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My 10 Favourite Books of 2014

It’s time for the end of the year lists. I love to read about what other people are reading and so I thought I’d just do a quick round-up of my 10 favourite books in 2014. (I wasn’t able to read as much as usual this year – it’s been a busy one – but what I did read, I thoroughly enjoyed across the board. So much good work from so many.) I read a ton of popular novels this year – I think I was looking for an escape, not only from the world but even from my own mind or my own book writing. It served me well. And of course, I did a lot of research-reading in the non-fiction genre but that’s not quite the same as reading for the fun of it, is it?

So here are my 5 favourite fiction reads and my 5 favourite non-fiction reads of the year – so difficult to narrow it down! Let me know what you read and loved this year, too….

Sarah Bessey's Favourite Books of 2014

Favourite Fiction Reads

Lila by Marilynne Robinson :: I wait for a new Marilynne Robinson book like kids used to wait for the new Harry Potter. I loved Home and Gilead so much but this one was something else, a bit more of an edge of danger to it, a bit more real somehow. I loved Lila as a character and the book is her side of the story but the writing is quintessentially midwestern, simple and straight forward and then staggeringly beautiful.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman :: It’s odd to me how much I enjoy fantastical novels like this since I’m not a huge sci-fi or fantasy fan (with the notable exception of Doctor Who). But Neil Gaiman is such an incredible writer with such a spooky and lovely imagination. This book is weird and creepy, sad and beautiful. It stays with you long after you turn the last page.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty :: I have loved Liane Morarity’s novels since “What Alice Forgot” (still one of my favourite novels to recommend to women in the tired thirties with me.) Such a great un-put-down-able story. The characters were beautiful and real and flawed, I love each one of them and actually missed them when the novel was over.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (the Year of Jojo Moyes) :: Thanks to a recommendation from Shauna Niequist (who never steers me wrong on novels), I decided to pick up my first Jojo Moyes novel. And then I disappeared for 24-hours while I devoured it. DEVOURED. This book was so good. It was definitely my favourite of hers – the heroine of the novel and her family were so dear. And the questions it brought up and the conversations it sparked were so interesting. I ended up devouring all of her other novels, too.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd :: What a fascinating book. I love Sue Monk Kidd’s work and style – I think it’s that strain of the mystic to her work that I love or perhaps how she can write such complex women so well – but this one was an interesting story, compelling characters, and filled with empowerment and passion. It’s intense and complicated and brave. It makes me appreciate so much more deeply the women who came before us all.


Favourite Non-Fiction Reads

Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. I know, I know, I’m a total BBT fan-girl. But this book was so vitally important to me this year. She articulates the liminal spaces of our lives so beautifully and turns the narratives of dark-light on their head in a way that made total sense to me. I got this book – anyone who has ever found God in the dark or in the in-between will get this book.

Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of St. Francis of Assisi by Richard Rohr. I’ve been fascinated with St. Francis for a while now but this book takes us beyond the usual stories and biographical details, into the heart of Franciscan life. (Perhaps it’s because of Pope Francis that we’re all so dazzled by the idea of a Christian who actually seems like a Christian?) I found this book brilliant and challenging.

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman. Oh, man. This book. This book! It reads more like poetry than spiritual memoir genre (which makes sense since Wiman is a poet). It blends theology with poetry, faith with doubt, edges with beauty. It’s luminous and devastating, worth a slow read.

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett. You might have missed this unassuming book but goodness, Micha can write about prayer and motherhood like no one else. Every word is earthy, loving, and present. It made me feel a little less alone in how I wrestle not only with prayer but with the performances of prayer or the old habits no longer fitting.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler – I’m not usually one for reading humour books or books by comedians in general, but I loved Tina Fey’s Bossypants and so I decided to grab this one from the library as a bit of light reading one weekend. I ended up howling with laughter and texting my sister certain lines. It’s profane, accessible, hilarious, fearless, and strong. I think I need to find my inner Amy Poehler.

For more about the books I love, click here.

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These women aren’t just heroines – they’re our sisters in the faith :: guest post by Michelle DeRusha + a giveaway

CONTEST IS CLOSED. Winner has been notified.

I was privileged to read an early copy of Michelle DeRusha’s new book, 50 Women Every Christian Should Know. Beautifully written, accessible, inspiring, and relevant, this book is a welcome reminder and celebration of the every day women of valour who came before us. It is a gift to the whole Church.

But one of my favourite things about this book is this little story: do you remember the women of Joe’s Addiction? When I posted about their longing for books about women of faith, to build up their community of women who are rising up out of difficult circumstances, Baker Books contacted me and asked if they could donate 50 copies of this book to that community. What an amazing gift! 

And I’ll just go ahead and say it straight up: this book isn’t just for the women in your life. I’d love for more of our young men to hear the stories of their sisters and mothers in the faith, right along with their fathers and brothers. We all have something to learn from these women of valour.

I’m honoured to welcome Michelle here to share with us about why she did NOT want to write this book – and I have one copy to giveaway, too, so check out the end of the post for more info about that, too.


