Favorite Reads in 2017

 Photo credit:  ashleybrooke

Photo credit: ashleybrooke

"You will be the same person ten years from now except for the books you read, the places you go, the people you meet, and the scripture you memorize." Jay Strack

2017 has been a year filled with reading and learning. So much so that I thought it would be fun to write a post featuring some of my favorite reads of the year (including a favorite quote or two from each). God used this year to prune and grow me in significant ways, and He used the books I read as a big part of that process.

The following eight books impacted me most this year.

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller

This has been one of the very best books I've ever read on dating, relationships, and marriage. I would seriously recommend it to every single or married person I know.
I love the book's strong foundation of scripture and the main premise that a marriage is a spiritual friendship, a way for two spiritual friends to help each other on the journey to become the persons God designed them to be.

One of my favorite quotes: "Within this Christian vision for marriage, here's what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of the person God is creating, and to say, 'I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to His throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, 'I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!' Each spouse should see the great thing that Jesus is doing in the life of their mate through the Word, the gospel. Each spouse should then give him– or herself to be a vehicle for that work and envision the day that you will stand together before God, seeing each other presented in spotless beauty and glory."

I truly get so excited thinking about building a marriage that looks like that! There's mission and meaning and intention to seek and serve God together, all the while encouraging one another to keep becoming more and more like Christ, through the ups and the downs life brings.

Detours by Tony Evans

I found this book at the perfect time, and it was such an encouragement to me in the midst of a season that took a painful detour I never expected. In this book, author Tony Evans uses Joseph's story as an example of the ways God works through the detours of our lives.

One of my favorite quotes:

"Detours are often those opportunities God uses in our lives to chisel us through the experiences we face. We can either cooperate with these detours by asking God to reveal to us the lessons He wants us to learn, or the skills He wants us to develop — and so on, or we can complain, kick, scream, fight, and remain on the detour much longer than we ever needed to...God uses all of our experiences to bring Him glory, when we allow Him. God sovereignly works through all of our detours to glorify Himself and achieve what is best for our development and the good we are to bring to others (Rom 8:28-30).

When God Says Wait by Elizabeth Laing Thompson

This is one of the best, most honest books on waiting that I've read. The author Elizabeth Laing Thompson writes with both understanding and humor, and it was so refreshing to read her words.

One of my favorite quotes:

"He can use your wait to shape you, make you stronger and more Christlike. Waiting is a journey of testing, fraught with spiritual danger, but rife with opportunity. Like Sarah, like us, each of our Bible heroes had to decide how to think and who to be during their in-between times. They didn't get everything they wanted, but many of them became the people God wanted them to be. God used their waiting times to shape them into instruments He could use for powerful purposes."

Cultivate by Lara Casey

I loved this book even more than Lara's first book Make It Happen. As I worked through my own messy and tension-filled year of unknowns, Lara's book was great company and great encouragement. As I read, I wrote all over the margins, underlining paragraphs, capturing thoughts, and scribbling raw, honest, and heartfelt prayers. Her book was such a gift to my weary heart.

One of my favorite quotes:

"To grow what matters in your life, just as you grow flowers in a garden, get your hands dirty, digging in right where you are. Growing what matters takes doing something that is counter intuitive to how we usually operate: embrace tension. We choose to embrace change, imperfect progress, and imperfect circumstances, and we trust that 'in all things God works for the good of those who love Him' (Rom. 8:28 NIV)."

You Are Free by Rebekah Lyons

I read most of this book in an airport and on the plane ride home from my Nashville adventure this summer. I read Rebekah's words both quickly and gratefully, finding that I needed this message of freedom and healing more than I realized. Rebekah's book ended up getting filled up with prayers and praises just like Lara's did. Each of these books is such a record of a messy, painful season of my life, and yet, as time continues to pass, I think I will look back and see God's redemption weaved throughout my notes and prayers, as well.

One of my favorite quotes:

"I believe grief is our most powerful confession, because it cracks our hearts wide open. The Spirit prays for what we need in that moment, in ways we can't imagine. This kind of physical expression of confession keeps our hearts clean. Tears are a soul-cleansing way to release any seeds of bitterness. Deep grief can take us to new depths of brokenness and surrender. In the depths of grief we realize mourning brings the comfort of God, and above all, God is waiting to rescue us in our darkest hour... Isn't that what faith is all about — trusting God is working something beautiful and and beyond our wildest imagination?"

Keep Your Love On by Danny Silk

This is such an awesome and powerful book on building healthy relationships with God and others. In the spirit of full disclosure, I still have a bit to finish reading, but I found myself both encouraged and challenged by everything I read so far, so I didn't want to leave it off the list! :)

One of my favorite quotes (so far):

"'I choose you.' This is the foundation of true, lasting relationships. It is the foundation for God’s relationship with you. As Jesus declared to His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you...” Jesus chose you in the most difficult of circumstances. He chose you while you were in sin, while you were His enemy. His side of the relationship with you does not depend upon your choice, but entirely upon His choice. The question is whether or not you will learn to build your relationships with Him and others upon the foundation of your choice.”

When Changing Nothing Changes Everything by Laurie Polich Short

God taught me a LOT about perspective this year. So much of faith is about focusing on the right things — fixing our hope and heart on Him, rather than the things of this world. I love this quote from the book's synopsis: "Jesus indicates the power of focus when he says, "The eye is the lamp of the body, if the eye is good then the whole body will be full of light." It's the easiest way to find lasting meaning and purpose. Change nothing, but see differently. Your perspective has more power than you think to determine the course of your life." I found so much encouragement in the author's story (she had a very long season of singleness before getting married), and ultimately, God wrote such an unexpectedly beautiful story through it all.

One of my favorite quotes:

"The ability to reframe and view yourself in the middle of your story enables you to rest in what is, knowing that it is part of what is taking you to what will be. Things are happening in you — and to you — and if you attempt to escape your circumstances, rather than live them, you may actually abort a process that could be bringing something wonderful into your life. Considering the fullness of your story strengthens your resolve to live your current chapter well, and in so doing you may discover you are on a road to getting more than you ever could have dreamed."

The Perfect You by Dr. Caroline Leaf

I am still working through the second part of this book (the self-reflective questions), but I still wanted to include it, because it was such a different type of read for me. I am not a very scientific or mathematical gal, but I have been so fascinated to learn about the intricate ways God created our minds and just how powerful our thought life can be.

One of my favorite quotes:

"The moment people recognize the power of their minds — the individuality of their thinking and how they have control over their lives — they are truly able to transform their world. When people see themselves the way God sees them, as His wonderful works and particular reflections of His image, then they see what is inside of them and perceive the universe in a different way (Ps 139:14). Each of us is meant to bear His glory in our own unique way — we all have a beautiful way of stewarding eternity (Eccles. 3:11; Gen 1-2)."

I am definitely not the same person I was when I began 2017. Just as the quote I shared from Jay Strack says, the books we read truly do change and transform us. God has used so many things (including books!) to refine my heart this year, and while it hasn't been an easy process, I'm grateful for the pruning and all the ways He will use it going forward.

Sometimes our hardest seasons change and prepare us the most.

What books have you loved this year?