It took me far too long to write this list, to choose the five books that have influenced me most. Five? Fifty, I could have rattled off. One hundred, I would eagerly share. But five? I stood in front of my bookshelves, dug through childhood memories, and scrolled through my Goodreads list. A great deal of overthinking later, I present to you five books that have influenced me deeply.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
I vividly recall my first time through the wardrobe at age six, and I doubt anything outside of my parents has influenced my thinking, theology, and view of God (not to mention my idea of a well-told tale) so greatly as these seven stories. I read and reread them almost annually throughout my childhood, and in reading them aloud to my own children, I have been struck by how deeply the images and ideas have percolated into my heart, mind, and soul.
Great with Child by Debra Rienstra
During my first pregnancy, surrounded by mountains of anxiety and advice, a dear friend sent me this book with a note that said, “Put aside all the analysis of what to expect, and let this book feed your soul.” I took her advice and later passed this book on to many more expectant mothers. Debra’s musings on the vastly physical and spiritual experiences of pregnancy dovetailed with my own and brought life to my early mothering months.
Surprised By Hope by N. T. Wright
I suppose I could include any and all of Wright’s books in this list, but Surprised by Hope was (I think) the first for me. I find his understanding of Jesus, the Biblical arc, and the Christian story profoundly inspiring. Also, he’s a genius.
The Brothers K by David James Duncan
This is probably (nearly) my favorite novel of all time. Loosely based on the more famous Russian novel, it tells the story of five brothers growing up during the upheaval of the American 1960’s. Though it includes too many four-letter words to read aloud (as my parents discovered when they tried doing just that on my recommendation), the wisdom of this well-written story beautifully portrays one of the difficult truths of real life: that joy and pain almost always come to us intertwined as one.
Things As They Are by Amy Carmichael
Ever since I was very young, the story and writings of Amy Carmichael have deeply impacted me. When I was in college, I found a very, very old copy of her memoir Things As They Are, depicting her life in South India with an honesty she knew would not sit well with her supporters. Though quite a bit of her interpretation would, legitimately, trouble our modern values and understanding (i.e., colonialism), her faith in and intimacy with God in these pages rocked me. This book impacted me like a lightning bolt—inspiring my own faith and causing me to wrestle with my face on the floor before God. It even resulted in a trip to south India to meet a woman raised by Amy.
So there you have it! Had you asked me for fifty life-altering books, I would have included The Gospel of Luke, Till We Have Faces, A Tale of Two Cities, The Treasures of Darkness, anything by Walter Brueggemann . . .
by Catherine McNiel, author of Long Days of Small Things
Dirty laundry, crayon-smeared bills, and smashed crackers . . . And there’s your Bible—buried under a pile of diapers. Bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, without a moment of peace and quiet, you wonder if the spiritual life you crave is even possible. But God sees you. He designed this parenting journey, after all. He understands the chaos of motherhood. And he joins you in everything—whether you’re scrubbing the floor, nursing a fussy newborn, or driving to soccer practice. Catherine McNiel invites you to connect with God right here, in the sacred mundane of every mothering moment.
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