The truth is, I didn’t want to write this book. I didn’t pitch the idea of 50 Women to a publisher. In fact, Baker Books came to me (or, more accurately, to my agent) looking for a writer to tackle this book, which they envisioned as a sequel of sorts to Warren Wiersbe’s 2009 release of 50 People Every Christian Should Know.

When my agent proposed this book to me, I was lukewarm. At best. I accepted the project mostly because I needed the work, but I assumed the research and writing would be mind-numbingly boring. I envisioned hours in the university library, slogging through biographies and facts about 50 women in Christian history. Snooze-o-rama.

I can also admit now that part of me was intimidated, too. Before I set out to write this book, I’d already set many of these women on a pedestal, in a place of highest honor and respect. After all, as the subtitle of the book states, the fifty women included are heroines of the Christian faith. I knew their names and many of their stories: Teresa of Avila, Florence Nightingale, Amy Carmichael, Harriet Tubman, Mother Teresa.

These women saved lives. They founded new movements. They advocated for the poor, the sick, the dying and the neglected. They were missionaries, teachers, preachers, writers, abolitionists, doctors and activists. Some even died for their faith.

I assumed I wouldn’t be able to relate to them. I figured they were “better Christians” than I, and that their stories, their lives, were far-removed from my own everyday, ordinary, twenty-first-century life.

Turns out, I was dead wrong about every one of my assumptions.

As I dug into the histories of each of these women, my preconceived assumptions were dismantled one by one. Not only were these women’s lives and stories fascinating, I discovered they were very much relevant to me.

I’d assumed these spiritual giants never struggled with the kind of spiritual doubts that plague me. But Lottie Moon, Mother Teresa, Madeleine L’Engle and several others assured me otherwise.

I’d assumed these women were never swayed by shallow, materialistic temptations like I am or wrestled with idols like I do. But Teresa of Avila and Elizabeth Fry set me straight.

I’d assumed these Christian heroines never questioned their God-given calling or felt confused by their path in life. But Hannah More, Ruth Bell Graham and Ida Scudder turned that notion on its head.

I’d assumed these leaders were all born and bred die-hard Christians from the start, but Edith Stein, Pandita Ramabai and Simone Weil demonstrated that age, history and environment are no match for God’s transformative power.

I’d assumed these courageous women never struggled with fear or feelings of inadequacy. But Corrie ten Boom, Catherine Booth and Jarena Lee illustrated that God works through, within and in spite of our fears.

I’d assumed each of these women was flawless and virtually sinless, yet every woman in this book turned out to be broken and fallible, just like me.

What I discovered in researching and writing this book is that the stories of these fifty women are our stories, too. True, many of them lived centuries ago, in places, times and circumstances far removed from our own. But their battles are our battles. Their grief is our grief. Their doubts and questions are our doubts and questions. We plunge into similar valleys, we scale similar mountains.

In the end I was surprised by how much these women’s stories resonated with me and how much I connected with them, despite the fact that our vocations and callings differ dramatically, despite the fact that we live decades or even centuries apart.

Behind their long list of accomplishments and contributions are real, relatable women with fears, challenges, distractions, sorrows and joys much like ours. In their stories I saw my own struggles, flaws, desires and delights. By the time I had finished writing this book, I understood something important:

These women are not only our heroines, they are also our sisters in faith.

: :


Leave a comment on this post telling me the name of your “heroine” of the faith – she could be someone you know in real life or even one of the women from this very book or just someone you’ve studied or read. I’ll draw a winner randomly on September 20 and notify you by email (so make sure you include an email address in your comment).


This post is an edited excerpt from the introduction to Michelle DeRusha’s recently released book, 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith (Baker Books).

DeRushaheadshotMichelle is also the author of Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with her husband and two young boys. You can connect with Michelle on her blog, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Continue Reading · book review, books · 106

What I’m Into :: Summer 2014 AKA The Summer of Novels


what i read

This has been my summer of reading novels. I decided to just read for the fun of it this summer. I have so much book research I’ve been doing and the summer has been so heavy, filled with sorrow in so many ways for so much of the world, that I flat out ran for the escape route in my reading habits. And I loved every single second of it.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes :: Thanks to a recommendation from Shauna Niequist (who never steers me wrong on novels), I decided to pick up my first Jojo Moyes novel. And then I disappeared for 24-hours while I devoured it. DEVOURED. This book was devastating. It was definitely my favourite of hers – the heroine of the novel and her family were so dear. And the questions it brought up and the conversations it sparked were so interesting. It was a runner-up for my favourite novel of the year so far, for sure.

The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes – Loved it. Another one I couldn’t put down. Such a fascinating dual story. So rare that I love both stories in a dual-story novel but this one worked beautifully. Fascinating period of history, too.

