My Top Books of 2022

‘Tis the season for book lists. I’ll join the party.

To be honest, 2022 wasn’t a great reading year for me. Maybe it had something to do with a major life change (retirement), but I had a hard time focusing and concentrating. Maybe it was because I kept picking bad books. All I know is, I gave up on more books than ever before. I managed to plow through 28 books this year, which is about half of my usual. Here are my top five.

5. Surrender to Love, by David Benner
My word for 2022 was “hesed”, the Hebrew word for love. I thought to myself, “I’m going to learn how to love. I’m going to become a more loving person. I’m going to get this love thing down.” Then I read Surrender to Love and everything shifted. My quest to become a better lover had to start with learning how to be a better receiver of the Father’s love. When I tried to imagine God thinking about me, I usually assumed He was somewhat frustrated and disappointed. I began contemplating the fact that God bursts with love for me, and that love swells in His heart when He thinks of me. I don’t know if I got any better at loving other people this year, but I did find a deeper appreciation for the length, width, depth and height of His love for humans, including me.

4. Reforesting Faith, by Matthew Sleeth
Trees were a major theme for me this year. I read books about trees, I listened to podcasts about trees, I listened to sermons on trees. And I spent a lot of time walking in the woods. I read Matthew Sleeth’s book in January and thought about it all year. He points out, “Other than God and people, the Bible mentions trees more than any other living thing. There is a tree on the first page of Genesis, in the first psalm, on the first page of the New Testament, and on the last page of the Revelation. Every significant theological event in the Bible is marked by a tree.” His comparison of human lungs and tree roots still blows my mind.

3. Deeper, by Dane Ortlund
Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly was my 2020 book of the year, so I was eager to read his next offering. It did not disappoint. He addresses the broad idea of what it means to grow in faith and mature in Christ. Then he gives practical advice on how to do that without becoming formulaic. I turned many of his ideas into prayers: “Lord, help me to trade in my snorkel and face mask for scuba gear that takes me down into the depths I’ve never peered into before.” (I can’t find my copy. If I lent it to you, could I please have it back?!) 🙂

2. How It Went, by Wendell Berry
My absolute favorite fiction book series is Wendell Berry’s Port William novels. I read all of them in 2017 and it was pure joy. I’ve been thinking about re-reading the series, just because I miss the characters and Berry’s way of writing about them. So imagine my delight when I saw a new addition! I couldn’t push the “Buy Now” button fast enough. At 88 years old, Berry still has the ability to write words that make me ache and smile all at once.

1. The Songs of Jesus, by Tim Keller with Kathy Keller
My 2022 book of the year is The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. This book saved my life this year. I’ve never spent an entire year in one book of the Bible, but God knew this was exactly what I would need in 2022. The Psalms became my anchor, my refuge, my strength. Along with reading the short passage, reflection and prayer each day, I made notes and highlighted key words in my Illuminated Scripture Journal book. But mostly I prayed the psalms. They gave me words I didn’t have, expressed emotions I was afraid to feel, and taught me the language of praise.

As Dane Ortlund states in Deeper, “The Psalms are the one book in the Bible addressed to God. In it God takes us by the hand and gives us words to speak back to Him.” The Psalms did indeed take me deeper into the heart of God. They will continue to be my lifelong companions.

I discovered more resources that kept pouring the richness of the Psalms into my heart and mind.

  • In The Lord I Take Refuge podcast, by Dane Ortlund
  • Hidden Streams podcast, by Chad Bird
  • Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on the Psalms
  • Music by The Corner Room, The Psalms Project, Poor Bishop Hooper and many others

“We cannot bypass the Psalms. They are God’s gift to train us in prayer that is comprehensive and honest. That’s it: open your Bibles to the book of Psalms and pray them — sequentially, regularly, faithfully, across a life-time. This is how most Christians for most of the Christian centuries have matured in prayer. Nothing fancy. Just do it.” — Eugene Peterson, Answering God

Here’s to a prosperous reading year in 2023!
Sing some songs of Jesus in the year ahead!

