Branch Out with Me — 2016 Reading Challenge

It’s a new year, and I love reading challenges. Or, at least, I like the idea of them. Not sure I’ve ever completely followed through. But I’m willing to try, and hope you are, too. Things are always better when you do them together.

Quite a few of you responded to my blog survey. (Thank you.) What I learned is what I already suspected: You don’t have a lot of time—and you are tired of the conventional. You like to face doubt, explore, and find new, practical ways to live your faith.

Clearly, so do I. And what I have learned is that it is always good for me spiritually when I am challenged. When I face new thought and ideas (even if I don’t agree with them), I grow because it forces me to figure out what I believe. To read, to study, to research.

Don’t worry, though. You’re not required to do anything extra. But what I hope you will do is let this be your excuse to try something new. To hear other voices, ones you might not have encountered on your own. To keep an open mind in the hopes that it will enrich your spiritual life. That it will deepen your faith. That you will have a newfound respect for other people’s opinions, and that you will realize that different views don’t have to be threatening.

First rule: no pressure. I want this to be helpful, not another obligation you feel you have to endure. So here’s the deal: If you hate it, you don’t have to finish it. If you love it, you can take your time with it—read it all year long if you wish, and skip the rest. If you want to check off the challenge but don’t have a lot of time, skim your books. Read the first chapter, flip through the book, and read the last chapter. Maybe you’ll want to go back and read it all, maybe you won’t, but you’ll at least have some awareness of the approach, writer, or concept presented. Or read some reviews online. Or check out the author’s website or blog. Or take a break and join us again the following month.

Each month I’ll provide a list to help give you some ideas—but they’re just ideas. Insert your own. Let this be a reason to explore, to strengthen your beliefs, to start new discussions. To see what God will reveal, to be open to hearing from Him in a new way, to expect surprises and insights and revelation.

So won’t you join me? Please? When you do (even if it’s only periodically), I hope you’ll share your book selections in the comments. Each month, I will write something about the books I read. And if you have any “nuggets” from your book—a single quote that you’ll remember, your overall impression, or whatever—it would make me so happy to have you share those with me.

So how about it? Ready to branch out a little? I know I am.

If you’re planning to participate, please comment below with the name of the book you plan to read. And at the end of the month, when I tell you about the book I read, you can share your insights in the comments below that post. Thanks!


My pick for January: For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. Why? Because I love her but I haven’t read any of her actual books yet (only her blog and social media posts). And because my book club is reading it anyway. (That’s not cheating—it’s simplifying to give me a better chance of success :-).) I also chose this because she’s part of the team of women who are speaking on the new Women of Faith Belong Tour—which, I’d like to add, is the organization for which I wrote my next book, Designed to Pray (coming out in August for their first event).

Some other ideas to consider (note: I’ve only read a couple of these so I have no idea what they’re like… all I know is they look interesting):

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily Freeman
Color the Psalms: An Adult Coloring Book for Your Soul (Color the Bible)
I Was Blind (Dating), But Now I See
by Stephanie Rische
Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey
Bandersnatch: An Invitation to Explore Your Unconventional Soul by Erika Morrison
The SuperMom Myth by Becky Kopitzke
The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns
Girl Meets Change: Truths to Carry You through Life’s Transitions by Kristen Strong
Longing for Paris: One Woman’s Search for Joy, Beauty and Adventure—Right Where She Is by Sarah Mae
Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are by Shauna Niequist
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
by Rachel Held Evans
Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life by Ruth Soukup
Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way
by Amber C. Haines
Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life by Carey Scott

12 Responses to “Branch Out with Me — 2016 Reading Challenge”

  1. Susie says:

    Reading Simply Tuesday and also Wonderstruck by Margarent Feinberg. (which my best friend gave me for Christmas :D) Beyond that I already have Longing for Paris on my “longing to read” pile – If only I could read faster!!! My best friend’s husband reads almost a book per day – and comprehends it! But that is a gift I didn’t get. I have to read slowly and savor.

    • I can’t wait to hear about them! I read part of Wonderstruck and loved it but think I must have passed it on to someone else before I finished it. And I have Longing for Paris on my “to read” shelf… and love Emily Freeman… so looking forward to your thoughts! No rush… Take your time… I read A LOT but it seems like these books, which are so helpful and just what I need, get passed over in favor of fiction, so I’m trying to be more intentional and let myself take my time with them and have more than one book going at a time. I like to just finish already :-).

  2. missie b says:

    my “plan” is to read Small Victories by Anne Lamott. I have several of her books in my stash and haven’t even cracked the binding! So. . .here goes. ..

  3. […] the subject of books, I have to say I like the looks of this 2016 Book Challenge by Praying Upside Down author Kelly O’Dell Stanley. Because of all the prescribed reading I […]

  4. Cindy Argentine says:

    I appreciate the list of books under “Some other ideas to consider.” The titles themselves speak to needs, hopes, and struggles many of us women face.

  5. Suzanne says:

    Great idea! I’ve just finished Ann Voskamp’s book, “One Thousand Gifts”, and am always on lookout for new reads.

  6. Nancy B says:

    Kelly, I have just come across your blog and am very excited to read longing for Paris. I also have Jen Hatmaker’s book too. My hope is to read both this month. My lifestyle has changed over the last couple of years and I have quite a bit of quiet time now in my life. I have had a hard time adjusting to the new way of life and feel I waste a lot of it not choosing to grow as a “senior” adult and explore new possibilities. I am just beginning to realize how books could take me on many a journey in the coming year! Thanks for encouraging us to share our experiences through our new reads with you and others.

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