9 Stand Out Memoirs That Will Inspire You

A personal history is powerful.

Some people’s stories are well told and they’ve risen above or conquered so much that just hearing their story is inspiring.

Some have broken out of a cycle of generational poverty.  Some have faced mortality with uncommon courage.

Some know how to put beautiful words to the every day human experience.

These are the memoirs I picked.

(Note: the following links are affiliate links.  At no extra charge to you, a percentage of your purchase will go to support this site.)

Rising above extreme circumstances:

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

A Christian family in Holland hides Jews from the Nazis during World War II.  Corrie Ten Boom’s incredible story of espionage, imprisonment and forgiveness.

The Ten Boom family takes their faith seriously.  They believe the Jews are God’s Chosen People.  They risk their lives to protect them.

They continue to trust God in spite of horrific circumstances and they see His hand at work.

 Buy now from Amazon

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton

What would it be like to be convicted of a murder you didn’t commit and then spend 30 years on death row?

Amazingly, Anthony Ray Hinton is not an angry, bitter man.

It would be the logical reaction for an extreme injustice.

What’s it like for the men sitting on death row?  How would you feel?  What would you think?  How do you make it every day?

This is an inside look.  Incredibly, a hopeful look.

Overcoming the cycle of poverty

  Buy now from Amazon

Gifted Hands by Ben Carson

Ben Carson and his brother grew up in a single parent home in Detroit.

Ben credits his mother for the impact on his life that resulted in all of them breaking out of the poverty culture.

She valued education, discipline, the importance of reading and making wise decisions in the use of her resources.

In turn, Ben came to see poverty as a temporary state.  He could see the way out.  He developed a vision for his life.  He eventually attained some of life’s greatest successes as a pediatric neurosurgeon.

 Buy now from Amazon

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was gratuitous language.  Sometimes language in a dialogue can prove a point, but there’s no good reason for it to be in the narrative.

That being said, I love the social analysis wrapped around a boot-strapping overcomer’s story. J.D. Vance emerged from an impoverished childhood to graduated from Harvard and become a successful lawyer.

It has some similarities to Ben Carson’s story in Gifted Hands.

I love the positive impact and stability the author’s grandparents brought to his life.

My heart breaks for the young people in this country, especially for the homes that so many grow up in–for the poverty–not of money so much as love, stability, education and faith.

One thing that struck me is that the author wasn’t able to find much help in counseling, but research, learning and understanding about himself and his formative years brought a measure of peace.

Uncommon courage in the face of mortality

  Buy now from Amazon

The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts

Kara’s bravery in the face of her own mortality is inspiring.

It’s hard for young children to lose their mother to cancer.  It feels unjust.  But, Kara’s acceptance of God’s will for her life showed the world what it means to believe that God is good, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

She faced the reality that her marriage wasn’t eternal.

I highly recommend this book to anyone struggling with God’s sovereignty.

 

WhenBreathBecomesAir Buy now from Amazon

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This memior was written by a man diagnosed with cancer.  That’s the kind of news that changes your perspective in life.

Kalanith writes in a clear, concise style.  What makes the book extraordinary is the author wrestles with the meaning of life even before he’s diagnosed with cancer.  It gives the reader pause in the very best ways.

Here’s my takeaway:  we make plans for our lives based on how long we think we have left to live.  We make different decisions when we think we’re going to live 40 years more or 10 or 1.

Also:  at the end of life, our close relationships are what matter most.  But, running a close second is a life dedicated to meaningful work and making an impact on our world in some way.  I’ve believed for a long time that having meaningful work was a critical element for the human psyche, but I’ve never seen it so clearly before, especially in light of the importance of close relationships at the end of life.

I also enjoyed Kalanitrh’s stories of his experiences in medical school.  Interesting to see the behind the scenes snapshots of a surgeon in training.