My Word for 2022
Be Like a Tree
Tree of Life
10 Things I Learned in January
The Bible Project, Tree of Life series:
Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness, by Michael Card

Favorite Books of 2020

Most people are ready to say, “So long!” to 2020.
It did seem so long.

Still, I can’t resist a look back at one of the most unique years of my life. In the midst of uncertainty, loss and grief, there were some surprising gifts. So, during these closing days of 2020, I’ll be sharing some of those good things — starting, of course, with books. I read 50 books this year. Here are my faves:

1. The Chronicles of Narnia
I started off the year by reading through the seven volume series by C. S. Lewis. I was familiar with “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, but have never read the whole series. Fantasy isn’t my forte, but Lewis created a world that drew me in. I cried when Aslan bounded down the mountain in the final scene. The series was written for children, but it is deep and rich enough for any adult.

2. The Scent of Water
Elizabeth Goudge was a British author who wrote novels set in English towns with flowery descriptions of gardens and cottages. I found, tucked within her stories, bits of wisdom that have stuck with me. I kept stopping to jot down lines that made me sigh with satisfaction.

“Lord have mercy. Thee I adore. Into Thy hands. These are three necessary prayers and they have three words each. Not difficult to remember. If in times of distress you hold to these you will do well.”

In mid-February, little did I know “times of distress” were around the corner. I was grateful for those three three-word, necessary prayers in the months to come.

3. Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament
Most of us don’t know how to lament very well. There’s a right way to do it, and Mark Vroegop walks us through it in this book. After losing a child, Vroegop traveled into dark clouds and then found his way back to deep mercy. The Psalms gave words to his suffering and he encourages us to be honest about our pain on the way to healing.

4. Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus and Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus
These two books by Lois Tverberg were extremely helpful in understanding Jesus’ Jewishness and middle eastern culture in general. There are some things in the Bible that seem strange to my American mindset, but make perfect sense when put in the context of New Testament Jewish understanding. Tverberg’s insights made the gospels come alive with meaning.

5. The Golden Alphabet
While preparing to write a series of blog posts on Psalm 119, I stumbled on this gem by Charles Spurgeon. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, taking about 12 minutes to read. Spurgeon’s verse by verse commentary takes 9 hours and 45 minutes to read. However did he do it with no internet?

6. All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love
John Eldredge writes in a way that makes me want to put the book down and applaud at the end of each chapter. Especially when it comes to imagining the possibilities that awaits us in eternity. If you think heaven is one long boring church service and all we do is sit around strumming harps, this book will rock your world.

7. Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad
I love Austin Kleon’s little books of pep talks. They are simple, profound and can be read in an afternoon. They contain a combination of funny drawings, poetry and good advise. Like this:

“How to Be Happy”

8. The Old Man and the Sea
I wanted to read at least one classic this year and this title by Ernest Hemingway was available at the library. It was also skinny — only 128 pages. I had another reason for reading this book. I remember my mother tucking me in at night and saying, “Bed, you are my friend,” which was supposedly a quote by Santiago, the old Cuban fisherman. She was close (“And bed, he thought. Bed is my friend. Just bed, he thought. Bed will be a great thing”). Now it makes me wonder if sometimes at night, my mother felt exhausted, like she fought with the biggest fish in the ocean all day.

9. The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Healthier, Happier and More Creative
This book wasn’t an easy read and (full disclosure) I skimmed some of it. Written by Florence Williams, a journalist from Washington D.C., it’s full of reports on studies done on the effects of spending time in natural surroundings. I figured nature was good for us, but I didn’t know HOW good. According to this book, it’s more important than we think. She included enough personal stories to keep me interested, but in the end, the scientific findings were what stuck with me. We need nature.

10. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers
Dane Ortlund’s thoughtful and meditative book was my #1 book of the year. This look at the heart of Christ made me think about things I’ve never thought about before. It showed me things about Jesus I’ve never noticed before. The chapters were short, but packed with many, many underline-able sentences. I will be carrying this one with me into the new year, reading it again so I can discover more things to think about and underline everything I didn’t the first time through.

