One thing I know for sure is that words have an inexplicable power. They can transport us to different places and times, break our hearts, and mend our souls. The other day I started thinking the about the books that have changed my life. Here are five I came up with:
Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. This is the book (and the author) that made me want to be a writer. Shauna’s writing is beautiful and graceful, and her words make me feel and think deeply about what I’m doing with this incredibly gift of life I’ve been given. Most specifically, Cold Tangerines changed the way I think about friendship—about the circle of people who I invest in and care about the most. This is hands down my favorite book of all time.
“Because we were made for motion, for arching up toward God with all the energy and passion of a thunderstorm, lightning slices through a sleepy world to remind us that we serve a fast-dancing God, a God who set this world whirling and crashing through space so that we could live from our toes and drum out the pulse of a billion veins carrying lifeblood to a billion hearts, temples to a God that got his hands dirty making us from dust. Let’s get dirty, in his name. Let’s sizzle and pop in his name. Let’s dance and shimmer and scrawl out our stories across the sky, like he taught us to. Let’s echo his words, and let our lives speak those words: It is good.”
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I can’t even count how many times I’ve read this book—it’s one that I go back to over and over again, and it teaches me something new each time. This book, maybe more than any other I’ve read, changed the way I view God. I read this book for the first time during a difficult season of my life, and it helped me recognize God as truly PRESENT—in a real, tangible, life-changing way. God is not only big and mighty and omnipotent, but he is also gentle, patient, loving, and with us right where we are.
“Love the Lord your God, and love one another. Love one another as he loves. Love with strength and purpose and passion and no matter what comes against you. Don’t weaken. Stand against the darkness and love. That’s the way back to Eden. That’s the way back to life.”
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. This book is one of the books that made me LOVE to read. I read Harry Potter for the first time in seventh grade. I was already a reader before then, of course, but this book changed everything. It introduced me to a new world that has remained an important part of my life for over 15 years (and counting). I love books that just make you ravenous for more of the story—stay up late, under the cover with a flashlight, because you just can’t stop reading books. This is one.
“A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive, which lay silent and tidy under the inky sky, the very last place you would expect anything astonishing to happen. Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken up in a few hours’ time by Mrs. Dursley’s scream as she opened the door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley…He couldn’t know at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: ‘To Harry Potter—the boy who lived.'”
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Like most people, I read Harper Lee’s famous novel for the first time in high school, but I have ready many times since then. Harper Lee writes with such gentleness and candor about humanity, justice, love, and respect for other people. When I think about what I want to teach the kids I work with (and my own children one day), those are the things that come to mind. They are also the things our world so desperately needs—people who see each other as worthy, valuable, and deserving of love. We belong to each other. Lee’s novel helped give me words for that.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my favorite writers, and this book has changed the way I think about calling, ministry, and my own relationship with God. Church can be a hard place to be, and I have found that to be true over and over again. I have also found church to be one of the most affirming and life-giving communities I have ever been a part of in my life. Leaving Church is about finding God in all of that—in the brokenness and at the table.
“At least one of the purposes of church is to remind us that God has other children, equally as precious as we.”