D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: spirituality

The Book that Changed Josina’s Life

I met Josina at my Collegeville retreat this summer. I was immediately struck by her beauty, her warmth, and her very sweet way of speaking the TRUTH! Her writing is extremely powerful, and I love this reminder that art means more when we have suffered--which reminds me of the beauty of Christ (Also, I now really need to get this book). Be sure to read more of Josina's work, and find out more about the amazing community that she is a part of.  









Cries of the Spirit edited by Marilyn Sewell

Guest Post by Josina Guess






Perhaps it is cheating to choose an anthology of poetry as the book that changed my life.  With more than 300 poems by women from Hildegard of Bingen to Audre Lorde each one speaks across history, ethnicity, geography and class and draws me in to a deeper sense of myself as a woman.  I received Cries of the Spirit as a graduation gift from a housemate at Earlham College.  I knew so much more then than I do now and sometimes read smugly the voices of cynicism, rage and doubt that cry through these pages which are a “Celebration of Women’s Spirituality.”  I was pure, hopeful, idealistic and passionate for Jesus and justice- I wanted more happy and righteous poems.  Over the years I have become a wife, mother, witness and bearer of grief and joy that my twenty one year old heart could barely fathom.  As experience has made my heart break and harden and crack open once again I read these poems over and over with eyes that always cry at wisdom that transcends what I thought I knew when I first received it.

This book is not Chicken Soup for a Woman’s soul.  It is the whole bird: feathers bones and blood, mouth gaping with eyes wide open; the shock of feet with toenails floating in the broth.  This book has a flavor so rich and deep - never canned-that is always good medicine for my sin-sick soul.  Tough poems on suicide, rape, abortion, domestic violence, divorce and menstruation are joined by tender poems on washing dishes, peeling apples, planting a garden and making love.  This book reliably primes the pump of my tear ducts and keeps me feeling in a world that tempts me to go numb and give up.

Now that I have sat with a friend and wept over the divorce papers that finalized the death of a marriage that her husband had been killing for years; now that I have watched my friend carried out of his house in a blue body bag after losing his battle with psychosis; now that I have had a friend tell me of running from gun fire with her baby shot dead on her back; now that I have had my body four times stretched and poured out through the birth of children that keep stretching, pulling and pushing me I see in this book a mirror.  This book gives me words when all I have are sighs too deep for words.  When my friend’s mother died I emailed her an Alice Walker poem when I had no words of my own to give.

Though Cries of the Spirit is heavy on the pain I am still hopeful, idealistic and passionate for Jesus and justice.  Now I can see more clearly that these burdens and blessings we women bear are worth sharing with one another and the one who made, loves and redeems us.  It makes the poems that radiate joy, hope, forgiveness and redemption all the more sweet.  Gathered in these pages I see myself: white and black, urban and rural, broken and healed.  At 35 I know I’ve only just begun.  Maybe it has not changed my life as much as help me to articulate life as a woman in all its complexity.  As my life and perspective has changed, Cries of the Spirit has given me words to embrace those changes. In some grace-filled moments I find myself writing poems when nothing else will do.  I know I have this great cloud of mothers, sisters, grandmothers and friends, whose voices sing through this book- who give me courage to raise my own- to thank.







unnamedJosina Guess lives with her husband and their four children at Jubilee Partners, a Christian service community in Comer, Georgia.  Josina has written for Conspire, Communities Magazine and Red Letter Christians Blog. Pull up a chair at Josina's Kitchen Table to read a few more of her thoughts.














Other posts in the Book That Changed My Life series:


Walking on Water

Jesus For President

With Daring Faith

East Of Eden

The Giving Tree

The Irresistible Revolution

Winter’s Tale

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe





my year in books

I use Grammarly's plagiarism checker because the world is in desperate need of originality.*  

image from Pinterest

i have been thinking about gifts lately, and about what are things i actually like to give and to receive--presents that value us as people. and i have to say the first thing that came to my mind were books.

books, books, beautiful books. i am a reader first and foremost; a teacher and a writer second. books are my bread and butter. when we sold almost everything we had and moved to the MidWest, we took clothes and artwork and mostly books. they are important.

