Best Books of 2020 and What I’m Reading in 2021

In 2020, my word for the year was rest. I wanted to rest in the goodness of the Lord and stop striving for approval, success, and comfort.  Little did I know, a pandemic would force me to rest physically, mentally, and emotionally as my best efforts literally could do nothing to change the situation. This past year has challenged me in so many ways, but God has stirred up so many hints of His goodness. He used these books to bring joy, shape my thinking, and to teach me more about Him. These are my favorites from the year — I hope you find some we share or some you would like to read as well!

Hill Women:Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains by Cassie Chambers

“Storytelling is a way of art in the mountains. A way of transmitting history, culture, and shared experience for generation to generation.”

“…embodied the delicate balance of so many mountain women –kind, gentle, firm, unyielding, capable of erupting into fire under the right circumstances…. They embodied the strength and security of the mountains around them.” 

This book was such a sweet taste of home for me. As I read, I couldn’t help but see myself, my mother, aunts, cousins and grandmothers in the stories of these Appalachian women. Even though far away, this book brought me right back to the front porch with the rocking chairs and the mountains in view. 

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

“Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion.”

“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

This book weeded out and replanted my view of mercy and justice.  Bryan Stevenson’s perspective is raw and wise.  At times, I had to put this book down just to take time to process what I was reading.  As a teacher, this book challenged me to think of how I approach diversity in my classroom as well as how I extend mercy and opportunity for growth. May we look in the face of one another as image bearers of God. 

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

“No one can understand what freedom means until they don’t have it.”

“I took a deep breath. I knew I had a choice. Looking up at that sky, I knew I could get angry or I could have some faith. It was always a choice. I could easily have been angry, and maybe I should have been angry. This was God’s country, and I chose instead to love every single shade of blue that the sky wanted to show me. And when I turned my head to the right, I could see what looked like ten different shades of green. This was real and true, and it reminded me that even when you are flat on your back on the ground, there is beauty if you look for it.”

Listening to Anthony’s story shed light on the dark loneliness of those incarcerated. How often we dehumanize those labeled as “criminals”, often to the point of forgetting them completely.  Living our everyday lives, neglecting the knowledge that they exist.  This book exposes the weaknesses in our justice system, but also brilliantly points to the hope we have in the simple joys  — the smiles in a cup to be found, even in the darkest places. 

Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation by Latasha Morrison

“In the love of the family of God, we must become color brave, color caring, color honoring, and not color blind. We have to recognize the image of God in one another. We have to love despite, and even because of, our differences.”

“Jesus’s final prayer was oriented around a vision for unity, and he commissioned his church to be the healing agent that brings the ministry of reconciliation into broken and fractured places in society. And yet an honest assessment raises more questions than answers. Is the church at large, and are we as individuals, currently making any contribution to healing the divisions? Or are we making things worse? Have we come to grips with our role in creating this divide, or are we stuck in a state of denial?”

Latasha’s book provides a perspective that those of us in the church need.  She gracefully educates and asks thought provoking questions to bring us to a place of humility.  This book was  simultaneously hard, as it revealed the ugly parts of me, and incredibly freeing, as I learned more about my role in racial reconciliation.  Whether you are just joining this conversation or you’ve been around for a while, I highly recommend this book.

Live in Love: Growing Together Through Life’s Changes by Lauren Akins

“So much of what we want as adults gets formed in our hearts when we’re little kids, and yet, do any of us really remember how we first came up with the particular set of expectations we have for our own lives?”

I adore Lauren and feel as if we would be friends if given the chance.  I resonated with many aspects of her childhood and in her heart for adoption.  This book is best in audiobook form, when read in Lauren’s own voice, with a bit of Thomas Rhett mixed in for your pleasure. Not only is her story relatable, but her words and life challenge in how to best love others– whether in opening your home or in quietly supporting those you love.

None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different From Us by Jen Wilkin

“When we lose sight of the majesty of God, we invariably fill the gap in our vision with the fable of the majesty of someone else.”

As a perfectionist, this book revealed the beauty in my limitations as I depend on a limitless God.  I read this book with a group of sweet college students, which honestly made it all the more tender to me; however, it can equally impact women of all ages.  I loved that the chapters for the 10 attributes of God are paired with Bible Verses, Reflection Questions, and Prayer.  After reading, you will see God in a fresh way that leaves you loving Him more. 

Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose by Rebekah Lyons

“… with a little intention and a lot of perseverance, stress and anxiety can be transformed into peace and purpose.  Boredom and depression can become excitement and engagement.” 

Rebekah’s words were a soothing balm to my dry, parched soul.  This book fit perfectly into my prayer for rest this past year. As believers rooted in Christ, we are called to thrive, not just survive.  This book provides practical steps and wisdom in how to tap into that lifestyle. 

In this new year, my word is hope.  I desire to grow in my deep trust and expectancy in God and to grow towards His light– no matter how dark things may be.  May these books play a role in increasing my trust in His faithfulness and in my willingness to step out into who He has called me to be.

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