The books of 2021 were planned long before the multiple miseries of 2020 disrupted lives. Yet the religious and spiritual books by women for women releasing this summer and fall seem prescient: title after title pulses with messages of encouragement and empowerment, with inspiring tales of resilience and survival, and with advice on ways to relate to loved ones, the church, and society under every kind of stress imaginable. The women in these books are fear fighters, armed with faith—in God, in their own spiritual resources, and in themselves.
“There’s always been an interest in fearlessness,” says Stephanie Milner, senior acquisitions editor, DK Life, publisher of Michal Oshman’s What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid? Discover a Life Filled with Purpose and Joy Through the Secrets of Jewish Wisdom, which was released earlier this month. “Seeking empowerment is just another way of saying that you want to be more brave, to discover what opportunities lie on the other side of your fear. You already possess the solutions to live fearlessly.”
In I Am Here: The Journey from Fear to Freedom (Harper One, out now), author Ashley LeMieux, founder of the Shine Project for empowering women, shares life-changing lessons found in the darkest seasons of life. “We are living in a beautiful moment where women are publicly giving voice to their struggles and fears so that other women can be encouraged that they’re not alone,” said HarperOne senior editor Kathryn Hamilton. “Authors like Ashley LeMieux are taking their lessons forged in fire and turning them into inspirational guides that show women how to not let the fear keep them stuck.”
The battles women fight are often close to home. Megachurch pastor and abuse survivor Nicole Crank’s I Will Thrive: Find Your Fight to Claim True Freedom (FaithWords, June) revs up a call for courage to face the past and allow “a daring spirit to rise up in those who have forgotten how to be brave,” says editor Karen Longino.
Catherine DeVries, publisher at Kregel Publications, says 2020 was “a time of digging deeper—making sacrifices, doing more with less, juggling schedules, and being more flexible than ever.” But, she adds, “if we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to take care of those around us nearly as well.” She points to trauma expert and abuse survivor Karen DeArmond Gardner, who counsels women to rely on God as the ultimate source of hope in Hope for Healing from Domestic Abuse: Reaching for God’s Promise of Real Freedom, due out in July.
Allie Marie Smith, founder of an organization for teen girls and young women, offers more encouragement to persevere in Wonderfully Made: Discover the Identity, Love, and Worth You Were Created For (Moody, Oct.). Ginger Stache, chief creative officer for Joyce Meyer Ministries, tells women God means them to stand out and “has amazing adventures” in mind in her book Chasing Wonder: Small Steps Toward a Life of Big Adventures (Worthy Books, June).
At IVP, associate publisher and director of editorial Cindy Bunch says the time has never been more right for a book like Women Rising: Learning to Listen, Reclaiming Our Voice (out now) by Christian blogger and podcaster Meghan Tschanz. Tschanz writes that women are rising to challenge for equal treatment in the church and the society, “daring to speak when they’ve been told to sit down.”
Standing up for women
People have argued for millennia over the Apostle Paul’s words that women should be silent in church. Today’s women are having none of that. Wilda C. Gafney, professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School, is writing a four-volume collection of readings (the first two volumes of which release in August) that disrupt the male-centric Sunday readings in most churches by highlighting women in the Scriptures, titled A Woman’s Lectionary for the Whole Church (Church Publishing). And five authors have joined up to offer wisdom and support for their sisters in the pulpit in a time of national upheaval with This Band of Sisterhood: Black Women Bishops on Race, Faith, and the Church (Morehouse, July), edited by Westina Matthews, an adjunct professor for the Center for Christian Spirituality at General Theological Seminary. At Encourage Publishing, author and therapist Kim Daffner cajoles women to let go of whatever fear, insecurity, or hidden secrets hold them back from trusting their spiritual gifts and stepping in to leadership in the church with Sister, I Feel Ya: A Call to Wake Up (Oct.).
It may seem contradictory: rise up, slow down. But many authors say spiritual flourishing—and surviving the frenzied times—lies in trusting the lessons of Scripture and faith. In When Strivings Cease: Replacing the Gospel of Self-Improvement with the Gospel of Life-Transforming Grace (Nelson, Oct.) bestselling author Ruth Chou Simons uses personal story, original art, and biblical insights to guide women toward the realization that “God’s favor is the only currency we need.”
Llewellyn Publishing suggests a different path—looking inward—with magical arts teacher Tess Whitehurst’s The Self-Love Superpower: The Magical Art of Approving of Yourself (No Matter What), coming out in September. According to the publisher, Whitehurst “dares you to experience the liberation, healing, and empowerment that come when you make a spiritual practice out of learning to love yourself.”
Esteeming oneself means accepting, even championing, one’s body. The essays by United Church of Christ pastor Christina Kukuk in Loving What Doesn’t Last: An Adoration of the Body (Morehouse, Oct.) explore how “birth, food, love, pain, death, and water become skin-wrapped windows into the holy,” according to the publisher.
Resilience and survival
While events like a pandemic or upheaval in the streets or at the nation’s capitol loom large, the deep and lingering pains women face—loss of loved ones, disability, depression, unequal treatment, diminished opportunities—call for a resilient spirit. This year, women will have many titles by inspiring authors who share how they survived.