i love to give books to other people, and i love to receive them as well. hanging out with people all day who were denied the pleasures of them their entire lives gives one a unique perspective on reading for pleasure. it's a privilege, one we need to acknowledge, and a gift that is fruitful to cultivate.

all this to say, i wanted to tell you guys my favorite books that i read this year. this was a difficult, joyous year, and as per usual, i read a lot of books. not so much fiction this year; a bit more about the charismatic stuff and food/lifestyle books. here are the ones i couldn't get out of my head. instead of buying crap that no one needs, let's all buy books for each other this year! we can scrounge for them at thrift stores, give one to our favorite missionaries or teachers or friends or sisters (or, even buy one for yourself). i have not linked to any websites, but i encourage you to buy local (or use indiebound). anyways, here they are in no particular order:


spiritual books


the life you save may be your own

by paul elie

This is one that will take me a while to get through. Paul Elie weaves together the extensive biographies of notable Catholics: Flannery O'Conner, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day (my hero!), and Walker Percy. It is described as a pilgrimage following people who "made literature out of their search for God". Excellent stuff, here.




miracle work: a down-to-earth guide for supernatural ministries

by jordan seng

Just keeping it real, people. I read books on miracles, because I am intensely interested in them and our world is in great need of them. This book was nice and pragmatic, and while I don't agree with all of it, it made me question some of my own malaise and unbelief. I also will never be able to pray for people in the same way (Seng models his own prayer style after Jesus, who basically just spoke the truth about God's desire for the world into people. None of this hemming and hawing).




jesus feminist: an invitation to revisit the bible's view of women

by sarah bessey

Bessey is a friend of mine, and I love how she takes a topic that is battered about left and right and asks us to sit quietly with it a moment. When she writes that "patriarchy is not God's dream for the world", something inside me stirs up. You will relate to her, you will thrill to her message, you will be surprised at she refuses to to be controversial.




when we were on fire: a memoir of consuming faith, tangled love, and starting over

by addie zierman

Addie is also a friend, and this book is unstoppable (named one of publisher weeklies best 5 religious books of the year!). In almost every chapter, I recognized myself in the pages categorizing the weird, parallel world of Christian culture in the 90s and early 2000s. She is a ferocious talent with a keen eye for the sorrow that undergirds all of our desires to be loved by God and by our peers.




speaking of jesus: the art of non-evangelism

by carl medearis

This book lifted a weight off of my shoulders. There is no other way to put it. Medearis spells out the ickiness behind our desires for conversion to Christianity, and instead asks the reader to trust that Jesus himself is worth following. I laid down my idol of Western Christianity a long time ago, but I still felt compelled to save people personally. I am still working through the implications of actually believing the power of the Bible and the Spirit, but it is pretty life-changing stuff.



literary books


swimming studies

by leanne shapton

Shapton is one of my favorite designers of book covers, which led me to read her own strange little "memoir". It is a beautiful, non-traditional look at her years of almost-professional swimming. There is no way to explain the book, but it thrilled me in how it broke out of so many boxes. There is not a boring page in this book, and I am not even remotely interested in swimming.




this is running for your life

essays by michelle orange

Orange is a new discovery to me this year. She writes complicated, smart, funny essays on a variety of subjects. If you don't want to buy the book, just google one of her essays. You will be hooked (especially on the one about Ethan Hawke's face).




blue nights

by joan didion

I read this book on an airplane as I flew away from my daughter. I do not recommend this. Didion writes an almost excruciating book on the death of her daughter, her friends, and her own impending old age and ill health. It is beautiful writing, but not easy reading. There is one passage in particular which made me so aware of how privilege does not protect one from harm; Didion herself is a testimony to this.




high rise stories: voices from chicago public housing

compiled and edited by audrey petty

True confessions: I have only read a bit of this one. I am saving it for when I complete my manuscript, which hopefully should be done soon (because I want to finish this book!). The Voice of the Witness series out of McSweeney's is one of my all-time favorite non-profits, publishing works of narrative that will crush your heart and make you sit up straighter. This one is dear to my heart as it focuses on densely populated low-income high rises in the urban MidWest. By letting the residents speak for themselves, we learn so much.