Here’s to a good reading year in 2021!

My Top Books of 2019


Here are a few of my favorite books from 2019.

1. Holy Bible, God
I read the whole thing cover to cover in 58 days. This was a “reader’s” version which had no chapter or verse numbers, so it read like a story. I was amazed at how that changed the reading experience.

2. The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry For Worship Leaders and Teams,
Zac Hicks

Zac Hicks was the speaker at a conference I attended in March. I used his book as a basis for our worship team devotions for the rest of the year. He expanded my understanding of what it means to be a worship leader.

3. Spiritual Rhythm: Being With Jesus Every Season of Your Soul,
Mark Buchanan

I would read anything Mark Buchanan writes, but this topic is near and dear to my heart so I gobbled it up. He used the seasons of the year to connect with the ups and downs of our spiritual lives. As always, he tells great stories while weaving in solid truths.

4. The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows, James Bryan Smith
We all probably have some skewed ideas about God that we’ve picked up along the way. Smith looks at what Jesus had to say about God to help straighten out our misconceptions. After all, “the most important thing about a person is what they think about God.” He is good and beautiful.

5. Upside-Down Spirituality: The 9 Essential Failures of a Faithful Life, Chad Bird
Bird is another really engaging writer that a friend introduced me to this year. He’s an ex-pastor, ex-seminary professor and current truck driver who challenges his readers to continue the upside-down, countercultural way of life that Jesus presented in the gospels.

6. Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, D. A. Carson
I borrowed this book because of one chapter I wanted to read in preparation for leading our women’s Bible study. Then I read the whole thing. It’s a book of theology for non-theologians like me who just want to better understand the scandalous cross of Christ.

7. Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul,
Hannah Anderson

Another borrowed book from a friend — a community of book lovers is a beautiful thing. I loved the way she used a garden theme to show how to cultivate humility, something sorely lacking in our contemporary culture.

8. Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling and the Mystery of Making, Andrew Peterson
My gold medal book of the year. If you are at all interested in community, creativity, art, and connecting with the Creator, read it. Just read it. Peterson is a gifted writer, songwriter, singer, teacher, publisher, filmmaker and grace-filled lover of beauty. His work is a treasure.

Of the 38 books I read this year, I did manage to squeeze in 12 works of fiction: Dickens, Austen and C. S. Lewis being my favorites.

What were your top reads in 2019?

~She reads books as one would breath air, to fill up and live.~
Annie Dillard

The Long Winter

My oldest grandson just turned 7 and he’s starting the magical journey through the “Little House” series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Seeing those books on my shelf bring back memories of long afternoons, reading aloud while the kids colored or played with Legos. Now I read aloud to PB, until I hear soft snores from his side of the bed. Reading aloud is still one of my favorite things to do, especially on days like today.

The 2019 version of “The Long Winter” doesn’t quite measure up to Laura Ingalls’ prairie blizzards that started in October and continued until April. Day after day of forty below temps and snow that piled up to the rooftops created real hardship in the late 1800’s.

If we run out of milk, I can go a few blocks to Kwik-Trip and pick up a gallon.
I don’t worry about getting lost in a whiteout blizzard on my way to the barn.

If the north wind howls, I can flip a switch and turn on the fireplace.
I don’t sit for hours and twist hay into sticks to feed the cookstove.

If the snow piles up, I can start up the snowblower.
(Well, PB can start up the snowblower.)
I don’t have to shovel a path to the outhouse.

If all the businesses in town close, I can survive on what’s in my pantry.
I don’t worry about the supply train and my dwindling tin of flour.

Really, people.
We have it so good.
Snow is an inconvenience, not a threat to our existence.
Look out the window and say a prayer of thanks
that you’re not twisting hay into sticks for cookstove fuel.
Go read chapter 19 of “The Long Winter” this afternoon,
and rejoice.


