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My Top 20 Favorite Reads in 2012

As most of you know, I love to read. I learn so much through books. Some books challenge my worldview and beliefs. Other books inspire me to be more intentional in how I live my life. Some books I read just because I enjoy a great story. And some books are a mix of all three things!

I was excited to have read over 130 books in 2012. My goal was to read 125 books, so I’m pretty stoked to have passed the goal by a little bit. Of course, it helps that I include ebooks and audiobooks on the list, too, though! 😉

(For those of you wondering about when I have time to read, you can check out these posts: Q&A: How Do You Find Time to Read?, Change Your Life and Challenge Your Mind By Making Time for Reading Good Books, and 7 More Ways to Find Time to Read.)

Since I’m always looking for great books to add to my to-read list, I thought I’d share my top favorite 20 books read in 2012 for those of you who are making a list of books you want to read in 2013 — or who are just always on the lookout for good book recommendations!

In the next few days, I’ll also be sharing my list of 24 books I plan to read in 2013, too. Stay tuned for that!

Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion by Wayne Cordeiro

I’m not even sure where I heard about this book, but I somehow stumbled upon the title and thought it looked intriguing so I requested it from the library. I’m so glad I did as I found it to be highly encouraging and insightful. Even though Wayne is a pastor and much of what he shared was from the experience of leading a congregation, I felt the principles would be applicable to most anyone in a leadership position.

Wayne shares candidly about his own experiences with burn out and exhaustion — how the downward spiral happened, when he finally realized that he’d hit bottom, and the measures he’s taken to recover and aim to prevent future burn out. One of the most helpful exercises I found in the book was to make a list of what energizes you and what drains you. In doing this, I realized that I was doing too much that was draining me and not enough that was energizing me. As a result, I’ve made some changes in my day-to-day life to provide a better balance and to make sure that I’m refilling my tank on a regular basis.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

I kept hearing great things about this book. The title alone was enough to have me intrigued, but the rave reviews convinced me to buy a copy. And I’m so glad I did. Jen Hatmaker is an engaging, funny, and convicting author. This book chronicles her seven month seven-things experiment. Each month, she chose a different area to focus on and then pared down the excess in that area.

For instance, the first month, her focus was food. So she limited herself to just eating seven different things during that 30-day period. Yes, only seven foods. The second month she only wore seven items of clothing for the 30-day period. And so on.

Try to step back and just think for a minute what it would be like to only eat seven things or only wear seven clothing items for 30 days. For more of us, that seems almost impossible to even imagine. And yet, think how many millions of people around the world would consider it a luxury to have a choice of seven different foods each meal or seven different clothing items.

Jen didn’t set out on this experiment just to have great book subject matter; she did this seven month experiment because she wanted to challenge her own long-ingrained entitlement mentality. In this book, she writes candidly about her experiences–victories, failures, and hilarious stories along the way!–in order to challenge others to take a step back and really examine our own hearts when it comes to needs versus wants and what truly matters in life.

The book is thought-provoking, for sure, but it’s not guilt-invoking. And it’s well worth the read.

From Dust and Ashes: A Story of Liberation by Tricia Goyer

I met Tricia Goyer at a MomLife event in January of this year. I’d heard of her before, but I’d never read anything she’d written. We talked books a little and I confessed to her that I didn’t like fiction.

She suggested that I just try reading this book anyway. Because I respected her as a person and really enjoyed spending time with her at the event, I went ahead and read this book. To my great surprise, I really, really loved this book. In fact, I couldn’t put it down!

As is evidenced by my list of books read in 2012, I’ve sort of changed my longheld stance on fiction this year. 😉 And I have Tricia Goyer and this book to thank.

Tell Your Time: How to Manage Your Schedule So You Can Live Free by Amy Lynn Andrews

I re-read this ebook again a few months ago and was re-inspired all over again by it. If you’re struggling with your schedule and time management, I’d highly recommend this ebook. It’s a quick and thought-provoking read that packs a punch.

Anything: The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul by Jennie Allen

It took me a few tries to really get into this book. In fact, I didn’t think that I was going to like it after reading the first two chapters. But I’m glad I persevered, because I ended up really being blessed and inspired by it.

