4 Books I Loved in 2016

I shared a list like this at the beginning of 2016, and it was fun.  When things are fun, sometimes you do them again.

The hero of this list is the Amarillo Public Library.  Of my four books, 3 of them were checked out from that wonderful place.  In fact, of the 54 books I read last year, 30 of them were loaned to me, physically or virtually, from the best-we-spend-taxpayer-money-on-in-my-opinion, the public library!

I said virtually in that sentence because, miracle of all technological miracles, I can check out e-books AND audio books on my iPhone.  Thank you Uncle Sam AND Steve Jobs!

The other hero of this list is the webpage Goodreads.  I love my little Goodreads app where I can keep track of what I read, because I know I wouldn't have remember all 54 of those books.  It helped tremendously in making this list.

I love me some goals, and Goodreads has an annual reading challenge.  Last year I set my sights on the goal of reading 52 books, and I crushed reading in December and surpassed my goal by 2.  Go me!

Here's 4 books that really got me in the gut, mind, or heart.  These books changed me a little, and I think they are well worth your time.

1.  Unashamed by Lecrae

 

I was touched by Lecrae sharing the truth about his childhood. I've been working in inner-city ministry for about 20 years. When you've had a middle class upbringing, you might read Lecrae's story and assume that he is the exception or unique. I think most of the kids I've encountered in our ministry would relate to Lecrae's early years, the physical abuse, the sexual abuse, being handed off to grandparents for months, the hurt of being fatherless, and/or the pressure to find your place in a violent culture. There are kids just like Lecrae in your cities and towns, with just as much potential!

I also admired Lecrae's honesty about his early Christian years, becoming very legalistic. I recognize myself in that struggle. It just took me longer to figure out I couldn't be good enough, because I am such a good girl. 

I had made the same mistake a lot of Christians make: I saw my connection with God as a contractual relationship, rather than a covenantal relationship. All contracts have terms, but covenants don’t. They last forever. In a contractual relationship, you’re always worried about breaking the rules. In a covenantal relationship, you’re only concerned with loving the other party as much as you can.
— Lecrae Moore, Unashamed

I think the reason Lecrae has found an audience is because we all feel like an anomaly, we all don't fit in on this Earth. I look forward to Heaven, when we will all be fully ourselves and fully the Bride of Christ. On that day, I'll be happy to stand beside brothers like Lecrae as well as brothers and sisters from every nation and worship The Lord as one. Until then, we can learn so much from audio-biographies like this one that help us understand cultures different from our own. If you had a childhood similar to Lecrae, this story can help you process your own grief, but if you didn't it can bring you understanding. Either way, this book can lead us to be a better version of His Church while we are here on Earth.

2.  Falling Free by Shannan Martin

 

I thought I knew what to expect from this book because I had read quite a bit of Shannan's blog and listened to interviews from Shannan, but this book surprised me in all the best ways.  I didn't expect to be so challenged.  I had to rethink some ideas that I thought I had already pushed so close to Jesus, they had to be right.  Shannan's stories draw me even closer to that every pressing goal of thinking, talking, acting, and living more Christlike.  She shows the grey, the not easy, in the pressing on and pressing in.  All of this idea-wrestling is done with lovely, kind, poetic, beautiful words. Her book is a friend that isn't afraid of the hard days.

Shannan's writing is relatable, kind, interesting, inspiring, and down-right challenging.  If you read it, like I did, I know you will love it.  My copy is getting a good re-read, as currently I am going through this book with a group of ladies who are meeting monthly to discuss it.  In re-reading this, the Lord has already used Shannan's words to push me farther into freedom and trusting Him.  

The chapter that has really was a lifeline for me during this crazy time of trying to climb the mountain of international adoption is chapter four, Unplan.  Listen to this quote.

He (God) chooses discomfort, challenges common sense, and promises pain in exchange for our very lives and all they harbor - our dollars, our hours, our homes, our families, our closely held dreams of a rosy future. This is the God we say we love. This is the God we signed up for. He kept nothing from us, made no false claims, hid zero agendas, and we said yes. We said we wanted the life he had to offer, and that we would follow wherever he led in order to find it. And yet we often feel all baited-and-switched when those dusty roads don’t lead us back to ourselves as planned.
— Shannan Martin, Falling Free

Yep.  That's truth right there.  And thank the Lord that he doesn't just lead me back to myself.  I would make an awful, horrible, no-good god.

