Each year I like to do a brief recap of the books I’ve read. I am so grateful for the easy access we have to millions of wonderful works, and count it a great privilege to learn and grow through the writing of others. Even though reading is something I enjoy and greatly value, this year I had to put a “reading freeze” on myself at various points so that I would be more disciplined in writing Born to Deliver. So, this year’s list is a bit shorter and leans heavily toward memoirs and biographies, which are my favorite kind of book to read!

Affliction: A compassionate Christian look at understanding the reality of pain and suffering in our lives
Edith Schaeffer

This is a book I could read again and again because I love it so much! Other than the Bible, it’s the best book I’ve ever read. It has completely changed my whole outlook on life and my attitude toward difficult situations. Mrs. Schaeffer’s writing is so rich and insightful, but so real, so true-to-life. From her depiction of the two museums in heaven displaying the suffering through and overcoming of every hardship through all of time, to her behind-the-scenes look at Job’s suffering, to her recognition of the important work of every individual in whatever situation God brings their way, in every chapter the author leads the reader to a more biblical outlook on life. It is impossible to share everything that impacted me, but here is a brief quote from the beginning of the book:

“Affliction must be recognized as something we all need to deal with. There is no place to go for a vacation from the abnormality of the universe, from the effects of the Fall upon every area of life, and from the conflict of the ages. Persecution and affliction are a normal part of the Christian life. We need not be surprised or ashamed when our work, our family, our church, or our individual person is hit by some form of affliction. Satan does not fight against himself. So when those in the midst of false religions seem to be having an easier time than Christians, it should not be surprising. The criterion of living a growing, fruitful, Christian life in a close walk with the Lord is neither to be ‘abased’ nor to ‘abound.’ Both situations present temptations, but both can be places of victory.”

Then Mrs. Schaeffer goes on to help the reader understand how to get from their present state to that place of victory. Highly recommended for anyone who is dealing with pain, suffering, and affliction – and I think that pretty much includes everyone.

The Screwtape Letters
C.S. Lewis

It’s almost embarrassing to admit that this is the first C.S. Lewis book I’ve read. I’ve had it in mind to read some of his books for years, but finally decided to pull this one off the shelves after my family made plans to attend a dramatic presentation of The Screwtape Letters later this year. I was familiar with the concept of the book where an experienced demon, Screwtape, writes a series of letters to his aspiring young nephew on how to effectively go about demonizing his assigned human. The content is amazingly insightful and fascinating. Not to mention that it leaves you feeling a bit exposed and wondering at the source of your own attitudes and behaviors. How much do our ways of life reflect the influence of the invisible, but real, world of those whose aim is to do everything within their power to turn us against God?

Common Ground Without Compromise: 25 Questions to Create Dialogue on Abortion
Stephen Wagner

After attending a short seminar by the author I was eager to get a copy of his book and learn more from his humble, yet intelligent, approach to discussing the sensitive topic of abortion with others. Chock-full of helpful information, statistics, and practical tools, I finished feeling better educated about abortion and inspired to apply the principles in many different conversation settings. I’ve always loved conversing with people and asking them questions, but this book encouraged me to be more mindful of my approach and how I respond to others with whom I disagree. The information is well-documented with an extensive section of endnotes and is a great starting point for gaining a deeper understanding of abortion and/or learning principles for effective conversation skills.

…they could not stop the music: The Life and Witness of Georgy Slesarev, First Violinist, Bolshoi Theater Orchestra, Moscow
Ron Owens

This short biography was a gift from some friends who know that I enjoy both music and inspirational life stories. The book seems to be written on a fairly young level and sometimes seems disjointed. No doubt it’s hard to collect and organize information for someone who became a captive in the concentration camps of Communist Russia, but the insertion of chapter “interludes” to explain certain historical elements could have been woven into the storyline in a more artful manner. Nevertheless, I did enjoy reading and learning about the life of this prominent musician and was inspired by his perspective that even the darkest situations in life can be embraced as part of God’s calling.

My Life Without God
William J. Murray

Since my Dad is from Maryland, I remember hearing him talk about infamous atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who successfully fought the battle to have prayer and Bible reading removed from America’s government schools in 1963. In this book her son, William, tells the story of his destructive and dysfunctional family life growing up. The writing is mildly graphic, but paints a vivid picture of the horrific lifestyle that entrapped the author well into his adult life. It’s amazing to realize what a far-reaching impact one woman can have in her family and country. The book barely touches the author’s conversion to Christianity in the last two chapters. Even though he was only 33 at the time, you feel like you’ve read an entire life story by the time you get to that point! It’s a captivating and well-written autobiographical account that is especially eye-opening for those of us who grew up in Christian homes with loving parents.

