This is a list and short synopsis of books that inspired me to live more bravely in 2015. Consider them for your 2016 booklist.
by Madeline L’Engle
The importance of embracing our stories is a concept emerging in mainstream culture, but the first place I ever read or heard about the role of story in our lives was in this book by Madeline L’Engle written in the 1990s. L’Engle likens the stories of our lives to fairytales; there is only a happy ending because the character requires that happy ending and they have forged through the depths of despair to find it. This book was so encouraging to me in a time when I was forging through my own depths of despair. It helped me see that the pain I was grappling with was just part of my story, my process, and was essential to the ending.
Through this book I also began to understand that stories are not powerful without the dark night of the soul, the struggle. This book helped me embrace the dark night of my story and look to the redemption of a savior for that happy ending instead of trying to create one myself.
Some of my favorite quotes from On a Rock that is Higher:
“In fairy tales, and in life, there is risk----risk of failure, of horror, of death. But there is no despair. Rather, there is an unspoken affirmation of the ultimate happy ending. Before we can affirm all the right-ness, be must first deal with all the wrong-ness. It is in these dark and lonely waters that fairytales find their home.”
“We tell stories because we can’t help it. We tell stories because they fill the silence death imposes. We tell stories because they save us.”
“Story makes us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”
by Steven Pressfield
This book is not just for artists, it’s for people who want to live boldly and create beauty and find meaning. The War of Art inspired me to be brave in my craft and my personhood as I battled resistance against becoming me and finding the rhythm of my soul. Art, creating, beauty—they are all pathways to finding ourselves. While I was in counseling this past year, I found that creating and writing was not only a massive part of the healing process, but it was also a mirror to see myself.
This book addresses the war, the battle, the resistance we all face engaging the creative process of becoming ourselves and doing what is on our hearts. Resistance comes in all forms: fear, shame, self-doubt, excuses, comparison, despair, and rejection. Identifying my areas of resistance helped me understand what was holding me back. Then I could combat it directly.
Snapshots from The War of Art:
“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), "Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?" chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
by Brené Brown
I first read Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection two years ago. That book helped me embrace the fall and find beauty in it as well as ward off shame. Rising Strong helped me embrace the rise and find strength in imperfections as I learned rumble with my story. This Manifesto of the Brave & Brokenhearted from Rising Strong says it all:
“There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fearmongers than those of us who are willing to fall because we have learned how to rise. With skinned knees and bruised hearts; we choose owning our stories of struggle, over hiding, over hustling, over pretending. When we deny our stories, they define us. When we run from struggle, we are never free. So we turn toward truth and look it in the eye. We will not be characters in our stories. Not villains, not victims, not even heroes. We are the authors of our lives. We write our own daring endings. We craft love from heartbreak, compassion from shame, grace from disappointment, courage from failure. Showing up is our power. Story is our way home. Truth is our song. We are the brave and brokenhearted. We are rising strong.” -Rising Strong
by Kate White
The title of this book is such a turn off and screams crazy feminism, but it is actually a very inspiring, practical book with tips for living courageously and taking chances in our career, relationships, and communication. It is the gutsy girl’s everyday guide to being bold. One of my favorite parts of the book is when she describes a scene from Gone with the Wind where Scarlett is living in a smoldering mess and she has to travel to Atlanta to convince someone to give her cash, but she doesn’t have anything to wear.
“As she is pondering what to do her eyes fall on the green velvet curtains still hanging in the window, one of the only things those horrible Yankees spared. She began tearing them off their rods. And in the next scene she is sashaying through the streets of Atlanta in green velvet dress…When there doesn’t appear to be any solution at all, that’s when you glance around room and let the curtains inspire you.” -Nine Secrets of Women that Get Everything They Want
This book inspired me to be resourceful and live boldly unashamed.
by Donald Miller
I had read other books of Donald Miller, but this was the first that connected with my heart and resonated with my soul. I started reading this book as I was embarking on a new dating relationship with a man that I was absolutely crazy about. This book helped me be brave, honest and vulnerable even though I was scared to disappoint him and frighten him off. I gained confidence that my imperfections and failures and flaws breed more intimacy and love between us as I received grace from him and from the Lord.
If you are dating or in a relationship with the right kind of person, they will want to hear and understand the broken parts of your soul. It is only the people who need something from us who can’t handle our real stories and try to re-craft the facts and failures of life in a different light.
I am so received and welcomed in this dating relationship with my messy past, my old car, my outbursts, my fear, and my hyper-focused behavior. It feels so good. But vulnerability is a life long task, a daily opportunity to be brave with the people you love.
Some of my favorite quotes from Scary Close:
“Sometimes the story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us.”
“We don’t think of our flaws as the glue that binds us to the people we love, but they are. Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either.”
by Richard Fenton & Andrea Waltz
This is the cheesiest book I have ever read but I read every word because the point was so powerful; rejections and people saying ‘no’ are critical to success. This book is definitely written for application to business, entrepreneurship, and sales, but I took the concepts and applied them broadly to my life.