My Top 5 Books of 2018

At the end of the year, I like to go back and look over the list of books I read in the past twelve months. Since 2004, I’ve been keeping a list of the titles of every book I’ve read, reread, or ditched. Here are the five books that meant the most to me in 2018.


1. The Adventures of Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
I’ve seen the movie “Oliver” and can sing “Consider Yourself” with a British cockney accent, but I hadn’t read Dickens until this past year. The old classics make you work hard, but, oh, the reward. The language is deep and rich and weighty. As usual, the book is better than the movie. (Although I did stop to hum “Food, Glorious Food” on page nine.) Dickens’ style is so unique; the chapter titles were sometimes almost as long as the chapters.

Chapter XXXVI: Is a Very Short One, and May Appear of No Great Importance In its Place, But it Should Be Read Notwithstanding, as a Sequel to the Last, and a Key to One That Will Follow When its Time Arrives

I’m glad I didn’t live in Victorian England, but it was a lovely visit and I’ll definitely return to Dickens in 2019.

2. Recapturing the Wonder, by Mike Cosper
I received this book as a birthday gift in 2017, but didn’t get beyond the first few pages before putting it on the shelf. In December of 2018, I picked it up and wondered what was wrong with me before. This is a gem of a book. I learned a valuable lesson — sometimes a book isn’t ready for me and sometimes I’m not ready for it. Books are patient and don’t mind waiting for the right time.

“Life with God is an invitation into a world where most of what makes sense to you crumbles. It’s far richer than you imagined, far less orderly and sensible, and far more mysterious. Like Job, once you begin to see the wonder of it, you find yourself awestruck and, somehow, satisfied.”

3. Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End, by David Gibson
I read this book in preparation for a Bible study on Solomon. I needed help with Ecclesiastes which is fairly dark and pessimistic. Gibson changed my whole perspective on Solomon’s reflection of his wayward life. This book shakes up the current culture’s view of what it means to live “the good life.” Thinking about death is actually supposed to help us pay attention to our limitations as human beings and embrace life as the wondrous gift it is.

“Life is not about the meaning that you can create for your own life, or the meaning that you can find in the universe by all your work and ambitions. You do not find meaning in life simply by finding a partner or having kids or being rich. You find meaning when you realize that God has given you life in his world and any one of those things as a gift to enjoy.”

4. 24/6, by Matthew Sleeth, MD
I read this book a couple years ago, but revisited it while doing research on the Sabbath. Dr. Sleeth makes a strong case for something called rest and literally prescribes a 24 hour break every week in order to maintain physical, mental and spiritual health.

“In the 24/7 world, we ‘pencil’ friends in on the calendar. These loose commitments frequently fail to materialize. We have the best of intentions, but intentions don’t build relationships. Filling in every Sunday on our calendar with ‘FOR THE LORD’ in permanent ink changes our perspective. Honoring a Sabbath every week makes us more committed and serious about our relationship with the Lord. This is even more crucial today, when things travel as fast as the speed of light. God designed us to spend one day a week at the speed of stop.”

5. Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus, by John Eldredge
This is my gold medal book of the year. I read it in April and I’m still thinking about it. In exploring the personality of Jesus, Eldredge uses words like “fierce”, “scandalous” and “beautiful”. This book helped me step beyond the Sunday-school Jesus that is meek, mild and melancholy. I love the descriptions of Jesus laughing, turning over tables, and grilling fish on the beach for the boys.

“We actually come to think that service for Jesus is friendship with him. That’s like a friend who washes your car and cleans your house but never goes anywhere with you — never comes to dinner, never wants to take a walk. We are meant to love the man himself, know him intimately. First things first. Love Jesus.”

May your reading life in 2019 be especially rich and satisfying!

“There is more treasure in books
than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.”
Walt Disney

November Lit List

In the spotlight are the books I read in November. Reading will slow down for me in December, but I expect to roar into the new year with renewed enthusiasm.

