[guestpost]Merry Christmas, friends. Advent has begun, the days of preparation for the coming of our Salvation. Jesus, our God WITH us. But although this is certainly Good News, I know there are many who struggle to celebrate this season. In other words, Christmas is complicated. I know, because I’ve been there. In case you missed my last post, I’ve put together an I Am Christmas Bundle for loved ones who need to know they are not alone. It includes an autographed copy of the I Am devotional, scripture cards and easel, Christmas goodies, and a personal note from you. Go to my store to get more information and order in time for the holiday. Much love to you, friends. He IS with us. ~Michele [/guestpost]

This year I set a goal to read 100 books. Yup. ONE HUNDRED. That’s about eight books a month, two a week. Holy tree-killer, Batman. That’s a lot of paper. Yes, I admit it was an ambitious goal. Even more ambitious was trying to read that many books while juggling my dual full-time roles as business woman and wife/mom. What was I thinking?

Truth is I didn’t reach my goal. But I’m not disappointed, not really. Because, as of today, I’ve read 63 books. Glory Hallelujah. Not bad for an 11 month stretch that included a book launch. And a couple I read twice because they were that good.

Since I’m often asked what I’m reading, today I’m giving you a list of my Best of Books: 2017 Edition. It wasn’t easy whittling away this year’s reads, as 2017 was packed with good ones, both fiction and non-fiction. To make it easy for you to search for your style, I’ve divided my favorites into three general genres, and I’ve included a few descriptions to detail what I loved. Then, at the end, I included a short list of honorable mentions. These worthy books could’ve easily been included in my “Best Of” list. But, alas, I had to choose.

I pray these books encourage, strengthen and enrich your life as much as they have mine. And if you add any of these to your library? Be sure to circle back around and let me know what you think. {NOTE: This post contains affiliate links. See my full disclosure here.}

Fiction & Memoir
1. Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church, by Philip Yancey.

It is rare that a book brings me to tears, especially a non-fiction book (unless, of course, the moisture comes as a result of yawning). But Yancey’s faith journey left me weeping, both from painful awareness and dogged hope. It is no secret that he has an uncommon gift. He is perhaps one of the best writers I’ve ever had the privilege of reading. But perhaps what I love most about his books—this one might be the pinnacle—is his rare blend of intellect and emotion, journalistic credibility and ruthless personal honesty. In Yancey I’ve found one who can speak to both my heart and mind in equal measure, because he goes first. And that is precisely what those of us who are wrestling with complex faith questions need.

2. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, by Nabeel Kureshi

I didn’t expect Nabeel Kureshi to have quite the impact on my life in 2017 that he did. In case you missed it, I wrote a rather raw post about hard faith questions a couple months ago. In short, 2017 started by reading Nabeel’s faith memoir while hiking the snowy mountains of Colorado. I purchased the audible, which means Nabeel actually read his story to me in his own voice. I’ll never forget his passionate pursuit of Truth even at great personal cost. And his resulting joy when he finally found it.

3. Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, by Winston Graham
4. The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton

I’ll review these two together, even though they are nothing alike and were written by authors separated by decades. The reason is simple: Both are based in Cornwall, England. In May of this year I traveled to Plymouth and Penzance, where I spent nearly a weekly tramping along the Cornish countryside connecting with my heritage. I come from a long line of Cornish folk, the vast majority of which were miners. My maiden name is Trethewey (as Cornish as “Smith” is American), and my grandfathers, uncles and father all worked in mining at some point. Did I mention I ate Cornish pasties growing up? All that to say, I believe history is the roots of our today and tomorrow. If we want to continue to grow and thrive, we need to understand where we’ve come from. These historical novels have helped to give me a small glimpse into what it might’ve been like for my ancestors. Even better, the writing in both is stellar.

Spiritual Non-fiction
5. Soul-Keeping: Caring For The Most Important Part of You, by John Ortberg

I loved this book enough to buy a copy for my entire Mastermind. Although I’ve long been familiar with John Ortberg, this book was my first real introduction to Dallas Willard, who he mentions throughout. This particular work addressed a deep need of mine: to give tender care to my wounded soul. Ortberg, who describes himself as a type-A achiever much like me, gave me permission to focus on the “productivity” I needed most of all.