There is this idea in culture and in families that if you want to be successful you need to run as far as possible from failure and rejection. This book posed the idea that failure is actually a critical step on the road to success. We have all heard the stats that the most successful businessmen and women in a world have had on average 6 or 7 failed business before finding their sweet spot. They were persistence in the face of failure and learned from disappointments.
This book helped me be brave in my perspective of failure and not see it as a hindrance, but as an opportunity to learn and grow. I have massive fear of failure in my little business, relationships, my book, and the other endeavors that are on my heart but can seem daunting. I am trying to face that fear courageously and see my failures as opportunities.
Quotes from Go For ‘No’ :
“Failing... and becoming a failure... are two very different things.”
“If you’re not succeeding fast enough, you’re probably not failing fast enough, and you can’t have one without the other. So, if you’re going to avoid one, you’re going to avoid both.”
by Madeline L’Engle
I have two favorite authors currently: Brené Brown and Madeline L’Engle. They have different methods, come from different decades and have different ways of communicating, but they both write about living from the heart as we journey through life. It’s a testament to the sameness of the human spirit through the generations. L’Engle was ahead of her time, but she saw some of the same things that Brené Brown sees and communicates through her research-based observation.
There are different meanings that can be drawn from this book. L’Engle meanders as she writes. It’s like she is thinking out loud. I personally gleaned from how faith, creating, and living are all intertwined. Getting out of my own way and letting faith take over. Being moved by the spirit, my soul. Living from the heart. Silence. Rest. Listening.
Walking on Water highlights:
“Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.”
“In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there's no danger that we will confuse God's work with our own, or God's glory with our own.
“When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.”
by David G. Benner PhD
I am not even sure where to start with this book. I read it twice this year and once the year before and I want to read it ten more times. Like Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, it helped me embrace my own darkness and emptiness when I was in the middle of a mess. This book recognizes the human experience in all its rawness and the importance of spirituality and faith to reconciling all parts of ourselves: body, mind and soul. The book is about connectedness, living from our true selves and the dichotomy of existing as spiritual beings grounded in the reality of humanness.
Some of my favorite moments from Soulful Spirituality:
We are “human beings on a spiritual journey…But I think it is equally true that we are spiritual beings on a human journey.”
“Spirituality…is our response to the inner cauldron of desires…One of the central functions of spirituality is the management of the unquenchable fire that is at the core of all living persons.”
“Spirituality is our way of living in relation to that which is beyond us.”
“Real challenge of humanity is more a matter of becoming than simply being.”
“Only suffering and struggle, and all the dark experiences that come with them, will grow a soul big enough to hold our life. This happens when we ground ourselves in the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary life. Rather than rising above these things, the soul calls us to find life and meaning.”
Some of many. I wish I would continue.
by Tim Keller
I cried my way though this book as Tim Keller recounts the well-known tale of the prodigal son. I have been the oldest son and the prodigal son and God has shown me grace as both. He has invited me into the party as the older son and he has thrown the party for me as the prodigal son.
“Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn't mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness.” –Prodigal God
by Brené Brown
The title says it all: it is all about the ‘gift of being imperfect’ and how destructive perfectionism can be to our soul and wholehearted living. My favorite parts are about the theories she has developed from her ‘shame reliance’ research.
“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It's our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”
“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
“Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.”
by Madeline L’Engle
Whoops another Madeline L’Engle book, but a different genre. This is a children’s book littered with truth and meaning for adults about love and fear. The hero of the story is the most unlikely of characters; she is underprepared for the adventure as well as afraid, but love is her weapon.
“Only a fool is not afraid.” –Wrinkle In Time
“I don't understand it any more than you do, but one thing I've learned is that you don't have to understand things for them to be.” –Wrinkle In Time
by Cheryl Strayed
This true story is brutally honest and helped me be brutally honest with myself. Reading her story moved me to write my story honestly.
“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” -Wild
by Mary Oliver
This book was written in the wake of personal loss for the author, Mary Oliver. It’s honest. It’s real. It’s beautiful. This is one of my favorite poems from the book:
“The Uses Of Sorrow”
"(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift."
by Beryl Markham
This non-fiction novel is one of the most beautifully constructed tales I have ever read. I immediately felt like I was transported to the middle of the African bush. This account is riddled with adventure and the truth of the human experience: life, loss and love. It inspired me to take chances and pursue my heart and love Africa wildly.
“A map says to you. Read me carefully, follow me closely, doubt me not...I am the earth in the palm of your hand.” –West with the Night
“If a man has any greatness in him, it comes to light, not in one flamboyant hour, but in the ledger of his daily work.” –West with the Night
by Brennan Manning
This was another book that I cried my way through. I was hit with how profoundly and intentionally the Lord’s love hunts me down and makes me brave.
“The men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their own imperfect existence.” –Furious Longing of God
“I've decided that if I had my life to live over again, I would not only climb more mountains, swim more rivers, and watch more sunsets; I wouldn't only jettison my hot water bottle, raincoat, umbrella, parachute, and raft; I would not only go barefoot earlier in the spring and stay out later in the fall; but I would devote not one more minute to monitoring my spiritual growth. No, not one.” –Furious Longing of God