One Summer: America, 1927, by Bill Bryson — I’ve been enthralled by the 1920’s ever since I found my cousin’s diaries and letters written in 1927. Then I found Bryson’s book, which documents some of the significant events of that year: Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic, Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs, the sculpting of Mount Rushmore, the release of “The Jazz Singer” — the first “talkie” — to name a few. Unfortunately, my cousin didn’t make the pages of One Summer, but reading this provided a wonderful backdrop to her preserved memories.

All Things New, by John Eldredge — I listened to the author read a few chapters of this book on his podcast (Conversations with John Eldredge and the Team at Ransomed Heart) and had to read the complete book. Not many non-fiction books can make my heart race with excitement, but Eldredge’s beautiful portrayal of the future new heaven and new earth was thrilling.

Holy Roar, by Darren Whitehead and Chris Tomlin — For our one word “praise”, the Hebrew language has seven words. In this small volume, Whitehead breaks down praise into seven different ways it can be expressed. God enjoys them all. Some of Tomlin’s lyrics are included at the end of each chapter that embody the kind of praise described. I hope in heaven we get to speak Hebrew and Greek. They are such rich languages with layers of meaning and beautiful depth.

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.“
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

October Lit List


I like this chair. I sit in it every morning. It’s a really good reading chair.

Here’s what I’ve been sitting in this chair reading lately.

  • The Wild Birds, by Wendell Berry — I thought I had read all of the books in Berry’s Port William series, but lo and behold, there was one more. And it was sitting on the public library shelf eight blocks from my chair. This is a compilation of six stories featuring some of his beloved characters. It’s been really fun to read one author’s works over the course of a year.
  • Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, by Eugene Peterson — Eugene Peterson is the author of The Message version of the Bible, but he’s written a whole slew of other books besides. I liked the idea that reading is an art. I labored through the first few chapters, wondering if I had the brain power to keep up with Peterson’s academic style. Then we started understanding each other and I underlined the daylights out of the rest of the book. I’d like to read more from him in 2018.
  • The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah — I picked up this hardcover at a library book sale for $1. Library book sales are the best. This was a historical novel about two sisters living in occupied France during World War II. I learned some things about that time in history, but didn’t really connect with the characters. Instead of getting wrapped up in the story, I was too aware that I was reading a story.

Where is your favorite place to read?

“Ordinary people have big TVs. Extraordinary people have big libraries.”
–Robin Sharma–

September Lit List


See that green thing? It’s an ivy plant — the one and only living green thing in our house. I don’t do plants. They give me anxiety. Yet another thing to take care of. But this guy refuses to die despite my abuse. I do better with books. Here’s what has been on the shelf in September.

  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport — I heard the author of this book on a podcast and was intrigued. He said that people are losing their ability to spend extended periods of time on focused activity. Constantly responding to distractions is reprogramming our brains and robbing us of our capacity for deep work. Newport offers four startling rules to recover from this malady. I’m not going to list them, because then you might not want to read the book. I have implemented one tip: instead of planning my periods of focused work and filling up every other space with distractions (email, Instagram, Facebook, etc.), I schedule my time on social media (half hour in the morning and half hour in the late afternoon) and stay away the rest of the day. I dare you to try it.
  • Giants in the Earth, by O. E. Rolvaag — I read this book as a senior in high school. When picking out a read-aloud for PB and myself, I thought this would fit the bill. It’s about Norwegians homesteading in South Dakota in the 1800s. It’s a lot longer than I remembered. After renewing the book twice, I still had to photocopy the last 30 pages so we could finish it. My Norski husband would have been just fine out on the prairie, living in a sod house. I might have gone off the deep end, just like the wife in Rolvaag’s story.
  • A Place in Time, by Wendell Berry — Reading this was bittersweet as it is the last title from the pile of the Port William series of books I got for Christmas. I expect to read these again someday. After spending ten months living in the pages of 11 books, the characters are like family. Wendell Berry has renewed in me the love of story.
  • The Complete Book of Home Organization, by Toni Hammersley — This book was a feast for the eyes with so many beautiful pictures. I stuck post-it notes on all the pages that had ideas I liked. Then I took off all the post-it notes and returned the book to the library. Sigh. That’s what people used to do before Pinterest.