The Last Letter From Your Lover by JoJo Moyes – and the last Jojo Moyes novel I read was a hard one. I struggle with infidelity as a plot point to cheer for and so I appreciated the juxtaposition of an affair to “root for” and one to despise but even so, it was fascinating and un-put-down-able, too. Needless to say, I just did two-day shipping for her latest novel.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty :: I have loved Liane Morarity’s novels since “What Alice Forgot” (still one of my favourite novels to recommend to women in the tired thirties with me.) This was probably my favourite of hers since that one – and that’s saying something. Such a great story. The characters were beautiful and real and flawed, I love each one of them and actually missed them when the novel was over.

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner :: I’ve liked some of this author’s novels but others….well, not so much. This one was a quick read but fascinating. Exploring the pull of prescription meds as addiction through the lens of an over-committed mom-blogger, you read it and think you know a million women that this could happen to. And the ending was so satisfying.

City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles :: I loved Sara Miles’ last book Take This Bread so much that my expectations were probably too high. But it’s a good book, really interesting. I always end up feeling a bit left out when people write about God as present mostly in cities – after all, I live in a small town in western Canada. But it was fascinating.

Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters by N.T. Wright :: Book research! And so worthwhile.

The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus by Brennan Manning :: A re-read from years ago. It’s Brennan at a bit more raw and angry and I still love it. You can see his processes actually happening as you read through his work.

My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman :: Beautiful and devastating, a slow read but so good.

what i’m reading now

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce :: You know me and British novels….

The Complete Book of Baby Names :: BIG SMILE

Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James :: I love novels about Jane Austen, they’re my guilty pleasure. She wrote a good one a few years ago and so when I saw she had a new one out, I snapped it in.

Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright :: More book research and more perfection.

television worth watching

Besides the obvious….

My Big Family Renovation on HGTV :: Jen Hatmaker is a dear friend and I cannot tell you how tickled I am to be watching her show on the television! It just started in Canada, it’s on Thursday nights at 7 Pacific on HGTV.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyessey :: I’m slowly working my way through this show and it is blowing my mind. Absolutely stunning. I never figured I’d be someone who was enraptured by astrophysics but DAMN this is good.

Good news! Downtown Abbey starts on September 21 in the UK (and for those of us who can watch UK shows). Here’s the trailer for the new season. All I know is that Anna and Bates better CATCH A BREAK.

movies worth seeing

I have not watched anything but kid movies at home all summer long. And I’m not even sorry about it.

music worth hearing

The Undoing by Steffany Gretzinger :: This gal comes out of the Bethel movement but it’s less anthemic and more introspective. Really enjoying it.

Lullaby Hymns by Katy Kinard :: I grabbed this one for one of the tinies who likes to listen to music while drifting off to sleep. But I’ve fallen in love with it – just good old hymns done beautifully. The subtitle is “for the weary soul” and that has been so true. When my soul is weary, these are the songs I want to hear.

Waiting for Mr. Darcy instrumentals from Jane Austen movies – my favourite music for writing! And only $3.99 – probably because the titles are a bit mixed up for the music but whatevs. It’s good listening.

little things i’m enjoying

San Pellegrino limonata Italian sodas

I’ve kicked almost all of my other teas to the curb for Lady Jane Grey tea – it’s like a version of Earl Grey but much lighter with citrus undertones. So perfect in the mornings.

Roast beef dinners and mashed potatoes.

Knitting up this little owl tea cosy

And introducing my fall knitting project: right here, folks.

So, friends, what about you?

What’s on your nightstand? What television show or movie or music has captured your imagination? 

What I'm Into
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In which “My Practices of Mothering” is now an ebook


We had our three babies in four-and-a-half years. It was … rather life-changing. And right in the midst of it, I began to write through the stuff that I do (or tried to do) to enjoy day-to-day life with a houseful of tinies.

Three years later, it remains one of the most popular series of posts I’ve ever done at my blog. It’s a little bit practical and a little bit theological and a lot of conversational, non-expert “in-the-trenches” talk about what worked for me in that season of life. 

I call them Practices because that’s what us Christians have often called spiritual disciplines, but really they’re just things I do over and over again. Everyone has their own “practices.”  Most of mine come from my own parents but then I picked up a few others from books or friends or mentors.  And my practices may not work for you and your family.

As my tinies grow up, my practices have already shifted and changed and evolved, as they should. Life in our house looks differently now that our tinies are 7, 5, and 3 than it did when they were 4, 2, and newborn. I imagine that they will be completely different again when they are teenagers. Your own practices will do that, too.

The practices included in the ebook are:

  • speaking life,
  • attachment,
  • the big picture,
  • routine,
  • worth,
  • gentle discipline,
  • being a person,
  • play,
  • sleep,
  • abiding in the Vine,
  • community,
  • space on the margins,
  • realistic expectations, and
  • assigning positive intent.

Because it can be hard to click around a website searching for the right posts, I decided to edit the posts and put them into an ebook. My thanks to Dan King for his help with the tech side of things and to Andrea Levendusky for such a perfect cover. 

Check it out here: My Practices of Mothering for $2.99* on Amazon.

*It’s $2.99 in the US Amazon store. If you’re purchasing from Canada, the price may show up as $3.01. 

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