trauma counselor in crises will actually render you hysterical (not at the crises, but at how God uses Jenn in them.) This past summer Jenn and I were faculty roommates at a conference a few days after she returned from a month in the Ukraine war. She told me she had emailed her speech to someone else to read to us in case she didn’t make it home. Wow. Where do you need to say a big yes to something God is asking you to do or to be? Believe me, I think about this a lot. Lay it down, friend, on that table. Your yes.
Just in case you happen to know a bunch of people who have been through conflict, loss, discouragement, and who wonder if there is hope…. this is the book for them. Eldredge, in his wonderful outdoor adventuresome context and personal storybook terminology basically reminds us that in recent years we have all run out of spiritual reserves to handle what has come our way. What to do? Fill up with more of Jesus, learn to surrender, and move forward. “Start with God, center your life on Him, and work outward from there. If we have made God our priority, then we are in a much better position to draw upon His resilience when crises come…” Basic soul care stuff but made totally relevant due to the context in which we all find ourselves in 2022. I stumbled upon this book when I was asked to volunteer to organize some small group studies at my church. The hardcover book Resilient is excellent, but we found the Study Guide which includes 5 free downloadable video teachings to be incredibly helpful for provoking conversation and prayer.
Sadly, many people in life’s later years choose to focus only on what has been taken away, and not what is given. Because the first words I see when I awaken (stenciled on the eaves in my bedroom) are “Each Day is a Gift,” I deliberately choose to see my long years as gifted from God. I have too many dear friends and colleagues who never made it to my age. This treasured 2010 book by Joan Chittister is well worth a slow read, and then a re-read. Chittister’s essays on the winter season of her life are realistic, inspiring, and brave. It meant the world to me to discuss this book with my best friend this fall, because we are almost exactly the same age, preparing for a milestone in the new year.
There was a moment this year when I desperately needed courage to be a truth-teller and keep believing in that-which-is-yet-unseen. I turned to King David’s Psalm 23. A young therapist, K.J. Ramsey, was my guide through her memoir of moving beyond ministry hurt to spiritual healing. The subtitle is “stepping through the shadows of fear towards the voice of love.” Her storytelling, creativity, and prayer helped me grasp some fresh insight from a chapter in the Bible I memorized as a child. Even though my own situation was not the same as the author’s, I gleaned new compassion for all who are hurting, and new sensitivity in my own walk as a Christ follower and ministry leader. Her publisher will be releasing some of her prayers and poetry related to this book soon. Another book which helped me understand problems in some American churches today is A Church Called Tov – Forming a Goodness Culture that Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight I hope you never have the occasion to read these books, but I’d like to think I’m a better human for having prayed courage through Psalm 23.
Y’all already know I love Sean Dietrich’s writing. Honest. Humorous. Hopeful. His words seem to flow so naturally and reach down deep into my heart, tugging at parts I didn’t realize were waiting to be awakened. Wonder. Gratitude. Attentiveness. Compassion. Generosity. Resilience.
You Are My Sunshine is a delightfully layered memoir including adventure, love story, travelogue, humor, inspiration, and yes, challenge. Because how do we watch ordinary humans make extraordinary choices without experiencing a nudge to bravely step out as well? I cannot think of anyone who wouldn’t like this book, so there’s your Christmas list all covered. I read Sean of the South first thing every morning, not just because of the magical way he strings words together, but mostly because of the remarkable human behind them. Hoping I can actually hug Sean and Jamie in 2023.
BONUS – MY OWN 2022 BOOKS WERE ALSO SIGNIFICANT TO ME…smile
I encourage you to consider reading or gifting this book to anyone who may be hesitant to share parts of their story (not necessarily just writers.) As co-directors of reNEW – spiritual retreat for writers & speakers, Rachel Britton and I invited our community of writers to contribute devotions to this volume which we lovingly edited and helped birth this year. We were quite astonished and empowered by the brilliance of these stories, some of which were from first time published authors. We continue to be committed to helping others answer their calling to write and speak for the kingdom. We are excited about our next reNEW retreat at Camp of the Woods in April and you are invited!
I wrote this book for anyone who, like me, struggles with balanced health – physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. You might just want to pick up this 8-week study to go through on your own or (even better) with a group. First Place for Health is a ministry I’ve been privileged to serve with (advisory council, leader, author) for the past 15 years. This particular study takes you through practical and biblical ways to live fully through the power of God in you. Includes two weeks of healthy recipes. And yes, I was humbled to participate in a group study of my own book this year…
Like I said, wish I could include more books here, but let me just end the year by encouraging you to READ a bit every single day. First, open God’s Word for the wisdom and power to live your life. Then, broaden your horizons and widen your heart with all kinds of books. Read to your children and grandchildren. Always.
And please recommend good books to me in your comment or post.
Every Blessing, Lucinda
“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength”
©2022 Lucinda Secrest McDowell www.LucindaSecrestMcDowell.com
Lucinda Secrest McDowell is a storyteller and seasoned mentor who engages both heart and mind while “Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength.” A graduate of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, she has authored 16 books including “Soul Strong – 7 Keys to a Vibrant Life” , “Life-Giving Choices – 60 Days to What Matters Most,” “God’s Purpose for You,” and “The Courage to Write.” (Purchasing my books here benefits me as an Amazon associate.) She writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and shares encouraging words weekly at LucindaSecrestMcDowell.com