This book is the story and Jennie and her family’s bold prayer that they would do anything, go anything, and give up anything that God called them to. In many ways, I could relate, because that’s been my prayer over the last two years and it’s meant going and doing many things I felt very inadequate to be going and doing (hello, public speaking and media!). However, there has been so much blessing in following God’s call in my life and in being willing to trust Him for one step at a time.

I appreciated Jennie’s authenticity in sharing about the struggles that resulted. Saying “yes” to God didn’t mean that life was smooth sailing. In fact, they experienced some of the roughest waters in their marriage, home, and family. But, as she shares in the book, it was worth it.

Pocketful of Pinecones: Nature Study With the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola

While not the most compelling fiction story ever, I found this quiet story very inspirational as a mother and homeschooler. Karen Andreola shares how to weave in nature study as part of your everyday life. She leaves you wanting to read classic literature to your children and feeling excited about living a lifestyle filled and brimming full with rich creativity and learning alongside your children.

Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams Into Your Comfortable Life by Jeff Goins

I discovered Jeff Goins earlier this year and have since read three of his books. He is inspirational, creative, and thought-provoking — and an excellent writer, to boot.

Wrecked resonated with me on a deep level. Probably because much of the story is similar to my own story from the last few years. God has shattered my once-fiercely-held package of legalistic beliefs and has been knitting the pieces back together into something that is much different than I ever imagined — but something much more beautiful and whole than I ever was before.

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff

I’m not even sure where I first saw Love Does mentioned. I think it may have been one that Amazon recommended I’d be interested in, based upon other books I’d purchased from them in the past. Wherever it was, the first time I saw the book, the title and description immediately drew me in. And so, in an uncharacteristic move, I bought the book.

I’m so glad I did. Bob Goff is a unique, one-of-a-kind man. You’ll pick up on that just by reading the introduction. He loves life, he loves people, and he’s not afraid of outlandishness or extravagance when it comes to showing love to others. His big heart is contagious.

I often plow through books at a very rapid pace. But I slowly worked my way through Love Does, often reading just a few pages or less at a time. I was touched, inspired, challenged, convicted, and blessed.

Loving others isn’t just words we say; it’s the life we live. It’s giving of ourselves, it’s bringing joy to others, it’s being available to others, it’s dropping everything to be involved in others’ lives. It’s caring, it’s giving, and it’s sometimes doing crazy stuff, all because we love someone else.

If you have a chance to read Love Does, I’d highly recommend it. You might not agree with all of the finer points of Bob’s theology and you might think he’s a bit over-the-top, but I can almost guarantee you can’t help but be challenged to examine how you love others.

Try Giving Yourself Away by David Dunn

My mom picked up this book at a thrift store a number of months ago and loaned it to me. I was so motivated to look for and take advantage of opportunities to bless others in simple, practical ways. Just taking a few minutes to drop an email or pick up the phone or say an encouraging word to someone can often mean a great deal–and you’ll likely find that you’re blessed in seeking to be a blessing!

Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches by Rachel Jankovic

I really enjoyed this book. It’s not a book with lots of practical, hands-on advice, but it’s a book the deals with the heart issues we moms face.

I didn’t agree with the author on all points (I’m not really sure that I ever do, though!) and think we have to be careful when reading parenting books because what works for one family or one child isn’t necessarily what will or should work for another family or child. That said, I was convicted, and inspired by Loving the Little Years.

It made me really step back and re-examine my own heart and how I am responding to and discipling my children on a daily basis. Sometimes, it’s easier (in the moment) to just slap band-aids and quick fixes onto behavior and attitude issues, instead of really taking the time to deal with the heart issues and struggles our children are facing.

Loving the Little Years challenges moms to really delve down to the heart of the matter. As the author says, “The state of your heart is the state of your home.”

Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa Terkeurst

I’m pretty sure I’ve been living under a rock for years because Unglued is the first book by Lysa TerKeurst that I’ve read. And now I know why everyone loves her so much and what I’ve been missing out on for so long!