Shannon Dingle, who describes herself as a “disability activist, freelance writer, sex trafficking survivor, and recovering perfectionist,” wrote Living Brave: Lessons from Hurt, Lighting the Way to Hope (HarperOne, June) after her husband was killed by a rogue wave at the beach. The book models how to keep on standing in a place of strong faith.
Hope Carpenter was sure her life as a wife, mother, and megachurch worship leader had imploded when her pastor husband announced from the pulpit that their marriage was over. Her book, The Most Beautiful Disaster: How God Makes Miracles Out of Our Mistakes (FaithWords, out now) digs deeply into the spiritual life she relied upon to rebuild her life.
Sarah J. Robinson wrote a guide for Christians crushed with mental illness who realize they need more help than clichés like “pray more.” Her book, I Love Jesus, but I Want to Die: Finding Hope in the Darkness of Depression (WaterBrook, out now), “helps readers reconnect with the God who is present in our deepest anguish and discover that they are worth everything it takes to get better,” according to the publisher.
Karen Casey wrote a spiritual classic of meditations nearly 40 years ago in the wake of her struggle with alcoholism. Now, with Each Day a New Renewed Beginning: Meditations for Peaceful Journey (Conari, out now) she aims to help more women, the publisher says.
This summer, Paraclete Press launches Iron Pen, a new imprint for inspirational nonfiction, with a memoir by Catholic sister Sharon Hunter, who confronted her painful memories of a childhood marked by addiction in a poetry collection, To Shatter Glass (Aug.), and maps how one can strive for “reconciliation through self-examination and forgiveness.”
Forgiving and going forward
B&H zeroes in on one of the most challenging topics for women in the church with It’s Not Just You, Freeing Women to Talk about Sexual Sin and Fight It Well (Aug.), by Ashley Chesnut, associate young adult minister at the Church of Brook Hills. Her goal is to equip women who struggle with sinful temptations to find victory in understanding God’s idea for sexuality. Also from B&H is a compendium of advice by professors, ministry leaders, and others on serving women in faith, The Whole Woman: Ministering to Her Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength (Oct.).
Christian parenting and faith blogger Mary Katherine Backstrom’s Holy Hot Mess (Worthy, Aug.) says women should celebrate their imperfections, because “you are the person God created you to be, even if you’re a work in progress,” according to the publisher.
Depleted by the demands of motherhood? Shannon K. Evans, a Catholic writer and columnist for the Jesuits’ website, shows how contemplative traditions can guide women in returning to a more natural experience of motherhood in Rewilding Motherhood: Your Path to an Empowered Feminine Spirituality (Brazos, Sept.).
Shari Zook learned to let go of her supermom persona when she was overwhelmed by the grief of a miscarriage, parenting a difficult child, and falling into depression and doubt. Her book, Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings: A Mother’s Search for Grace, out from Herald Press in July, says women can find freedom “when we give ourselves permission to admit our own need, to others and to God, and to receive the abundant love and care that surrounds us,” says acquisitions editor Laura Leonard.
April White was a mother and pharmacist when a rare illness and widowhood derailed her old life. She redirected her efforts to become a writer and “a chronic illness warrior [who] draws strength daily with Jesus, coffee, and afternoon naps,” according to her book Destination Hope: A Travel Companion When Life Falls Apart (Ambassador International, Sept.), written with Marilyn Nutter.
Karen Ehman, author of 17 books chiefly encouraging people to love God and each other, says the path to peace is to escape the prison of other people’s expectations in When Making Others Happy Is Making You Miserable: How to Break the Pattern of People-Pleasing and Confidently Live Your Life, due in August from Zondervan. Also from Zondervan in August is podcaster Sarah Bragg’s advice to be your authentic self to your kids and your God in A Mother’s Guide to Raising Herself: What Parenting Taught Me About Life, Faith, and Myself.
Facing truth, hearing truth, telling truth
Two veteran Christian counselors teamed to write When Words Matter Most: Speaking Truth with Grace to Those You Love (Crossway, Sept.). Cheryl Marshall and Caroline Newheiser note that they draw on their own experiences to guide women seeking to “encourage the worried, strengthen the weak, reprove the wayward, and comfort the weeping.”
The authenticity door swings both ways. Sometimes a parent has to expand her heart and spirit in response to her child’s reality. So says Staci Frenes, a Christian music publisher, artist, and mother of an LGBTQ daughter, in her book Love Makes Room: And Other Things I Learned When My Daughter Came Out (Broadleaf, out now). As she came to terms with the challenge of a new reality, she found “an expanding faith, and a greater understanding of how people are more the same than different,” according to the publisher.
Evangelical author and speaker Anne Graham Lotz and her daughter Rachel-Ruth Lotz Wright show how to build a legacy of faith in Jesus Followers: Real-Life Lessons for Igniting Faith in the Next Generation (Multnomah, Oct.), in which they share family stories of the deep spiritual life nurtured in them by Anne’s father, the late Billy Graham. The baton is passed through “witness, worship, walk, and work,” they write.