Beautiful words to express the human experience

bluelikejazz  Buy from Amazon

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

Blue Like Jazz is reminiscent of an Anne Lamott memoir.  They’re both off the charts in honesty, transparency and authenticity.  We identify with those inner insecurities that we can’t even admit to ourselves, much less to others, committing them to black and white and hurling them to the world.

I’ve read Donald Miller’s memoir several times. I have also read Scary Close, which is somewhat of a sequel, but it doesn’t have the same punch as Blue Like Jazz.  Growing up fatherless is an underlying theme of Blue Like Jazz.  By the time Scary Close was written, Miller has resolved many of his emotional issues and experienced a lot of healing.  So, it’s not driven by the same pain.

I believe writing in itself is therapeutic.  As is sharing your story.  I heard Miller recently talk about the desire people have to be heard and seen and known.  He’s been there, done that and now has no more need to be seen and heard and known.  He’s heading a successful company now called StoryBrand that helps businesses tell their story .

Giftfromsea  Buy now from Amazon

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

One of my all-time favorites that I re-visit periodically.  Written sixty years ago, this book is truly timeless.

Listen: “What a circus act we women perform everyday of our lives.” Really?  1955?

“how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life, how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center: how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel”

I love her reflections.

In a class by itself

 

Buy now from Amazon

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi

This is the raw, treacherous journey that Nabeel Qureshi took to find faith in Jesus. The sacrifices he made. The intellectual and emotional and relational barriers that kept him from finding faith in Jesus. And the story of overcoming those barriers.

Why do we need to know Nabeel’s story?

Because no man is an island. His pain is our pain. His victory is our victory. His story is our story.

There are millions of devout Muslims on the planet. If we understand Nabeel’s story, we come closer to understanding them.

There exists a great chasm of beliefs between us, but we share the same humanity. Our desires and dreams are common to the human experience.

To understand the Muslim mindset opens the door to greater compassion, to a better chance of building bridges to individuals who are seeking.

Statistics are one thing.

One person’s story is something else altogether. What difference can one person’s story make?

I can be inspired by their story. I can travel the road with them and return to my own life and take the courage with me. This is the power of story.

We are faced with the same choices Nabeel Qureshi faced.  Are we going to accept what we were taught growing up? Or are we going to search for something else?

We have no say about the situation we were born into. But the time comes when we accept or reject the life we were given. Do we perpetuate the values, attitudes and beliefs we were given or turn from it to something else?

These are the questions that individuals from every devout family faces. These are the issues that we wrestle with. These are the answers that we must find. This is the peace that we must come to.

It might be a life long journey. It might takes years to find that peace. Our foundational beliefs might be shaken to the core.

But, we must search. We must know if the values, attitudes and beliefs that we were handed without our knowledge or consent are truly ours. Every person must choose.

And that is why Nabeel’s journey is everyone’s. Coming of age has nothing on coming to faith.

We need to struggle deeply with these critical issues. We need to come to peace.

Irregardless of the belief system we choose, the struggle is universal. It’s the dragon we all must fight.

What memoirs would you add to this list?

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The Simple Secret to Getting Rid of Piles (of Laundry, Dishes and Paper)

Here it is: are you ready?

The secret is do it daily.

Make it part of your daily routine.

It’s simple, but certainly not easy.

Decide what will be part of your morning routine and what will be part of your evening routine to stay on top.

There’s always something, isn’t there?

Always roadblocks and obstacles.

Always a reason to reach down and do hard things.

So, back to piles.

This is something that I still struggle with. It’s hard to be consistent. Even when you have a routine figured out.

I’ve been working for years on a workable system to keep on top of the papers that pile up around here. Mail. Receipts. Random paperwork brought home from random places.

My first “aha” moment was when I realized I suffered from decision fatigue and couldn’t process papers at the end of the day. I just didn’t have what it took.

So, I started doing it in the morning.

I’d set the timer for 2 or 3 minutes and sort, purge and process the papers.

Knowing that it was for such a short time and knowing that I could stop when the timer went off helped. Doing it the morning when I still had some mental capacity to make the decisions was a must.