Lysa is real, she’s Southern (bless her heart!), and she calls it like she sees it. After you read her book, you just want to invite her over for a big glass of sweet tea and some girl talk. Because Lysa gets you. She doesn’t pretend to have her act together (I almost laughed aloud while reading about the missing toilet seat!) and her authenticity gives you hope and inspiration.

It just so happens that I read Unglued during a month where there were many extra burdens heaped on my shoulders — things I didn’t have control over and couldn’t just run away from, even though there were times when I really wanted to!

It’s easy to be all calm and smiles when life is going smoothly. But how do you respond when your boat is rocked and life is in upheaval? I got a whiff of just how much I need to work on patience as a result of some of that this month. It was humbling to have to go back and ask forgiveness from my husband and children time and again as I lost my temper or reacted out of frustration.

So Lysa’s words and encouragement couldn’t have come at a better time. I found it so beneficial to think through how I respond in different situations (Do I react? Or do I stuff? Or do I explode? Or somewhere in between?) and to seek the Lord to help me become more and more the woman who doesn’t come unglued in the midst of tumultuous times. I’m far from there, but it’s something that I’m working on — thanks to Lysa’s encouragement.

Energy Explosion: A 7-Day Guide to Jumpstart Your Energy by Arabah Joy

Are you feeling weary, exhausted, and burnt out? Could you use a shot of energy? Energy Explosion is a 7-day guide to help you jumpstart your energy. I purchased it a number of months ago, read it while walking on the treadmill, and loved it! (Do I get extra points for multi-tasking while exercising?! ;) )

It’s a quick read, it has lots of great suggestions, and Arabah is very inspirational in how she walks you through steps to achieve more energy. I love how she addresses exhaustion from the spiritual, emotional, and physical standpoint, and gives you very practical things you can do immediately to boost your energy levels.

You’re Already Amazing: Embracing Who You Are, Becoming All God Created You to Be by Holly Gerth

A friend and I read through this together and I was so blessed by it. So much of the time, it’s easy to feel like we don’t measure up when we see other women who are so talented and gifted, fit, beautiful… you fill in the blank. But the truth is, God has uniquely gifted us and created each of us in His image.

This book gives Christian women a much-needed reminder of who we are in Christ and how we need to walk in the confidence we have been given in Christ — instead of feeling insecure and inadequate because it seems like we don’t measure up to someone else.

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam

Since getting up early has made such a difference in my life, I was especially excited to read Laura Vaderkam’s ebook, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. It’s a short read, but packed with lots of inspiration as to how to use your mornings well.

It’s not enough to get up early, though, you also need to make sure that you wisely prioritize your time and energy in the early morning hours so that it effectively benefits your day — and your life. In this ebook, Laura shares a peek into the lives of some very successful people — and how they are structuring their lives to make the most of the morning hours. What works for them might not work for you, but I promise you’ll be inspired to make the most of your mornings — whether or not you are an early riser.

Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

I read Choosing Gratitude when I was dealing with some really difficult and incessant allergy issues. It really helped me see how I was focusing on the things I was struggling with, instead of choosing to be thankful. And not only that, but I felt so convicted at how I was griping over something so petty.

Sure, allergies are no fun (as I’m positive many of you can attest to), but seasonal allergies pale in comparison to some of the life-threatening, debilitating, and/or overwhelmingly incomprehensible issues so many people are facing right now. And I have much to be grateful for — much that I’ve been taking for granted while I was having a pity-party for myself.

Because of Nancy’s encouragement through Choosing Gratitude, I started a Gratitude Journal and I’ve challenged myself to make a daily habit of waking up each morning and starting my day by filling out an entire notebook page with things I’m thankful for.

At first, it seemed rather daunting — especially since I’ve gotten out of the exercise of journaling the past few years. But you know what I found as the days went on? The notebook page started feeling smaller and smaller each morning!