6. The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen

Not much to say about this one, but my shortage of words has nothing at all to do with its merit. This might be one of my favorite books of all time. Hard to describe, but Nouwen’s insights gleaned from Rembrandt’s artistic genius combined with God’s gospel of hope through the story of the Prodigal Son is radical. Stunning. And life-giving.

7. Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart For Intimate Belonging, by Brennan Manning.

I read this one TWICE. And I have it ready on Audible should I need to refresh a chapter or two at any moment in time. Yes, it was that transformative for me. I’ve heard about the book for years, but never had the desire to read it. For whatever reason I did this year, and whether it was the timing or the way God can sometimes use an ordinary book to accomplish extraordinary transformation, I am not the same woman I was before I read Brennan Manning’s words. Thank God. Literally.

8. Changes That Heal: The Four Shifts That Make Everything Better … and That Everyone Can Do, by Dr. Henry Cloud

Originally written in 1992 (revised in 2009), this book has been around for a while. Somehow I didn’t manage to find it until 2017, which is unfortunate. Because with every chapter (sentence!) I wanted to slap myself upside the head while asking WHERE WAS THIS INFORMATION TWENTY YEARS AGO? It would’ve been super helpful if I’d learned how to be a grown-up before I was actually a grown-up. If you’ve long struggled with understanding how and when to set boundaries, how to connect and disconnect in relationship, and what it looks like to be an adult in a healthy adult with others, then don’t miss this one. Head-slapping is optional.

9. The Inner Voice of Love: The Journey From Anguish To Freedom, by Henri Nouwen.

I hardly know where to begin with this one. Written by the beloved priest Henri Nouwen, this book is actually his private journal. Penned during the darkest days of his spiritual journey, Henri recorded his thoughts daily. Each chapter is packed with personal reflections and reminders along his healing journey. Although he uses the pronoun “you” to address himself, I read it as if Henri was speaking to me about our shared struggle and pain, and how to find the path to wholeness. I used his journal as my own journal, highlighting passages and penning all sorts of notes and questions in the margin. I also dated each of my entries, so that maybe some day my own journey from “anguish to freedom” might encourage someone else.

Non-fiction
10. The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni

I read this book in a day and a half. Which means I didn’t read it; I devoured it. Not only did Lencioni give me powerful insight and tools to help better lead my various teams, he also (unintentionally, I’m sure) helped me to see how these 5 dysfunctions and their corresponding skills could strengthen and grow all my relationships, including the team that matters the most to me: My family.

11. Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Heal, by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

I don’t agree with everything in this book, but I rarely do. This one, however, is a power-hitter for those who have experienced any—ANY—challenge or difficulty in childhood. Plenty of science warmed with empathy and tenderness. Let’s just say I’m getting ready to read this one for a second time, along with someone I love. Enough said.

12. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body In the Healing of Trauma,  by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

This book is a beast, 465 pages with a type-set so small I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have read it when my eyes didn’t require glasses. But the science behind this book—as well as the practical strategies given to help bring healing to those from trauma—is well worth the purchase of a large-print edition or a nifty pirate eye-glass. Even better, buy the Audible version (as I did), so you can let someone else do the heavy-lifting. The amount of trauma plaguing our society needs to be acknowledged, honored, and moved to a place of high-priority. For all of us.

Honorable Mention
Prayer: Experiencing Awe & Intimacy With God, by Timothy Keller
The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character & Influence, by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, Ken McElrath
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage To Stand Alone, by Brene Brown
Co-dependent No More, by Melody Beatty
Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D. Vance
The Road Back to You, by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Sabile
The Lake House, by Kate Morton
Gilead: A Novel, by Marilynne Robinson
Night, by Elie Wiesel
Our Souls At Night, Kent Haruf
America’s First Daughter: A Novel, by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
A.D. 30 and A.D. 33, both by Ted Dekker

[reminder]I’m already starting to gather my reading list for 2018. What have been your favorites in 2017? [/reminder]

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