Staying consistent, every single day has been a problem. Doing the extra catch up on weekends to handle the difficult decisions has also been a problem.

But, applying the daily routine to dishes and laundry helped me realize the power of daily.

When something piles up, it feels harder than it is and is so tempting to procrastinate.

Taking it one little bite at a time feels manageable.

Making it part of a routine means you don’t have to think about whether or when to tackle it.

What can you do to make laundry part of your daily routine? Put a load of clothes in the washer at night? Or wash them at night, dry, fold and put away in the morning?

Don’t wait till you have a full load. Do a load every day, regardless.

How about dishes?

They have to be done in the evening. There’s no way around it, unless you’re committed to paper products every suppertime.

But, you can incorporate as much as possible into your morning routine: unloading the dishwasher, cleaning the sink, wiping down counters and the stove.

If you have a good morning routine, the evening routine is easier.

Keeping on top of food planning and grocery shopping also helps.

So, the secret is simple, but it’s not easy.

One challenging part is figuring out what’s going to work best for you.

Another is being consistent.

When you’re establishing a new habit, it helps to keep a calendar where you can mark off every day you’ve been successful. Seeing a string of unbroken days is motivating.

Rosemarie Groner of the Busy Budgeter suggests 28 days in a row of a successful dishes routine to establish a habit.

There’s a lot of debate these days on how many times you need to repeat something before it becomes a habit. Some say it’s not 21. Some say it’s 66.

There’s a lot of factors that influence it, but you can count on at least 21, depending on what it is and what your resistance is to it.

Do you have trouble keeping up with your piles?  Try tweaking your daily routines to get them under control.

Has Your Identity Been Influenced by Different Cultures?

Mosaic art is made of tiny pieces arranged to be pleasing to the eye.

The artist chooses which pieces he wants to include.  It’s the vision of the artist and the choice of the pieces and the arrangement that turns discards into art.

We are the creators of our present and future.

We can choose the  best pieces of our past to be part of our present reality.

Global nomads can choose all the best parts of their wandering life to turn their story into a beautiful mosaic.

All the best relationships. All the best traditions. All the best foods.

Obviously, there will have to be adjustments. There will have to be tweaks. All the ingredients won’t be available for cheap right at your fingertips. You will have to work harder to keep up the friendships. You might be standing alone in your traditions, without the support of the surrounding community.

But. You get to choose.

Better yet. You get to choose all the best parts.

You can let go of all the negative and keep the good.

What a gift you have.

You know more than one way to do life.

You’ve observed and participated in different paradigms.
You can contrast and compare like a student of English doing an essay.

You can celebrate the mosiac of your past.

You can introduce your community of today to the richness of your yesterday.

We do that without thinking, don’t we?

We get hungry for foods we used to eat. So we research, track down the ingredients, bring back the taste of our past and invite our friends. Suddenly, our nomadic life has enriched our present reality.

But, we can do it intentionally, too.

We can purpose to identify the best parts of our past and release the negative.

We can re-establish the traditions that we love.

We can even change the pace of our life to reflect a saner way of living.

With a little reflection, we can pinpoint what we miss and figure out some way to re-create it.

I don’t want to diminish the losses. I think they should be grieved.

But, when that hard work is done, or significant progress is made, I think it’s time to celebrate.

Be grateful for the gifts of the past. Choose the best parts and make them a part of your joyous present.

Your life and your future is in your hands. You can make it what you want it to be. You have the privilege of knowing different cultures.

Embrace all the pieces of your identity and celebrate the best parts.

 

Five Minute Friday: Value

“For what we are about to receive, Lord make us truly grateful.”

There’s an irony in that prayer that even a grateful heart is a gift of God.  Even though the holiday has been twisted and commercialized, I’m grateful to live in a country that at least pretends to be grateful one day a year.

Of course, every American can make the holiday what they want it to be.  Whether it’s about family or friends or food.  Or cultivating a truly grateful heart.