There’s something about starting the day with counting your blessings that just helps change your whole attitude about the day. And the more I’m focusing on my blessings, the less my allergies and health issues seemed to matter. {By the way: I am so, so grateful to report that, after months of struggling, we’ve finally gotten to the bottom of the allergy issues and I’ve been almost pain and symptom free for the past two months! God is good!}

The Bootstrap VA: The Go-Getter’s Guide to Becoming a Virtual Assistant, Getting and Keeping Clients, and More! by Lisa Morosky

I cannot tell you how often I hear from people asking how they can start working online as a virtual assistant. On the flipside, I know there is a ripe market out there of online business owners who are desperate to hire good virtual assistants — I get emails from them all the time!

The problem is, most people who want to be virtual assistants, don’t know how to get started and find jobs. And most business owners who want to hire virtual assistants don’t know where to look to find good help. That’s why I am so excited about Lisa Morosky’s ebook, The Bootstrap VA. It has everything you ever needed to know about getting started working as a virtual assistant.

And when I say “everything”, I mean it. Lisa left no stone unturned in her ebook. She’s honest about the challenges, she shares many tricks and tips to getting good virtual assistant jobs and keeping them, and she also includes numerous extra links if you want to do additional research on any subject.

One of the things that I loved best was that Lisa interviewed a number of people who work as virtual assistants and those who have hired virtual assistants to share both sides and what others have found works best. There are all sorts of nuggets of wisdom in those interviews!

It’s not often that I get really, really excited about an ebook and it’s even less often that I give an ebook five stars. But I’d give Lisa’s ebook six stars out of five. It’s that thorough, well-written, and just plain excellent.

If you’re considering becoming a virtual assistant, if you’d like to hire a virtual assistant, or you or anyone you know has any interest at all in anything to do with becoming a virtual assistant, please do yourself a favor and get a copy of this ebook.

What The Most Successful People Do On the Weekends by Laura Vanderkam

This is another thought-provoking ebook by Laura Vanderkam challenging you to consider how you’re using your weekends. It’s not necessarily about packing your weekends full, but about being intentional to plan ahead and use them well — and not to just let them slip away with nothing to show for them.

This ebook profiles a number of busy executives and shares how they plan down time, family time, and refueling time for the weekends so that they can be productive during the week. Packed with good ideas and food for thought.

Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace by Jan Johnson

I loved this book. The cover and layout have an instantly calming effect and the author did a great job of challenging you to consider the rhythms of your life and whether they are in sync with the priorities you want to have.

She encourages you to not just strip your life of all the non-essentials and pare down to the basics, but instead to really examine why you’re doing what you’re doing, why you own what you own, and why you’re leading the lifestyle you are. This book is deep, rich, and soul-stirring.

The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by John Ortberg

I can’t believe it took me so long to “discover” John Ortberg. He’s a fantastic writer — profound, engaging, and funny. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this book wins the award for the “most passages read aloud to Jesse”. It was too good to keep to myself so I had to keep sharing parts of it with Jesse! I’m looking forward to reading more John Ortberg books in 2013.

The Redemption Series by Karen Kingsbury with Gary Smalley

At the recommendation of many friends, I read the first book in this series… and well, that was the end of that. 🙂 While parts of the series are a bit of a stretch (but that’s part of the fun of fiction, right?), these books are well-written, compelling, heart-rending, and filled with powerful messages of the redemption that can be found in the midst of the brokenness of this world.

What were your favorite reads from 2012? Tell us about them in the comments!

31 Days of Giving on a Budget: 3 Ways to Give Gratitude to Those in the Military (Day 27)

Welcome to December’s series on 31 Days of Giving on a Budget. In this series, I’ll be sharing inspiring stories from my readers and posts with practical ways to give — even on a limited income.

If you have a Giving on a Budget story to share of a way you or your family has given to others this year or this holiday season, please email me your story and a picture to go along with it, if possible. I’d love to hear it and possibly share it during this series!

Guest post from Katie

During the holiday season, we are all pulled in so many directions — whether with church, school, or community service groups, sometimes it is hard to determine how to invest our extra time and resources.

There is one group of people that none of us should neglect — especially during the holiday season — our military. Being away from the comforts and joys of home can be difficult for a deployed member of our military especially during the holidays.

As a wife to an active duty Marine who is currently serving in the Middle East, I can personally say how humbling it is to have people all across the United States praying for, and supporting, my husband and those like him deployed all over the world.