The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd
John Piper

Three short biographical sketches are packed with poignant stories and quotes from the lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd. I was familiar with two of the men, but learned a great deal about them and the reality of their struggles from this short book. Here are a few thoughts from or pertaining to each of them:

“Let me beg of thee, that thou wilt not be offended either with god, or men, if the cross is laid heavy upon thee. Not with God, for he doth nothing without a cause, nor with men, for…they are the servants of God to thee for good. Take therefore what comes to thee from God by them, thankfully.” ~John Bunyan

“What shall we learn from the life of William Cowper? The first lesson is this: We fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair.” ~John Piper, in reference to William Cowper

“When I really enjoy God, I feel my desires of him the more insatiable, and my thirstings after holiness the more unquenchable…Oh, for holiness! Oh, for more of God in my soul! Oh, this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press after God…Oh, that I might never loiter on my heavenly journey!” ~David Brainerd

In God’s Underground: Eyewitness Tetimony of God’s Presence Amidst the Horror of Communist Prisons
Richard Wurmbrand

It’s amazing how your perspective on daily life can change when you read a book like this. Richard Wurmbrand and the others imprisoned with him by the Romanian Communists suffered in ways more horrific than I can bring myself to repeat. And yet he viewed his time in prison as a calling from God, embracing it, and looking for every opportunity to share Christ with others. The book is a collection of experiences, interlaced with rich spiritual insights and analogies that Reverend Wurmbrand used when debating with those who held other philosophies or religious beliefs. He managed to retain a great sense of humor, as the following anecdote of him refusing to answer questions by the prison authorities reveals:

“‘If you don’t answer properly, we’ll have you stretched on the rack.’ The machine used last in England for forced confessions 300 years ago had been added to the Party’s weapons of persuasion! I said, ‘In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians it is written that we must strive to reach the measure of the stature of Christ. If you stretch me on the rack you’ll be helping me to fulfill my purpose.’…I was not ‘racked’; instead, we went back to the Inquisition, to the bastinado.”

I was so encouraged by Reverend Wurmbrand’s attitude of faith and joy to embrace whatever circumstances God brings into my life, and to look for every opportunity to share the love of Christ with those around me.

Through My Eyes
Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker

In our post-homeschool conference discussions, my mom and dad kept suggesting that we invite Tim Tebow to come be one of our teachers at Adventures In Character next year. Both of them had read his biography and knew that he loved working with children, so they were sure he would jump at the offer. J I’ve been wanting to read his book for a while, so with my curiosity sufficiently piqued, I gave myself a half a day off and sequestered myself on the couch to spend the afternoon reading. The writing style is very conversational and accessible to people of all ages. Having also grown up in a Christian homeschooling family, I found myself relating to Tim’s story on more than one occasion. For someone who has already experienced so much success at a young age, I was impressed at how he handled his story, intentionally deflecting praise to others and maintaining a positive tone throughout. I came away from the book inspired by the obvious focal points – a drive to work hard and live life to the fullest for the glory of God with whatever platform He gives. But I was also touched by the more subtle, yet integral, aspects of the Tebow family relationships and Tim’s attitude of respect and a teachable spirit toward others. It’s exciting to see God raising up a generation of young people who are passionately serving Him in many fields! I hope that Tim Tebow will continue to be a courageous voice that will inspire many more to live “in the arena…marred by dust and sweat and blood…[striving] valiantly…[spending] himself in a worthy cause” (to borrow from Theodore Roosevelt: http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/trsorbonnespeech.html).

Here is one of my favorite paragraphs, and one that reflects an overarching theme of the book:

“As great as that was, how much greater will it feel when we get to heaven and Jesus takes off his headset, opens up His arms, gives us a big hug, and says, ‘Atta boy. Great job. You finished. I love you.’ I talk to kids about that all the time – finishing strong. It’s great for football. You have to finish in football; you have to learn how to finish in the weight room, through the line, finishing a spring; everything gets hard. Finish. Eventually some people are going to stop, some people are going to quite, and some people are going to start going slower, but the people who can finish and finish at the same pace or stronger than when they started, those are the ones who are going to succeed; those are the ones who are going to be great. Those are the ones who are going to have an impact in this world and on the lives of others around them. How much more so in life to finish strong. For yourself. For the world. For others. For the God who created you.”

Amy Carmichael

A short, but convicting collection of statements calling Christians to a deeper understanding of the love of God and its application in our lives.

Color Outside the Lines: A Revolutionary Approach to Creative Leadership
Howard Hendricks

A fascinating, creative, inspiring, and practical book that I highly recommend to anyone who wants their life to be more meaningful and creative! Especially those in leadership and/or teaching positions in businesses, organizations, ministries, and schools will benefit from Dr. Hendricks’ insights and suggestions. Far from a one-time read, this is a book that you’ll want to have close on hand to refer to over and over again to stimulate new ideas and solutions for specific needs. One of the most interesting aspects of creativity that I gleaned from Color Outside the Lines is the importance of divergent thinking – being able to see beyond the designated purpose of an object or item to consider less-obvious uses and possibilities. This is a great exercise for building creative thinking skills and developing new approaches that can lead to greater success!