Linking up with Kate Motaung and the Five Minute Friday Community to write five minutes unedited on the word prompt value.

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Have you thought about what it is that makes something valuable?

Isn’t it it’s scarcity? Because it’s rare? Precious? Hard to come by?

That makes it valuable.

What if you live in a country and culture of abundance?

Where there’s more food than you need?

More money than you need?

More jobs than you can work?

What then is valuable?

Is it time?

But, if you have money, you can buy time. You can pay someone to do for you what takes your time to do.

What if peace and quiet were the scarcest commodity?

What if attention were the scarcest commodity?

What if trust were the scarcest commodity?

What if time and fellowship with loved ones were the scarcest commodity?

Wouldn’t that become valuable?

We tend to value what is rare and precious. It doesn’t have to be jewels or gold and silver. It could be respect. It could be love.

What is it that you value?

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4 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Goal Setting

Have you given up on goal setting?

I have.

Probably a hundred times.

Okay, that might be a teeny exaggeration. But not much.

Fewer things inspire me and frustrate me as much as goal setting.

I get all excited about the newest insights and gurus and strategies. Inevitably I’ll end up frustrated and disillusioned.

I’ll wonder if it’s worth it to keep setting goals and how I can do it better.

But, here I am again, giving it another go and believing there’s a way to make it work.

Why you shouldn’t  give up on goal setting

  1. Because you need it to accomplish the big things.                                                                   It’s the big goals that always seem out of reach. Breaking down those big goals into bite size chunks is critical. It’s one reason why we never achieve the big goals. Because breaking it down step by step and then following through is simple but definitely not easy.

2. Because you can keep tweaking your goal setting strategy and make it work for you.

I’ve been learning from Ruth Sukoup’s “Crushing it”  goal setting strategy.  She identifies some missing steps that I tend to skip over, such as determine why this goal is important to you, identify potential obstacles and plan to celebrate when you hit this goal.

Implementing these tweaks, especially with practice, yields encouraging results.

3.  Because we lead highly distracted lives.  Without goals it’s extremely difficult to stay focused.

I’ve been hit on all sides this week with the importance of focus.  It’s true.  The prize will always go to the ones who can stay focused.

4. Because if you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time.  Failing to hit a goal is better than not setting goals.

Not hitting goals is discouraging. It makes you want to stop setting them. But life is too precious to waste drifting.

Let’s face it.

Some parts of your life are working great.  If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

Then there’s the messes.

Or the untapped potential.

Or unrealized burning desires.

Or the castles in the air that you wonder if you could really build.

That’s where the power of goal setting comes in.

There’s more.  You know it.  If only you knew how to get there.

Don’t give up. Give goal setting another go.

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Five Minute Friday: One

Here we are, one week out from Thanksgiving.  Lots to be thankful for.  Lots to be busy with.  As always, it’s hard to keep perspective.

Linking up with Kate Motaung and the Five Minute Friday community.

Five minutes of free write on a weekly word prompt.  Today’s word is one.

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I love books that make you think.

The One Thing did that for me.

Have you ever noticed that profound truths seem so obvious when other people say them?

They ring true, because they are hovering under your subconscious waiting for articulation.

We buy greeting cards because someone else has put into words what we can’t articulate for ourselves.  But, I digress.

The point of The One Thing is that amazing accomplishments can be attained with focused effort.

The author challenges you to spend four hours a day of your work day on the one most important task you need to achieve in your work, and cram everything else into the remaining four hours.

The results of that kind of focused attention are often monumental.

And rare.

Because we have such a hard time eliminating distractions and rabbit trails.

We have such a hard time staying focused.

But that focus is what is needed to yield results.

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PS I wrote my post before I looked at Kate’s.  Maybe what we used to say as kids is true.  Great minds think alike.  🙂

5 Fascinating Tales about Women who Made History

Women are cast in the starring roles in many chapters of history.