“I do not want to just read books;
I want to climb inside them and live there.”


August Lit List


One of life’s greatest pleasures is reading outside on a nice summer day. Soon I’ll be taking my reading indoors by a fireplace, which is another one of life’s greatest pleasures. Gosh, there are lots of pleasures in this life. Here’s what has been on the shelf this month:

  • The Attentive Life, by Leighton Ford — This book is meant for slow, contemplative digesting. It asks the question, “Why is it important to pay attention?” Then the author walks through different seasons of life using the ancient “prayer hours” from morning to evening. His call to attentiveness helped me ask the questions, “Am I paying attention to what God is doing?” and “Lord, what am I missing?”
  • Circuit Chautauqua, by John E. Tapia — I read this book strictly for the sake of research. PB saw me reading it one day and asked, “Do you think I would like that book?” To which I answered, “This book would bore you out of your skull.” DO NOT READ THIS BOOK, unless you had a relative who performed in the 1920s on the Chautauqua tour. If you are wondering, “What is Chautauqua?”, just never mind.
  • Teaching to Change Lives: Seven Proven Ways to Make Your Teaching Come Alive, by Howard Hendricks — I loved this. Hendricks writes with the perfect mix of humor, conviction and practical suggestions. I underlined the dickens out of this volume, which is filled with quips like, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks — which is true if you’re teaching dogs, and if you’re teaching tricks. But you and I are not in the business of either one. We’re teaching people, and we’re teaching truth.”
  • A World Lost, by Wendell Berry — I’m almost done reading the Port Williams Series with only one title left now. I’m putting off reading it because I don’t want my time with these characters to end. This story is about the passing of time and the power of memory. Although it has a melancholy feel, Berry tells the story with gentleness.
  • If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland — The big word there is “If”. After being quiet all summer, I know for sure that I do, I do, I do want to write. Some much needed inspiration was in this book to help me kick off the fall and kick me in the pants.

What’s your favorite season for reading?

Summer on the porch, or winter by the fire?

July Lit List



I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from the writing life this summer. But the reading life is alive and well. Here’s what’s been on the shelf in July.

  • East of Eden, by John Steinbeck — I wanted to read a classic this summer, so when my son-in-law said he was going to read “East of Eden”, I decided to join him. The story is loosely based on the Cain and Abel account in Genesis, following several generations of a family in the Salinas Valley in California. I loved sinking into the 600 page saga and am still thinking about the characters a month later.
  • Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, by John Steinbeck — The reading of Steinbeck’s classic was wonderfully enhanced by pairing it up with this book. Every day before starting to write, Steinbeck would warm up by writing a letter to his editor. On the left-hand pages of the notebook, he would jot his thoughts about the storyline and about his life; on the right side of the notebook, he wrote his novel. It was a fascinating look at the process of writing and how a great novel works itself onto the page. Steinbeck also regularly expressed concern for his two young boys, which was endearing.
  • Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke — I picked up this little volume because I’ve seen Rilke quoted so many times in other books.  I found most of those memorable sayings in the first six pages, but finished the rest of it in an afternoon.
  • Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader, by Anne Fadiman — This is a series of essays about Fadiman’s love of books and reading. I especially related to the story about the author’s mother who proof-read her local newspaper, marked all the errors in red and sent a boxful of clippings to the newspaper office. I, too, am a compulsive proof-reader who thinks I’m helping when pointing out grammatical mistakes on billboards and menus.
  • A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, by Wendell Berry — I don’t read much poetry, but because it’s Wendell Berry, I had to give it a try. I’ve been reading a few poems every Sunday morning since January and just finished this book in July. It’s nice to let a book linger once in a while. Poetry seems especially made for long, slow contemplating.

What are you hoping to read before summer has flown?