A Lineage of Grace: Five Stories of Unlikely Women Who Changed Eternity
Francine Rivers

A Lineage of Grace profiles the lives of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary with imaginative and fictional stories created by the author. Sometimes the accounts seem overly romanticized and probably more true to modern western thinking than historic Jewish culture. It is helpful, though, to remember that these biblical women were real people. It’s also a good reminder that God uses the humble, lowly, sinful ones among us to be part of His overarching plan of redemption.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Azar Nafisi

This book came highly recommended, so I plunged into it, eager to learn more about the life of this Iranian woman and the Western literature that was so much a part of her own internal revolution. Set in the time following the Iranian revolution, one does get an inside look at life in Iran, especially for women, and especially for those in the universities. The style of writing was choppier than I prefer, and it seemed to move somewhat slowly. Nevertheless, it’s always fascinating to gain a better understanding of different cultures, and books like Reading Lolita in Tehran provide a way to do that in a more personal context.

He Heard Hannah
Lynnette Kraft with Courtney Becker

As I told Lynnette when I saw her recently, the first time I picked this book up at a friend’s house, I skimmed the beginning of it, but didn’t make it past the few references to country living. Not being much into goats and chickens myself, I didn’t make a point to get a copy for myself. However, when she contacted me to ask if I would consider reviewing it for her, I agreed. I took it on our family trip during Thanksgiving, thinking it would provide some good reading for the bulk of the trip. I was wrong. Instead of lasting for the whole trip, as soon as I picked it up to start reading one night, I couldn’t put it down, so it only lasted one night! Guess she’ll have to keep writing more books! J With that lengthy intro out of the way…He Heard Hannah is an incredible story of God at work in two different families through unique experiences that eventually led to them crossing paths. Their first encounter centered on the traumatic occasion of the death of the Kraft’s daughter, Anna, and Courtney Becker’s role as the 9-1-1 operator who took the call. The book beautifully weaves together both stories, and documents so many remarkable parallels that readers can’t help but see the Sovereignty of a loving God constantly in motion orchestrating the details of our lives for our good and to accomplish His eternal purposes.

Revelations of a Single Woman: Loving the Life I Didn’t Expect
Connally Gilliam

A friend mentioned this book to me several years ago after hearing the author on a radio program. I made a mental note of it, but didn’t pursue it because I usually try to avoid reading books on singleness and relationships. Basically, I’d rather focus on other things than my relationship status, as I find that the latter tends to be more depressing than helpful. However, another friend gave me a copy of this book recently, thinking I might appreciate it as a single young woman, so I decided to give it a try. Even though the author’s experience is significantly different than my own, I could still relate to some of the same social and emotional challenges that go with the territory. I appreciate her effort to include readers from a wide variety of religious backgrounds, but it seemed to make some of her points a bit wishy-washy. That said, she does come across in a very real and sincere way that will resonate with many single young women.

The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ever since reading the remarkable Bonhoeffer biography by Eric Metaxas last year, I’ve been eager to read more of Bonhoeffer’s own writings. Discipleship is of particular interest to me, so I decided to start with this book. As was alluded to in the biography, the book deals not primarily with the concept of discipleship in regards to discipling others, but primarily with the individual’s role and responsibilities as a disciple of Christ. I copied down many excerpts from various chapters, but especially appreciated Bonhoeffer’s insights on the Body of Christ, and the Church as a Visible Community. I love this statement that he makes about bearing fruit as a disciple: “Fruit is always the miraculous, the created; it is never the result of willing, but always a growth. The fruit of the Spirit is always a gift of God, and only he can produce it. They who bear it know as little about it as the tree knows of its fruit. They know only the power of him on whom their life depends. There is no room for boasting here, but only for an ever more intimate union with him.”

The Glass Castle: A Memoir
Jeannette Walls

A friend recommended this book to me multiple times, so I finally ordered it through a local bookstore, and had it read within a week! A fascinating read, this New York Times bestselling memoir, documents a childhood very different than anything in my sphere of familiarity. The text is riddled with swearing and several sexually explicit encounters, but obviously paints a raw picture of the author’s experiences growing up. Whether on-the-run, dwelling in the middle of the desert, bucking societal conventions in the city, or taking up residence in a backcountry shack without indoor plumbing, Rex and Rose Mary Walls aim to convince their four children that their life is normal and full of adventure. But one can only accept an alter-reality for so long. The Glass Castle is an enlightening look at an apparently poverty-stricken family, and shockingly reveals that in contrast to commonly accepted stereotypes, sometimes those living in poverty lack neither education nor wealth.

Born to Deliver
Kathy Brace with Natalie Wickham

After nearly two years of work, by God’s grace Kathy and I completed this book and released it on November 20. I am so excited that God brought us together to work on this project. Kathy’s story is an incredible account of God’s love and redemption, one that I hope will touch the hearts and lives of many readers for generations to come!

Read A Year of Reading in Review from previous years: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011

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