There is so much that those of us here at home can do to support the thousands of men and women who sacrifice so much day in, and day out, to protect the freedoms (including the freedom to celebrate our holidays!) we enjoy every moment here in the United States.

Here are three practical (and budget-friendly) ways you and your family can show gratitude to the men and women serving our country:

1. Write letters.

This is the most inexpensive, yet one of the most appreciated and heartfelt, gifts our servicemen and women overseas can receive. Organizations like Operation Gratitude accept letters that they include in their care packages. If you know a family in your community with a son or daughter in the military, be sure to ask for their address. By the way, letters to our military only take one stamp to mail overseas.

Small children who do not know how to write yet can draw pictures. Often, whoever receives the letter or picture will write back to you. This is a great way to start a penpal relationship!

2. Put together care packages.

If you are a savvy couponer, donating items like magazines, food, and toiletries won’t busts your budget, but will be very much appreciated. You can donate these items to organizations like Operation Gratitude or Or, you can pick up a flat rate box from your local post office and pack it full of special treats and letters and send it to a soldier you know or someone listed on the AnySolder website. These boxes cost from $10-16 to ship.

3. Encourage the spouses and families left at home.

Write a note or email, or drop off a small gift to brighten a military spouse’s day while their loved one is deployed. Separation is hard during deployment and a little bit of encouragement goes a long way!

We are so blessed to live in a country where we are free. That freedom has come at a very high cost and the least we can do is show our men and women in uniform that we care and support them, even from thousands of miles away.

Katie is a teacher, and Marine wife living in Southern California. She is passionate about working with kids and loves encouraging young women and other military wives.

photo credit

15 Free Goal-Setting and Home Management Printables

Design Finch shares nine different free printable weekly planners.

A Bowl Full of Lemons walks you through how she set up her Home Management Binder and shares links to a number of free printables.

Download a food contract to help you track your nutrition and weight-loss goals each week.

Print three different weekly cleaning checklists to help you stay on track and keep your home in order.

Join the 52 Weeks to an Organized Home Challenge for motivation and inspiration to have an organized home in 2013.

Ann Voskamp has a free Daily Planner available for download.

Organizing Home Life shares 31 Days of Home Management Printables.

Celebrate Everyday With Me shares 7 simple tasks you can do to simplify your life.

Download a Daily Plan of Attack Worksheet.

Print free Home Management Binder pages from Amy Bayliss.

Ann Voskamp has a free printable 100 Days Calendar to help you finish a project or develop a new habit.

Download a free Organize Your Life & Goals Workbook Planner.

Print a free Goal List Planning and Accountability Form.

Read a great post on the Seven Habits of Highly Organized People.

Download and print a free Weekly Household Planner and Goal Sheet from Only a Breath.

And don’t forget to check out my Time Management 101 series, download my free customizable Daily Docket, and print other free household organizational downloads.

Walmart: Current Deals

Here are the best deals at Walmart right now with thanks to Heather from Passion for Savings for her help in compiling them. The prices below are based on Northwest Arkansas region. Please keep in mind that Walmart deals vary by region so the prices listed here will not be valid at all stores.

Reach Floss – $0.97
Use $1/1 printable
Free after coupon

Kikkoman Soy Sauce – $1.52
Use $0.75/1 printable
$0.77 after coupon

Krusteaz Bakery Style Cookie Mix – $1.78
Use $1/1 printable
$0.78 after coupon

Old Orchard Frozen Juice Concentrates – $1.22
Buy 4 and use $1/4 printable
$0.97 each after coupon

Dole Fruit Smoothie Shakers – $1.50
Buy 2 and use $1.10/2 printable
$0.95 each after coupon

Suave Advanced Therapy Lotion 3.5 oz.-$0.93
Use $0.50/1 printable
$0.43 after coupon

Renuzit Fresh Accents Air Fresheners – $1.76
Buy 2 and use $2/2 printable
$0.76 each after coupon

See the full list of Walmart deals here.


Did you find a great deal at Walmart? Just post about it on your blog and leave your link below. To make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Walmart deals post. Links going to the homepage of your blog or any other part of your blog besides the direct link to your Walmart deals post will be deleted.