But, not all those stories have been told or been widely acknowledged.  It’s time to change that.

These are the stories of women who left their mark on history.  Some have been fictionalized, some haven’t.  But all highlight the fascinating contributions of incredible women.

 Buy now from Amazon

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

Fascinating novelized account of the country’s first female sheriff.

Three sisters living alone in the country manage to get on the wrong side of some shady characters.  Tell how they defend themselves, throw in some family secrets and end up with the a female sheriff.  Well played.

Stewart writes in an engaging style that kept me flipping pages.

I was glad to see the author follows the sisters’ story in another book.

Buy now from Amazon

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Based of the life of the first female lawyer in India.

Not only does this fictional account weave a riveting tale, it highlights the culture and customs of 1920’s India.

Limited educational opportunities, arranged marriages, gender segregation and inequalities.  These were real obstacles.

Navigating that world and winning is a real feat.

Buy now from Amazon

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy

Thousands of women worked on breaking codes during WWII. The government began by recruiting and training at women’s colleges, sending secret letters to students in the fall of their senior year.

Then they started recruiting teachers.

The work took special skills, and they didn’t always know what they were.

Intercepting and understanding enemy communication proved to be the critical strategy for the allies to win the war.

Thousands of American women working secretly to break enemy codes turned the tide.

This is the untold story of those women.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

A Christian family in Holland hides Jews from the Nazis during World War II.  Corrie Ten Boom’s incredible story of espionage, imprisonment and forgiveness.

The Ten Boom family takes their faith seriously.  They believe the Jews are God’s Chosen People.  They risk their lives to protect them.

They continue to trust God in spite of horrific circumstances and they see His hand at work.

Buy now from Amazon

 I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

“Rosetta doesn’t want her new husband, Jeremiah, to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they’ll be able to afford their own farm someday. When Jeremiah leaves, Rosetta decides her true place is by his side, no matter what that means, and follows him into war.

Rich with historical details and inspired by the many women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is a courageous adventure, a woman’s search for meaning and individuality, and a poignant story of enduring love.”– from Amazon

I liked learning about a piece of little known history during the Civil War. It’s hard to even imagine life in those circumstances.

Well written fictionalized account highlighting the stories of real women who fought in the Civil War disguised as men.

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Five Minute Friday: Burden

It’s been a good week.  Finally feeling back in the groove.

Thankful that God allows us to express creativity in so many different ways, including blog posts on the internet.

Linking up with Kate Motaung and the Five Minute Friday crew.

This week’s word prompt is burden.  

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I took a brand new suitcase on our trip to the DR last month.

It was something we picked up last year doing Christmas shopping for our kids.  As it turned out, we didn’t give it, we kept it.

The suitcase has four wheels and boy is it slick to push around those airport hallways.  Pete was pulling an old suitcase with two beat up wheels.  More of a monster on ice dynamic.

But, it got me thinking back to the days when you actually had to carry your suitcase by the handle and feel the entire weight of your cargo every step the entire way.

I’m glad we’ve made huge strides in suitcase design.

But it does make me wonder:  Have we made any forward progress in helping people with their emotional baggage?  Are we gaining there?

Maybe we have. But I’d say we still have a ways to go.

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Five Minute Friday: Repeat

I’m thankful for safety in travel and good health while Pete and I were in the Dominican Republic last week for a conference.

It’s also good to be home again to snuggle and kiss my grand baby.

Linking up again with Kate Motaung and the Five Minute Friday community.

Five minute free write on this week’s word: repeat.

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“Sing them over again to me,

Wonderful words of life.”

An old song from my childhood emphasizes the importance of repetition.

People are forgetful.  We need to be reminded over and over and over.

God himself realized it and asked us to take the elements of communion regularly.  So we would remember.  A time to pause and remember.

Because we so easily forget.

It takes the accountability of a community to help us remember.

It takes regular rhythms of pause.

How desperately I need it.

How well He knows me.

How thankful I am.

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