3.  The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

 

This book pushed me WAY out of my comfort zone, but I will never look at this country of ours the same again.  I thought the constitution protected our citizens.  Now I know it doesn't.  I know that sounds dramatic, but there is great misuse of the 4th amendment and abuse of the 13th amendment in our country right now.

I think stories speak louder than political debates, so I will share this quote with you.  It is a long one.

Imagine you are Emma Faye Stewart, a thirty-year-old, single African American mother of two who was arrested as part of a drug sweep in Hearne, Texas. All but one of the people arrested were African American. You are innocent. After a week in jail, you have no one to care for your two small children and are eager to get home. Your court-appointed attorney urges you to plead guilty to a drug distribution charge, saying the prosecutor has offered probation. You refuse, steadfastly proclaiming your innocence. Finally, after almost a month in jail, you decide to plead guilty so you can return home to your children. Unwilling to risk a trial and years of imprisonment, you are sentenced to ten years probation and ordered to pay $1,000 in fines, as well as court and probation costs. You are also now branded a drug felon. You are no longer eligible for food stamps; you may be discriminated against in employment; you cannot vote for at least twelve years; and you are about to be evicted from public housing. Once homeless, your children will be taken from you and put into foster care. A judge eventually dismisses all cases against the defendants who did not plead guilty. At trial, the judge finds that the entire sweep was based on the testimony of a single informant who lied to the prosecution. You, however, are still a drug felon, homeless, and desperate to regain custody of your children. Now place yourself in the shoes of Cliffard Runoalds, another African-American victim of the Hearne drug bust. You returned home to Bryan, Texas, to attend the funeral of your eighteen-month-old daughter. Before the funeral services begin, the police show up and handcuff you. You beg the officers to let you take one last look at your daughter before she is buried. The police refuse. You are told by prosecutors that you are needed to testify against one of the defendants in a recent drug bust. You deny witnessing any drug transaction; you don’t know what they are talking about. Because of your refusal to cooperate, you are indicted on felony charges. After a month of being held in jail, the charges against you are dropped. You are technically free, but as a result of your arrest and period of incarceration, you lose your job, your apartment, your furniture, and your car. Not to mention the chance to say good-bye to your baby girl. This is the War on Drugs. The brutal stories described above are not isolated incidents, nor are the racial identities of Emma Faye Stewart and Clifford Runoalds random or accidental. In every state across our nation, African Americans - particularly in the poorest neighborhoods - are subjected to tactics and practices that would result in public outrage and scandal if committed in middle-class white neighborhoods.
— Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

If these heartbreaking injustices don't hit close enough to home, I was not surprised to see that the Tulia drug bust debacle was mentioned on the first few pages of The New Jim Crow.

I know the idea that our wonderful, glorious country could have such a huge flaw in our justice system is extremely uncomfortable.  I know as a white girl, I have the luxury of ignoring the problem or believing the criminalization of people with brown skin is warranted by bad decisions and actual criminal activity.  It isn't always true.

I pray that our justice system becomes more just.  I pray we all will get past our preconceived ideas and just try to understand the ideas in this book. 

4.  The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

 

Ok.  That last book was intense.  Here's some fun, easy, enjoyable fiction.  I had way too much fun reading this.  I especially loved that the author cashed in on the nordic obsession starting to find its way into our culture (Ikea, hygee, biking, danish food becoming more mainstream.)

To be honest, this wasn't the best fiction book I read last year, but it was the most fun.  Sometimes when the world is a little dark, fun is just what we need.

I love ports. I love the smell of tar and sea air, and the scream of the gulls. Maybe it’s years of taking the ferry to France for summer holidays, but a harbor gives me a feeling of freedom in a way that an airport never does. Airports say work and security checks and delays. Ports say... I don’t know. Something completely different. Escape, maybe.
— Ruth Ware, The Woman in Cabin 10

I hope you found a book you want to add to your "to-read" list from my list.

If not, I'm on Goodreads updating what I'm reading all year long.  I'd love for you to be my friend on Goodreads.  Click here to view my profile, and click "add as a friend."


My favorite band had just released a new album when I did my "4 Books I Loved in 2015," and now one year later, they have another new album.  It feels like the happiest of accidents or just a mid-level band with incredible work ethic.