rooms in the house of stone

by michael dorris

This was one of those happy accidents, a library book plucked off the shelf for no reason. A few days later and I am in a coffee shop, bawling my eyes out at the grace and severity in the short essays Dorris wrote during the great famine in Zimbabwe. This book will make you stop your life for a few hours and consider what the opposite could be. It is intensely powerful writing, coming from a very complicated man. I haven't stopped thinking about it since.




refugee hotel

by juliet linderman (essays) and gabriele stabile (photographers)

I got this for my husband's birthday, but I really wanted it for myself. This is another Voice of the Witness book which details the lives of refugees when they first arrive in America. It is gorgeous and a visual way to engage with the realities that our refugee brothers and sisters face when they come to America.






where'd you go, bernadette

by maria semple

Hands down my favorite fiction book of the year (but honestly, I didn't read very much this year). So funny and witty and charming and fast-paced and very very poignant. I would recommend this to anyone. Anyone! (Read my longer review here).




north and south

by elizabeth gaskell

This is one of those I-Have-Read-Jane-Austen-A-Thousand-Times-And-I-Need-Something-More books. I liked it pretty well. Some of the themes surrounding commerce and wealth inequality and factory conditions were fascinating to me. But in the end, it is a period romance. You have been forewarned.




the complete stories

by flannery o conner

All the hype is true. All hail Flannery, the lover of grotesque darlings, the one who sees beauty in all of the tragedy. This is perfect reading when your life is both very beautiful and very very hard.




the fault in our stars

by john green

My foray into YA fiction for the year (although I did re-read books 6 and 7 of Harry Potter as well--never gets old!) and I did like it. It was very cathartic. It was fun. It was exceptionally sad. It made me have hope for some teenagers. If you hate it when people die in books, then don't read this one.


food/lifestyle books


depletion and abundance: life on the new home front

by sharon astyk

I don't believe a book has impacted me like this in a long time. Astyk has gotten me to reconsider nearly every facet of my life that I felt like I couldn't change: energy consumption, food choices, buying local, making do. And she made me reconsider it because this lady loves her life, and she loves the lives of her poor brothers and sisters. I believe in peak oil, I believe a day is coming where everyone will be forced to change their habits. But I believe our lives can be free from the bondage of materialism, and they we can be more joyous for it too--and that this is a freedom offered to everyone, regardless of status or money. I am doing a terrible job of describing it. Just read it, ok?




how to cook a wolf

by m.m.k. fischer

Fischer is one hell of a lady. Cooking food in war time, man. This book is radical and easy to read and somehow very, very encouraging.  I couldn't help but think about the solidarity Fischer would have had with the millions of people the world over who struggle with filling their bellies with food every night. It will make you think, and you won't ever throw out your scraps again.




an everlasting meal: cooking with economy and grace

by tamar adler

Adler is a bit like the kinfolk'd-up version of Fischer. But this girl can write about food, and inspired me to cook beans at least once a week (the way she writes about them makes them seem precious and beautiful and luxurious). I am not much of a cook, but I was changed by the way Adler described how good it is to eat well for not much money at all. So many books on food reek of privilege, but this one did not. It was accessible, in all the right ways.



the husband's picks

(Note: he is a much slower and much more thoughtful reader than I am. Mostly he reads psychology books, but he picked out two for this here blog).



disunity in christ: uncovering the hidden forces that keep us apart

by christina cleveland

I am going to read this when the husband is done, but he can't stop talking about this one. Christina's blog is so smart and so well written, I can't wait for myriads of people to hear her clear voice on reconciliation.






simply jesus

by n.t. wright

I am sort of in a I-Have-Read-Enough-Theology-Books-By-White-Dudes-To-Last-Me-Awhile phase, but my husband assures me this is an excellent book. He especially liked the chapters on what the ascension and resurrection actually mean. I head him talk about Jesus at a conference recently and had mad respect for his message. For the theology nerd in your life, it seems like you can't go wrong with N.T. these days.




So, that's it. I read a lot more, but these are the cream of the crop. 

I would love to hear what your favorite books of the last year. Share, please! 



*this post is sponsored by Grammerly, (which is excellent for ESL teachers, BTW). all the books and opinions and content are my own, thank you very much.

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